For Stephen Leigh, a creative writing instructor at Northern Kentucky University, writing is similar to the practice of the Japanese martial art Aikido — which he instructs as well.
“After a while, you develop muscle memory, so the moves become second nature,” Leigh said. “Writing has become the same way for me. I’m just operating on autopilot.”
Andrew P. Miller, a fellow creative writing instructor, recruited Leigh to come teach at the university back in 2006 and says it is “one of the best things I’ve done here.”
“I think Steve acts as a great role model for our students,” Miller said. “He is a dedicated professional writer as well as teacher. He knows the publishing industry and provides NKU’s creative writing program with a unique slant.”
Leigh is at work on his 26th novel, a fantasy piece that focuses on the influences of creative muses.
Looking back at where Leigh started, it’s safe to say that he took an unconventional path to becoming a novelist.
He began writing science fiction short stories during his junior year of college at the University of Cincinnati. “A friend and I goaded each other to send stuff out,” he said, “but I was writing mostly for the drawer.”
After graduating from UC in 1974 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Leigh achieved his first professional publication. His story, “Answer in Cold Stone,” was published in the December 1976 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
His success continued with another Analog publication, titled “A Rain of Pebbles” in April 1977. For this piece, Leigh won the Best Short Story award from the magazine’s annual reader’s poll.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that in order to make a real profit, I had to start writing novels,” Leigh said. “Novels terrified me. I wasn’t sure how to write in such a long format. I ended up tearing apart my first attempt at writing a novel. I stripped it of all subplots and complications and ended up selling the piece as a novelette in 1977.”
Leigh eventually revisited his notes and all the pieces he had removed from the original draft. Between 1979 and 1980, Leigh took a second stab at a novel.
In October 1981, Bantam Books published “Slow Fall to Dawn.” The novel would go on to win the Best First Novel award from Locus Magazine.
Leigh continued churning out novel after novel, eventually developing some of his work under the pen name S.L. Farrell.
As S.L. Farrell, he wrote some of his most popular pieces, including a trio of novels known as “The Cloudmages Trilogy” published between 2003 and 2005. A Publisher’s Weekly review cited Leigh as “one of the rising stars in Celtic fantasy.”
Leigh returned to school during this period, earning a Master of Arts in creative writing in 2005 from Antioch University McGregor.
Kelly Moffett, a colleague of Leigh’s in the English department, speaks highly of him as both a person and an instructor. “Steve is the kind of colleague I can turn to [for] advice about my son, my teaching or my writing,” she said. “He somehow carries the kind of wisdom that few earn in their lifetimes. I trust him utterly.”
For more information about Leigh and his work, visit http://www.farrellworlds.com.