It’s my favourite pastime of the week, where we get to explore the writing of exciting individuals and find out what makes them tick.
Today we have the pleasure of chatting with international syndicated columnist, freelance writer and author Leslie Handler about her collection of insightful and often humorous memoirs that are at times heartfelt, touching and full of uplifting spirit.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the show friends 🙂
Hi there Leslie, thank you for joining us today to discuss your Memoir/Essay Collection publication, along with your own passions, influences and writing experiences.
Let’s start first with your part memoir, part essay collection release itself “Rats, Mice and Other Things You Can’t Take to the Bank, A Collection of Essays From Humorous to Simply Human”. Please tell us more about the nature of these stories and their plots/unifying themes, along with how you came to write this particular collection.
Hi David. Thanks for asking about my book. I had some favourite published essays as well as many that simply couldn’t find a home. I wanted to share some of these stories with others in the hope that they might help them get through some of the tough stuff of life. I also wanted to share some of the joys we all experience. Topics in the book include everything from love, sickness and child rearing to mice, senior moments and technology. What pulls all the stories together is the chronology of my life and the hope that many of the stories may be found in my readers lives as well.
If any of your vignettes/essays were to be made into a film (or even a TV series), which story(ies) would you pick for this treatment and who would you cast in the lead roles?
That’s a tough question. I would doubt that a little short essay could become a featured film. Perhaps some of the humour pieces could make a sitcom. I never actually thought of them that way. Each one is like one of my children. I don’t know that I could pick a favourite. I do tend to read the same two at speaking engagements: “The Unravelling” and “Skinny People and Fat People.” “The Unravelling” is a story about the peaceful joy I feel when, after financial devastation, I find myself making the last student loan payment. It’s an emotionally tough story with a happy ending. I guess I could see a TV episode of “Skinny People and Fat People.” It’s a funny story about how my family treats food and then lengths our minds take us in its pursuit.
What would you choose as your own personal mascot or spirit animal when it comes to you and your style of writing?
Ha! I actually find this a humorous question. I don’t really believe in reincarnation, but I do relate to most animals one way or another. We have three dogs who I adore, saltwater fish, who give me peace, and a very loud Triton Cockatoo, who I actually despise. Although I’ve never personally known any elephants, they fascinate me. I think they’re extremely smart and very compassionate. So if you’re talking about animals and how they might relate to my writing style, I suppose I’d say that thinking of our dogs relates to the playful and sincere side of my writing as I’ve never met a dog that didn’t love to play and wasn’t completely sincere. The fish perhaps reflect in my meditative stories. I don’t write negative stories so I guess I compartmentalize the negative energy I have with our bird, and I truly hope that, like my observations of elephants, all of my writing shows the compassion I have for others less fortunate.
What do you think most characterizes or defines your writing? Do you have any writing quirks or themes that constantly crop up in your stories?
I’d like to think that my writing is very relatable. When telling my own personal stories, I’m always striving for the reader to have a take-away, not a lesson, but an image that pops in their heads of a similar experience they’ve had themselves. I want them to wonder how I knew something so personal about them when I’ve never met them. I hope that relatability is what defines my writing.
As for quirks, I tend to write in spurts. I take notes all the time. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I have to immediately stop and write it down. At my age, I will NOT remember it. When I sit down to write, I refer back to my notes. They refresh my memory on a story idea, and I just push the “Go” button and the words come flowing out. My biggest quirk is that I have to be completely alone in my head to write. I can’t write with music on or the TV on. I can write on a plane or in a busy airport because to me, that’s just white noise.
Regarding themes, since I write about what happens in my personal life, that often means I write about the same issues that recur for me: recurrent cancer, the love of my family, and stupid stuff I actually admit to. I do try to limit writing about my ongoing battles with cancer as I worry that people will get sick of hearing about it. I also don’t want to sound obnoxious about how fortunate I am in life with an abundance of love. I try to focus a lot on the everyday happenings of life, how to deal with them, overcome them, face them, treasure them, or share them.
What do you find the most difficult thing about writing? And what do you find the easiest?
To me, the hardest thing is coming up with new stories I haven’t told before. Between my illnesses and my nature of being an outgoing introvert, I sometimes have to force myself to leave the nest to gain new experiences. I know if I stay cooped up with the animals forever, I’m never allowing myself to learn new things and have new encounters to observe.
Once something new happens that I have the opportunity to reflect on, well that’s the easy part. The words of the story just flow.
Who are some of the authors, musicians, poets and/or historical figures that inspire you?
