Thursday, July 23, 2015

Friday Feedback with Caroline Starr Rose: The Music of Language

The real me. Shoving Banana Cream Pie in my mouth
after a glorious birthday swim! 

Is it just me, or is this summer flying faster than ever?

It's been a week. . . with both the saddest and most joyous of days. Through both, I have thought often of what it means to be a writer, how we pay attention to all of it, the big picture, and the small nuances, the broken, devastated moments, and the crystal clear blissful ones. How we are prone to insinuate our imaginary selves into every situation and ask questions. How often we want to race to find a scrap of paper, commit a line of prose to memory in our heads. How real writers never truly stop writing.

So for those of you who haven't put as many words down on paper (or up on screen) this summer as you hoped, please remember this:

Sometimes in our process we are still percolating our stories, or thoughts and ideas. Learn to sort this from pure procrastination. Learn to spend less time castigating yourself for not writing and use that realization and energy to plow yourself forward.

SO, having said that, today let's write some more! Let's share words, and passages. Look over your work and find a moment that reflects your Music of Language, or if you haven't written it yet, now is as good a time as any. Remember, sometimes you've written it, but you haven't revised it. It is often in the revision the real music begins to shine!

For more on this and what it all means, I am super excited to have one of the most poetic, musical writers I know,
Caroline Starr Rose.

Caroline is the author of two novels in verse,



and her beautiful, brand spanking new picture book, OVER IN THE WETLANDS, about which Kirkus says,  

"This lyrical text uses interesting imagery, informal rhyme, and an insistent rhythm to describe the world of the bayou and the wonder of a storm..."

It's clear, then, that Caroline knows of what she speaks when she speaks to you now about writing with the music of language in your ear. So enough of me, here's Caroline:

A few weeks ago, I heard author / illustrator Betsy James speak at my local SCBWI chapter. Betsy has had decades of experience writing everything from picture books to young adult novels.

". . . a picture book authors biggest obstacle has nothing to do with plot, character development, or conflict, but with an ear untrained 'to hear the music of language.'

Part of her talk focused on the weaknesses we bring knowingly or unknowingly to our work. I found it especially interesting that Betsy felt a picture book authors biggest obstacle has nothing to do with plot, character development, or conflict, but with an ear untrained to hear the music of language.

As someone who writes both verse novels and picture books, this musicality makes a lot of sense to me. The words used in verse and in picture books ideally do double duty, first in telling the story, second in helping the reader enter in. Because verse and picture books have so much in common, this idea of musicality serves authors who write in both formats. Here are a handful of ways we as readers, teachers, and writers can tune our ears and pencils to the rhythm of the spoken word.

Picture books are meant to be pleasant to the eye, ear, & tongue

Authors write novels for individual readers, but write picture books for a crowd. Reading a picture book is almost always a shared experience. The words should be pleasant to hear and say, satisfying young and old alike.

My boys are now fourteen and twelve, but I still remember lines from Mary Quattlebaums Underground Train:

The moving stairs roll us down, down, down to the underground train,
which rushes past like fast water on miles of track.
Rrrrruuummmmm. Whoooosshh.

I grip my fare and Mama grips
my hand as the train doors slip
aside like sliver drapes. We step
inside: the doors slide shut.
Rrrrrruuuummm. Whoooosshh.

Read those lines aloud and listen to how pleasant they sound, how fun they are to say.

Every word counts

Both verse novels and picture books major in brevity. This means that each word is selected with care. Winnow a manuscript down to its bare bones to find exactly what you need and what you dont, as well as what youre truly trying to say.

Rhyme is not dead

And neither is rhythm or repetition. This probably goes against everything youve heard about picture books, I know. While you certainly dont need these poetic devices in your manuscript, you also dont have to leave them out because youve heard the rumor books like this dont sell.

"Your primary focus shouldnt be your format but your story. Rhyme, repetition, and rhythm must always, always first and last serve the story . . . "

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind. Your primary focus shouldnt be your format but your story. Rhyme, repetition, and rhythm must always, always first and last serve the story and not the other way. Notice what Mary Quattlebaum did above. Shes given us wonderful words to see, hear, and say, phrases like rushes past like fast water on miles of track. Weve got ear-satisfying assonance with the words past, fast, and track. Just saying past like fast is awfully fun, as is slip aside and step inside.” But as clever as these phrases are, they ultimately are helping us to experience the magic of Washington DCs Metro. They sparkle and shine and engage us with purpose. Otherwise theyre meaningless.

Think musically!

Somehow, Ive always viewed the picture books as second cousins to music (this is partially why Betsys idea resonated so deeply with me). Just as a picture book builds to a satisfying end, so does music, often using rhythm to set pace and tone and repetition to bring key musical phrases to the listener. An author can establish patterns to tell a story and then alter those patterns to build momentum.

"I love that the reviewer who read Wetlands for School Library Journal caught this, pointing out I 'var[ied] rhythmic patterns to mirror the storms energy.'

My picture book, Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story, is a bit like a duel between the Louisiana coast and an approaching hurricane. I love that the reviewer who read Wetlands for School Library Journal caught this, pointing out I var[ied] rhythmic patterns to mirror the storms energy. As the storm passes, the original rhythm returns, building both familiarity and security for the reader and listener alike.

So, given that it's Friday Feedback, I'll share a sample from my picture book manuscript, Ride on, Will Cody! According to legend, Will Cody (later known as Americas greatest showman, Buffalo Bill) rode for the Pony Express at the age of fourteen. His longest ride covered 322 miles and required 21 horses. It was the third longest in Pony Express history.

I establish the setting and topic with rhythm and rhyme:

Night surrenders,
first light embers,
fiery sunrise
way out west.

Horses nicker,
heart beats quicker,
saddle up
for the Pony Express.
And later, as we near the climax, I build momentum by altering that pattern:

short bit
last post
just up

dont give up,
keep steady, strong.
Clutch the mail bag.
Wont be long!

I'd love you to share a moment where you use language lyrically to tell story, build momentum, and create tempo, if you've got something. Otherwise any small excerpt that shares the music of your language will do!  

As for sharing, please remember to keep your excerpts BRIEF and follow the rest of the Friday Feedback RULES!

See you in the comments!

- Caroline & gae


  1. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 24, 2015 at 3:34 AM

    Hi, Caroline.
    I'm a new reader of novels in verse, and I'm looking forward to reading yours. I love your picture book excerpt above, and how you create mood and setting with your words. Thank you for sharing.

    One of my critique partners is a poet, and over the past year, I've enjoyed seeing how she builds her stories with her beautiful words. As a result I've begun to explore other novels in verse titles, and have even dabbled in some poetry. I won't share those here because they're VERY rough, but I have an excerpt from my WIP. I've tried to create a feeling of panic in my MC, as she searches for her mother (who she's certain will come to the Harvest Festival to find her).

    Setting: Catholic Orphanage in 1918.


    Lily can hardly wait. With a quick, “Thank you!” she heads out across the yard. She weaves in and out of people, closely examining every woman that seems to be the right age. Some children who aren’t on the tour with Charlie are running around, so she has to maneuver around them. More and more people are pouring into the festival, and Lily’s stomach tenses in panic. Her head spins from the sea of faces and the cacophony of voices and music. The sun is beating down. The manure from the barnyards is pungent. Her stomach turns.

