Today I am happy to share a recent interview Laura Purdie Salas regarding her latest book, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. This book arrived in the world on Tuesday. I’ve had a chance to get acquainted with it and is it a gem. I think kids of all ages can relate to what happens when you are sleeping.
It reminded me of my own beliefs that the fairy tale world came alive at night when I was sleeping. I mean Hansel and Gretel’s house was right there in the hallway and I would have to pass Rapunzel’s tower to go to the bathroom.
I had some questions for Laurie about MIDDLE:
JRM: Where/how did the idea for IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT come about?
LAURA: Actually, two poems, one I wrote and one I didn’t, inspired it. First, I wrote a poem called “Lights Out at the Bookstore” for BOOKSPEAK (Clarion, 2012), about all the books having a party at night. I loved writing that poem. Then, somebody (I can’t find the poem now, and I’m so frustrated) wrote a 15 Words or Less poem on my blog about chalk coming to life at night. Those two poems wriggled around in my head, and I thought, “What about a whole collection about what inanimate things do at night!” That was back in 2012.
JRM: What kind of prep/research/play did you do before writing the poems?
LAURA: Hehe—very little prep or research. This one, unlike the science-related poetry and verse I’ve been writing, is pure imagination! I just started brainstorming objects and possible things they might do. Like:
coloring sheet/homework: folds itself to become a paper airplane or a sailboat or a hat and it’s all wrinkled in the morning
pencils: built a fort or other big building that other things can interact with. eraser/face her/race her
socks: like the square dancing one, but it needs to be first person, can still be to the rhythm of a caller
knife: diving board
bowl: swimming pool below
kids’ meal toy: comes to life as a daredevil diver, diving off the diving board and into the pool
blanket: superhero cape for…
broom: superhero, cleans up messes, rescues things, flies through house with cape around its neck
plate: surfboard in the tub? moon in the sky? it dances, spins, does anything but lie flat?
pencil sharpener: chases crayons and whittles them down and makes confetti
what jumps in the confetti?
I wrote boatloads of lists and dozens and dozens of poems. And mostly, the research was all in my head! Such a change from my usual process.
JRM: Were there challenges in writing the book? How did you work around them?
LAURA: There are always challenges! Trying to find the focus was a main one. I didn’t start out with a house focus, so I had poems about all sorts of random things. And, as always, the only way to work around them was to write draft after draft, always circling back to ask, How can I make this collection stronger? Or asking my writing group, How can I make this collection stronger? Eventually, I zeroed in on a household focus.
JRM: Were the poems written in the order they appear in the book or did you organize the arc of the book later? What was the process?
LAURA: No, not at all! My process was to spew out poems. Any poems, all poems, without judgment. Then I tried to look at the shape of all the poems together. Eventually, I organized it by room/area of the house. Later, my wonderful editor at Wordsong, Rebecca Davis, was instrumental in thinking about the book’s arc and the order the poems would appear in.
JRM: There are twenty-six poems in the book. Were there more to start? If so, how did you decide which ones to include?
LAURA: There were many more. Many. I cut a lot of them, but my critique group (shout-out to the Wordsmiths!) also helped me identify the ones that weren’t as strong. And Rebecca also had thoughts about which ones were adding enough to the book and which ones weren’t. But she also had me add some poems. For instance, I wrote the two poems from the parents’ room at Rebecca’s suggestion that we somehow include that part of the house. And for each of those two poems, I wrote four or five possible poems, then shared the top few with Rebecca to get her input. My guess is that for the 26 poems in the book, I probably wrote about 100 poems. Half of them likely never made it past first draft stage. And the other half went through various numbers of drafts until I whittled them down to just 26. Here’s just one of many that didn’t make it in:
Tooth Fairy’s Bad Night
have all been
It just felt a little too snarky for the tone of the collection overall.
JRM:What surprised you the most about the book?
LAURA: Two things: One, how much more deeply I dug into the poems with Rebecca’s questions. Revision is both a terrifying and amazing process, and I learn so much each time I work with a fantastic editor! And, two, how fabulous Angela Matteson’s illustrations are. I knew I liked her art a lot from the delightful GRUMBLES FROM THE TOWN (Wordsong, 2016), a poetry collection by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Jane Yolen. But I was a little nervous because these poems are all set at night (obviously), and I was worried the book would end up being dark and muted. Nothing could be further from the truth!
JRM: You have had three books appear in the world recently. What’s next for you?
LAURA: It’s a busy year! In addition to my three poetry titles right now, I have a rhyming nonfiction book coming out this fall: SNACK, SNOOZE, SKEDADDLE: HOW ANIMALS GET READY FOR WINTER (Millbrook, 2019). Whew! I wrote all these books years apart, but various illustrators’ and publishers’ schedules just happened to all converge for 2019.
In the coming few years, I’ll have a couple of rhyming nonfiction books with Bloomsbury, more poetry and nonfiction with Wordsong/Boyds Mills, plus my first fiction picture book with Two Lions. I can’t wait to share all of these titles with readers!
Thanks, Jone, for hosting IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT on its blog tour. You have always been such a poetry advocate and done such amazing things with your students. Even after retirement, you are still sharing poetry love, and I’m grateful!
Thank you, Laura. I love the tooth fairy poem. I think older kids would get the snark.
If you would like to receive a copy of this amazing and fun book to share with kids of all ages, drop a comment. I will pick a winner next week and announce it on Poetry Friday, March 22, 2019.
What inanimate object would you choose for a poem?