Author of The Perfect Blindside and Extreme Blindside, Leslea Wahl kindly took some time away from writing this week to chat with Pauline Books & Media.
First, let’s talk a little about your life.
I live in Colorado. In fact, I’m a Colorado native, even though my husband and I moved away for eight years… our families were here, though, and we were happy to be able to come back and live near them. I have three children, the youngest is in college now!
I’m a writer, with four published books for adolescent/young adult readers, two with Pauline Books and Media and two other Catholic adventure/mystery stories with other publishers. I spend most of my time with my books, either writing or marketing them… I’m also part of a group of authors of Catholic teen books, and I review their work and others on my website. It’s become both my passion and my ministry, to bring great books to other Christian families.
But I also love to read! I’m in two book clubs, so I’m always reading something besides the books I’m reviewing. I have lots of friends who are authors, and I read their books... I generally have multiple books going on at the same time!
Your characters are so athletic. Are you?
I grew up skiing. All the family, even the kids—we all ski. No one is a big snowboarder as Jake is in the Blindside series, but I love to watch snowboarders in the Olympics. The dedication of athletes who put their lives on hold to get to the top of the craft is really fascinating to me.
How did you come to be a writer?
I’ve always been creative, and I always have made up stories in my mind. I didn’t have a plan to be a writer, but the stories were always there… stories I’d tell my children, stories I thought about writing down. When my oldest son was in fifth grade and was looking for books to read, I realized there weren’t many out there that I considered appropriate for him—that conveyed the values I wanted him to learn along with providing an entertaining storyline. I wondered why there weren’t any fun adventure stories with a good message. Then, one day, the story that became The Perfect Blindside popped into my head: God was giving me a story to tell!
You write so well for adolescents. What is it you like about this age group?
My husband says I just never grew up! So I can relate to them. I have good memories of being that age. Plus, high-school is an age that works well for a writer. They’re starting to drive, to be able to do things on their own, but they still have so many questions.
I try to write books kids will enjoy. I enjoy mysteries, so my books always have adventure and mystery. It’s important to give kids a great storyline with realistic characters, characters that are like kids I know. They attend church sometimes. They don’t turn to God all the time, but that’s where they go when they’re troubled. In the Blindside books, Sophie is into her faith and says little prayers to God. Jake sees she has faith, that she has something that grounds her, and seeing that strengthens his faith. He sees she’s different. I write about characters with everyday problems but—through faith—have a deeper understanding of things. They aren’t alone in the world.
Writing for adolescents means asking kids for help, too. I have three children, so I’d watch them to pick up the lingo. I also wanted to be sure (and for them to be sure) that I wasn’t writing about them, though I do always include our pets in the books! My kids help me a lot, my youngest especially. He gives me great feedback. The oldest was a marketing major in college, so he’s been helpful in marketing the books, and my daughter is an incredible editor; but my youngest is the one who comes up with realy great ideas.
Here’s a story about one time I worked with my youngest on The Perfect Blindside. There’s a scene in The Perfect Blindside where Jake has his hands tied behind his back and got away, but my editor objected, saying she didn’t see how that was possible. So my son said, “Let’s try it out!” (My daughter walked in and decided we were pretty strange!) But we showed it could work, and I was able to keep it in the story.
Let’s talk more about using fiction to teach and inspire.
When you think about it, Jesus himself used stories to reach people! They provide ways for people to empathize more. Reading fiction can help people grow through encountering characters they can relate to and situations that are interesting.
For adults, these stories can be a wonderful tool to broach subjects with their teens that are otherwise difficult to talk about. Kids have deeper topics they want to talk about, questions about society and how it can reflect a Catholic viewpoint, so if parents read books with kids, you can have more open discussions. With my own teens, it was hard to get them to open up if I just sat down and tried to talk with them… but if you do it through stories, they’re talking about the character and their viewpoint in a different way.
If you have a group of kids in a youth group—or even several families reading books together—it is an interesting way to open up dialogue. Kids sometimes have questions but don’t always feel comfortable asking them. This is a way in.
What are some of the issues you bring up in the Blindside books that are important for kids to think about?
The Blindside series is about Jake and Sophie. Jake’s an Olympic snowboarder, he’s won a silver medal—and the fame’s gone to his head. He comes down to earth through his friendship with Sophie, but they both grapple with issues around his fame.
The underlying message I’m communicating in The Perfect Blindside is around using our gifts from God to help others—echoing Paul in his letter to the Ephesians that we all have gifts that work together in Christ. In Extreme Blindside the message is to put Christ first in all our decisions, making him the priority in our lives.
How have young people responded to your books?
That’s the best thing! I've discovered a website where some kids have made drawings of Jake. Others have written to me. They list all the characters and say something about all of them. It’s so touching to me that people have connected to these characters. But challenging, too: so many readers enjoyed the first book, it was daunting to write another one! When you write a series, the characters have to keep growing, and you have to hope the readers’ perceptions of their growth coincides with the author’s ideas.
Let's talk about your writing process. Do you outline the book first or do you let the storyline develop as you write?
I’ve always been fascinated by this question. I start with an idea, a couple of scenes. I write and see where it goes. So far it’s worked out! For me, it’s about trusting my characters to take me where they want to go. In a way, I’m just here to take the journey with them. I also pray a lot about it; I pray that the right message will come through.
But the process drives me crazy. I’m driving, or I’m in bed, and a thought comes—and of course I need to jot it down! I have to pull over, I have to get up… my mind is continuing to write, even when I’m not.
It’s gotten a little easier now that my kids are older. I didn’t even tell them I was writing, not at first, because I didn’t know if it would be any good! I was writing when they were at school or soccer practice. Now it’s easier to just pull up the computer. My mind keeps going and I can’t stop until I get it down.
I always wanted to write the second book. But in between The Perfect Blindside and Extreme Blindside, I actually wrote two other books. It was a challenge when I started to write what became Extreme Blindside to get back to these characters, to start thinking like them. But when I was able to, I finished the Extreme Blindside and then wrote a rough draft of a third book as a follow-up! So I’d like to spend time with that and get it polished. I also have an idea for a new book, one that’s about a sibling relationship rather than a romance. It’s a fun story that’s been in my mind for a while.
Kids are always looking for books, so along with writing my own, I keep doing reviews and providing resources for them. Here's where you can find them:
First, my website. www.LesleaWahl.com
Not only do I have information regarding my own books, but each month on my blog I review three faith-based teen novels. Each month I focus on a different genre. The books and reviews are all on my website. I started doing this to help other families who were searching for value-based books for their kids.
Second, the joint website that I helped found: www.CatholicTeenBooks.com
. This is a site run by numerous authors who all write Catholic teen novels. We represent a variety of genres. We started the site to help each other promote our work and to give Catholic parents a place to find books that reflect Catholic values. There are a few other Pauline authors on there, Stephanie Engleman, Katy Huth Jones, and Liz Lantigua.
It's so wonderful to find faith-based entertainment for kids, I want to share it with the world!