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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Caroline Starr Rose-- and a Giveaway!

    Caroline Starr Rose's MAY B. has been compared to the Little House books. As a young reader, she was a big fan, and it will appeal to readers of Laura's adventures. But May B.'s appeal, I believe, is going to reach into the upper age bracket of middle grade. May's is a survival story, told in starkly beautiful words.

    The book's gotten some terrific reviews, including a star from Kirkus. Which is saying something. And now I get to chat with Caroline.

     Pull up a chair. Caroline has something to share. 
                           (unintentionally poetic!)

Augusta:  Can you give us your quick definition of a novel-in-verse, for those who may not be familiar with the genre?

A novel-in-verse is a story told through poetry. I use free verse (no rhyme -- or at least not much -- and no consistent meter), though there are other authors who use specific types of poems (sonnets, for example) to forward the story.

Augusta: Was writing in this style completely new to you? How did you prepare to write? Do you sit at your desk and wait for the muse? Journal? Write a detailed outline? Read similar books? Read a lot of poetry?

Writing May B. felt like delving into uncharted territory. Though I’d published two children’s poems previously, I was by no means any sort of expert. Add to this the fact I’d only read two verse novels before beginning May, and I truly was out there on my own.

Because I was teaching at the time (and was creatively spent by the end of the day), most of my drafting took place during holidays. I made myself sit with the story, trusting that the time spent playing with May’s character and creating a loose story arc would get me through. While drafting, I imagined a quilt with each poem standing in for a different square of fabric. As I moved from poem to poem, I trusted certain themes and story strands would unfold, just as patterns form on a quilt. It was a very organic way to write, one that involved a lot of faith in the process of experimenting with words and structure.

I absolutely avoided verse novels while drafting and even convinced myself I wasn’t really writing poetry (which, in my mind, was a lofty, intimidating thing I wasn’t yet ready to claim). My fear was reading a verse novel would reveal how flawed my own writing was.

Augusta: What a terrific image, the quilt!
Tell us a little about your process for creating May B.

May B. didn’t start as verse. What I first wrote very much frustrated me, as it felt so distant from what I’d imagined. I set my writing aside and returned to my research. In reading first-hand accounts of midwestern women in the late 1800s, I picked up on the similarities their journals and letters contained -- terse language stripped of emotion and verbose description. I returned to my drafting, trying to mirror the style of these women. This was the key in discovering May’s voice and most honestly telling her story.

Augusta: Research is crucial, of course. But I love how it took you from the original sources, right to your own writing.
Where do you do your best writing and musing about writing? Different spots? A quiet and orderly writing cottage? Walking the dog?

I have an office I love, though I’m not good at a desk for long. I prefer my couch, with my laptop on my knees and my dog at my feet. Believe it or not, I also enjoy writing in my car. Oftentimes I’ll take the hour before school lets out and sit in the library parking lot with some research or some writing.

Walking the dog is a great way to let my brain both wander and create without the pressure my official writing time sometimes brings. When I get stuck, Boo and I head out the door. My editor once joked that Random House should get an office dog: he’d get lots of exercise, and a lot of out-of-the-box thinking would happen.

Augusta: Well, I just love that! I also write in my car, parked of course. And what a visual- All those NYC dog-walkers? They could be editors, thinking outside the box!

  Do you think certain subjects lend themselves more to novels-in-verse than others?

I do. For me, the form lends itself to historicals (at least in my writing life). I can’t imagine writing a contemporary this way (though life has taught me to never say never). I have two other historical verse novels on my mind -- one I’m drafting now and one I hope to get to sometime in the future. I also have a book in me about a Gitana, a Spanish Gypsy girl. I’m not sure yet when it will take place, and I don’t even have a story line, but I know the color and movement and rhythm of the culture for me, at least, must be told through verse.

Augusta: I know you also write picture books. Did your writing style or thoughts about writing picture books change after you finished May B.?

I’m not sure my thoughts and style have changed much, but I’m more fully aware of how verse and picture books compliment each other. Brevity is king in both genres. I’ve learned the importance of making every word count.

Augusta: Make Every Word Count. We should all needlepoint that on a pillow.

When I was a school librarian, during the entire month of April, we encouraged our students to "Keep a Poem in your Pocket" and share them with others.

Since it's April and Poetry Month, would you share a favorite poem with us?

This is a poem I absolutely adore. I memorized it and recited it one year during my classroom’s end-of-our-poetry-unit Coffee House celebration:

If I Were a Poem
~Sara Holbrook

If I were a poem,
I would grab you by the ankles
and rustle you up to your every leaf.
I would gather your branches
in the power of my winds and pull you skyward,
if I were a poem.

