Author series: Interview with Leah Kostamo

Leah works for A Rocha, an organisation founded by my parents. We first met when I was 17, so I have now known her more than half my life. I feel old… She’s a total gem, and when you read her book Planted (which you must), you will feel like you are spending time with her, which will be a wonderful use of your time.  She is funny, wise, full of integrity and unafraid to face down questions many of us stuff under the carpet.

book cover

 

Planted is challenging and inspiring, beautifully written and whimsically illustrated, funny and deathly serious. I loved it, and I think you will too.

Since Leah lives in Canada, we conducted our interview over email. M first question was what the book is about. This is for your benefit; I have read it, so I know 🙂

My book is about the crazy adventure of founding the first Christian environmental centre in Canada through the ministry of A Rocha (arocha.ca).  It’s a book of wrestling with issues of justice, poverty, and the state of the environment.

It’s not so much a “how to” book as an “how so” book, filled with stories of our bumbling efforts and God’s faithfulness as we tried to be true to the calling of caring for creation in a particular place with particular people over the period of ten years.

2. Where did you do your writing? Did you have any particular tactics to make yourself do it? 

In the spring of 2010 I woke at 4 am for a number of days in a row.  When I woke I had stories, chapter titles, literary threads that needing teasing out, zinging about my brain, making it impossible to fall back asleep. After about a week of this, I got out of bed and starting writing.  I did this for about nine months — writing mostly in the mornings before my family woke up and then catching snippets of time throughout the day to wrestle what I’d written in the morning into something more beautiful than a clunky first draft.  I didn’t really need to make myself write, I felt like I had to write!  Cooking for my family and keeping my house looking like it was lived in by humans and not a family of chimps was the thing that took tactics and strategies.

3. What kept you going- how did you drown out those voices that say you are writing rubbish (if you had those voices!)?

It was far too intimidating to admit to myself or anyone around me that I was writing a book.  I keep all my chapters and drafts in a folder on my computer called “blog writing”.  (I didn’t have a blog at the time.) When I ready to “come out” as a writer of a potential book I was very selective about who I let see my first drafts — basically people who would give me shameless praise!  Once my shaky writer self had been sufficiently
bolstered by these voices of affirmation I started to ask for more people to look at the evolving work and look at it with a more critical eye.

4. How did you go about getting a publishing contract? What was the process like on an emotional level?

I wrote a proposal to a literary agency (they’re all online and all looking for good writers to represent).  Evidently (so said the literary agent who took me), getting an agent is 80% of the work in getting published.  He then assured me, because my proposal was so strong and my writing so good, he’d land my manuscript with a publisher in the first round.  Wow, that was easy, I thought!  And in the first round a few really great publishers were interested, but in each case once my proposal got “to the table” (a table around which were savvy marketing folks with appreciation for potential sales and NOT for clever turns of phrase) it got shot down.  This happened at least ten times, not only in rounds one, but in two and three as well. It seemed that “platform” was the litmus test for whether a book got published, no matter how wonderful the writing (or how terrible for that
matter) and my platform didn’t quite measure up. So, emotionally it was like driving on a very winding road, with the sharp turns of praise for my writing, followed by another sharp turn of rejection because of perceived
unmarketability. It was hard not to get whiplash at times!

5. What kind of response have you had to the book? What nice things have people said? 
I’ve been humbled by the great reviews my book has been getting, both from readers and reviewers on places like the Huffington Post.  You know that saying, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?” I think most folks, when they find out my book has environmental themes, are afraid they are going to be subjected to a finger-wagging lecture on why they should take cold showers and dress only in hemp if they really want to care for the earth.  Instead, so the reviewers say, they’ve laughed (out loud!), cried (real tears!) and come away inspired to keep on with the good work of loving their neighbours and loving creation wherever they find themselves planted.

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