I have the pleasure of being acquainted with the excellent author and all around fun gal, Kendra Saunders. Recently, she took the time to answer a few questons about her debut novel, Inanimate Objects.
Me: Your debut novel, Inanimate Objects, follows the life and times of a singularly gifted artist, Leonidas Bondi. How did you come up with Leo?
Kendra: Leo wasn’t in the original draft of the book, actually! I had a writer instead, and the writer was very passive and sort of ironically witty. It was funny at times but I became really frustrated with how passive the guy was, so I axed him from the story and had to start completely over. My best friend posted a picture online of a young Matt Bellamy (singer from Muse) wearing a feather boa and mask, and I sort of laughed to myself and said, “That’s the kind of guy I need in my book.” Later that night I jotted a scene with this beautiful, fashionable guy (nameless at the time) meeting Matilda. The scene is almost word for word preserved in Leo’s introduction chapter. Several months after jotting that scene in a little notebook,I came back to the novel and decided to see what my beautiful, nameless boy could do. He was the key!
Me: When we first meet Leo, he comes off as a self-absorbed artist, indulging in sex, drugs, and other sorts of debauchery. Later on, we learn that he has done some pretty amazing things in order to support himself, and his sister, including prostitution. Why resort to such means? Why not get a job as a waiter, or a paperboy?
Kendra: Leo had both a preternatural sense of his own possibilities and a responsibility that was forced on him from ayoung age (since he and his sister were orphaned relatively early). His ambition to become a successful artist was equally driven by a need to providefor himself and to force his own darkness out of his mind and onto something safer (a canvas, usually). He knew that working as a waiter or paperboy could hurt the mystery that he believed needed to be built around himself. I think, alot like Lady Gaga, Leo studied fame from the point of view that was available to him. Fame, down on his level, was mystery and power and good clothes and luxury.
Rock stars, whether musician or artist or whatever, must be desirable by nature. Earning money through desire allowed him to both provide for himself and sister AND to practice his technique. Seduction would always be as much a part of his career in art as the actual painting aspect. And I do think he needed to break down some of his own lingering walls of identity. This is a guy who, by nature, is veryintrospective and tends towards melancholy. In different circumstances, he might have been some quiet little weirdo who flitted in and out of life in 29 short, lonely years, leaving behind only an apartment full of sad paintings.
This Leo knew he needed teeth to survive, and he needed to sell his own personality, ambition and natural sex appeal. So why not actually make money while doing so? It was uncomfortable, and I'm sure there were times when he would hide out at home, but he faced it as a challenge that needed to be overcome. He wasn't going to waste his good looks or potential art career on being afraid.
Plus, he knew in the back of his head that it would all end up part of his myth one day, part of the story that would grow and change and dance from here to there, from person to person, from biographer to art party.
Me: Amazingly, even after all the debauchery Leo seems none the worse for wear, save for a bit of smudged eyeliner. Is the party boy persona all part of his act? Is there ever ginger ale in his champagne flute, or does he have the constitution of Babe the blue ox?
Kendra: Oh he’s much worse for the wear! The thing is, and we don’t see a lot of this in the book because so little of it is from Leo’s point of view, but he does absolutely take damage from all of this stuff. He probably gets home and falls into bed and sleeps without waking whenever he has a chance. And that air of ‘tuberculosis chic’ as my friend called it… that’s definitely the late nights and drinking and parties hovering close by. Is Leo stronger than most of us? Oh yeah. And he’s loads stronger than me! But there’s definitely a sense that he can’t keep at this pace much longer or things are going to burn down or he’s going to burn out. Where the book begins is sort of the lead-in to that tipping point. He’s a clever maestro, and he’s known he can’t push himself forever. Probably his greatest danger in all of this is a reckless curiosity about things he hasn’t consumed or encountered yet.
He drinks less than we think, avoids caffeine and is a vegetarian. But hand him a colored bottle of unknown liquid content and he’s gonna down it. And if you have four of them? Yep, he’s gonna try them all.
Me: Leo is neither modest nor unworldly, yet he turns down Matilda's advances. Is it ever wise for an artist to refuse their muse?
Kendra: That’s something I think about a lot! I have a lot of muses of my own (those aforementioned ‘tuberculosis chic’ types of boys) and can’t help thinking sometimes it’s better to have your muse at a distance. Artists and writers see things through their own unique lens and sometimes it’s more useful for us to only see what we want to see. But then, I suppose sometimes- as people and not as artists- we need to see the other side. We need to see the temper tantrums or the ugliness, the ordinary side of our muses.
Leo was able to see Matilda’s ugly side early on, because he’s just as much of a manipulator as she is! He turned her down because it kept her interest,which was wise in that particular situation. But I like to think it was also because he has a few lines he won’t cross (I’ll have to get back to you on what exactly those lines are).
Me: Leo and Helen's mother apparently committed suicide some time before the main story begins, plunging the siblings into orphanhood. This admittedly awful event seems to have affected them in opposite ways: Helen gets the stable, 'respectable' job, and Leo goes artist/rockstar. Am I correct in my assessment, or does their mother's death have less (or more) of an impact on their actions?
Kendra: Actually,interestingly enough, we never know what caused their mother’s death, but Ireally like your theory. (Especially considering the somewhat spoiler-laden issues of the familial burdens the Bondis carry). Helena always felt a bit disconnected from her mother and I think preternaturally felt more mature than her mother. She wanted to right things by being a bit more traditional, practical. Leo wanted to right things by making it big, however was availableto him. It certainly did egg both of them on to do things they wouldn’t have had to otherwise (including nicking breakfast from hotels and lying about their ages, etc). Of the two of them, Leo took after their mother far more, especially in terms of having a rather different grip on reality. He just had the cleverness and ambition to make it into something bigger.
Me: So, Elisha. Or as I like tosay, Ell ISH Ah. Truly, an excellent blend of strong masculinity and tortured soul. Please, please tell me we'll see more of him.
Kendra: Oh good Lord, Elisha has been my baby for so long. A lot of times I look forward to people reading the book mostly because Elisha is the surprise of the book. He’s got all of this angst and all of this dark poetry to him that just builds and builds. He’s a man on a mission for revenge but his revenge was created from a broken heart. How can you not love that? Plus he’s so entitled and English and sort of a bad boy and I just love writing people like that haha.
He’s definitely going to make some more appearances in future works, don’t worry. He’ll never fully leave me. Even if he finds happiness, he’s always going to be onsome sort of quest. This guy is semi-immortal, so there will always be more love, angst and missions for him out there.
Kendra L. Saunders is the author of magic realism novel Inanimate Objects, host of the quirky literary podcast 13 1/2 Minutes, marketing coordinator for Spencer Hill Press, Jazz-Age/all things England enthusiast and sometimes-roadie for her steampunk friends The Vagabonds. She's been published in Snakeskin Magazine, Premier Bride Magazine and Snakeskin Magazine and writes regularly for Pure Textuality and IPMnation.com. For more information about her, as well as helpful writing tips, visit www.kendralsaunders.com