    A loud noise erupts from across the yard, and men are yelling. Women are screaming. Children are laughing. Lily turns her attention to the direction of the noise and sees...sheep! The sheep are running around the festival yard! Why aren’t they in their pen? And now the children are chasing the sheep who are baaaaaaaaing as they race around people and tables and stacks of hay used for seating. A man tries to grab a sheep and misses, sending him crashing into a display table of tomatoes, potatoes, jars of relish, and flowers. Women are hurrying away from the scene: some for the back door of the orphanage, and some for the path around to the front of the building. Everywhere is chaos and confusion.

    Lily spots Charlie, Sam and James attempting to corral the animals. They’re holding quilts they retrieved from display tables. Charlie throws a quilt over the head of one sheep. He grabs the animal and picks it up, carrying it back to the pen. Sam and James use the same technique and whisk their catches back to the barnyard as well.

    But the damage is done. Most of the people are leaving. Lily’s heart sinks. The festival is ruined.

    And then she sees her. Momma! Lily races across the yard, zigging and zagging between tables and people, heading for the path that Momma is on that will lead her away from her again. She risks calling, “Momma!” Women turn around, but not the right one. She loses her in the crowd.

    Lily’s feet hit the gravel path and she stumbles, landing hard on her hands and knees. She jumps up quickly and takes off running again. “Momma!”

    Then she’s there. Right in front of her. Lily is panting for breath. She grabs the woman’s arm, and she turns around.

    It’s not her. It’s not Momma.

    And Lily’s heart is crushed.

    The woman is looking at her strangely. “I’m sorry,” Lily mutters. The woman gently pulls her arm from Lily, turns, and walks away, her heels crunching on the gravel.

  2. Wow! I could feel all of the emotion in Lily, the anticipation that gives way to hope when she sees the woman. The panic when chaos erupts and the woman walks away. Then we have not only the let down when the lady turns around and we see it is not her, but the sting as the lady pulls her arm from Lily and walks away. So much emotion in such a short passage. Your writing is so visual I could picture the chaos created by the sheep and the young boys trying to round them up. Great job!

  3. There's so much emotion in this scene! I really feel like I'm right with Lily, searching for her Momma.

    I wonder if you need the line "And Lily's heart is crushed". As a reader, I already felt and knew that from what happened and Lily's response. So this line took me out of the story.

    I love how the woman is giving her a weird look and can just feel Lily's disappointment as she crunches away.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Caroline! [BTW, I absolutely LOVED May B. It's one of my favorite MG books and I recommend it often.] Using language carefully to create rhythm and build momentum is something I'm still working on. After reading your post, I'm thinking that I need to practice more. I wonder if listening to different kinds of music during free writing will help with this (I usually write in almost-silence, with my window open, to the backdrop of bird song, traffic noise and the occasional siren).

    Here's a brief excerpt from a project I'm revising. In this conversation, the girls are speaking on the phone. Or rather, Rebecca is speaking. My main character and narrator, Ayla, gets tongue-tied in social situations:

    Rebecca still hasn’t said anything about what happened outside the art class. What if I go there and she mentions it and I have a panic attack? I haven’t hung out with a friend besides Shadowboy
    for a very long time.

    “I’m supposed to watch my sisters while my mom works. But I’m allowed having friends over. As long as you can put up with Olive. And Emmeline’s baby drool.” There’s a thud. “Forget I asked.”

    Mom would let me go. She’d LOVE for me to go, even if I had to interrupt her studio time. And I’d get a break from watching Whisper. But a dark cloud of worry creeps over me.

    If I don’t go, I’ll miss my chance to be her friend. She won’t call again.

    If I do go, I might act so weird she—

    “Ayla? Are you still there?”


    “You can come? That’s awesome.”

    “No, I…I mean—”

    Rebecca rattles off her address and I scramble for a pencil. Somehow, in the time it takes for Whisper to circle the sofa twice, I agreed to show up at her house right after lunch.

  5. Andrew StarowiczJuly 24, 2015 at 5:41 AM

    Good morning, Caroline and Gae!

    What a wonderful post! Caroline, your words are beautiful. I will be ordering Over in the Wetlands for my classroom.

    I don’t really have any poetry that builds momentum or creates tempo, but you have sparked an idea, so I will be working on it this evening with the hopes that I can make some music with my words.

    Your excerpt has it all – rhythm, rhyme, and momentum –
    everything that makes a story flow. I teach sixth grade, and of course, I still read them picture books. They love picture books and novels in verse(example: Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech). I can’t wait until Ride on, Will Cody is published.

    Thank you for sharing. I will submit my attempt later in the day.

  6. Hi Caroline!

    Thank you so much for your books and for sharing your thoughts and time with us. I just read May B this past winter and was blown away by how I couldn't put it down. The claustrophobia of the dug out and her impatience with her employer - oh, I empathized so wonderfully. Thank you! I'm looking forward to reading your picture books soon!

    This is a bit from my WIP where I really want my readers to be as enchanted along with my mc by the wonder of spiders hatching. I need them to be engaged with Owen's perspective so that they feel defensive and protective as we launch into the consequences of what happens because he's saved this spider. Thoughts and feedback are so appreciated!

    On the edge of the park, Owen veered off the trail, picking his way through the woods to a stone wall. He squatted down, removed the lid and gently tipped the spider out. She scrambled out of the box and quickly took cover under a rock jutting out from the wall. The rocks camouflaged her brown and gray exoskeleton.

    Owen started to stand, when movement under the ledge caught his eye.

    He squinted. There it was again. Something skittered across the wolf spider’s back.

    The babies were hatching.

    Owen caught his breath. He eased to the ground and pulled his magnifying glass out of his backpack. Then he slid to his stomach to watch babies entering the world.

    The delicate spiderlings swarmed over each other, climbing on their mother’s back, luminous in the afternoon light.

    By saving one life, he had saved hundreds.

    Thank you!

  7. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 24, 2015 at 6:10 AM

    That is a very good observation. I think you're correct and I'll edit that line out. Thank you for your feedback!

  8. Andrea -
    I feel so lucky to see your ms developing. I love Whisper and Ayla.

    I love Ayla's warring anxieties - and I like how you have Rebecca interrupt them so that the scene can move on and challenge Ayla to be brave, despite her anxiety trap.

    My wonders - which can't be answered in this snippet, of course - Who is Shadowboy? What happened in art class? What will happen at Rebecca's house? Keep going so I will find out!

  9. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:19 AM

    Thank you so much for your kind words! That May girl is a dear friend of mine.

    I love Owen's respect and fascination for these spiders (evident in the way he gets down close and the lovely words "delicate" and "luminous"). Could you go one step farther here? One more line to help us feel we're with Owen and the spiders in this moment?

  10. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:23 AM

    Thank you, Andrew, for sharing picture books with your sixth graders. I used to do the same with mine. They're such a wonderful, concise way to expose kids to pretty much anything and to experience story together. Heartbeat was one of the two verse novels I read before writing May B. It feels like a mentor to me.

    I love that I've sparked an idea. Looking forward to learning more!

  11. I love that suggestion. Perhaps right after afternoon light? "Each spiderling was a tiny, perfect greater, miraculous in form and movement."

  12. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:30 AM

    You've made my morning, Andrea!

    The contrast between the girls here is engaging. We've got one chatting away and one worried about how she's coming across...which is interesting because the only thing the poor girl says is misunderstood. The "dark cloud of worry" gives us a great sense of Ayla's state of mind. As she writes down Rebecca's address, what is she feeling and anticipating? This feels like a place you could build more.

  13. I love that suggestion. Perhaps right after afternoon light: "Each spiderling was a tiny, perfect creature, miraculous in form and movement."

