Monday, April 4, 2016

Musings on writing my fifth novel

Yes.

You read that right. I'm nearly finished writing the rough draft of my fifth novel. In the past nine years, I've written four MG novels and one YA, in addition to more than a dozen picture books. And no, in case you're wondering, I don't yet have an agent or a book contract. I've had fourteen publication credits to date, but they're all poems or flash fiction or micro fiction for adults.

Still, I keep writing for children and teens. Perseverance is my mantra.

But I have to admit, Novel #5 is, well, a little different. In what way?

Read on.

I started an idea notebook for my fifth novel back in the late spring of 2015, so nearly a year ago. After gathering ideas, and working out character sketches and a setting and a conflict, I wrote three chapters. Almost immediately, I became stuck. Something didn't feel right about it. So I put it aside and revised my fourth novel instead.

And then, in September, after reading Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (even though it wasn't the first verse novel I read), I had an epiphany.

This new novel? The one I was stuck on? It was meant to be written in verse.

I spent two months reading and studying verse novels and then in November 2015 I started writing Novel #5 all over again.

Am I crazy? Well, this doesn't feel crazy. It feels... right. Since making that decision, the process has changed for me. Writing a verse novel is the hardest thing I've done as a writer, but at the same time, it's like I've grown wings. I look forward to writing every day, which is something I never did with a rough draft before. Rough drafts are usually agony.

I've been accepted into the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse which will take place in May. Who knows where this will lead? Maybe nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, something good will happen.

For the rest of April, in honor of Poetry Month, I'll be looking at a few of the verse novels I've studied in my quest to learn this new (for me) form.

Over the past few years, I've read, in approximately this order:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (this made me first fall in love with verse novels)
Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant
The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli
Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Libertad by Alma Fullerton
Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

(I've also read Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is actually an autobiography, and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which some consider prose poetry.)

What verse novels do you recommend? All suggestions are welcome.



34 comments:

  1. LOVED hearing about your writing progress. That's a great mantra-perseverance. How exciting that you're finding a new love of writing in verse. Hope you get a lot out of the workshop.

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    1. Thanks, Natalie! I'm really looking forward to that workshop.

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  2. I have a similar drive. It's a good thing I enjoy writing because getting a story just right is a long journey. I've never gravitated toward verse novels but as they've become more popular, I'm beginning to see their appeal. Good luck with your continued push forward.

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    1. Thanks, Greg. And the same to you! I'm sure with your drive you'll achieve your goals.

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  3. I enjoyed your comments about your process of discovering that your story needs to be written in verse. I have read a lot of books written in verse (some of the ones you've listed) that would not have impacted me in the same way if written in prose. I'm so glad you found the write voice. Good for you!

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  4. Congratulations, Joanne. Writing a novel in verse must be quite a challenge, but I know what you mean when you say something does or doesn't feel right for a WIP. Glad you fount the right approach for this one, and glad you've been accepted into the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse. Will look forward to updates on this book. Also, thanks for the list your provided of other novels in verse.

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    1. You're welcome, Elizabeth. Hope you get to read some of these books. And thank you for your kind words of encouragement.

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  5. Glad your writing is going well! I just finished Words with Wings. http://tinyurl.com/ztubtgo I think you will enjoy it. I am reading Locomotion right now. It is so good too! Good luck!

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    1. By Nikki Grimes, right? Thank you! I've added it to my TBR list. And I didn't realize Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson was a novel in verse. Added that too.

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  6. This is awesome Joanne. I wish you a lot of luck with this book. My favorite verse novel is Serefina's Promise. It's stunning.

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    1. Thanks, Melissa. And I'm adding that title to my TBR list.

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  7. You are such a talented writer, Joanne, and I know it will happen one day for you--an agent or contract or both! Best of luck at the workshop! How exciting!

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    1. It'll happen for you too, Alison! And thanks.

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  8. So many things to say about this. First, I am honored that May made you fall in love with verse novels. Second, go, go, go! I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote May, but I had the same experience you did: it felt true and right and honest. That's enough to see you to the end.

    Please keep me posted!

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    1. Thank you so much, Caroline! I feel I've learned a lot from you already (I've also read the interview you did on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog) but especially from reading your two verse novels. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  9. Wow! I'm so excited for you! A brave and thrilling idea and I love your determination and confidence about it. Wishing you all the best in your new adventure! By the way, I appreciate this list of verse novels, too! I haven't read some of them.

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    1. Thanks so much, Andrea. And glad you liked the list.

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  10. Hi Joanne. You remind me of myself. I have written 2 MGs (and currently working on another one), a historical novella, and numerous picture books. Always submitting, but yet to get a contract. I've been reading Pretty Omens by A. LaFaye - it is written in verse.

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    1. Hi Janet. I hadn't heard of that book, so thanks for the heads-up. And best of luck with your own writing.

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  11. Congratulations, Joanne! I'm so glad you found the right form for your book. I'm just finishing revisions on my fifth, so I totally related to this. I know my fifth feels more "me" than my other stuff, so I'm hoping that's a good sign. :) Please keep us posted on how this goes--I know from just reading your blog, that you are very talented!

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    1. Thanks, Jenni. Well, I feel it's the right form but who knows what an editor might think! Love your description of your fifth novel feeling more "you". Could be a great sign.

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  12. I'm so excited for you! One of my agency sisters is writing a MG in verse, just now, and I absolutely love it. I'm sure yours will be gorgeous, too, so maybe you should query my agent with it when you finish? I can help you prep the query letter and what not, if you like, when you get there. In the mean time, luck, luck, luck, and happy writing!!!

    --Suzanne
    www.suzannewarr.com

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    1. That's so nice of you, Suzanne! I may take you up on that offer. And happy writing to you too.

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  13. Wishing you all the best, Joanne. I believe your hard work and persistence will pay off. In the meantime, it's great you're loving the process and feel as if you've "grown wings."

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  14. I love that you decided to write your novel in verse. It has been a hot style lately. If you haven't read Inside Out and Back Again, Love the Dog, Hate that Cat, and Gone Fishing are all told in verse. :) Enjoy!
    ~Jess

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    1. Love That Dog and Inside Out & Back Again are on the list above of verse novels I've read, Jess. But I haven't read the others you mentioned, so thank you for the suggestions.

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  15. Hi Joanne—just a thought, but Lisa Schroeder wrote a book in alternating prose/poetry chapters that I found interesting:
    http://www.powells.com/book/the-bridge-from-me-to-you-9780545646017

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  16. I enjoyed Rhyme Schemer by K.A. Holt, it has some really interesting found poems in it too. From the list of books you've already selected as resource tools and your upcoming Highlights Foundation workshop, sounds like you're well on your way to finishing that book!

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    1. Thanks, Brenda. I'll check out Rhyme Schemer. Hadn't heard of that one.

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