Wednesday, February 5, 2020

On Writing: In Converstaion with Dr Leanna Floyd

Today, I am in conversation with Dr Leanna Floyd, who stepped into the publishing world with her debut novel 'Over the Borderline'.
Leanna has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has worked firsthand with murderers, psychopaths, narcissists, and borderlines while working in a prison. She explored the minds of notorious killers and obtained an insider’s view of their secrets as they recounted their darkest hours. It is these experiences in the prison setting that influenced her first novel, Over the Borderline.

Welcome to 'On Writing', Leanna!

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Was becoming an author always your dream or was it a particular event or incident that gave birth to the author in you?

I started writing when I was in elementary school. I won third place in a writing competition titled, “My Favorite Older Person,” which fueled my love and passion for writing.  Throughout high school, I wrote a lot of poems to help work through adolescent struggles. Writing has always been a part of my life, and I always felt like it helped me express the secret inner world of my thoughts and feelings that I didn’t want the world to see.

 However, even though I have always loved to write, it was not my “dream” to be an author. My dream was to be a child psychologist to help heal the broken and wounded individuals in the world. From a very young age, I knew that I wanted to help people. I was born with a deep desire and compassion for helping people find their ways on their journeys. Today, this is still my number one passion. Specifically, it is my hope that I can share with the world that they were created for a purpose and that they were meant for greatness.

In regard to if there was a particular event or incident that gave birth to the author in me, YES! Writing is where I found my voice, and in some ways, it helped put me back together. Over the Borderline was loosely inspired by significant and tragic events in my life that had a huge impact on me. The first event was the flagitious murder of my cousin. I will never forget sitting through the trial. All of the vile images and detestable statements made throughout the trial were branded into my mind. 

I can remember it all so vividly. I remember the huge lump in my throat, and it felt like an actual physical mass lodged in my throat. I can still see in my mind my father and my aunt sitting to my left choking back their own tears as they stared straight-faced looking at the murderer.  At the trial, I tried to remain strong for my family, forcing my own tears and quivering lips to be still. I had a job to do at the trial, to support my family.

The second life-changing event was when I worked at a local Florida prison. It was in this prison setting that I would encounter my first stalker (I never felt safe.), be trapped in a room encircled by a large group of male inmates (I was absolutely terrified. I remember my eyes hastily scanning the room for someone, anyone to help me. It seemed like they were savage wolves about to devour me. I’m forever grateful for the “angel,” my former client, who rescued me that day.), and have an inmate, who was pending an early release, threaten to kill me. 

Driving to the prison each day knowing that I had a death sentence over my head was torture. It was in this environment that the idea of understanding the mind of a killer really started to become a central focus of my study.  Writing gave me a voice that had once been silenced. Writing allowed me to have control and, in some way, make sense of the pain and terrifying events that I had to endure.

How important are the names of the characters in your books to you? Do you spend agonizing hours deciding on their names?

The names of the characters in my books are very important to me. I want the characters’ names to be relatable, but strong. There’s a lot of meaning behind one’s name. When I’m deciding on a name for a character, the name has to resonate with me, and it has to fit my mental picture of the person. I will research the meaning of one’s name and the history behind it to see if it agrees with the overall feel of my character. I do not spend agonizing hours deciding a character’s name, but I will try a few different choices and allow some time to pass before I finalize one’s name.

What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Is there a favorite place to write?

My writing process for Over the Borderline was somewhat labor intensive. I used my personal handwritten notes from my cousin’s murder trial as a guide to develop my story. During the trial, I did my best to write verbatim everything that was said. So, I had copious amounts of information to reference. I also am very research-oriented, and I like to incorporate up-to-date research information in regard to different psychological components that influence my characters’ profiles and backgrounds. 

