Kim was kind enough to agree to answer a few interview questions. Here we go...
1. Can you talk about your “upbringing” in poetry? Childhood/teen experiences with poetry? Formal training or personal favorites?
I’ve always been a lover of the rhythm of words, and remember writing my first poem, an ode to my stuffed teddy bear, when I was in kindergarten. As a teenager, I kept a journal where I would write poetry about the things that mattered to me - love, friendship, where I fit in the world. While I’ve immersed myself in craft books on poetry and have always been a poetry reader, I’ve never had any formal training (though I would love to do so). My poetic tastes range wide, from Jack Prelutsky, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Maryann Hoberman to Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver (with many, many in between).
2. Why exposed as poetry? Did you start out intending to write this story in free verse or how did that evolve?
Exposed didn’t start out in free verse. It began as a novel in prose. One day I found myself stuck on a scene, unable to get to the heart of what I was trying to say. A writer-friend of mine, who knew of my love for poetry, suggested I try rewriting the scene as a poem to see if it would help me get unstuck. It worked and I loved the way it forced me to hone in on core feelings, loved the way it challenged me, so I went back and rewrote earlier scenes that way, too. A short time later, as I was looking over those free verse scenes, I thought about how they were similar to snapshots of emotion. It was then that a novel about a photographer, told in snapshots of free verse, was born.
3. Which aspects of telling this poetically did you find the most challenging?
I think any type of writing presents challenges to the author. For me, the free verse form required working hard to find the perfect words and phrases needed to get to the heart of a scene. I spent a lot of time reading the writing aloud, figuring out where line breaks could be used to greatest effect (and affect), and trying to find ways to make those words and phrases play “double duty” by packing more than one meaning. Another challenge in the telling was trying to make sure that the novel felt “full,” regardless of its word count. The story, as a whole and regardless of the form, had to work. I hope, for readers, I met those challenges.
4. Are there any particular works or poets that you have found especially influential as you worked in this genre?
I am a lover of free verse novels done well and, luckily, there are many of them out there. The first free verse novel I read and fell in love with was Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy, by Sonya Sones. Other novelists I love, who have written novels in verse and who serve as inspirations are Karen Hesse, Helen Frost, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Jacqueline Woodson, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Hope Anita Smith, Ellen Hopkins, Stephanie Hemphill, Mel Glenn... I could go on and on.
5. Some novels in verse include titles for individual entries and some do not. Why did you decide to include them?
I first played around with titles as a way to link the scenes and as a way to mark time. The main reason I kept them, if I’m being completely honest, is because I had so much fun creating them. I would write a poem, polish it, then challenge myself to find the best title to sum it all up, sometimes making it so the title didn’t make sense until the reading of the poem was complete.
6. How did you decide on the first person point of view and how did you decide that point of view was Liz’s and not Kate’s?
I mentioned earlier that Exposed didn’t start out in free verse. It also didn’t start out as Liz’s story. Originally, the story did belong to Kate. But the more I wrote, the more I found myself drawn to Liz’s view of what was happening. It was a perspective I hadn’t seen before, and her position intrigued me. For a while I tried writing the novel in alternating chapters, told from both points of view, but I eventually gave the story over to Liz alone. In some ways, I think, Kate’s story would have been the easier one to tell because I had a fairly good idea, at the outset, of how her story arc would evolve. I’m never one to do things the easy way though, and Liz’s arc was a mystery to me. And I’m challenged by mysteries, so I had to keep writing to see how she would end up.
7. Can you describe your poetry writing process? How you craft a poem? How you organized all these poems to suggest characters, setting, and plot?
Try as I might, I can’t seem to write in a linear fashion. Most of the organization of the novel structure as a whole occurs at the end of a draft. And scenes tend to come to me, initially, as snippets of running dialogue between characters. I try not to worry too much about how things look or sound at this point in the process. I’m just trying to get to know my characters. It’s in later drafts that I figure out exactly what it is that I’m trying to do with a particular scene, what the emotional core should be. That’s the time I think about things like lyrical beats, best word choice, necessary tag lines, the right amount of description, and imagery. And then I try to put the whole thing together in a way that makes sense! This often involves rearranging stanzas within a poem so they pack the most lyrical punch.
I’m working now on my second young adult novel, From Here on Out. It’s also a novel in verse and I’ll swallow my pride to share the evolution of a recent poem with you. In this poem, my main character, Essie, finds herself lost in the woods with another girl. When I first played with the scene, both girls began to panic and yell for help:
“Somebody help us!”
“No one can hear us.”
“Only the birds, and we’ve scared them off.”
That was it. Beautiful poetry, don’t you think? (Insert laugh track here).
The thing is, I went into writing those few lines with the intention of showing their fear. But the last line? The one where one of the girls (I’m not even sure which one) mentions that the birds were scared off? That was the line that helped shaped things because I realized it reflected how my main character views herself. So in the latest version of this poem she’s talking about the birds being scared not by the loudness of their yelling, but by who Essie sees herself to be:
Yelling For Help
Our panic bounces off the tree trunks
sends a group of birds flying upward
toward the darkening sky
and I want one of those scared, stupid birds
to fly back down, land on my shoulder
tweet into my ear and tell me
she can see the right way from above
and lead us there.
But the birds are gone now
in search of safety,
up and away from the threat
girls like us carry.
8. Do you plan to continue with poetry and/or novels in verse? For children? For YA? Any tidbits you can share about works in progress?
As I just mentioned, I’m working on my second novel in verse now. I also have a rhyming picture book called Scritch-Scratch A Perfect Match, illustrated by Mike Lester, coming out with GP Putnam’s Sons in April. It’s the story of how a flea brings a lonely dog and a lonely man together. It’s filled with wordplay and onomatopoeia and was so much fun to write. I feel very lucky to be able to write for both children and young adults, and hope to continue doing so for many years to come.
I always tell my students that the sign of a very strong novel in verse is when individual poems can stand on their own as poetry. Here’s one that I believe does so powerfully:
What Do I Know?
It’s amazing how you think
you know someone so well,
then one day you come to see
that you really don’t know
that person at all.
And you wonder
what that says
This poem is a cathartic moment in the story, but it stands on its own too-- nearly everyone experiences such a revelation at some point in life, don't you think?
Look for more on Kimberly Marcus and her blog tour all week at these sites:
2/21 Adventures in Children’s Publishing
and Confessions of a Bookaholic
2/22 Random Acts of Reading
and Teen Reads
2/23 Write for a Reader
Thanks to Kim for her stunning book and for sharing so generously in this interview. Thanks also to Casey Logan (and Random House) for helping make connections and provide images. Join the rest of the Poetry Friday group at Read, Write, Believe.
Image credit: tower;harper;random house
Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.