Interview with Author Leah Henderson

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Photo by Ana Fallon

I first met Leah in our regional writing group nearly five years ago. Now her debut middle grade novel is hitting shelves with glowing reviews. Leah’s story One Shadow on the Wall follows the life of Mor, a young Senegalese boy who makes a promise to his father to keep the family together. After his father dies, Mor faces pressure from his aunt who wants to split him and his sisters apart and from a local gang that wants him on their side. Leah found the inspiration for Mor’s story while visiting Senegal and seeing a young boy sitting on a beach wall–she wondered what his day would be like and the idea for a story bloomed. Thank you, Leah and good luck with your amazing new book!

What would you say you’ve learned the most from writing One Shadow on the Wall

There have been so many lessons along the way to writing this book but the biggest is probably—cherish glimpses of possibilities. That is how this book started . . . because of a glimpse at a boy on a beach wall in Senegal.

But here are ten other takeaways thus far:

  1. Be patient with my writing and myself. When and if things are meant to happen, they will.
  2. (This takeaway goes along with the first.) Don’t rush . . . nothing ever turns out how it should when I rush.
  3. Be kind to my writing and myself. It is okay if it isn’t perfect on the first, eighth or ninth try. Keep trying.
  4. Welcome the mistakes, because they often lead to some unbelievable possibilities.
  5. Treasure true friendships and writing time. They are both rare gifts.
  6. Do not try and walk someone else’s path. Your journey is yours for a reason.
  7. Write for the kid you used to be.
  8. Write for the kid you wish you were.
  9. Write for the kid you hope to see.
  10. Lastly, and probably the most important for the long haul and for our spiritual wellbeing: Celebrate and appreciate the small successes even more than the great ones.

And as a last, last note: Don’t forget to smile, laugh, and have fun along the way … otherwise what is it all for?

OSOTW CoverWas there something that stood out to you about writing middle grade? What about writing from a background that wasn’t your own–a young boy from Senegal?

I really had to research it all. When I began writing this book, I was new to the genre so I had to really figure out what was at the heart of a middle grade novel. Then I had to find and listen to Mor’s voice, and his hopes and dreams. I also had to learn about Senegal, and the values and mindsets of many of her people.

I pretty much stumbled into this project not knowing ANYTHING at all.

Everything was new—writing in the voice of a boy—a Senegalese boy. Writing about a village, a Senegalese village. Writing about an experience so different from my own where assumptions, and preconceived ideas swirled in the air and needed to be tamed. I knew the harm in them ruling the story and tried my best to write from a place of understanding by doing research and asking questions of those who live this experience and by people who have come to call Senegal home. I truly wanted to create characters (and hope that I have) that young readers can identify with, and that no matter how far apart their lives might be from my characters that they might be able to see a piece of themselves in my work. My hope is that I have captured even a fraction of the heart, hospitality, and beauty that is so much a part of Senegal.

Thank you, Leah, for sharing such valuable insights.

Thanks for the interview, Johnell, I enjoyed thinking about your questions. Happy writing & reading everyone!

For more information on Leah and her book, please visit her site at: http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com

Other posts about Leah and One Shadow on the Wall:

http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com/my-news/

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Leah-Henderson/552303528

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2016/11/01/cover-reveal-one-shadow-on-the-wall-by-leah-henderson/#_

 

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Interview with Agent Natascha Morris

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a new agent at Bookends Literary and a former editorial assistant for Simon & Schuster. She is open to submissions for picture books, middle grade, and young adult across multiple genres: contemporary, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is looking for authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators. 

Thank you, Natascha, for your insightful answers.

What was your favorite role during your days as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster? 

There were two things I loved about working at Simon & Schuster: reading the submissions to find that standout project, and working with the design team to come up with great covers. As an agent, I can still find that diamond in the rough, but I will miss coming up with cover concepts. 

Were there any manuscripts you helped acquire that you’re particularly proud of? 

Kit Frick’s See All the Stars (Summer 2018) is one I’m particularly proud of. Read it on submission and fell in love with it. I also had the opportunity to offer editorial notes. Kit is an amazingly talented writer who changed the whole manuscript with a few smart line changes. I’d love to find an author like her.

Could you walk us through the acquisitions process—what stars had to align in order for S&S to select a manuscript for publication?

Every book is different and sometimes, editors don’t follow the process. But in general, once an editor has a project they want to pursue, they take it to the editorial meeting. If the other editors agree (and sometimes they don’t), the editor takes it to acquisitions. I worked at two literary imprints, so quality of writing was a big factor. After that it came down to a host of factors: editorial taste, vision for the project, and market saturation. Publishing is subjective, and sometimes timing plays a part of that. 

If you could name one skill you honed as an editorial assistant that has helped you transition to agenting, what would it be? 

Mmmm, tough question to answer. Different aspects of being an editorial assistant helped. The number one factor that helped is probably my ability to read a manuscript and see its potential. As an editor, you have to have a vision for a project to edit it, and it’s my firm belief that an agent should also have a vision. If I don’t have a vision for your manuscript, I can’t be the best agent for you. And you deserve the best agent and the agent who gets it.
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Interview with Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer

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I’m thrilled to inaugurate my new site with an interview from literary agent Rubin Pfeffer of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. I met Rubin in a one-on-one critique session at a writing conference in Boston last year and was sad when the time ended. As you’ll see from his responses, he knows the publishing industry inside and out and has much to offer writers and illustrators. Thank you, Rubin!

You’ve had a pretty amazing career in publishing, including art director at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, vice president and publisher at Simon and Schuster and an independent agent at East West Literary. Then you started your agency in 2014, Rubin Pfeffer Content. Did the transition to agent change the way you work with authors?

Yes, definitely. You become much more aware of the authors as individuals, of their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and their livelihoods. You’re on the side of the author. That’s not to say you’re not when you’re inside a publishing corporation, but as an agent, you’re much more concerned about the author’s business and dreams. When I was a publisher, I wasn’t sensitive enough to what delays and silence mean to authors. I regret, actually, having taken too long to sign contracts now that I see what it’s like to wait for them.

Can you give me a peek into your agenting day? What are the steps you usually go through when reading a submission?

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