Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #82
(The Poetry Friday Edition): Laura Purdie Salas

h1 April 17th, 2009 by jules

I’m happy to welcome author/poet/blogger Laura Purdie Salas this morning, a big cup of strong, pipin’ hot coffee extended as we get ready for a 7-Imp chat. I’ve wanted to interview Laura for a while, though some folks may remember that she stopped by exactly one year and one day ago with the rest of the Poetry Seven for a group interview. Today, though, she’s goin’ it solo, and she’s here to talk a bit about her new book, Stampede!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, published this month by Clarion and illustrated by Steven Salerno, as well as discuss her blogging and other writing.

Laura is a former teacher and has written over fifty books for kids and teens. She writes nonfiction titles, as well as poetry, including 2008’s Write Your Own Poetry, geared at upper-elementary and middle-grade students. Last year, she also published ten poetry titles with Capstone Press, a set of books in which she incorporated a number of poetic forms. Her web site has lots of information about her titles and also includes information about her writing presentations and school visits. For Stampede, Laura’s first trade picture book, she conducted an online launch party, an intriguing idea for us wallflowers of the world. I asked her about it, and she discusses that a bit below. Laura also blogs over at her LiveJournal home, often presenting writing challenges and ideas for other writers and poets, such as this recent example, and always sharing the results with her readers.

I thank Laura for stopping by. Let’s get right to it . . .

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: How long did you teach and how does that inform your writing?

Laura: I only taught for 2 years — 8th-grade English. Loved the kids, could have lived without the administration and the parents (not all of them, of course, but a fair amount). I don’t know if it informs my writing itself, since I write mostly for younger kids. What that experience does is constantly remind me of the power books can have in kids’ lives. And how one person, one book, can change a kid’s attitude about reading. Can you imagine that? I got a phone call from a parent one time telling me that I had helped her kid come to love reading, and she was a real non-reader before. That was the best thank-you gift ever — much better than I Heart Teachers plaques or even T.G.I. Friday’s gift cards.

7-Imp: Tell us about your school visits and what they’re like. Do you do poetry workshops with children and do you use your Write Your Own Poetry one-on-one with students?

Laura: I would love to do actual workshops with kids. But most schools want me to visit with the entire school in one day, so I’m speaking to groups of 50-100+ kids at a time. I share a bit of my journey to becoming a writer (I had no idea I wanted to be a writer until I was in college!), and I emphasize that, no matter what your personality or mood, poetry awaits you. Poetry you would love to read. Poetry you can write. I try to take the fancy wrapping paper off of poetry and show kids how it can relate to THEIR lives. We partner-read a bunch of poems outloud together and write one group poem together. I do focus mostly on funny poems, because they work best for large groups. But I always share one or two more serious ones as well.

Laura at a zoo book reading

I’d love to do poetry residencies someday, where I work with smaller groups of kids. I do present at Young Authors Conferences and enjoy that. That’s the only setting in which I’ve had kids writing individual poems so far.

7-Imp: Tell us about writing last year’s set of titles for Capstone. You played with all kinds of styles in those titles — acrostics, haiku, free verse, limericks, etc. Do you find any styles more challenging to write than others?

Laura: Those poetry books were a blast to write! I love poetic forms. Acrostics are my absolute favorite, I think. Diamantes are fun if I have the just-right pair of opposing words. But if I have to force it, it doesn’t work. I find limericks challenging. The meter itself is easy, but it’s so absorbing that I struggle to include enough vivid words. My limericks never feel as jam-packed, as condensed, as other forms do.

Laura with author Kerry Madden

7-Imp: What was it like to see Salerno’s illustrations for Stampede! for the first time?

Laura: I was SO relieved. As a first-time trade author, I knew I had no say in things. So it was scary waiting for those, and I didn’t see them until he was basically painting the finals. I knew and liked his work overall, but still! The anticipation was killing me. But when I opened the envelope and saw the f-and-gs, I was delighted. The ducklings, the prairie dogs, the monkey, the elephants—all fantastic! I was so pleased with the energy and vibrant color—I felt really lucky to have been paired up with him.

{Ed. Note: Click on the spread to see it up close and in more detail.}

Do you all / Understand how we walk while in school? / Children, listen! / Keep quiet’s the number one rule. / Leave the lockers alone and / I‘m sure you’ll do fine. / No poking or / Giggling—and / Stay in your line!”; “When I’m feeling / porcupine-y, / I get nasty, / I get whiny. / Stay away or / I might stick you. /
My sharp words are / quills to prick you.”

