Wednesday, April 15, 2015

National Poetry Month: Verse Novel WIP Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from my current work in progress, a middle grade verse novel tentatively titled Little Bell Lost.

Night Owl

When I am in bed
late at night
the whole house
except for the soft
of my sisters

I hear it
in the trees across the way

an owl

he sounds almost exactly
like the cartoons say
his voice a rapid

carried from the trees
to me

the only one

Friday, April 10, 2015

National Poetry Month: Interview with Tamera Will Wissinger, author of GONE FISHING

Today I am excited to be interviewing Tamera Will Wissinger, author of Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse! I loved Gone Fishing, especially because it makes one of my favorite genres, the verse novel, really accessible for younger readers.

Tamera Will Wissinger is a children's author and poet who grew up in Badger, Iowa. She has been reading and writing stories and poetry since she was young. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Sioux Falls College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and her Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Tamera thinks she’s very lucky to be able to read and write as part of her job. When she’s not working she might be fishing or boating, watching the interesting wildlife around her neighborhood, or noticing how each day is so beautiful and unique. She also likes to spend time with her family and friends, golf, watch good movies, listen to music, and crochet, (her mom recently taught her how!) Tamera lives with her husband in Vero Beach, Florida. She is the author of Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) and This Old Band (Sky Pony Press).

And now, on to the questions!

Rebecca: What inspired you to write Gone Fishing?

Tamera: When I was young, my family went fishing together. I remember loving the whole experience, from catching night crawlers in the dark the night before, to being on the boat in the water. It didn't matter to me if we caught fish or not, I just loved being with my family outside in that environment.

Rebecca: Oh, I loved going nightcrawler hunting with my family as a kid. I even have my own poem about doing just that!

One of my favorite things about your book is the various forms of poetry used to tell the story. Why did you write it that way?

Tamera: Thank you! I love rhyme and rhythm and poetry forms, and Gone Fishing emerged that way - as a single poem. As I wrote more poems I started to play with varying the forms and received feedback on where it was working and what could be tweaked.

Rebecca: What was the most challenging part of writing Gone Fishing?

Tamera: The combination of sustaining the story arc while maintaining the quality and variety of poems.

Rebecca: What was Gone Fishing's journey to publication like?

Tamera: From start to finish it took about six years. As I mentioned, the story began as a single
poem, Night Crawlers, and I added more fishing poems from there. While I was studying writing for
children at Hamline University, Nikki Grimes visited and spoke about writing stories in poetry. After that I understood the difference between a poetry collection and a story in poems, so I went back to work on my fishing poems to develop a stronger story. Once I had enough of a story, I began to submit Gone Fishing as a picture book story in poems. In 2011 my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt accepted the story which, at the time, was 19 poems. She asked if it might be possible to increase the poetry count and hear more from little sister Lucy, so I went back to work and we more than doubled the poetry count and expanded the story. We also added The Poet's Tackle Box which gives information on the different poetry forms. Also in 2011 Matthew Cordell signed on to draw the illustrations and Gone Fishing arrived in March of 2013.

Rebecca: Do you have a favorite poem from the book?

Tamera: No. What I like best about the poems is that they work together to tell the story. I also like that they let children laugh, think, or react in some way.

Rebecca: Rhyming or non-rhyming? Do you have a preference?

Tamera: Oh, I do love reading and writing a well-constructed poem that has a solid rhythm and rhyme and reaches beyond light verse into true poetry, but the truth is, I'm glad we have both because they each play an important role in engaging young people in reading and writing.

Rebecca: What is your favorite verse novel? Your favorite poet?

Tamera: I have enjoyed reading many wonderfully written verse novels in a variety of genres and I admire the authors and their work a great deal, so it's impossible to choose a single favorite. I think it's one of the toughest formats to write well and is maybe misunderstood because, to some readers, it can look simple. It's a classic case of simple not being easy, so I salute anyone who is writing or attempting to write verse novels or stories in poetry.

Rebecca: Advice for aspiring poets and/or verse novelists?

