Lesleigh teaches Sociology at a satellite college of South Dakota State University. She is an activist in any field and movement she cares about, and this includes: feminism, Fat Acceptance, LBTG rights and Cat Rescue. In the interview she talks about her novel series - Hunted Dreams. Hunted Dreams is in fact the latest novel in the series and I am reading it - am more than halfway through. It has to be one of the most beguiling mixes of romance, horror, thriller and science fiction/fantasy I have ever encountered. Elle Hill (Lesleigh's writing name) conveys her intensity, sensuality and at times wry, but always strong appreciation of LA, in full in this novel. She also has created a wonderfully sexy and fat female protagonist in Katana.
Lesleigh Owen is also one of the featured poets of the Fat Poets Speak series, the first book of which also includes poets Kathy Barron, Anne Kaplan, Corinna Makris, and me (as contributor and editor). The second book in the series, Fat Poets Speak: Living and Loving Fatly, will be out early in 2014. The series is published by Pearlsong Press.
Hunted Dreams and the other two novels in the series are available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Here, then, is the interview with Lesleigh Owen/Elle Hill.
First of all, Lesleigh, I remember your saying that you were already writing when you were quite young, and that you penned a 200 + page novel. Do you remember any of what it was about?
Oh, yes. I remember it all very well. I was known throughout my school as The Writer. I would write every single day and pass my notebook around my circle of friends. They would comment, and I would sometimes incorporate their thoughts. In other words, my writing was a big event in my world, so I remember my stories very well.
My first book featured a heterosexual couple wrongly accused of murder. They were on the lam and had various adventures as they fled police, tried to maintain a low profile, and of course fell madly in love.
Awwwww... Do you remember what inspired you to write this novel with this particular plot line?
The man had some psychic powers, as I recall. Unbeknownst to me, I was laying the foundation for my future career as an author of paranormal romance.
I wish I could! I was 13, though. I imagine it was a movie I watched, since most of my book or poetry ideas back then came from movies and books.
Ohhhh...you were already interested in the psychic and paranormal even then. What interested you about it?
That's a good question! I'm not sure how I would have answered it then, but here's what I say now, 25+ years later as I look back:
I was born and raised in a very Christian home. We were Pentecostals. Anyone familiar with that sect knows they're pretty fundamentalist and, um, quite enthusiastic about worshiping their god.
Even at 13, I questioned the Christian fundamentalism. It fit wrong, and I was itchy. I wanted desperately to believe in something supernatural, something that would help me define the boundaries of my being and prove something intangible did and could exist.
At the time, my sisters and I were not allowed to watch shows with magic in them (Harry Potter would have been enthusiastically banned), since magic was demonic. Anything supernatural and not God was demonic.
And probably because of this, and because I wanted something so much that illustrated to me magic can really exist, I became quite fascinated with psychic phenomena.
Plus, I was a sci-fi nerd. I can't remember a time I wasn't. Fantasy and sci-fi became another language to me. Luckily, since no one else read recreationally in my family, no one knew I was reading about magic. And science fiction is just magic with technology, right?
All right. I think I'm finally done.
This is wonderful. Actually, what I'm wondering now is if you were creating a world which was a lot more interesting and exciting than the one you existed in at the time - whether religiously, culturally, emotionally, ect.
Well, of course! And, given the extreme scare tactics of Pentecostals ("You doubt God? You must be possessed by a demon! Let's hold you down and pray away the demon!"), certainly a safer world to explore the supernatural.
Everything is demons for Pentecostals, or at least the ones in my little neck o' the woods in Idaho.
This fascinates me because the way it sounds, you were in some ways reinventing the demonic.
In some ways.
Oh my lord (so to speak)...
Reinventing the safer demon. I like the concept.
If we have time, I may try to return to this. Right now I'd like you to list your novels and tell me which one you like the best.
I assume you mean the novels I've published.
If you like
(Maybe list the published ones first)
I've written _Hunted_, a novella (maybe technically a novelette? Anyway, it's 15K words). I wrote it first and published it second. Next came _Hunted Past_, which continues in the same universe (probably obvious, given the title). Third and final (for now) is _Hunted Dreams_.
