Madeline Leeah enjoys reading, playing the violin, and is a double major in Anthropology and Languages and Cultures as a student at Texas Tech.
That is, when she’s not busy writing and editing her nearly 100,000-word fantasy novel.
Leeah, a freshman from Amarillo, said writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, but I 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 took my laptop to school and I was supposed to go and work on my homework, but I took a USB drive, put it in, opened a word document from home , and I just wanted to write.”
Amarillo living art student Julena Diaz is a friend and former classmate of Leeah. Diaz said she realized Leeah was seriously considering pursuing writing in high school when she passed the NaNoWriMo contest. NaNoWriMo (officially called National Novel Writing Month) takes place in November and challenges writers to write up to 500,000 words.
“I knew of his writing as just a hobby, but noticed that his passion for writing grew more during his junior and senior years,” Diaz said. “During our senior year, Madeline participated in NaNoWriMo. I was very impressed when she successfully completed the challenge while staying on top of her schoolwork. She will forever be my role model because of her determination to stick to what excites her.
Leeah has always had a special affinity for fantasy writing and has been working on her full novel since high school.
Leeah, however, hasn’t released many details about her book, and that’s on purpose. Leeah said writing is very personal to her and she will only share her book with the world when she is ready.
“I’ve 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’s really sacred to me. A lot of people don’t realize that writing is so personal and you build these worlds in your own mind, and you make up these stories of these people just running around in your own mind.
Along with her fantasy works, Leeah has also ventured into the dystopian genre and wishes to write a textbook one day.
“There’s a project I’ve been working on for a while now, a few years, that’s just very research heavy,” Leeah said. “It’s like speculative political fiction about Russia. It’s definitely not fantasy, if anything, it leans more towards dystopia. I’ve always been interested in, very corny, but writing a manual. I think that’s an area where we could make things a lot more interesting and fun.
As for following through on writing consistently in college, Leeah said it hasn’t been easy, but she’s just trying to 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 when it hits me. But I find that when I wake up, get out of bed, sit down, and write the scene on where I work, my brain usually works better in the morning. Anyway, I usually get up at 5:30 p.m., so I’ll sit down and do some editing.
Karen Schrader, one of Leeah’s former high school English teachers, said she noticed early on that Leeah had a knack for writing.
“Madeline’s interest in creative writing was evident in one of our first class writings, a Mirror Poem,” Schrader said. “She brought a unique perspective to the mission. I knew by reading his poem that I had a writer who appreciated the skill of writing and the power of words.
Leeah said she fell in love with literature at a very young age and cites the Chronicles of Narnia as his first inspiration.
“One of the first big books I read and really liked was probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis,” Leeah said. “I think it was the first fantasy thing I read and it really took me into this world and I really loved it.
Along with Lewis, Leeah’s novel was also influenced by Diana Gabaldon, the author of Foreigner series, and Sarah J. Maas of throne of glass and A court of thorns and roses notoriety.
“One of my favorite authors is Diana Gabaldon and she wrote the Foreigner 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 fantasy authors.”
Sarah J. Maas is just one author who rose to fame largely through a loyal fanbase on social media. Leeah said BookTok, the online community for readers of the TikTok app, is a game-changer for up-and-coming writers.
“I’ve seen many authors explode and become huge with BookTok in particular, like Chloe Gong is a very young author who has written These violent delights and it was huge on BookTok,” Leeah said. “She just graduated from college and her books are huge now. I think it’s creating a lot of buzz for authors, and especially it’s creating a lot of interest for independent authors as well.
While social media can be monumental when trying to secure a book deal, Leeah admitted it can also have negative effects on readers and the lens in which they view their favorite works.
“I grew up on Tumblr, and while it’s sometimes a dumpster fire, it was my first experience with books and social media,” Leeah said. “It was the first time that I really saw that there was any discussion around my favorite works. So on the one hand, I feel like I was living in a bubble before social media where I could just enjoy a job. I think now with social media you kind of get everyone’s opinion unsolicited.
Even though Leeah loves the fantasy genre, she isn’t shy about criticizing it, especially the graphic sexual violence that many female characters face.
“Fantasy and violence, and I’m just going to say it, fantasy and sex go together,” Leeah said. “A lot of writers use sexual violence to advance the plot and I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think in a way it glorifies abuse, and we see that often. 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, which she hopes will impact young girls who read fantasy.
“My stories are never about someone being beaten and losing,” Leeah said. “It’s always about someone getting over what they’ve been through, because that’s what people do in the real world. And I want to be able to show that to young girls in particular. It doesn’t matter who you hurt or what you’ve been through, you still have the power within you to pick yourself up, carry on, and fight back.
While opportunities for young women trying to become published authors are certainly growing, Leeah said many female writers suffer from “impostor syndrome” because of the way they’ve been conditioned to think. Impostor syndrome, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a psychological state characterized by persistent doubt about one’s abilities or accomplishments, accompanied by fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s continued success”.
“One thing that I deal with a lot and know other female authors deal with is impostor syndrome,” Leeah said. “So often I think women’s works are ignored, and it has been that way for years. People like Emily Dickinson, “oh, she writes too much about death”, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters. You hardly ever see these books appear, even though they are classics. They don’t show up to the extent that you see male authors.
As a writer herself, Leeah said she wants to see other young women start taking their writing seriously.
“Sit down and write,” Leeah said. “That’s my only thing. You can’t edit a blank page. You have to have immense self-confidence and you have to believe in yourself. I know it sounds corny, but you have the ability within you to write a book. Everybody does it.”