Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview With Shari Green

I’m so excited to be here today with Shari Green, author of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. I had the chance to read an advanced copy of this book and it is just one of those classic-feeling, lovely, and heartfelt middle-grade novels. I loved it.

So I asked Shari about her new book and writing in verse!

I know you don’t only write in verse. You have a previous YA novel out written in prose. But why did you write THIS book in verse?

I had several false starts with this book, struggling to find the voice and to figure out who Bailey was. Several things converged serendipitously, nudging me to try verse, and as soon as I started it was like “aha! there’s Bailey” and the words finally flowed. I should’ve clued in sooner, really, as my writing always tends to be lean and somewhat lyrical—the transition to verse felt like a natural one for me.

 

How did you feel when you first started writing in verse? Were you nervous? How did you get over that?

I felt great about it as long as I didn’t actually think about it! Verse does suit my natural writing voice, but when I think about “real poets” and “real poetry”, I’m likely to get hit with a serious case of imposter syndrome. I’ve never thought of myself as a poet—I’ve got no formal training and little experience. So, I try not to think about it, haha.

 

I love the conversations Bailey has with Our Lady of the Bay. How did you come up with that? Did it just come to you, or were you trying to fill a need that you saw?

I knew I needed something to build the relationship between Bailey and OLOTB. I imagined Bailey sitting in the sand, back against the driftwood, having some great heart-to-hearts with OLOTB, but I didn’t know if these times would be real or in her head or what. I wrote these conversations on a whim, then sat back and thought about them. Even though they were so different from the rest of the text (and I didn’t know then if they’d end up staying in the book), I liked them. By leaving them simply as dialogue, there’s an ambiguity that I quite like—are they real? magic? imaginary? (I know what I think…what do you think? heh.)

 

 

Now, I’m lucky enough to have read an early draft of another verse novel you’re working on. And I thought it was interesting that it was so different from this one. Your poems are much longer in ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. Do you want to talk about why the different styles and how that happened?

Interesting! I didn’t realize that was the case, but I suspect some of the length of the RBCAOM poems came during revisions. I always have to expand during revisions. I think RBCAOM grew from 14k in early drafts to about 20k in the final draft. So maybe the new story has some growing to do, or maybe the scenes in the new one are just more vignette-ish, if that makes sense.

 

There aren’t any real “rules” for free verse. But do you have any personal rules or way of doing things when you write in verse?

My approach to writing in verse is still developing, for sure. I love that there are no official rules! I think personal rules that are emerging for me include: (1) story first, just as with prose—kill unneeded darlings, no matter how poetic they are; (2) include a strong image or emotion in every scene; (3) musicality is key—choose words and line breaks to create the sound, rhythm, and tempo I want; and (4) play—with shape, sound, structure, poetic forms.

 

How do you know how to split up the lines of your free verse?

I most often choose line breaks either for rhythm or emphasis—so, I often break where there would be a slight natural pause (reading it aloud is critical!), or where I want to put a bit of a spotlight on a word or phrase. I also choose line breaks according to white space—the visual aspect of the poem, which is sometimes a very intentional thing for me, and sometimes not.

 

What is your favorite verse novel? Which would you recommend to study for those wanting to write in verse?

I can’t (won’t?) narrow it down to a favorite, lol. There are so many wonderful verse novels! I definitely recommend reading lots of different ones, to open one’s mind to possibilities—there are novels completely in free verse, novels that use a wide variety of poetic forms, single POV, dual or multi POV, contemporary, historical, memoir, etc. I hadn’t read a lot of verse novels when I wrote ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES, but now I’m devouring them. So much to learn!

 

Thank you so much, Shari!

Thank you so much for the great questions, Amanda, and for hosting me on your blog. Cheers! *passes a stick of root beer candy to Amanda*

 

Do you want to win a copy of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES? (Hint: You do!) Enter to win a copy and a swag pack. You can get three entries into this drawing. One entry for adding ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES to your Goodreads shelf and posting a link in the comments, one entry for following @sharigreen on Twitter and leaving your Twitter handle in the comments, and a third entry for writing a couplet about the beach…in the comments, of course! 

*Make sure you are following me on Twitter to find out who wins. I’ll pick a winner on October 17th and announce there..*

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