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.
THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE was inspired by a story I discovered in a newspaper from the 1940s while researching ALEUTIAN SPARROW. This is the closest I have come to tackling the unbearable subject of the Holocaust.
While researching, I come across multiple articles on certain events. I also peruse numerous advertisements for everything from baby bonnets to basketball games. I make an effort to fold these bits and pieces from the period into my narrative in a way that reflects how often I came upon them in my research. So yes, the events in the book, from the accidental fire to the curiosity about the Dionne quintuplets received multiple mentions and attention in the media of the early 1930s.
There are no guarantees in life. If a formula existed for becoming a best-selling author the market would be flooded with best-sellers to the point that “best-seller” would cease to have the meaning we presently give it. I’m certain there are successful writers who followed a path to fame and fortune, who sought publicity first, placing the goal of being a “best-seller” above the deeper goal of communicating profoundly with other members of the human race, and I’ll bet some of them are quite satisfied with their choices, but it would not be my advice to you to follow that path. Perhaps a better goal would be to write books on subjects and themes you care deeply about. Dig down into your material, dig down into your understanding of yourself and of the world. Understand that there are mountains, beyond mountains, beyond mountains, that the superficial has its place but may not be as enduring, or as gratifying as the longer view. Write what’s in your heart, write what’s on your mind, and if it becomes a best-seller, you have that, too, to celebrate at the end of the process.
Over the course of a lifetime we accomplish so much. What seems like a great achievement to some people might seem quite small to others. And what seems quite small to some might seem great to someone else. When one looks back over a lifetime, perhaps then it is possible to get some perspective. Certainly my marriage and family feel like a very great achievement. My publishing career, also, fills me with awe when I take a step back and look at it. My friendships have felt very significant in the measure of my life. If you wrote each thing you accomplished in a single day on a slip of paper, if you did that every day over the run of your lifetime, if you put all those slips of paper into a hall the size of the hall pictured above, if you randomly pulled out one slip of paper each time you were asked such a question as this, any of those slips of paper, any of those achievements would be a valid response to this question, don’t you agree?
Just as only a partial view of my neighborhood is revealed through the frost on my window, only a partial understanding of the world was revealed to me in my home. In school I learned about friendship and societal rules along with reading, writing, science and math. Exposure to my teachers and my fellow students opened me up to the world and helped me to understand who I was and how I fit. I loved everything about school…except, perhaps, the tests. I loved learning, I loved those moments of understanding when I finally grasped a math concept or how two seemingly separate incidents in history actually connected. What is your favorite thing about school?
There are multi-year college level courses to answer this question. But I’ll try to give you a brief answer. 1. First you need a good idea and some ability with language. 2. Then you need to dedicate time each day to writing and revising your idea until slowly it evolves into a marketable manuscript. 3. Finally you need a publisher who believes in your book as much as you do. The publisher does the work of actually publishing your book for you and distributing it. It’s hard work, it’s collaborative work, it’s joyous work, it’s heartbreaking work; it’s exhausting, consuming, and the odds against making any kind of profit are unimaginably high, but if you have a bit of grit, a love of language, a familiarity with story shapes, a story to tell, and a fair measure of luck, you might be fortunate enough to publish a book some day. Good luck!
The writing of LAVENDER fits your description perfectly. One day, many years ago, I sat down at my keyboard not knowing what to write, simply remaining open to whatever came to me. What came to me were thoughts of my aunt who has always been a very important part of my life. So I spent the morning writing about my aunt and my happy memories of her. In the afternoon I continued writing about my aunt. At the end of the day I had finished, more or less, writing LAVENDER. Here’s the really fascinating part…It turns out that as I sat down to write that morning, 500 miles away my aunt slipped on the ice in her driveway, breaking her leg in several places. She called and called for help but no one heard her. After dragging herself back into the house, she managed to phone for assistance and was taken to the hospital where she stayed for several days. Do you suppose at some unconscious level I heard my aunt calling from 500 miles away and wrote LAVENDER to comfort her?
I’m happy to report that my aunt fully recovered from this incident. And I suspect her favorite of all my books is LAVENDER. What do you think?
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.