Interview Toby LeBlanc

Posted 12/03/2019 under Magazine,

Toby LeBlanc is a mental health professional in Austin, TX. While he and his family sleep under the Texas stars, his roots find ground in the bayous and prairies of South Louisiana. Originally from Scott, the Boudin Capital of the World, he graduated from LSU in Psychology. Toby now spends his time in the company of words. Whether they be words of pain and strength from his clients, words of promise and bliss from his family, or words of memory and wisdom from his French-speaking parents and grandparents, he enjoys every story almost as much as he enjoys the storytellers.

1. Congratulations on winning our contest with ‘After the Lundi Gras’. What inspired you to write this story?

“After the Lundi Gras” is an excerpt from my novel, Dark Roux. The novel centers on a Cajun family in Louisiana while they struggle to maintain their family bonds and their culture as Americanization sets in. In this piece I tried to highlight the intersection between Cajun culture, including the behaviors it deems necessary to be a good mother, wife, and woman, and the need a woman (or any person) would have for true connection and support. This is a story I watched transpire throughout my childhood in South Louisiana. Inside the Cajun culture there is such tremendous love. Often that love is born of self-sacrifice. No one bears this sacrifice greater than women. Bee’s story is one I wanted to see more often: a woman finding her love finally returning, even if it comes from what feels like an unlikely place outside of her culture.

2. How did you break into the publishing world?

I self-published my first novel at twenty-two. I was all thoughts and feelings and ideas, and not much skill or actual knowledge. Needless to say, that book passed (thankfully) into non-history. For the last fifteen years I’ve been working as a mental health therapist in the company of other people’s stories. All the while I have been writing because the stories building up inside me threaten to consume me if I don’t. The old adage ended up being true for me: If you want to be a writer you first have to try and be something else. If you still have to write, well… One fateful New Year’s Eve, when discussing what my next steps in life and career would be, out popped the words “I want to focus more on writing.” Just a year later I was submitting, and to my surprise, being published. It started with online journals. Here’s hoping I keep the momentum.

3. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?

When I started writing I was a solid pants-er (i.e. write by the seat of my pants). Over time I have migrated toward the middle. Most of my work starts with an idea, forms itself into a rough outline, which creates a character sketch, and then I am off and running. My characters remain mostly ill-defined at the beginning of my work, but then I figure them out along the way. As Neil Gaiman says, “Editing is making it look like you knew what you were doing the whole time,” or something like that. But figuring my characters out is definitely my favorite part. When they encounter the situations I’ve built it often turns them into much more interesting people than my imagination had the ability to see in the beginning. The outline makes these characters come alive.

4. What are you working on at the moment?

Dark Roux is still being edited, revised, submitted, wash, rinse, repeat. In the midst of that I am working on a short story collection set in Louisiana approximately fifty years in the future after the glaciers have melted and half of of the swampy state I can’t help but call home is under water. In each story I look at different pieces of life: faith, music, food, weather, government, language, wildlife, and farming. It’s been fun to think about how technology and climate could change while many traditions likely won’t.  I’ve already fallen in love with many of the characters inhabiting this soggy future.

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