Tamera: Read a great deal of the type of work you love to write and also read other formats and genres, both contemporary and from poets of the past. Write what you are inspired to write and find compassionate, knowledgable, trustworthy colleagues who will help you make your work stronger. If you want to write in rhyme, go ahead. Just make sure it's excellent before you begin to submit to editors. Bottom line: story is more important than perfectly-rhymed and rhythmic couplets.

Rebecca: What are you working on now? Any other verse novels in your future?

Tamera: I'm working on a couple new projects. Up next is a rhyming picture book called THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK. It's my take on the folk song about the old lady who swallowed a fly and is scheduled to arrive from Sky Pony Press on 2/02/2016. And I recently learned that GONE FISHING will have a companion novel called GONE CAMPING: A Novel in Verse. Sam and Lucy are back for a family camping adventure in this story, and Lucy takes the spotlight when she struggles to overcome her fear of sleeping away from home in the tent. It's scheduled for a 2017 release from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers and will again be illustrated by Matthew Cordell.

Thank you for hosting me today, Becky! I enjoyed chatting with you.

Rebecca: You're welcome, Tamera! Congratulations on your upcoming books. I especially look forward to reading Gone Camping!

If you would like to know more about Tamera and her books, visit her website, You can also follow her on twitter.

If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of Gone Fishing, you can find it at the following online retailers (or ask for it at your library or local indie book store):

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

National Poetry Month: Guest Poet Samantha Gomez

My daughter Samantha has been writing poetry in her creative writing class, and she agreed to share one of her poems with us for National Poetry Month. Enjoy!

Used Book Store

The Grandfather of book stores

wears a tweed jacket

corduroy elbow patches

and a walrus mustache.

He invites you in

for a spot of tea--well

maybe just a cup of bad coffee.

You know it's bad,

but drink it anyway.

Part of the experience.

Meanwhile, Grandfather

lights his pipe,

leans back in his leather-bound armchair

and inadvertently

puffs smoke

onto the Classics section, which

really shouldn't be a good thing,

but somehow it is.

Now the books have character, life.


flipping through the well-loved pages

of a used paperback in the Classics section

is like gathering snapshots

of someone else's essence.

Someone who, like you

wandered bleary-eyed one day

into this book store,

was offered a cup

of bad coffee


surrounded by accumulated bits

of an old grandfather's wisdom,

never wanted to leave.

(c) Samantha Gomez

Samantha Gomez is a high school senior who dreams of a life without biology homework. She aspires to one day direct a choir of whiny teenagers in the faraway land of Not-in-the-midwest. Writing poetry is a recently acquired hobby of hers--indeed, she wrote her first poem since 6th grade just last week.

Monday, April 06, 2015

National Poetry Month: Review of WON TON: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

I read a sweet book
about a cat named Won Ton,
told in haiku form

I had heard of this book, but not read it until my daughter, who is a senior in high school, checked it out from her school library and brought it home for me to read.

She happened to be in the library as the librarian was arranging a display of books for poetry month, when he showed this book to her. She love it immediately. So much that she sent me this series of messages:

This is awesome
Very cute
Go buy it

I did not run out and buy it, but I did read it. And I agree with my daughter that there is something awesome about it, and that is its format. The entire story is told in haiku from the perspective of a cat. It's a fairly classic tale of an adopted pet adapting to a new home and family, but the individual poems that link together to tell the story make this book stand out.

What I like best is how well the poems capture the voice of the cat as he adjusts his new environment. The book feels like a cat could have written it.

So if you are looking for books to add to your poetry library or just a sweet read to share with a child (while introducing him or her to the haiku form), consider Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw.

Friday, April 03, 2015

National Poetry Month: Interview with A.L. Sonnichsen, author of Red Butterfly

I was very excited when A.L. Sonnichsen, author of the middle grade verse novel Red Butterfly, agreed to do an interview for National Poetry Month. Verse novels are my favorite thing to read, and Poetry Month is a perfect time to shine a little extra light on them (and their authors).

Raised in Hong Kong, A.L. Sonnichsen grew up attending British school and riding double-decker buses. As an adult, she spent eight years in Mainland China where she learned that not all baozi are created equal. She also learned some Mandarin, which doesn't do her much good in the small Eastern Washington town where she now lives with her rather large family.

Now, on to the interview!

