Leah Ferguson is the debut author of ALL THE DIFFERENCE published by Berkley/Penguin which tells the story, in alternating chapters, of a pregnant woman who says yes – and no! – when her boyfriend proposes marriage. You may also know Leah from her popular mommy-blog One Vignette – life on the small scale: a story at a time. Thank you, Leah, for joining us here at WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books. We’re thrilled to have you!
Where did you grow up?
WWWB, thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be a part of one of your (increasingly famous!) Q&As. I was born on Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, the result of my foster-child-turned-career-airman dad falling in love and marrying my devout Catholic, former Air Force brat mom. Soon after that, my father retired and we moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where my brother was later born.
To my parents it was the perfect home: a small college town, close to valleys and farms and mountains, with a thriving military post (Carlisle is home to the U.S. Army War College). I, as any proper American child would do, couldn’t wait to get out of there. But once I got married and decided to move out of the big city (well, Baltimore), my husband and I—to my profound surprise— settled within driving distance of that same perfect college town. It really is a cute place. I’d be happy to show you around one day.
What were you like as a kid? A teen?
Oh, my. As a child, I was the perfect kiddo: my studies came easily to me, and I played by the rules—both my parents and the school’s—and was happy to just ride my bike or read books in my free time. Life got a little trickier as I grew into my teen years: I was still a pretty darned good kid, but definitely a daydreamer and a bit lost. I was in my head a lot growing up—I read a lot, for one thing, and wrote even then—poems, stories, songs. I drew a lot. I was definitely not the most confident child in the school (the ‘90s-era glasses and braces I had to wear didn’t quite help), and hormones definitely had me swinging high and low, but you know: adolescence is something to get out of alive. I made it.
Cacophony. Love the paradox of a beautiful word to describe terrible noise.
I love to sing. I don’t do it regularly anymore, so I’d be afraid to really give it a go in front of people again, but it’s my joy.
Best meal you prepare?
How’s this for a weird answer from a former vegetarian (who still gets the willies when she has to face meat): chili. I really make a mean chili. I know. I don’t get it, either.
Book on your nightstand right now?
Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl. I have a soft spot for funny British authors, ol’ Nick there in particular.
Which writers inspire you?
I wish I hadn’t made that comment about funny British authors already, but that pretty much sets the tone to describe the authors to which I’m drawn: I adore novels that are literary and intellectual, but completely riddled with sarcasm and dry wit. I love to read a book—Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the quintessential example of this—and feel like I’m especially clever if I caught the joke. My standouts right now are David Nichols, Simonson, Hornby and Jess Walter (he’s American, but the theme is still there—Beautiful Ruins is a masterpiece). I just had the pleasure of finishing Melissa DeCarlo’s debut The Art of Crash Landing, and she’s got a bit of that too—a supremely well-crafted book that’s funny as hell. That’s hard to do, and when I read it, I find it inspiring. These authors set the bar for somebody like me quite high.
ALL THE DIFFERENCE explores the fascinating concept of taking two mutually exclusive paths and what, if any, role fate will play. How do your story ideas come to you?
I’ve found that my stories originate from feelings rather than ideas. For instance, All the Difference sprang from a feeling I had when I first joined Facebook, of all things. All of these people popped out of the woodwork to say hi and catch up, and I found myself in conversations with a couple of (currently quite nice, family-oriented) ex-boyfriends that I politely backed out of after a short while. They made me wonder, though, about the type of person who would linger in these conversations to see where they led: what if I wrote a story that explored the two possible answers to a woman’s “what if?” From there, my character Molly was born.
You’ll see from my ending that I have a definite opinion of how our choices shape up, but there’s where it began: Facebook. The novel I’m working on now was sprung from a single moment, too: it’s a story about a friendship that falls apart over jealousy, and the idea came from the ending of a friendship I recently experienced. My own story wasn’t dramatic or anything, but those feelings of realizing a really awesome friendship had simply evaporated set my imagination into overdrive. It’s been fun, writing books this way: I get to take a simple feeling with which many of us can identify and explore the reasons behind them. It’s pretty fantastic.
Is there a specific passion that fuels your choice of premise?
I think it’s empathy. When I write One Vignette, I usually write for myself—to figure problems out, or set down stories I want to remember and share with my children years from now—but an unexpected joy has come from hearing a friend or stranger tell me how much she identified with a post. And I think I want to take that feeling and run with it.
People either hated or enjoyed my protagonist, Molly, in All the Difference, and I find that it’s usually the reader’s experiences that color her interpretation of the story. I love that. I love knowing that I can hide behind my little laptop and come up with something that can connect me with other people. I love knowing that readers will have opinions (okay, I really only love it if they’re good opinions. I’m not made of steel, you know), because something in those words hit them a certain way. It’s such motivation to keep the words coming.
What does your writing process look like? How long does it take you to write a book?
Um. Too long. I wrote the first draft (50,000 of what would be 85,000 words) of All the Difference in the space of a month. That was idiotic (I did it during NaNoWriMo), but working toward a deadline made me focus. I spent a year after that revising my manuscript before querying potential agents with what was still a hot mess. It was a couple of years after that—this is while finding an agent, doing not one, but two, revise-and-resubmits for that agent, and more revisions before and during submission to publishers that I got my book deal (so, 3 1/2 years in all, I think). In my defense, I had two super-small kiddos and got pregnant and had another baby during that time (good excuse, right?). But I think I was almost more productive then: now that my kids are older (no naps! no easy bedtimes!) my process is even slower. When I get into something, I go turbo-speed. But my life—as lovely as it is most days—does not allow me to go single-focus turbo-speed. One day, it will. But right now, I’m in the weeds, as they say.
