by Katie Sampias
Veronica Leigh is a believer in Christ who has been published in several inspirational anthologies, like Guidepost’s “Divine Interventions: Heartwarming Stories of Answered Prayers” and Cecil Murphey’s “I Believe in Healing.” Her fiction has been included in: The Saturday Evening Post, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Magazine, After Dinner Conversation, and ParAbnormal Magazine. She aspires to be the Jane Austen of her generation. She makes her home in Indiana with her family.
In a heart-to-heart interview with our Interviews Editors, Justine John Hemmestad & Katie Sampias, Veronica talks about her faith, writing journey, and beyond.
When and why did you start writing? Was there something in particular that led you to writing?
I “wrote” my first book when I was five or six. It was about Dark Wing Duck, which was my favorite show at the time, and it had no words. Just badly drawn pictures. After I learned how to read and write, I wrote stories whenever I was bored. When I was eleven, my Aunt Barbara, an English Lit major, learned I was writing a story, and she critiqued one of them and then invited me to join a writer’s workshop for senior citizens (everyone was welcome though) that she was leading. I’ve been writing seriously ever since.
Loved visiting your writing blog, enjoying your writing and learning more about your story. Could you tell me a little bit more about your Christian journey? Have you always been a Christian or did you become one later on in life?
Well, I was raised in a Christian household and when I was young, I assumed that meant I was a Christian. The year I turned ten, there were two events that challenged that belief. The first was during the ceremony of when my cousin became a Capuchin friar. I was so uncomfortable and in tears… I had never felt God’s Presence before. Some weeks later, I went to a Christian concert and again, I was very uncomfortable and begged my mom to take me home. She did, and she later told me what was wrong: that though I attended church and believed in God, I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I said the Sinner’s Prayer, but really, it took me four more years before I truly understood the concept of Salvation and came to Christ.
How have you found that writing has influenced your relationship with God?
Many of my stories have Biblical allusions and references, or have been inspired by Biblical narratives. So, I find myself constantly searching the Scriptures and doing research for my stories. Of course, reading and rereading the Word helps us draw closer to Him.
You are named after Veronica, who had wiped Jesus’ face. What made your parents choose that name?
My Mom actually named me after Veronica Lake. She thought the name was beautiful and unique. It wasn’t until years later that we learned of the Veronica who wiped Jesus’ Face. I was amazed. There are some who think that the woman who bled for twelve years and touched Jesus for healing, was the same Veronica who later wiped His Face. For me, that’s inspiring; with being plagued with depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve reached out to Christ and He’s brought me healing many times.
You mention that you are a recovering agoraphobic who has also struggled with anxiety and depression. Was there a particular incident that triggered your agoraphobia for you? How has God helped you in your path to overcoming and managing your mental health struggles? Has your writing assisted you with this?
You know, there was no tragic event in my past to trigger the depression and anxiety. The best way I can describe it is that the month after my fifteenth birthday, the switch flipped and I was constantly anxious and it wasn’t long before I sank into depression. The agoraphobia was sort of in the background and then it manifested over the years. My faith in Christ is what encouraged me to keep going and believe things would someday improve. I got on the right medication; I started challenging myself, stepping out of my comfort zone, trusting the Lord to lead me. I still have bad days, yes, but the good outnumber them. Writing kept me occupied when I couldn’t leave the house, though there were dark periods when writing became impossible. The year my dad died, for an example. I returned to it eventually, because it’s in my nature to write.
Your website says that you write speculative fiction as well as Christian-related essays, and that you are a member of The Short Mystery Fiction Society. What is your favorite genre to write in?
I really enjoy writing mystery fiction. Historically based mystery fiction. I read so much classic literature, historical fiction, and I watch so many period dramas, that I don’t feel I have a grasp on writing contemporary fiction. I like creating a mystery set in a bygone era where the crime must be solved by employing other methods because DNA, fingerprints, and facial recognition, etc., aren’t a possibility.
Your story, My Brother’s Keeper, is in the Saturday Evening Post. That’s wonderful, Congratulations! Can you give us a glimpse of what it’s about? Also, which issue is your story in and where can people buy it? Is this your latest work?
Thank you. I can’t begin to say how proud I am that it found a home with The Saturday Evening Post. It is my most recently published story. Here’s a little synopsis: When a strange man comes home from the war claiming to be Allen’s long-lost brother Harry, everyone believes him. Allen isn’t so sure and sets out to prove the truth. It’s part of the New Fiction Friday series and can be read for free on their website. New Fiction Friday is a venue for emerging writers, so I really doubt it’ll ever end up in print in the main journal. But it’s still The Saturday Evening Post.
Your blog post about the Bronte sisters is wonderful. Does their work heavily inspire you? Do classic movies inspire you?
Thank you. The Bronte sisters have become an influence in recent years. Especially Anne Bronte. Her works and her life were overshadowed by her more well-known sisters. Anne felt compelled by her faith and conscience to write the truth. Her novel, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” countered the belief of the day that a good woman could redeem a bad man. It was a cautionary tale that horrified polite society and the literary world; even her sister Charlotte wouldn’t have it reprinted due to the content. I admire Anne for her courage and inner strength. I’ve watched some of the major classic movies like “Singing in the Rain” and “Gone With the Wind” but most of the classic movies I’ve watched starred Judy Garland. She’s my favorite Old Hollywood actress and singer. They don’t make them like her anymore.
