April 12, 2016

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Poetry Friday: Book Phantoms (Kill Your Darlings 2)

"In writing, you must kill all your darlings." --William Faulkner

There's an excellent essay on the misreading
of Faulkner's famous quote (above) at Wendy Palmer's blog.
It's Poetry Friday, and I'm continuing my series of cut poems and offed characters from my book, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

What does my fictional fifth grade class see
from their classroom windows? Bulldozers,
waiting like a pack of hungry predators to pounce on Emerson E.S.
But first, please visit my PF doppelganger, the other Laura S(alas), who is today's Poetry Friday host.

Last Friday, I dug word nerd Shelly up from the paper grave. His spelling bee sonnet, while fun, didn't reveal much about Shelly's character. He was one of the first voices to get the ax.

It was much, MUCH harder to cut Madison Singleton from the book. She'd been with me from the beginning, when THE LAST FIFTH GRADE was Spoon River Elementary, a collection of 30 poems in 30 fifth grade voices. Five years and many drafts later, I had a soft spot for horse-obsessed Maddie.

Spoon River Anthology was adapted into a play.
The book is a series of over 200 poems, each in the voice
of a unique character. Together, they tell the story of
their small town, circa 1900.
But this summer, I completed a huge overhaul of the manuscript. What it needed was less Spoon River and more narrative arc. Now, I have a new storyline about a fifth grade class who wants to save their school from demolition so badly, they're willing to take on the adults of the dreaded Board of Ed.

Much as I cared about Maddie, much as she had her own story arc, she didn't do anything to move the larger story forward. She wasn't deeply embedded in the group dynamics of my imaginary fifth grade class. Maddie was less than a minor character. She was an extra.

So, readers, I'd like to introduce you to Maddie before she disappears forever.

These four poems represent her four entries -- one for each quarter of the school year -- cut from THE LAST FIFTH GRADE. I hope Maddie's poems give a sense of how I develop each character with a unique arc.

What you won't see here are the poems in which other children in Miss Hill's fifth grade class mention or comment on Maddie. (E.g. some of the girls assume that the new pony Maddie is bragging about means her family is rich.)
Girl Island
(First Quarter poem)

By Maddie Singleton

We are the only table
with no boys.
Miss Hill calls us
Girl Island.
I imagine woods
deep and green,
salty air
from the ocean.
Like my favorite place
Chincoteague Island,
where the wild
ponies live.
I gave the girls
at my table
Pony names.
Melodie is Pied Piper,
wild and free,
angry when someone
tries to tame her.
Gracie is Shadow,
quiet as
a ghost
at Mel’s side.
Ana’s name is Twilight.
She’s in between,
speaking English in class
and Spanish at recess.
Rennie Rawlins is Phantom,
tossing her mane,
letting everyone know
she thinks she’s boss.
Stormy Sloane
laughs on happy days,
rumbles inside when
she’s in a bad mood.
Misty, that’s me,
my favorite foal,
shy at first

but caring for my herd.

(Second Quarter poem,
after Miss Hill assigns new seats)

By Maddie Singleton

A lightning storm hits.
Girl Island broken apart,
each pony alone,
stabled in a different place.
I whinny – missing my friends.

Last week I shared this seating chart for Miss Hill's classroom.
Many of you noticed "Girl Island" on the lower right.
Only two of these six characters have survived!
Fluffy White Poodles
(Third Quarter poem)

By Maddie Singleton

Shoshanna told me
the whole fifth grade thinks
horses have taken over my brain.
Like an entire herd
is stampeding around in my head,
squashing my brain cells.

I told her that’s because
I am working really hard
on my application to earn a pony
from the Feather Fund
and it’s the one and only way
I can afford to get my own pony, so duh,
of course I’m kind of obsessed.

“Still,” Rennie said.
And she dared me
not to talk or write
or even think about horses
for one whole day.
If I could do it, Rennie said,
she would help me with my essay.

The next day, every time I wanted to say
“Horse,” I said, “Poodles” instead.
As in, I can’t come over after school,
I have to feed the Poodles.
Every time I wanted to write about ponies
I described poodles jumping over fences
and doing tricks with hula hoops.
Every time a horse pranced into my mind,
I turned it into a fluffy white poodle
in a pink tutu, dancing on its hind legs
at the circus.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun.
My brain got a break, and the dare?

I won.

Circus Poodle from Juicy Dog Couture.
My Pony
(Fourth Quarter poem)

By Madison Singleton

Ponies of the sea,
ponies of the Bay,
horses of the ocean
trotting in the spray.

Chincoteague ponies,
Chincoteague mares
wild ponies running
in all of my prayers.