When I wrote Over the Borderline, I wrote the entire manuscript by hand. During this time of writing, the story came pouring out of me. I had so many instances where the story was unfolding so fast in my mind that I started to carry paper and pen with me so I could make sure I captured my thoughts on paper. I wrote the story right after my cousin’s trial, it was so cathartic, and I just couldn’t stop or control the flood of images and thoughts dancing around in my mind. I wrote almost every day for a year straight with Over the Borderline

For the sequel, my writing process has evolved over the years, and I no longer write by hand because it’s so laborious. Generally, I write when I feel inspired or when there’s a burst of ideas that are screaming to find a voice. I find a lot of inspiration when I’m lying in bed at night. When my mind and body are quieted, then I feel like my creativity is best. I imagine this works best for me because I am a visual learner, so my creativity is fueled by scenes that I first see in my mind. I prefer to write when I’m alone, which is usually in the confines of my home.

What is different about Over the Borderline’?

Over the Borderline is inspired by true events that happened in my life. During the trial for my cousin’s murder, I learned a lot about the justice system, forensic testing, and the overall processes involved in a trial. I was able to experience the sights, the sounds, and feelings that accompany the trial of a killer, and I was able to incorporate these experiences in my story to give an authentic feel to the reader.

Over the Borderline deals with compelling and complex characters, and I like to give the reader vivid illustrations of how human psychology, personality, and pathology shape one’s motivation and behavior. My writing is suspenseful and grabs readers psychologically and emotionally. My writing gives the reader a comprehensive feel and understanding of what goes on in one’s mind in both the conscious and subconscious realms that influence behavior and the expression of more maladaptive patterns of relating.

I have a doctorate in clinical psychology, and my clinical training allowed me to give a more credible feel to my characters because of my knowledge and interaction with special populations in a prison setting. Specifically, my firsthand experience with working in a prison allowed me to have an insider’s perspective of how to relate with and write about pathological characters. Additionally, my story shifts from different points of view, from first to third person. One example of this style of writing can be seen in one of my characters, the Surfside Killer. This character is written in first person to give the reader an insider’s view into the mind of a sadistic and pathological character. 

The reader gets to see the thought processes and motivations of a killer as the crimes are being committed. These entries are denoted by italicized font as an indicator to the reader of who is speaking. After these entries, the story shifts back to third person letting the reader know they’re entering into another scene of the story.

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

My favorite character in the book is Brooke. Brooke is a character that is made up of different pieces of me. She is a strong and independent character who didn’t allow the negative events of her life to keep her from becoming all that she was created to be. She uses the pain of her past to motivate her to pursue a degree in psychology, and she chooses to devote her life to uncover the etiology of pathological behavior. There are many levels and layers to her that were ultimately based on various events and people that I experienced and dealt with in my own life. 

At an early age, like Brooke, I had a longing to help others put the fragments of their lives back together. Many of the hardships that I had to endure, Brooke has also endured, and the longing to understand human motivations and behaviors is at the core of both me and this character. Brooke has allowed me to process traumatic life events in such a way that I can control the narrative, the emotions, and the outcome, and in a way, rewrite my story. Brooke gave me a voice.

How important do you think is marketing in today’s world for any book?

The marketing of a book is so important in today’s world. Over the years, the book world has changed in that social media plays a huge role in getting one’s book out to the masses. Today, most authors are expected to create ads and market their own books through social media channels. With self-publishing on the rise, there are so many new and exciting opportunities for authors in regards to how they can market their books. 

Even traditionally published authors are expected to market their books since funds are often limited or not allotted for new authors. Authors need to create a brand for themselves, which will help set them apart and help potential readers get a better understanding of who they are as authors. Ideally, this will help readers identify with them and help create an audience for them. 

On average, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, there are about 2.2 million books published worldwide each year, so to ensure that an author’s book doesn’t get lost amongst the masses, an author must put in a concentrated effort to market a book. Not only is it important for authors to market their books, but it’s also important for their books and marketing materials to standout. So, as an author, marketing a book is extremely important.

Please share a passage or quote from ‘Over the Borderline’ for our readers. 

