Interview with Selah Award Finalist Leslie Payne and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m so happy to introduce you to Leslie Payne. I read about her story, Selah Award finalist The Legacy of Nobody Smith, and am so ready to read this book! It sounds amazing! And, Leslie is giving away TWO copies of the book! Read below to see how you can enter to be one of the lucky winners.

Tell us a little about yourself. The one thing I love to collect is sea glass – glass designed for a specific purpose, but somehow ended up broken and tossed into the ocean. Surrounded by rolling waves and sand, the broken glass gradually changes form: sharp edges smooth out, etched-in details fade, and sometimes a beautiful frosted look develops. What happens with sea glass also happens in life, something broken becomes beautiful.

Richard & Leslie Feb. 2017

My life is a sea glass story. For years as a single woman I enjoyed a vibrant career as a sign language interpreter for the deaf. Other passions included exercise, bicycling long distances, and swing dance. Then in 2000 within a split second, an automobile accident ended my career, robbed me of all my activities and left me with irreversible injuries and chronic pain. I was broken physically, emotionally and spiritually, yet Jesus was with me through it all.

Chronic pain is exhausting, but it also changes, smooths and shapes an individual. Though I might’ve preferred an easier way to get here, I’m a better person now than I was before the accident. After three of the hardest years of my life, in a fairy tale twist of fate I met and married a wonderful, widowed Air Force Officer. My name became Mrs. Payne – a sweet reminder that if we look to the Lord, He can make our brokenness into something beautiful.

Tell us about your current release. The Legacy of Nobody Smith resulted from a promise made to a dying man. Retired pastor Rev. James Smith had advanced cancer he asked me to record his life history. I expected we’d just end up with a few typed pages for his family, yet a fascinating story unfolded. Together, we – an old black man and a younger white woman – began dreaming of publishing. While on his deathbed, Smitty’s last words to me were an attempt to ask if I had enough for the book. “Yes,” I answered as I held his hand, “I promise to do all I can to get your story told.” Satisfied he nodded his head and closed his eyes. I’m keeping my promise.

The Legacy of Nobody Smith begins in the 1930’s during the Great Depression. Young Smitty is a hard working shoeshine boy, dropping his coins into the coffee can labeled Rent. Everyone in the family does their part. The Smith family might be money poor, but they’re rich with love and laughter. Though his parents try Smitty can’t be protected from the ugliness – the cruel prejudice that waits outside the boundaries of their poor Baltimore neighborhood.

At fifteen Smitty learns the painful truths of his unwanted birth and mixed up family tree. Convinced he’s a nobody he runs away from home and begins his search for significance. It takes nearly dying and the unwanted friendship of a white man for Smitty to discover the somebody he was born to be. Rich with history and humor, The Legacy of Nobody Smith invites readers to witness the life of an insignificant nobody discovering he’s actually the cherished child of a loving God.

If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? “No way, it was hard!” That’s my honest answer – at first.

This book required much research as well as exploring a culture different from my own. Plus, I had to learn all about story story creation. Up until Legacy I only wrote non-fiction articles. The learning curve was huge and spread out over seven or eight years.

But (you knew that was coming, right?) in the process of writing Smitty’s story I was deeply changed, so I’d definitely have to reconsider my initial response.

Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful? Dr. Tony Evans wrote a foreword for the book because it’s based on his uncle’s life. When I was looking for an agent, I always mentioned that. No matter the agent the response was the same, eyes grew wide and you could practically hear the mental calculator crunching numbers. Tony’s name gets attention. He’s heard on more than 1,000 media outlets in 130-countries around the world.

Yet every time an agent read the work, they’d want major changes and embellishments like Tony becoming a central character. While I respected and considered their suggestions, I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of Smitty’s story. It was strong enough to stand on its own.

One agent read a draft when I first wrote it as a biography.  He said it didn’t work, write it as a novel. I did and the story came alive! Years later that same agent was still interested and read the finished work. This time he said, “I know what I said before, but I think this would be better as a biography.” That’s when I decided to independently publish.

What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write? Growing up in the era before e-mail I loved to write letters. Over the years I had all sorts of pen pals and I tried to make my letters descriptive and interesting.  One friend said, “Leslie, when you’re a little old lady, you’re going to write a book.” When I hit my mid-forties I figured “little old lady” wasn’t too far away. It was time to get busy and learn how to write.

What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer’s block?  For me it’s all about being outside especially sailing, the great outdoors unlocks my mind and imagination. My husband is an accomplished captain and I’m blessed to be his First Mate. When we’re out on our sailboat stories and characters seem to fill my brain begging to be put on paper. When some people are on a boat they want to fish or sunbath. Me? I want to write.

How did you determine whether or not to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? Like I said earlier, part of my decision to independently publish was the desire to stay true to Smitty’s story. Plus his widow is past her mid-80’s. There were no promises she’d still be here to enjoy a traditionally published book that takes years to produce.

Another factor that influenced my decision was my chronic pain. I live life as fully as possible, but often at a slower speed than the rest of the world. Even if the book was traditionally published, I doubt I could’ve kept up with deadlines and schedules imposed by others. Add to the mix I was a full time caregiver for my live-in 104-year old father-in-law. (He recently died at 105.) His needs came first and I didn’t have much energy left over. Indie publishing has been great fun, good brain exercise, and the right fit for me.

What is the one thing that you never saw yourself doing and either do it now or have done?

Honestly, I never dreamed I’d be enjoying life so much, let alone married to a wonderful man! For years after my auto accident my life revolved around doctors and physical therapy appointments, even though medically they really weren’t sure how to help me. My body was consumed with pain. Doctors told me to get used to my “new normal.” It was not a good season. But step-by-step at a turtle’s pace, I’ve learned new things. I was stubbornly faithful to physical therapy have discovered new pain management. And my dear husband has helped me laugh, cry and live with the pain. If you are in a difficult season, hang on. Be faithful. Get through. Because our God can take your broken and make it beautiful.

Find Leslie’s book online:

Leslie is giving away TWO copies of this book! See below to see how you can enter:


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  1. Thanks so much for this opportunity to connect with others, Hallee. I’m amazed at all you do and am blessed to be a part of it today.

    Anyone going to be at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference later this month? If so, can’t wait to meet you there!

    • Esther Bandy on May 11, 2017 at 10:24
    • Reply

    Hallee, thank you for having Leslie on your blog.
    Leslie, thank you for sharing your writing journey with us and thank you for telling us about The Legend of Nobody Smith. It sounds like a wonderful book and I would love to read it. May the Lord bless you as you continue to write for His honor and glory.

    1. Esther, it has been an honor and joy to share Smitty’s story. I continue to be amazed at how readers have responded to this book. You just never know how the Lord is going to you use when you accept His invitation on an adventure!

  2. I can say from personal knowledge that Leslie is the real deal!! And so is her book. It is a compassionate, carefully accurate life story of a man who was transformed by the grace of God. Well worth the time to read. It will give you a perspective on the city of Baltimore and the lives of people who may have been discriminated by mankind, but deeply loved by God. I learned so much in reading it. Way to go, Leslie!

  3. Esther, it has been an honor and joy to share Smitty’s story. I continue to be amazed at how readers have responded to this book. You just never know how the Lord is going to you use when you accept His invitation on an adventure!

  4. Thank you, Julie, and thanks for all the pep talks over big cups of coffee!

  5. Hallee and Leslie, this sounds like a wonderful story that I would love to read. I love what you said about sea glass.

    1. Rose, thank you. The Lord shared a great story through Smitty’s life, it was an honor to put it to words. I hope you enjoy it.

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