  14. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    It's wonderful to have critique partners who write in ways we don't. They are attune to so many things we don't naturally see and push us in new ways.

    You've done a beautiful job here creating panic! There's sound and movement and anticipation and confusion. Poor Lily. I'm crushed, too.

    The first thing I thought of while reading is a way to heighten the chaos. You've varied sentence length, which is a nice way to mirror speed and many things happening at once. How about chopping up these paragraphs some to get your readers' eyes moving across the page more quickly, too?

    This could be a paragraph on its own:

    The sun is beating down. The manure from the barnyards is pungent. Her stomach turns.

    As could this:

    Everywhere is chaos and confusion.

    Also, one thing jumps out at me (because I do it all the time myself): the use of participles. You can both tighten and strengthen verbs if you move them out of their "ing" ending. Not all of them, of course. The action will feel more distinct and "now".

  15. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:43 AM

    Yes! That has a lot of heart. It shows us Owen's attachment, love, and respect.

  16. Hello, Caroline and Gae! So nice to have two of my favorite authors together in the same place. Thanks so much for inspiring me to keep on doing this work.

    Reading your post took me straight to Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin. I’d never tried writing exercises like these until I got this book a couple of years ago, practicing looking at the same theme through differing lenses. It struck me when I started in on them how like the many art exercises I’ve done with pencil, threads or paints, using the same materials to interpret a theme in different styles, or reworking something both close and far away.

    One of my favorite exercises, “Being Gorgeous,” was the very first one, from the chapter called “THE SOUND OF YOUR WRITING.” The assignment is to write a paragraph that’s meant to be read aloud.

    Completing this exercise made me realize that I could make my entire novel feel like this if I worked at it. My desire became that the whole thing be lovely off the tongue. To me, poetry is the painting of a picture with words, taking the reader into the book with carefully crafted juxtaposition of each word and phrase. Timing, rhyming, assonance, dissonance, they all pull us into the story. Your work inspires me to keep working at that(can’t wait to get Over in the Wetlands!) because I’m immediately pulled in by the imagery you create with careful use of words, changing tempo to change our outlook or our mood. Very excited about Ride On, Will Cody! This is a wonderful excerpt. I can hear the pony, and feel its breathing.

    Here is the music of my language:

    She skipped into sunlight from the shadow, yellow-bright dress glowing like a candle. Swaying foot to foot, weaving through the noon, her toes tapped against stones as she propelled herself into the day toward adventure.

    She heard a noise - sharp and insistent - that caused her to turn her head. What was that? A hard-edged sound, a knife-edged sound, it speared her ears with its sharp report. It sounded again and her tripping footsteps stuttered to a stop.

  17. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 24, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    Thank you so much for your feedback. And the participle thing is what Gae gets me on every time. You'd think I'd learn by now! I went back and edited for those. I'll have to make a more concerted effort to pay attention to that from now on. :)

  18. Gae, I'm feeling like TW is just for me this summer. How did you know I wanted each and everyone of these authors to visit?!

    Caroline Starr Rose!
    I’m so glad you are here. So. Glad.
    This summer, TW has been so informative for those of us that enjoy constructing story in verse form. I cannot thank you enough for being here AND chiming in on Kate Messner’s fb thread about verse novels.

    I have to admit to being a little daunted by the criticism of verse novels. But, I also see what there is to work on. I think that the work you have contributed to the world of story for young adults is amazing. You will always be a mentor to me and my students.

    I found your exercise this morning to be fun! And, difficult….the good kind of challenging. I had a poem from earlier this summer that was sitting in my #writedaily30 file that I pulled out for revision for today. I put both up on my blog in case any TW camper wants to see a draft/revision. Sometimes, that helps other writers to see a revision. Here’s the link:

    Camp Fire

    Frogs tuning in the pit,
    bass strings on cattail necks.
    Alto-throated lilies hush
    When evening house-lights go low.

    Fireflies guide us to our seats
    for this evening’s premiere
    camp fire performance.

    Shadow arms draw curtains back
    on colored flames that warm
    faces, toes and story-telling
    in jokes, duets and s’mores.

    Pale intermission moon
    rises white then gold then rose.
    Illuminating shining faces
    a chorus of camp fire’s glow.

    As the final act winds down…

    Heavy eyes and dew fall
    flash-lights zip in and out of tents
    sleeping bags and pillows hold us
    coyotes howl and sing applause.

    Embers night-light our way to sleep
    Yesterday finds center stage, her mark
    for one final bow and curtain call
    our bravos whispered in the dark.

  19. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 7:10 AM

    Don't worry. I have yet to learn!!!

  20. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Wow, Linda. This is downright incredible. Thank you! I can't pretend I'm not aware of the potential, eventual voices / criticism as I'm working, but I have to trust my work is valid. It challenges me and brings me deep joy. Happy to hear it does the same for others. Try as much as you can to slam the door on what other might think and be true to the work. Soldier on!

  21. Hi Caroline and Gae-
    Thank you for your time and insight. I love the rhythm and rhyme you have in your shared excerpt- I hear the hoofbeats changing tempo! Wonderful!

    I don't typically write in verse, but I adapted a scene from prose (which is probably not ideal, but an interesting exercise!). Do you have any advice on line breaks when there isn't rhyme?

    Jaycee stopped
    hands on knees,
    Her chest was filled with bricks,
    her right ankle throbbed.
    She couldn’t hear anyone
    she held her breath to listen harder.
    She closed her eyes,
    where jagged lights danced behind heavy lids.
    She sagged and sank to the ground.
    Without thinking,
    her hand reached up for the scarf
    but it was gone.
    Jaycee wondered where it lay,
    a puddle of red with white stars on the city pavement.
    Who would find it? What would they think?
    Would they look further?

    Her neck was already cold
    her breaths

    in puffs of white,
    slower now.
    She blew on her hands.
    Around her the street was illuminated
    in fog pockets,
    streetlamps cast yellow light
    in blurred circles,
    leaving yawning darkness between.

    Jaycee had no idea where she was.

    When a car alarm blared streets away,
    desperate cries for attention,
    she wondered whether someone would turn it off,
    if someone would emerge
    from darkened doorways,
    a shout balanced on their lips.
    Who could she trust?

    Rising and taking a tentative step
    Jaycee moved on.

  22. I am so. Here. In this place. Nicely done, Linda. "Alto-throated lilies..."

  23. Terry, an character who sees the world through his magnifying glass is beloved. This is wonderful.

  24. Thanks for joining us today. I really like how your lyrics move the rider along. I am eager to read your other work soon.

    The historical novel I am writing is loosely based on stories from my mother. She died nine years ago, and since then I have read her journals and poems and formed many questions about her life as a young girl. This excerpt is from a developing scene.

    Jody, my MC, finds herself being rained on once again
    without any umbrella or a definite place to call home. Jody’s version of “Singin’ in the Rain”

    No umbrella

    To stop the rain

    From split-splatting on my face.

    Still no reason

    To quicken my pace

    Toward the unknown

    So come on down and
    slap me rain

    Remind me I’m still

    Come on down and sting
    me rain

    Infect me with your

    Come on down and clean
    me rain

    Send my fears a

    Come on down and move
    me rain.

    Move me to somewhere
    safe and warm.
    (My formatting was italicized for her "song")

  25. Stephani Martinell EatonJuly 24, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    Caroline- Thank you for a wonderful assignment. Also, thank you for sharing your work with us. I love your diction, "embers, nicker, yonder . . ." you really put us right in the scene. I like how the pace quickens with his ride. Looking forward to reading more.

