Welcome to this Poetry Friday. I am very excited to be hosting the round up today. I have the special privilege of introducing you to SCBWI Southern Breeze poet and author, Sandra Havriluk. I was browsing through the literary journal from the Alabama Writer's Conclave a few weeks ago and found Sandra's award winning poems, excepts from her novel in verse. I was immediately hooked by the main character, Belle's honest Southern voice. You're going to love these girls, meaning Sandra and Belle!
Here's the first stanza of "From Cradle to Grave."
June 21, 1934: Thirteenth Birthday
My mama pushed me into this world and
herself out of it thirteen years ago
today. The way Daddy sees it, he got
the raw end of that deal. Netty, who cooks
and cares and cleans for us, sees into my
heart like only somebody who loves you
like a mama can. She balls up her
hands onto her skinny hips. Her curved, dark
arms shine with summer day sweat, her muscles
ropy like twists of licorice candy.
“Belle Downing,” she says to me, “you didn’t
ask to be born. Your mama’s dying ain’t
your fault.” She holds my hand between hers.
We call it our moon pie, my marshmallow
white squeezed between her chocolate covering.
She lets go, sighs. “We all have our lot in life.
So’s time you be accepting yours, chile.” But
that’s hard to do when the June day’s heat wraps
you up, smothers you like a blanket of blame.
You'll want to read more at alalitcom. Scroll down to page 40 where Sandra's work begins.
Sandra agreed to chat about herself and the project. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit, as I have.
Every time I have a chance to meet with agents at various conferences to pitch this manuscript, I am asked this question, followed by the agents informing me how hard it is for them to sell verse novels, not to mention historical fiction written in this format. My answer to this “why question” is always the same: Belle’s voice came to me in this way, starting with the first line. Writing the story in blank verse seemed to fit the restrictions, isolation, and despair of Belle’s life.
I’ve always heard “write what you know.” The idea of writing a story about the surviving child of a mother dying while giving birth had always been on my heart because of my father, for that was his story. He always carried a sense of loss and guilt over his mother’s death, and his father always held him accountable for the loss of his wife. Although From Cradle to Grave is entirely fictional, there is much of my father’s pain and guilt in Belle, as well as his on-going search for redemption and acceptance.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES IN WRITING A NOVEL IN VERSE?
Telling a complete story in verse presents difficulty in balancing plot with poetic structure. Each scene must move the story forward, yet it must read as a poem. Dividing the story into three parts and ending with an epilogue helped with the forward motion of the story. The hardest thing I had to do was to eliminate some poems I loved for their poetry but which did not add any depth to the story.
WHO ARE MENTORS AND / OR INFLUENCES?
Obviously, Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust cannot be overlooked as an influence in my attempting a verse novel. I have loved that story since I introduced it to my middle graders when it first came out and won the Newbery. My MFA thesis was entitled “YA Novels in Verse: Poetry or Prose with Line Breaks?” I spent hours analyzing what works and doesn’t work in YA verse novels for my thesis. A few of my favorites include Steven Herrick ‘s By the River, Meg Kearney ‘s The Secret of Me, Helen Frost ‘s Keesha’s House, The Braid, Pamela Porter’s I’ll Be Watching, Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson’s Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color.
I completed the first version of From Cradle to Grave as my MFA Creative Thesis under the working title Benevolence. Thanks to Susan Campbell Bartoletti for her encouragement to develop the character Otto Rimsky more fully and to Joyce McDonald for her critique of my poetry. I also thank my MFA workshops and my writing groups from the bottom of my heart for their input and inspiration.
More about Sandra:
Sandra earned her AB in English from the University of Georgia and her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. Sandra’s mentors have included Joyce McDonald (award-winning Swallowing Stones and The Devil on My Heels) and Susan Campbell Bartoletti (winner of Newbery Honorfor Hitler Youth). In addition to the MFA program, Sandra has attended the Chautauqua Writers Foundation, the Rutgers One-Plus-One Conference, the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and SCBWI conferences. An English teacher, Sandra has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels and at present is an adjunct instructor at Gwinnett Technical College. She holds professional memberships in the Atlanta Writers Club (AWC), the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Sandra has won 3rd place in the Atlanta Writers Club Juvenile Fiction writing contest for The Secret of Elijah (YA Historical Fiction) and 1st place for From Cradle to Grave (YA verse novel) in both the Atlanta Writers Club and the Alabama Writers Conclave Juvenile Fiction contests. Her work-in-progress is Side by Side, a verse novel about the impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott on the lives of two little girls, one black and one white. She is actively seeking representation for her manuscripts.
If you'd like to contact Sandra, you may find her at email: firstname.lastname@example.org
On another note:
Starting today, you can read my interview with Cathy Hall, part of the blog tour for the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference. I’ll be leading a session on the Nuts and Bolts of writing for children. WIK is organized by the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This year’s WIK conference will be Oct. 20 in Birmingham, AL. It’s a great place to learn more about the children’s publishing industry, meet agents and editors, and connect with a supportive network of writers and illustrators. Check it out at www.southern-breeze.net.
Now, add your Poetry Friday link. I may not be as "present" as usual, as my dad is in the hospital, so I'll be checking occasionally and reading as I can. Enjoy!