Celebrating Poetry: Kate Hosford on A Place of Wonder

By Kate Hosford
for Cynsations

A couple years ago, my son came home from school and informed me that one of his teachers was “rusted from the inside”.

While another parent might have probed further into this state of affairs, I immediately lunged for my writing book and scribbled down the phrase.

“Rusted from the inside?”

That was too good to pass up.

As poets, we strive to see the world with childlike wonder. In his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska, 2005), 2004 poet laureate Ted Kooser says that poetry can result in a “re-freshening of the world.” He goes on to say, “it is the device through which the ordinary world is seen in a new way, engaging, compelling, even beautiful.”

This is true for all good poetry, whether it is meant for an adult audience or for younger readers.

So what happens to the potential poets on the road to adulthood? Why is it that so many of us struggle to perceive the world in a fresh way? Is it simply a function of getting older and more desensitized? Or is it more complicated than that?

In her book, Poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press, 1996), poet Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says, “children naturally express things in a fresh way, until we teach them the right way.” She remembers waiting at the bus stop as a child and noticing a beautiful snowflake that fell on her mitten. When she showed it to another girl, that child began to mimic her, “Look at the pretty little snowflake!”

“I learned that day,” she says, “that there didn’t seem to be a place for a person describing a snowflake on a mitten. After that I was quiet about what I saw so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. I learned to be quiet about beauty.”

As we get older, most of us learn to become quiet about beauty, or ugliness, or anything else that might reveal that we are observing our world carefully. By the time we are willing to go public with our observations, they may not be as fresh or original as once were.

It is the job of the poet to unlearn this quietness and return to a place of wonder.

In the upcoming months, I will be interviewing poets who are able to speak from this place. I will focus on poetry for young readers released in 2011-2012, and will also interview librarians and anthologists who are responsible for making sure that the poet’s words are heard.

I hope you will join me for conversations about craft, connecting with one’s audience, and the role of poetry in children’s publishing.

Cynsational Notes

Celebrating Poetry will be a series of posts by author Kate Hosford throughout 2012 at Cynsations.

From Carolrhoda Books: “Kate Hosford read constantly as a child, even reading through a school fire alarm at one point. She grew up in Waitsfield, Vermont, with lots of animals, including a miniature cow named Mini Moo. Kate attended Amherst College, and also spent a semester studying Buddhism in India.

“Kate has worked as an adoption and foster care worker, a teacher and an illustrator, before turning to writing full time. She has taught in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.” 

She lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Walter Dean Myers Named New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Walter Dean Myers is the New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from the Library of Congress. Peek: “…created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.”

Cynsational Notes

SLJ Exclusive Interview: Walter Dean Myers, the New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: “I would like to continue my work in juvenile detention centers. If I could, with the help of Jon and Katherine and the legion of other writers out there, convince America that I was very much like the kids in the juvy prisons, and that I was truly saved by reading and by books, I feel I could change the country.”

Children’s Book Envoy Defines His Mission by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: “As an African-American man who dropped out of high school but built a successful writing career — largely because of his lifelong devotion to books — Mr. Myers said his message would be etched by his own experiences.”

In the video below, Walter Dean Myers reads a selection from We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart, illustrated by Christopher Myers (HarperCollins, 2011).

Father-son team Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers discuss their latest book, We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart.

Video: Holly Cupala on Don’t Breathe a Word

Congratulations to Holly Cupala on the release of Don’t Breathe a Word (HarperTeen, 2012)! From the promotional copy:

Joy Delamere is suffocating…

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.

Check out Holly’s virtual party–with giveaways, blog tour, graphic adaptation, and more!

New Voice: K.M. Walton on Cracked

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

K. M. Walton is the first-time author of Cracked (Simon Pulse, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Victor hates his life. He’s relentlessly bullied at school and his parents ridicule him for not being perfect. He’s tired of being weak, so he takes a bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills — only to wake up in the hospital.

Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. He’s the opposite of weak. And he’s tired of his grandfather’s drunken beatings, so he tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.

When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, things go from bad to worse. Until they discover they just might have something in common: a reason to live.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Not until I read The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, 2007) did I realize that young adult fiction could be so real. Or so raw. I was blown away by that book and how authentically the main character was written.

Then I read Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte Books (2009) and Looking for Alaska by John Green (Dutton Books, 2005) in succession and experienced not only severe writer envy, but also an overwhelming desire to try my hand at contemporary YA. Up to that point I’d only written middle grade suspense manuscripts.

The perfect storm occurred in my hotel room while attending my second SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC:

  1. I had those three amazing books rattling around inside my head throughout the conference.
  2. I heard one of the speakers talk about books written from alternating perspectives.
  3. Libba Bray gave her keynote, in which she repeatedly told the room full of writers to ask themselves “Is it true yet?

KM Walton in 1985

Lighting struck.

A bully and his victim rushed into my head, and I rushed back to my hotel room and got a T-chart going. I brainstormed a list of character details and plot points. Cracked was born.

I wrote Cracked with abandon—the two main characters demanded it. Victor and Bull became living breathing human beings with important stories to tell–painful and sometimes raw stories–but important nonetheless.

I never put a swear word or an edgy scene in for sensationalistic purposes. If it’s in there, it’s because it needs to be.

I wanted it to be true.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Once I have my “big picture” plot points reasoned out in my head, I move onto character development. My characters start out as bullet-pointed lists. Personality traits, quirks, physical descriptions all get brainstormed into a sloppy, handwritten inventory. However, I don’t intimately know my characters until revisions. The questioning, revisiting and fine tuning of revisions are when their human nuances surface. That’s when they come alive for me as their creator.