    I took a section of my WIP and reworked it. The story I am working on is about a girl who is struggling with her grandmother's descent into Alzheimer's. In this scene the main character visits their "special place" without the grandmother. I am feeling unsure about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    The river was high
    and choppy.
    Tossing a stone
    she watched
    under the white-capped current.
    Happier times beckoned to her
    as she crossed the footbridge.
    Here the chicory and the daisies
    turned their faces
    towards her
    in recognition.
    Like Grammy used to.
    Like Grammy used to.
    The sinking sun
    sharpened the silhouettes of the trees.
    And then the flowers hid their faces.
    “But you know me,” she pleaded.
    But they did not answer.
    And all she could do was go home.

  26. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 24, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    Good morning, Caroline and Gae. Great suggestions today. I appreciate them. I have been working on many things this summer and am eager for some feedback on a piece that kind of started it all. This excerpt is just the beginning.

    When I was a kid, summer
    nights at Torch Lake were punctuated by thousands of fireflies. They would parade out of the darkness,
    exclamation points of soft, warm light marching toward the flickering glow of
    the campfire. Like sisters, cousins,
    parents, and grandparents, they seemed to swarm around the perimeter of the
    fire to share a connection, a story, or a laugh. Perhaps they were drawn to the warmth of the
    fire, or by the strength of the bonds that developed around that worn out brick
    circle fire pit.

    Over the years, the numbers have dwindled…both of family and
    fireflies. The campfire seems to have
    let their spirits go, embers adrift on a breeze toward the water. Some losses you kind of expect, like Grandma
    and Grandpa. Grandparents die; even
    grade school kids know and accept this.
    But others come as a surprise.
    None of us were prepared for Marty’s death. He was one of us. There is comfort in the
    fact that he died at the lake, but he died in the winter…alone. No fireflies to gather around him and guide
    his spirit out over the water. Just
    Marty and his bottle. I suppose we
    should have seen it coming. ZAP! One soft, warm light extinguished.

    When we were young, we chased the fireflies around the
    outside of the brick circle fire pit where our elders gathered, sharing whiskey
    sours, stories, and laughter. We were
    filthy and sweaty, but we didn’t care, and the fireflies didn’t seem to mind
    much either. We would capture them
    briefly in our small, grubby hands and giggle as they tickled our palms. We never put them in a jar because Tommy,
    Marty’s younger brother, thought it was cruel, and everyone loved Tommy too
    much to hurt his feelings. Occasionally
    the dance with our luminous partners was interrupted when a roar of laughter
    cut in from the brick circle. Someone
    had shared a good story. I suspected it
    was my father, Bob. He learned at
    Grandpa ‘Kay’s knee that the truth should never get in the way of a good
    story. We have all come to believe

  27. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    I second the alto-throated lilies and intermission moon (so fun to say). I've written and posted my own night performance poem this past week. We're tracking together. :)

    You've engaged so many wonderful visual images. How might you push this farther by bringing in other senses?

  28. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    You have nailed it Valerie. I see it, hear it, feel it. I'm wondering what the noise is and how it will propel "her" from this light moment (that is literally light!) to something more foreboding.

    Must look into this LeGuin book!

  29. Oh, thank you, Caroline! If you're wondering I have succeeded...So many great exercises in this book - I'm only about half way through, I guess? She has you explore things like writing the same scene with short sentences then long ones. Use mirroring language, finishing a scene with the same phrasing as you started. Many examples along the way, too. Best Christmas present I ever asked for and got!

  30. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    You've done a lovely job here! Do you know the verse novel Red Butterfly, by A. L. Sonnichsen? It didn't start as a verse novel. Amy converted the whole book to verse, and it worked beautifully.

    You have some strong images here, and your breaks ring true for me. When I'm not rhyming, I try to let the natural rhythm of the language break the lines, but also am aware of pacing -- either slowing or speeding the reading experience to mirror the story. I also think about words I want to emphasize.

    One decision you've made I'm curious about: Why is this a stanza on its own?

    Her neck was already cold
    her breaths

    To me, it feels as if it belongs to the stanza following...unless there is something specifically key about that cold neck!

  31. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    The spirit of your character really shines through here! I love the way she talks back to the rain. Perhaps at the end, though, instead of just challenging the rain to push her on, a way to make your character more active is to have her talk back about what she's going to do. Maybe instead of

    Move me to somewhere
    safe and warm

    she's moving herself. She's the one in charge. And she's telling the rain all about it.

  32. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:46 AM

    My gosh, this got me:

    Here the chicory and the daisies
    turned their faces
    towards her
    in recognition.
    Like Grammy used to.
    Like Grammy used to.

    You are telling us so much about what is gone, how fragile your character must feel. Confused, too.

    I'm not quite clear on why the flowers then hide their faces. Is this to further heighten her loneliness? Maybe you could connect us back to Grammy toward the end. The flowers don't answer. Grammy can't as she once did?

    "All she could do was go home" feels unnecessary and takes the power from what comes before.

  33. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    Such gorgeous imagery here and strong, descriptive language. I love the parallel between family and fireflies. Well done.

    I'm curious why you've broken the lines as you have. Some places this confused me rather than helped me make meaning and pulled me from the moment.

    Here's an example: "us. There is comfort in the"

    I have a sense the ending isn't here yet, that it's coming and will be a knockout.

  34. Stephani Martinell EatonJuly 24, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    Thank you! I am looking forward to working on it some more based on the suggestions you've made. Thanks for taking the time to share and give feedback today!

  35. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    You're very welcome.

  36. Happy Friday!! I'm trying to do a lot of things with this beginning and I would welcome some feedback:

    Usually I step forward out of airplanes but I’m stepping backwards out of this Cessna.


    I tend to step backwards out of situations I’m not sure I’m done with; generally, I need to throw myself into things in order to make any progress forward - whatever direction that is.

    I’m done riding in this airplane with the duct-taped tail. I can’t believe I signed up to be wet and uncomfortable.

    Being here right now is rare. That is, I don’t know anyone else back on the East Coast who’s gone backpacking up in the Brooks Range, in northwestern Alaska, well within the Arctic Circle.

    That’s why I’m here. That single fact and the fact that chances are good I’ll survive this. I’m not a geologist, a hunter or an environmentalist; I’m not even really a backpacker. I’m supposed to survive this ten day backpacking trip with 2 competent leaders and eight other participants, including my girlfriend.

    Swallowed fear is inside me and rain's on my skin when my foot touches down on the tundra.

  37. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    Oh, I love me a good survival / adventure story. You've got me hooked from the start.

    I'm definitely getting a sense of your character and his trepidation, but I'd like to be able to experience a bit of it in real time, rather than just in his thoughts. Let me be right along side him rather than just listening in.

  38. Thanks! I think I set myself up to write more, but here is what I have based on your suggestion.

    With my fears behind

    I’ll be movin’ on…

    With my fears behind

    The hills are not so

    To taunt me with “You
    might fall.”

  39. Thanks so much for being here, Caroline. I loved MAY B. and BLUEBIRDS, and I can't wait to read OVER IN THE WETLANDS. I love what you're doing in this excerpt with rhythm and sound (not just the end of the line rhyme). Ride On, Will Cody! will definitely be fun to read out loud.

    This is an excerpt from my WIP, when my main character is taking a history test. Thanks!

