Category: Witness


august 3, 2017 2017-08-02 017

I discovered mention of “Revealed Jesus” in the 1924 newspapers I used in my research. It’s important to remember that news was not reported in the way it is today. Though the 1924 newspaper referred to William Seymour as being both alive and in Texas, he had made the move to California long before his death two years earlier, in 1922. Perhaps the paper was referring to his movement and his followers more than to the man himself. I honestly can’t remember and my research is no longer in my possession so I have no way of reviewing the original articles that inspired the “Revealed Jesus” poems. My characters knew only what they read in the paper or what they might have heard in conversation. Authors must decide whether to be true to what their characters actually knew or to give them knowledge which would make the book historically correct though not an accurate portrait of the time. My choice was to keep the book true to what the characters would actually have known. An excellent question. Thank you.

Advertisements

7162017lc 2017-07-15 038

The names of the plants were chosen for their sound. I simply explored the names of plants that grow in Vermont and selected the ones I imagined would delight the ear of my character, Esther.

jan-8-2017lc-2017-01-07-012

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.

main street office 017

That’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned is that even after researching for a full year, after reading thousands of pages of material, both primary and secondary sources, I could never recreate an historical period with absolute confidence. I needed to make so many leaps of faith and asked the reader to leap with me. My respect for historians and journalists rocketed over the years as I realized how precise they have to be. At least, in writing fiction, the bar is not set quite so high for factual responsibility. I did my best in understanding the sensibilities of the time period and representing time and place with reasonable accuracy, but I fear I never rose as completely to the challenge in my two year writing process as a good journalist does in a week.

For additional information: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award

There are so many ways to tell a story. Every time I begin a book I consider how best to convey the tale; how I might expand the reader’s access to the emotional arc of the events. More than once I have chosen free verse as my structural vehicle, each time for a different reason.

In the case of WITNESS I envisioned the book as a trial with the speaking characters offering their testimony. I hoped to help the reader form a more balanced opinion of what transpired by presenting various points of view. No one character has all the answers nor knows the entire story. In my mind it was imperative to relate the events that way to avoid a single, prejudicial narrator.

My hope was to deliver the story in a series of rotating depositions. Poetry seemed the most concise and efficient method to invite the reader in, to allow the reader to identify with each speaker, even the ones they might not have wished to identify with, and to eliminate anything extraneous.DSC05673

nov 28, 2015lc 060

In part the characters in WITNESS grew out of the research. I needed certain characters to carry the different aspects and angles of the story I wanted to tell. Here’s the fun part. When I began to build my characters I took inspiration from a book of symbolism. I opened the book to the section on animals and assigned an animal profile to each character. By the time the book went through its final revisions, the vestiges of that animal phase had mostly vanished, but you can still see traces in certain names and personality traits.

Witness Post Card - Copy

 

 

 

 

The photograph of the man in the lower left corner of the WITNESS cover is meant to represent Johnny Reeves but in fact 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.

july 28, 2014 lc 038

This is a very important question. The decision to capitalize “God” was deliberate. I am so delighted that you focused on not only the rare capitalization, but the character speaking at the time it occurs. You’ve come this far. I have complete faith that you have your own answer to this question. I’d be quite interested in learning what you think.

08feb2013bc 009

 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.

DSC02799

 

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.