_Hunted Dreams_ is by far my favorite. I gave myself permission to be a lot darker and more psychological in this one. It deviates from a lot of romance conventions, but I let myself do that. As a result, it feels more organic and personal to me.
I read Hunted Past..am reading Hunted Dreams now. The idea of dreamscapes fascinates me. Did you yourself ever have dreams anything like this?
As a matter of fact, a couple of dreams I threw into _Hunted Dreams_ came directly from my own nighttime brainworks. The cow scene was one of them. I mean, cows? How random can you get? There's also a scene in which Kat and Reed bob in the ocean, chatting while a monster circles below them. I lifted the bobbing in the ocean part directly from one of my dreams.
Were you scared during these dreams?
Definitely not during the cow dream.
I can't remember the water dream. I think that one was more wistful and alone than scary.
In _HD_, I tried to make the Reed dreams less scary. There's no need to torture Kat during those dreams, since the worst pain she can experience comes when Reed leaves her.
Can you sketch the concept/underlying plot behind the series briefly?
Briefly, the series takes place in L.A.
In this universe, two secret groups fight a centuries-long war. One, the Leeches (they call themselves the Broschi, which is a combo of Greek and Mandarin words that means "eater of the life force," or "soul eater"), feed off the terror, pain, and fear of humans. This is not a metaphor; they honestly eat it the way humans munch apples and pastrami on rye. As a result of their rather voracious appetite (given my own activism and scholarly work, I'm fascinated with the idea of appetites out of control), they sometimes inflict pain on humans in order to have a more immediate supply of food.
The Clan is a group of supernatural beings that exists pretty much solely to thwart the Leeches and protect humanity.
The Leeches are empathic; they literally feel what humans (and one another) feel.
The Clan is broken down by sex. The Hunters are women warriors. Like the Leeches, they're super strong and heal quickly. The Psychics are men. They don't fight; their duties include discerning the plans and whereabouts of the Leeches and directing the Hunters to them. The Psychics have no physical powers. Because they're vulnerable, the Clan tends to tucks them away.
It is rather fun to see that in HD, you present the Leeches as protagonists..whereas in HP, you present the Clan this way.
Obviously, I delight in messing with gender conventions.
I love that you mess with all kinds of conventions!
As you know, I'm not pro-war. I think the war between the Leeches and Clan is unnecessary and ridiculous. Neither groups is inherently evil, although I admit I do make individual Leeches do some pretty awful stuff sometimes. But it's my sincere hope that I successfully mess with the "bad guy" trope.
And I was also fascinated by the statement you made a couple of questions ago: "As a result of their rather voracious appetite (given my own activism and scholarly work, I'm fascinated with the idea of appetites out of control)
I make the conversations in _Hunted Dreams_ complicated. Are the Leeches evil just because they feed off humans? No one is hurt. Why is this evil? And how is it any different from humans, who eat the life force of plants and animals?
Yep. It's a recurring theme (the voracious appetites) in all my stories.
I agree with you..no one gets hurt! Just as no one gets hurt when humans satiate themselves with food and sex (assuming consent on the part of all partners)!
Btw, I wanted to make the point that wars tend to be self-perpetuating rather than making some kind of deep moral sense. This isn't always true, of course, but it often is.
Amen! I couldn't agree more.
I hope my discussions and representations of voracious appetites unsettle readers, make them wonder if they're as evil and scary as we make them.
It’s important for me to note that I study fatness. Voracious appetites are of course not really a part of fatness, but in the popular imaginary, they’re seen as related, if not synonymous. I find the popular fascination with, and horror of, appetites, as well as the moralizing surrounding the assuaging of hungers, very fascinating. As I discuss in my work, I think it makes us as Westerners deeply uneasy about mouths, appetites, and, because we ridiculously link them to fatness, about supernormative body sizes.
This is all academic. In my fiction work, I like to evoke the imagery of voracious appetites and play with the emotions I imagine it elicits. I also quite intentionally link these appetites to thin people in my novels, just to mess with things a bit.