    I look back over what I’ve written, and my stomach drops
    even farther. It’s horrible. Confusing, twisted, and possibly wrong. I don’t know why I picked this essay. I try to erase the last two lines, but even after two passes,the pencil marks are still there—faint, but there, stubbornly peeking through. I erase again, brushing away the shreds with the side of my hand. I bend to take another look. The pencil’s gone this time, but the indentations are still there, lingering phantoms of the mistakes I made.

    I’m going to have to get a fresh piece of paper.

    I fold the ruined sheet, crease the edges, flip and fold
    it again until it’s small enough to wedge in the bottom of my backpack with today's other mess-up pages. Where it can stay hidden until I find a good recycling bin.

    “Five minutes,” Mr. Branson calls, lifting his head from something
    he’s typing on his iPad.

    Five minutes? Five minutes, and all I've got is a stack of
    mistakes and another empty page.

  40. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    Yes! Take care, girl!

  41. Susan, There are beautiful images here and some fanatastic lines. I love how you blend the soft, warm evenings of fireflies with jarring sensory moments--ZAP, sour, filthy. You have just the right amount of sentiment, but I like that you keep jolting the reader--he was one of us, he died alone. And I love lines like "everyone loved Tommy too much to hurt his feelings" and "the truth should never get in the way of a good story." Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed it.

  42. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    It's so satisfying to learn others know and love my books. Thank you.

    You've captured perfectly those moments of inadequacy we've all known. I especially love "lingering phantoms of the mistakes I made." Sometimes I read a phrase and think "Yes! This describes exactly something I've thought or experienced or seen." This phrase did that for me.

    I am hyper aware right now of beginning multiple sentence with "I" because I do it ALL the time. If you can alter this, we as readers can further enter in, not just hear the list of things "I" do but experience the story alongside your character.

  43. This is powerful, full of sadness and loss. The stone sinking under the choppy river seems a good parallel for what your main character is dealing with. I like the juxtaposition of sunny flowers with the sorrow the character is feeling. "But you know me"--so painful.

  44. Beautiful, Valerie. I love the changes here--the movement from sunlight to shadow, the interrupting noise that will change her path again. And lovely language. I read it aloud the second time. I'm adding LeGuin's book to my list!

  45. Jennifer HernandezJuly 24, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    Hi Caroline and Gae,

    Thank you so much for this focus on the music of language!! As a poet, this is the life and breath of my writing. (At least, that's what I'm aiming for!)

    Caroline, I love the way that your words both set the stage and mimic the rhythm of hoof beats (even before the riders have saddled up). Then, in the later stanza, the breathlessness and anticipation expressed through the shortened lines is so effective. Thank you for sharing your work with us.

    Your lesson and manuscript excerpt gave me just the inspiration that I needed today for a revision of a poem that I've been working on. It was too wordy, and the line breaks weren't right. Feeling better about it now. Any and all feedback welcome.

    At the worm pile

    My middle boy, the true fisherman,
    heads back to the big worm pile
    out behind the cabin
    where Grandma feeds the worms
    egg shells, coffee grounds and potato peelings.

    "Mama, will you help me dig?"

    I step down on the shovel,
    feel the earth cleave,
    heft up a scoopful,
    moist yet crumbly,
    laced with tiny roots.

    We reach in to break apart clods,
    alert for wriggling pink prey.

    "There's one!"

    In it goes to the rusty red Folger's can
    (the kind they don't make any more).

    "And there's another!"

    But that one's too skinny, and we put it back
    in the worm pile to grow.

    And so it continues:

    "Night crawler!"

    Fat, juicy prize-catch of the worm pile,
    soon to ride that coffee can down to the dock
    where my boy will cast his rod
    for hours, happily,
    without catching a single keeper.

  46. Thank you, Jane. Really working to find that language that crystallizes the moment. You must add Steering the Craft! I didn't add the subtitle, which feeds me each time I hold the book in my hands: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

  47. Feeling that inadequacy, that powerlessness and anxiety, in my bones.... I have trouble with "I" but honestly didn't notice it here until Caroline pointed it out, and she's right, you can make those words more powerful and draw the reader even more deeply in. I love the last lines.

  48. I agree that you've done a great job creating the panicked rhythm of this scene and that it will only increase exponentially when you switch all those ings to more active language where reasonable! In fact this is the perfect example of where it will indeed up the pace and breathlessness of the scene. Also, and this is something I TOO continue to constantly struggle and wrestle with: we all so often use the various body reactions -- hearts racing and stomachs clenching where the reader will instead intuit it. Wonder where here you could cut back on those and not lose anything? Certainly in the first para where we have her stomach tensing and then turning. So much going on in her stomach! ;)

    What if?:

    Lily can hardly wait. With a quick, “Thank you!” she heads out across the yard. She weaves in and out of people, closely examining every woman that seems to be the right age. Some children who aren’t on the tour with Charlie run here and there, so she has to maneuver around them. More and more pour into the festival, and Lily’s stomach tenses in panic as she scans the sea of faces amidst the cacophony of voices and music. The sun beats down. The manure from the barnyards is pungent.

    Maybe you'll choose to put them back in, etc. but sometimes it's nice to explore what is needed and not, what can be lost via the choice of some different connective words, etc.

    Great scene! Keep going!

  49. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    What I love about poetry is it's ability to capture a moment. It really is like a photograph that way. You've pulled me in and let me watch this single, simple event that speaks in a now and always sort of way -- I imagine it as a microcosm for these relationships. Just beautiful.

    My only comment is minor. I'd caution you against using the parenthesis, as they stop the flow of the now. It is the only line that feels directed at the reader as an aside. If this image is important to you, is there another way you could more organically weave it in?

  50. Interesting because now reading Andrea's comment, it fits completely with mine (and Caroline's!) We overestimate how often we need to describe what is happening with our characters and even their emotions -- e.g. telling vs. showing. You wrote a good scene. It does that work for you. :D

  51. Hey, Andrea,

    As Caroline says, a terrific little excerpt and she's giving you great places to start building.

    I was thinking -- though it might not match your voice or character's voice in the piece, that in a vacuum, this piece lends itself so nicely to the ideas of using language like music to build rhythm and tension. So, with the caveat that it may not be right for this AT ALL and I don't know enough details about your story to do it well, and so may rather just illustrative of a concept:

    “Ayla? Are you still there?”

    Whisper gets up and circles the sofa, her toenails click-clicking on the wood floor.


    “You can come? That’s awesome.”

    Click click. Click click.

    "No, I…I mean—”

    Rebecca rattles off her address and I scramble for a pencil. Somehow, in the time it takes for Whisper to circle the sofa twice, I agreed to show up at her house right after lunch.

  52. It makes me joyous when I read the words "you have sparked an idea." Go, Andy, go! And, yay, Caroline!!! :D

  53. Funny when I do this arriving after the guest author and keep having the same exact reaction! that here, given what you hope to do/make your reader feel, you can go even farther!

    But what I wonder is this too: Rather than add more words as description) (miraculous and perfect creature) concepts that might take away from the other marvelous descriptives you already have there (love luminous! It does SO much) wonder instead if you can compare them to something that would resonate with a reader that age and, thus, by extension make them delight... eg. by way of example only:

    The delicate spiderlings swarmed over each other, climbing on their mother’s back like circus performers (or e.g. trapeze artists) in the luminous afternoon light.

    By saving one life, he had saved hundreds.

    See what I mean? Rather than piling on more descriptives conjuring something that we all marvel at and love. ?

