Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alumna LeAnn Neal Reilly Publishes Third Novel

LeAnn, a 1990 MWSC grad with an M.A. from Carnegie Mellon Univeristy, has published her third novel. Below, LeAnn discusses her new book.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t like it so much, but I’ve always been one for finding beauty in the ugliest stories.”—Zophiel, The Last Stratiote

When Zophiel speaks these words in my third novel, she’s explaining her idiosyncratic anecdotes to James Goodman, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. At the time I wrote them, they illustrated Zophie’s penchant for wandering along strange story paths; they were an oblique aside that James would yet again miss. Even though James didn’t understand Zophie’s words at the time, I knew that this odd White Goth girl had just summed her role in the narrative. Yet it wasn’t until after

I’d finished writing that I recognized how true they are for me as a novelist. On one level, it’s not exactly a startling revelation: I’ve consciously chosen to explore dark, difficult stories in my last two novels, trying at the same time to find beauty, redemption, and healing in them. On the other, I certainly hadn’t set out to create a mouthpiece in Zophie.

In truth, I share many things with almost every character I write. Once I learned to focus on what it means to be human rather than on particular experience, I found that I could imagine myself into unfamiliar scenarios. Do I understand jealousy? Love? Lust? Remorse? Do I know fear or pain? Have I been hurt? Have I persisted or learned a lesson? Succeeded or failed? It’s heady stuff, this power to give myself free reign to immerse myself into a vivid, waking dream. 

In The Last Stratiote, my imagination romps in some pretty dark, even surreal places. I sought to combine the page-turning tension of a genre thriller with slower, more cerebral discussions of history, philosophy, and theology. It was a mix that I feared would either work splendidly or not at all. Fortunately for me, Lee Gooden of Clarion Foreword Reviews found the mixture ideal. According to Gooden, The Last Stratiote fills the gap for adults who want big novels with big ideas, as well as mature themes and characters.” And, to top it all off, Gooden finishes by writing, “The result is a novel that conveys sensuality and eroticism that stimulate the libido and the mind. Other works in this genre stick to the same formula of sex and youth. The Last Stratiote excels on so many levels. Reilly must write a sequel.

It appears that I’m not the only one who shares Zophie’s sentiments about finding beauty in the ugliest stories. 

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