Meet the author: Leslie Rivers
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a writer, actress, director and teacher, and I think myself lucky to have made my life in the theatre. When I was in my teens, I acted in a production of “Bus Stop,” staged in an old 19th century hall. Beyond the rear of the building flowed the American River, smelling sweetly of sand and willow, and a stone’s throw from the spot where the California Gold Rush began—a cradle for what would one day be my novel, “Fiery Star.”
I went on to earn theatre degrees from UC Davis and Stanford, then journeyed to New York City.
What brought you to this area?
I was based in New York for five years, acting in Manhattan and regional theatres, but I began to long for California. Like Dorothy in the Emerald City, I clicked my ruby slippers and headed home. While continuing to act, direct and write for the professional theatre, I also became a university professor in the Los Angeles area, where amongst my students I found wonderful future directors, teachers and actors, including Academy Award winners. In 2006, I returned to the north, a true homecoming for a girl raised in these foothills.
How did you get into writing?
It runs in the family — sisters, parents, aunt and generations before. As a kid, I was often writing some play and rounding up other kids to stage a garage production. As an adult, I’m a produced playwright. “Fiery Star” is my first novel — it’s a form that best suits the story. I’m a co-founder of the Sierra Muses Writers’ Workshop and the Sierra Muses Press.
What is your favorite book or who is your favorite author?
It’s hard to pick just one. Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Thornton Wilder. William Shakespeare. Susan Rivers, my sister.
What is your book about?
The summer of 1856 is an uneasy one in California’s Sierra foothills. The Gold Rush boom has gone bust, and the mining camps have dried to tinder in the relentless heat. In July, Edwin Booth (brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth) begins a tour of the camps with the Star Troupe, a small theatre company. On stage, he delivers hints of brilliance, but he’s also a brooding youth with a drinking problem, struggling to emerge from the shadow of his famous — and insane —actor father. When the towns they play burn to the ground, the Star Troupe’s lives are threatened by the suspicion that Booth is a firebug.
What inspired you to write this book?
From the time of staging “Bus Stop” in my teens on the banks of the American, I’ve felt the presence, often benevolent, of the gold camp theatrical ghosts. I’ve been trying to tell their story for years — it’s only now that I have the experience and the perspective to know how.
What do you find most challenging about writing a book?
Finding the time to truly give over to the task.
What is your key takeaway or message you hope readers find in your book?
In “Fiery Star,” Emmett Lightfoot shares these words with his daughter, Emma: “Don’t let the grass grow under your feet — we’re only here for the blink of an eye. Chase your dreams. Never apologize for love. And, dear girl, have courage, and believe that I’m always with you.”
Where can people find your book?
Right now, on Amazon and at both SPD Markets. Perhaps soon at The Book Seller.
Please describe what you’d consider your own perfect day.
Here are also Emmett’s words to Emma. Hmm — a lot like my own perfect day:
He squinted up at me, and, with a nod, pulled himself back into the here and now. He frowned at the rafters. “It was a spring day,” he sighed, “in my childhood.”
I reached for the pad and pencil. “What was, Emmett?”
“The day when I was happiest.”
“Was it a birthday?”
“Oh, no. I had simply been good, for some reason or other. My father was so delighted by this uncharacteristic behavior that he gave me the gift of a day of my own.”
He closed his eyes and put all his strength into each word’s utterance.
“My mother packed a lunch of bread and butter, and I set out on our plow horse, Calla. I was free—free of chores, free of brothers and sisters, free to explore the far corners of our farm. The old horse was as happy as I was to be turned loose. Her step was light, and her broad back rolled gently beneath me. We wandered through the sweet new grass. We splashed in a stream and lazed in the meadow amongst a rainbow of wildflowers. I did not return home until dark, after we had witnessed the orange globe of the sunset on the one hand and the silver disc of the moonrise on the other.”
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