On the cusp of her first novel release, we get a chance to sit down with Leilani Wilson and talk about her writing.
Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?
Symphony of Shifting Tides has been cooking for a long time! Like, a decade! It was originally going to be a video game. I’m actually glad it ended up being a book instead, though. The story ultimately works much, much better this way!
My inspirations come from strange places. I’ll freely admit that basically none of the inspirations were literary for me—at least at the outset. I grew up playing a lot of classic JRPGs, and the way that they told stories changed drastically over the span of about 15-20 years. I always found it interesting the way that the genre’s stories got stranger and stranger as time went on. The stark difference between Dragon Quest (1) and say, Kingdom Hearts (as a series) is very big. The worldbuilding is often very finely crafted in some of these longer series that share a world. The amount of planning these scenario writers do is ridiculous.
I think there are expectations when it comes to the genre about what the games contain, but often those preconceptions point towards the much older games that were about simple good and evil. Anymore, things have become a lot more complex and nuanced. These are the same stories that inspired Undertale and Deltarune, after all.
Some of these stories have a lot to say about religion, politics and philosophy, as well as non-linear storytelling. Stuff like in the Xenoblade series, and its predecessors Xenogears and Xenosaga. Then there’s behemoths like Suikoden and Trails in the Sky! Those are all the types that inspired me. I tried to hit the sweet spot between ridiculous amounts of lore like those, and more straight-forward stories like in Grandia or Wild Arms.
What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between? How do you find that this helps and/or hurts your writing style?
I’m almost entirely a pantser. My process is completely sideways, though. With Symphony of Shifting Tides in particular, I actually composed the soundtrack to the book first. I wanted to let the music guide the story, and what that created was actually a huge mess. Don’t know if I’d recommend that creation process!
That said, it did make for a bit of an entertainingly unorthodox trajectory for the story and its characters. I used the music for all my locations and major plot points, and pantsed the gaps. It’s a bumpy ride for the first draft, and at times will lead to spots where you know your destination but have no idea about how on earth you’re going to get there. It definitely has some drawbacks, but it feels like reading the story while writing it.
What’s your favorite kind of story to write?
I like stories about people dealing with their emotions. I love a good setting and I love complex world-building, but I can’t enjoy it without the characters. I like to write about characters who would be side-characters in any other story. I like to focus on people who aren’t heroes. Morally gray stuff is typically my jam.
Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?
When it comes to Symphony of Shifting Tides, there’s a lot of me in all five of the characters who end up sticking together (eventually). I’d have to say I probably I identify with Cecelia and Verse the most.
Cecelia is very much how I was when I was her age, and Verse grapples with depression and anxiety the way myself and many others do. None of these characters have the normal dispositions of ‘heroes’ I guess, but that’s honestly their appeal to me. All of them are doing the best they can to get by, and so are all of us.
Which authors or books have most influenced your work?
It’ll sound cliché, but George R.R. Martin made me want to actually try my hand at writing. Around the time I was realizing that making a game wasn’t going to work out, I was reading his work. One thing lead to another, and that was that. I wouldn’t say my writing resembles his in any way, shape, or form, but he’s who inspired me to start.
What’s the last book you read that you really loved?
Queen of Arts by Frances Pauli! The characters in it are really well-written, and that’s what made me fall in love with it. I ended up genuinely wanting them to do well and be happy, which is a sign of really well done characters!
Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I try to keep busy with anything I can get my hands on. Currently, that’s a circle track car, and working on various video game soundtracks and albums.
Advice for other writers?
Write. Don’t continually revise your first chapter over and over again. Don’t get stuck in the trap of worldbuilding and never writing. Don’t just make settings, make characters. Don’t talk about writing, just write. Everything will absolutely fall into place in the long run. Trust yourself.
Where can readers find your work?
Symphony of Shifting Tides is for sale through Goal Publications! The rest of the series will eventually be available through Goal as well, as well as the albums that accompany each book!
What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom? Why write furry?
I guess I’ve always loved animal characters from a young age. I like the idea of using these types of characters to tell stories for adults and not just children. I think there’s so much that can be done with furry characters! Whether you’re using their type of animal to talk about the personality type of a character, or as an allegory for something much larger, I think it’s an important tool most writers don’t consider.
There’s a lot to be said for the differences between us and our animal counterparts. Through furry literature, we can find the commonplace between all living creatures. Plus, let’s face it. Animals are (almost always) adorable and really cool in general. Humans can be both things, too, but not as often.
The fandom is a very welcoming and friendly place, and I’ve felt at home in and around it since I first started meeting other furries! As soon as I found out there were a lot of other furry authors, I jumped in headfirst!