Our yard was a farm once.
Our yard has a stable.
Mom rents out the stalls
to put food on our table.

Cold mornings in winter,
cold ice on the roads,
I feed all the horses
and brush down their coats.

I wish they were mine.
I wish they were mine,
their manes and their fetlocks,
their saddles and lines.

I wrote about horses.
I wrote about home.
I asked the Feather Fund
for a horse of my own.

They chose my essay.
They picked me to win
a Chincoteague pony
with a whiskery chin.

A pony for a friend,
a pony I can ride,
to brush and feed and walk with,

a Poodle by my side :-).

The fourth quarter poem (a tribute to Joy Harjo's poem "She Had Some Horses") was Maddie's original poem. The last one I wrote, and the roughest of the bunch, is "Fluffy White Poodles." 

Even though she's been cut from the book, Maddie hangs around -- she's a book phantom, an almost-was character. Why did I kill this darling? As much as I want THE LAST FIFTH GRADE to represent a real fifth grade class (and around here, 30 students in a class is not unrealistic), Maddie didn't make enough of an impact to earn a place in the novel's cast. 

I'm down to a class of 21 voices. Will there be more cuts in their future?

Some of you may notice Maddie's reference to the Feather Fund. My friend, Maryland children's author Lois Szymanski, is involved in this amazing program. You can read more about it here.
The Feather Fund matches deserving young people with Chincoteague ponies.
I imagined that Maddie would earn her own horse through this program.
Today, I'm packing for the Indie Lit Festival at Frostburg State University. A bunch of intrepid staffers from Little Patuxent Review are hopping in my mommy van at 7 am tomorrow morning for the 2+ hour drive to western Maryland. If you happen to be there, stop by the LPR table to say hello!

(P.S. I am going to write a "book phantoms" novel, in which characters an author cut from a novel come back to haunt him/her.)


Linda B said...

She (Maddie) does have such a voice, Laura. I can see why you would want to keep her around. I enjoyed that each poem was a different style, keeping her mood at that time. I'm looking forward to your novel, you're giving us these hints so now I want to read! I didn't know about the Feather Fund-how wonderful that is!
Happy travels!

BJ Lee said...

Interesting Laura! I love your horse (and poodle) poems. My husband used to camp on Chincoteague Island and he's told me all about the wild ponies. I was a wild horse too many years ago, prancing and whinnying across the playground.

Tabatha said...

"Yes" to your book phantoms novel!

I can see why you wouldn't want to cut Madison. I love the way you introduce her with "Girl Island."

Buffy Silverman said...

I love Maddie's pony obsession, and especially "Rearranged"--wonderful way to show the difficult school social ladder through Maddie's unique perspective. I can see why it was difficult to chop her from your tale!

laurasalas said...

These are wonderful--Maybe Maddie will get her own book someday...hint, hint. I love your sharing of these cutting-room floor tidbits:>)

Author Amok said...

Thanks, everyone. Maddie appreciates being acknowledged. Isn't she a sweet kid? She reminds me of reading Enid Blyton's novels as a girl -- I remember being amazed that some British girls had horses at school!

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

You know what? I like Maddie ! I like the way the mood shifted from quarter to quarter, each having its own reality - just like "real" school. Sad that girl island was broken up, though - I like having them in my classroom.

Author Amok said...

Aw, thanks Tara. I think Girl Island was inspired by an all-girl table during my daughter's fourth or fifth grade year. I'm sorry to see it (and Maddie) go, but it makes sense for the book. Making up a seating chart was a HUGE help in working out the classroom dynamics.

Mary Lee said...

I like Maddie! She reminds me of me in 3rd and fourth grade, when I galloped around the back yard on hands and knees. I knew I'd never HAVE a horse, so I made do by BEING one. And I read and re-read all of the Marguerite Henry books!

Keri said...

You capture Maddie's personality and the typical horse obsession so well, Laura! I agree that there is more of Maddie's story to tell -- the hint of hardship, the intense longing for a true companion that is her own . . . we all seem to want more of Maddie, so give her free rein!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

"So, readers, I'd like to introduce you to Maddie before she disappears forever." Oh no you don't, Laura! Maybe gone from this book, but there's too much life in Maddie to just go poof. How about a PB? Maddie brought back memories of my Cumberland Island vacation this summer... that's another beautiful spot to see wild horses.

PS: Also LOVE your proposed "Book Phantoms" idea!

Ruth said...

Oh, it must have half killed you to cut Maddie! She sounds so great! Thanks for sharing her with us.

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

It's apparent why you didn't want to lose Maddie - based on the poems, you had great affection for her! I've had to cut lines I really love from poems in order to make them better, so I know how it feels. But I'd love to see your "book phantoms" novel...that's a great idea!