Archives: Author Feature

Poetry Friday: Heartseeker

Join this week’s poetry party at the blog Nix the Comfort Zone. There, you will find poetry reviews, original verses, and favorite poems shared by the Poetry Friday blogging community.

Have you ever picked up a prose novel and — surprise! — at the start of every chapter there’s a poem to greet you?

When prose novelists incorporate poetry in any form, I’m happy.

In Possession, A.S. Byatt’s wonderful novel, modern literati uncover a secret Victorian romance. The whole story hinges on verses written by a fictional 19th century poet.

Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien include invented verse — often in the form of songs shared by their characters — in their fantasy novels. Other authors — such as Cornelia Funke in her Inkheart series — use poetic epigraphs from a variety of authors at the beginning of chapters.

More recent examples: Nikki Grimes’ recent Between the Lines is, in part, about teen slam poets writing their own verses. I used poetry in my prose novel Takedown to show another side of athletic Lev’s character.

What are some writing-craft reasons why an author might choose to incorporate poetry into a prose novel?

I asked this question of debut middle grade novelist Melinda Beatty. Her wonderful fantasy, Heartseeker, published in June.  Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A vibrant fantasy-adventure debut about a girl who can see lies.

You’re a Fallow of the Orchard. You’re as tough as a green apple in summer . . .

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only’s family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.

When word of Only’s ability makes its way to the King, she’s plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn’t necessarily mean that others aren’t able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.

In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only’s greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.

Each chapter of Heartseeker begins with a poem, song, or piece of religious verse. Not from our world, but from Orstral — Melinda’s invented universe — with its rural farmers, Romani-like barge community, and palace intrigues.

Here is the poem that starts the readers’ journey, right at the top of Chapter 1:

Call out, call out, you loud jays, you honey-throated sparrows!
Sing out the summer as it pours into the valleys,
Into the Hush, the Rill, the Lannock and the Blue.
Cry warmth for the Sandkin plains,
For the Mollier vines.
Life up your voices for gentle Dorvan tides
and cool Folque stone.
You sons and daughters of Orstral,
Join the chorus of the coming long light!

–Jylla Burris, poet, Songs of Orstral

When I finished Heartseeker (I sped through the last 100 pages — couldn’t put it down!), I stopped to think about this technique. Fascinating! Through brief poems and verse snippets, Melinda was able to communicate information about the world of the story, a world that was new to me, but clearly one with a unique history, various cultures and belief systems, ruling families, and social mores.

Here’s what Melinda had to say:

When I lived in Britain, it occurred to me that every culture’s got their touchstones—the things everyone knows, whether it’s old television shows, books, politics or scandal. Once I got a broader understanding, especially of the entertainment, I understood a little more about what shaped the people I interacted with every day. Writing songs, stories and poetry from the different peoples of Orstral helped me get to know them—to know what they all had in common, whether that was a rhyme that everyone knew from the cradle, or a bawdy pub tune.

What do you think of this technique? How does it help you, as a reader, connect to the story? I’d love to hear about some novels you’ve read that incorporate poetry, either as a plot element or to help with the world-building in some way. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Melinda Beatty has had years of practice trying to explain to others why she was just having an imaginary conversation between two people that don’t exist, so becoming a writer seemed like the best way to stop everyone looking at her funny. 

After years of narrowboat living on the English canals, she and her British husband are now back on dry land in Maryland where by day, she’s a mild-mannered Indie bookseller, and by night, she wrangles words, craft projects, a Labrador and two fierce mini-women. HEARTSEEKER is her debut novel.

You can connect with Melinda for news or banter at mmbeatty.com or on Twitter @poorrobin.

A Visit to the Bayou

Welcome, readers. We’re going on a field trip today!

Don’t worry, there are no planes, trains, or automobiles involved in this trip. To join me on Louisiana’s Bayou Teche, all you need to do is open the pages of a book.

Bayou Song was published in June by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. You can find it on Indiebound.

We have two tour guides to the plant and animal life, the sights and sounds of the bayou. Poet and educator Margaret Gibson Simon and illustrator Anna Amelia Cantrell. The book also includes photography by Henry Cancienne. (Note: The photographs were not available in my review copy of Bayou Song.)

From the opening poem and images of our Bayou Song experience, Margaret and Anna invite us to read, explore, write our own poems, sketch, and learn about the natural world of this unique landscape.