  54. Caroline, it’s like you’ve read my mind when you posted today’s Friday Feedback! I am working on a children’s picture book series for a final creative project for my masters writing program. Though it is for the program, this is truly something i’ve been dreaming of and toying with for a while. I am trying to figure out if my story should contain rhyme. I would love to insert humor into the story (it’s about a young boy who is squeamish about bugs, each bug he encounters in the series will educate him on why they should not be “eliminated”). There will be non-fiction information presented on each page alongside the story. I’m just wondering if my story should rhyme or if that would then be “too much” for the audience to take in all at once. I would love to chat with you some more for some mentoring/tips/advice if you have the time! Here is a small excerpt that I toyed with a little bit for the first of the series:

    “Brandon has a secret….”
    He’s not afraid of ANYTHING.
    Nope. Nothing.
    Well..., he IS a little afraid of bats…
    And….. ghosts, jack o lanterns (because they have creepy mad faces), dinosaurs (if they were real), juice, robots, string beans, grass in the bathtub, clipping his toenails, and, hmm…oh, yes,
    He hates the way they move (insert a bug fact)
    He hates the way they sound (bug fact)
    He hates the way they look (bug fact)
    Don’t even TALK to him about bugs. First it was the inchworm on his shoulder…
    AHHHHH!!!!! MOMMMMMM! (bug fact)
    Then the firefly on his finger…
    GET IT OFF OF ME! (bug fact)
    And finally the ladybug in his kiddy pool
    DAAAAAAD! (bug fact)
    One day, Brandon’s mom asked him to help her do the laundry (something he’s not afraid of…yet.)
    Brandon walked down to the basement with his mom, WITH the lights ON of course (he was only a LITTLE afraid of the basement stairs)
    When suddenly, hidden in the corner, by the old bookcase was….
    A. HUGE. SPIDER. (bug fact)
    This was no spider Brandon had ever seen before.
    It was hairy, it was huge, it had stripes - it HAD TO GO. (bug fact)
    Brandon had to think. fast. (bug fact about speed/spiders)
    Brandon looked around, he spied a book (but it was on the shelf above the spider), he spied bug spray (also on shelf, up too high – (ps, he's afraid of heights!
    Then he saw it….MOM’S FLIP FLOP.

    *I'll leave off here, but the story will go on to have the featured creature make a plea for its life while also providing the boy with important factual information about the insect world. This would be the first of a series of five stories.

  55. Valerie, your language is music today. Bravo! And what I love so much especially in the first paragraph is that there is not a single extra word. I even love the leaving out of the word "the" before sunlight, which so many would choose to include. It creates a true feel of spareness to this piece which leaves you feeling it vs. just reading it.

    Um: "...yellow-bright dress glowing like a candle" ??? GORGEOUS.

    Keep going!

  56. <3 Thank you, Gae! I wrote this some time ago and stumbled across it last week. Surprised and pleased. Now to make my other writing feel like this...not a single extra word. That is the writing that takes me, so this is high praise.

  57. It is a lovely, lyrical writing and there isn't much I can add. One of the things that trips me up a tiny bit and so is a question for you and Caroline -- and I don't know if it's the formatting that happened here or intentional line breaks -- but whenever verse is set out where the lines match in physical length and are set up in four line stanzas, my brain looks for a rhyme because it feels like the format for a rhyming poem then gets tripped up when it isn't. Is that just me? Is there a way to break up the length or groupings that wouldn't cause that? So for example ONLY:

    Pale intermission moon
    rises white
    then gold
    then rose.
    Illuminating shining faces
    a chorus of
    camp fire’s glow.

    Am I making any sense today? Ignore me if not! :D

  58. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    I think kids thrive on repetition. It builds anticipation and lets them guess what might be coming next, just as you've done with your phrase "he hates the way they... " and "It was... it was... it had... ." Kids will be in on your little joke (Brandon is afraid of pretty much everything).

    I don't think you need rhyme here. Off the cuff, it seems like it might work as a distraction.

    You've got a great start! Feel free to shoot me an email -- carolinestarr AT yahoo -- if you'd like to talk more.

  59. Just chiming in to say that Jaycee is such an unusual name and it's the name of one of my MC's in THE PULL OF GRAVITY!

    Also, "A shout balanced on their lips." Beautiful!!! And I love the last line, especially in juxtaposition.

    Keep going!

  60. I love this exchange between the two of you, and have nothing to add but applause!

    Keep going!

  61. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    I found myself looking for some sort of sound structure (for lack of a better term) because of the traditional stanza breaks, too. Another suggestion is to break the stanzas differently, so there won't be this anticipation.

  62. The exact section Caroline quoted was what made my breath quicken! The repeat of "Like Grammy used to" is so powerful, isn't it!

    Beautiful! Keep going!

  63. I agree with all Jane and Caroline's praise and also with the wondering Caroline presents about where you broke the lines... I wonder if sometimes this is merely a posting glitch on blogger, and if so, then simply disregard.

    If not -- and my new book that just sold (and Caroline, I don't know if you even know this!) is half in free verse (yes, I am TERRIFIED about the critical reception of that... OMG!) one of the things I find really helpful regarding WHERE to break these lines of free verse is to not try to figure it out until you've walked away from it for a number of days or weeks.

    When you return with an objective eye, it's often easier to go, "oh yeah, even I'm not sure why I broke the line there." Or, "YES! That still works for me completely." Etc.

    Keep going. Some very beautiful writing in here (felt all the feels in all the very same places that Jane pinpointed!!!)

  64. Hah, Barb, I guess because you are female, I assumed your narrator was female... either way, my thoughts are circling thusly:

    The concept of stepping backwards out of an airplane is SO powerful and tells you SO much immediately about your narrator (while also leaving so much mystery to be unfolded!) that I think the first line could be so much stronger if you dispense with the first part of the sentence -- that normally she/he? steps out forward out of an airplane, as this is not only intuitive, right? (we all do), but not as captivating as it might be, and replace it with some imagery that takes us right to where she/he is high in the clouds as she steps out backwards which would also address Caroline's wish for sensing in real time. By way of example ONLY:

    "Usually I step forward out of airplanes but I’m stepping backwards out of this Cessna."

    vs. (and this is only an example, not the best writing, too trite, etc. but trying to show a concept):

    Surrounded by blue, the valley a barely perceptible carpet of green far below, I close my eyes and trust, and breathe. It's too late now anyway. The door is open. I'm stepping backwards out of this Cessna...

    Can you feel the difference between the matter of factness of the first one vs. the drawing into the scene/action of the second one? Apologies if it isn't the best writing example but hopefully you get the gist.

    Keep going! Really intriguing stuff!

  65. Hah, because I write first person so often maybe, the I's don't bother me here, BUT I always need to try to be aware of them and you should too!

    I really LOVE and adore the whole pencil/erasing sequence and felt the same adoration over the phantoms line. I think you do a great job of creating the music of her anxiety here.

    Because I'm on a roll with it today and NEED to be in my own writing more so it's really standing out for me, wonder if you (read: wonder if you, I, WE) need half the eye rolls, heart racing, stomach tensings/droppings/roilings that we think we do. Here, for example, what do you lose if you take the stomach out? Maybe you lose a rhythm you need and that is your answer. Or maybe you don't lose anything? I love the question. Something I know MANY of us published authors STILL struggle with daily:

    I look back over what I’ve written and it’s horrible. Confusing, twisted, and possibly wrong. I don’t know why I picked this essay.

    Ah, so many questions to keep asking as we go along. :D

    Keep going!

