Interview with Nicholas Leitzke, author of The Blade & the Wing

8:43 AM

An exclusive interview

with author Nicholas Leitzke

Doodles, doodles everywhere congratulates author Nicholas Leitzke on the release of his latest fantasy novel, The Blade & the Wing! Let's welcome him on the blog for an interview with DDE today. Read on!

1. What inspired you to write The Blade & the Wing?

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy, but really this story sprouted from my obsession with Magic: the Gathering. One of my favorite creature types in MTG is Angels. Just the notion of an entire race of fantasy folk who are all warrior women has always intrigued me. What would they believe? What would they follow? Where would they live and how would they survive? One day I sat down to write a few scenes with characters I’d been playing with for a while, and I really liked what came out. I was enrolled in an MFA Screenwriting program at Hollins University at the time, and The Blade & the Wing actually started as a script in one of my classes. Over time I kept having people tell me that it needed to be a novel, just the scope of it and the details demanding a different format that allowed for elaboration. So finally I broke down and wrote it as a novel, and it was probably the best thing I ever did for this story. But boiling everything down you can see my love for MTG, D&D, WoW, GoT, LoTR. You name it, it probably inspired me. I’m playing with my toys.

2. Can you give the readers an idea about what to expect in The Blade & the Wing?

I’m not doing anything drastically different with fantasy in The Blade & the Wing. It’s your classic quest. The hero receives the call to action and must embark on a journey to defeat evil and claim her destiny. Simple enough. But from the moment I conceived this story I could see how it was going to be unique. I was taking fantasy, omitting Elves and instead inserting Angels, for one. And I always wanted a strong female presence for my hero. I’m tired of the clichéd story line “boy goes on quest to rescue damsel.” As much as possible I wanted The Blade & the Wing to be “girl goes on quest to save herself.” And making Marka Nyquist’s sidekick an Angel just led the story down a very natural path. This book deals with LGBT issues, but I never wanted it to be something that drove publicity. To me, the relationship between Marka and Vensa and then Marka and Samanthia were just how the story needed to be told. I never wanted it to be explicit and gratuitous. I never wanted to seem like I was writing with some sort of agenda. It’s a story about a young woman discovering herself and finding love along the way, and this is the path the story chose to follow. I’m very proud of the result.

3. Do you decide the character traits before you sit down to write, or as you write?

I put a fair amount of prep work into everything before I sit down and start writing it. Everything you read is an iceberg. The published work is the tip, and all the prep work that went into it is the giant block of ice beneath the water. I want to have a solid feel for the characters I’m getting inside of for the next few months, so I map out as much of their lives, backstory, and traits as I think I need to. The moment I know it’s paying off is when I get into the middle of a dialogue scene and the characters begin speaking for themselves, and I know it’s because I’m comfortable inside their headspaces. That being said, every story needs to grow, and you have to be willing to let it. Sometimes the best moments or character ticks aren’t clear until you’ve finished the first draft, and you have to be brave enough to return to the drawing board and make everything right. So it’s a bit of both, but I like to have my characters as fleshed out as possible before I start writing.

4. Can you tell us what kind of research went behind the book?

Really the only research I did was the world building. The same amount of prep work I put into my characters I put into the world, so I had to know the people, places, and environments before I sat down to write them. That only comes with elbow grease and digging it up from someplace inside you. I looked up different medieval weapons just to clarify as I wrote, and I had to know what primary feathers are on a bird’s wings, but other than that there was no hard research that went into this.

5. If you had to pick one favorite character from the book, who would you pick and why?

I love Marka and Samanthia and exploring their dynamic, but Vensa quickly became my favorite character. They always say to make the bad guy badder, and I had so much fun making Vensa as evil as I could. One of the things that makes a villain a villain is a profound sense of rightness and truth. As dedicated as the hero is to his or her goal, the villain must be equally devoted to the opposite. At one point Marka realizes that Samanthia is a zealot in her devotion to Leventhar. I’d say that Vensa is equally a zealot and truly believes that she’ll make the world a better place by dominating it. Make that zealotry her driving force and then make Vensa willing to do anything imaginable to achieve it. And writing her dialogue was a blast. I would take away my filter and ask myself, ‘What’s the most sadistic, awful thing I would say in this moment,’ and it was like Vensa herself took care of the rest.

6. Tell us about some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your writing journey till now.

It’s a challenge just to make myself sit down in front of my laptop or with my notebook every day, but it’s what you have to do if you’re serious about this. But what I find most challenging is getting myself to start a new draft. I live for drafting and rewriting because that’s when your writing gets better, but just making myself start climbing the mountain all over again is a challenge. Once I’m in the middle of it and writing the new draft I love it and can’t stop, but I have to make myself get going. Part of this whole thing is tenacity, and if you’re not tenacious you’re not going to get very far.

