I most certainly did. The type of poetry that uses the shape of the poem to illustrate the idea behind the poem is called shape or concrete poetry. Perhaps you’d like to try writing some, too.
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Life is a challenge. It tests us each day, whether we’re aware of it or not. Some days we disappoint. Some days we do so much good. Most days are a mix of the two.
With each decision we make, we have the opportunity to grow. It takes courage to live. But the rewards are so numerous and so diverse. They can be as minor as a “good job” offered by someone you respect. Or something more public like scoring in a game, or performing at a recital.
It would be foolish to submit an assignment if you hadn’t done the work. It takes courage to share that assignment with your peers even if you know you’ve given it your best.
Have the courage to make mistakes and then the courage to learn from them. Reading provides an excellent space where you can witness characters making choices and suffering through the consequences of those choices. How many times have you wanted to yell at a character, “NO! DON’T DO THAT!”?
Listen to that voice when it’s trying to guide you. It is very wise. It will help you to be brave without being foolish.
For a brief period, before I set down a single word, as I began imagining the project, I referred to it as The Klan Book. It didn’t take long, however, for the scope of the book to widen. I began my serious research for WITNESS in the courtroom, watching the judge preside over hearings on numerous cases. WITNESS, essentially, is a trial, where the cast of characters testify regarding what they saw, thought, felt, and heard when the Klan came to town. Because that was my concept for the book from the beginning, it bore that title all the way through the writing process. Other books may have experienced a dozen different title changes, but WITNESS, from the time I started writing, never changed titles.
While researching a book I am insatiable. I want to know everything about my subject. I read thousands and thousands of pages. My brain crunches all of that research into a single story; details gleaned from my research rise up at just the right moment to illustrate the text. Of course, less than 2 percent of what I’ve read actually makes it into the finished book, but probably 80 percent of what I’ve learned is subtly woven into the story. When the book is finished I have no desire to return to that subject again. I feel as if I have exhausted the topic and the topic has exhausted me. And, therefore, I have little or no interest in writing sequels.
First we have to consider the difference between the subject of a book and the theme of a book.
It seems to me the subject of a book is the engine that drives the book’s plot; the theme of a book is the engine that drives the reader to a greater understanding of the world and his or her place in it.
It’s funny that I’d never really thought much about the overarching themes in my work. This question sent me scrambling. I made a list of my titles. Beside the titles I attempted to distill the theme of each book. I was surprised to see how often the same themes recur.
The theme of privation drives many of my books. So does the theme of man’s inhumanity to man. My books often explore loss, adversity, and forgiveness.
I suppose the deep themes a writer returns to again and again give the reader insight into the author and his or her greatest concerns.
I’m not certain what my themes say about me. It will be interesting to see if any readers are inspired to examine my collective themes and share their conclusions.
In each book an author must choose how best to tell the tale. Any character will tilt a story in his or her own unique direction. If I had wanted to tell Bayard’s story, the book would still have been about The Dust Bowl but it would have felt and sounded quite different. The emotional landscape would have been Pa’s: his feelings, his wants, his needs. Though there would have been some overlap, for the most part the things Bayard Kelby noticed and cared about would have had little in common with the things that mattered to Billie Jo.
It has always been the experience of the child, the victim of undeserved circumstances, the voiceless and powerless that stirs my writing. I like the challenge of narrating a complicated story from a child’s perspective. It demands of me to stay true to the voice of the narrator while conveying to the reader everything necessary to understand what is going on superficially in the book and between the lines.
I never considered telling this story from any other character’s perspective. It was Billie Jo I most cared about. It was her story I was most interested in telling.
There have been a couple of projects in which I’ve attempted to team up with other authors. Once, Ann M. Martin and I dipped our toes into a two-voice novel, but neither of us loved the direction the book was taking and so we agreed to jump ship together. Another time I was part of a group of authors attempting to create a single story. Though some of the book sparkled (I’m sorry to say not my part), the project failed to realize its full potential and was mercifully put out of its misery.
My friends and family help me with every book project, from listening to me blather on about my subject as I go deeper and deeper into the research, to critically reading the manuscript, sometimes repeatedly, as I do revisions. In the case of THE MUSIC OF DOLPHINS, my parents and my aunt were particularly helpful in connecting me with the Florida Coast Guard, who agreed to take me up in a helicopter and fly me over the Florida straits. Unfortunately, because of weather conditions, we were unable to go through with our plans. The other connection my family made for me on that same research trip went a good deal more successfully. I visited a dolphin research center in the Tampa area and spent time with a remarkable male dolphin named Sunset Sam. What I learned from my time with this highly intelligent cetacean unquestionably informed my portrayal of Mila in the book.
When I was young, my little cousin was badly burned in a household accident. I spent weeks with him, reading to him, making up stories for him, keeping him company as he slowly recovered. I can’t help but think that experience contributed to my understanding of the physical and emotional pain endured by Billie Jo and her mother. It also gave me insight into what Billie Jo’s father might have felt.