Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Author Spotlight: LeAnn Neal Reilly


Today I welcome new to me author LeAnn Neal Reilly to the blog.  Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my review of her book,  The Mermaid's Pendant.  

Some of the Jobs I Held Prior to Publishing My Debut Novel

Earlier this year, I came up with a funny, tongue-in-cheek list of ten random things about me as an alternative to the usual author bio. I can’t claim to have thought of this technique (I borrowed it from YA author Beth Fantaskey), but I immediately adopted it because it allowed me to poke fun at myself, which I find natural and understandable. One of the things I mentioned was that I’d waited tables, something that I think everyone should have to do at some time in their lives. I fervently believe this. Of course, when I think about waiting tables, I can’t help but think about struggling writers and actors. It seems to be the job of choice for artists of all kinds. Diane, the wacky waitress who drives Sam Malone crazy on Cheers, was a literature major struggling to write the Great American Novel.

But waiting tables isn’t the only job that I’ve held on my way to becoming a novelist. I wish I could say I had some really interesting or unusual ones, but the truth is I never pursued low-paying jobs as a way to support myself while living true to my artistic vision. No, my low-paying jobs had more to do with my status as a student or my lack of desire to work in what I thought of as an oppressive environment. In college, I worked two part-time jobs for a full-time schedule. During the week, I answered phones in the mall management office, sometimes running errands to various stores to collect rent. One Christmas, I worked in a jewelry store. On the weekends, I worked as a hostess at a local steakhouse, a job I’d held since the summer before my senior year in high school. I also waited tables and tended the salad bar. Once in a while, I covered for the cook, the dishwasher, and the line girl. Luckily, I never had to learn to butcher meat. The jobs I held on the college newspaper didn’t pay, but they were jobs nevertheless.

In grad school, I began to dream of a professional writing career that would appease my love of learning new things and writing about them—a career that would actually pay enough to live on while satisfying my artistic impulses. I got what I thought was my dream job: an internship at an international design firm where I could name products, write packaging copy and manuals, and help research everything related to buying and using all kinds of consumer products. But they didn’t offer me a permanent position, so after graduation I was faced with putting on business wear, creating a resume, and padding a portfolio. I considered freelancing, but I didn’t take on more than a few projects out of fear of getting in over my head. By the time I’d gotten desperate and tired of eating macaroni, I met someone trying to get a multimedia software company off the ground. That lasted about a year before I moved on as a Girl Friday for a research lab at a university, where the benefits of working on a campus seemed to more than make up for the dismal salary.

After a year as an assistant who created a Web site, edited research papers and slide presentations, and worked on conference posters along with a host of other random things, I got married and had a baby. By then, I’d finished with a regular day job. It was time to pursue my childhood dream of writing a book. All those jobs gave me a lot of useful, if indirect, experience that enriched my writing. I just wish they’d given me a few more good stories, preferably from trips overseas.  And more money in my retirement account.

What kinds of jobs have you held on the way to your dream career?

LeAnn Neal Reilly grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, near the Missouri River, in that fertile land where corn, children, and daydreams take root and thrive. She spent countless hours reading and typing chapters on an old Smith-Corona in her closet, which luckily for her didn’t have doors. Then she put away her daydreams and her stories and headed off, first to graduate magna cum laude from Missouri Western State University, and later to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for a master’s degree in professional writing. Along the way, she majored briefly in chemistry, served as opinion editor and then editor of her college newspaper, and interned for the international design firm Fitch RichardsonSmith in Columbus, Ohio. The highlight of her internship came when she generated the product name renata for a Copco teakettle (although designing the merchandising copy for ceramic tile adhesive and insulation packaging surely runs a close second).

After graduate school, LeAnn worked first for a small multimedia startup and then a research group in the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. At the startup, she spent her time writing user manuals and multimedia scripts for software to train CSX railroad engineers. While working among geeks, LeAnn became enamored and decided to take one home for herself. After getting married and starting a family, she returned to her adolescent daydreams of writing novels. Never one to shirk from lofty goals, she added home schooling her three children as her day job.

After years of working in an office not much better than an unfinished closet, LeAnn has finished The Mermaid’s Pendant and is currently working on her next novel. LeAnn joined GoodReads three years ago where she writes reviews regularly.

LeAnn lives outside Boston with one husband, three children, a dog named Hobbes (after Calvin &), and a cat named Attila.

LeAnn’s Web site is www.nealreilly.com.

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