Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interview with Tom Leskiw

Tom Leskiw wrote a truly special story for the "No Regrets" anthology. It makes you think about taking chances. We enjoyed Tom's interview and think you will as well.


1.   Do you write for a living or a hobby?

I have been paid for several of my essays that include a 1st Place contest winner for the journal The Motherhood Muse (now defunct). But, alas, I fear I’d starve if writing was my only source of income.

2.   How do you feel about entering contests only for the “fame” and not “fortune”?

I heard a great quote the other day about how writers make a living via someone “buying our words.” We live in a time where there’s so much free content, that not many of us can make a living selling our words. I enter contests or submit work with the expectation of merely receiving a complimentary copy because I must write. My joy stems from creating good work... and reaching as wide an audience as possible.

3.   How do you stay motivated?

As someone who writes mainly at the interface of science-nature-human interest, there are always a wealth of observations and experiences that intrigue me. Although now retired, I had many experiences during my 31-year career as a hydrologic-biologic technician with the U.S. Forest Service that lend themselves to story: helicopter rides in the Trinity-Alps while firefighting, wilderness treks in search of Marbled Murrelets, time spent restoring watersheds and salmon, and conducting surveys for Northern Spotted Owls and an array of other birds. These days, I spend a great deal of time afield with our dog Zevon observing birds and other aspects of nature. There is so much uncertainty in our world, that I find great comfort in watching the endless turn of the seasons. Birding, especially during spring and fall migration, allows me to “take the Earth’s pulse” in an intimate and profound way.   

4.    Have you ever hated something you wrote? 

Hate is a strong word, but, yes, I’ve written something for therapeutic reasons that I was uncomfortable sharing with others. Much to my surprise, the essay was fully embraced by members of my writers’ group and it’s slated to be published in February by Blue Lyra Review. I think many of us are reluctant to reveal our insecurities and vulnerabilities. However, if we get the tone right—confessional, but not self-pitying—this can turn out to be some of our strongest work.  

5.    How do you come up with your titles? 

Titles are often difficult for me. I try to search for an overarching theme or metaphor. The “Facing the Fire” piece that appears in Silly Tree took little effort. I wish all titles came to me as easily.
6.    If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 

Writer and lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle. Bob’s generosity of spirit and encouragement always serve as a tonic for me. His mentorship is by example rather than “hands-on” training: how writers engage with, build, and give back to community and how they hone their observational skills. 

7.    Can you share a little of your current work with us? 

I recently submitted a story on how traders (850-1425 AD) transported live Scarlet Macaws to the Desert Southwest—more than 1,100 miles from their native range—for breeding and ceremonial purposes. Macaws have made their way into rock art in the U.S. and a feather skirt artifact in good condition was found in southeastern Utah (which can be viewed at If the story is rejected, I’ll go to work editing it for submission elsewhere.

8.    Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Invoking enough science to keep me interested, yet not bore those who don’t have a science background. I delight in weaving together seemingly disparate threads that precipitate an “ah-ha” moment for writer and reader alike.   

9.    Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Because I strive to make science accessible and entertaining to non-scientists, Rachel Carson has always been an inspiration. Her concise, lyrical prose and her ability to invoke awe and wonder also can be found in my favorite contemporary authors, such as Alison Hawthorne Deming, Ken Lamberton, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Robert Michael Pyle.  

      10. Do you have any advice for other writers?

All art is subjective; what resonates with one reader or editor won’t necessarily be embraced by others. I’ve had my share of rejections, often because my science-human interest “tweener” status is too literary for the former and too scientific for the latter. Like many of us, I fall in love with facts uncovered during my research. Be willing to jettison some—maybe even most—of them, depending on your intended audience. Reading interviews with editors where they discuss what works for them is quite valuable. Although the following is more observation than advice, I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to fall in love with and marry Sue, who’s a professional copy editor with a science background. Much of any success I’ve realized is due to her input. For those who aren’t so lucky, join or form a writers’ group. Mine has been very beneficial for me; the various perspectives that others bring to critique one’s work is invaluable for bringing even oft-rejected pieces to their fruition.

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