Coffee and Conversation with Leslea Newman

The MD/DE/WV region of SCBWI is honored to have Lesléa Newman as a presenter at our March 29th conference- Spring: Nature’s Revised Draft.  Our talented and fearless lead blogger, Laura Bowers, posted this interview in the fall and I thought I’d re-post it as the conference looms closer- Yay!

Lesléa Newman is the author of many children’s and adult books including Mommy, Mama, and Me, Donovan’s Big Day, A Kiss on the Keppie …


 Jailbait, Still Life with Buddy, and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, which was just named a 2013 ALA Stonewall Honor Book!


On the night of October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay, twenty-one-year-old college student was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. The Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered and remained haunted by Matthew’s murder.

October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

(Watch the Book Trailer on Youtube.)

(You can also read Lesléa’s article “Writing October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard: An 11-Year Journey” at the The Huffington Post.)


Lesléa teaches at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing program, and she will speak twice at our upcoming conference.  In the morning, she will present, “He Continues to Make a Difference: The Story of Matthew Shepard,” and, in the afternoon, she will participate in a breakout session, “In the Flesh: Fleshing Out Our Characters.”

Until then, now that she’s settled in with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, decaf hazelnut coffee, and her favorite snack, a small square of dark bittersweet chocolate (yum,) let begin the interview!

First off, Lesléa, what was your favorite book as a child?

The Cat in the Hat.

Cat in the Hat

As a teen?

The Idiot by Dostoyevsky.


And now, as an adult?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz.


(Notice that as a teen my favorite book was a novel written for adults and as an adult my favorite book is a novel written for teens!)

Ha, same here! Okay, think about your days as a beginner writer. What advice do you wish you would’ve followed? What advice do you regret following?

I wish I would have followed the advice: Believe in yourself. That would have saved me years of angst-ridden wasted energy. I can’t think of any advice I did follow that I regret.

You magically find a $100.00 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it? (Key word: Frivolous!)

New shoes!

Now you’re talking. 🙂 Where’s your favorite place to write and what kind of music (if any) do you listen to?

I write in my writing room which is in my home, listening to the music of my own heart beating.

You’ve been locked in a bank vault Twilight Zone style, so you finally have time to read!  Your glasses are fine (whew!) so what’s the first book you crack open? 

War and Peace.


Good choice, that would keep you occupied for a while! Now, if you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?

Being a writer!

For one day, time travel is a reality and you can visit any famous deceased author you want.  Who do you pick?

My mentor, Allen Ginsberg. It would be wonderful to spend another day with him.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Err on the side of kindness and generosity.”

If you could sum up your best advice for new writers or illustrators in only four words, what would it be?

Practice your art daily.

Nice, that’s fantastic advice! And thanks, Lesléa, for stopping by so our conference attendees can get to know you better! We’re looking forward to seeing you again in March:)

I hope that all the pre-conference interviews are as inspiring to you as they are to me.  If you have not done so already, please remember to register for the conference.  The deadline for registration is March 19th!  Follow this link for more information regarding registration:

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!

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One Response to Coffee and Conversation with Leslea Newman

  1. Such good advice, Leslie. Thank you for another great interview, Larissa.

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