Last month our featured author’s writing was inspired by personal grief. And this month, we have another individual, Leila Tualla, whose faith, and mental health have been present on her writing journey. Her books feature romance, poetry and personal memoir, and have proved inspiring to her readers who have been through similar experiences. I’m very proud to welcome Leila to my blog, and hope anyone reading this can take inspiration from her story.
About the author
Leila Tualla is a Filipino-American memoirist, poet, and Christian author. Leila’s books include a YA Christian contemporary romance called, Love, Defined and a memoir/poetry collection called Storm of Hope: God, Preeclampsia, Depression and me. Her poetry is featured in two mental health anthologies, Letters of May and We are Not Alone: stories of mental health awareness. Leila is a contributing blogger for Daughters of the Deep, a faith based ministry and Echoes of the Struggle, a blog that aims to discuss political, racial, and personal views from today’s changing and volatile climate. She is currently working on a poetry collection based on Asian American stereotypes, titled the Token Asian writes. Leila lives in Houston, Texas with her first generation Mexican American husband and two miracle “Mexipino” babies.
Describe your ideal writing atmosphere.
Anywhere quiet is ideal. I have a kindergartener and a toddler who is always singing, or screaming. I use to love writing at coffee shops and be able to concentrate with the noises in the background but when I became a mom, I realized anywhere quiet is sacred.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?
I’ve been writing in journals and doing poetry since middle school. A teacher, Mrs. Spradley, in the 7th grade looked at the journals we had to turn in and told me that once our project was over, to keep writing. She loved how I wrote and told me to keep working on getting better. I try to thank her anytime this question comes up. Wherever you are, Mrs. Spradley, thank you for inspiring me to start.
Describe your writing style.
It’s all very journal-like, I think. I draw from my own experiences. I also do a bunch of brain dump sessions, so they’re all random sometimes and make absolutely no sense. But, I love it.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
What kind of story that hasn’t been written yet do you want to read?
Funny you should ask! I’ve resolved to read more books this year by Asian American authors. I’m in love that there are more diverse books and characters in everything. Our book world is FINALLY starting to look like our “real” world. But I wish someone would write about Filipinos. Did you know that the first Asians that came to America were Filipino sailors around the 1500s?? I want to know that story. I have so many more stories that I’d like to read about Filipino history, specifically.
Name any authors or books that have had an impact on your writing.
I have a lot of Mitch Albom’s books. I love his stories that inspire and have faith as the main theme, but don’t feel claustrophobic in having specific religion or faith with it….if that makes sense! I also tend to gravitate towards personal essay type books. Diary of Anne Frank. Night by Elie Wiesel.
Describe the moment you truly felt like an author.
I’m still working on this one. Ha! Imposter syndrome is the worst.
What book by another author do you wish you’d written?
I don’t think I have any. Mostly because I tend to write from some experiences in my life and I don’t know if I could create an entire world that someone else had imagined. I believe each person has a story to tell and it’s not my place to write their story.
What is the best thing about writing/being a writer?
I recently got an email from a mama thanking me for Storm of Hope and how she saw a lot of what she went through in my story, and that made her feel less alone. I think that’s the most amazing and humbling part about a writer – that we can take our experiences and write as if the person reading it understands and can empathize or can relate to the entire situation, and lets them know that someone out there sees them and really understood their pain.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Keep writing. It took me 10 years to finish my book! I started in my college apartment spending whatever time I had on it and put it away. Marriage, work and motherhood later, I found it and did a LOT of editing and revisions. It was funny and sad to read it again and note that my characters had CD player, a camera AND a phone as part of their vacation must haves, because smart phones hadn’t been invented yet!! I just aged myself but I wrote Love, Defined in 2003/04 and it was published in 2015. The love for the story was still there and I wanted these characters that took me back to my college life to have some semblance of an “ending.” Wherever you are in your draft, don’t rush through it and enjoy the process. Try to anyway! But believe in your story, fall in love with your characters and give them a proper ending, or a goodbye. I think that’s why most of us call it our “book baby.” Pieces of your heart and soul and sweat and tears are wrapped up in our books.
Tell the story behind your latest book, why did you write it?
My latest book is called Storm of Hope: God, Preeclampsia, Depression and me. It’s a memoir, written in journal entries and poems.
I’m a Preeclampsia Survivor, and experienced it during both of my children’s births. So I’ve been more aware to sprinkle some life truths into my writing and to also educate the reader. During my second pregnancy, I had pregnancy anxiety about this pending diagnosis. I just KNEW I was going to have another traumatic birth and my baby was going to be taken to the NICU. Even when my labs were normal and the doctor kept telling me things were fine, my anxiety level was just high. So I wrote; I blogged about this gnawing feeling and of course, when my nightmare occurred at 34 weeks. I ended up having postpartum depression. Fast forward a few months later, I believe it was fate that made me stumble into this Poetry Twitter chat and I challenged myself to write a couple of poems. Before I knew it, I had written close to 50 and most of them had been about “in the before” preeclampsia and depression and “in the after” daily moments with my son and forming a bond. It was very therapeutic for me and I combined both the blog posts and my poems into this book.
Most inspiring quote?
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost
Which author (living or dead) would you like to have dinner with?
I have been obsessed with this indie contemporary romance writer named Penny Reid and I would love to have dinner with her. I found her book while I was depressed and I loved that all her females are strong, relatable, funny and geeky. These fictional women throughout her series had some amazingly inspiring words to say that I needed to hear just then.
If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?
Since I just talked about Penny Reid, I want to be best friends with all the women in the Knitting Series and just want to spend a day with them, knitting and drinking wine.
How do you beat writers block?
Walk away. Go outside; take inspiration from your surroundings. Write a poem. Write a limerick or do a giant brain dump about your observations and frustrations and come back to your work.
Give yourself some writing advice.
Listen to yourself more. Go with your gut and write without apologies. You are a writer. You are an author. Learn to embrace that.
What are your plans for the future? What writing projects are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on a full poetry collection based on stereotypes, discrimination and what life was like for me growing up as the “token Asian” in a small East Texas town in the early 90s. I haven’t written a novel length in years and I’d like to do another one. It would be a continuation of the novelette I had worked on last year.
Synopsis of Love, Defined
As the summer unfolds, three young women learn love and faith go hand in hand, not everything is black and white, and sometimes in a fast-paced world you have to slow down, breathe a little, and find your own definition of love.
Buy the book: Amazon: Love, Defined
Synopsis of Storm of Hope
Storm of Hope: God, Preeclampsia, Depression and me is a memoir told in journal entries and poetry from a mom who was diagnosed with preeclampsia. The diagnosis with her second pregnancy propelled the author into a “postpartum forest where the trees of doubt, sorrow, anger and rage loomed all around me.” What becomes to the author and her second baby gives way to hope and a way out of the darkness.
Buy the book: Amazon: Storm of Hope