Although I have traveled to many states and a few countries, I have never been to Louisiana. As a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic states (New Jersey and Maryland, specifically), I found this poetic field guide to the bayou fascinating. For each animal, plant, and tree featured in the book, the reader is treated to brief informative text and photos, a poem and accompanying illustration, and a “you try” spread with prompts — and extra space — for writing and drawing.

Let’s take a peek at one stop on the tour: Bald Cypress Trees.

From Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape. Click on the picture for a better view.

You’ll find photographs of Bald Cypress trees at the National Forest Foundation’s Sentinels of the Swamp page. Now let’s look at the poem and illustration.

Click on the image to get a closer look.

Cypress Zeno
by Margaret Gibson Simon

They stick up like a woody weed
grounding cypress
roots that
hold
sculpted figures
growing
bold.
Not really knees
so I’m
told.

Do you ask questions when you’re on a tour? I usually do. Here are a few things I wanted to ask Margaret:

You have not always lived near the bayou. What were your first impressions of it?

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi.  Purple Creek ran behind my childhood home. It was a small body of water, but I remember taking walks in the woods over the “waterfall” which was actually a group of concrete scraps.  The sounds of nature and the animals that lived near water have always attracted me.  My parents currently live on a lake.  The herons, ducks, and Canada geese on their lake have all made their way into my poems. Waterways have always been a part of my life.

My first impressions of the bayou were more cautious and fearful than they are now.  After spending time out canoeing with my husband, I am not so worried about the creatures there.  I once watched a snake back away from our canoe as it tried to ingest a large fish.  It was actually more fascinating than frightening.

How has this setting influenced your writing?

I don’t think I have yet exhausted the ways I can write about the bayou.  As I answer your questions, I am looking out at the setting sun beaming a light on a cypress tree and listening to the loud cicadas.  Poetry allows me to capture this amazing setting over and over.

If you were playing tour guide for a friend who had never been to the bayou, where would you take them? What would you want them to see? 

We have taken visitors on canoe trips on the bayou.  I would not take them in any other kind of boat.  A canoe makes you one with the water.  You become part of the bayou.  The experience is slow and peaceful.  I would show them grandmother oak in our backyard, a live oak that is one of the oldest in New Iberia, 250+ years. I would also show them the fields of sugarcane and the old mill down the bayou.  I’d take them to a boardwalk off Main Street or on a walk in City Park.  We have a plantation home, The Shadows on the Teche, where I’ve taken students on a writing marathon.  The grounds are beautiful and make you feel like you are walking in a different time. I hope you will come someday, Laura.

I would love that, Margaret. “A canoe makes you one with the water” is tugging at my heart already.

Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life.  She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff.  Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha.  Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for 31 years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish.  She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, anthologies for Today’s Little Ditty, in Poetry Friday Power Book Here We Go, and in National Geographic’s the Poetry of US.  Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013.  Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards.  Margaret writes a blog regularly at http://reflectionsontheteche.com.

Would you like to know more about Bayou Song? Continue your tour at these blogs, where you’ll find more poems and illustrations from the book, interviews with Margaret Gibson Simon, and other surprises.

Friday, June 22: Michelle Kogan
Tuesday, June 26: Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Friday, July 6: Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes
Friday, July 13: Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Tuesday, July 17: Laura Shovan 
Tuesday, July 24 Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy
Friday, July 27: Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink
Monday, July 30 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Friday, Aug. 3 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

Poetry Friday Giveaway: Nita’s First Signs

It’s Poetry Friday! Hooray for Sylvia Vardell, who is hosting this week’s blog roll at Poetry for Children. Thanks, Sylvia!

Hi, friends and poets. Happy Poetry Friday!

A few weeks ago I went to a friend’s book launch. I’ve blogged about YA author Kathy MacMillan before, when her debut novel SWORD AND VERSE published. (Read my post about SWORD AND VERSE here.)

Kathy’s latest book is something completely different: A board book story that teaches children and families how to use basic American Sign Language (ASL) together. In addition to being a fun read with great illustrations, NITA’S FIRST SIGNS has the *coolest* design. Hidden sliding pages reveal illustrations of how to make signs like “ball,” “love,” “more,” and “milk.”

NITA’S FIRST SIGNS is published by Familius Press.

Be sure to leave a comment if you’d like to be entered into a giveaway: A signed copy of NITA’S FIRST SIGNS, plus some other fun ASL-related treats.

Kathy and I have talked a few times about posting an ASL poem for Poetry Friday. I’m so glad to welcome her to the blog today. We’ll be taking a look at the poem “Dandelion” by Clayton Valli. As Kathy, who is an ASL interpreter and trainer,  pointed out, “This will be a new way of experiencing poetry for most of your readers.” It certainly was for me.

