Thursday, March 04, 2021

ALONE by Megan E. Freeman

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:

Summer Advice

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

nesting noisily

in the trees and hedges 

all around.

The beginning 

of my fourth year

alone in this place

yet Mother Nature insists

on optimism.

>>>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! 


Linda Mitchell said...

Wow! Meghan Freeman this sounds like a book I need to read because of how it came into being as much as the story. I love reading about what went into this book. It amazes me how much time some stories require to write. What an act of love and patience. The acrostic on Kat's blog today really describes your writing of this book. I look forward to reading it.

Linda said...

Hi Meghan, I just finished reading your beautiful book. I love Maddie's sense of adventure and her internal struggle with loneliness and survival. ALONE is full of heart, and I know readers of all ages are going to enjoy it. Congratulations!

Rosi said...

I just received my copy of Alone and can't wait to dive in. Thanks for an interesting post. I always learn something when reading about authors' journeys.

Kay said...

Wow! Now I want to read this book, and I enjoyed reading the backstory behind the story.

KatApel - said...

Linda Mitchell mentioned the acrostic on my blog about perseverance and the writer's journey - but that's just one thing we share. My younger reader verse novel, 'Bully on the Bus' was also written in prose first. Whilst I was at the same time trying to write a different novel in verse. ('On Track'.) I'm very keen to read 'Alone'. Thank-you for sharing your story - and thank-you Sylvia, for providing this space.