Richard Leonard’s interview

» Posted on Aug 14, 2008 in Blog | Comments Off on Richard Leonard’s interview

If you want to enter the drawing for Heart of the Highriders, please leave a comment with your email address or email me at The drawing ends Sunday evening.

Leonard’s interview:

1. What made you start writing?
I started writing as a child. Going through memorabilia recently, I found some little stories my mother had saved from the time I was five or six. I believe the desire to write was borne in me from an early age through a certain sense of inadequacy. By writing, I could both create a world of my own and also impress others with my creativity. (How’s that for introspective self-analysis?) I continued to write through my school years, publishing poems in my high school literary supplement and winning prizes for two short stories. I took a creative writing class in college and published a story in the college literary magazine. In college and graduate school, of course, much of my writing was academic (term papers, doctoral dissertation, etc.), and I admit that a certain academic flavor characterizes all my writing to this day, even the fiction. As a pastor I typically wrote my sermons, and my latest ones are on our ministry web site (

2. How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
Since I have written all my life, I will take this question as applying to writing for remuneration. That aspect of my writing life appeared around 1992, when I was asked to be the Scripture editor for The Complete Library of Christian Worship (Hendrickson, 1993), edited by the late Dr. Robert E. Webber. The editorial work required extensive revision of work by others, but also involved original entries on various topics, especially in volume I of this seven-volume work. I went on to do several other projects for the Livingstone Corporation, including A Theological Miscellany (Nelson, 2005) by the fictional T. J. McTavish, which is almost entirely my ghost writing. That might be considered the first book I “sold,” though it was a work for hire. I have yet to sell any of my novels, though I have self-published two through different publishers.

3. How do you handle rejections?
How do I handle rejections? I just move the file for my query letter into the “Rejections” folder in my computer! And then keep looking for yet another agent or publisher for the work, while continuing to tweak the product. We can’t dwell on the rejections if we believe we have something worth while to offer the reading public.

4. Why do you write?
As a Christian writer, I seek to coax the reader into thinking about issues important to our culture, and how faith interacts with those issues. There is enough entertainment out there already, so I don’t think we need yet another murder mystery with a “faith” twist. I’m retired, so I don’t write for money. I write as my way of furthering the kingdom of God. Otherwise, for me, there’s no point.

5. What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?
Having several other hobbies, I would be pursuing one or another of them as I already do. One interest in particular is railroads and trains, and my Rail Archive ( is popular with railroad fans. I enjoy solving computer problems, and have built and maintain a number of web sites for myself and for several Christian and community organizations. There is always something to repair or keep up around the house and yard, and we have plenty of grandchildren (25) for whom I occasionally build small furniture or other items. I enjoy classical music recordings, and have composed music for worship or other purposes.

6. What are you working on right now?
My wife, Shirley Anne, and I are co-writing my fourth novel, The Twilight Side of the Hill. It’s semi-autobiographical. We married only seven years ago after being widowed (we’re both 69), but we’re writing the story as though we met each other in the 1950s, had a brief romance, married other people and then reconnected four decades later after losing our spouses. It’s a great trip back in time and, I hope, an absorbing character study as well.

7. Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I always “feel” for the male protagonist in my stories. Often, his emotional responses and style of interaction are much like mine. In my first novel I wrote aspects myself into several of the male characters. I would hesitate to try that with a female protagonist, which is why my daughter co-wrote my second novel and my wife is co-writing the fourth.

8. Tell us about the book you have out right now.
I have two available through Amazon and elsewhere. My first short novel, Silence of the Drums (Xulon, 2005), is the story of a Midwestern family dealing with some end-times issues. What happens when a friend decides to quit his job because Christ is coming back soon, and hits you up for financial support in the interim? My second novel, Heart of the Highriders (Word Association, 2006), is a Medieval-flavored fantasy-adventure I co-wrote with my daughter, Charity Silkebakken (see I wrote it because I’m not comfortable with the magic and sorcery that pervades literature even Christian families are reading today. So Heart of the Highriders is “fantasy without magic.” In the end the protagonists discover the Lord — under another name, of course — and this knowledge enables them to overcome their foes, both external and internal.

9. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Since I haven’t sold my own fiction yet, it would be presumptuous for me to offer advice to others. I guess the advice I would pass on is what has been given to me: Do your best to improve your craft, but not at the expense of your distinctive voice. It’s hard to buck the template being imposed on Christian fiction these days, but I believe that in the end both reader and author will benefit if we can break free of the mold.

10. How important is faith in your books?
Faith, in the sense of faithfulness to the biblical perspective, is the basis for my fiction writing. I tend to take a more academic approach to Christian faith, in the belief that what changes our lives is the renewal of the mind that Paul mentions in Romans 12. When we come to see our world differently, this has consequences for our actions, relationships, and sense of personal identity and worth. So my characters tend to grapple more with the faith in an intellectual, rather than devotional or emotional, way.

11. What themes do you like to write about?
Looking over what I have written, I see my characters involved with culture-wars issues (e.g., abortion), theological issues (e.g., eschatology), personal skepticism about the faith, or issues of self-worth. In Heart of the Highriders a major theme is how to understand the influence of evil. Until the protagonists arrive at a concept of the unseen spiritual realm their experience of evil remains a mystery.

12. What is your favorite book you’ve written and why?
My favorite book is New America, a novel for which I am still seeking agent representation or a publisher. It deals with current “culture wars” issues, extrapolating them to a hypothetical setting some eight decades into the future. I enjoy creating alternate “worlds,” as we did in Heart of the Highriders. The New America of my novel is an alternate, biblically based America founded on the east coast of Siberia, and the story plays off this Christian America and its values against the American “mother country” with its totalitarian political correctness.

13. What is your writing schedule like?
I don’t follow a schedule, but write when source material becomes available or my critique group gives feedback. As I mentioned above, I’m retired!