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

Laura: OK, I had to go find out! I started out blogging with my critique group as WordyGirls in December 2006. Bonny Becker, Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, Susan Taylor Brown, and I started WordyGirls as an experiment to see whether we liked blogging or not. None of us except Susan Taylor Brown had any experience, so she did the bulk of the work! When WordyGirls disbanded in September 2007, I started blogging individually at laurasalas: writing the world for kids. So…a little more than two years overall. Sorry…a long answer to a very straightforward question!

“I show off the artwork at Micawber’s Books in St. Paul.”

7-Imp: Why did you start blogging? You have this wonderful sense of community over there and are a very giving blogger, in terms of what you bring to readers. How does blogging support—and/or interfere, if at all—with your writing?

Laura: Thank you so much! I started blogging to connect with people. I read blogs and saw the fantastic information and relationships being shared, and I wanted to an active part of that.

Blogging both supports and interferes with my writing! It supports it, because I have made relationships with other writers and poets (some unpublished, some very well-known), who have pushed me to become a better writer. I have written group poems with them. I have been invited to submit for publication by them. I have leaned on them when bad reviews happened and shared happy dances with them over good news or sales. And the blogging makes me feel like a very active part of the writing community, which makes me feel ever more committed to this writing life.

Of course, it interferes a bit, too. Posting takes time. I try to be quick, and I mostly write very off the cuff, but the time does add up. Reading posts is my real time-suck, though. For instance, there is a total embarrassment of poetry riches in blog posts this month. Because I am in a relationship with the blogging world, I feel guilty when I get too far behind, even when my schedule is so hectic I can hardly spare five minutes for blog reading. But then I read wonderful posts that inspire new poems or show me a different way to look at someone else’s poem. It’s like an ongoing MFA writing program, post by post. For free. Honestly, where else can you get that?

7-Imp: How was your online book launch? What did you learn from it about marketing (or otherwise)?

“An adult gamely demonstrates the wingspan prop in my Animal Antics storytime (this is the husband of Dara Dokas, whom I do storytimes with)”

Laura: Fantastic! Hundreds of people came by and stayed at least five minutes, and many stayed quite a bit longer. It was so great to hear from lots of folks I know online and also get to chat with a few new names, like some elementary school librarians who dropped in to chat.

I learned that live chat is a great thing to offer. People can really connect with you and it feels more personal than just an “online event.”

I learned that writers really like their online snacks!

I learned that people are willing to help you spread the word if you make it easy for them. (I offered text and flyers for people to use to request that their library acquire Stampede.)

I learned that everyone enjoys silly videos (like a dog pretending to be an elephant) and games.

I learned that I’m a much better hostess online than in real life—thank god for that.

7-Imp: What books or authors and/or poets influenced you as an early reader?

Laura: I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t start really reading poetry until I was an adult. Though I won an anthology called something like Treasury of the World’s 100 Best-Loved Poems in my 9th-grade English class and read it frequently. I misplaced it a couple of years ago and can’t find it anywhere now. White with a couple of roses on the cover. Anybody know what that is?

Raggedy Ann & Raggedy Andy meet for the first time, in the Project Gutenberg EBook of Raggedy Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle, circa 1920Growing up, I read constantly, but the books are mostly a blur to me now. I loved Raggedy Ann and Andy novels and these picture books about twin siblings who time-traveled to all sorts of places. I loved John Bellairs and Phyllis Whitney books. I read my way through the children’s section at the library and then moved to Agatha Christie. I remember Flowers for Algernon making a huge impact on me. But mostly it was Books, as a category, as a whole, as a way of life. I loved each individual book passionately, as I read it. But then I moved on to the next. I guess I was a bit of a book sleaze. Except for the All Creatures Great and Small set by James Herriot. I had a grand, true love with those books.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Laura: Hmm…I’m not one for holding back, so people know more about me than they want! Let’s see. I have a semi-secret but very real wish to ditch our house, once my daughters are both out on their own, and travel around the world, me and my husband, for a few years.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors and/or poets over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Laura: Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Elaine Magliaro, and J. Patrick Lewis. What a blast we’d have! Though I’m thinking Diet Cokes or Colorado bulldogs.

“The last bell rings. / We spill outside, / like captives finally freed. / We’re thundering, fumbling / elephants — / an after-school stampede.”

{Click on the spread to see it up close and in more detail.}

7-Imp: What’s next? Any new nonfiction titles in the works, too?