Welcome, Kathy!

When Laura asked me to select a poem to go with her post about my book, Nita’s First Signs, I was so excited to share some American Sign Language (ASL) poetry with her readers.

ASL poetry does not have a written form; it is composed and performed entirely in American Sign Language.  While I could give you a rough transcript of what the poem means, that would not do justice to the cleverness and beauty or the interplay of form and meaning that an ASL poet shapes. ASL poetry simply must be experienced in a visual medium. For that reason, I will give you a description of the events and meanings in the poem, and then let you experience watching it for yourself.

Meter, alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme are used in an entirely different way in a visual language. For example, a rhyme in ASL may consist of using two signs with similar handshapes to create a pleasing association, or adjusting the movement of the signs to lend visual harmony to the poem.

The poem I have chosen is a classic of ASL literature: “Dandelion” by Dr. Clayton Valli. Dr. Valli was a pioneer in ASL poetry and linguistics, and was one of the first people to analyze the characteristics of ASL poetry.

The poem, which is a little over a minute long, addresses the centuries-long oppression of Deaf people by the hearing world, which has long tried to eradicate deafness. Valli uses the image of dandelions to represent Deaf people and sign language itself.  The man who pulls up and mows down the dandelions represents the hearing world trying to destroy Deaf culture. Valli uses various linguistic tools called classifiers to show the shape and movement of the dandelions as they grow and change. In the end, just like dandelions, the Deaf community has demonstrated a will to survive.

I chose this poem because it emphasizes the intrinsic value and beauty of ASL and the Deaf community. While Nita’s First Signs can be enjoyed by any families — hearing, Deaf, or hard-of-hearing — it is, at its heart, a story about the value of communication. Some readers have told me they think that Nita is Deaf, and some say hearing.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter — because the most important gift any parent can give their child is the gift of communication.  Giving a child the tools to communicate sends the message that we truly value what they have to say.

***

Thanks for visiting, Kathy, and for sharing Dr. Valli’s poem.

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, signing storyteller, and avowed Hufflepuff.  Nita’s First Signs, the first book in the Little Hands Signing board book series from Familius Press, was praised as “a wonderful introduction to the world of American Sign Language…for ALL infants, toddlers children AND adults” by Marlee Matlin. She is also the author of eight resource books for educators, librarians, and parents, including Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press, 2013). Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse (2016) was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award, and its companion novel, Dagger and Coin (2018) has been called a “complex feminist fantasy” by author Heidi Heilig. Kathy serves as the co-Regional Advisor for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  She lives near Baltimore, MD. Find her online atwww.kathymacmillan.com or on social media @kathys_quill.

Check out some of my favorite photos from the NITA’S FIRST SIGNS book launch at Baltimore’s Ivy Bookshop. Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a signed book and goodies. I will draw a name on Thursday 7/19 and will announce the winner next Poetry Friday, 7/20.

Kathy signs alongside Renee Bertaux, an ASL interpreting intern.

Kathy signs “eat” with a young reader.

Find out more about Kathy’s Stories by Hand workshops here.

Poetry Friday: Introducing Henry Crawford

To celebrate the last Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month, I’d like to introduce you to Henry Crawford.

Henry Crawford was a featured poet at Wilde Readings in November.

This fall, Henry was a featured reader at Wilde Readings — the local literary series I co-host with poets Ann Bracken and Linda Joy Burke.

I was intrigued by the way Henry’s work as a lawyer and software developer impacts the form, content, and rhythm of his writing. More than anything else, though, what draws me into Henry’s poems is his attention to the vivid, precise details that tell a story, or bring a person to life in a few words.

Today, I’m sharing Henry’s poem “Off-hours” from his collection American Software. I’ll link to another poem at the end of this post.

Off-hours
By Henry Crawford

After the late shift
the cops will drop by.
Shots and a beer.
Nightsticks on the bar.

In a back booth
I dream my mother laughing
and there she is — laughing.
Her smudged mouth wide,
always longing.

“We gotta go now
little guy,” her breath
wet and pine tree
sweet, her boiled eyes
looking hard to see.

The jukebox is dark.
A tired jumble of moths
circle the bald bar light.
Even the cops are gone.

These streets belong to us now.
The radio knows this hour well.
My mother is singing to the wheel.
I’m in the backseat
pretending to sleep, tracing
the roads in my mind
just minutes before morning
on that slow roll home.

