Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your short story collection, A Novel of Shorts: The Woman No One Sees! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the collection’s premise, and what inspired you to tell these stories?
Leah McNaughton Lederman: These nine stories are bound together by a single tragic character, Esther. Sometimes, she’s the focus of the story; sometimes, she’s a small figure in the background. In either case, she’s a cleaning lady who consistently fades from view, even in the stories that feature her. A few of the tales are a little creepy, though I wouldn’t call it a horror collection by any means.
Wherever she cleans, Esther collects trinkets—sometimes even just bits of dust. In some of these stories, she is witness to something horrid, and in other stories, we see horrid things happen to her. Again and again, this collection asks you to look a bit more closely at the people around you, the people who so often seem “invisible.”
Esther came to me in a thought I had, nearly twenty years ago, while dusting the house of my husband’s late grandfather. He had only just passed, and I was just trying to help. I had a foreboding sense that I was overstepping, that in wiping away the dust, I was in fact taking the last of him from the family. That thought haunted me, and stayed with me even when, in subsequent years, I continued to clean the houses of other relatives who passed. (I can’t cook worth a darn, so I resort to helping to clean.)
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these interlocking narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
LML: Because these stories were written over a span of years, the creative process was different for many of them. I’m pretty sure I used every method of pantsing and outlining available over the course of the collection.
I completed the first story, “Dust to Dust,” in nearly one sitting—but that was after about five years of mental percolation. I had been finishing a degree and teaching, so I put off the idea of writing. Once I came around to it, however, and decided to take it more seriously, I churned out several more stories. The experience of writing “The Women No One Sees” and “Hardly a Scratch” was like chiseling words out of rock. I had learned that I couldn’t afford to wait for inspiration. I had to chase it.
Again and again, this Esther character kept showing up in the stories I’d written. I’d had the idea for creating a “novel” with short stories for a while but had never considered using Esther. When the idea finally hit me, it was a highly satisfying “Eureka!” moment. I realized that if I combined the stories I’d already written, it came together like one of those 3D puzzles (those ones that were popular in the 90s) and an image emerged—the story of Esther.
I added a few more stories to fill in blanks on her timeline, pulling from my own life and some of the jobs I’ve had: a cleaning lady, a front desk clerk, and a medical assistant. My creative influence was the inner monologue I used to entertain myself while at work through all of those years. Long before I ever started writing seriously, I would come home and jot notes down about a certain patient, or someone whose office we cleaned. All of those people came to life on these pages!
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that A Novel of Shorts’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
LML: Several people have commented that these stories have prompted them to take a closer look at the people on the outskirts, in the background, the people we don’t always tend to see. That’s a helpful outlook, and I’m happy to have inspired that. Also, while I don’t think the stories call for a trigger warning, there are overarching themes of anxiety, cruelty, and grief.
Esther is invisible. She was always shy, but then life events drove her back even further into herself. She tries to color herself, fill herself up with what other people have left behind—or even what she steals from them.
These stories show that it’s important not just to look at people on the periphery, but also at the kinds of things we leave behind us. Certainly, we leave behind more than just our dust. So then, what is our legacy?
BD: Do you foresee revisiting Esther’s story in future volumes or even adapting it into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
LML: I started thinking about Esther long before I ever had the nerve to call myself a writer. These stories, pulled quite literally from my resume and from a series of other experiences, helped usher me into my newest occupation as “author.”
When I finished writing these, I finally understood what authors mean when they talk about “saying goodbye” to a character. Esther represents a lot of where I’ve been, but she’s not where I’m heading. It felt good to lay her to rest.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LML: I have several works-in-progress, from memoir to anthologies to how-tos and books on craft. I’m plunking steadily away!
I’m a slow-burn kind of writer. I edit indie author fiction and comic scripts to fund my projects and work from home where several little creatures call me “Mom.” In other words, I’m not churning out titles, but I’ve always got several pans in the fire. I suppose that’s true of anyone, I’m just self-conscious about it sometimes. I’m not as prolific as I’d like to be.
My next collection, a follow-up to 2019’s Café Macabre: A Collection of Horror Stories and Art by Women, is currently on schedule for a 2021 release.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about A Novel of Shorts: The Woman No One Sees and your other work?
LML: If you’re interested in finding out more about A Novel of Shorts or Café Macabre, my blog page has a store connected to it or you can visit my editing page on Facebook. I’m available on Twitter and Instagram, as well.