Today, the TeachingAuthors are celebrating Poetry Friday in a special way with a sneak peek at a poem from the soon-to-be-released Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Houghton Mifflin). And one lucky TeachingAuthors follower will win an autographed copy of the book. See the end of this post for complete details.
We're also thrilled to feature a Student Success Story interview with Tamera, a former student of mine. As Tamera shares in her interview, she's also taken classes with two of my fellow TeachingAuthors. That's half the TeachingAuthors' team! I can tell you, we're all smiling like proud mammas today. :-)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let me introduce you to Tamera by sharing her official bio:
Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Tamera shares her time between Chicago and Florida.
Here's an excerpt from Tamera's website describing her middle-grade novel, Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse:
"Using a wide variety of poetic forms – quatrains, ballads, iambic meter, rhyming lists, concrete poetry, tercets and free verse – this debut author tells the story of a nine-year-old boy’s day of fishing. Sibling rivalry, the bond between father and son, the excitement – and difficulty – of fishing all add up to a day of adventure any child would want to experience."You can connect with Tamera online via Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. For more of her lovely poetry, visit her online journal, The Writer's Whimsy, where you'll find links in the sidebar to several group blogs she participates in.
And now, for the interview.
1. Tamera, it's hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since we met “virtually” when you took my online class in writing for children. Do you recall what inspired you to sign up for that class?
I just came across notes from that workshop; that can’t have been ten years ago! That class was Fundamentals of Writing for Children, the first children’s writing workshop that I had ever taken. At that time I was writing stories and quite a bit of poetry, but I wasn’t focused on a specific age reader. It was my husband who suggested that I might want to try writing for children. That sounded like an interesting idea, so I found the Writer’s Online Workshop that you were instructing, and I signed up.
2. Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?
I remember being really nervous and also glad for this new online way of learning and for the opportunity to explore writing for children. The class itself was wonderful and you put me at ease right away by your genuine interest in the students, the focus on our stories and our writing habits, and the study of writing for children. You learned during that class that your novel, Rosa, Sola, was going to be published. When you shared that news I remember being so thrilled for you and your achievement and excited for me to be learning from someone with so much experience and success.
That class gave me an excellent foundation for understanding the range and limitations of children’s literature, but there was so much more to it. I remember feeling really welcomed and cared for, as though I had found a place in the writing world where I belonged. And I can trace a direct path between that first class with you and my first novel. Here’s how:
- During the workshop with you I learned about SCBWI,
- Shortly thereafter I met you in person at an SCBWI event,
- At that event you introduced me to several other students from your online workshops,
- We formed a critique group,
- Some in the group were planning to attend the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults,
- I was intrigued, but not quite ready to commit,
- In the mean time, Hamline University announced their MFAC program and
- When Hamline began receiving applications in 2006 I was ready,
- I applied, was accepted, and
- What I learned there helped prepare me to write Gone Fishing.
After several years of attending writing workshops and conferences and participating in critique groups, I started to believe my writing was good and I began to submit stories to editors. Eventually I began to receive positive and specific feedback, but aside from stand-alone poems, I hadn't received any offers to publish. I recognized that there were still things about writing for children that I needed to know and since I was committed to finding a way for my stories to reach children, I felt that connecting with experts in the field of children's writing was the best way to try and reach my goals.
I feel so lucky to have had that opportunity. Each residency I got to hear lectures by the talented faculty and a variety of visiting children's authors. I also got to interact with classmates who were as committed as I was to learning about writing for children. Each semester I was paired with a faculty advisor. The two of us would work together to develop a personalized study plan that included the creative writing I hoped to develop, as well as aspects of craft that I intended to study. I learned to love essay writing; thinking critically about a specific story aspect or technique is one of the keys to becoming a better writer, and that's something that I've carried with me beyond the program.
One other wonderful outgrowth of the program has been the sustained connection that I have with the Hamline MFAC writing community. I'm in touch with fellow graduates, current students, faculty, and staff, and I feel a close bond with everyone because of those common experiences and interests.
