I am honored to welcome a guest to my blog today-- author Megan E. Freeman. Her new novel in verse, ALONE, is a powerful story with a strong girl character perfect for Women's History Month. Here she writes about the poetic influences on her work and how, despite a deep love for poetry, she wrote her first middle grade novel in prose-- until she realized what was wrong with that draft-- it must be rewritten in verse form! Welcome, Megan!
The Choice to Write ALONE in Verse
by Megan E. Freeman
The first novel in verse I ever read was Karen Hesse’s masterpiece, Out of the Dust. I had been hired to teach middle school English at a new school, and it was on the summer reading list for my incoming students. When classes started in the fall, Out of the Dust was the focus of our first unit. The book is comprised of small moments interwoven in narrative harmony to tell a brutal and breathtaking story. Teaching that semester, I realized the power of verse novels, and how they appealed to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike. I also discovered how the individual poems could be leveraged as mentor texts to inspire students to write their own poetry in response to their reading or in response to the many complicated aspects of their lives.
A few years later, I was accepted to a summer of professional development with the National Writing Project (NWP) at Colorado State University, and during that time I recommitted to writing my own poetry. I had been a poet since elementary school, but life as a teacher and a mother had caused me to put writing further down on my list of priorities. Time with the NWP fellows reiterated how important it was for my students and for me that I continue my writing practice, and that I let my students see me as a practitioner right alongside them. I made a new commitment to bringing poetry into my classroom on a regular basis. I read my students many different poets, and I shared my poems and encouraged them to share theirs. We created “a state of constant composition,” as described in the NWP’s excellent book, Because Writing Matters (Nagin, 23).
And yet, despite all this commitment to poetry, when I felt moved to begin writing my debut middle-grade novel, ALONE, I wrote the entire first draft in prose. It never even occurred to me to write it in verse. I revised and polished it, and I went out on submission to agents. I received a lot of initial interest—a contemporary re-telling of Island of the Blue Dolphins is a compelling hook—but I didn’t get any offers of representation. I analyzed the feedback I had amassed over a few years of querying and manuscript critiques, and I attended a workshop with the author Melanie Crowder. She had recently published her beautiful verse novel, Audacity, and in the workshop, she demonstrated the process she used in writing that book. In a singular moment of operatic clarity, I knew what was wrong with my manuscript. I knew I needed to rewrite the entire thing in verse.
I went home and began, and the moment I started writing, I could feel the difference the verse made. I was much more fluent in poetry than I was in narrative prose, and the story expanded and became three-dimensional. The poetry invited a sensory exploration of the main character’s world and an intimate tour through her interior life. I found myself writing deeply into her physical and emotional experience in ways the prose had never approached. The story started to sing off the page.
Once I was finished and sought critiques and feedback again, the response was overwhelmingly encouraging. The manuscript resonated with people in ways the prose draft never had. Through a series of conference conversations with publishing professionals, I was introduced to my agent. After another small revision, we went out on submission, and ALONE found its home with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.
In hindsight, it seems absurd that it didn’t occur to me to write the whole story in verse from the beginning. Now it’s hard to imagine the book in any other form, and looking back at the original drafts is painful, to say the least. But the creative imagination is mysterious, and stories need authors to stay playful and open-minded. When we welcome inspiration and experimentation, we see our work in new ways, and we open the door for the stories to sing.
In addition to ALONE being written in verse, poetry factors in the plot, as well. Maddie spends a great deal of time reading, and she explores the poetry section of the library. She discovers Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson and takes comfort in their work, as in this excerpt from the final section of the book:
As the days pass
and the light elongates
the temperatures reach upward
and I reach back
to the poets
to Mary Oliver’s summer
advice to fall down in the grass
though the grass in Millerville
grows riotously long
after so many seasons
with no tending.
I stroll through the fields
play with feeling idle and blessed
ponder my one wild and precious life
Could my life be any wilder?
Or more precious?
If Emily Dickinson’s hope
is a thing with feathers
then there are many
flocks of hope flying overhead
in the trees and hedges
of my fourth year
alone in this place
yet Mother Nature insists
>>>Now, head on over to Kat Apel's blog where she is hosting Poetry Friday this week-- all the way from Australia-- which is no distance at all in the digital poetry universe!