Category: Character


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Today Birdman, aka Mark Norton, would have been gleefully observing his birthday.

In September, one of the tales of his childhood will be available as a new picture book, NIGHT JOB, published by Candlewick Press and beautifully illustrated by Brian Karas. I hope some of you will have a chance to look at it. It’s really quite lovely, just as Mark was.

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Witness

Scholastic presented me with multiple choices and together we selected the images we agreed best represented the characters I had created.

The photographs come from the Walter Dean Myers photograph collection, and the photo albums of the families of Edith and Herbert Langmuir, Dean Langmuir, and Joan Lacovara, relatives of an employee of Scholastic Inc.

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Esther’s way of speaking was inspired by a little book I read near the beginning of my research for WITNESS. In THE STORY OF OPAL, Opal Whiteley, speaks in an unusual way for reasons unexplained to her readers. The authenticity of Opal’s diary has been challenged but I loved the way it established her character, whether it was true or not. Because I wanted to impart to readers a sense of my character, Esther, being the child of immigrants, and because I wanted to create her character as one of innocence and naivete, Opal’s mode of speech seemed the perfect starting point.

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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 writer must carefully balance foreshadowing. Too much and it feels manipulative. Too little and the reader feels disoriented. Either way the reader is pulled out of the book and a writer never wants that to happen.
The foreshadowing is there…perhaps when reading the book again someday you will find what on first reading eluded you. 
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A Light in the Storm

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.

Safekeeping

Safekeeping

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.

Stowaway

Stowaway

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.

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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.

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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.