Of course the writings of Erma Bombeck have a huge influence on me. She had an amazing knack for observing the obvious and poking fun at all of our idiosyncrasies. I love reading contemporary essayists as well. David Sedaris has an amazing talent for storytelling. I love to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction, but as far as inspiration in my writing, I often look to memoirs and biographies. Of all things, I think that when I read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, it really inspired me. His writings show that he was rather full of himself, but he was also quite reflective regarding his own faults. I certainly wouldn’t say he was a fine writer, but his attempts at humility and candour left a lasting impression on me.
What sort of research did you do to write your book?
Since my book is full of only personal stories I’ve lived through, there was no research of any kind done. The research came in once the book was written. That’s also where the real work started. I had to learn the whole publishing business. I hate business. I believe that most writers just want to be creative and leave all the technical stuff to others. Unfortunately, writing today just doesn’t work that way. I had to learn all about query letters, proposals, literary agents, publishers, platforms, social media, and so much more. The list is endless, and I truly hate most of the process. The one shining light has been networking with other freelance writers and authors. Writing folk are very generous. In most instances, I’ve found that if I’m able to help someone else with one piece of the puzzle, they’re able to help me with another. It’s always nice to have new creative friends.
Why do you write? What inspired you to become a writer?
Now that’s an interesting story I frequently tell at book club events. I only started writing about five years ago. It took the need of a quart of milk and a trip to the local convenience store to get me started in writing. You’ll have to read the story in my book to get all the details, but basically, I observed something very disturbing that day that kept me awake for two nights. It wasn’t until I sat down to write about it that I was able to go back to sleep. The next day, I submitted the story to a publication who accepted it. They asked if I had more stories. I quickly wrote another one and sent it back. Their response was to offer me a contract. A writer was born. Since then, I’ve become a syndicated columnist, award winning freelance writer for numerous publications, and author.
What keeps you motivated during creative slumps? How do you deal with Writers Block?
Because of my illness, I’m often not able to write for long periods of time. Motivation is not the issue. Health and time are the issue…that and getting out of the house to live enough of a life to experience new stories to write about.
You have access to a time machine. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Step out of your sheltered cocoon. Don’t be so judgmental, and learn to be more compassionate.
How do you spend your free time when you are not writing?
I have way too many hobbies. My favourite thing is to take long walks with people I love and have one-on-one time to have meaningful discussions. I love to just be with my husband and the dogs. I also read a lot, sew, make jewellery, and volunteer my time to my local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. All author profits from my book are going to them.
Tell us more about your upcoming projects. Are you working on anything specific or have plans in the pipeline?
The book only just came out this past March. I’m spending time speaking at various organizations and book clubs sharing stories and hopefully inspiration. My favourite part is hearing people open up and tell me about their own stories. Who knows, maybe there will be another book someday about the stories they share. Meanwhile, I continue to write personal essays for various publications and hope to obtain an even greater reach nationally and internationally with my stories.
Finally, are there any nuggets of wisdom that you can impart to other aspiring writers?
Yup. Don’t wait for someone else to call you a writer. If you like to write, write. Read everyone else’s work to further your education. And don’t give up! You have to be able to take rejection…lots of rejection. Each new rejection brings you closer to an acceptance. Finally, if you’re writing to amass wealth, stop writing now and find another line of work. Writers have to write for the love of writing. If money comes, that’s just icing.
How do you Brits say goodbye? Cheerio? Well in the U.S., that’s a breakfast cereal. So in closing, I’ll just say this. If you read my book, please let me hear from you. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the English version of your choice!
And that’s a wrap! Thank you for joining us Leslie, we can’t wait to get sashaying on over and check out your essays soon 🙂
Leslie is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists award winner. She’s an international syndicated columnist with Senior Wire News Service and a frequent contributor to WHYY and Citywide Stories. She freelances for The Philadelphia Inquirer, BoomerCafe, and many other established publications.
Leslie currently lives smack dab between Philadelphia and New York City with husband Marty, dogs Maggie, Hazel, and Ginger, a collection of fish, said husband’s cockatoo who she’s been trying to roast for dinner for the last thirty-three years and a few occasional uninvited guests.
You can connect with Leslie via the following Social Media channels:-
Facebook:- Leslie Handler – Author (FB)
Goodreads:- Leslie Handler (Goodreads Author)
Twitter:- @leslie_handler (Twitter)
Website:- The Website of Author Leslie Handler
You can buy her book here:-
If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you have a book or a series of books that you would like us to chat about then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.