Friday, October 6, 2017

PW: Halloween Book has "Luscious Rhymes"

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to Poetry Friday is below.)

Be sure to enter our current give-away of Carmela Martino's new novel (inspired by two amazing 18th-century sisters who were far ahead of their time, one a mathematician, the other a composer), Playing by Heart. Details on how to enter are in this post, which introduces the book. The give-away ends October 16th.

Campers--I'm overjoyed to feature one of my former students in today's TeachingAuthors "Student Success Story." 

As soon as Denise Doyen walked into my 2005 UCLA Extension Writers' Program class, "Writing the Children's Picture Book," I knew she was a force of nature. Her writing was so strong, her life energy filled with such forward motion, this gal was going somewhere! She's a perpetual student. Before my class, she'd taken classes with Ann Whitford Paul and Barney Saltzberg. After my class she fit perfectly in Barbara Bottner's critique group.  

Author and poet Denise Doyen with her newest book
photo credit: Michael Doyen

Denise's first picture book, Once Upon A Twice, drew starred reviews (Kirkus raved that it was "Undeniably arrayed in a gorgeous brocade, woven of fresh, inventive wordplay," and a member of the EB White Committee wrote, "Wonderful writing in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. Enchanting. Tickles the tongue and 'comes to life' as a read aloud."). 

And...BOO!  Just in time for Halloween, her newest stellar rhyming picture book is out, illustrated by the fabulous Eliza Wheeler, published by Chronicle Books. Filled with Denise's trademark inventive wordplay, it's earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly which said, "Luscious rhymes and an atmospheric eeriness immerse readers in a neighborhood battle." (Read the whole review here.)

So, let's meet poet and author Denise Doyen, shall we?

Welcome, Denise! We're so glad you stopped by. Could you tell us a bit about how your writing career began?

I had been a director/choreographer for children’s television at Disney. I loved creating entertainment for kids; but production hours are long and Hollywood’s a tad ruthless. I quit so I could closely raise my two sons. Later, when they got to be teenagers (that poignant, inevitable age of detachment, “Mom, drop me off a block ahead!”) I realized I missed having a professional creative outlet. My focus remained children. So, I enrolled at UCLA Extension, in “Writing for the Youth Market.” Over two years, I took in a succession of courses, primarily about picture books.

I really enjoyed your class; we made dummies, visited booksellers and children’s librarians, made fave-book lists, wrote/rewrote stories, read Bird by Bird and generally, got inspired. Great class. After UCLA, I joined SCBWI, and started attending all of its editor/agent days, writing workshops and conferences. I worked hard to make sure I really knew my stuff, then I jumped in! ...and began submitting. 

Boy, you're not kidding you jumped in, Denise. Can you talk a bit more about the critique groups, workshops, etc. you've jumped into? 

I’m in a critique group called GOYA which stands for either the Urdu word for “the suspension of belief created by a good storyteller” or an acronym for Get Off Your Ass! (and get published.) As you mentioned, I also claim a seat in Barbara Bottner’s Master Class, which is sort of a guided critique group with savvy pointers/prompts when you need them. I circled back through UCLA Extension and took novel and poetry classes to expand the scope of my writing. And I still take advanced workshops or seminars when I can find them and fit them in. I think a writer can’t help but keep learning while reading good books, editing, critiquing. But I do consciously search for new tools and shoot for keener insights. 

And how did you connect with your agent?

I went to the Big Sur Writing Workshop hosted by Andrea Brown Literary and Henry Miller Library. The wonderful writer, Meg Medina, was in my group. We synched, liked each other’s work. She rec’ed me to her agent there, Jen Rofe, and we hit it off as well. It was a kind act by a fellow writer, an example of a generous spirit that I’ve continued to find in the kidlit world. And Jen’s proven a true champion of my writing, exactly what one hopes your agent will be. 

(Campers, it's true, we are part of kidlit's generous community, and let me tell you, Denise is one of the most generous--truly.)  Denise, tell us about your new delicious new book.

It’s called The Pomegranate Witch. It’s loosely based on a childhood memory of a mysterious lady in my neighborhood. I told the anecdote to my writing group one Halloween and when I finished they said, “That’s a book!” Hunh. So, I stored that kernel of inspiration in my idea journal and started working on the story the next summer.

How did you go about writing it?

There were underlying themes I wanted to explore/expose: the fact that the hermits, loners or odd cat ladies we sometimes brush by, surely have—on closer inspection—interesting stories, depths or surprising former selves. I also wanted to show kids’ antics and imaginations back in an era of Free Play when an afternoon was full of exploring, scavenging and inventing on your own. Kids back then solved their problems without adult intervention. They learned from successive failures. They kept trying. It’s how one becomes resilient person. In the book, the gang fails time and again before they score a pomegranate—and yet they are thrilled with that singular prize ... because they really, truly earned it. (And yes, presenting those challenges is part of the Witch’s agenda.)

