April 12, 2016

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a chance for authors around the world to tell you what they’re working on. The author answers 10 questions about their next book, and tags the person who first tagged them, plus at least 5 other authors.

I was tapped on the shoulder by my good friend Vonnie Winslow Crist, who is a poet and fantasy author. Thanks, Vonnie!

Check out Vonnie's Next Big Thing blog post about her latest book, OWL LIGHT.
Vonnie is an artist, too.
She created the cover art for Owl Light.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

When I taught high school, many years ago, the classic American verse novel Spoon River Anthology was part of our curriculum. I fell in love with the structure – getting to know a town’s secret history and its inhabitants through their poetic monologues. My students had a great time hunting through the poems for clues about who did what to whom in Spoon River.
There are over 200 poems in Spoon River Anthology,
each in the voice of a different character.
Four years ago, I was talking about novels-in-verse for children with author Lois Szymanski, author/editor Aimee Friedman, and agent Stephen Barbara. We were at a local SCBWI conference together. Stephen was also a fan of Spoon River. That night, I had an idea: Spoon River in Fifth Grade. I wrote down a few ideas, began some lines, even drew a full concrete poem before I went to bed. I still have that piece of paper!

What genre does your book fall under?

It is a contemporary middle grade novel-in-verse.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I imagine an animated movie, rather than live action. Scarlett Johansen would be a great voice for the classroom teacher, Miss Melissa Hill.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One class, twenty-five voices, one year in fifth grade.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am seeking representation for A YEAR IN FIFTH GRADE.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft took about six months. At the time, I was sticking closely to my source material. Because Edgar Lee Master’s has one poem per person in his book, I did the same. The original draft was only 30 poems (one for each student in Miss Hill's class). I have expanded that over the last several years, giving each character multiple poems as we follow them through the school year. The book is now about 150 pages long.
Spoon River is considered to be
Edgar Lee Masters' masterpiece.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There are many novels in verse for kids. Fewer in multiple voices and those are typically YA. The book I most admire is Laura Amy Schlitz’s Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, set in a medieval village. A YEAR IN FIFTH GRADE is the love-child of that book and Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, which is interconnected, episodic short stories – also, really funny.
Poetic monologues for kids PLUS
funny, episodic stories in a contemporary school
my next big thing...
A Year in Fifth Grade
Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I work as a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council. The students I meet and write poetry with – sometimes hundreds in a year – inspired this book. They get such a kick out of writing poetry with me, and I love learning about their interests, activities, likes and dislikes.

Credit also goes to my own kids. My son had just completed fifth grade when I began the book. My daughter has since survived fifth grade and gone on to middle school.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

For teachers, parents, and especially kids, I am working on supporting materials for A YEAR IN FIFTH GRADE. Included are extensive writing prompts related to the poems, but also some recipes, craft and science projects, and other random nonsense.

I am also working on a verse picture book, NINJA BALLERINA, a bedtime tale for kids who know how to balance tough and tulle.

Here is a sample from A YEAR IN FIFTH GRADE. It's in the voice of Brianna, a fifth grade girl who handles a big secret with creative flair.

School Clothes

I am hot pink loud
and no one sees
frayed seams I cover
with embroidery.

I am chic black boots
up past my knee.
No one knows they’re plastic
and too big for me.

I tell the girls
my clothes are new.
If they don’t get close,
they’ll think it’s true.

I am hand-me-downs
and thrift store jeans,
but I’m still as stylish
as the fifth grade queens.
Beadazzled jeans from
Here are some bedazzling Next Big Thing blogs from my fellow authors. I will add more links and authors as their posts go up.

Austin -- The Thriller -- Camacho @Another Writer's Life

And, though she's  not one of my five, she is still bedazzling...


Chris Stewart said...

I love being called bedazzling, especially on a Monday! And what an absolutely fun read your book is! My nephew is going into fifth grade....Chris

laurasalas said...

This book sounds awesome, Laura. When I showed my editor a poetry collection featuring poems by different students in one classroom (with a story arc), he really wanted me to revise it in the spirit of Spoon River Anthology. But I couldn't. It just wasn't right for my concept. I can't WAIT to see how you did this--and I love Good Masters--one of my favorites, too!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Chris. Thanks for stopping by. You are always bedazzling.

Oh, Laura, the elusive story arc. Can we talk?