Armijo’s very own published author: Leila Harper

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This is the book cover of “Properties of a Beating Heart”.

Melissa Theodorus, Editor-in-Chief

A senior at Armijo and now published writer, Leila Harper shares her thoughts on the writing and publication process of her new book Properties of a Beating Heart:

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself for those who don’t already know you.

I’m currently a high school senior and I published a book. It was only a matter of time, really, before my love of reading, writing, and references that only I understand overruled my doubts. Once I graduate, I’m going to attend college and become a therapist / technically-an-author. I hope I have enough time to continue doing what I love: reading, writing, and obsessing over pieces of media that I can effortlessly reference.

2. Let’s talk about this book that I’m sure is sparking the interest of our potential readers. What is the book about? What genre? Who would you say is the target audience?

When I pitch my book to people who ask, I say this: It’s about a boy who falls in love with a cannibal. It’s not a spoiler. It is a romance, semi-thriller. The target audience would be teenagers, anyone into young adult-type literary styles.

3. That’s not something you hear every day. Let’s talk about those characters. Who are they? What are their personalities and purposes?

My main character —our protagonist and first-person narrator—is named Sam. He’s a nerd, quite simply. He is shy, quick-witted, and lonely, so very lonely. He’s taken on this less-than-desirable adventure by our love interest. His name is Samuel (the name thing has its meaning). He is cunning, snarky, somewhat aloof, and so very strange. He shows up on the bus one day and intercepts Sam’s life in the most…ill-advised way possible.

Later in the book, I introduce Sam’s old, childhood best friend, Cassie, who moved away a year or so ago. The boys visit her in order to get a sense of direction as to their next course of action. Cassie is outgoing, protective, and abrasive. She’s there to be a supportive outside figure for her friend, who really needs one.

4. There must’ve been something that made you write them the way you did. How do you develop your plot and characters? Was it inspired by a true story or people in your life?

Oh, my inspiration is a funny story that I never get tired of telling. Once upon a time, in sophomore year, my English teacher (Ms. Kimple) assigned a children’s tale, genre-bending activity. I was having a hard time deciding what tale to twist, but eventually I remembered an author I’d loved as a kid: Dr. Seuss. The first three chapters are almost the exact same as the original thriller twist to Green Eggs and Ham. I didn’t start to continue the story until a friend of mine suggested I keep going after I pressured them to read my 20 pages of pride and joy. An origin story for the ages, in my opinion.

5. In your opinion, what comes first, the plot or characters?

Funnily enough, I think I tend to switch back-and-forth. For Properties of a Beating Heart, I started with the plot, fell in love with the characters, then continued building the plot from there. A lot of the time, I’ve found, a plot gets stuck when you don’t know your characters well enough. I’d say they go hand-in-hand that way.

6. That’s a nice title with a unique ring to it. How and why did you come up with it?
Simply stated, I am really bad at making up titles. But, when I was in the process of making up an Official Title for My Freaking Novel™ (yes, that’s how I referred to my book to my friends), I went to many random title generator websites. I input words relating to my story and kept clicking randomize. Eventually, I settled on Properties of a Beating Heart because I liked the nerdy sound of “Properties” and “Beating Heart” is a quite distinct representation of “gore + romance”.
7. As you were writing it, or even before that, what were you trying to achieve with it?

I think I’ve already achieved what I’ve wanted to, to be honest. I wanted to get my work published because I thought it would be cool to say that I got a work published. I’m technically-an-author, which I’ve always wanted to say. The fact that it’s for a story that I put my entire heart into—something that I’d worked on and felt so proud of and happy about for about two years—is pretty amazing. Hearing my friends and family be so supportive and enthusiastic about it is so much more incredible than I ever had in mind.

8. It would be cool to read a book written and published by a fellow Armijo student. What should the readers know about your book before reading it? What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

Man, oh, man I have waited so long for this question. First, suspend your disbelief. I simply hope that readers can take away from the book with having a few hours of enjoyment. That’s really all I wanted to do, write a self-indulgent monstrosity that others might enjoy reading, too.

9. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

I think my readers hear me beg “Read my book” more than anything. It’s something of an inside joke with myself at this point (you’ll see I do that a lot). But, my favorite thing is the pure shock people get when they read certain parts. I like to have pulled the rug out from under people. I like to hear when they gush over the romantic parts and laugh at the funny parts and recognize my plethora of references.

I would like more feedback, though. And not just in a self-serving biased way…

10. For those who are interested in writing a book of their own, can you tell us what your writing process was like? Did you have any challenges?

I tend to remind myself, “I don’t know anything about anything,” which might be telling of how the researching process goes. I suppose I’ll close by saying that, in my acknowledgments, I thank my search history for not judging me for looking up “how do people trains work”. Learning new things is fun, though. I do believe I know more about cannibalism than the average person, though. So that’s pretty cool.

11. Since you research for your book, where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

Ideas come at the strangest times. It could be from a one-off tidbit in a dream, to a random piece of dialogue that pops into my mind, to a detail of another’s narrative that I like fine-tuned until it’s an original.

12. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

In my opinion, good writing comes from flow. I’m a sucker for a piece of hard-hitting dialogue, clichéd tropes, and a majestic phrase of description. I find when I notice that a story has good writing, it has been cohesive and fun. If it’s fun to read, if I’m blazing through the book only to pause on lines that make me feel emotional, then I’d say that the writing is good.

