Friday, August 24, 2012

Southern Breeze Poet Sandra Havriluk

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."

~ 1 ~

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.


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.


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:

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

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!


  1. Hi.I love the poem you took from the book. As i was reading it, I love how the story is told and the "moon pie" part. It's interesting to see more of these novels in verse. We featured some of it on our blog. Thanks for featuring this one.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments. Didn't Dori find the perfect picture to illustrate the "moon pie"?

  2. Thank you! Here's a little one about a little one who was given a "Cicada" and how the little one's little ears heard something else! The FATHER GOOSE Blog

  3. I've enjoyed the recent novels in verse & Sandra's poem is wonderful. I liked the interview & the fact she thought this was the only way to tell Belle's story. I have written another of the 'goodbye' poems for a project I've been doing. Thanks for hosting Dori.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! Yes, Belle definitely came to me in this poetic voice and it seems a perfect fit for her voice.

  4. The wonderful poem you shared definitely makes me want to read more. As you said, the voice is instantly captivating. Love the moon pie analogy too.

    Today I'm featuring Marilyn Singer's new poetry collection, A Strange Place to Call Home, with a few pics of our resident foxes:

    Thanks so much for hosting today, Doraine! :)

  5. Thank you for hosting today. Southern Breeze rocks. Thanks for sharing all the good information.
    The weather is talking on my blog today:

    You might want to read earlier in the week too. I've passed my 500th post. Yahoo!

  6. What a boon to Sandra's writing that she had analyzed what works and what doesn't in verse novels! I hope she can find a publisher a.s.a.p. Hearing about the Atlanta Writers Club made me miss Atlanta...

    I'm sending good wishes to you and your dad, Dori.

    1. Thanks for your good wishes. I, too, hope I find the right publisher who loves Belle as much as I!I hope you can visit an AWC conference soon. They are fabulous and are held in November and May and open to all to register.

  7. This is a tantalizing excerpt! Belle's voice is captivating. Thanks for hosting, Dori, and thoughts go out to your dad.

  8. Thanks for hosting, Dori, and I'm sorry to hear about your dad.

    Thanks for telling us about this niv. Going to put it on reserve right now!

    1. Shoot--just realized it's not actually published yet. I hope you'll remind us when it DOES find a home:>)

    2. If my novel in verse finds a home, EVERYONE will hear me shouting from my Atlanta rooftop! Thanks for wanting to read more! You can find a longer excerpt on the on line Alabama Writers Conclave 2012 on line journal.

  9. Doraine, thinking of you and your dad. Thanks for hosting and for sharing this interview with Sandra. I look forward to meeting her! And Sandra, thanks for the go-to verse novel list. I haven't read many of the ones you suggest, so yay for a trip to the library! Thanks, both.

    1. Irene, I hope to meet you at WIKI! I did actually have you sign Leaving Gee's Bend at a SpringMingle. Beautiful writing and such an inspiration to those of us with Southern voice!

  10. Thanks for hosting, Doraine - Thoughts and prayers for you all today as your dad is in the hospital.

    What a rich post! I loved reading this excerpt (and like Laura wanted to buy it and read the rest of it,). Thank you for this peek into Sandra's work, and I look forward to getting to know Sandra even better here in Southern Breeze.

  11. Thanks for sharing Sandra's excerpt! Reads wonderfully; good luck with the publishing effort, I know how hard it is. My contribution to Poetry Friday is a Private Snowfall, to help cool everyone off on this warm summer day...the last weekday before many kids go back to school! Hope you like it.

  12. Hello! Thank you for sharing and for helping to broaden our "poetry horizons!" I am not new to reading Poetry Friday round-ups but am new to linking/posting! What a great community! :)

  13. Thanks for hosting, Doraine! Great post.

    A little end-of-summer meditation today:

    Steven Withrow

  14. Thanks for hosting -- I'm in with some Wendell Berry this week. It's here.

  15. Hi Dori and thanx for hosting. If you're tired of having to prove you're "not a robot" each time you comment on a blog post, then check out my new robot poem at the Florian Cafe:
    And there's a sneak peek at some pirates.
    Good health to your dad.
    Douglas Florian

  16. Thanks all for your supportive comments on my verse novel and to Dori for sharing it! It was such a joy to write. Keep positive vibes going for me regarding finding it a publishing home. I love the Poetry Fridays and now will be a regular visitor! By the way, I forgot to have Dori tell you all that you can find me at my website and my blog

  17. Hi Dori,
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery for your dad. Today I'm sharing a few tidbits from J. Patrick Lewis' book EDGAR ALLAN POE'S PIE.
    Thanks for hosting!

  18. I have a poem from and review of "A Mirror to Nature" over at MotherReader:

    Thanks for hosting!

  19. Thank you for the introduction to Sandra's beautiful writing! And thanks for hosting. Happy Poetry Friday!

  20. So pleased to have found you and many thanks for hosting this week's Poetry Friday! I've really been drawn towards YA novels in verse this year and enjoyed reading the excerpts from Sandra's book as well as her interview.

    Our contribution to Poetry Friday is here: and we highlight Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong's new release The Poetry Friday Anthology.

  21. It's always a smorgasbord over here, Doraine! Thanks so much for sharing this marvelous excerpt. I cannot imagine writing a verse novel - I get hives just thinking about it, so kudos to those who do! :)

  22. Happy Poetry Friday! To the list of wonderful poems posted today, I'd like to add my little humorous contribution: In The Back Of The 'Fridgerator . Hope you like it :)

  23. Here's hoping your dad is better soon!

  24. I'm late in commenting, but I wanted to thank you for this have me wanting to read more novels in verse - this behind-the-scenes interview was great. I hope that your dad is feeling well this week, and happy fall to you! Thank you for hosting... a.