Tuesday, May 11, 2010

GRAFFITI WALL: Caroline Rose Starr, author of MAY B.

Well, dear Alleywalkers and guests alike, our GRAFFITI WALL is growing. So exciting!!

This week we have another special author, gifted and talented.  


Caroline is a children's author represented by Michelle Humphrey of the Martha Kaplan Agency. Her debut historical middle-grade novel, MAY B, is scheduled for release September 13, 2011 by Tricycle Press.

She's a writer, a mother, and (as I found out while doing this interview) a former teacher. She walked away from her teaching position last year, in the attempt to write full-time for a year. The risk paid off. Lucky for us. 

Although not formally in the classroom any longer, she visits campus three times a month leading after-school book clubs. For Caroline, it still provided her with a great mix of teaching, promoting literature, and keeping involved with her former students. She has a strong sense of the importance of education and has kept 'teacher' in her profile description.

How did you start writing?

It is certainly easier to budget my writing time now that my boys are in school. I stayed home with them when they were young, and I found that if I wanted to write at that stage of my life, my expectations had to be reasonable. I aimed for three writing sessions a week. Some would end up being ten-minute sessions. Others might last a few hours. For a few years, I got a sitter once a week and wrote at a local coffee shop. Anything beyond three writing days I saw as a bonus.

Where do you think your desire to write came from?

From loving books, loving words, and loving kids.

What were your most favorite escape reads as a middle school child?

I loved Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, the Doctor Dolittle series, the Mary Poppins series, LM Montgomery’s Anne Shirley and Emily Starr books, the Wizard of Oz series (there are still many Oz books I’d like to get to). In sixth grade, my language arts teacher had my class read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. I adore this book. I’ve read it close to thirty times with my students over the years. I bought A SEPARATE PEACE from a book order in seventh grade. It still remains one of my favorites.

I also read quite a few adult titles in middle school. I remember checking out loads of Agatha Christie mysteries (I slept with the lights on for several nights after reading AND THEN THERE WERE NONE). I read GONE WITH THE WIND twice in middle school (once before sixth grade, once after eighth). My seventh-grade language arts teacher had my class read an abridged version of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. I absolutely loved it. I remember writing her a note on our MONTE CRISTO test, thanking her for assigning it (most other kids complained or didn’t finish. I guess a note on a test felt like a safe place to express my interest). I read that version several more times in high school and moved to the unabridged as an adult. It is still my favorite book today.

How do you think reading has influenced your writing style?

Reading was such a vital part of my childhood. So many of the books I loved I still carry with me in images, feelings, and ideas. If I can create the same sort of experience for other children, I’ll be happy.

Since coming across Lucy Calkins’s work in college (a middle-school language arts teacher and author), I’ve tried to read with a writer’s mind.

I don’t know about style, but reading always informs my writing. 

Can you share with our readers your personal journey on receiving that call from Michelle Humphrey, offering representation.

I don’t know if I’ve even told Michelle this, but when she emailed saying she’d read my book in one sitting and wanted to discuss it with me, I was thrilled, but I was also pretty guarded. After years of rejection and several promising leads, it was hard for me to imagine Michelle could actually be interested. I figured she’d consider my manuscript only if I did A, B, and C to her liking.

When we talked a few days later, she opened the conversation by telling me how much she loved my book. She told me about her experience, her interests, and her authors, and offered representation then and there. It was unbelievable, really.

Your blog is wonderful. Any advice for the newbie blogger about blogging?

Thank you. 

It’s sometimes hard to tell how things are being received. My advice to new bloggers would be to go in prepared. Know the message you want to send and stay on topic. For example, my tagline is On Writing, Reading, and Waiting. Most of my posts focus on books, writing, and the publication process. I also throw in bits about motherhood and teaching, two other things I know well.

Think through what you know and what you want to add to the blogosphere before beginning. Keep to a schedule. For about six months, I posted five days a week. Just this month I’ve cut down to three. If you are consistent, you can build a following. That said, not everyone will like what you have to offer, and that’s okay, too. There are days I wonder if I’ve posted so much about writing that I’m losing my reader crowd, and vice versa. I try to post what interests me and hope others will find it worthwhile.

Writing a novel-verse has always fascinated me. I know it's one of your loves. Could you explain what it is and the technique you use in writing it?

A verse novel is a story told through unrhymed poetry. Each poem should be able to stand alone and also build the overall story. When writing MAY B., I kept a quilt in mind. Each poem was like a different square. Some colors/fabrics I repeated to form patterns. This freed me up while creating (one square at a time was much less overwhelming than creating an entire quilt, much like what Anne Lamott says about writing in BIRD BY BIRD).

I have to tell you. This is amazing to me.