  66. Stephani Martinell EatonJuly 24, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    Thanks for the encouragement, Gae! I love Feedback Friday. It's so wonderful, scary, and affirming!

  67. Stephani Martinell EatonJuly 24, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    Love the line, "lingering phantoms of the mistakes I made." You give voice to that anxiety and hopelessness we've all felt while taking a test. I bet you are a wonderful teacher-- full of empathy for your students! Great job.

  68. Ah, I beat Caroline to your post, Jennifer, and really her chiming in is more useful than mine. But this is really just beautiful. I really love the short compact lines of the stanza, "step down on the shovel, feel the earth cleave, heft up a scoopful," the music of earth being dug.

    I'm realizing myself how personal it is as to "where to break the lines" as so much has to do with the rhythms that work in our own heads. I'm not an MFA or a especially a poet/MFA but wonder if there are actually rules/guidelines to these types of things, or if it's always gut?! And again it's something I'm concerned about with my forthcoming book told from one perspective in all free verse. For me, the line breaks work 'here" while for someone else they might work "there." RIGHT?!

    As a reader, I want things to stay together for clarity's sake, so in your first stanza here:

    where Grandma feeds the worms
    egg shells, coffee grounds and potato peelings.

    because you broke at worms, i was thinking for a split second that eggshells was a new thought, but it's not, it's what she feeds them. So for me, I think, hmmm maybe I'd like to keep them together and then list the rest:

    where Grandma feeds the worms egg shells,
    coffee grounds and
    potato peelings.

    Or something like that... but again, so ridiculously personal. Wonder if Caroline, with two HIGHLY praised verse books under her belt will shed more light.

    Caroline!??! :D

  69. Stephani Martinell EatonJuly 24, 2015 at 1:47 PM

    The metaphor and imagery is wonderful! Your opening line "Frogs tuning in the pit" had me hooked right away. I'm going to share this with my child who is at camp. I know it will resonate. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  70. Andrea, I will let Caroline chime in with more of her pb/verse expertise of which I have none and little, but I really like this piece and really enjoy the humor (it's there!) the repetition of various concepts and information in parentheticals and caps, etc. What works for what age audience, in which format, I don't know. But just me here, reading? Truly enjoyed!

    Keep going!

    hopefully Caroline will chime in soon. :)

  71. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 24, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    Thanks, Jane. I appreciate your feedback.

  72. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 24, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    I'm interested in this character. I feel his/her frustration. "...lingering phantoms of the mistakes I made." I know students like that, the ones who simply MUST have a clean sheet or they are paralyzed. Very relatable.

  73. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I had no idea, Gae! Love knowing this.

  74. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 24, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    Thanks for your feedback, Caroline. I think the line breaks are a cut and paste issue. I didn't intend page breaks other than paragraphs. This is just the beginning of the piece. It's longer than the limit allowed, but I appreciate your encouragement. I'll stick with it!

  75. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 24, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    I'm excited about your new book. I'm sure it will be wonderful! Keep breathing.
    Thanks for your feedback, too. The breaks were part of a cut and paste issue, not intended. This is part of a larger piece and kind of the cornerstone for the other pieces that I have been writing this summer. They exist well individually, but I need them to eventually be more. Not sure how one goes about that part. I guess I'll keep writing and let my characters tell me where to go.

  76. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    So glad to hear it. It's really beautiful.

  77. Pamela TallmadgeJuly 24, 2015 at 3:17 PM

    !. What works-the rhythm, the language of anticipation, reading it aloud the words carry me 2. what doesn't work-nothing 3. I want to keep reading. I already feel in just a handful of words part of the journey. Bravo!

    Here is what I wrote after walking my dog in the rain this morning and being inspired by Teacher's Write:

    words tumble onto the page gently
    then with a steady rhythm
    I am drenched
    words rip from my fingertips
    fall in front of my eyes
    vie for space on the page
    leap frog for a preferred position
    dodge the pen zeroing in to cross out
    words puddle together
    inviting me to splash

    -Pam Tallmadge

  78. Andrew StarowiczJuly 24, 2015 at 3:23 PM

    Hi again, Caroline!
    I can’t thank you enough for getting the “writing” juices flowing today. All day at work I was scribbling notes. Just a brief history about my picture book topic: Fleet Walker was believed to be one of the first African American baseball players to play professional baseball (before the Major League Baseball league) in the 1880’s. He made a stop in Syracuse to play with the team. Here is a few
    stanzas and my attempt at building momentum:

    3000 pack into Star Park,
    no lights, but they play until dark,
    Salt City fans sitting in trees,
    waiting for his big bat to sing.

    Catching every fast ball without a mitt,
    giving every pitcher a nasty fit,
    he is Moses Fleetwood Walker,
    Erie Canal’s greatest baller.

    Building momentum:

    Even in 1888,
    Walker was stealing home plate.

    Leading off third base,
    daring the pitcher,
    back and forth,
    back and forth,
    there he goes,
    home plate

    Sorry for writing so much, but you inspired me. THANK YOU! Happy writing!

  79. Gae - I do see what you mean, but I think I prefer it the other way when it's from Owen's perspective. And this is cool, because you made me aware that I need to check the whole ms (ok, only partly cool) because Owen is unlikely to make metaphors based on people. He might make metaphors based on insects or animals, but circus performers etc are really not going to hold any traction in his brain... Now I have to go see whether I've mistakenly placed any metaphors. This won't take long.

  80. Thank you all for the feedback--I appreciate it very much.

  81. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 4:12 PM

    Maybe your fingertips can talk to mine? My words aren't tumbling today. :)

    This is musical and playful. And I love how those sneaky words dodge the pen. What a fun rain/writing metaphor. Send that storm my way!

  82. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 4:13 PM

    Okay, all I'm signing off for the evening. Thank you so much for your bravery. It's hard enough bringing words to a critique group, let alone pasting them online for all the world to see. Keep writing and creating. Life is richer because of it!

  83. Andrew StarowiczJuly 24, 2015 at 5:44 PM

    "Press on" was my sixth grade classroom's motto for the last school year. In fact, we took the entire Calvin Coolidge quote and did a transmediation (the process of translating a work into a different medium) project with the quote. Students turned the quote into a picture book, a song, a story, a movie trailer, or artwork. The final projects were wonderful. It was an amazing project, and they will never forget the motto.
    It was an absolute pleasure meeting you through the Friday Feedback. Good luck with your writing - I will be reading!

  84. Erie Canal's greatest baller......never knew about this person. What a wonderful way to introduce him. I'm not familiar with Salt City -- is that Syracuse?! Catching every ball without a mitt--ouch!
    Andy, I really hope you keep at this until you are submitting it somewhere. We Need Diverse Books!

  85. words puddle together....inviting me to splash. What a nice image and experience in this piece. There's lots of movement pushing the pace: tumble, rip, fall, vie, leap frog...zeroing in. By George! I think you've got it! At least for me. What do you think your title is?

  86. Wow! Andrea....this is something I would like to have in my library. It's funny but also has information. I wonder if you see this illustrated with drawings or photographs or a combination? Again, Wow! I am going to look at the pro comments below. I think this is great.

  87. I really like the play of light and sound. that works for me....and she's moving in a clear direction until the sound stops her. Great image and language.

  88. I'm definitely scared for this girl....and the cold of the night adds to the suspense. This works for me....makes me want to look over my shoulder.
    I wonder what Jaycee's running from?

  89. Thank you both for all the feedback. Yes, actually the narrator is female and she does have a girlfriend. Thanks a heap for all the specific help. I needed that!

