Laura Shovan’s engaging, big-hearted debut is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.
Laura is a poet, children’s author, editor, and educator. She is Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s current writer-in-residence. Laura edited Maryland Writers’ Association’s anthology Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems and co-edited Voices Fly: An Anthology of Exercises and Poems from the Maryland State Arts Council Artists-in-Residence Program, for which she teaches. Those of you who attended our conference last month remember Laura as one of our faculty members, along with other members of The Sweet Sixteens. Not long ago she swung by the Cyber Cafe for a chat. We have an added treat today, as we have another interview with her.
Let’s get started!
Welcome, Laura! First off, what advice for beginning writers do you wish you would have followed?
The “practice book” isn’t a myth. So many of my debut author friends wrote one or more novels before making a sale with another book.
What is your favorite writing how-to book, technique, or website that has helped you improve your craft or provided inspiration?
I recently realized I’m kind of addicted to writing technique books. I have a shelf full of them. The one I always go back to is Syd Field’s classic, SCREENPLAY. He is the master of dramatic structure.
Where’s your favorite place to work?
My laptop and I travel around the house, following the sun.
How were you inspired to write your current or upcoming release?
I’ve been a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council for fifteen years. When a community of children writes together, they discover new things about their classmates and themselves—beyond who the child is as a student. I hope THE LAST FIFTH GRADE gives a glimpse of that.
What is your favorite line(s) from this book?
“You’re welcome, amphibians.”
If you could go back in time and make changes to any of your published books, would you? If so, which one and why?
I think working in the world of literary journals as both a poet and an editor has trained me away from that impulse. Once something is published, I tend to let it go and move on. Especially with stand-alone poems, I like the idea of the published work as an artifact. It becomes an object that people can look at and have their own experiences with.
Congratulations, Steven Spielberg is doing a movie based on your book! Who would play the lead role and what songs would be on the soundtrack?
My absolute dream actor for the role of the teacher, Ms. Hill, would be Nichelle Nichols from the original Star Trek. While I don’t know who today’s young actors are for the roles of the eighteen children in Ms. Hill’s class, I can imagine how much fun it would be to cast those parts.
Folk music is a huge part of the book. Ms. Hill still loves the protest songs of her youth and plays them for her students. There are a few poems in the book parodying famous folk songs.
What is your favorite quote?
The epigraph for my book is “And they were all, when their souls grew warm, poets.” It comes from a beautiful essay in Ray Bradbury’s collection ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING.
Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!
Do you . . .
Outline or wing it? I’m teaching myself to outline.
Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Zipped.
Sell by proposal or completed draft? I prefer complete, but that’s not always how it works.
Prefer writing rough drafts or editing? Revision. REVISION!
Dread marketing/blogging or love it? I love being part of the Poetry Friday blogging community.
Read Kindle or traditional books? Old school books.
And finally, what’s your favorite:
Time to work? Morning.
Music to listen to while writing? Too distracting.
Writing tool? I’m learning Scrivener.
Pair of shoes? Slippers when writing. TARDIS kicks when I need to feel like a superhero.
Guiltiest pleasure? Baby talking to my dogs. I swore I would never do it, but they’re So. Darn. Cute.
Line from a movie? Today it’s, “Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.” Better Off Dead stands the test of time.
Great interview, Laura!! Once again, congratulations on the release of your debut novel. Can’t wait to read it! Best of luck!