Friday, January 29, 2010

Writer: Creator. A poem. Two boys. And a book giveaway!

Happy Poetry Friday!

Hi there!  This is the last of six blog posts about how we got the idea for one of our books.  (And speaking of our books, Saturday, January 30th is the last day to enter the contest to win one--see below for details.)

And since the book I'll be talking about is a novel in poems and since it is Poetry Friday, let's start with a poem:

Writer: Creator

I want to
make something


If I could
make peaches—grow them
from my pen…

or stretching my palms
up to the sun, watch as
they grow from my lifeline,

would be something

© From Girl Coming in for a Landing—a novel in poems by April Halprin Wayland 

When I was eleven, we began house-hunting in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles.  “I have dibs if there's a small, blue room in our new house,”  I said.  Mom and Dad said that they would keep this in mind.

The house we bought did, indeed, have a small blue room. It was downstairs, while the other two bedrooms were upstairs. And though my sister was two years older than I was, I got the downstairs bedroom.

I’m not saying that room was where this book came from...but that's when I began typing late at night while everyone else was asleep upstairs. (When my mom would come down to check on me, I’d snap off the light and freeze. As soon as she went back upstairs…I was tap-tap-taping again on that portable Corona typewriter.)

What was I typing?  Love poems about a boy who played viola in orchest. Tap-tap-tap.

The beginning of a novel about a white girl and an African-American boy stranded on an island.  With only one can of tuna.  And no can opener. Tap-tap-tap.

Bits of dialogue.  Musings.  Dreams.  And every joke from the weekly T.V. show, Laugh-In. Tap-tap-tap.

Gary Owens and Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Junior high was all about poetry.  Poems of passion about the outside world (the agony of napalm, poured out of planes onto human beings during the Viet Nam war) and poems of passion about two boys, both budding actors, best friends. One, that same violist, was a brooding black-haired freckle-faced boy with a deep voice and a scar across his chest from open heart surgery. The other, who looked like a 14-year-old James Dean, was off-the-charts smart, theatrical, funny, ridiculous, loud and completely crazy. He rode on my bus, belting out rude, witty comments, gleefully stopping all conversations.

They're both characters in Girl Coming in for a Landing—a novel in poems (exquisitely illustrated in collage by Elaine Clayton, published by Knopf), which is my story, of course—but it’s tweaked and fictionalized and finally, not my story.

It’s the school-year-in-the-life-of a ‘tween. Her first period, first crush, first date, first kiss…and first published poem. It’s about those two boys.  And about coming to terms with her sister and coming to accept herself…and her passionate need to write.

That was me, Girl Writer, and that's where the seeds of this book came from: journals from junior high, high school, college and beyond. Journals were a place for love poems, a place to lean into, a place to record my history.

Do I still keep a journal?  You betcha.  I’ve been emailing it to a dear friend, one day at a time, for years—I call it my blog with one reader.  And she actually reads it.

Now that’s a friend!

Writing Workout / Lesson Plan

As Carmela, Mary Ann, JoAnn, Esther and Jeanne Marie have emphasized in the past five posts, finding the heart of the story is the key and for me, the biggest challenge.

Sometimes condensing an idea makes it more potent. More powerful. Years ago, I thought that I had to write every single thing that happened in my journal every night. It takes a long time to write a historical account of the day. I got tired just thinking about it! Finally, I stopped writing in my journal altogether.

Then, one of my friends, a screenwriter, shared her journal writing secret. Her rule is this: she only has to write for one minute each night.

One minute! I tried it—it's wonderful! It's freeing! Writing for one minute a night forces me to figure out the essence—the heart of that day—it helps me focus: what do I want to remember? The low cooing of a mourning dove? When a friend hurt my feelings? When the janitor winked at me and made my day? How a black cat swished her tail patiently by a pond? How slowly the classroom clock moved right before three o'clock?

Condensing the time I have to write is similar to fitting my words into a poetic form. My day as haiku.

Okay, it's your turn.
1) Date your page.
2) Look at the clock and write down the time.
3) Now, think about something you want to remember from today. You may write for only one minute.
4) Ready? Go!

They say it takes 21 one days to make a, do this for 21 days. Then read back over your One-Minute-Journal entries. As JoAnn suggested in her last post's Writing Workout, “Explore your idea collection. Choose two or three ideas that don’t obviously fit together. Try to find a way to connect them into one story. Be open to surprises. Trust the process. Have fun!”

Remember to breathe. And as always, write with joy.

Drawings by April Halprin Wayland

Reminder: for those of you who are teachers or homeschoolers: there's still time to enter our contest! The prize is your choice of one of the six TeachingAuthor books we've been discussing. Entry deadline is Saturday, January 30. Read all about it here.


Carmela Martino said...

April, I wrote "passionate poetry" in my journal in junior high too. Unfortunately, I saved only one of those journals. I wish I'd kept them all.
Love your idea to journal for only 1 minute at the end of the day. I've read a similar suggestion to write only one sentence at the end of the day. I'll have to give it a try.

Kelly said...

Amazing peek into how your book came to life!!!
I did keep my grade school diary, and I have some funny stuff through 7th grade... I wish I'd kept a hs journal!

Carmela Martino said...

Oh, April, I forgot to say--I love the poem. I can almost taste the peach. :-)

Peni R. Griffin said...

But what happened to the boy, the girl, and the can of tuna? You should finish that story.

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...


I love the idea of a novel in poems, brilliant! Can't wait to read the whole book!

xoxo -- Hilary

Michelle said...

All of my passionate poems were actually song lyrics. I was going to be a famous lyricist. I still have them all - every awful word - locked away in a secret place no one will ever find. :)

Your book sounds awesome - I must read it!

Irene Latham said...

I love this book already! And oh yes, I remember the junior high poetry days... oh the angst. Congratulations!

Mary Lee said...

You made me hungry for peaches and ready to try to write for one minute every day!