“Off-hours” and “Every Morning Maddie” appear in Crawford’s collection American Software. Available at Amazon.

“Off-hours” was first published in Scryptic magazine (December 2017 issue). It is shared here with the author’s permission.

If you enjoyed this poem, please check out Henry’s poem “Every Morning Maddie.” 

Henry says this poem, “Just came out as a new video by students on YouTube and its being republished in the Sligo Journal next week. I’m very grateful for all the help it gives to young people and their parents dealing with the issue of drug addiction.”

 

Thanks to Irene Latham for hosting this week’s Poetry Friday round-up at Live Your Poem! Hope you had a great Poetry Month, Irene.

 

Happy Birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins!

Shh! Welcome, but come in quietly. It’s a Poetry Friday surprise birthday party.

As a debut verse novelist, I was thrilled to meet Lee at a 2016 library conference.

The guest of honor? Lee Bennett Hopkins! (Whoops — no exclamation points. We’re trying to keep this party a secret.)

Lee is not only a wonderful children’s poet and Guinness World Record holding anthologist (really — the citation is here), he has also been a mentor to many, many poets — including me.

I love sports poetry. That’s why, even though my new middle grade novel is not written in verse, I kept Lee’s anthology OPENING DAYS close to my desk while I was writing TAKEDOWN.

The rhythm, quick pace, and word-bursts of poetry are a great way to communicate the action and emotion of sports.

To help celebrate Lee’s birthday, I’m sharing his poem from OPENING DAYS, “Final Score.” Note: the book is illustrated by Scott Medlock.

This poem was one I returned to over and over as I wrote the story of two sixth grade wrestlers, a boy and a girl, who are struggling to figure out who they are on the mat, and — more importantly — off the mat.

What I find so compelling about this poem is that it’s not about the competition. It’s about the moment after. It’s a pause in the motion.

I tried — in some scenes from TAKEDOWN — to capture that same sense of quiet, of emptiness and release after the last buzzer sounds. This is what Lee masterfully portrays in “Final Score.”

FINAL SCORE
By Lee Bennett Hopkins
From OPENING DAYS, Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Eventually
there’s
a final score
when
games
have ended

when
they’re
over–

no more.

No more
batting
kicking
tossing a ball–

No more
stumbling,
fumbling,
rising up from a fall.

Games
have been played.

They’re over.
That’s all.

***

Where is the surprise party happening? At Life on the Deckle Edge. Robyn Hood Black is this week’s special Poetry Friday/National Novel Writing Month/Lee Bennett Hopkins celebration host!

Happy birthday and lots of love, Lee!

 

 

Laura’s Boo!shelf: The Memory Trees

This week’s Poetry Friday hostess with the mostest is Irene Latham. You’ll find all of the links at Live Your Poem.

Big news, Poetry Friday friends! Today is the cover reveal for my latest middle grade novel, Takedown. This prose novel is about two middle school wrestlers, a boy and a girl, who are *not* happy when their coach makes them training partners. Curious? Stop by Nerdy Book Club for a sneak peek.

This month, I’m blogging about scary stories. The next book on my October Boo!shelf is Kali Wallace‘s just-published YA novel, The Memory Trees.

The Memory Trees is the story of 16-year-old Sorrow Lovegood, who has lived with her father and step-mother in Florida since she was eight years old. As the novel begins, Sorrow travels to rural Vermont, returning to the home and apple orchard the women in her family have owned and farmed for generations. She’s devoting this summer to reconciling with her mother. But Sorrow is also hoping to trigger her own memories of the death of her older sister, Patience, eight years ago.

The Memory Trees is an atmospheric mystery about two families (the Lovegoods and the Abramses) whose scuffles, hostilities, and secret friendships are woven into the stark Vermont landscape. Kali addresses issues of grief, mental illness, co-dependency, and Sorrow’s fight to uncover the mystery of her sister’s death.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous. Sorrow’s growth as she reconnects with her own history makes for a powerful story. Highly recommended!

The Memory Trees published this week, October 10. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

The Memory Trees is a dark magical realism novel about a mysterious family legacy, a centuries-old feud, and a tragic loss that resurfaces when sixteen-year-old Sorrow returns to her mother’s family orchard for the summer.

Sorrow Lovegood’s life has been shaped by the stories of the women who came before her: brave, resilient women who settled long ago on a mercurial apple orchard in Vermont. The land has been passed down through generations, and Sorrow and her family take pride in its strange history. Their offbeat habits may be ridiculed by other townspeople—especially their neighbors, the Abrams family—but for the first eight years of her life, the orchard is Sorrow’s whole world. 

