Blog Post
The Magic of Stories: Interview with Author Joseph Legaspi

We recently interviewed Joseph Legaspi, author of “Chance and Little Star.” Joseph was born in the Philippines, grew up in New York, and now resides in New Jersey. 

Joseph's blended writing style reflects his diverse background and interests in both fiction and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from St. John's University, (close but not enough credits to minor in Science) and a Certificate in Proposal Writing from The Foundation Center. He wrote for The Knight News College Newspaper at Queens College in New York. He has worked extensively as a grant writer and as an educator for the City of New York's America Reads Literacy Program.

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to begin?

I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember, which is me about four or five years old. One of my first books was “Pinocchio”. From the minute my dad gave it to me, I read it over and over, even when the lights were out and I had to go to bed. I couldn’t put it down, and just kept thinking of writing my own variation of it, or a sequel, or a completely different story. I have to thank both my mom and my dad for inspiring me to write. They always encouraged me, no matter how embarrassingly terrible I was at the start, and oh yes, many other times along the way.

Tell us more about your book. Why did you write it?

I wrote many versions of “Chance and Little Star” but I never felt fully satisfied with them. At one point, I even thought of giving up. Then one day this particular version flashed in front of me very quickly and I scrambled to write it all down. It was a gut feeling to just run with it, and keeping running with it because it was interweaving love, hope, respect, and resilience – all things that helped me get through my formative years. Hopefully kids in middle and high school years would be able to relate to it and find meaning as well. If not, at least here’s one thing I learned from just writing it – Don’t give up!

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first story?

Don’t worry about how long it will take you or if you’ll get it right on the first draft. It will probably take very many drafts to get it right, or you can get lucky and get it done faster than you thought. Just focus on being true to that initial idea that led you to write about it. Also, don’t throw away your first drafts. If you do have many versions down the road, the story may take a different path than you expected, and it can be easy to get lost. Those original drafts contain the spark that prompted you to write. If you ever struggle later on, go back to those drafts and they can steer you back in the right direction.

What comes first for you - the plot or the characters - and why?

They both do. It’s rare that I get an idea for a plot without having at least one interesting character integrally part of that plot. It’s the same if I come up with an interesting character. That person must be part of some interesting plot or else there is no story to move him/her forward.

What are the easiest/most difficult parts of the writing process for you?

The easiest part is the first draft. That’s where you throw all your ideas onto paper or a computer screen. You’re expected to make mistakes at this stage. It’s needed for the exploration of your subject material. Edit later. Speaking of that, the most difficult part is cutting, which is why we need editors. Your most favorite line in your draft may need to be deleted because it doesn’t fit the story. That can be very tough to see and even harder to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Shakespeare. You, as the primary author, are just too closely associated with your own work to give it an unbiased review. It’s like the greatest barber in the world. He may be brilliant cutting other people’s hair, but natural limitations keep him from cutting his own just as well.

Are there authors that you turn to for inspiration and mentoring?

Charles Dickens had a way of writing that makes characters and events come to life in a striking way. When I read his works, it always inspires me to aspire to do the same. Though fiction, characters in my head are real people to me. It’s my job as a writer to make them real to you too.

What prompted you to write for Storyshares?

First, I really admire the mission of Storyshares. I also used to work in a program that taught literacy to children. So I know the first-hand the value of it. Reading not only gives you the most important basic skills for life, but it wakes up your imagination and creativity. Sometimes, a book or passage could even change you! Secondly, I’ve never written strictly for a young audience. It was an interesting prospect and a tempting challenge for me. I ended up enjoying the process very much.

What is your preferred writing environment?

It depends. When I’m grappling with a certain character or plot point, I need a quiet place alone to think clearly and work it all out. Other times, I’m just as happy writing in a loud, crowded café.

Do you have a standard routine when it comes to approaching writing?

Usually I start with an outline or framework to the story. I hear of writers who just write and let the story unfold. For me though, even if I go that route, I still need some structure as a base. This way I can keep track of the main character’s arc so the story doesn’t deviate from it. Without structure, it’s very easy to go off into subplots or unnecesaary characters. I also like to hand write some of the pages and edit with a pen or eraser. Words can look pretty typed out, but might miss the depth of what you’re communicating. Also with fiction, hearing might be more important than seeing. Especially with first person narratives, you want to “hear” the voice of the character who is narrating. So I try to ignore aesthetics and check if the voice and tone are supported with the right words.

What tips do you have for overcoming and dealing with writer’s block?

Usually this problem comes from overthinking, anxiety, and tension. If you’re struggling with a specific word or line, sometimes all it takes is a nice walk for half an hour to free up your mind. Try to find something that works for you when you are anxious about other life matters and apply it to your writing problem.

Where do your ideas come from?

They come from many places but mainly from direct, tangible experience. Yet it could also be something I hear someone else went through. I also get ideas by simply asking myself “What if...?”

How did you choose the POV for your story?

The character of the male protagonist (Lam) came to me first. I initially tried writing the story from that perspective and it
wasn’t easy. Though some of that writing made its way to the final version, I wasn’t able to sustain it long enough to fill up the entire narrative. So I made the narrator a girl (Kristena), which made the story more about her. But somehow, it also completed Lam’s too in a way that he couldn’t on his own. With each word I wrote though, I was nervous and just hoping with all my might that I was being realistic and faithful to the genuine voice of a young teenage girl.

Connect with Joseph: 





Read Chance and Little Star today!