Today brings another Simply 7 interview that I’m thrilled to be able to tell you all about! It’s a poetry picture book full of wonderful mask poems by THE one and only Laura Purdie Salas!I’m delighted to be part of the Blog tour for “In the Middle of the Night.” As an added bonus, the title makes me start hearing Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” in my head. It’s a good problem to have as it’s a bouncy happy song that could easily play as background music to the poems of this book!
Laura Purdie Salas has written numerous picture books of poetry or non-fiction or BOTH! Her “Can be” series (“Water can be…”; “A Rock can be…”; “A Leaf Can be…”) is one of my favorites! She has THREE picture books of poetry due out this year alone (and I can’t wait to read them ALL). You can learn more about her at her website.
“In the Middle of the Night” is a cute book full of mask poems from a variety of objects having fun at night while a child sleeps. A mask poem (also called a persona poem) is a poem told from something else’s point of view, be it something inanimate or another person. As a child I always imagined that my beloved toys had a secret life I knew nothing about after I went to sleep. I imagined that they lived all sorts of fun lives without me and it made them seem even MORE real to me. In this book, there are wonderful surprises I wasn’t expecting. Not only do we get to see the secret life of toys, but also pencils, leftover spaghetti, basketballs (one of my favorites) and a “bummed out” toilet seat! LOL!
Thanks for having me, Jena! It’s delightful to be stopping in to visit.
Me: You are a very talented and prolific writer and poet. Can you talk about your journey? When did you start writing?
Laura: Thanks so much! I didn’t start writing (other than school assignments) until I was in college. Well, even then, I guess it was for assignments. But a creative writing course at the University of Center Florida introduced me to a world of imagination and writing that I’d never known existed. I had always been a voracious reader, but not a writer.
I switched my major to Creative Writing, and I worked for magazines and as a teacher and as a freelance writer (for grown-ups). When my own daughters were small, I fell in love with the picture books I was reading constantly with them. That was the beginning of my journey as a children’s writer. In some ways, I wish I had discovered that love earlier. But I suppose all my previous jobs and life adventures led to my children’s writing happening just when it should have.
Me: “In the Middle of the Night” is quite a clever collection of mask poems. What was the inspiration for this book?
Laura: Mask poems are just one of my very favorite forms! Isn’t it wonderful to imagine being something else? I had written a poem called “Lights Out at the Bookstore” for BOOKSPEAK: POEMS ABOUT BOOKS (Clarion, 2012). It’s about the books having a big party and eating treats in the Cookbooks aisle and running relays in the Sports section, etc. And then someone wrote a poem about what chalk does at night to a poetry prompt I posted on my blog. So there in my Picture Book Ideas document is:
Me: Were there any poems (or voices) that got cut out of the collection? Or any poems you wish you had included?
Laura: I wrote tons of poems, and yes, many got cut! Some I cut early on because they just weren’t strong enough. Others, I cut at the suggestion of my brilliant editor, Rebecca Davis at Wordsong. Some of those just didn’t make the very last cut for space. Others just didn’t fit in for mood or chronology reasons. I was sad to lose the Dirty Clothes, the Missing Sock, and especially the Knife (who was a spy!).
Me: The illustrations by Angela Matteson in this book are just wonderful. They are absolutely perfect for the poems. Were there any illustration surprises for you when you finally saw them?
Laura: Aren’t they? I feel totally lucky to have been paired with Angela Matteson. She is superb! I was surprised overall because the illustrations were even 10 times more beautiful than I had hoped.
The specific illustration that was kind of unexpected for me is the one with “Revenge of the Lunchbox.” I had pictured a cat who had been playing with and battering the soft lunchbox (like cats do with grocery sacks and such), so the lunchbox was taking revenge on the bad kitty. And instead, Angela gave us this adorable little fluff of a cat playing cards with a mouse! Now the lunchbox seems like the bad guy instead of the cat—haha. But, you know, that’s the collaboration part. The art and words play together and can create something that the writer did not intend, but it’s not wrong. As a writer, your words aren’t illustrated. Your words and someone else’s illustrations join together make an entirely new third thing. That’s the magic of picture books.
Me: That’s the wonderful magic that makes them work! What is one thing that surprised you in writing this collection of poetry?
Laura: I admit I was surprised by how distracting it was to work on this. I guess it’s like method actors who can’t set their characters aside. Since I was writing about everyday household objects, I couldn’t help imagining secret lives for every single thing at home! Of course, a project always takes over a little bit. If I’m writing about trees, I notice trees more. But every little household chore became more time-consuming because I was so distracted. Hey, what would the mop do at night? Do you think a paper plate could sled? What happens if the guest room gets lonely? So this collection was a bit harder to “turn off” as I went about the rest of my day.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers or poets?
Laura: I’ve been watching some old seasons of a British show called Sky Arts Artist of the Year. I am flabbergasted by the variety. If 20 artists set out to portray the same landscape, you will see 20 different approaches. Approaches in materials, composition, underlayering, colors, everything. An hour in, some people’s canvases will look practically complete, while others have been doing studies and mixing paints and have put hardly anything on their canvas. It’s incredible! I think the same is true of writing; it’s just not visual, so you don’t notice it. You only see the finished projects.
Anyway, I have lots of resources for writers on my website at https://laurasalas.com/writing-for-children/ My top pieces of advice for a beginning writer are:
- Read a LOT of current books of the form that you would like to write.
- Find a critique group.
- Write a lot and know that much of it will be crap. But that’s okay! Keep writing a lot, and you will get better.
- Find a writing community, online or in person.
- Take a course, online or in person.
- Don’t worry about submitting your work until you’ve been writing regularly for at least a year or two.
Me: When you were a kid, what did you imagine was awake, living a life of its own, while you were asleep? What would you have wished to see as a child, peeking at this magical night time world?
Laura: Well, I was pretty sure everything in our creepy basement was awake, which terrified me! However, I was also sure the flowers were dancing, and the treehouse was chatting with the trees, and the moon was whispering to the lake. I would have loved to have lain outside in the dark and watched dragonflies, fairies, and flowers having a little party. I imagined that scene a lot…
Aww! Wouldn’t that have been fun? Sounds like we had similar imaginations when we were young. Dear readers, this is NOT a book you want to miss. It’s got so many wonderful surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you. You must find a copy and give it a read! To help with that, one lucky reader will win a copy of the book. Simply enter the Rafflecopter here.