Then one winter night everything changes. Sorrow’s sister Patience is tragically killed. Their mother suffers a mental breakdown. Sorrow is sent to live with her dad in Miami, away from the only home she’s ever known.

Now sixteen, Sorrow’s memories of her life in Vermont are maddeningly hazy; even the details of her sister’s death are unclear. She returns to the orchard for the summer, determined to learn more about her troubled childhood and the family she left eight years ago. Why has her mother kept her distance over the years? What actually happened the night Patience died? Is the orchard trying to tell her something, or is she just imagining things?

The elements play an important role in Sorrow’s story. Fire and ice, heat and cold, familial warmth and long-frozen memories swirl and push and angle for control at the Lovegood homestead. That’s why I’m pairing Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” with The Memory Trees. Read the book, then let me know what you think of this pairing.

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,   
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Kali Wallace studied geology and earned a PhD in geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. She is the author of the dark fantastical young adult novels Shallow Graves and The Memory Trees, and the upcoming middle grade fantasy novel City of Islands. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, Tor.com, and other speculative fiction magazines. After spending most of her life in Colorado, she now lives in southern California.

I blogged about Kali’s debut novel, Shallow Graves, in 2015 (read that post here). It’s one of my favorite horror novels.

If you’d like to read more about Kali’s book, she’s on a blog tour. I enjoyed this “Halloween Reads” post about The Memory Trees. And she talked about the ups and downs of writing book 2 at Chuck Wendig’s blog. (So exciting! That’s one of my favorite blogs about writing.) I’ve enjoyed both of Kali’s books, so I can’t wait to read her middle grade novel.

See you next week. I’ll have another scary story to share.

Laura’s Boo!shelf: The Rattled Bones

Violet Nesdoly is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Stop by her blog for a list of poetry posts around the kidlitosphere.

Autumn is here at last! Goodbye, sweating buckets at the Baltimore Book Festival. Hello, sweaters and crunchy leaves. I’m cozying up with a pumpkin spice latte (just kidding — flavored coffee is truly frightening) and some spine tingling stories.

The first novel on my October Boo!shelf is Shannon Parker’s ghost story, The Rattled Bones.

Here is the description:

Maine-bred, independent Rilla Brae is no stranger to the deep. She knows the rhythms of hard work and harder seas. But when she experiences the sudden death of her father, the veil between the living and the dead blurs and she begins to be haunted by a girl on a nearby, uninhabited island. The girl floats a song over the waves, and it is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Familiar and distant.

Then Rilla meets Sam, a University of Southern Maine archaeology student tasked with excavating the very island where the ghostly girl appeared. Sam sifts the earth looking for the cultural remains of an island people who were forcibly evicted by the state nearly a hundred years ago. Sam tells Rilla the island has a history no locals talk about—if they know about it at all—due to the shame the events brought to the working waterfront community. All Rilla knows for sure is that the island has always been there—an eerie presence anchored in the stormy sea. Now Sam’s work and the girl’s song lure Rilla to the island’s shores.

As Rilla helps Sam to unearth the island’s many secrets, Rilla’s visions grow—until the two discover a tragedy kept silent for years. And it’s a tragedy that has everything to do with Rilla’s past.

Today, Shannon is stopping by for 5 Questions with the Author. And since it’s Poetry Friday, I’ve got the perfect scary poem to pair with her book.

Laura: As the The Rattled Bones opens, Rilla Brae has just graduated from high school. She was excited about going to college, but her father’s recent death has her rethinking her plans. Then she experiences a haunting. Why is it important for Rilla to solve this family mystery before she decides whether to stay and support her family or leave home?

Shannon: This is a great question!

The Rattled Bones is part mystery, part historical fiction, part contemporary and, of course, a ghost story.

At the beginning of the book, Rilla’s father has died at sea and her grief causes the veil between the living and the dead to lift. Through tragedy, this 17-year-old fisherman quickly becomes the sole financial provider for her family. As she works the seas, she begins to see an eerie presence on an uninhabited island, starts to hear a familiar but distant song carry over the waves. Rilla sees this girl—this ghost—in the dark of the underwater, on the shores of her back yard. The girl is all seaweed hair and gravel-rough voice. She is everywhere and nowhere.

Rilla can’t leave for college knowing her Gram might be in danger, that this girl could haunt her grandmother too. But more importantly, Rilla can’t resist the pull of this otherworldly girl because they are connected in a way that changes Rilla’s future and her past.

