Lesléa Newman is the author of the children's books, Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed; TheBest Cat in the World; and Cats, Cats, Cats! She has received two MuseMedallions from the Cat Writers Association, one for The Best Cat in the World,and one for her poem, Old Girl. She is also the author of the middle grade
novel, Hachiko Waits, based upon the true story of Japan's famous Akita, and the
poetry collections I Carry My Mother and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew
Shepard (novel-in-verse). From 2008-2010, she served as the poet laureate of
Northampton, MA. Currently she teaches at Spalding University's low-residency
MFA in Writing program.
- Welcome,Leslea! Tell us a little about your background
Thank you ROCCO. I was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised there and on Long Island. I started writing poetry as a teenager and had several poems published in Seventeen Magazine. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. And I always knew I had to have a pet. I had a Cairn terrier named Angus when I was growing up, and when I left home I was immediately adopted by a tuxedo cat named Blue. After Blue passed away, I had the good luck to be taken in by a Calico cat named Couscous and a orange tom cat named P.C. (Perfect Cat). When those kitties passed on, I was accepted into the pride of Princess Sheba Darling (a Turkish Van who is now 20) and Precious Sammy Dearest (an orange tom cat who has passed on).
- Tell us a bit about your new release, Ketzel the Cat who Composed. Where did that idea come from ?
My rabbi mentioned Ketzel in my synagogue’s monthly newsletter. He talked about how Mr. Cotel, Ketzel’s person, wrote down what he heard when Ketzel strolled down his piano’s keyboard because he was alert and open to the beauty and magic of everyday life. He also mentioned that Ketzel’s composition received an honorable mention in a piano solo competition and that Ketzel became quite a famous composer. She even had an obituary in the New York Times. This intrigued me; it seemed like a children’s book just waiting to happen.
How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
When a book is based on a true story, I do as much research as I can. I’m pretty fanatical about it. After I “fill” my head with as much information as I can possibly find, I start to write. I write many many drafts –at least 20—and with every draft, I learn something new about my characters and about the story.
- You write both children’s and adult books. Which do you prefer?.
As long as I am writing, I am happy.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I never outline. I put one word down, and then the next, and then the next. I never know where I am going until I get there!
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
My biggest challenge is coming up with an idea. I know that sounds odd, since I have written 70 books. However, each time I finish a project, I am terrified that I will never have another idea. At these times, I am terrified of the blank page. I call it “page fright.” For inspiration, I read a lot. Especially poetry. And what inspires me is a shrinking bank account and a growling stomach.
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I am working on a book of poetry for adults as a follow up to my recent poetry collection, I Carry My Mother which explores a daughter’s journey through her mother’s illness and death and her own grief. That was a sad book. I would like to write a book of poetry that contains joy. I am also putting the finishing touches on a picture book called Sparkle Boy, which is about a little boy who likes sparkly things just like his sister. It will be released in 2017.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
There is no typical workday for me because my schedule is so varied. If I am home, I am woken up at about 5:30 by Princess Sheba Darling who needs food, water, and pettings. After I attend to her, I go to work, and write for several hours. When I am on the road, I try to write on the plane or in the hotel room. I think it is important to write every day, even for a short period of time.
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Write every day (see above). Read every day. Do something every day to further your career. And spend as much time as possible with cats!
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Become a writer.
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
You can learn more about me and my books at www.lesleanewman.com
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Cat!
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Chocolate Egg Cream
Favorite Book? The Little Prince
Favorite TV Series? Seinfeld
Favorite Movie? Wizard of Oz
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be Princess Sheba Darling. I would love to be as spoiled as she is!
Thank you, Leslea! You can find out more about her at:
Leslea will give away a signed copy of Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed to one lucky commenter! To enter, leave your comment and email address in our comments section below. Random.org will select one winner. Contest closes midnight, December 23!