Luke Cunningham shares his new take on Leonardo Da Vinci

Luke Cunningham has had an interesting road to his first novel. For three years, Luke Cunningham was a comedy writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Now he’s a middle-grade author and just released his first book LEO: Inventor ExtraordinaireLoosely based on the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire was released this week. It is part The Da Vinci Code for kids and part Renaissance-influenced action-adventure story. LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire is filled with robots, wacky inventions, mathematical puzzles and slap-stick humor. Luke has a strong passion for Renaissance he developed while earning a history degree from Brown University. Check out what Luke Cunningham shared with YEM before he takes over our Twitter account today!

Young Entertainment Mag: Has writing always been a passion of yours?
Luke Cunningham: Yes. The hardest thing to do is start writing though. The inertia of not writing feels too good. It’s hard to kickstart the brain into creative mode. The best way I’ve found to overcome that inertia is to use Pomodoro Sessions, where you set a timer for 25 minutes then remove all distractions and focus on the task at hand. I’ve thrown my phone into some weird places to make sure I can focus for those 25 minutes.
YEM: You’ve previously written for the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon! What was that experience like?
Luke: The best. I worked there when the Tonight Show came back to New York in 2014. I loved hearing Jimmy Fallon perform jokes I had written. It was the culmination of spending 8 years as a stand up comic. It was a joy to walk into 30 Rock every day and write for the hottest show on tv.
YEM: How is writing comedy different from writing a book?
Luke: Jokes are little stories. Usually two-three sentences with a surprise at the end that makes you laugh. If the punchline isn’t a surprise, the joke doesn’t work. A book is a huge, complicated version of that same machine. Books need to hold the readers attention and the reader should not see the twists and turns coming. Building a 400 page machine was a lot more complicated than writing jokes but writing comedy prepared me for the work needed to write the book. I probably but 10,000 hours of work into this book over 9 years and I’m proud of how it turned out.
YEM: Do you prefer the fast pace of writing for a late night show? Or a book which can have more time for edits and changes along the way?
Luke: Writing for late night is like the 200 meter dash and writing a book is like a marathon  Writing for a late night show is much more competitive. Every day I’d produce 60ish jokes total and maybe 2-3 of those would make air on a great day. I’d see results every day. Writing a book is a much, much longer and more collaborative process. The best part of writing a book was getting an editor, the magnificent Jacque Alberta, who could read my writing and collaborate on how to best build the story.
YEM: Tell us about your new book LEO: Inventor Extraordinaire!
Luke: The best way to describe it is ‘Diary Of A Wimpy Kid’ crossed with a Dan Brown novel. My hope is to introduce a whole new generation of people to the ideas and the art of the Renaissance.
YEM: This book is loosely based on the  life of Leonardo Da Vinci. What is it about Da Vinci that fascinated you? What made you want to have him as the premise for your book?
Luke: I went to an art exhibition about Leonardo Da Vinci in 2011. At the exhibition was a model of a 500 pound wooden robot lion that Leonardo made in the early 1500s. The robot actually worked. That blew my mind. So I imagined what if someone with his wonderful brain was born today. That was the jumping off point to the book. It also helped that his life parallels a lot of the best YA fiction. Eg. Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t meet his father until he was 13, he was a a genius in a small town, etc.
YEM: Are you interested in writing about other figures in history?
Luke: Absolutely. If I’m lucky enough for this book to lead to a series, there are so many other characters from the Renaissance that I’d love to bring into Leo’s world.
YEM: You have experience writing in a lot of genres. Is there a genre you haven’t tapped into yet that you would like to try in the future?
Luke: Yes. I’ve got lots of ideas for rom-coms.

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