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APUS Alumni Stories: Crafting Novels that Entertain

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By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and Leiba Faircloth, AMU Graduate

Leiba’s pen name is Sophie L. Osborne, and she writes both fiction novels and non-fiction books. She uses her legal name and her pen name to distinguish between the different genres.

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Leiba says, “Many people were baffled about my decision to use a different name; they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to use my real name.

“After all, why wouldn’t I want the entire world to know who Leiba Faircloth is? The reason is actually business-oriented. I use Sophie L. Osborne to write all of my works of fiction. I reserved my real name for writing non-fiction.”

Leiba Faircloth
AMU graduate Leiba Faircloth

In 2012, Leiba began writing her first fiction novel, “Reclamation,” the day after she completed her master’s degree. She said it took six years to get the book completed, but working on “Reclamation” gave her a whole new perspective on what writing is and the amount of research and dedication it requires. The book was published in December 2018 and is part of a series.

Leiba reflects on her novel, saying, “It is based in Louisiana, in a fictitious place called Chestnut-Field. Chestnut-Field is an historic place with lovely homes dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

“I studied places like Mandeville and Covington in Louisiana, taking certain elements and elaborating on them. I decided to come up with a fictitious place called Chestnut-Field.

“I was skeptical about creating a fictitious township, but this gave me more freedom to talk about the place without missing out on vital elements that are signature to a specific location, like a particular accent, a popular store, food or anything synonymous to that place. Creating fictitious places added mysticism to Reclamation, since Chestnut-Field on the map extends out into the ocean.”

Leiba’s Military Experience Has Provided Fertile Material for Her Novels

Leiba says that her time in the military has allowed her to meet a lot of interesting people and to travel to intriguing places. It has very much influenced how and what she writes in her novels.

Leiba adds, “The military has influenced my writing in the sense that I could draw from the unique challenges we face as a community – not only for active-duty members but also for their entire families.

“In most of my fiction novels, I touch on the demands that typical military life places on families. That could be isolation from relatives and close friends living in other states/countries, restricted career options, or deployments. An entire family has to ‘step up to the plate,’ as we say in the military.

“My character, Taylor, in ‘St. Thomas House’ is a good example. Taylor is married to an Army general and makes caring for her two young children seem like a cakewalk while she battles her own demons during her husband’s serial absences. I see this quality in countless military spouses as they confront challenges head-on, and it reminds me of the strength and dedication we possess as a community – a community to which I’m very proud to belong.

“I find people very interesting. I like observing people from all walks of life, cultures and ethnicities from since I was very little.  There’s so much to be learned by being still and observing people’s interactions with each other (my husband thinks it’s creepy!). I believe this curiosity of mine helps me write realistic characters.

“My non-fiction books are inspired by my personal experiences, and issues that affect people on a daily basis. For this type of writing, I look beyond the military community and focus on what is impacting society in general.”

Leiba notes, “Writing happens around the clock; when inspiration calls, I write. I can be in the middle of a workout or preparing dinner when an idea sneaks up on me. I always keep writing materials at hand so I can grab a pencil or my voice recorder – whichever is closer – and record that idea that’ll move my story forward.”

Gaining Writing Experience from Her Master’s Degree

Leiba chose to pursue a master’s in public administration because of its versatility. It also offers a great opportunity for leadership roles and employment such as an administrator, a contract specialist or a project manager.

While she is not working in a field directly related to her degree, Leiba credits her degree from AMU in helping her become a better writer. She says, “The tools AMU provided, such as their online library, allowed me to get comfortable with writing. This motivated me to explore a different type of writing – fiction!”

Participating in National Novel Writing Month

In November, creative writers celebrate National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Launched in 1999, this annual, online writing project encourages people to write a book in one month between November 1 and November 30.

Leiba began writing “The DuBois: Family Ties” during last year’s National Novel Writing Month. It is expected to be released this coming winter.

Leiba reflects that this particular book is a family saga that delves into the lives of many complex characters, who all happen to be part of a wealthy, close-knit family. She mentions, “This type of writing takes time, as it requires a certain amount of work and insight to create solid characters that are lifelike and relatable.” She is also working on two additional novels as part of the trilogy, “Family Secrets” and “Vengeance,” which are currently in the draft phase.

Authors are encouraged to motivate writers throughout the process for National Novel Writing Month. Leiba shares a few tips for fellow writers or for anyone interested in starting the writing process:

  1. Try using a voice recorder to record your voice and then upload the file to your computer.
  2. Write a little every day and be sure to set aside time to write. I prefer writing when I get up at 4:00 a.m.; this is when I write best. For those of you with regular jobs, aim to write a full page during your lunch break; it adds up and is so rewarding at the end of NaNoWriMo!
  3. Get enough sleep. I know you want to get those wonderful stories out there, but be kind to yourselves and get enough rest. Sleep actually helps combat writer’s block, which is a common problem that writers encounter during NaNoWriMo. So be sure to recharge those creative minds!
  4. Have fun and share your progress with other writers! Although I tend to work solo when I’m writing my novels, engaging with other authors during this time can be an enriching experience. This is also a great opportunity to meet some really awesome writers.

Pick up a pen or open your laptop. We hope that you’ll join Leiba and many other authors in writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month.

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Melanie Conner is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison at the university. Having worked in higher education for almost 10 years, Melanie enjoys cultivating relationships with students and alumni. She has undergraduate degrees in education from Germanna Community College and in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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