An Interview with Laura Purdie Salas

Today I have Laura Purdie Salas sharing about her reading and writing life as well her new poetry book, BookSpeak! Poems about Books. Welcome, Laura.

Your Reading Life

 MSMac: What books are on your night stand?

 LS: A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

The Innocent, by Harlan Coben.

Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins.

What’s Looking at You, Kid?, by J. Patrick Lewis.

Poets on Teaching: a sourcebook, edited by Joshua Marie Wilkinson.

 MSMac: The Linda Sue Park book is on my TBR list. What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen?  As an adult? What particular genre stands out?

 LS: I haven’t ever had a favorite book. As a kid, I was a voracious reader and loved any book that took me in for a few hours. I did read Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile many, many times  (maybe that’s where my alligator phobia comes from?). In upper elementary school, I was especially into Agatha Christie and read every one my library had. Flowers for Algernon was a favorite of mine as a teen, and so were James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and the sequels. As an adult, I read mostly adult and children’s poetry, picture books, adult mysteries, and  nonfiction.

 MSMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?

LS: I’m a traveling reader and can read anywhere, anytime! In my grey chair with a storm outside is my favorite reading setting, though I don’t get that often!

 MSMac: Yes, there’s nothing better than a good stormy day to read or a wonderful summer day outdoors to read. What are your thoughts about ereaders versus a book? Do you have an ereader?


LS: I don’t have an e-reader, though I’ve read a few books on my iPhone. I’m not against e-readers, per se. I love being able to spend a few minutes before yoga class reading a poem or two on my phone, for instance. And it would be nice not to break my arms carrying luggage overweighted with books every time I travel. But a real book is so solid and dependable. It doesn’t run out of batteries. It doesn’t tempt me away from itself with emails and podcasts. It doesn’t suddenly go blank with no explanation. I expect I’ll get an e-reader soon, but I don’t plan on giving up paper books at all!


Your Writing Life


MSMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?

 LS: A day of work looks like me frantically pounding away on a keyboard. I only get to actually write for a few hours a week, if I’m lucky. Most of the time, I’m answering emails, working on promotional stuff, corresponding with editors, blogging, critiquing, etc. When I am going to get an hour of actual writing time, I love to do it first thing, right after the house empties out for the day. My brain is somewhat fresh then:>)

 MSMac:Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

LS: First draft—it’s so full of possibility!

MSMac: What does your writing space look like?

LS: I write everywhere. Lately, I’ve mostly been writing at the kitchen table, looking out the picture window into the backyard.

MSMac: What are your current projects?


LS:I’ve been working on three new prose picture book manuscripts—all funny (I hope). One features a cowboy who is NOT happy about an event he has to go to, one has farm animals setting very bad behavior examples when kids come to visit on a field trip, and the third has a giraffe with a long problem. And I have one poetry collection bubbling in my head, but I haven’t got a good handle on it yet.

MSMac: What advice do you have for poets of any age?

 LS: Read tons of poetry! Start writing. Don’t judge yourself.

MSMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?

LS: Reading.Being active—walking, yoga, zumba, etc. Volunteering with the Minnesota Brass drum corps (my husband and I both marched last year).Playing board games.Watching cooking shows (those who can’t, watch)

About BookSpeak! Poems about Books

MSMac: Tell me a bit about this book.  What was your process? Did you set out to    specifically write a set of  book poems or were they written over time?

LS: I wrote most of these in a space of a few weeks.

MSMac: What inspired you to create BookSpeak?

LS: I was invited to submit for an anthology, but none of my 13 poems was accepted. I was really bummed out. My agent looked them over and sent them to my editor at Clarion, and I was so thrilled when she said she wanted to make a book from them. Then I needed to write more poems and start the long revision process.

MSMac: What kind of input did you have with the illustrations and the layout? Did  you see your poems being arranged as they were when you wrote them with  the different fonts like in the poem, “Skywriting”? (which by the way, is one   of my favorites in the book)

LS: On the illustrations, basically, none. I did get to see early versions and offer feedback. There was one poem that was hard to follow because it’s for three voices (“The Middle’s Lament”), so the editor and wonderful artist, Josée Bisaillon, worked together to make it simpler for reading aloud. And there were a couple of poems that the editor asked if I could change line breaks a bit or the layout somewhat to work better with the illustrations. I was very open to that.

 There’s one illustration that, to me, doesn’t match the content/viewpoint of the poem, so that kind of bothered me. But they didn’t change that. And I’m actually not a big fan of different fonts (though that’s one of my favorite poems, too) within a poem. I expressed that, and my editor had some justification for it (which I honestly can’t remember). So that didn’t get changed, either. The illustrator’s goal was to make the best art she could to expand and illuminate the poems. And the editor’s goal was to make the best book possible, marrying my words and Josée’s art. Nobody’s goal was to make a book perfect for Laura or perfect for Josée, and that’s the way it should be.

Plus, I have to say that Josée Bisaillon’s art for BookSpeak is just fabulous! Colorful, whimsical, mysterious, playful…I love 99% of it, and I’m thrilled with that. In a true collaboration, which is what a picture book is, each person has to give in a little. I bet there were times when she said—probably in a lovely French accent, “Oooh, I wish Laura would have written sailboat instead of shark here,” or something like that. Some detail that might have worked better in her illustration. But we both went with the established process, and I think it came out wonderfully.

MSMac: What do you hope readers/viewers take away?

 LS:I hope they start to wonder what their favorite books (or the characters inside those books) might say. And I hope readers remember again the magic that words and pictures can create. And most of all, I hope they enjoy the moment of reading, without worrying about taking anything away at all. It’s always hard to know how any particular book will affect any one reader, but the reading itself unites all of us.

 Just for Fun

MSMac: Dark chocolate or mild chocolate?

LS:Milk chocolate.

MSMac: Coffee or tea?

 LS: Tea!

 MSMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

 LS:Ooh, can’t I do both?

MSMac: Favorite quote?

 LS: “All I can do is the best I can do.” That’s mine. It’s what I tell myself when I’m struggling with writing, an athletic activity, keeping up with various commitments, etc.

I love your quote, Laura.  Iti’s a good reminder for those days of struggles and doubts.

Thanks for sharing your reading and writing life with me.  I enjoyed BookSpeak! Poems about Books so much. 

For Poetry Friday I will feature a poem from BookSpeak! Poems about Books.

More great interviews are at The Flatt Perspective.

Happy Reading.