A big welcome to Caroline Starr Rose, author of the historical novel in verse, May B (Schwartz and Wade, January 2012). I read this book as part of Caroline's National Poetry Month challenge to read three verse novels during the month of April. It is a wonderful book and I recommend it for anyone who loves verse novels, and especially for anyone who has never dared try one before!
Now, on with the goods.
Tell us a little bit about your book, MAY B.
From the jacket flap:
I watch the wagon
until I see nothing on the open plain.
For the first time ever,
I am alone.
May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.
This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded.
May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.
What inspired you to write this book?
There are a couple of reasons I wanted to write May B.: I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and wanted to create my own strong pioneer girl. I also was interested in creating a HATCHET-like survival story with a girl protagonist (and was fascinated by the challenge solitude would present in telling a story). Ultimately, though, I wanted to examine the concept of worth -- how so often who we are becomes based on what others tell us about ourselves or on what we’re able to do.
Like May, I think all of us in some way feel we don’t measure up. I hope many readers will be able to relate to and find confidence and courage from her story.
Do you have anything in common with your main character, May?
May is much braver than I! I wouldn’t have made it longer than a few days on my own. My experiences living overseas and then returning home have often left me as an outsider -- first in my new culture and then in my own. Maybe this is one thing May and I have in common -- lives where we’ve both been the different ones.
What is your writing process? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?
I’m a bit of both. I feel like I need to understand my protagonist and setting before I begin and need a general sense of the storyline. Everything is always subject to change!
How drastically did May’s story change between draft one and published book?
Without giving too much away, elements of the ending changed (or the steps in the third act that lead to the ending). I added more flashbacks to flesh out May’s school experiences and wrote more poems about her reading. My editor also suggested I add some sort of external conflict to help balance all the internal angst. That’s when the wolf came in.
I went through eight editorial rounds. So far, I hold a middle-grade record, from what I can tell!
Why the verse format?
Verse is something that found me. When I started working with May B., I was frustrated at the distance I felt between what I wanted to convey and what was actually on the page. I spent some time looking back over first-hand accounts of pioneer women and noticed in their writing the spare word choice and the matter-of-fact presentation of events (some mundane, some heartbreaking). With this in mind, I immediately wrote what is now poem 2 in May B., choosing to let the words and May’s bleak situation speak for themselves. The experience was magical; I’d felt like I’d found some hidden formula to finally tell the story in the most honest way possible.
Verse also worked as a way to show what May experienced when trying to decipher words. Using unconventional line breaks and running words together helped me, at least, see her struggles fully.
What is the biggest challenge in writing a verse novel?
Writing a verse novel is not a speedy endeavor. May B. has simultaneously been the most and least difficult book I’ve ever written. Once I found May’s voice, the writing was alive and real. Getting the words out, however, took hard work.
What is your favorite verse novel (besides your own)?
The first I ever read, Karen Hesse’s OUT OF THE DUST.
Any advice for aspiring verse novelists?
I’d encourage aspiring verse novelists to really pay attention to language -- the words that are fun to say, the words that are strange, the ones that grate, the ones that fly. Much of what I do is word play, honestly. I am telling a story by wringing everything out of the words I use.
Back in my teaching days, I used to tell my students poetry should be seen and heard. In order to appreciate and understand the art form most fully, it is helpful to see it and hear it at the same time. Poets use more than language to convey meaning; they use structure, too. Read your work aloud to get a sense of rhythm, flow, and meaning.
Do you have any other books forthcoming, or in the works?
I have a picture book called OVER IN THE WETLANDS coming out sometime in 2014. It follows animals of the Louisiana shoreline as they prepare for and withstand a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, the time felt right to showcase this part of the country, its unique flora and fauna, and (through the back matter), the problems with coastal erosion.
I’m also working on another historical verse novel and have some old manuscripts my agent and I are in various stages of reviving!
Thanks for hosting me today. :)
It was my pleasure, Caroline! I look forward reading more of your work in the future.