Laura: Rilla comes from a family of lobstermen. This part of the story is fascinating – there’s the lingo (lobsters are known as “bugs”), the banter on the docks, and the long-standing superstitions. How does Rilla’s struggle to be accepted and respected in this community reflect the overall themes of the novel?

Shannon: Lobster fishing is fascinating. It is hard work on rough seas. The industry is familial and insular and has a language and rhythm all its own. Rilla has grown up lobstering—catching bugs—all her life, but when she becomes captain of her own boat, the reader sees the prejudice and misogyny that can exist in segments of this male-dominated industry.

The novel has many feminist themes and Rilla’s work on the ocean is one way to highlight the overall feminist tone of the book.

Laura: This is a novel that is deeply tied to setting. The closely drawn details of Rilla’s small Maine fishing village keep the reader grounded as the haunting progresses. Could you talk about coastal Maine and the writing techniques you used to capture it so vividly?

Shannon: Maine’s coast is harsh and beautiful. When a thick fog drops over the water, it can feel as if you’re standing at the edge of the universe. When the sky is blue, you can feel the world pulse on into eternity. I can’t speak to any writing techniques I used because I never considered the ocean from a craft perspective. She was a character like any other and I needed to develop her in a way that the reader would feel the salt lick of the ocean’s breath, know the cold reaches of her depths, the pulse of her tides. The sea needed to move and shift and breathe around Rilla so that I could explore some of the paranormal elements of the haunting, but I also needed the reader to feel the dangers of Rilla’s work at sea, how the ocean often takes more than she gives.

Laura: The Rattled Bones is a ghost story, but its foundation is built on a historical event. How did you become interested in the history of the island of Malaga? Did your research lead you to any unexpected places?

Shannon: About ten years ago I came across a photo-documentary called: Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold. The storyteller in me was immediately intrigued. I couldn’t imagine any story better for being silenced. So I told it.

The most unexpected part of my research was learning of the legacy of shame that still haunts Malaga descendants—many of whom still fish the waters around the island today. The shame has taken root in the psyches of the descendants of Malaga Island victims, not the perpetrators. That will never stop surprising me.

Laura: What made you decide to make The Rattled Bones a ghost story with a contemporary teen protagonist instead of exploring Malaga’s past through historical fiction?

Shannon: I don’t think I could write historical fiction. Also, I’ve always wanted to be haunted by a ghost.

Shannon M. Parker is an author and educator who spent her young adult years collecting thirty-seven stamps in her passport. She holds degrees in English Literature, Linguistics and Educational Leadership from Saint Michael’s College, UMass Boston and University of Southern Maine respectively. She lives in New England with her family.

Shannon has been a Poetry Friday featured guest before. You can read my post about her first novel, The Girl Who Fell, here. 

Readers, you know how excited I get when I find the *perfect* poem to pair with a novel.

Cynthia Huntington’s poem “Ghost” has the same eerie quality as Shannon’s book. The other sits just at the edge of every day, ordinary life, watching.

Ghost

At first you didn’t know me.
I was a shape moving rapidly, nervous
 
at the edge of your vision. A flat, high voice,
dark slash of hair across my cheekbone.
 
I made myself present, though never distinct.
Things I said that he repeated, a tone
 
you could hear, but never trace, in his voice.
Silence—followed by talk of other things.
 
When you would sit at your desk, I would creep
near you like a question. A thought would scurry
 
across the front of your mind. I’d be there,
ducking out of sight.

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

A note for middle grade readers: If Malaga Island sounds familiar, it is the setting of Gary Schmidt’s historical fiction, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Poetry Friday: Landing on Her Feet

It’s Poetry Friday! This week, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has hosting duties. Congrats to Amy on her latest poetic picture book. READ! READ! READ! came out this week. You’ll find all of the Poetry Friday links at The Poem Farm.

Winner of the 2015 Donald Justice Poetry Prize.

My friend, novelist and poet Patricia Valdata, visited recently. She was here to feature at the local literary and open-mic series I co-host, Wilde Readings.

Pat’s latest book is Where No Man Can Touch, a book of persona poems! You know how much I love persona poems. This series is all about women who were first in flight. (Pat is an amateur pilot.)

