Author Spotlight: Lesléa Newman
Oct. 23, 2020
We are excited to feature prolific author of children's and adult books, Lesléa Newman and her many books coming out in 2021 and 2022. Enter to win her classic picture book, HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, illustrated by Laura Cornell (Candlewick) and her YA novel in verse, OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD (Candlewick paperback 2020).
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I started my literary career as a poet (poetry is still my first love!) with my first publication being poems I wrote as a teenager appearing in Seventeen Magazine. I also wrote novels and short stories for adults. Then one day in 1988, a woman stopped me on the street and told me that she couldn’t find any children’s books about a family like hers—two moms and their daughter. She looked me in the eye and said, “Somebody should write one!” Growing up in a Jewish family in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I knew how alienating it was to never see myself in a book. So I took that emotional experience and created HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES. And the rest is history!
Congrats on all of your books coming out in 2021. Please tell us a little about them.
I have a bunch of books coming out in the next few years (some of them originally scheduled for 2021 have been pushed back because of Covid). Next spring, my two board books, 1-2-3 Cats and A-B-C Cats with illustrations by the very talented, cat-loving artist Isabella Kung are coming out from Candlewick and they are just adorable.
In 2022, I have two books coming out from Lee and Low (though these dates are not set in stone). SONG OF THE COQUIS/LA CANCIÓN DE LOS COQUÍS is my first bilingual book. It is being beautifully illustrated by Elizabeth Baez, and takes place on the island of Puerto Rico during a hurricane. I wrote it for my spouse, who is from Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Lee and Low will also be publishing,
I Can Be….ME! which is being illustrated by the amazing Maya Christina Gonzalez and celebrates the idea that all children should be able to explore their identity freely. And I also have a book of poems for adults called I WISH MY FATHER, a companion book to I CARRY MY MOTHER coming out in January 2021. My parents, may they rest in peace, are now a boxed set!
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I have been very lucky, and have published at least one book a year since 1986 when my first novel (for adults) GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT came out from Firebrand Books. I have worked with large publishers, small publishers, mainstream publishers, independent publishers…. each book eventually finds just the right home. I am very tenacious. Being a writer is my vocation. Being an author is my day job.
From the very beginning, I made it my business to learn everything I could about the publishing industry. From day one, I sent my work out regularly, aiming for the top (why not?) and having faith that if I put an enormous amount of energy into establishing a literary career, it would eventually pay off. Of course the most important thing is to keep writing, and more importantly, keep revising. And then know the marketplace. And have faith in yourself!
You write both verse and prose, and for all age categories. How do you decide what age and type of book you will write when an idea comes to you?
I don’t really “decide.” The work decides and lets me know. It’s very intuitive. I start off each writing day the same way: scribbling in a notebook (yes, I still write with pen and paper). If I am in the middle of something --my favorite place to be—I will pick up where I left off the day before. If I am between projects—my least favorite place to be—I will force myself to sit down and write
something, anything—even a shopping list—and see what happens. Many days nothing worthwhile happens on the page. I can write for 14 days and have nothing happen. Then on the 15th day, something interesting occurs. I know that I needed those 14 days to get to Day 15, though there are times I forget that and think I’m all washed up (note to self: see above—have faith in yourself!).
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I am writing poems about the pandemic and have had several of them published on line. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before The Virus” is an imitation of Wallace Steven’s famous poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and can be found here: https://newversenews.blogspot.com/2020/03/thirteen-ways-of-looking-at-life-before.html
My favorite thing to write is a series of poems on the same subject, such as my novel-in-verse, OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD (just out in paperback), which explores the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder upon the world and is told in different voices including the fence to which he was tied, the truck in which he was kidnapped, the moon who watched over him, and a deer who kept him company during the night. I don’t know if my pandemic poems will turn into a full-length project or not. It’s what’s on my mind right now for obvious reasons. The main reason I write is to make sense of the world around me, the world inside of me, and the relationship between the two. So it makes sense to me that I would be writing about the coronavirus and its enormous impact.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write every day. Make your writing a priority. Give it the time and space it deserves. Read every day. Read like a writer. Notice what other writers do well.
Find a writers group of like-minded souls. Listen to your peers with an open heart and mind. Send your work out. Don’t “submit” it. “Offer” it. Then it cannot be “rejected,” though it can be “declined.” Or better yet, accepted! Be active in your local literary community. Be kind to yourself and to other writers. This is not a competition.
Remember, when one of us succeeds, all of us succeed. Oh, and last but certainly not least, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I suffer terribly from “page fright” – fear of the blank page. I have a quote over my desk that says, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” This was said by Georgia O’Keeffe. That gives me the courage to face the blank page (which is really facing myself) and see what I find there.
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