I keep a notebook for each book I write. I thought it might be fun to share some of those pages with readers through a series of posts. Today’s will focus on May B.
I remember hearing years ago that an author who wants to write in a particular genre or form should read a hundred books as study. I’d read plenty of middle-grade historical fiction, but I’d only read two verse novels — Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust and Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat. I’d only read two because I had no idea I’d attempt verse myself until, after trying a bit of prose in my notebook, I was frustrated with the distance I felt between the thoughts in my head and the words on the page. So I returned to one of my research books, hoping for inspiration. The book was a collection of first-hand accounts written by pioneer women. Here’s what I wrote immediately after my reading:
11 October 2007
I think it’s going to be important to tell May’s story as a story in verse. The idea is a challenge and is precise, focusing on the small moments. With the reading I’ve done, the small moments need to tie to the whole. In my reading, so many women’s voices were so real, raw, accessible via first-hand accounts, and while I’m not picturing a journal, the sparseness of such a piece is the aim.* The reader is present. The circumstance clear. No dialogue to distract. We’ll see. Another writing challenge I’ve never encountered which sounds hard, immediate, and authentic. More reading to do. Karen Hesse. Studying about writing in verse.
I want to honor these women of the past by being as close to the bone as possible.
Here was my first (not very poetic!) attempt at verse, written right after the passage above. The picture below is how that poem showed up in the book.
I didn’t end up reading any verse novels while drafting May B. I worried I’d feel inadequate and would quit. That allowed me to not worry if I was following the “rules.” It was joyful work!
*Why so high falutin’??