February's A Leaf From My Book interview is a really interesting one with Darren Rome Leo. His new book, The Trees Beneath Us, is a semi-autobiographical novel which hits on painful memories on a journey of discovery.
Your writing journey
Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I am passionate about the natural world and being in the wilderness. I have done a lot of long distance backpacking. I am an avid stand up paddle boarder, and I’m even starting a SUP business this spring. I teach at a community college, and I live with a very patient woman, three dogs, and six cats in Rhode Island.
What made you start writing?
I don’t ever remember not writing. It is my way of making sense of the world.
Out of all of the books you read in 2017, which would you recommend?
Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee. It has been out a while, but I just discovered it last year. Brilliant prose and a funny yet incisive examination of society.
About The Trees Beneath Us
I understand that this novel is very personal to you. Could you tell us what inspired you to share this and write The Trees Beneath Us?
A few years ago, my son was killed. Trying to cope with the grief, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. That is the premise of the novel. Writing it was painful but cathartic as well.
Did anything surprise you about Finn, your protagonist, as you were writing?
Many things, but probably the biggest was when I discovered that Finn wasn’t me. This book began as autobiography. I decided early on to tell the story as fiction, but Finn was certainly a version of me until all of a sudden, he wasn’t. That was a pleasant surprise.
What message do you hope your readers will take away from the book?
That if they are struggling with grief or depression, they are not alone. There are others out there slogging along the same tough trail. If they are fortunate to not suffer those afflictions, perhaps they’ll better understand those who do.
Your publishing journey
The Trees Beneath Us is published by Stark House Press. How did you find each other?
A friend of mine from grad school writes crime fiction, and they are his publisher. They were looking to branch out to literary fiction, and they gave my MS a read.
What’s your favourite memory of working with a small press?
I’ve never worked with a big house so I don’t have a frame of reference, but I loved my editor. Both of us hate talking on the phone, but both of us stay up late. So, we would have these all night back and forth email conversations about the book. He would suggest rewrites, I’d argue, then I’d go do it and go, “Yeah, that is better.”
What’s the biggest lesson you learned while publishing this book?
That writing “the end” on your manuscript means the hard work is just about to begin.
Do you have any other books planned? What does the future hold?
I have a few projects currently in various states of incompletion. I have another novel I’m working on about a man taking a cross country road trip to kill his abusive father. I have a narrative nonfiction about walking in America. I’ve walked about a thousand miles, in varying distances and locales, in my research. Finally, I have a couple hundred pages of a fantasy, swords and sorcery novel. Everything I’ve ever published is in literary fiction and usually deals with difficult themes like suicide and abuse, and I started writing the last just as amusement. I don’t know if it is any good, but it is fun to write.
A big thank you to Darren for this interview (and good luck with the fantasy novel - they are so much fun to write!).
You can check out and buy The Trees Beneath Us on Amazon and find out more about Darren on his website.
If you'd like to do A Leaf From My Book interview and promote your writing, read how you can get involved here.