D. Jackson Leigh is an accomplished writer who spends her days writing lesbian romance stories in her trademark equestrian settings and her nights honing her journalism craft. She was nice enough to share some of her hectic schedule with us.
I saw that you had grown up in the south, is that why so many of your works seem to revolve around horses?
Living in the South doesn’t necessarily translate into loving horses. I’ve just loved them since I was a small child. I used to joke with one of my best friends, who was also my horse vet here in North Carolina, that we must have been horses in a previous life. That friend also competed in eventing – the equestrian sport you see in the Olympics – before she decided to become an equine veterinarian, so she was a ready source of information for me to write my first book, Bareback. That book sold well because it appealed to both romance readers and people who liked horses. So, writing in equestrian settings sort of became my trademark because, at that time, nobody else was doing that.
You branched out to write a couple of fantasy novels, what inspired you to try out the new genre and will you be returning to it?
I’ve always loved to read fantasy. I grew up on JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Anne McCaffrey, along with books like Charlotte’s Web, Watership Down, The Little Prince, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Those books, and many other fantasy titles, were actually vehicles for social commentary… much like religious parables are stories told to convey a moral, or a folk tale teaches a lesson in morality.
After Obama was elected the first time, I was really troubled at the dark turn social media had taken. There seemed to be no limit to the ugliness people would post, about President Obama and his family, and about anyone who didn’t agree with them. Intolerance and divisiveness was and still is rampant. So I decided I wanted to speak up.
At the same time, I inexplicably dreamed about dragons three times in one week. I’m not really a superstitious person. I don’t read my horoscope. But I couldn’t think of a single thing that could have triggered those dreams. And I write about horses. So, I thought about it, came up with dragon horses, and decided to give it a try.
I doubt I’ll wander into that field again. World-building is very difficult, and while I enjoyed writing the trilogy, fantasy doesn’t sell nearly as well as romance.
I see you that besides your novels you also work in journalism, what things have you learned from journalism that contributes to your novels and vice versa?
Very little of my forty years in journalism translates into fiction writing. It’s a completely different method of writing. I had to learn to get in my character’s heads, rather than report what was happening. Bold Strokes Books is a great publisher for writers like me because they actively offer opportunities – online workshops and a BSB author retreats – where we learn to hone our craft. I’ve also learned a lot from my editor, Shelley Thrasher.
I also still wrestle with adhering during the week to Associated Press style, then writing on the weekends with an eye toward the Chicago Manual of Style (book publishing). They can be very different. For example: one uses the Oxford comma, the other prohibits it. Picky stuff like that. Shelley’s very patient with me when I slip up.
What books growing up inspired you to be reader and writer?
I always thought of myself as a reader. I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. Of course, my favorite books were Walter Farley’s series that started with The Black Stallion. And Margarite Henry’s series that began with Misty of Chincoteague.
I know a lot of people like to say Jane Austin, Little Women, etc. But I always found those characters stiff. I fell in love with the great Southern writers – Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, William Faulkner (The Unvanquished), Tennessee Williams (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). Their characters were so raw, and their stories so layered with texture.
Honestly though, I never thought about actually writing until I grew impatient with not being able to find enough lesbian fiction to read and decided to just write a story to amuse myself. That was Bareback. It sat on a shelf for five years until I found a Yahoo group of role-playing writers led by Cate Culpepper. We wrote stories together and had fun. Cate, and another member Gill McKnight were published by BSB, and encouraged me to dust off my manuscript and submit it. The rest is history.
What tips you would you have for anyone trying to start working in the romance field?
I think it’s a lot tougher breaking out these days because there are so many books available. You need to do your homework, learn the pitfalls of fiction writing, get a professional editor – not your best friend or someone who says they can edit (check their credentials). If you really want to break out with your first book, be prepared to invest in yourself. Audiobooks are the next big thing, like ebooks once were. You’ll need money to get an audio book produced. You’ll make more money up front if you self-publish – if you get noticed in the sea of writers that Amazon publishes. But there are so many advantages to submitting your book to a publisher who will absorb the costs of editing, producing a cover, printing, ebook formatting, and distributing, even possibly producing it for Audible. You’ll also have their reputation behind you and the immediate attention of their loyal readers.
What is your current project you are working on?
Blades of Bluegrass, a romance set in the Kentucky Thoroughbred racing community, is in the editing phase. It comes out in August.
So, I’m working up a proposal now for a three- or four-book series that centers around a women-only Outward Bound type of program in the Rocky Mountains. Each book will be a romance that centers around women who have come to the three-week program to recover from something or find a new path. The program is meant to strip them of their life baggage and show them what’s essential to survive.
If people want more information about you or to find your novels where should the go?
All of my books are available at Bold Strokes Books, which also links to my blog, Bella Books (which distributes for BSB), Barnes & Noble, etc. My website, which sorely needs updating, is at djacksonleigh.com, and I’m at facebook.com/djacksonleigh.
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
At my desk, writing. If you’d ever heard my three terrier-mixes bark when someone comes to the door, you’d know the zombies would just walk on past my house. They sound like a herd of 50. They have their own facebook page – The Terrors.
Q ) How do you identify Jedi, lesbian, Ninja, gay, vampire, bisexual, were-wolf, transgender, pirate, asexual, fairy, aromantic, sith, intersex, Spartan, non-binary, wizard, genderfluid, time lord , queer, …? ?
I am a lesbian Dragon Horse Warrior.
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
I’m torn between The Help and Hidden Figures movies. The scary thing about Hidden Figures, though, is to think about how much more of history has been concealed from us because it was written by white men.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
I really like kids. Not little babies, so much, but as soon as they’re out of diapers and talk. They have unique points of view, and aren’t afraid to express them. They’re very interesting to talk with.