Today I’m delighted to bring you another Simply 7 interview as part of a blog tour, this time with writer and poet David L. Harrison!
I’m delighted to not only participate in the blog tour for David’s latest book, but I also get to give away a copy to one lucky winner. Read on!
David L. Harrison is an incredibly prolific kidlit writer who has been writing since the 1960s. His nearly 100 publications to date have won numerous awards and have been translated and anthologized more than 185 times! His poems have been set to music and sandblasted into a library sidewalk. He’s even had an elementary school named after him. (How many of us can claim that?) You can learn more about him at his website.
I get to tell you all about his latest book ON its book birthday! Yay! “After Dark” is a series of nonfiction poems about nocturnal animals and it is released into the world today. It’s full of fascinating facts, great art, and a great sense of humor. This is one poetry anthology that you won’t want to miss this year! In fact, you can read all about it on several blogs through its blog tour, if you want to learn more. Each blog highlights different things, so you won’t be bored!
Me: You are a very talented and prolific writer and poet. Can you talk about your journey? When did you start writing?
David: I’m the result of a good recipe. Early ingredients included my parents reading to me, telling me stories, and taking me places. Accepting a friendly bet, my mother taught me the Gettysburg Address when I was four. My first poem came when I was six. On summer days when it was too hot to play outdoors, I spent hours on a magic quilt on the floor, reading and making up stories that I wrote down and illustrated. My interest in nature developed early so I always had plenty to look at and think about. Based on a story I wrote in a college creative writing course, the professor told me I should become a writer.
By then I think the fire must have been ready to ignite. My teacher struck the match. By working days and writing nights it took me six years and 67 rejections to sell my first story. My wife supported me and even offered to let me take a year off to try my luck at freelancing. I couldn’t allow her to do that, but I’ll never forget her generosity and belief in me. Looking back it seems inevitable that sooner or later I would become a writer. It has been over 50 years since my first picture book was published. These days I write from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. week days and sneak-write on weekends when I can get away with it.
Me: “After Dark” is quite a collection of poems that also conveys nonfiction information. What was the inspiration for this book?
David: In a way I think After Dark has always been there waiting for me to write it. I like animals. We’re all together on this planet, living in parallel universes that sometimes touch and intermingle. By day we can see the animals around us. Nighttime cloaks their world in secrecy, but that doesn’t mean the dark isn’t alive with activity and drama. I knew this when I was six years in a tent with my parents beside a mountain lake in Arizona, electrified by the sounds of bears down the lane banging on metal trash cans. I knew it in third grade when I draped a sheet over our back yard clothesline, lighted it from within, and marveled at the insects and bats that appeared out of the dark to dart and swoop around me. One evening in 2014 my wife and I were sitting on the patio long after dark. A mother skunk and her babies walked across our yard a few feet from us and went on their way. And this book was born.
Me: Oh my goodness. I love that! As always, I love your humor tucked into your poetry. I also loved all the facts provided at the back of the book, but there wasn’t a guide as to what poetry forms you used. Was there a form that you were most fond of in this collection?
David: When I approach a new collection of poetry, I have two rules. One is to find a natural sound and cadence that fits each subject. The second is to make certain I don’t fall into a pattern of poems that look like different pups from the same litter. Long ago when I was editorial manager for Hallmark Cards I used to warn my editors to avoid overusing day-way and you-too rhymes. Too easy = too trite. In my poetry I avoid overusing ballad stanzas with 3-4-3-4 beats per line and a-b-c-b rhyme schemes. I want my menu to feature a variety of offerings so readers don’t grow weary of the same-old-same-old.
AFTER DARK is composed with eleven free verse and 10 verse poems that employ numerous poetic devices. These include alliteration, occasional rhymes within free verse poems, refrains, stanzas that rhyme a-a-a, stanzas that rhyme a-a-a-a, stanzas in which refrains rhyme with lines if the verses, stanzas with two accented syllables per line, stanzas with a 3/2/3/2 pattern of beats, internal rhymes, stanzas that rhyme a-b-b-a, a rather complicated verse poem about the firefly, and a poem about the raccoon told entirely in slant rhymes. The Kirkus review made note of the variety of poems in AFTER DARK. I’m always happy when someone notices!
Me: Wow! Wonderful work! Were there any poems that got cut out of the collection? Or any poems you wish you had included?
David: A couple of poems didn’t make the final cut, one about the black bear and one about a feral cat. I liked both poems so I’ll try to work them into something else if an opportunity comes along. Here’s the feral cat.
Someone loves your mama,
she sleeps with him in bed,
but you, one cat too many,
he turned you out instead.
Fending on your own,
surviving all alone –
Peering in my windows,
shying from the light,
living in the shadows,
prowling through the night,
Fending on your own,
surviving all alone –
Claws and wits grow sharper,
you learn where birds take rest,
stealthy midnight stalker,
raider of fledgling nest.
Songbird songs diminish,
why no one can tell.
Wile is now your instinct,
ancestry guides you well.
Fending on your own,
surviving all alone –
Me: The illustrations 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?
David: I am a huge fan of Stephanie (Steph) Laberis. I wondered how an artist could present twenty-one poems about creatures of the night and somehow manage to make each scene different. Steph came through with a unique combination of night scenarios that somehow illuminate the subjects just the right amount. It’s the work of a seasoned pro in the business who brings enormous skills to her game.
Kids are going to love her pictures. I’m always enchanted when I see great art created around something I’ve written. In one case, the mama skunk scurrying to get her kits off the street, I thought she did an exceptional job of projecting exactly the right amount of tension into the situation, with mama working frantically from instinct and experience while her children play tag with the innocence of youth. This poem grew from an evening when I stopped the car to watch a mother skunk hurrying to round up her frolicking kits and get them out of the street.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers or poets?
David: Dare to be different. If you see a picture book you like, it means that someone else already thought of it. Look for what’s not there and do that instead. I did that one time when I wanted to become the next Dr. Seuss. I read all his rhymed pictured books and determined that he had not written about a frog. I wrote OG THE FROG, using a 50 word vocabulary, each word one syllable and used at least two times. Turned out Random House didn’t need a new Dr. Seuss so I sold my book to Rand McNally. My editor there had me expand the story and add more vocabulary, but hey, I gotter done.
Me: I love that! I saw in your website photos that you’ve been to Alaska. Where all in Alaska have you visited? What did you do here besides fishing?
David: I’ve been to Alaska three times, once on a sightseeing trip with my wife, once on a cruise with our family, and once to fish with my son. We love Juneau, Anchorage, Denali, Seward, Skagway, Ketchikan (“Where more men – than fish — went upstream to spawn”); love all the museums, the bald eagles watching us back from trees, the magnificent mountains, the reminders of how tough it was for adventurers to survive during the days of the gold rush, how hard it always has been for natives of Alaska to live and make a living. We love the beyond-words sense of immensity and grandeur of Alaska. You can’t describe it. You have to go there. Several poems in my book WILD COUNTRY were inspired by my trips to Alaska.
“There!” someone yells.
We rush to look.
“See his spout?”
We breathe like we’re praying.
Your great humped back
breaks the sea,
like the gray rim
of the last setting sun.
we float on the sky
of your world.
Are you gone?
Will you come back?
I love that! I live in Alaska, but I have to agree: words cannot describe it here. It’s always been home to me and always will be so. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog David!
And dear readers, today is the day you can track down this wonderful book. You must give it a read. As an added bonus, we will be giving away a copy of the book! Enter the rafflecopter here.