13. What advice would you give a new writer, such as someone just starting out?

To quote Chandler Bing, “I’m not so good at the advice, can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?” My best advice is to write down anything and everything you can. Whenever you have an idea or have the urge to just write, start typing. Because something will come to you. And you can always keep revising. In creative writing, there’s no deadline until you decide there is.

14. This is a big question that I’m sure many people ask you. What was the publication process like? How do books even get published?

I think my publication process might have been smoother than most because I chose a self-publishing company. Shout-out to Writer’s Republic, which I found on Google while looking up free self-publishing companies. The free part was really in the “We’ll publish your book for you” I input my book’s information and my email and then I went back to Life In 2020. They emailed me back asking for confirmation that I wanted to be in the self-publishing process, I told my mom, then I said Yes.

The first thing they needed, obviously, was my manuscript. I did some last-minute edits, formatted my Lato-font Google Doc into a double-spaced Word and sent it in. Then, it was a jumble of cover-designing, title-choosing, description-making, and contract-signing. My team was very kind and patient with my indecisiveness and subpar communication skills. Publishing is a very daunting experience, but they were very accommodating people. When I wanted to go back and change something, they helped me in doing so. They helped remind me that I was in charge. You have the final decision on everything.

So, in my experience, publishing consisted of contracts and putting on the final touches. There was a lot of time between each step (especially near the financing fin), but it was all so worth it. When I got my first print copy of my book in the mail, I cried. When my mom’s copy (the first ordered) came in (with new and improved dimensions), I cried then as well.

15. How did you feel throughout the whole process? How long did it take?

Self-publishing, for me, took either two or three months. They got back to me so timely, it was a shock every time I got emailed back with more progress made.

Being me, I was incredibly anxious for those three months. Self-doubt is my downfall. It can be very hard to get out of a slump of regret, nitpicking at everything too late, but getting reassurances from my friends and family is helpful in grounding those anxious thoughts. I worked hard, I created something, and I’m proud that I did.

16. That’s great! I love that you were able to overcome those fears. Let’s talk more about your experience. What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always been drawn to telling stories of my own, whether that be through playing pretend with my friends or my dolls as a kid. I wanted to find that perfect medium for expressing my ideas, and that, for me, turned out to be writing.

17. Writing can be a great outlet. How long have you been writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I have been writing since I was very young. Ever since I learned how to type, I think. I remember typing out the games of pretend my friends and I had played at recess on my dad’s old laptop. I would crave writing assignments given by my teachers and spend all the time I had in class to finish the little tale I had in mind. Whenever I could put my thoughts to paper (or in a Word Document), I would.

I think I first started considering myself a “writer” once I committed myself to writing certain anthologies of the fan-kind. It was constant practice to write about something I love, as well as honing in on my passion for writing itself.

18. Usually, your experiences as a child influence your career choice, what did you want to do when you grew up? Have you always wanted to be a writer or do you have a different career path in mind?

When I was a child, I went through a few different phases of Dream Job, but I know for sure that for a long time I wanted to be a veterinarian.

I have definitely always wanted to write things. Being an author has always been in the back of my mind as something I know I would love to do, but I do have a career that I am going to pursue. I want to go to college and become a therapist, but I will definitely still be writing.

19. How many unpublished and half-finished writing pieces do you have?

Oh gosh. I am perpetually—these days, at least—working on something. I’ll have an idea and then I’ll keep it in my notes app, or it’ll go straight into a new Document if I have a solid plan in mind. That being said, I’m working on another main Work In Progress currently, but I do have about three more minor stories that I have open from time to time.

20. What do you like to do while writing? How do you handle writer’s block, if you ever get it?

While writing, I always have music in the background. I always work with music, or some familiar tv show noise in the background that won’t distract me. A good thing, I think, about always having a phone on me is that whenever inspiration strikes, I can take out my phone and put it down in my notes, no matter where I am.

Writer’s block is the worst. The worst thing is just staring at your Document and your mind is absolutely blank as to What Happens Next.

21. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

Did you know that it would take about three months to eat one adult human male?

22. Do you think your life experiences, especially your time at Armijo, have influenced or impacted your journey as a writer?

I’m an introvert with, to be honest, not very many life experiences under my belt. I don’t know anything about anything, which makes my writing much more…phantasmagorical.  I will admit that being a part of The Armijo Signal has given me more opportunities to balance out strictly essay and unprofessionally creative writing. The practice is good, especially when you’re in IB.

23. Let’s talk about your goals. What would you like to achieve or do after high school?

After high school, I want to go to a university, get my Psychology diploma, and become an occupational therapist. A job and a driver’s license would do me, well, too. I think all my goals revolve around the romanticization of regular adult life.

24. What are your hobbies and interests? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m a reader. I love books, and movies, puzzles and logic puzzle games, video games, and watching people play video games. I like to scroll through fanart and inside jokes, draw and talk to my friends. I like my own company, especially when I have my dog there.

25. With this book finished and published, what’s next for you? What are you working on now?

For now, I’m trying to graduate and get ready for life post-graduation. Otherwise, I’m working on a new, fantasy story about a girl who can see ghosts that has to save the world with a witch. Obviously, they fall in love.

26. Finally, last question, is there anything else you would like to tell us about?

I am but a humble “writer” who hopes to entertain.

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