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.
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: 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.
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!
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)?
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 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?
Growing 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?
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.
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?
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.