Here is a description of the book from JMWW literary journal:

“Valdata did extensive research to compile the stories of the many women around the world who took to the skies. Where No Man Can Touch is organized by time periods stretching through the centuries, beginning with the 1700s-1800s and then moving through the 20th century in 10-year increments, ending with the last poem in 1953. Each poem starts with a short epigraph that includes the dates of the woman’s life and the dates of her major flight-related accomplishments. By providing readers with a clear frame of reference, Valdata showcases the range of international women who were enchanted by the dream of flight.”

There are many wonderful voices in this book. One of my favorites is this concrete poem, “Landing on Her Feet.” Pat captures the humor and will of the poem’s speaker, Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick. I love that this is a shape poem, with the reader’s eyes billowing out in long lines first, then falling down the page.

Published with permission of the author.

The National Air and Space Museum has a great page about Tiny Broadwick. Her personality leaps off the page. You can check that out and see her parachute here.

Patricia Valdata is a poet and novelist. Her book of persona poems in the voices of women aviation pioneers, Where No Man Can Touch, received the Donald Justice Prize and was published in 2015 by West Chester University. Her poetry has appeared recently in Ecotone, Italian Americana, Little Patuxent Review, and Passager. She has work forthcoming in String Poet and Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse.

Poetry Friday: Into the Deep, Deep Brave

Want more Poetry Friday? Stop by The Logonauts for a round up of poetry links from across the kidlitosphere.

One of the best parts about being a Little Free Library steward is chatting with other LFL stewards. It’s always exciting when someone new joins our communication hub, sharing photos of their freshly painted library, filled with books, ready for people to discover and borrow.

Earlier this month, a steward in Ohio shared news that caught my eye. Sylvia Call was excited to announce that her son’s first book had just published. It is a book of poems, Into the Deep, Deep Brave. What’s unique about this book is that its author, Arthur H. Call, is a three-year old with Hyperlexia.

Sylvia and I began to talk about poetry and Arthur’s book. The poems are filled with humor, but also show profound insight — Arthur is clearly a deep thinker.

I’m thrilled to have Sylvia visiting my blog today, to tell us more about Arthur and share a few samples of his poetry.

Welcome, Sylvia! Tell us the backstory of Arthur’s poetry book.

During the fall and winter of 2016, Arthur (who was almost three) had just started talking for the first time (he also started reading and spelling words that I often had to look up).  Arthur is on the autism spectrum and has Hyperlexia which gives him this beautiful gift with words and language.

[Read more about Hyperlexia at the Center for Speech and Language Disorders.]

All through the winter, he would potter about the house making up these neat little poems and reciting them out loud to me. I wrote them all down the moment he said them, and tried to punctuate them based on his pauses and stops. (Many of his poems were hastily scribbled onto the backs of envelopes or along the margins of papers I happened to be grading.)

I didn’t have a plan for his poems at the time, but every now and then I would share one of my favorites on social media. It all sort of snowballed from there, and after talking things through with a phenomenally talented illustrator named Molly McGuire, I thought that perhaps publishing a book of poetry written by a toddler was really the only sensible thing left to do.

After months of collaborating, planning, and dreaming, Arthur’s first book is finally out in the world. What a fun little adventure it’s been.


Thanks for sharing Arthur’s story, Sylvia. I remember first learning about Hyperlexia through some articles by and about author Priscilla Gilman. Here is a link to check out to learn more about Priscilla’s experience with a child with Hyperlexia. 

Are you ready for some poetry, readers?

Selections from Into the Deep, Deep Brave
by Arthur H. Call
Shared with permission

I am everything–
I am change.
Into the deep, deep brave.

***

Strum the banjo
Walking in the snow.
I’ll show you the way
Through the night.
***

Dance with me
Spinning through the air
Like dragonflies

***

The bear stood on the shore
And roared at the sea.
Free from his cage
and brave.

As a teacher of young writers, I applaud Sylvia for publishing Arthur’s poetry. Today, I shared Into the Deep, Deep Brave with my friend Matthew Winner, a school librarian and kidlit podcaster. The book — and Arthur’s words — prompted a fascinating conversation about children, their insights into the world around them, and how they use language for meaning and play.

Congratulations to Arthur!

5 Questions for the Author: Stacy Mozer

It was the solstice this week, Poetry Friday friends. Summer is here. I’m not a hot weather person, but there is one thing I will go outside for: baseball.

I love going to Camden Yards for an Orioles game on a hot summer night, eating crab cakes, drinking beer or Icees, and spending time with my family through the long innings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sports in the past several months as I finish up work on my next book, Take Down, which is set on a middle school wrestling team. Visiting me today for an interview — and to share a poem for Poetry Friday — is Stacy Barnett Mozer, one of the authors behind the blog Sporty Girl Books.