There was also the whole issue of converting The Blade & the Wing from screenplay format to prose. Kind of a twist on adaptation, going from screenplay to novel instead of vice versa. I’d been writing scripts for two years in my MFA program, and screenplays follow a very specific format and style. They’re tight and have to fit into about 120 pages, so brevity is your best friend. You can’t delve into a character’s internal monologue – only what the audience can see and hear. Switching back to prose was tricky. It’s like asking a painter to start sculpting. When I decided to write The Blade & the Wing as a novel I realized that I was still conditioned to script format, so I had to get it all back. I read as much as I could and then it hit me, “Oh, right. That’s how you do it.” From there it was just a matter of doing it and writing it, and then it was easy to adjust.

7. What is your writing routine like?

I have to get out of the house. Between Netflix, World of Warcraft, and my cat constantly clawing my feet for attention I have to get out of the house. So I make regular trips to Panera and local coffee shops to get my work done. When I’m working on something it’s the only thing I’m working on, and on a good day I can actually get in a full eight-hour work day. The most important thing about a writing routine is that even if you don’t have time to actually make it a repeating routine, still make the time. Even if you can’t write eight hours a day, make the time to write something every day. Writing is a muscle and it needs to be worked out.

8. Do you have any rejection stories to share?

I’ve submitted my share of material to literary journals only to see it rejected, so I have plenty. You learn to move on and not take it personally. What stings more than rejection, though, is feedback. Feedback is your best friend, but receiving it can be the worst feeling in the world. Whenever I receive feedback, even useful and valuable feedback, I feel like I just got punched in the face. I think it’s a natural response, because of course you want your writing to be perfect the first time through, but someone is going to identify a weakness and tell you about it. There’s no other way to deal with feedback than take it on the chin, determine the spirit of the note, and then find the solution which is always there. I’ve never had a round of feedback be so deconstructing that I give up, although I’ve felt like giving up plenty of times after receiving feedback. The hard part is surviving the night, and when the sun comes up you realize that your head has been churning the whole time and now there are brand new avenues of thought you didn’t realize were there. I live for feedback because it’s the only way your work will grow, but it hurts so much.

9. What’s next?

As I’ve said, my MFA is in Screenwriting, so this year is the first year that I’ve been submitting scripts to the major competitions. Austin Film Festival. Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Script Pipeline. Etc. It’s interesting because most of my work deals with real-life drama, something that can be easily produced for a first time writer, and not high-budget fantasy/action like The Blade & the Wing. But they’re all stories that I’m passionate about. I have a new script that I’m drafting, a very low budget indie story that I want to have ready in time for the Blue Cat Screenplay Competition in the fall. And of course I’m mapping out the next Leventhar book, which I want to get going as soon as possible.

10. Lastly, any special thoughts for the readers?

I’ll leave with the best writing advice I ever received. In my MFA program we had a lot of really amazing guest speakers and instructors who have worked inside the film industry and who are up and coming. Two years ago we got Ana Lily Amirpour to come speak to us and screen her movie A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Check out that movie, an American movie about a vampire with Iranian-American actors and all spoken in Farsi. I think it’s on Netflix. But after the screening she held a Q&A, and she gave a great analogy when asked how to “get good at writing.” Basically, writing is like having sex. The only way to get good at it is to do it a bunch, figure out what you like, and then keep doing it.

The Blade & the Wing

(Leventhar #1)

by Nicholas Leitzke

Published: May 9th 2016
Publisher: The Blade & the Wing
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

When the world was young, the races of the Great Continent lived in harmony with the Angels to guide them.

But after the Angel Leventhar fought the Demon Khral to a bloody standstill, the Angels withdrew into their mountain home. Humans ravaged the land with internal strife and constant war, and now there are hardly any races left who remember Leventhar and the sacrifice she made to save all life.

Now, three thousand years later, Marka Nyquist is a young squire who heroically but tragically rises to glory in her kingdom. Marka soon learns, however, that she might be the reincarnation of Leventhar, reborn to counter the possible return of Khral and his promise of darkness. With the help of Samanthia, Leventhar's oldest friend and the only Angel who believes in her return, Marka embarks on a vital quest to avenge her kingdom, claim her true identity, and discover an even greater truth about her connection to the world, both ancient and new.

Buy the book

About the author

Nicholas lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with his cat and various MMO personas. After graduating from Roanoke College with a BA in English in 2003, he worked maintenance at a hotel before switching over to full-time barista, which he has done ever since. 

Writing, however, has always been his first passion, and after waking up one morning and deciding more training was needed he enrolled in Hollins University's Screenwriting and Film Studies MFA program. Now a proud graduate with another mountain of student debt to pay off, Nicholas writes as much as possible and loves every second of it.

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