Laura: My next poetry book will be Bookspeak: Poems By and About Books (Clarion, pub date not yet set). I’m really excited about that, as books are one of my favorite things in life! I’m going to be participating in the Poetry Blast at ALA (I can’t believe it!) in Chicago this year, and I’ll be reading from both Stampede and Bookspeak!

This year, I have four new science song books out from Picture Window Books, and I’ll have four more next year. I have a couple of new ecosystem books out with Picture Window, as well. I’m having lots of fun with really young nonfiction. I have a couple of rhyming nonfiction trade manuscripts out with editors, too. Fingers crossed!

Next year, I have some fun ABC books coming out from Capstone next year—I was just proofing Y Is for Yowl: Scary ABCs this morning.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Laura: Changes daily. Today: “fizzy.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Laura: “Tummy” and “nubbin.” Shudder. My kids torture me with them.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Laura: New ideas and new places.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Laura: Crowds.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Laura: “Freakin’.” (I can’t curse too much—I’m afraid I’ll slip up during a school visit!)

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Laura: Songs in minor keys. Thunderstorms. Waves.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Laura: Anything screechy.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Laura: Zoologist or forensic scientist.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Laura: Animal control.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Laura: “Laura, some of your family and friends and I have been waiting for you. We have this fabulous book you have GOT to read…”

* * * * * * *

STAMPEDE: POEMS TO CELEBRATE THE WILD SIDE OF SCHOOL © 2009 Laura Purdie Salas, illustration © 2009 by Steven Salerno. Published by Clarion Books, New York, NY. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

* * * * * * *

The Poetry Friday round-up today is being hosted by Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews.

22 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #82
(The Poetry Friday Edition): Laura Purdie Salas”

  1. Those poetry books seams so interesting!

  2. First of all, how awesome is Laura’s hair? Wow.

    I have been waiting for this fun interview, and even though I knew some of the details (this princess is quite open!), it was fun to discover some more about a friend. I am so, so, SO excited about Laura’s book and the fabulous illustrations and am happy to stop by and wish her the best of everything as she runs around the country and connects with kids and poetry. Great interview!

  3. Thanks, Marinela and Tanita!

    And I’m only running around rural southwestern Minnesota at the moment–but I like the idea of traveling all over the country!


  4. Laura’s online launch was brilliant—I’m totally stealing from it should I get the courage to plan one myself. Really, her whole very organized, creatively powered life amazes me.

    And Raggedy Ann and Andy! Laura, I didn’t know. I have four of the original books in my living room. If you ever come over, we can look at Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Baggy Knees together.

  5. Oh, how exciting! I’ve been anxiously waiting for this interview, too! Yay for Raggedy Ann and Andy!! I have the world’s biggest Raggedy Ann in my study (at least she told me she was the biggest).

    I love Stampede!, and was thoroughly impressed with Laura’s online launch party. Wow — so much fun and lots to do.

    Did she say she was doing some ABC books?! *fans self*

  6. I want to say I believe in serendipity …
    this morning I opened my front door at 6 a.m.
    to feel the fresh, cool air and hear the birds for a moment — there was a package on my porch;
    STAMPEDE! from Clarion. Then … I visit Laura’s
    blog and see she has an interview over here at the wonderful SEVEN IMPOSSIBLE … same morning. Within hours. Wonderful.
    The book is wonderful. Love “Prickly!” So universal. Kids are going to love this book.
    Laura, I’ll share a glass of red wine with you
    any day. In fact, it’s a date at ALA. 🙂

    p.s. Beautiful picture of you holding STAMPEDE!

  7. Now how did that smiley face get there?
    If only it were at least turquoise. Sigh.

  8. New books for me.
    New poet for me.
    New fun for me.


  9. Great interview!
    And Laura, thanks for saying reading poetry blogs is like getting a free MFA. I think we should stop feeling guilty now.

  10. Jules,

    It’s was so great to read this interview with Laura. She’s one of the reasons I so enjoy blogging in the kidlitosphere. She’s very supportive of writers like me who haven’t published much.

    Although I’ve never met Laura, I feel as if I know her–and I have a feeling we’d be “fast friends” should we meet one day.

    I find it hard to believe that I’d be one of three living poets she’d like to have over for a glass of wine or cup of coffee! I think I’d have a blast with her, Pat Lewis, and Rebecca Dotlich.

    BTW, I received a copy of STAMPEDE! in the mail on Wednesday. I KNOW it’s the kind of poetry book that elementary teachers would love to have in their classroom collections. I don’t want to say much more about the book because I’ll be reviewing it in late summer–just before the beginning of school.