Stacy’s latest book is The Perfect Trip, about Sam (Samantha) Barrette, a girl who has just made the boys’ travel baseball league.

Thanks for joining me for 5 Questions for the Author, Stacy!

1. THE PERFECT TRIP works as a stand-alone novel, but can you fill us in on Sam’s first story, THE SWEET SPOT? How has the character grown and changed since that book?

In the first book Sam is struggling to find her place as a thirteen-year-old female baseball player. At the beginning of the book she learns that her coach feels she has an attitude and that the only way he’ll recommend her for travel baseball is if she gets a good performance at baseball camp. But when she arrives they expect her to be a boy and place her on the team with weaker and younger players and it goes downhill from there. As in this book, Sam’s family plays an important role in the story. At the start of the book Sam sees her stepmother Nancy as the enemy and is completely forgiving of her never-present birth mother. She has to learn to sort those relationships out too.

2. One of my favorite scenes in THE PERFECT TRIP takes place at a pick-up baseball game at a campground. A group of older boys is sure they’ll win against their younger brothers, even more so when Sam joins the younger boys’ team. I love the dramatic irony of this scene. Can you talk about how girl athletes challenge expectations?

Thank you for picking up on that scene. My two books were originally written in the reverse order and it was when I wrote that scene at the campground that I discovered the real motivation of my real main character. As an elementary school teacher, there have been many years that I have watched girls being undervalued when they want to play sports at recess. I used to be able to name on my hand the ones who were able to persevere and fight for the respect they deserved on the field. Fortunately, I do feel that trend is currently on the upswing. There has been more attention given to women and sports in the news and the boys don’t seem as surprised to see the girls playing with them. I don’t think it hurts that they all know about my book as well.

3. I loved the relationship between Sam and her younger half-sister, Deborah. Would you describe how you drew these sisters and made their moments of love, annoyance, and betrayal so believable.

My younger sister and I always had a very close relationship. Even though she is as different from Deborah as I am from Sam, I definitely put the emotion behind our relationship into the story. We had mostly good times, but there were those moments. Deborah also has in her some of my daughter Annie. Annie was Deborah’s age when I wrote the book and I would pluck some scenes and conversations from observing her behavior and interests. Then I would place myself in the role of her older sister to see how I would react.

4. Sam’s real name is Samantha — a name she doesn’t use much. One of the main characters in my upcoming book is a girl wrestler, and I played around with names and nicknames too. She’s Mikayla at home, but “Mickey” on the wrestling mat (on the advice of her older brothers). Why are names so important? When female athletes play on co-ed or male teams, do you think names impact how their teammates and opponents view girls and women?

When I first wrote The Perfect Trip Sam’s name was Zoey. When I realized I wanted the people at baseball camp to think she was a boy, I needed a unisex name. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, so I took it back to my third grade class. They voted for Sam. I don’t think that names should matter, but in this case it was important for the mix up.

5. Who was your female athlete hero when you were Sam’s age? What was important to you about her?

I can’t remember any particular female athlete heroes from my childhood, but there were two movies with female athletes that I’ve never forgotten. The first was Quarterback Princess with Helen Hunt as a female football player. The second is a lesser-known movie called Blue Skies Again, which is about a female baseball player. I remember watching both movies over and over and thinking how amazing it was that these girls were fighting for their right to play with the boys. When I was older, I admired Mia Hamm, which is why I had Sam’s best friend Tasha give her a few shout outs during The Perfect Trip.

School’s out for Heidi Mordhorst! She’s hosting the first Poetry Friday of summer at My Juicy Little Universe.

Please stop by Stacy’s website to read her full bio. I had no idea we were both NYU grads!

Since it’s Poetry Friday, I asked Stacy to recommend a poem to pair with THE PERFECT TRIP.

Her choice? The perfect poem! Here is “First Girls in Little League Baseball,” by J. Patrick Lewis — shared with Pat’s express permission.

 

 

First Girls in Little League Baseball

By J. Patrick Lewis

December 26, 1974
Title IX of the 1972 Education Act is signed, providing for equal opportunity in athletics for girls as well as boys.

The year was 1974
When Little Leaguers learned the score.
President Ford took out his pen
And signed a law that said from then
On women too would have the chance
To wear the stripes and wear the pants.
Now what you hear, as flags unfurl,
Is “Atta boy!” and “Atta girl!”

Posted with permission of the author.