During revisions I’ll find myself asking, “Would he really say that?”

Libba Bray’s directive to ask yourself “Is it true yet?” always sits on my shoulder as I revise.

I support my answer to Libba’s question by asking myself a few pointed questions:

  1. Based on who this character is and what they’re going through in the novel, would he/she truly have the voice I created?
  2. Am “I” coming through at all in the character’s voice?

I am a huge fan of writers that disappear from their writing and let the characters take front and center. Nothing throws me out of story more than when characters break character.

I believe the best way to create an authentic character’s voice is to have confidence in your characters—let them be themselves. Let them act, think, do and feel exactly how they would if they were standing right in front of you.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Do you have an hour or so? Kidding.

I queried for nearly two-and-a-half years, racked up 148 rejections on three different novels and officially gave up one day. Then a funny thing happened the next day – Ms. Sarah LaPolla from Curtis Brown Ltd. requested the full of Cracked. And the rest, as they say, is history.

KM Walton

But let me back up just a little bit here, to the “querying for 2.4 years part”. I’d like to share what that looked like for me. I lived on querytracker.net and absolutewrite.com, scouring for information, anything that could help me break through. I put my query letters on a few key places for proper public floggings, and despite the black eyes I sustained, my query letters got better and better and better.

But the most important thing I did while querying was to continue writing. During my query period I wrote four more novels. Cracked was the third, and I knew it was the one that would land me my agent. With each new novel, my craft improved. So keep writing, a lot.

Lastly, to writers doing everything in their power to land their agent: Do Note Give Up!

The power is in your hands to research and query and write and revise and query some more.

It’s always about the work and the writing. Get out there, get your work out there, get feedback, become a better writer, learn about the craft of writing, try new techniques in your own stories, read everything you can in the genre in which you write, build your own buzz, join groups, visit every site you can and make comments. You can do it.

Believe it will happen. Envision it happening. Make it happen.

Cynsational Notes

Read an excerpt of chapter one from Simon & Schuster.

Apocalypsies Button

Your Mindset and Critique by K.M. Walton from The Apocalypsies.

Live Action Book Trailer Contest for Film-making Enthusiasts from K.M. Walton (click flyer on the bulletin board). Prizes include $500 cash and personal film critiques by top industry professionals. Deadline: Jan. 17.

Follow K.M. on her online book tour. See also K.M.’s site for teacher guides (click teacher drawer), excerpts (click pile of books), and writer resources (click trashcan under desk).

Check out Cracked at Goodreads and Cracked at Facebook.

Of the video below, K.M. says: “This bit of fun is dedicated to unpublished writers everywhere refusing to abandon their dream.”

New Voice: Sarah Tregay on Love and Leftovers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

Sarah Tregay is the first-time author of Love and Leftovers (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy

When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. 

By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this “vacation” has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up.

But understanding love, especially when you’ve watched your parents’ affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you’ve lost it?

Love and Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl’s journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

When I started Love and Leftovers, I set out with the goal of writing about a main character who makes a big mistake. I had just finished reading several books where the main character’s friends had wronged them, and I wanted to reverse that.

Because of this premise, I was concerned with what readers would think and if they’d find such a character likable. So I spent a lot of time thinking about Marcie’s not-so-great behavior and when it would occur—if she jumped in too soon she’d appear insincere, and if it took two hundred poems to happen, well, that’d be a dull read.

But it wasn’t just timing, I felt like I had to set Marcie up in such a way that what she does seems like the next logical step—even if it’s a step in the wrong direction. I took her away from her friends, made her question her relationships, and then gave her a temptation she couldn’t walk away from.

Then, when the moment comes, I used the verse format to my advantage. It’s sparse, sexy and funny, without too many “edgy” details.

I think that my decisions were the right ones for my book. With the right timing and the right set-up, I felt that my main character could slip up and fall hard, as long as there was a little humor in there too. As for how many details to include, I put in what felt right for my story.

If I were to put Love and Leftovers on a novels-in-verse scale of sweet vs. edgy, I’d put it on the Sonya Sones and Lisa Schroeder sweet side, and not on the Ellen Hopkins edgy side—and I love reading Ellen’s books—but what feels right in her novels wouldn’t be right for mine.

As a poet, how did you achieve this level in your craft? What advice do you have for beginner poets interested in writing for young readers?

My approach to poetry is intuitive, rather than something I studied in college. (My MFA is in design, not writing.) That said, I’m happy to share a bit about how I write.

In addition to the interior details of the poem—word choice, metaphor, turns-of-phrase, etc.— I pay close attention to the visual and auditory components.

I am a graphic designer by training, and I organize typography on a daily basis. This ties in amazingly well with the visual aspect of poetry.

Unlike prose, poetry has white space (think paper). Line length, line breaks, indents, and hard returns all play a part in how a poem looks on the page. Careful choices about white space can add structure to the poem, aid reader comprehension, and add meaning.

I feel that poetry literally has a voice—the type with pitch and cadence. I read my writing out loud and make adjustments because of the way it sounds. For example, an angry poem will sound grating, and a contemplative one will sound hesitant.

Occasionally, this technique has gotten me into grammatical trouble, but my editor was kind enough to point these moments out to me.

So my advice to poets is to take a minute to both look at and listen to your poetry. And if you are going to publish your poems or novel in verse, be prepared to make a few tweaks after the designer has typeset your book—the pages are a different size and the poems look very different than they do in Word.