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Interview with Leah Henderson

Our featured author is Leah Henderson. 

A friend who works at Aspen Words immediately thought of Leah Henderson when I asked about teachers for the Fort Collins Book Festival. She had moderated a panel discussion for them and was marvelous. Just recently she taught a Youth Writing Workshop, which was wildly popular. I am thrilled that Leah Henderson will teach All About the Middle: Teaching for the Middle Grade Audience. Beyond Leah's award-winning, wonderful and inspiring books, she has engaged students around the world with the professionalism and positive energy she brings to the (virtual) classroom.

Eleanor Shelton, NCW Sponsorship Coordinator

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

All of the above. Sometimes I get up before the sun and write long after it’s gone, only stopping to walk my dog, often forgetting to eat. Those are the days I love. When the words can’t find their way to the page fast enough. Like if I look up they will zip away. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen as often as I’d like, but I do feel like they come along just when I’m starting to lose steam. 

Writing can be extremely exhausting when you don’t know what to say, how to say it, or where to even begin. Those times when you’re spending more hours staring at a messy page—full of jumbled thoughts, where you tell yourself the words you’re putting down are the wrong ones to express what you’re trying to say. Honestly, those days seem to outnumber the ones that energize, but those that energize have the strength to propel me through so many more of the exhausting ones. So, I keep writing. One word at a time. Working towards another of those good days!

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

To stop before you’ve said what you or your characters are really meant to say. Not trusting the voice inside you to tell the story only you can tell. Being too eager to have your work done when you are really just at the beginning of your story.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I’m not sure. For some, I think it might make them fearless, willing to try anything—no matter what, while for others it can be a wall that stops them from seeing the true potential in what they’ve created because they think they’ve gotten it right on the first try (or nearly the first).

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Be kinder to yourself. Mistakes are sometimes the most magical part of the journey.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I started to trust the uncertainty of the journey and process a little more. And trusting that I could make it through.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. It’s between a chair, a trip, or a pen.

What does literary success look like to you?

Being able to write the stories I need/want to write, and having them find the reader who wants/needs to read them.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

All the time! My thoughts and my understanding of the craft and the business of writing are always evolving.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Sitting down to start.

What is your most unusual writing quirk?

Not sure I have one. I’d love to though. I’m just so boring. 

How do you think being a writer has helped you as a person?

I’m more observant. And I question and wonder about EVERYTHING.

Give a shout-out to a fellow author.

There are so many to shout out! So, I’ll say: expand your reading universe. Read books from writers from underrepresented groups. They have so many WONDERFUL stories and perspectives to share!

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?  

Something where every day brought something new!

About Leah

Leah Henderson is the author of the middle grade novels The Magic in Changing Your Stars and One Shadow on the Wall, an Africana Children’s Book Award notable and a Bank Street Best Book, starred for outstanding merit. Her short story “Warning: Color May Fade” appears in the YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America and her picture books include Mamie on the Mound, and the forthcoming titles Together We March and A Day for Rememberin’. Leah holds an MFA in Writing and is on faculty at Spalding University's graduate writing program. She currently calls Washington, D.C. home.

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