What is your favorite form of procrastination?
Facebook. Twitter. Eonline. GoFugYourself.com. I sometimes throw in a thoughtful blog like Momastery or Orangette or Smitten Kitchen in there to round myself out, but Facebook is usually the first one in my queue. I have no shame.
You are a novelist on top of being a full-time mom to three children. You captured a snapshot of your life in your article “It’s Like Having An Alter Ego, But Harder.” What advice can you offer us on how to juggle it all?
Oh, gosh. I don’t juggle it all. I’m awful at juggling it all. The best thing I’ve learned lately is to rearrange my view of “success”—what I mean by that is instead of writing “finish that chapter!” on my to-do list, I jot down “write for one hour.” It takes a lot of the pressure off, and I find myself working better now that I have these mini-deadlines to meet (I set a timer). But I’m still a full-time mom—there’s no childcare, nor magical person who shows up every week to scrub my floors (I’ve heard they exist, though)—with a husband who works more than the average 9-to-5 and a cat and a puppy who doesn’t quite know yet that she’s supposed to pee outside.
I don’t do as much with my two-year-old as I did with his sisters: he plays beside me most mornings while I do promotional work or write. I sometimes find myself typing through lunch at the kitchen table, which I hate to admit. But the end of my work day is when I leave to pick up the girls from school, and from there, I’m in 100 percent mom mode. I wish I had sound advice except to say: back out of a lot of it. Don’t sign your kid up for a million activities.
Let your partner take control of the washer and dryer. Put your local pizzeria on speed dial. It’s amazing how much longer you can go between cleanings if you just stay on top of the dishes and the tidying up. (I say that with my fingers crossed behind my back. I think it’s good advice. I don’t say I take it well.) I have to skip out on the bedtime routine sometimes to go to a local book club meeting, but I also make sure to volunteer in their school. It’s not about balance—there’s no such thing. It’s more about being okay with not being perfect.
What goes into your famous green smoothies?
Haha! Are they famous?! This is what I threw into the blender today: two handfuls of baby spinach, some peach and apple chunks leftover from my girls’ school lunches, a banana, a little bit of coconut oil (because all those health blogs told me so), about a cup of coconut water, and a tablespoon or so of peanut butter. My kids drink them, too, as long as I hold the peanut butter. I have crazy kids.
Cookie or Brownie?
Cookie. Or rather, cookies.
Autumn or Spring?
Autumn, which is weird, because I despise the winter that follows it with a burning passion. But autumn is crisp air and apple cider doughnuts and fresh fruit from the orchards and family-friendly, glow-y, no-pressure happiness. Oh, and also Notre Dame football (go Irish!).
Flats or Heels?
Heels, always, when going out. I don’t feel dressed up with out them—they have magical confidence-inducing powers. But flats for real life. I’m no Kardashian.
The Cure or Coldplay?
Beer or Wine?
Can I say both without sounding like I have a problem? I love wine when I’m cooking, or hanging out with a friend (red in the cool months, white in the warm. I have no idea why). But I’ll rarely turn down a really cold, really good craft beer. Maybe I do have a problem.
Thank you, Leah, so much dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family! We will be supporting and rooting for you forever more. We are so happy for you on the success of ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Undoubtedly, there is much more to come. No one deserves it more. ☺
Other ways to bond with Leah –
“Leah Ferguson’s fresh storytelling allows her characters to do what the rest of us can only achieve in hindsight: live out alternate destinies. Molly is at once so insightful, clueless, and laugh-out-loud funny that you’ll be cheering for her like you would your best friend. A thoughtful, highly entertaining read! Fans of Emily Giffin will not want to miss this!” — Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy
“In All the Difference, Leah Ferguson gives readers a surprising and fresh take on ‘what if’ in her page-turning debut. Molly Sullivan is a strong main character who knows exactly who she is — even when she’s not sure exactly what she wants. Ferguson deftly illustrates how choices shape our lives, and how it’s never too late to change course and head in the right direction. Leah Ferguson is a charming new voice in women’s fiction.” — Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Good Neighbor and The Glass Wives
“With witty dialogue and great insights into human nature, Leah Ferguson tells the story of Molly’s unusual year and her path to happiness and realizing what is important. Leah Ferguson is a stirring new voice in women’s fiction, writing a story that is both highly entertaining and moving.” — Anita Hughes, author of French Coast
“A smart, sensitive, and ultimately empowering story about making choices and living with the consequences of those choices…The takeaway: you can choose the kind of person—the kind of woman—you want to become.”—Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author
“We gobbled up this refreshing debut. Molly is a character everyone will love — smart, quirky, with just the right amount of sass. In All the Difference, Leah Ferguson has crafted a novel filled with dynamic characters and real-life problems. You’ll be rooting for Molly as she navigates parallel destinies, ultimately making a powerful choice that will leave readers applauding.” — Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, authors of Your Perfect Life and The Status of All Things
“With intelligence and heart, Leah Ferguson puts a fresh twist on the concept of the road not taken. All the Difference gracefully explores the meaning of family, love, and friendship and cleverly addresses the question of whether a single decision can change our destiny.” — Dana Bate, author of The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs and Too Many Cooks
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. Her women’s fiction and is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author Interview segment. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and will be the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications. When she isn’t working on her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found chasing her dogs and kids, cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Say hi. http://www.mmfinck.com