When I write in free verse I usually avoid formal constraints. Though I do love occasional internal rhyme, I try not to overdo it as too much makes the work seem self-conscious and contrived. Instead, I arrange the verse to suggest the rhythm and cadence of the character’s native language or accent. I think of my novels in verse more as theater than as one long poem.
A Light in the Storm
While researching in the 1911 New York Times, I came across a series of articles written about Ida Lewis as she lay dying. Ida Lewis had kept the Lime Rock Light burning off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, during and after the Civil War, taking over her father’s duties when he became too ill to serve. Ida Lewis never hesitated to go to sea in a storm, placing her own life in peril numerous times to rescue those who would otherwise have perished. Her life was an inspiration. Amelia Martin was created in her image.
There are times when those campaigning for political office seem alarmingly unfamiliar with, and uninterested in, the American constitution; or even a general working knowledge of democracy. I felt compelled to begin SAFEKEEPING in 2010 when a small group of dissatisfied citizens threatened to divide and destroy the balance of our entire nation. It seems we are in a similar pickle today, six years later, perhaps as a direct consequence of that same divisive element which has managed to shift the political discussion away from civility, tolerance, and functionality. My hope is that the American people will make a wise and informed decision in the upcoming presidential election. SAFEKEEPING is an exploration of what might happen if we choose a candidate who does not understand how to keep the fabric of our country from unraveling.
Our local library, Brooks Memorial, regularly brings lecturers in to speak on a wide range of topics. James Cook scholar David Bisno spoke in the meeting room one evening in late 1998 or so. On a table at the front of the room piles of primary source material beckoned. For me, primary sources are like sweets, I can’t get enough of them. When I started leafing through Beaglehole’s definitive edition of Captain Cook’s journal I felt chills of delight. It took me less than 24 hours to request a copy of this two book collection through Inter Library Loan. Once the books arrived I poured over them…and there I discovered Nicholas Young. At lunch a few days later, I shared with my husband much of what I’d learned so far about the Endeavour’s journey. As I related stories about young Nick, it suddenly occurred to me that I had discovered a perfect narrator. Writing this book was consuming in a way no other had been. I rarely left my desk…just as the men rarely got off their ship. I slept with my head on my desk, I ate at my desk. I stopped calling (and taking calls) from family and friends. What a journey. But I’d take it again in a heartbeat. It was an extraordinary, singular experience.
Next across the finish line will be MY THUMB, due in bookstores this summer. In this rhyming picture book the joy of thumb-sucking knows no bounds…or very nearly so. Inspired by my great-nephew, who, to the best of my knowledge, is still dedicated to his thumb, this book is dedicated to our one and only Asher.
In the mid-1990s, after a snow storm on Mother’s Day, I decided I’d had enough of Vermont weather and began, with my husband, to explore other areas where the living might be a bit easier. One of our stops, Boone, North Carolina, held great promise. But in the end I realized, despite late season snows, Vermont really was my true home. Though I didn’t move to Boone, I wrote a book about it, a story about a boy and his father. That book, alas, was never completed, but a secondary character from the manuscript refused to remain in a file drawer. That character’s name was Justus Faulstich and she became the hero you know in JUST JUICE.
photo by Ria Novosti
Because I had decided to use the epistolary format to tell Rifka’s story, I needed, within the internal logic of the book, to provide her with the means to write. She would not have had access to writing paper, nor the luxury to carry that paper with her. She also would have been unable to send letters. Rifka’s entries to her cousin were more self-soothing/interior explorations than a real attempt at correspondence. So, I decided to give Rifka a book to travel with. My Aunt Lucy remembered that she had carried books with her though she couldn’t remember the titles. Giving Rifka a book helped to expand the reader’s understanding of her character, as well as providing a vehicle in which she could record her tale. After doing a bit of research, I felt Pushkin, whose poetry I knew only in passing, seemed the best option…his work would have been in print and it’s possible Rifka’s family, particularly her cousins, might have had a copy of it. At that point I began dedicatedly studying Pushkin’s body of work. After going through it the first time, I combed through it again, this time with Rifka’s journey in mind. I recorded sheets and sheets of quotes and excerpts from Pushkin’s verse and ultimately matched up a brief selection of his poetry with each chapter of my book, using the Pushkin quotes to prepare the reader for what was to occur next in Rifka’s story.
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I attempted to start this book many times with no success. I would bring a first chapter to my writing group, read it, then throw it away. I probably drafted seven or eight first chapters. Part of the challenge was converting the impressions and memories of an eighty year old woman back to the sensibilities of the child she had been. Another part of the challenge was separating the woman I knew from the fiction I wished to create. But possibly the hardest challenge was simply finding the voice. One night, after several frustrating months of disappointing false starts, I posed a question to myself before going to sleep…How can I capture this girl’s voice? In the morning, in the shower, it came to me…letters. Once I put Dear Tovah at the top of the page, everything began to fall into place.
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I wanted, first and foremost, to honor the memory of my grandparents. As I worked on the book though, my focus shifted. LETTERS FROM RIFKA morphed from being simply a memorial to my grandparents to a tribute to my great aunt’s extraordinary courage and humor. My primary concern, I suppose, was finding a way to tell my aunt’s story. The tales she most clearly remembered dated to her later life, involving subjects and themes I feared would be less interesting to young readers. I needed to gather all the wisps of memories from her youth: tales of the pogroms, her passage to the U.S., her detainment on Ellis Island. From these tiny fragments came RIFKA’S story arc.
for additional info: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award