    Laura, I wish you lots of success with your newest collection of poems! XXXXXOOOOO

  11. What a treat to see this interview here! Laura is such a wonderful blogger and I am totally hero-worshiping her for her hard work and amazing list of published work. I am constantly impressed with her.

    As for Raggity Ann and Andy, I have to say I have the pattern and have made several versions of the dolls for myself and my sons. Right now the favorite stuffed companions in our house are a pair of dark skinned Raggety dolls named Buddy Boy and Bella.

    Also!! The launch party was a blast and I won prizes!! *big grin*

  12. Was this the poetry anthology you lost? If so, Alibris lists numerous copies for sale. Maybe one of them is yours. 🙂

    Love the poetry, love the illustrations. Laura’s enthusiasm is palpable and infectious!

  13. “… no matter what your personality or mood, poetry awaits you…”

    What a lovely, lovely sentiment from this lovely, lovely poet with her new lovely, lovely book!

    Go, Laura!

  14. (Isn’t that Jane Yolen just
    the greatest? Funny, too, which is
    something most people don’t realize.)

    Laura I forgot to say (and this is to you,
    too, Elaine) BELIEVE me, we’d have fun getting
    together and sipping wine. Patrick Lewis is
    a hoot. Maybe one day we’ll do it.
    Back to say, again, congratulations Laura.
    Bask in it all. And I’ll see you in Chicago!
    Great interview.

  15. Pat Lewis 🙂
    Or J. Patrick … too many irons
    in the fire today. r

  16. Great interview, ladies!

  17. Wow. I am just home from a week of school visits and a four-hour drive home…but all your comments are a lovely thing to come home to!

    Sara, you have original Raggedy Ann books? Lucky you. I must try to find some to read. They are some of the very few specific books I remember from when I was little.

    Jama, why does your having the world’s largest RA not surprise me:>)

    Rebecca, thank you! And I’m so glad you got your copy! Can’t wait to see you at ALA, which I can still hardly believe Clarion is sending me to.

    Jane, I so enjoyed your talk at the Kerlan last week. I haven’t had a chance to blog about it yet, but I will. It was wonderful to hear you talk about poetry, specifically. What a treat! Thank you for the poem–I hope you like Stampede!

    Hi Jeannine–Exactly! No more guilt:>)

    Elaine, you know, I think one of the reasons I picked you is that II feel such a similar sensibility in our poems. There are so many fantastic poets (including a number commenting on this very post!) whose work I adore, but whose work is definitely not like mine. So I read them and might say, “I wish I could write that poem.” But I know that it comes from them and isn’t really a poem I would ever write–I just get to enjoy it. With your poetry, I often feel like not only do I love it, but I get the sensation that, “That’s the kind of poem I COULD write–if I had had that clever idea first and was having a good writing day!” I don’t know if that makes any sense or not. I’m tired:>)

    Andi, Liz, Pat, and Kelly, thank you for stopping by and the good wishes. I had this fear that I would finally get to be on 7 Imp and not a single person would comment. Instead, it’s a bounty of fabulous bloggers and writers!

    And John, yes! That’s it! Hooray–I’m off to order myself a replacement copy. Of course, it won’t have my inscription from Mr. Rom, my 9th-grade English teacher, but it will be lovely to have it again. Thank you.

    Jules, thanks for the work you put into these interviews. I only do occasional, brief interviews on my blog…I know these are a lot of work!

  18. I’m a little late to the party here, and there was so much to love about this interview and getting to know Laura and her work a little better! Others are connecting the Raggedy Ann and Andy, but me, I share Laura’s “grand, true love” for the James Herriott books.

  19. What a fun and fabulous interview! I’m happy to have gotten more of a sneak preview of the book, of course (it has yet to make it to our library), but I confess the pivot questions are what really made me smile. It’s tempting to use all of Laura’s favorite and least favorite words in a 15-words-or-less poem now — will it make her head explode?

  20. Yay, another Herriot fan! I haven’t read the books in several years, Mary Lee, but I think it’s time for another affair.

    And, Lisa, have no fear…several online friends have been using the dreaded words that shall not be named–and they’re using them repeatedly. I KNEW I shouldn’t have revealed them. Ack! So, feel free to join in the mayhem and make my head explode. Sigh…

  21. […] guess what? Today, I’m there in an interview fabulously conducted by Jules. If you have time to grab a coffee or an […]

  22. […] and cover from Laura Purdie Salas’s A Leaf Can Be…(Millbrook Press, January 2012), illustrated by Violeta […]

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