Fun fact, I actually first “met” author Leah Cypess after one of her daughters wrote me a fan email when my first book “The New Girl,” came out. Since then, I’ve been following her writing journey through social media. With two new releases for the Jewish book market and a resissue of her YA fantasy “Mistwood” all out now, this was the perfect time for me to introduce her to my blog readers. Please welcome Leah Cypess, aka Leah Sokol, to the blog.
How did you come up with the idea for “THE SPANISH PLOT,” a Jewish novel where readers have to pick what happens next? Were you a fan of this genre of books growing up?
I actually remember exactly where I came up with the idea. I was sitting in the coffee shop where I do a lot of writing, leafing through my copy of B. Netanyahu’s book about the Abarbanel, trying to figure out a way to write a children’s book about the Abarbanel. I even had a title in mind, “The Man Who Served Six Kings,” but I couldn’t think of a way to make it work as a story appropriate for children. I was thinking that the story about the attempted kidnapping of his grandson would be good for a middle grade book, but there wasn’t enough *story* there to make a whole middle grade book … and then this approach occurred to me, and I just whipped out a notebook and started writing.
I read a ton of the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books growing up — who didn’t, if they were reading during the ’90s and had a library card? It seemed like they were everywhere for a while and then suddenly they went out of style. But then when my daughters were very into the “American Girl” books, I saw that they had a line of books called “Journeys” that were branching paths novels, and that probably reminded me of their existence. It’s also become more popular in science fiction/fantasy circles, usually in the form of online fiction/game blends, and I have a friend who was writing one. So they were in the back of my mind.
What made you pick the time period around the Spanish inquisition?
Like I said, I started out with the idea of the Abarbanel, who had so many fascinating episodes in his life … this was just the one that seemed most appropriate as a story where a kid could be the main character. (His financial negotiations on the behalf of Venice, not so much.) It was actually quite a challenge to write in this time period because, as we all know, there’s ultimately no happy ending.
You have two new releases and a reissue out this month, what’s that like?
It’s a lot like having one release out, honestly! I guess I do half the work as I would if two books came out at different times, but maybe I only get half the promotional benefit?
And yes, one of my mainstream books, Mistwood (a YA fantasy novel, published under my actual name, “Leah Cypess”) was reprinted in paperback this month as well. That’s very good news but doesn’t require anything from me — it’s been out all along and it’s still out, it just means a certain number of copies was sold and they needed new ones.
Are you a plotter or pantser?
I am 100% a pantser. This actually made it very fun to write this type of book, because often, as a pantser, I write things I end up not using because they don’t fit in with where the book ends up going. With this book, I got to use pretty much everything!
You also write sci-fi novels and short stories, is your writing process the same for your Jewish and secular stories?
My Jewish stories tend to be much more research driven, so the ratio of research to writing is very different. Once I’m doing the actual writing, though, the process is largely the same.
What does a typical writing day look like?
At the time when I wrote these books, my youngest child was only in school for 4 hours a day, so my (ideal) writing date looked like: Take her to school, go somewhere — a coffee shop, a library, a park — and try to write for 3 hours before running home to take care of some things and then picking her up. This year all my children are in school full time, so I’m still figuring out what a typical writing day looks like for me, but I can already tell they’re going to be a lot less stressful!
Learn more about Leah Cypess and her sci-fi work at: https://www.leahcypess.com/