Thursday, September 03, 2020

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick's REENI’S TURN

This week, I'm welcoming Carol Coven Grannick who is celebrating the release of her new novel in verse, Reeni's Turn. Here she shares her rationale for telling this story through verse and even shares her process and a sample poem. ENJOY!

Carol Coven Grannick’s debut novel in verse, REENI’S TURN, is available through Indiebound and other links at her website, Reservations here for the online launch on 9/13 and on the home page! Carol’s short fiction and poetry have appeared and are forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, and Hello. She is a columnist for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s award-winning Cynsations,and the GROG Blog, as well as a frequent guest blogger. Her poetry for adults has appeared in numerous online and print journals. Carol has received a Ragdale Foundation Writer’s Residency and an Illinois Arts Council Grant for past work on REENI’S TURN.

by Carol Coven Grannick

Rhythms score my life, and always have. Music makes me dance or sing (my son would say that the smallest associations can get me singing a Broadway show tune). Reciting poetry moves my heart, spirit, facial expressions, and more. Long ago the percussive sound and rhythm of horses’ hooves trotting or cantering would propel me into a matching song. The swaying of a willow near water, slow opening dance of a lily, shapes of tree limbs, and resilient prairie grass are all poetry and music to me.

My lifelong love of poetry accompanied me from childhood, scribbling meaningful rhymes and reading Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost. I still have the old, marked up poetry anthology used for Poetry Reading competitions Illinois State Speech Contests.

In graduate school my thesis explored parallels of becoming a poet and becoming a social worker. Much of my writing, including my debut novel, REENI’S TURN, merges love of poetry and lyrical rhythms with my passion for the issue it addresses. Reeni’s story follows a tween dancer who struggles with lifelong fears and anxiety, body acceptance, and finding her own strong voice. The story’s context unfolds the diet culture’s negative impact on younger children.

It was only natural that I would write REENI’S TURN in verse.

But I didn’t. Not at first, anyway.

When the third draft sang and danced in my brain, I did the best I could to transfer it to the page. It was far from finished, and a well-published colleague told me the uncommon topic could make it difficult to publish. Occasionally, during years of revising, submitting, and putting away the manuscript for awhile, an editor or agent would ask me if I’d like to revise it in prose because “verse novels are a hard sell”. A turning point in my own journey occurred during a critique, when favorite author and mentor asked why I hadn’t written REENI’S TURN in verse.

The manuscript received some awards, went through multiple requested revisions that added content, but then hit some big bumps in the acquisitions road. My story came home to rest for again, but I couldn’t let it go. It was too important to me.

I revised REENI’S TURN repeatedly, carefully, until it became the story I wanted—an easy to read, emotionally intense, simply-plotted story of a complex experience. 

After the fact, it is easy to explain why REENI’S TURN is better told, read, and received in verse. It is intensely emotional. Reeni’s fears and strengths, despair and joy, beg for lyrical language and form. With snapshots of time, space, and emotion, and white space for respite, the reader can follow Reeni’s initially-misdirected journey from shy, fearful girl to self-accepting, self-reflective, and strong, clear-voiced Reeni.

The structure of the novel in verse alternates intensity and safety for the reader, and for the character, whose all-consuming experience of body discomfort and dieting, longings and fears, self-disparagement and self-acceptance, occur within a safety net of loving parents, a wise best friend, and the still, small voice that guides her.

These are all good reasons why the book works in verse.

But, really, I wrote REENI’S TURN in verse because the language danced in my brain, the music begged for words to be attached. Reeni hears music and must dance, and her story kept calling for verse.

And much like Reeni’s response to the discovery of the “still, small voice”, I had to listen.

The Still, Small Voice 

            Last fall on Yom Kippur,

            first time in adult services,

            I held the heavy prayer book instead of stapled pages,


            let my mind wander

            the way it does when I’m dancing, 

            swaying from a long time standing,


            swaying to familiar melodies of prayers. 

            Then these words:


            The great shofar is sounded,

            a still, small voice is heard.


            My body stilled,

            the words shivered into my heart

            and through my body—brain, heart, arms and legs,


            the way music does, 

            deep inside where it sings out,



            But instead of that,

            these words whispered to me,




            ©Carol Coven Grannick 2020

Now join the rest of the Poetry Friday crew over at Carol's place, BeyondLiteracyLink.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful explanation of Reeni's struggle in her young life and her strong passion for her dream. I understand now why it is written in verse. How could it not be? I have seen the cover of Reeni before and for some reason now I know why she is reaching for the lights! Well done in verse Carol. The beauty of verse matches the beauty of dance I think. Thanks for illuminating us on the background of your choice.

Renee M LaTulippe said...

What a lovely poem that is, Carol. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into your novel -- and CONGRATULATIONS on seeing it published at last! I look forward to reading it. :)

Linda said...

Thank you for sharing your novel's journey, Carol. I love the poem you shared and look forward to reading your beautiful book. Congratulations!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Anonymous, Renee, and Linda: Thank you so much for your touching and heartfelt comments. I don't need to tell you (but will!) how much these words mean to a writer...Carol

Linda B said...

More stories of comfort are needed for young girls whose self-images are consistently questioned with "you should" remarks. It feels like your novel will be loved and welcomed, Carol. Your journey to the finale is so inspiring. Congratulations for this becoming your book at last!

Janice Scully said...

I love to hear about how stories came to be, about the struggles that make us who we are. Thanks for this post. I'd like to read Reeni's Turn.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Linda B!I am hoping that it will provide that kind of co.fort...

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Janice!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, "Anonymous".

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you,Renee!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Linda!

Kay said...

Thank you for sharing your story of writing Reeni's story. The poem you shared from it is beautiful. Congratulations on its launch into the world!

Carol Varsalona said...

Thank you Sylvia for showcasing Reeni's story in verse so a small voice can be strong. This story should be well-received by young readers.

Michelle Kogan said...

I like how your poem moves from "Dance!" to Listen! How exciting, many Congratulations Carol, so happy for you and your book coming out!!!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you all for your comments and for your support of Carol. It's lovely to see this poetry community come together for one another!

Hedy said...

Congratulations Carol on launching your book.

laurasalas said...

What a wonderful peek behind the scenes and into the threads that came together to make a niv. This looks fabulous. Thanks, Sylvia and Carol!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Sylvia, for some reason, I haven't been able (technically) to respond to all individual comments, but am so grateful to have had a guest post at Poetry for Children, and been able to share my experience writing REENI'S TURN! Thank you so much.