March 4, 2009

Interview with C. Leigh Purtill

Here's another friend, met when I first asked her about legwarmers. Relationships have started from less. C. Leigh Purtill is the author of LOVE, MEG and ALL ABOUT VEE. Born in Germany, she now lives in Los Angeles, where she routinely spots movie stars. Not only does she know her pop culture, she's worked as a standards editor for shows like Gilmore Girls. Currently, she teaches dance. You can find out more at her blog, website, or MySpace.


1. You're now doing two things you love: writing and teaching ballet. What was the journey to that point like?

Excruciatingly slow, painful and circuitous – like slogging uphill during a snowstorm while wearing flip-flops. My writing career began in film school when I thought my scripts would ignite Hollywood. While living in New York, the literary capital of the world, I wrote a dozen screenplays with little luck but then, after moving to Los Angeles, the movie capital of the world, I began writing novels. A bit backwards, wouldn’t you say? But I had been frustrated with screenwriting and thought perhaps a novel might be the back door into the movies: write a novel, get it published, then have it made into a film. So far that hasn’t happened but I’ve been much happier writing novels, although I do still harbor the delusion that I will one day see my stories grace the silver screen.

As for ballet, I taught years ago and always loved it but felt I was too young to be a teacher. I wanted to experience some life and dance myself before I taught others. When an opportunity presented itself about a year ago, I figured hey, I’ve gotten old, I’ve had my chance, now it’s time to teach. And I love every minute of it. I’m a much better instructor now than I was when I was younger.

Book Cover

2. You've obviously set your novels in a place you're familiar with. How do you think living in Los Angeles has affected your life?

The very first novel I wrote (it was called FAT GIRLS IN LA and eventually was re-titled ALL ABOUT VEE after it was sold) was a fish-out-of-water story and stemmed from a personal experience I had not long after moving out here and taking a job in Beverly Hills. When I began developing the idea into a story, I knew that it was (no pun intended) too small for a movie so I started writing it as a novel. Another great thing that LA afforded me was perfect weather to write: I would take a pad of paper with me on my lunch hours and sit outside and write. Had I been back in NYC working my freelance script supervising jobs, I might not have started that habit. I needed the discipline of a regular day job to get the words down. Huh, I never thought about it that way before. Excellent question.

3. What skill have you developed that you’re most proud of? What skill do you wish you had?

I have become a fairly decent public speaker. As myself, I am still quite shy but as C. Leigh Purtill, I can talk about pretty much anything for any length of time and in just about any venue.

What I can’t do is communicate in a language other than English! Speaking a foreign language is definitely something I wish I could do. I have always wanted to speak Italian, since I loved traveling to Italy, but even if I could be fluent in Spanish, I would be grateful. I’ve studied in high school and college but somehow, it just doesn’t stick.

Book Cover

4. If you were to pick one of your characters to hang out with, who would it be and what would you do?

Of the characters in my published novels, I would choose Valeria Maria Carmellita Padilla y Lopez, one of Veronica’s best friends in ALL ABOUT VEE. Val is charming and sweet and totally self-centered but I think she would be a blast to hang out with, especially if I let her do whatever she wants. First, she would probably dress me in much better clothes, and fix my hair and makeup, then she’d feed me fantastic Mexican food – homemade because she disdains anyone else’s cooking but her mami’s. She’d give me a quick salsa lesson and then we’d hop into her fab BMW, which she wouldn’t let me drive but that’s okay, and tool around town looking for hot guys to flirt with at bars and make them buy us drinks. The next day, we’d jet to a spa and pamper our hangovers away.

5. If a book you loved were going to be made into a movie, which would you want it to be? Who would star? Direct? Produce?

I have always loved “A Conspiracy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. Me and the rest of Hollywood, that is. People have tried to make this book into a movie for a long time – probably since it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 – but so far, no one has ever been successful at putting together the right team and the right script. Frankly, I don’t think a movie could ever capture the hilarity and brilliance of the written word but it would be fun to try.

I would cast Philip Seymour Hoffman as Ignatius Reilly, although he is – right now – far too small and a little old. He’d have to gain weight since Ignatius is a really big guy. But Hoffman is fantastic and could pull it off anyway. Wes Anderson, director of “Rushmore,” has a really quirky yet romantic sensibility and I think he could interpret the book for the big screen. And as producer, I’d name George Clooney, who is famous for getting behind projects that he believes in personally and making them come together.

You forgot to mention screenwriter – who would capture this story for the movies? I would ask Charlie Kaufman to write it. He’s the genius behind “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” A brilliant writer.