If I were a poem,
I would walk you down beside the rushing stream,
swollen with spring, put thunder in your heart,
then lay you down, a new lamb, to sing you to softly sleep,
if I were a poem.

If I were a poem,
I wouldn’t just talk to you of politics, society and change,
I would be a raging bonfire to strip you of your outer wrap,
and then I would reach within and with one touch
ignite the song in your own soul.

If I were a poem,
I would hold my lips one breath away from yours
and inflate you with such desire as can exist
only just out of reach, and then I would move
the breadth of one bee closer, not to sting
but to brush you with my wings as I retreat
to leave you holding nothing but a hungry, solitary sigh,
if I were a poem.

If I were a poem,
my thoughts would finally be put to words
through your own poetry, I would push you that far,
if I were a poem.

Thanks for this opportunity, Augusta!

Augusta: Inspirational- both you and the poem. We loved having you! 

Now, it's one reader's lucky day. I'm sharing my copy, sent to me by the publisher. Leave me a comment, please. The GIVEAWAY will last a week.


sophiesmom said...

Digesting your interview with Caroline Starr Rose leaves me feeling I've just completed a full course on children's book writing. Every word counts.

Shannon Hitchcock said...

Hi Augusta, What a lovely interview! My favorite novels in verse are Lisa Schroeder's contemporary ones. I'm looking forward to comparing a historical novel in verse to MAY B.

Trisha S. said...

What a wonderful interview! I love reading books in verse out loud to my children. We enjoyed reading "Out of the Dust" recently. We're looking forward to reading MAY B, which we're sure will be another great historical novel in verse. Thank you for the giveaway offer!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I am now working on a verse novel. And it's definitely a new kind of challenge. Like Caroline, I've read a few and I also pulled them out briefly last week when I was feeling stuck. Wanted to remind myself why they worked.

I won't avoid them while working on my story which means I'll get to read May B. Yay! Thanks for sharing your process, Caroline. Thanks for the thought-filled question, Augusta.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Wanted to say - Don't enter me in the contest. I would LOVE to win this but since you just sent your last giveaway book to me, I will sit this one out.

Linda A. said...

Thanks to Joyce, I know of this contest. Please enter me to win a copy. I have read it and I'd love my own copy. It's terrific. I might even share with my niece.

Mary said...

Thanks for the interview! I saw the booktrailer for May B and it looks wonderful. I can't wait to read it.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

GREAT interview, girls! (And I own my own signed copy of MAY B! Lucky me!)

Carol Baldwin said...

Please enter me in this contest. If I win, I promise to loan it to Joyce so she can read it too! Nice interview, and beautiful poem about poetry!

Barbara Watson said...

Thank you for the insight into the process of May B. I adored this book and read it aloud with my kids. It made me see a beauty in words and the power in them. I would be delighted to be entered in the giveaway.

Leslie Davis Guccione said...

Lovely interview. Verse is such a challenge. Here in MA it was a honor to hear Kimberly Marcus work out the kinks in EXPOSED (YA) via our writers group. All best to Caroline & MAY B. I'm happy to spread the word.

Ramona said...

I am so excited to see this interview. May B is in my TBR pile! This encourages me to move it to the top. I would love to win a copy of the book.

Lisa J. Michaels said...

What a wonderful, insightful interview! It sounds like she'd be a lovely person to know.

I am left with tears in my eyes after reading the poem. It lifted my wintery soul to dance through the air as if it were being serenaded by Spring!

A heart-felt thank you Augusta, for bringing her into my line of sight. I look forward to reading her book in the near future.

Peggy Reiff Miller said...

Thanks for this interview, Augusta. I am always intrigued by authors who write organically. Wow! I'll look forward to reading May B. Please enter me in the give-away. I enjoy reading novels in verse. I just finished Indiana author Helen Frost's Keesha's House, which is a contemporary, by the way. Her historical The Braid is probably my favorite novel-in-verse.

ten4ruthie said...

Two of my favorite novels are written in verse. (Out of the Dust and Sharon Creech's Heartbeat) I enjoyed this interview and will add May B to my to-read list. (I'm here because of my Aunt Joyce - who just excited me by saying that the book she's writing is in verse form. ) :-)

Jen Gennari said...

Caroline and Augusta, so happy to find this and get to know you both this way. Congratulations on winning the spring New Voices award, both of you!

hussain ladak said...

been there done that

Aamir Ahmed said...

I love reading books to my son