Author Interview – Shelby Leigh

The first book I read this year was It Starts Like This written by the wonderful Shelby Leigh. Her book is the product of a year-long challenge to write a poem everyday. From there, she blogged her way to a book, encouraged by her readers to publish her best poems from 2015.

About the author:

Photo credit: James Fowle

Shelby Leigh is a debut poet from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who recently published her first poetry book. Shelby started a blog in 2015 in which she wrote a poem every day for a year. It Starts Like This is a collection of her and her readers’ favorites. Shelby’s work has previously been published in poetry anthologies and online magazines. She is currently working toward a B.A. in communications and professional writing. On any given day, you can find her binge-watching Parks and Rec or with her nose in a book.

Describe your ideal writing atmosphere.

My ideal writing atmosphere is a quiet and peaceful place like a library or even my bedroom. I get my ideas and feel most inspired when I’m around people, so the library is the best place to not only get some inspiration, but to find peace and quiet.

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember and I think books are the only real reason for that. As a kid, I would come home from the library with twenty books and just lay on my bed all weekend reading them. And I knew I wanted to walk into a library or a bookstore one day and see my book on a shelf. I started off writing silly short stories and then in the seventh grade I won a nationwide writing contest. My prize was only a t-shirt, but that’s all it took to convince me I was doing the right thing.

Describe your writing style.

That’s a difficult question to answer, because the poems in my book vary quite a bit. Some are short and simple, while others fill the page. Some are quite blunt and obvious while with others, there is a lot of room for the reader’s interpretation. Every poem is honest, and every poem is a little piece of me, so I guess that’s my style.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

What kind of story that hasn’t been written yet do you want to read?

I don’t even know how to answer this question! There are an infinite number of stories that haven’t been written yet, and I know I’ll want to read a lot of them. The plots I really want to read about are stories that I would like to write in the future, so I won’t reveal them quite yet!

Name any authors or books that have had an impact on your writing.

There are so many authors who have made an impact on my writing, from Roald Dahl as a kid, to Lauren Oliver when I was in middle school, to Maya Angelou who was a big inspiration for me to try poetry.

Describe the moment you truly felt like an author.

I don’t know that I truly feel like an author yet. I self-published, so my book can only be purchased online right now. I think the day I walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf I’ll truly feel like an author. However, I’ve had people tell me my book has inspired them to start writing or get back to writing, which is an amazing feeling. One girl the other day told me I’m her favorite author, which blew my mind! Being an “author” is all still very new to me, but it’s been an amazing experience!

What book by another author do you wish you’d written?

I don’t wish that I had written anything else, because then it wouldn’t really be my own. No two people think alike or have the same story to tell.

What is the best thing about writing/being a writer?

I love being able to just escape into another world that I’ve created. It’s my own, so it’s exactly how I want it to be.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Don’t be afraid. I spent so long hiding my writing from people who cared about me. (My family didn’t know anything about my book until a couple weeks after it was published.) I was so scared of disappointing people, of rejection and bad reviews, that most of the people in my life didn’t know about my passion for writing. Shrug off the bad reviews, and remember that your words are a piece of you. Hating on them is just as bad as criticizing your face, or your body. Love and be proud of your work.

Tell the story behind your latest book, why did you write it?

First of all, I never planned on publishing a poetry book. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a fiction novelist. But in August of 2015, I committed to writing a poem every day for an entire year, because poetry was something I never really delved into. I wanted to get better at it, and so I made a blog to document the year so I couldn’t back out of doing it. 365 poems later, I grew an audience that encouraged me to make a book out of it. So I did. It Starts Like This is a collection of my favorites and my readers’ favorites.

Most inspiring quote?

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

It’s from a poem called Kabul by Saib-e-Tabrizi. I found it because my favorite book’s title, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was inspired by this poem. It’s beautiful. Topics of feminism and strength always inspire me. This quote represents all the women who are treated poorly and hidden away in Kabul. Referring to them as splendid suns makes me hopeful—women are not meant to be hidden away. We are powerful and will always shine through!

Which author (living or dead) would you like to have dinner with?

I imagine a dinner with Dr. Seuss would be pretty fun. I’d also love to sit down with Maya Angelou, although I think I would be too nervous in her presence to say anything.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

If I pick Hermione, does that mean I get to meet Emma Watson?

How do you beat writers block?

People-watching. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too creepy. I love guessing where people are going or what they’re thinking. When I have nothing to write about I pick a person and make up their life story. A lot of times that will inspire an idea for a character or a poem. I also like to read through my old journals and remember old emotions and feelings I had forgotten about and go from there.

Give yourself some writing advice.

The advice in question #9 is the same advice I would give myself. I need to work on not caring what other people think and just writing what I want to write.

What are your plans for the future? What writing projects are you currently working on?

My current project is a fiction novel, although that’s as detailed as I can get at the moment. I would absolutely love to publish another poetry collection in the meantime, so we’ll see what happens!

Cover designed by Shelby Leigh; painting by Abby Pierce


“and if you only knew
how my bones ache for you
I wonder if you’d tell me
your body is fragile, too”

After writing a poem a day for a year, Shelby Leigh was encouraged by her readers to create her debut poetry collection. Beginning with heartbreak and loss and ending with closure and hope, It Starts Like This is the narrative of a girl learning to overcome and appreciate all aspects of life. This collection takes you on a journey through love, loss, grieving, and healing and will resonate with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Buy It Starts Like This:

Kindle edition

Connect with the author:

Website: Shelby Leigh
Blog: nothingwithoutwords
Instagram: @shelbysleigh
Twitter: @shelbysleigh
Goodreads: Shelby Leigh

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