It’s not easy juggling two high-powered professions, but Maggie Leffler manages it splendidly. Leffler had been bitten by the writing bug early in life, and like many of us who write, crammed it around a busy life that includes a day job as a practising physican, being a wife, and motherhood. Her highly-regarded debut, THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE, told the story of a young doctor questioning her decision to pursue medicine and working through grief issues. Her second novel, THE GOODBYE COUSINS, tells the story of a woman gamely putting together the pieces of her life. Written with warmth and a light touch, Leffler expertly mines the terrain of grief, abandonment issues, and romantic love. Her books are family-centered character studies, with lots of emotions and laughter. The plot resolutions were authentic and lovely. I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend the weekend, and I look forward to Dr. Leffler’s next novel.
Please enjoy our interview with Maggie Leffler.
Q: Tell us about your journey to publication.
ML: I finished the first draft of THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE just before my graduation from medical school, but it took another six drafts—and a lot of rejections from multiple agents—until I finally got it right. Joining a writers group during my family practice residency really helped me figure out what changes I needed to make in the manuscript. After working on it for seven years, I finally did get an agent (Jodie Rhodes) who was extremely enthusiastic about the book—and she sold it to Bantam Books in two weeks.
Q: As a doctor, novelist and a mom, you’ve had to balance all sorts of crazy schedules. How do you manage it?
ML: I seem to write best when I have to carve out the time. In medical school I used to reward myself for studying by writing for a few hours. During residency, working on my novel was a great outlet for me. Things have gotten infinitely trickier now that my children are getting bigger, but I have always been somewhat of a night owl, which has allowed me to write after they are in bed.
Q: What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed with the second book?
ML: I always try to have a general idea of where my characters are headed, so I write with an outline. Sometimes my characters will surprise me, and suddenly the outline changes. With the first book, THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE, I had my ending written long before the middle. With THE GOODBYE COUSINS, I wrote up until Alecia and Di (the main characters) had made a mess of their lives, and it took me a while to figure out how I was going to make everything work out for them.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind your latest release THE GOODBYE COUSINS.
ML: A lot of my inspiration came from meeting with different book clubs—many people wanted to know what happened to my supporting cast characters, Di and Alecia, after THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE had ended. The two cousins were still in situations that were largely unresolved: Alecia had just gotten back together with her ex-fiance, Ben, while struggling over issues with her estranged mother; and Di was a single mom who’d not only lost her father, but her mother as well. After my own father died, I found myself in the same boat as Di—we were both young mothers of sons, and suddenly, we were both orphans. I wanted to write about that loss, of the vulnerability of raising a child in a world without one’s parents, and the sense of having to recreate one’s family.
Q: Was it easier or harder writing a sequel to your first release, THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE?
ML: In many ways, it was harder, because I had never written with more than a self-imposed deadline before, and suddenly I had a timetable for submissions. It was easier in other ways, however, because I had already found a great group of writers—and a wonderful editor—to steer me through.
Q: What aspect of the industry has surprised you?
ML: I was surprised to find out that the writer has very little control over how the book is packaged and marketed, and thus, you really can’t judge a book by its cover.
Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on your road to publication?
ML: Not to be afraid to start over. When I would collect another round of rejections, I would set it aside for a month or two, and then I would take a deep breath and begin again. I had faith in the story, and that I was the person to tell it, but I also knew that writing is all about the next draft.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
ML: Never give up! Just keep writing and reading. And if you can, find a writers group. It’s great to have a community, and the critiques can be invaluable.
Q: What inspires your creative juices?
ML: My family—both immediate and extended—is a huge inspiration to me. I’m also lucky to meet interesting people who share anecdotes that trigger ideas for stories.
Q: What’s next for you?
ML: I am working on a third novel about two generations of sisters. And I am also writing a screenplay of THE DIAGNOSIS OF LOVE.