  90. I love what you shared from Ride On, Will Cody! It sounds like it's going to be amazing! Thanks for sharing your ideas on playing with words and rhythm and structure. Here's a bit of a YA contemporary I'm working on...not sure if it's lyrical but trying to capture the moment.


    The beach is empty. Empty except for memories old and now new waiting for me when I my feet sink into the sand. Before Julian there weren't new memories. Only Dad and Araceli and Mama. The laughter and the sunshine and the love.

    Araceli, Mama, me, the beach will never be the same now that Dad is gone. His death changed everything.

    I know life is about change; it's inevitable and it can't be helped but I stare at the choppy water and remember standing on this spot with Julian yesterday, his dark eyes curious and caring and I won't be able to stop it from coming again. Goosebumps ripple all over my skin.

    “I don’t know if I can handle this.” I tell my dad. But he's not here. And he won't be ever again. And I kick up the sand and walk away.

  91. This is awesome, Andy! What an interesting topic but you also bring it to life. I like the verse format!

  92. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:36 PM

    Goosebumps! What a great project (and great teacher). Makes me long for a classroom again. So wonderful meeting you today, Andrew.

  93. earth cleave, laced with tiny roots....lovely words in a poem about an activity not many would call lovely at first, at least. This kind of language works for me. I like the verb list before night crawler! and prize-catch of the worm pile. My crit. is that prize of the worm pile (taking out the word catch) is just as good and a tad more efficient to my eye/ear. What does your son the fisherman think? I hope you've shared it?

  94. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 24, 2015 at 6:42 PM

    So many tactile images to enjoy here -- the feet in the sand, the choppy water, the goosebumps. I get a glimpse of hope with Julian, who has brought new memories, and sadness, with dad gone. Definitely with your character in this moment.

    While "the laughter and the sunshine and the love" can work, it also strikes me as a little generic. What if you took one or two sentences to give us a specific glimpse of a specific memory instead. I think that would make this stronger.

  95. Lovely, Jen! All that Caroline says!

  96. Agree! Good work. Love to see that Caroline's post inspired you so!

  97. I read this from out and about today on my phone and just loved the play of it! Good work, Pam! Keep going!

  98. My sister is female and has a girlfriend too, so I didn't get tripped up when I got to that line! ;) <3

  99. Thank you, Gae and Caroline!

    I appreciated Gae's comments about recognizing when we are writing even when the words don't always reach paper. This has been true for me many times this week.

    Caroline, I enjoyed your connections with poetry and music. The two are, without a doubt, linked. These are my thoughts on the poem you shared about Buffalo Bill:

    What worked? You've used strong verbs: surrenders, nickers, gallop, clutch. The specificity creates a mood and a visual.
    What didn't? Nothing.
    Am I hooked? Yes. I'm interested to learn more, and like the lively pace of your poem, and how it picks up momentum. I think my third graders would be interested, too!

    Thank you for sharing your work and your ideas!

    As for my writing, I've been checked out of this week's lessons and posting on account of spending time with my son during his last week home. Tonight my husband and I had dinner one last time with him before he boards a plane from JFK, bound for Japan tomorrow. As we hugged and put him in an uber car, my heart was a giant ache and my face was covered in tears. As we returned to our table, I saw he'd left behind his leftover food-- the snack for after his shower before climbing into bed for a good night's sleep before a long journey by plane. I grabbed it and ran back out. The uber was gone. I looked down 65th Ave., and there it stood, at the red light. I thought, too late, and then I thought, maybe... I ran and ran as fast as my wedge fitflops would move, and just as the light changed, I reached the car. The driver looked toward the movement approaching his window. I led with the brown paper bag. My son looked up in surprise and understanding. I passed the bag to the driver and backed away as the driver continued. I walked back to the restaurant and was applauded by a couple who'd watched. You did it, they said. Good job. Thank you, I said. But I knew, I couldn't have looked at that bag that held comfort food for my baby. I returned to our table and told my husband that I'd made it, and then I jotted this poem in my writer's notebook. It is unedited. It is what fell out as tears continued to leak down my cheeks. It felt like a song.

    Said goodbye to my baby
    Said goodbye to my baby, baby
    Squeezed him tight and
    said I love you.
    Said goodbye to my
    baby tonight.
    Kissed that boy and
    sent him off-
    Baby no more
    But said goodbye to
    my baby, my baby.
    Said goodbye to my baby

    It's more of a ditty I suppose, but it might develop into more as I roll around the feelings of growing up a child, and successfully launching a young man, who will always be my baby- my baby.

  100. Thanks for your kind words and feedback! Funny thing- that particular line break you mention was not intentional- it just happened when I posted!! So no special meaning with the cold neck! Ha!

  101. Pamela TallmadgeJuly 25, 2015 at 5:06 AM

    Thank you for the feedback,. I'm thinking the title might be: Words Reign

  102. Oh my heart, Dalila. Oh my heart.

    On a writing front/verse front vs. ditty front, boy would I love to read the scene -- the ridiculous importance of it all -- where the mother runs with this bag of leftovers, of comfort food, chasing a car with her boy in it. . .

    Keep going, lovely. And from a mama with her youngest in his senior year of high school and all that implies, hugs.

  103. I thought of you when I saw we had a novel in verse author Friday!
    This is really beautiful, Linda! I camp with students each fall and this resonated with me- you've captured so much in those few, lyrical words. I love "when evening house-lights go low" and "pale intermission moon" and "our bravos whispered in the dark". Especially love that last line.

  104. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 25, 2015 at 6:57 AM

    You never know. The whole story could hinge on that cols neck.; )

  105. I very much enjoyed your writing here, Andrew. I particularly liked the suspense of the "back and forth, back and forth" because it was so visual.

    Can you tell me more about your transmediation project? That sounds amazing. I, too, teach sixth grade and their summer reading coming in is Wonder with all the fantastic precepts. . . maybe a good introduction to your idea!

  106. Caroline Starr RoseJuly 25, 2015 at 7:01 AM

    Crying here. Thank you so much for this story and poem. You have captured the mama heart in all its sweetness and sorrow aND hope, hope , hope. Just perfect. Now excuse me while I hunt down my two boys...

  107. Andrew StarowiczJuly 25, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Hi, Jen,
    Thanks for the response and the positive feedback. I am really excited about all of the writing that I have done this summer.

    I would love to share the transmediation project. The kids could take a precept and create another form of media to share the precept (write a song, make a movie trailer). Can you send me an email to and I will send you the directions (I have no idea how to attach it to this response or I would) in the reply? Sorry for the extra step, but I think the directions would help you. Thanks again.

  108. I really enjoyed this, Jen. Love the line "Before Julian there weren't new memories" and the image of her feet in the sand. I wonder if you could go farther with that--is she in dry sand or wet (at the choppy water's edge or back on the higher ground)--which would make the last line different, depending on whether it's the wet sucking, sinking sand or the dry. I also like the changing, returning water and the line "I won't be able to stop it from coming again." Look forward to reading more.

  109. Pamela TallmadgeJuly 25, 2015 at 9:04 AM

    Wishing you the playfulness and musicality of this beautiful summer day!

  110. Thank you very much! Yes, I was thinking a combination would be a cool idea.

  111. If you don't mind, yes, I would love to chat some more as I move through this process for the first time! Thank you very much!

  112. Pamela TallmadgeJuly 26, 2015 at 8:15 AM

    Thank you. With all these great examples and all the encouragement, keeping going is just what I am doing!

  113. Thanks, Gae.