I see now that I really didn't allow enough time for all the things I wanted to ask you. Could you talk a little now about your scholarly work?
Of course! I'm a sociologist who specializes in gender studies and fat studies. My dissertation addressed fatness: what it means to individuals, how it manifests in their daily lives, how it intersects with other identities.
For anyone who may not know, Lesleigh Owen is also a superb poet. How do your poems relate to your fiction and your scholarly work? What drives them?
Ha! Thank you, my friend.
Interesting you should ask about my poetry and my scholarly and fiction work.
I began and ended my dissertation with poems about fatness. The first one discusses the horror and pain of being treated as a monster because of fatness. The poem that ends my dissertation addresses the politics of smiles and how people expect them as their due from fat people. My fat smile, I say, is more a noose around necks than an admission of subordination. Kind of angry, but it's powerful.
Just so people know, Lesleigh's poems appear in Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets' Society, and more will appear in Fat Poets II: Living and Lovng Fatly (Both are available from Pearlsong Press and on Amazon and Barnes and Noble)
OH! So that poem is actually from your Dissertation!
My poetry very often addresses my own body journey. It's enormously personal. Words solidify the world into something knowable, and by writing my body, I sometimes feel I help delineate its boundaries and construct it in the images and ways I would like.
Well, I included it in my diss.
I think that is a fantastic way to start an end a diss!
Thank you! I agree. If more academic work featured poetry, I wouldn't run screaming from it.
But you manage to write beautifully in all three genres.
Tell us now about your work as an activist.
What does your activism involve? And how does it also relate to your teaching?
Thank you! I'm honored. There was a time when I found myself too scared to write fiction. It's mostly thanks to you and my sister, Lauri, that I finally got up the nerve to jump in.
Now I am honored!
I consider myself a progressive activist, but my three main areas of concern involve fat, feminist, and queer activism. Not surprising, given my own identities.
Of the three, I think fat activism needs me the most, although of course all three are essential. And there are few borders between my scholarly work, my activism, and my art. They're usually the same thing. For example, I'm co-chair of the Fat Studies Area of the PCA. I'm also in leadership in fat pride groups. I write poetry and books featuring powerful fat characters. They all inform one another, as, in my opinion, all good academic and artistic works should do.
Tell us a little about the PCA and the Fat Studies area. (I am afraid that this question will be the last one, for now.)
No worries, my friend! I'm a rather verbose interviewee, so I know my words, like my body, have taken up quite a bit of space thus far.
You are not. I just didn't allow enough time. for all the things I wanted to ask.
I've been co-chair of the Fat Studies Area of the PCA for six or seven years. It's an area of study added by Susan Koppelman one or two years before I became co-chair.
PCA= Popular Culture Association?
I love being co-chair of fat studies. It allows me the most amazing opportunities to read and listen to brilliant scholarship that in some way includes an analysis of bodies, body size, body inequalities, and so on. Fat studies (I can never decide if it should be capitalized), like feminist and queer studies, is a deeply political academic semi-discipline. At the heart of fat studies is a desire to analyze the denigration of the fat body and to brainstorm ideas to upset this system of oppression. Scholars come from many disciplines, but we all have this central tenet in mind. It's humbling and empowering to be part of the scholarly version of what I do as a fat activist in my everyday world.
And yes, PCA = Popular Culture Association.
What an excellent, thorough and yet brief description. I think I am going to have to interview you again at some point because there is so much I didn't get to. But for now, thanks so much for talking to me today about the areas in which you are preeminent. I am so looking forward to seeing your poems appear in Fat Poets II and to reading your latest scholarly work, and of course to finishing Hunted Dreams. You are an activist on so many levels. The Fat, feminist and queer communities are so lucky to have you.
You are beyond kind. I'm honored, Frannie. And my thanks to you, both as a friend, a sister writer, and as a mentor. You inspire me every day.
Very welccome, Lesleigh. We will talk again soon. :_
Of course we will! Big, fat hugs.
Excellent. Thanks again and big juicy hugs:)
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