Writer Interviews: Pam Leonard

Posted by on September 26, 2012

Pam Leonard is another Minnesota mystery writer and I can’t wait to meet her in person one day.  I was instantly intrigued when I read this blurb by the awesome William Kent Krueger, another stellar Minnesota mystery writer:

“With Shadowland, Pam Leonard shatters the myth of Minnesota nice. In scene after powerful scene, Leonard explores the dark heart of homelessness and sex trafficking in the Twin Cities. The result is a twisted and harrowing journey down unexpected mean streets and dangerous alleyways. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.”

-William Kent Krueger
Author of Northwest Angle and Vermillion Drift

PS. Irrelevant side note: For some reason our lovely state has a preponderance of mystery writers compared to other states. I love it!

Here are Pam’s words of wisdom. Enjoy.

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

I’m a strong believer in the benefits of physical activity on brain performance and creativity, so I begin every day with a run or bike ride before writing. I start out with a certain creative aim in mind, and then let my mind wander as I work out. By the time I get home I’ve usually managed to mine my subconscious for several good ideas. Then I try to write in comfort. For me that means a treadmill desk. I’ve found that the standing position helps me avoid that total body “clenched fist” feeling at the end of several hours of writing. I always try to stay at it for at least two hours. If I’m on a roll, I may continue writing for up to six hours. But if, after two hours, nothing much has happened… well, at least I’ve tried.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

I feel a little blocked at times, though I’m not sure it’s bona fide writer’s block. When this happens I do several things. First, I double check my physical comfort. It’s amazing how long one can maintain an uncomfortable position without being aware of it. In fact, this is what led to my switch to a treadmill desk. If physical discomfort is not an issue, then there are several other possible fixes. One is to simply get out and live. Get away from the keyboard for a while and do something. Often I use this as an excuse to do “research” and try something unexpected or even outrageous. I try to have fun with it. For instance, I needed to learn about guns for my second novel, Where Echoes Die, so I went out and took gun training and got a permit to carry. The activity itself stimulated a lot of creative ideas. I also try to hang around with and talk to as many creative people as I can. The interactions often wind up stimulating ideas. I also consider my frame of mind. For me, writing comes easiest and most successfully when I write from a place of humility. So I usually do a gut check, get myself humble, pay attention, and work at falling in love again with the world and all its people. In loving all that messiness and imperfection, it almost feels as though the whole world is helping me tell the story.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I’m not much for “how to” books, but there are three books I discovered after I’d written my second novel –– a perfect time to discover them. I think they resonated with me all the more because I’d already discovered the general principals on my own –– simply by doing. Story, by Robert McKee, On Writing, by Stephen King, and If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland, are all fascinating reads on the process of creativity in storytelling.

4. Who do you read for fun?

Oh my, I enjoy so many mystery writers, but I’d have to say that among my favorites are William Kent Krueger, John Sandford, Brian Freeman, David Housewright, Dennis LeHane, Lee Child, and J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). You can’t go wrong with any of these authors or any of their books. I’ve never been disappointed.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I recall experimenting with writing as a child, and have always been an entertaining storyteller in conversation, but must confess that I never actually visualized myself writing seriously until my mother talked about wanting to write a mystery novel. My daughter and I sat down with her to help brainstorm –– and that was it! The act of letting my imagination have free rein was just too much fun to ignore. I was hooked!

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

There’s so much I could say, but I’ll pick a few key points.
First, read a lot. And I mean a lot! There’s no reason not to learn from your favorite authors. Read them for fun, but also with an eye toward how they create tension, craft dialogue, and deal with tricky transitions. Make use of them.
Shoo away all the censors. Create an “ideal reader” and write for her, as well as for your characters. Stay true to them, and don’t worry about what anyone else will think of your writing. Give the characters authentic voices. That comes from humility, which leads –– ironically, I suppose –– to confident writing. Remember, we are all far more alike than we are different. Readers can be trusted. You can be trusted.
Don’t feel guilty about the non-writing work, all the contemplative time that needs to be logged in support of your writing –– the time spent running, biking, or simply daydreaming. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. But it needs to be approached without any expectations –– by letting your mind wander, while at the same time gently, almost surreptitiously paying attention to it. Don’t force it, just do it.
And finally, write. Crazy, right? That’s the whole point! Why should I have to say that? Because all too often, people want to get everything perfect, or they let their fears get in the way, or they find some other way to sabotage themselves. Sound familiar? Just write! Do it. Don’t worry about the imperfections, you can fix those later. Just let it all out, get it on paper. You’ll be surprised by what you can do!

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

The ability to pay attention –– to your surroundings, to others, to yourself and your subconscious. As a writer, I tend to notice things that others don’t. Sometimes it’s in the small details –– the way someone speaks, the facial expression giveaways, or the subtext that’s present in everything we do and say yet seldom recognized. Sometimes it’s the big picture. But as a writer, you see these things. You analyze them. You break them down into entertaining, manageable bites. And the beautiful thing is that after you’ve fed your readers, they experience the glorious sensation of recognition. What you’ve written rings true! The same things that are in your subconscious, are also in theirs. You’ve just given them access to it. And they love that unexpected honesty.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

Coffee –– anytime. Chunks of watermelon and blueberries with grapefruit juice poured over them –– for breakfast. And of course… pretty, colorful cocktails.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

Favorite books, yes. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, and The River Why, by David James Duncan. You may wonder, seeing as how I’m a mystery writer, why these aren’t traditional mysteries. Well, I’d like to make the case that a good mystery isn’t simply a mystery. I’m a big fan of added value. In all my mysteries I add underlying themes that, if so interested, will tickle the senses of a reader. In line with my interests, these themes often deal with the neurosciences, creativity, even physics –– albeit presented in a palatable way! I’m also in love with ironic endings. These books have so inspired me.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

To the aspiring writer out there, just one more thing…
You have important things to say –– don’t let anyone stop you from expressing yourself!


Pam Leonard, a native Minnesotan, loves mystery and learning. Growing up in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, she remained to attend the University of Minnesota for degrees in Political Science, Public Health, and Medicine. Not content to live only one life, Pam discovered that writing excused such restlessness, taking her through studies of theology, architecture, handgun training, String Theory, even Krav Maga and Parkour, all of which she employs in her novels. As she says of her research… “What? It’s material.” Pam has written three novels in her Zoe Lawrence mystery series… the Midwest Book Award Finalist Death’s Imperfect Witness (North Star Press, 2010), Where Echoes Die (North Star Press, 2011), and Shadowland (North Star Press, September, 2012).


One Response to Writer Interviews: Pam Leonard

  1. MIckie Turk

    Oh, Pam – This Interview with Kristi is terrific. I thought I learned a lot about you in Grand Marais, but reading your words here, syncs so many pieces of information. It’s going to be a little while, but I cannot wait to read one of your books! BTW, I whole-heatedly agree with you on the benefits of physical activity. I also heard Sujata Massey speak to this last spring.

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