RebeccaFirst of all, I just want to say congratulations on your debut novel! I loved every moment of reading it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys middle grade fiction or verse novels. I don't get teary when reading very often, but Red Butterfly really got me "in the feels," as the kids say, especially at the end.

Now, on to the questions!

What was your inspiration for Red Butterfly?   

A.L.: I was inspired by my own experience volunteering at an orphanage in China when we lived there, bringing my daughter home from that orphanage, and then going through many years of waiting before we could adopt her. But there were also concurrent, as well as more recent, stories from friends’ lives that inspired me. Everything came together in a big melting pot of inspiration. 

Rebecca: Why did you choose to write this story in verse? Did it just sorta happen that way, or was it planned?

A.L.: No, not planned! I originally wrote Red Butterfly in prose when it was a YA novel. Then when I switched it to MG, a lot had to change. A friend had recently introduced me to the verse novel style and I loved it, so I decided to rewrite Red Butterfly that way. I knew the subject of abandonment was going to be heavy for kids, so I wanted a lighter touch. Verse offered that lighter touch. 

Rebecca: What was your biggest challenge when writing this story? Or did it all just come together like magic? 

A.L.: There was very little magic involved. The first draft (in prose) was grueling, so I would say that was the biggest challenge. After that, it got a bit easier. Writing the second draft in verse was not hard, because Kara’s voice seemed to flow naturally that way. After I signed with my agent, Kate Testerman, she wanted me to expand on the ending quite a bit. I wrote a whole extra section at that point, adding a third to the book’s original length. 

Rebecca: Share a little bit about this story's journey to publication.

A.L.: I had an agent when I wrote Red Butterfly, but she didn’t connect to the book, so I had to find a new agent to represent me. Thankfully Kate Testerman of kt literary did connect to Red Butterfly and was able to find the perfect home for it at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Working with my editor, Christian Trimmer, and his team has been a dream. They brought on artist Amy June Bates to do several illustrations and the cover art. She ended up doing LOTS of illustrations for the book, and I feel like they add so much to the final product. I am indebted to all the people who helped Red Butterfly along on her journey! 

Rebecca: Do you have a favorite verse novel? A favorite poet?

A.L.: I think my favorite verse novel is probably the first verse novel I ever read—Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. I’ve loved a lot of verse novels since then, but there’s something about the first time you fall in love. 

As for poetry, I’m going with a classic! I will always love Robert Lewis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. When I read it with my kids, many of the poems still make me teary eyed. 

Rebecca: Out of the Dust was my first verse novel too! It is also one of my very favorites!

Are there any other books, verse novels or otherwise, in your publishing future? 

A.L.: I don’t have anything on contract, but I’m working on another verse novel set in China, this one a historical novel, about a boy who runs away to join a red boat Cantonese opera troupe. I’m also working on a novel in prose, about a girl who is on the brink of losing her mother and travels back in time with her best friend in an attempt to save her. 

Rebecca: Both of those ideas sound wonderful, and so different from each other. I will be happy to read either one of those books one day!

Anything else you'd like to add? Tips, writing advice, encouragement for aspiring verse novelists?

A.L.: I am definitely still learning a lot about publishing and how I operate as a writer, so I’m not the best person to hand out advice. But I will say, dreaming big is great, but doing the job of actually writing is the most important hurdle. So my advice is: sit down and write. Not very glamorous, I know!

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Becky! Happy National Poetry Month, everyone!

Rebecca: My pleasure!

To find out more about A.L. Sonnichsen, visit her blog, The Green Bathtub. You can also follow her on twitter.

If you're interested in reading Red Butterfly (and you really should!), you can order it online at the following retailers (or drop by your local book store):

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

National Poetry Month: An April Acrostic

A month of celebrating
Poetry in all its forms,
Rhythm and rhyme
Imagery and alliteration, the
Language of words as art.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gearing Up for National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month begins in two days, so I have some pretty cool stuff planned for my blog in April! Interviews with verse novelists, guest poets, book reviews, poetry, poetry, and more poetry! I may even include an excerpt from my current work in progress, a middle grade verse novel. Maybe.

Every post on this blog during April will be related to poetry in some way. It all begins on Wednesday, April 1. Don't miss it!