6. If you learned your life were a television show, what product would you suspect of being the biggest sponsor?

“Leigh’s Life” is brought to you by Starbucks, Capezio, and Barbara’s Puffins…

7. You can knit, which I find beyond cool. How did you learn? Do you think it improves your life in anyway beside the obvious (that is, fabulous hand-knitted goods)?

My mom taught me to knit – she’s terrific and can do sweaters and cables and all sorts of amazing things I can’t. I’m really thankful to her for that and glad that I enjoy it because, as you mentioned, it comes in handy at Christmas time. From a philosophical point of view, it teaches you patience, since it does take a while to actually knit something. Practically speaking, it also teaches you to plan ahead, since you have to know what size you’re making, what your gauge is, and how much yarn you will need in order to make what you want. Metaphorically speaking, it has taught me not to be afraid to rip something out and try again when something isn’t working. And oh yeah, it keeps your hands busy at night so you don’t snack while you watch TV. I only wish I could knit and read at the same time! That would be ideal.

8. What is the best part of being a YA author? ( . . . and the worst?)

Ah, the big bucks, naturally. Ahahahaha…no. Seriously, the best part of writing YA is tapping into my teen years and reliving my days as a high school student.

And the worst part of writing YA is…tapping into my teen years and reliving my days as a high school student. (Can I put a winking smiley face here?)

Actually, my years in high school were pretty tame, the controversy minimal, my days mild and in many ways, blessed. I had friends, boyfriends, good grades, etc. Played varsity tennis, was captain of my cheerleading squad, acted on stage. And yet…I had the same angst everyone else did. So on the surface, it looked like a pretty great life but underneath, I experienced my share of misery too. That’s not the most fun stuff to access when you’re an adult but if you can, it makes for some good writing.

9. Blogging, writing, dancing, knitting . . . how do you manage your time?

My husband says I’m so disciplined because I was born in Germany. Honestly, though, if you look at my answer to question 8, you’ll see I had a lot of interests in high school. That continued through my college years and beyond. I have always done lots of different things (writing, painting, dancing, reading, knitting, etc.) and in order to do them all, I have had to be disciplined about my time. I use my calendar and Post-It’s and lots and lots of lists. Sometimes I write on my hand when I really need to remember to do something. So far, I have not made the electronic jump. That’s because I love the way crossing things out feels and I fear I wouldn’t get the same rush by clicking a mouse or hitting the delete button.

10. Do people ever disparage your job? If so, how do you react?

People do at times refer to my work as “writing for kids.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to paraphrase a great Seinfeld bit, but that’s not what I do. If I’m in a generous mood, I will explain to them what YA is all about and how (if they’re from a different generation) young adult books aren’t the same as when they were teens, that the genre is filled with tremendous literary talent and deals with the same issues, themes, characters, and plots as books written for a mainstream adult audience. I’ll take the time to elaborate on how my research is no different than an “adult” writer’s, how my efforts and resources, my publicity, my marketing, my sales, my editing process, all that are required to get a book written and published are just the same as any other writer’s.

If I’m not being so kind, I will simply say, “I don’t write for kids. I write.”


So, got anything to say to Leigh? I think she left off Charlie Kaufmann's best movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.


  1. Oh boy, question number 2 got me reminiscing on when I used to live in LA. I agree, the weather is always so nice and sunny, you could do practically everything outside! Now I live in cold, rainy Washington :(

  2. Aww yay, I love Leigh -she's such a cool person!

  3. Taren - I know! And she did so well with my off-the-wall questions.

  4. Liviania, you totally had me stumped with some of these - as I was answering them at Starbucks over a short Americano. :)

    Right back atcha, Taren - you're one cool person too...

    Michelle, sadly it's pouring rain here today in LA. Who do I sue about that?

  5. Sounds so glam - I'd love to go to LA someday :)

  6. I heard many great reviews on All About Vee, maybe I'll look into it when I have the chance. =)

  7. the fact that you worked for Gilmore Girls basically makes you the coolest person on the planet. and someone i love!

  8. Anyone who had anything to do with Gilmore Girls is fine by me! Great interview!!

  9. Damn, another great interview. I'm so impressed with the amount of research that goes into your questions, Liv ( are in a league of your own there!) and I'm so excited to get to know Leigh better now (I know I keep name-dropping in my comments...but you're interviewing A LOT of L.A. authors whom I've recently met through an LA YA writing loop). I think I'm also a wee bit intimidated by how perfect she is. Such insightful answers! xo

  10. Mom tried to teach me how to knit. I got as far as knitting a baby blanket and still didn't do that on my own.

  11. Happy birthday?



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