Born October 15, 1973 in Kansas City, Missouri, Leslie Liautaud began performing at the age of five with Liberty Civic Theatre. Between 1978 and 1997, she performed in over 45 productions in the Kansas City area with various companies including the Bell Road Barn Players, Gladstone Theatre in the Park, Ibsen Theatre and Westport Ballet Company. Continuing undergraduate studies at Southwest Missouri State University, Leslie received the Most Promising Freshman Award in Dance and Theatre in 1993. She returned to Kansas City and in 1994 founded the People in Motion program for Liberty Senior High School, which continues today. Leslie worked as company choreographer for Ibsen Theatre and Westport Ballet Company from 1994-1997. As a playwright, Leslie’s many original stage plays have been produced in Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago and Champaign, Illinois. Her recent novel, Black Bear Lake, was published March 14, 2014. Leslie lives in Champaign, IL and Key Largo, FL, is married to Jimmy John Liautaud (of Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches) and has three children and three dogs.
Thank you for joining us today, Leslie. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! My name is Leslie, I’m from the Midwest, I have a wonderful hubby and three awesome kids. I also have three nutty dogs that keep me running! Our family is filled with foodies and the love of the outdoors. I’m also a huge fan of the arts. All types! I’m an Honorary Consul to Lithuania and one of my goals in that job is to introduce and share Lithuania art in the US and vice versa.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
Working as an actor and as a dancer always brought me joy but it wasn’t until I stepped away from performing and got “behind the curtain” that I really felt my calling. It started when I began working as a choreographer. I LOVED creating rather than just performing. It was a totally different rush. I got a wild hair to write a screenplay and because I worked in theatre for long, I found that dialogue came very easy to me. The script was HORRIBLE but I was hooked. Since that script, besides a couple of directing jobs, all I’ve done is written.
Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?
Without a doubt, watching my children grow influenced me. They are now 14, 15 and 20 years old. Seeing them develop and change, the ups and downs, the chances they take…it all amazes me. I know I was a teen once, too, but there is something completely different about standing back and watching someone else go through it.
What is your favorite part of writing for this group?
The idea that anything is possible! The teen years are so awesome that way. As a teenager or young adult, you aren’t molded yet. You aren’t set in your ways or thoughts. You aren’t held down by a belief system yet. You’re like these crazy, wild, beautiful tornadoes that pick everything up, chew it up and either hang on to it or spit it out. There are so many topics to explore because at that age your ARE exploring…EVERYTHING. I love that! What is the greatest challenge? Not dumbing the thoughts down. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was not to underestimate this audience. So now, I actually try to forget the age I’m writing for…because they read like adults and are capable of deep…DEEP…feeling. I write like I’m writing for myself now.
Can you tell us what your latest book is all about? **SPOILER ALERT!!!**
Black Bear Lake is about Adam Craig, a 40-year-old stock trader in Chicago, who finds his marriage on the rocks. Knowing his commitment and intimacy problems are closely tied to a childhood tragedy he re-visits his family’s summer cabin compound in northern Wisconsin on Black Bear Lake. The memories of that summer, all the bliss and the pain, come flooding back.
In the summer of 1983, 15-year-old Adam reconnects with his cousin, Dannie at beginning of a month long family reunion. In the two years since Adam has seen her, she has endured the painful break down of her parents’ marriage, leaving her isolated and unsure of the world. Adam’s own struggle with his mother’s advancing cancer bonds Dannie and Adam further. A new camp babysitter, Amy, quickly embeds herself in the tight circle of Adam and Dannie. Her worldly experience and overt sexuality hypnotize, confuse and excites Adam. With raucous group activities and gatherings filled with familial love, an under current of tension grows as Dannie’s father continues to act out boorishly.
Just as the two cousins find themselves completely attached to Amy, they overhear a conversation between Amy and Dannie’s father that stops them cold. In that moment, Adam and Dannie are completely changed and devastated.
Soon after, Amy and Dannie’s fears of what they overheard are validated. The family explodes and Adam sees them for the first time as a solid unit, supporting and protecting each other like a pride of lions. Amy and Dannie’s father are both immediately ordered to leave and Adam realizes that under her overly mature façade, Amy is a broken and scared young girl. Later, Adam finds Dannie alone by the lake, filled up with alcohol and hopelessness. As he tries to comfort her, Dannie kisses Adam, startling them both. Humiliated, Dannie runs off to her cabin. Adam begins to follow, only to be knocked back by an explosion. An ongoing gas leak, ignited by Dannie flipping on the light switch, has decimated the cabin.
The year following Dannie’s tragic death also brings the death of Adam’s mother. In the wake of it all, Adam found thick, high walls had formed inside him, protecting him from further love and loss. Yet, standing in front of Black Bear Lake, with the images and memories swirling around him, Adam remembers the intense love that had been hidden under the pain for so many years and believes he has found a sliver of hope for the future.
Black Bear Lake is based on a true story that I actually experienced and that will probably stay with me forever. The actual camp is based on a summer compound that my family has, where we gather every summer and the cabin explosion took place during one of those summers.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
You can purchase the paperback version through Amazon or an e-book version either through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
What is up next for you?
I’m currently working on a new novel about a group of college age friends.
Do you have anything else to add?
Again, I appreciate you having me today. And I truly hope you find the book enjoyable and entertaining!
Thank you for spending time with us today, Leslie. We wish you much success.