The first one was by accident—it really was, I swear.

Yes, my fingers were around that girl’s neck, but the throbbing of her pulse electrified me like a shock. I couldn’t let go, not even if I’d wanted to, which I didn’t. She thrashed and instinctively arched her back to break my grip, but she couldn’t.

After picking her up in some seedy little bar off Highway 295, we’d both had a few drinks, and she made it clear she liked to play rough. So, we left and drove down to the beach and sat in my car, rolled the windows down even though it was late September. She wanted to hear some music, so I started the car again and let her push ‘SEEK’ on the digital console until she settled on Amy Winehouse singing about how tears dry on their own. I pulled out a pint of Jack from the back floorboard, and we drank straight from the bottle. Before the song was over, my belt was undone and her hand dipped below my waistband. She chewed my ear and guided my hands to help unzip her.

I’ll never forget the feel of that dress, as blue as the sky and flimsy as a cloud, and how easily it ripped in my hands. Bless her heart, she laughed about it, actually giggled like we were school kids on the playground and she’d accidentally torn her skirt. That’s when I put my hands around her neck, at first to stop her laughing, but then that surge of lifeblood thrummed through my fingers like the tide coming in.

I don’t know how long we sat there like that, locked together. After a few moments, she could tell something had changed— and I was as surprised as she was. The warm, moist feel of her neck in my hands reminded me of holding a puppy or a kitten, strong yet vulnerable at the same time. Then I couldn’t stop, and the more she resisted, the more excited I became to see her squirm. I held the power of life and death in my hands, literally.

My fingers clamped like steel vices until something gurgled in her throat and her eyes rolled back. Only then did I realize she wasn’t pretending. One minute she was a live wire sizzling in my hands, and the next, nothing, gone. That throbbing pulse that had captivated me with its surging rhythm just stopped. Her neck and spine flexed in one last spasm before relaxing, a balloon being deflated, as I cradled her in my hands.
I couldn’t believe I’d done it, nor could I deny how good it felt. It was like discovering a taste for single-malt scotch or basking in that first mellow wave of pleasure the first time you smoked really great weed. And once you find something you like, you know what they say, “Once is never enough.”
What are the three tips you have for readers of this interview who are aspiring writers?

1.  Dare to dream big! Believe that your dreams can come true. Don’t let fear or self-doubt rob you of your destiny. Tell your story to the world because your voice and your story matters. There are many ups and downs on the journey to becoming an author. But, through the hard moments, keep fighting the fight and never give up.
2.  Research in advance how to market your book, and figure out what type of audience will be reading your book. There’s a lot of information to learn in terms of effective marketing strategies, and there’s a lot of books/videos that can give authors the tools they need to successfully market their books. Additionally, listing your book under the appropriate categories will also help draw in the right readers for your book and help with the overall ranking of your book. Again, there’s so much to learn, so I’d encourage aspiring authors to look into these things before publishing their work.
3.  Establish a social media presence sooner than later as an author. This will be very helpful for marketing your book to readers, bloggers, reviewers, and helpful to establish meaningful relationships with other authors.

 Thank you, Leanna, for sharing your writing journey with us. Wishing you the very best for your future works.

About the book:

Brooke Douger has a knack for helping others with their broken lives, which explains her interest in criminal psychology and profiling. She convinces her childhood friend, Jacob, to move to Tampa after his latest fiasco, where he finds a job at a legal firm, which is defending Zach Barton, a rich, young entrepreneur who is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. When Brooke has to provide expert testimony in Barton’s trial, Jacob and Brooke end up on opposite sides of the courtroom. 

As Brooke prepares to testify, she discovers a pattern of violent, impulsive behavior in Barton’s past, eerily similar to those of the Surfside Killer, the case she has been asked to help profile for the FBI. Brooke is swirling in dangerous waters with the killer lurking on the fringe of her life. Who will be his next victim? Will Brooke’s knack for profiling be enough to keep her safe?

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