Leigh Harlen is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and blends of all three as well as a sharer of obscure bat facts. We thank them for taking a moment to share a conversation with us.
Q how did you get your start writing?
My party answer to this question is that I’ve been writing to some degree or another most of my life. I can’t even say there was some kind of genesis moment besides I just loved reading. One of my first stories was an illustrated retelling of some things I heard about on the news that led to my 1st grade teacher calling my folks into school for a… conversation. What can I say, I was a precocious true crime writer before I even knew what that was.
The more serious answer is that it wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I started treating writing as something I did more seriously. I was in law school at the time and deeply, deeply unhappy and unfulfilled with my studies and life in general. Reconnecting with that love of writing I’d had when I was younger allowed me to process some things I had been through and was going through, it enriched parts of myself that had begun to wither as a result of depression and trauma. Those things had cut me off so thoroughly from my own internal life that it wasn’t until I started viewing writing as a part of myself, a pathway into my own head that I could write with the kind of honesty and authenticity that connected with other people.
Q Are you a pantser or a plotter?
A bit of both! With shorter work, I usually just go for it. With longer work, I typically write out a “what is this about” mission statement. Then I write my way into the world so I can get a better feel for who I’m writing about and what my character’s personalities mean for their goals and behavior. When I hit about 10,000 words or so, I usually take a pause and write an outline of the major events and plot beats I want to hit. I’ve found trying to do that outline first was usually wasted effort and would get thrown out the window almost immediately when I made some realization about a character motivation or stumbled upon some research tidbit that NEEDED to be included even though it was going to change how the entire world worked.
Q What books are you reading now? Which authors are influencing your writing?
I just finished Catriona Ward’s Little Eve on audiobook. Evelyn kept me company for several tattoo appointments in fact. It felt… quite fitting I must say. I also recently inhaled Hailey Piper’s The Worm and His Kings.
As for who is influencing my writing, that is a tough question because the list is so long! I read every Stephen King book that was available at the time from the ages of 10-14 and so definitely cannot deny his influence on frankly my entire personality. Sarah Gailey was probably the first openly non-binary writer I encountered and will always be in awe of the way they combine humor with beautiful explorations of romantic partner, familial, and social traumas on an individual. Every one of their books is a character study in the best way. I am ever in awe of Premee Mohamed’s ability to juggle literal universal scope with the flawed decision making on the most individual level. Not to mention, in Johnny Chambers, creating the most horrible goblin of a character who is the absolute worst and yet I can’t get enough of her. That is writer goals right there. Silvia Morena-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic lives in my head forever as the measure for the kind of supernatural meets science gothic I would love to write.
Q If you had an opportunity to write a different genre of book, what would it be?
I don’t have the patience, but I would love to be able to write an exquisitely crafted mystery.
Q I heard a quote from John Carpenter that the people who work in horror are generally nice because they work out their issues, as an author who has written some dark material, do you find this true?
I think there’s some truth to this. Horror is built on terror, dread, anxiety. All very personal and visceral feelings to create. You can write all the monsters going bump in the night that you want, but if there isn’t that something more that comes from really understanding yourself and society and what makes things SCARY it’s not going to connect to someone as anything more than surface level cool. It’s definitely not going to keep anyone up at night watching to see if the shadows are moving.
Plus most of the horror writers I know are really nice.
Q What is your next project you are working on?
I have a cyber noir novella coming out this year! I’m also working on a gothic-ish horror novella with parasitic monsters (I’m obsessed with all forms of parasitism, it’s an oft recurring theme) that I hope to sell to someone this year.
Q} if people want more info about you or your books where should they go?
My website, leighharlen.com and so long as twitter continues to exist, I’m @leighharlen.
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
Probably holed up with my partner and our dog. Once the food runs out, and our dog passes from natural causes because I refuse to entertain any other thoughts in that regard, I will probably get eaten. I don’t really have a ton of zombie apocalypse useful skills. I can crochet and play the tin whistle, but unless the zombies can be lured by music or can be deterred from eating me with a cozy hat, my chances are slim.
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom
Our Flag Means Death.
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 thought about this for a while and the thing I kept coming back to was Anselm Kiefer’s Die Orden der Nacht. You can see a picture and read about it here:
Visual art isn’t my medium which is perhaps why the awe and emotions that painting evokes when I stand in front of it feel so utterly unique.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
I’ve taken and thoroughly failed four polygraphs. I refuse to elaborate. It’s much funnier if I don’t.