Lovelier the second time around
Described as an Eloise-of-Hollywood, Diane Leslie's first novel
managed 21 weeks on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller
list. Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime also was selected
as one of the Best Books of 1999 by Library Journal and the
L. A. Times.
second, Fleur De Leigh in Exile, published in April
2003, was described by The Washington Times as "a
novel filled with funny escapades and endearing characters,
amusingly and charmingly portrayed by a delightful protagonist…"
it wasn't until Diane Leslie had already written four unpublished
novels that she decided to write "Fleur De Leigh's Life
of Crime" a comedic debut novel and a semi-autobiographical
account of a young girl who had 60 different nannies in her
In a world where increasingly younger authors are offered increasingly
megabuck advances, Leslie's later-in-life success story is both
compelling and inspiring to those writers still toiling in fields
of relative anonymity.
addition to her writing, she is a bookseller at Dutton's Brentwood
Bookseller in West Los Angeles where she hosts author readings,
discussions and several book clubs. On top of this busy schedule
she is generous with her time and guidance. She provides one
of Word Smitten's contributing writers with thoughts about the
Conversation with Diane Leslie
When you were writing the first Fleur novel, did you already
have the sequel in mind and what were the thought processes,
considerations and decisions that you went through en route
to the second one?
Since I had already written four novels that didn't get published,
Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime was meant to be my last. I did
decide to write autobiographically this one time because, I
believed, if this book didn't get published it would be, at
least, therapeutic. Only when my publisher asked me what I planned
to write next, did I decide to write in a comical way about
the terrible boarding school to which I'd been exiled at the
age of fifteen.
WS: How influential/important were your editor and agent?
My agent wanted to send out a smacking clean manuscript. She
kept after me to rewrite and improve my novel. I'm very grateful
for her zeal and mission of perfection. Still, the lovely editor
who acquired my novel wanted to omit one particular chapter.
I spent a whole day cutting, rewriting, and reshaping it in
order to save it. That chapter is probably my favorite.
What kind of contract did you have with your publisher? Was
there ever mention of a two-book deal? Do you think it is advantageous
for writers to have a two-book deal?
I don't want to make deals on books I haven't begun to write.
I need to know I really have a whole, viable novel I trust in
before I can feel comfortable negotiating a price.
WS: Presumably, in order to write a sequel, you have to really
like the main character. How close were you to Fleur, and how
easy was it to continue writing about her?
In the second novel I had new problems with Fleur, who is in
many ways myself. She was ten through twelve years old in the
first book. In Fleur De Leigh In Exile, she was three years
older, smarter, and sassier. I couldn't count on her innocence.
She needed a more mature voice. This novel is darker because
Fleur had been placed in an untenable situation by uncaring
What were the conscious decisions you made with this second
novel and how did it differ from the first?
Although I tried to smooth it into the novel form, you could
say that Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime was composed of interconnected
stories. In Fleur De Leigh In Exile, which took place during
an eight month period, I definitely wanted to write one cohesive
linear story. And did.
WS: Has the reaction to the second novel been what you hoped
DL: I think it is a great luxury to be able to write novels.
I'm doing what I've wanted to do since I was a child. I feel
WS: How much promotion/marketing did you have to do yourself
and did you get enough support from the publisher? Does having
a first novel out there make it easier to publicize the second?
DL: My idea about promoting books is to say yes to everything.
You never know who you'll meet or who will hear you. Since I'm
interested in most people, especially those who like to read,
and I enjoy public speaking, I usually have a good time. But
I think first novels will always get more attention than second
or third ones. In fact, I know people who collect only first
Anything you'd have done differently with either the first or
One of my own drawings has been published in the pages of my
second novel. I had wanted to illustrate each of the nannies
depicted (in print) in the first, but timidity or the assumption
it couldn't be done, prevented me from mentioning my desire
to my editor.
WS: Are you still working as a bookseller at Dutton's? How does
that help or inform your writing?
DL: I still sell books, host author readings, and lead book
groups at Dutton's Brentwood Books in Los Angeles. Writing is
lonely but I have the certitude that I will be spending late
afternoons or evenings in the company of readers. I will be
able to talk and think about books other than my own. Being
a bookseller, as my husband will concur, both stimulates and
After the first novel, is it easier or harder to launch the
second novel and how does it distract from the writing process?
It was more exciting giving birth to the first of my two sons
than it was birthing the second. The same is true of my two
books. That's just the way it is. Everything distracts me from
the writing process--this questionnaire for example.
What recommendations would you give to writers about handling
the organization and management of writing the third book while
on the road touring with #1 and #2?
I don't really write when I'm out of town. Traveling is too
wearying and/or much too exciting for me to settle down and
concentrate on such an intimate thing as writing. I think it
is important to observe and absorb new places and ideas. You
never know what will be the geneses of a new character, description,
Does vetting get easier? Does the structure of the novel begin
to get more comfortable and do the revisions get easier or more
manageable? What tips for organizing the process did you discover?
DL: The one thing that makes writing easier for me now is that
someone (my agent and editor) really wants to read what I have
to say. I've come to the conclusion that the characters are
the all-important elements of my novels, and that the structures
eventually just fall into place. I happen to be someone who
loathes writing the first draft but who would merrily continue
rewriting and revising forever.
I'm assuming you're already embarked on writing the next novel.
Is it also about Fleur de Leigh?
DL: My next novel is about my family and me again. It takes
place in the present, however, so I'm not positive it will be
a Fleur de Leigh novel. But then my mother is Charmian and I
am pretty much Fleur.
Is there a danger of being the literary equivalent of typecast,
if you continue writing about Fleur?
My mother was a successful screenwriter but she had to write
the pictures that were assigned to her. I am fortunate to be
able to write what is important to me. I don't believe there
is typecasting for writers. If Phillip Roth writes a book without
Zuckerman narrating, we still read it, don't we? I've just finished
a short story that has nothing to do with my novels, and I feel
confident it will be published. Somewhere.
Do you write every day?
I try to write every day but I don't bawl myself out if I don't.
The things I do when I'm not writing seem to stimulate what
I write. I don't feel that I spend much time writing, but I
guess I do.
WS: What else do you write?
DL: I love theatre and wrote one play that didn't get produced.
It had two readings, and I was thrilled to hear audiences laughing
at my lines. It fascinated me how two different actors found
such contrasting qualities in a character. But I also realized
I didn't have the chutzpah at the time to work in this most
collaborative medium. Instead I've done a lot of public speaking
which, the way I do it, is really writing on my feet. I can
usually rely on my own spontaneity and I cherish the instant
gratification of laughter. I do find it much easier to speak
to a group than to write. But as I mentioned, I've just finished
a new short story. It called Driven.
WS: Any movie options on the horizon?
DL: Books are extremely important to me; I love to read. The
whole movie-possibility thing embarrasses me, and I dodge the
question whenever possible. I resent it when people tell me
my book will make a terrific movie. Why don't they say it has
already made a terrific book?