It’s funny. I didn’t start MAY B. with the intent to write in verse. I tried several scenes in prose and was frustrated by how distant everything felt. When I went back to the first-hand accounts of pioneer women I’d previously read, I was struck by the terse, plain, matter of fact way they presented their lives. Realizing this was like finding a secret key. I suddenly knew how to get as close to the bone as I needed in order for the story to work: short, straight-forward poems.

An interesting aside: 

I had read all of two verse novels before this (Karen Hesse’s OUT OF THE DUST and Sharon Creech’s HEARTBEAT).

Is that something you taught to your students? Do you think it should be focused more on it schools?

I’ve never taught from a verse novel, though OUT OF THE DUST would be a wonderful book to read in a language arts or history class (it is set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s).

Teaching poetry, though, has been extremely important to me. Kids need to know poetry is accessible and can be about any topic. Every time I’d teach my poetry unit, I’d start with a parent interview. My students would ask their parents about their impressions of poetry. It was interesting to see how many felt poetry was some sort of secret code they couldn’t crack. Most kids started the unit saying poetry was about “love, butterflies, and flowers” (I got this response time and again in different schools in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Strange, really!). By the end, they had a broader understanding (and interest, I hope) in what poetry can be.

You must be so excited for MAY B. to be released. How are you waiting it out?

I am not a patient person, so the fact I took up writing still humors me. The whole reason I have the picture of the happy stone-carved man on my blog is to remind to me to stay content through the wait (because there’s nothing to do but wait when you’re made of stone!).

Believe it or not, Fall 2011 doesn’t feel too far off. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then. I can’t wait to dig in and make something that is good really shine.

Anymore projects in the works?

I am also revising (under Michelle’s advice) some older mid-grade novels (a contemporary chick-lit about a girls’ club and a boy mystery involving snickerdoodles) and various picture books. If some of these never become books, I’ll be okay with that. Still, I want them the best they can be.

I’ve started some research for a novel-in-verse about a Gitano girl (Spanish gypsy), and hope to get back to it in the summer or fall.

Do you have a cover for the book yet? If it's in the works, care to share any details? If not, what do you envision?

No cover yet, though discussions are starting very early (just a few months from now). I really can’t imagine a cover for this book! So much of it is about solitude, it is hard for me to envision something that could convey this. I’m curious what the cover will be able to say about the book and what idea the designers will choose to focus on.

Caroline, this has been a pleasure. I'm very excited to get my hands on May B. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Feel free to visit Caroline and her stone-carved man on her blog. Give her a follow.

I'd like to thank all my followers and any new guests for reading the GRAFFITI WALL interviews and supporting such wonderful talents. Thank you for supporting me. 

TAKE NOTICE: Thanks to all of you, I'm 6 followers shy of 100!! I have something special for all of you. I'll keep you posted on my CONTEST and GIVEAWAY.


  1. Great interview. Thanks for sharing Sheri and for giving it Caroline.

    I've never even heard of a verse-novel but I have to say: it sounds AWE-SOME.

  2. Great interview. Caroline, you are so right that being consistent in posting on a blog is important to developing a following.

    Good luck on making it to 100 followers,Sheri. That's awesome you're making it to that in such a short time.

  3. Thanks for the interview, Caroline and Sheri. I stopped by Caroline's blog and found the comments from Monday's post on blogging super-helpful. I love to hear success stories, they keep me going!

  4. Sheri,
    I am so impressed with all you do here. Thank you for this lovely interview. Here's to every success!

  5. What a fab interview with a cool lady!

  6. Great interview! Writing in verse sounds so difficult. I stand in awe.

  7. Woo hoo! Great interview! I can't wait to read it and see how books are written in verse! =)

  8. Absolutely fascinating! - I'm a teacher, too - but wouldn't DARE give up my job to be a full time writer...YOU ARE BRAVE! The risk you took really paid off though!


  9. btw-Caroline - just popped over to your blog and am follower 220! WOW!

  10. Such a great interview. I love the part where she talks about writing in verse as if stitching a quilt. Call me green, but I've never heard that. Thanks!

  11. I know, Julie. I loved the quilt part, too. Such a visual and broken down. Easier for me to interpret. LOL.

  12. Great interview- Congrats Caroline and thanks for sharing your journey with us! I'm going to jog over to your blog now:)

  13. Thanks, all. I can't tell you how encouraging it is to have writers/readers respond to my work after so many years of silence and rejection.

  14. I love Caroline and her awesome blog! And this. I love this:

    "From loving books, loving words, and loving kids."

    So cool!

  15. Congrats Caroline! I can't wait to see your novel-in-verse! :)

  16. I really can't wait for this book to come out. I agree, the poem thing is just amazing to me. And Caroline is such a wonderful person. I'm thrilled with her success.


!SPLAT Your Awesomeness! I'd love to hear from you!


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