Madeline Leeah enjoys reading, playing the violin and she is a double-major in anthropology and languages and cultures as a student at Texas Tech.
That is, when she is not busy writing and editing her near 100,000 word fantasy novel.
Leeah, a first-year student from Amarillo, said that writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember.
“I can’t remember a time I haven't been writing, but I do know I was probably 12 when I started writing my first book,”’ Leeah said. “I knew nothing about writing, nothing about the process. I remember for the first time, I would take my school laptop, and I was supposed to go work on my homework, but I would take a flash drive, put it in there, open up a word document from home, and I would just write.”
Julena Diaz, an art student living in Amarillo, is a friend and former classmate of Leeah’s. Diaz said she realized Leeah was serious about pursuing writing in high school when she successfully completed the NaNoWriMo contest. NaNoWriMo (formally referred to as National Novel Writing Month) takes place in November, and challenges writers to write up to 500,000 words.
“I had known about her writing as only a hobby, but I noticed her passion to write developed more in her junior and senior year,” Diaz said. “In our senior year, Madeline participated in NaNoWriMo. I was thoroughly impressed when she successfully completed the challenge while staying on top of school work. She will forever be my role model because of her determination to stick with what she’s passionate about.”
Leeah has always had a particular affinity for writing fantasy and has been working on her full-length novel since high school.
Leeah, however, hasn’t released a lot of details about her book, and this is on purpose. Leeah said that writing is something that’s very personal to her and she’ll only share her book with the world when she’s ready.
“I have been writing a fantasy novel for about a year and a half now,” Leeah said. “I never really wanted to major in English or creative writing because it’s something that just is really sacred to me. A lot of people aren’t aware that writing is so personal and that you’re building these worlds in your own mind, and you’re making up these stories of these people who are just kind of running around in your own mind.”
Along with her works in fantasy, Leeah has also ventured out into the dystopian genre, and wants to someday write a textbook.
“There is a project I’ve been working on for a while now, a few years, that is just very research heavy,” Leeah said. “It’s like speculative political fiction about Russia. It’s certainly not fantasy, if anything it’s leaning more toward dystopian. I’ve always been interested in, very nerdy, but writing a textbook. I think that’s an area we could make things a lot more interesting and fun.”
As for keeping up with writing on a consistent basis in college, Leeah said it hasn’t been easy, but she tries to just wake up and get to work.
“I’m not going to say it’s easy,” Leeah said. “I try not to be too inspiration-based, just whenever it hits me. But I find when I’ll wake up, roll out of bed, sit down, and write whatever scene I was working on, usually my brain functions best in the morning. I usually get up at 5:30 anyway, so I’ll sit down and do a bit of editing.”
Karen Schrader, one of Leeah’s former high school English teachers, said she noticed early on that Leeah had a gift for writing.
“Madeline’s interest in creative writing was apparent in one of our first writings in class, a mirror poem,” Schrader said. “She took a unique perspective to the assignment. I knew reading her poem that I had a writer who appreciated the craftsmanship of a piece of writing and the power of words.”
Leeah said she first fell in love with literature at a very young age, and cites the Chronicles of Narnia as being her first inspiration.
“One of the first big books I read that I really loved was probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis,” Leeah said. “I think it was the first thing that was fantasy that I read and it really just took me into that world and I absolutely loved it.
Along with Lewis, Leeah’s novel has also been influenced by Diana Gabaldon, the author of the Outlander series, and Sarah J. Maas of Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses fame.
“One of my absolute favorite authors is Diana Gabaldon and she wrote the Outlander series,” Leeah said. “(My book) is definitely high fantasy, something along the lines of something Sarah J. Maas would write, she’s one of my favorite authors for fantasy.”
Sarah J. Maas is just one author who rose to stardom largely because of a loyal social media fan base. Leeah said that BookTok, the online community for readers on the app TikTok, is changing the game for up-and-coming writers.
“I’ve seen many authors blow up and get huge from BookTok specifically, like Chloe Gong is a very young author who wrote These Violent Delights and it was huge on BookTok,” Leeah said. “She just graduated college and her books are huge now. I think it creates a lot of buzz for authors, and it especially creates a lot of interest for independent authors too.”
Though social media can be monumental when trying to get a book deal, Leeah admitted it can also have negative effects on readers and the lens they view their favorite works in.
“I grew up on Tumblr, and as much of a dumpster fire it can be sometimes, that was my first experience with books and social media,” Leeah said. “It was the first time that I really saw there being any kind of discussion around my favorite works. So on one hand, I feel like I was living in a bubble before social media where I could just enjoy a work. I think now with social media, you kind of unsolicitedly get everybody’s opinion.”
As much as Leeah loves the fantasy genre, she doesn’t shy away from criticizing it, especially the graphic sexual violence many female characters face.
“Fantasy and violence, and I’ll just say it, fantasy and sex go hand-in-hand,” Leeah said. “A lot of authors use sexual violence to further the plot and I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think in a way, it glorifies abuse, and we see that a lot. I think a dangerous combination is a violent situation and a submissive character.”
This controversy surrounding many fantasy books has inspired Leeah to change the narrative around female characters, something she hopes will impact young girls who read fantasy.
“My stories never are about somebody who is beaten down and loses,” Leeah said. “It’s always about somebody who overcomes what they’ve been through, because that’s what people in the real world do. And I want to be able to model that to young girls especially. No matter who has hurt you or what you’ve been through, you still have that power within you to get up and to keep going and to fight back.”
Though the opportunities for young women trying to become published authors are certainly progressing, Leeah said many female writers experience “imposter syndrome” because of how they have been conditioned to think. Imposter syndrome, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success.”
“One thing I deal with a lot that I know other female authors deal with is imposter syndrome,” Leeah said. “So often, I think females’ works are discounted, and it’s been that way for years. People like Emily Dickinson, ‘oh, she writes about death too much,’ Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters. You hardly ever see those books appear, even though they’re classics. They don’t appear to the degree you see male authors.”
As a female writer herself, Leeah said she wants to see other young women start taking their writing seriously.
“Sit down and write,” Leeah said. “That is my one thing. You cannot edit a blank page. You have to have an immense amount of self-trust, and you have to believe in yourself. I know that sounds cheesy, but you have it within you to write a book. Everybody does.”