Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalist Leslie Connor

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Leslie Connor’s The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins Publishers) is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. It tells the story of an unusual boy with a “trifecta of troubles” after the death of his best friend. Literary Hub asked Leslie a few questions about her book, being on the shortlist, and life as a writer.

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What’s the best book you read this year?

Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt, and Chasing Augustus, by Kimberly Newton Fusco.

Who was the first person you told about making this list?

Well, honestly, my dogs. They were the only ones home when I heard the good news. I started doing the “vacuum cleaner” laugh—pure joy! Poor dogs; they became deeply concerned.

How do you tackle writer’s block?

I’m going to stubbornly insist that I don’t know what writer’s block is because the concept terrifies me. When I get stuck or feel unproductive I take a walk, out in nature, unplugged, where I can do some “dedicated daydreaming” to bring the next scene along.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

In no particular order, and limiting myself to a mere six titles:

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, A Chair for my Mother by Vera Williams, Jim the Boy by Tony Earley, Cider House Rules, by John Irving, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Minarik and Maurice Sendak.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Very early on a writer friend told me this: “The power of your writing is sometimes diminished by the length of your sentences.” (I made changes. My writing improved.)

Young People’s Literature is now often seen as being more conscientious about representing a broad spectrum of sexuality and identity, functioning as both a window and a mirror to our culture. What do you see as the future of YPL, and what lessons would you like the wider industry to take away from the evolution of YPL?

I’ll add to the architecture metaphor: Young People’s Literature is also a doorway to a future filled with reading. I expect we will continue to see powerful, entertaining stories that include diverse characters and situations, and a host of truthful internal narratives that will engage readers of all ages.

One striking measure of the evolution of Young People’s Literature, for me, is that we now see all kinds of diversity playing out on the page. This happens in authentic and integral ways, and is no longer limited to being framed as the story “issue.”

I tend to lean away from the notion that there are lessons to be taught. I believe that we inspire one another. It’s exciting to me that the bar is set high for all writers in all genres.

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