How often do you publish writing/publishing advice posts on your blog? Are they primarily from your own experience in the publishing world? Who have you received the most helpful advice from, and what was it?
I do it periodically, and it is from my own experience. It’s the only place I can speak from any authority. I hope that others can avoid the mistakes I’ve made. The best piece of writing advice I received came from the writer’s workshop for senior citizens I attended in my teen years, though I don’t remember who said it. Here it is: Develop a thick skin and do not take criticism personally. Of course, it’s been nearly impossible for me to actually follow that advice because my stories are personal to me. For every story I write, I usually get one really critical rejection that makes me cry.
Your faith-centric stories have been published in multiple anthologies. What inspired you to write them?
I’ll be at work or running errands, and I’ll remember an experience I had or a miracle I witnessed, and I feel I must get them down on paper. God does not intervene on our behalf or offer us miracles for us to be silent about them.
Some of your experiences at church have not been positive. Your short story “On Men Who Pray on Girls in Church and Adults Who Enable Them”, was particularly upsetting. Did the experience you had that is outlined in this story lead you to doubt your faith at all? How did it affect your faith at the time?
I was never upset with God over how those men behaved or for the church leaders that covered it up. He is never at fault for such sins…or for any sins. I didn’t doubt or feel any anger towards Him. I was fourteen at the time, but I remember praying for protection, for help, for the right words to speak to my friend who was in more danger than I was. When my parents decided that we would leave that church, I believed God understood that they were following His Will by being good parents. The only anger I ever felt was geared towards the predator and the church leaders who hid it. It has made me wary of those in charge of the churches I attend; I can never fully trust them. I always wonder what is being kept hidden from the congregation.
Some of your pieces are, although very compelling, are quite dark. Your pieces “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Poor White Trash” explore war and its aftermath, abuse and drug addiction. Neither of them has a clear redemptive ending. How do you reconcile your dark writing with your Christianity? What are you hoping your readers get from reading these dark pieces?
Much of my writing is intended to be reflective of life, and life can be dark, especially with the absence of Christ. Not every story can have a happy ending, my characters don’t always find redemption or do the right thing, which again is reflective of real life. I hope that readers can read my stories and see how a character makes a mistake or is in a bad situation, that it doesn’t have to be that way for them. They can detect the darkness in the world and realize they have the free will to choose a different path. With some of my stories, I’ve actually been accused of writing “morality plays.”
Tell us about your family and friends, and how they have supported you in your writing journey.
Well, I mentioned Aunt Barbara, who was instrumental in encouraging me to take my writing seriously. When my parents learned of my interest and dreams, they were encouraging and helpful. My sister Seanna has been my collaborative partner and sounding board over the years; she is working on her own set of novels which are fantastic. My Aunt Maria and I often discuss popular authors and narrative techniques, which could be beneficial for my own work. Lately we’ve been discussing Toni Morrison. Then I want to give a big shout out to my friend Ginny. She reads every blog post and buys the magazines and anthologies I’ve been published in; and she keeps her eye out for publishing opportunities for me.
Which Bible verse is the closest to your heart?
Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Early on in my struggles with depression, my grandmother called me up and gave me that verse. It’s the verse I’ve turned to countless times over the years. It’s the Bible verse for my life.
You state that you hope to publish your own novel one day. Do you have a vision for the story and genre, are you in the process of writing, or have you already written it? Do you have an idea about what the story may be for this novel and how your Christian beliefs may play a part in its theme? I note on your website you have noted an interest in the Holocaust. Is this what you think your novel will be about? When are you hoping to complete and publish your debut novel?
I do want to publish a novel someday; it’s been a dream of mine for years. I have written two, one of which is based during and after the Holocaust. I visited Poland and Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2015, and when I came home, I wrote that novel. My faith in Christ is woven through it; the heroine is dedicated to her faith. I would like to review both novels one more time, because it’s been a while since I’ve looked at them, but I think they’re both completed. To be honest, I don’t know if there’s a market for them. Neither follows the formula preferred for the Christian market or the secular market. I’ve been itching to begin something new, but I haven’t been able to settle on anything or find the time to attempt it. Short stories and essays are all I’m able to manage at present.
What are you writing currently, and in what genre is it?
I’m taking a small break right now. I just finished writing a mystery set during the 2020 lockdown in my hometown of Terre Haute… it’s my first contemporary mystery in a long time. It was a struggle to write it, as I’ve said, I tend to write historical fiction and feel out of my element with a contemporary one. I hope to resume writing in a couple of weeks and it’ll likely be another mystery in a historical setting.
Do you have other works set for publication soon you would like us to know about?
I have one called “Lost Souls” which will be published next month in ParAbnormal Magazine. There are three others: “The Competition” for Scare Street’s Night Terrors Anthology; “Strange Fruit,” for Hoosier Noir: Volume Four; “No Place Like Home,” for Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. I don’t have publishing dates for those three though.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers who are starting out?
Well, I want to give the usual advice of never giving up and writing from your heart and soul. That is the truest, most helpful advice that any aspiring author should hear, and I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve heard it. I’m going to add, though, do not be so committed to a specific genre. Dabble in different genres, think outside the box, leave your comfort zone. It’s only when I left my comfort zone that I’ve been able to find a little success.