Because all this had a nostalgic feel and the witch and her tree, a legendary vibe – I decided on a traditional ballad form like Casey at the Bat or Paul Revere’s Ride, with their heptameter meter. It took me three months to craft the poem’s 24 stanzas--to make the rhymes unique and the cadences flow. I remember: I was working at a campus cafĂ© at UCLA every morning from 8:30am – 12:30pm while my son took a pre-calculus course. He’d come out of class and I’d be so happy, “I got a line done!” And he’d be like, “Wait. You’ve been writing for four hours and you got one measly line done? And that’s good?” “Yes!” (Let’s face it: writing a rhyming picture book is a fun but grueling process.)

Then, my insightful editor at Chronicle, Taylor Norman, challenged and goaded and patiently helped me make everything more crisp and clear. It’s an interesting process, figuring out when to defend and when to bend. We worked well together, worked things out. And finally came Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations. <sigh> I was so captivated when I first saw her fantastic, charming, quirky rendition of The Pomegranate Gang! I’m still smitten. Lucky, lucky author here.

The Pomegranate Gang ~ from book, The Pomegranate Witch

I love that--"figuring out when to defend and when to bend." And it's true--writing a rhyming story can be a "fun but grueling" process. Many of our readers know this well.  And finally, Denise, what’s the One Thing You Wished You’d Known as you began your Writer’s Journey? 

Ya know, I naively started out thinking I was already a pretty good writer. But what I actually was―was a natural writer with good potential. I wish I’d gotten down to the nitty-gritty of tackling my craft at a rigorous and professional level sooner, really learning all those boring punctuation and grammar rules, not being content with an overused metaphor, etc. etc. etc. It would have made me competent and competitive years earlier.
That's a great answer--thank you for your honesty, and for stopping by for a chat. I don't want too give much away except to say that your rollicking, rhyming original story make me hungry for pomegranates!


Now off you go, Campers, to Poetry Friday at Violet's today--
and oh, what a pumpkin-spiced feast it is!

posted with pomegranate juice stains on her shirt by April Halprin Wayland


Kay said...

Thank you for the introduction to a new-to-me writer and book. The Pomegranate Witch looks like a delightful read. Congratulations on its publication and good reviews!

Linda B said...

I love the idea of the book, more than a scary Halloween tale! Thanks for a wonderful interview, April, so full of inspiration and good advice. Congratulations to Denise for this new book out!

Penny Parker Klostermann said...

Love..."But what I actually was―was a natural writer with good potential." That says so much!

I've just requested this book for purchase at my library. I can't wait to read it.

jama said...

What a coincidence. I just picked out Denise's book from my big TBR pile yesterday. It's really fantastic and I love the rhyming text. I've never eaten a pomegranate and now must try one. Thanks for the wonderful interview, both of you. :)

April Halprin Wayland said...

Kay ~ this book truly IS a delightful read!

And Linda! There's a bit of spooky mixed in with lots of rambunctious fun in her book.

Penny ~ I absolutely agree--I think many of us begin with a natural ability to write...and don't always know how to build on that foundation.

Jama! I was actually thinking of you and your yummy blog as I wrote this. It lends itself to your bears enjoying the sparkling seeds. Now excuse me while I cut a pomegranate into pieces and float it in water so that it's easier to remove the seeds. (Make sure all your animal friends wear aprons! When I was little, my parents gave me pomegranates only after I'd taken off my clothes and sat in the middle of an old sheet to eat the drippy-delicious seeds...)

Violet N. said...

Thank you, April, for introducing me to Denise. I loved the generosity of your praise and the kudos she gives to those who have helped her. That largeness of spirit is what I appreciate about the Poetry Friday community and the many children's book writer/poets I have met here over time. I will be searching my library for Denise's books.

Molly Hogan said...

I'm intrigued not only by the story in the book but also by Denise's story! I love reading about author's journeys to publication. Thanks for the great interview and congratulations to Denise!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Violet ~ yes, yes, exactly: the largeness of spirit in our community. What a lucky and loving village we are.

Molly ~ thank you for coming by and taking the time to comment <3

Linda Mitchell said...

What a wonderful interview! Thank you for sharing Denise's book and her energy. I love both! Pomegrante Witch sounds like my kind of book.

michelle kogan said...

Hi Amy, thanks for sharing Denise Doyen and her new book, " The Pomegranate Witch," it sounds enchanting. I also enjoyed hearing her candid comments on her writing life and classes-which I agree with, there's always another class/workshop that offers us something!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Linda ~ energy is exactly the word for Denise--both her writing and her life! I think you'll enjoy this book.

Michelle ~ I agree--I appreciate Denise's honesty. It takes a village!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

Insightful interview, April - thanks for sharing it! So many truths here that we only learn through trial and error. Nice to see Denise doing well!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for sharing Denise's Success!
I can't wait 'til my Chicago Public Library sends on the copy I've reserved.

author amok said...

Congratulations, Denise. I can't wait to check out the book. The character design for the Pomegranate Gang -- adorable! I love their quirkiness.

Anonymous said...

Thank you April, for the opportunity to share. And to ALL for your encouraging comments. Fondly, Denise

April Halprin Wayland said...

Matt ` I, too, love when I learn writing truths that I've never heard...or have forgotten.

Esther ~ you'll enjoy Denise's acroatics with rhyme!

Laura ~ yes, yes, Eliza Wheeler's illustrations ate brilliant!

Denise ~ thanks again ~