My inspiration for the story came from my good childhood memories of going fishing with my family. The first poem in the book was initially a stand alone poem. It’s called "Night Crawlers" and is based on the excitement I remember feeling when I got to stay up after dark in the summer and hunt for worms to take fishing the next day. After that first poem, others followed until I had a collection of father and son fishing poetry. Later, poems that included a younger sister began to emerge and that’s when the sibling rivalry story line started to take shape.
I didn’t originally set out to write a novel in verse. Even with the inclusion of the sibling rivalry, the story that I first submitted included around twenty poems – enough for a picture book. My editor had the wonderful idea to expand the story and the number of poems. That idea intrigued me and I continued to work on it. The final story ended up at around forty poems, which gave it enough text to be a novel in verse.
Writing using this format did present special challenges. In any novel, the story is the most important aspect of the writing. In a verse novel, the poetry has to enhance the storytelling, or it won’t work. What helped me keep focus on the storytelling was to pay careful attention to conflict, crisis and resolution. If a poem didn’t advance the story or aid in some element of storytelling, then it didn’t belong. Add to that the different poetic forms, and that was another layer of complexity.
5. Expanding a picture book into a novel sounds like it would require some major revisions. Would you share a bit about that process?
As I mentioned above, the story initially had twenty poems. We expanded it to about forty, so, yes; the book had some pretty significant revisions. I was lucky that my editor had a good sense of direction. She provided me with enthusiastic encouragement, asked many insightful questions, and gave intriguing suggestions that I was eager to explore. By the end of the first revision, more specific scenes and interactions were filling in and the story was taking shape. It was challenging and fun to see what might emerge and whether or not I would be able to produce more poems that had substance. The miracle of it was that one new poem often led to another and another, each exposing more depth and breadth to the story.
6. Gone Fishing includes a “Poet’s Tackle Box” in its back matter. What does the box contain? How might classroom teachers use its contents to extend their poetry lessons?
Developing this section was another of my editor’s smart ideas that stemmed from one of my dearest critique partners suggesting that I label the poetic forms I had used in my original manuscript. The Poet’s Tackle Box contains poetry writing tips and definitions, including information on rhyme and rhythm, poetry techniques, and poetic forms. I hope that this section can be a good reference for classroom teachers who are helping students learn the joy of reading poetry and writing their own poems.
Before I go, Carmela, there are two more things that I’d like to mention, first, I want to say hello to two of your fellow TeachingAuthors :
Hello, Esther Hershenhorn! Esther taught a picture book writing workshop that I attended at Ragdale on a chilly Chicago day. Inside, though, it was a wonderful, cozy, enriching day of reading, critiquing, and talking about picture books. Esther was so enthusiastic and encouraging and shared all kinds of good and important information on picture books and the publishing industry!
Hello, Jill Esbaum! Jill led a weekend rhyming picture book workshop that I attended at The University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It was a sunny Iowa summer weekend and Jill was so welcoming and even came with the students to an alfresco lunch and talked informally about children’s writing. Jill was such a champion of rhyming text and finding fresh story ideas; she gave me hope that there was a market for rhyming picture book manuscripts!
And finally, in celebration of Gone Fishing’s release this coming Tuesday, here is the opening poem in the book – "Night Crawlers" – the one that started it all:
Dad and I hunt worms tonight.
Tiptoe near and grab them quick.
Tug-o-war with earth and worm.
Set our bucket near the door.
Look out, fish — we’re on our way!
poem © Tamera Will Wissinger. All rights reserved.
Thank you for hosting me today on TeachingAuthors, Carmela! I had a great time.
Thank YOU for joining us, Tamera. We especially appreciate your sharing your wonderful poem with us today.
Readers, for more of Tamera's lovely poetry, visit her online journal, The Writer's Whimsy. There, you'll find links in the sidebar to several group blogs she participates in. You can also connect with Tamera via Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook.
Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse written by Tamera Will Wissinger and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Houghton Mifflin). You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter our drawing. If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.
There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.
Either way, to qualify, you must:
a) give us your first and last name AND
b) tell us how you follow us AND
c) tell us if you'll keep the book for yourself or give it to someone special.
If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com).
Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Winners will be announced Friday, March 15. Good luck to all!
The Drift Record.