How Baz and The Bard inspired Brisbane author, Leisa Rayven

August 25, 2016

For weeks or even months, I spend more time with my characters than with friends or family

From her Brisbane home, author Leisa Rayven has become an international bestselling author with her contemporary romance stories Bad Romeo and Broken Juliet. But her writing habit began during a stay in Europe.

“I was inspired to start experimenting with novel writing when I was living in Rome,” she says. “My husband was working at the opera house, and because I was often alone, I spent a lot of time reading.

“One day, I got a plot idea, and started writing a paranormal mystery inspired by Stephen King. Writing quickly became my favorite way to pass the hours, and by the time I got back to Australia, I had four novels in various stages of completion.”

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet movie poster
Baz Luhrmann’s movie poster. (Credit: By Source, Fair use)

But it was Australian director Baz Luhrmann (and Shakespeare) that Leisa has to thank for the inspiration for Ethan and Cassie.

Leisa was watching Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet film starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, and an equally young and beautiful Claire Danes, when drama students and star-crossed lovers Ethan and Cassie were born.

“I’d studied [Shakespeare’s] Romeo and Juliet in both high school and drama school, and had always detested Romeo for being a fickle, whiny, baby-man,” Leisa says. “So, I decided to write a modern spin on the star-crossed lovers.

“I wanted to explore a Romeo who was so damaged by a failed relationship with Rosaline, he was completely terrified of getting intimate again with another woman. Any woman. Especially someone like Juliet who he was incredibly drawn to,” she says.

“When I started thinking about this new Romeo, I couldn’t stop, so every spare moment I got, I wrote. For nearly two years, Cassie and Ethan consumed my brain and I ended up with two very long books.”

Sending off her loved ones

Like all authors, there’s a time when the writing ceases and you send your loved ones off. Leisa admits she was terrified of trying to get her work published.

With her new release title, Bad Romeo on the bookshelves
Leisa with her then new release title, Bad Romeo on the bookshelves

“When I first wrote Bad Romeo and Broken Juliet, I had no intention of publishing a book,” she says. “I wasn’t even a writer. I was a professional actor and singer, and even though I’d written quite a lot of plays and corporate shows, novel writing was a whole other ball game.

“It’s one thing to write something that you know only close friends and family are going to read. It’s quite another to send it to proper publishing professionals and say, ‘Hey, please look at my blood, sweat, and tears in these pages and tell me it doesn’t suck.’ I was so nervous about sending my first query to an agent that I completely forgot to put her name.

“I’m sure the fact she received a query addressed to ‘Dear [AGENT’S NAME] had nothing to do with the very swift but polite rejection I received,” Leisa jokes.

The momentum began

“Soon after that, I had two amazing New York literary agents request full manuscripts from me, which is kind of like winning the lotto in the publishing world.

“Two weeks later I received a very excited email from one of them telling me she’d just finished reading my manuscript and asking if she could call me straight away. It was 11pm here in Australia, but hey, if a New York literary agent wants to talk to me, I don’t care what time of day it is,” Leisa says.

“She offered to represent me. Right then, I was certain one of my friends was punking me, but when I called the U.S. phone number she gave me the following day, it was a bonafide New York literary agency. I was gobsmacked.”

The rest is what every author dreams of happening. “For the next few months, my agent, Christina, and I worked together on refining and editing my manuscripts, and at the beginning of 2014, she approached Macmillan New York. Within two days, they came back with a three-book publishing deal. I nearly passed out from excitement and shock. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The fans and readers

Where's Leisa at the Dallas Book Fair? That's her circled!
Where’s Leisa at the Dallas Book Fair? That’s her circled!

You only have to visit Leisa’s Goodreads reviews to see the depth of passion fans have for her work, and for the star-crossed lovers.

“I’m incredibly humbled that people love my characters as much as I do. It’s such a bizarre experience to now have my books translated into 10 foreign languages around the world,” Leisa says.

“Every time I go overseas and do book signings, it blows my mind that people come to see me. My readers are astonishing.”

Genre passion

Leisa admits contemporary romance wasn’t even her first love.

“When I started writing the books, I didn’t know they were contemporary romance. I was just writing a story I wanted to read,” she says.

“The very first book I ever binge-read was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when I was ten-years-old. That was really the first time I went, ‘Oh my God! I need to get my hands on EVERYTHING this woman has ever written!’ When I found out she wrote the book when she was between the ages of 15 and 17, I was blown away.

“As for my all-time favorite book, I think that would be a toss up between The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. They’re books I re-read every few years and always enjoy.”

A new career

Leisa and two of the international translation copies
Leisa and two of the international translation copies

Leisa’s professional acting and singing work has now taken a backseat to her writing.

“I have to turn down most offers of acting work because I’m busy furiously writing to meet deadlines, but I still do the occasional performance or voice over.

“Being a professional writer is really like hosting two personalities in the one body,” Leisa says.

“When I’m working to a deadline, I spend all day, every day staring at a screen, trying to transform white and black into something magical (usually in my pajamas).

“I don’t get much sleep. Food is usually pushed into the writing cave with a stick by my husband or one of my sons. They avoid eye contact or making too much noise lest they get ‘the look’. For weeks or even months, I spend more time with my characters than with friends or family,” she says.

“On the flipside, when I go to signings, I have to be a social butterfly on steroids. I have to be ‘up’ and ‘on’ all the time, not only for readers, but to network and socialise with other authors.

“It’s completely exhausting, but wonderful.”

Visit Leisa’s webpage to discover all of her titles.

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Helen Goltz

After studying English Literature and Communications at universities in Queensland, Helen Goltz has worked as a journalist, producer and marketer in print, TV, radio and public relations. She was born in Toowoomba and has made her home in Brisbane. Helen is the author of eight books and is published by Clan Destine Press and Atlas Productions. She is the original founder of She Brisbane.