Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Novels in Verse with Megan E. Freeman of ALONE

Novels in Verse

Readers are often surprised to learn that the earliest drafts of my survival novel-in-verse, ALONE, were written in prose. Drafting in prose helped me move the story out of my head and onto the page where I could see and assess it and explore possibilities for where it wanted to go. But the end result was ultimately lacking, and after several years of work, I was on the verge of setting it aside. Then I attended a workshop with the author Melanie Crowder, where she talked about writing her verse novel, Audacity. As I watched Melanie model her process, I experienced the closest thing I’ve ever had to a creative “Eureka!” moment. I had been a poet for most of my life and I loved writing poetry. Sitting there in that hotel conference room, I knew that I needed to take my manuscript all the way back to the beginning and start again. I needed to rewrite the whole thing in verse. 

Rewriting an entire book may seem like a daunting task, but the moment I began, I felt the difference the poetry made. Poetry was my first language, my mother tongue, and I felt far more fluent in verse than I did in prose. I felt free. Writing became joyful again and I found the voice of the book.

The first thing I discovered was that the poetry allowed me inside the head of my main character, Maddie. She’s a seventh grade student left behind when her town is mysteriously evacuated and she has to figure out how to survive alone without power or running water for more than three years. Because she’s entirely alone (though she does have a canine companion), there are few opportunities for dialogue, and in the prose draft it was a challenge to reveal to readers what Maddie was thinking and feeling. But once I started writing in verse, I could use poetry for everything. I could write a poem about her fears or dilemmas, or about how she was feeling physically, like in this excerpt from early in the book where she convinces herself that her parents will come right back:

Dread runs off my body
like hot water circling 
the shower drain.
Relief embraces me 
like a warm terry-cloth towel.

The poems became the disembodied voices of Maddie’s internal and external experiences, which then made the experience of reading far more intimate than it had been in a third person narrative voice.  

The poetry also solved logistical problems. In the prose version, I struggled to elegantly convey the passage of so many months and years. In the verse version, I could write poems about winter storms or about fruit trees blooming, and the reader would understand that time was passing. I could also use titles of poems as handholds for the reader to grab along the way. In some cases, like in the poem below, the titles told the reader everything they needed to know, whereas in prose it might have required sentences of explanation. 

After Months of Snow
warm breeze
snow melting
trees and rooftops drip
drip drip
open windows
fresh air
buds sprout on limbs
crocus crack through icy earth
i can’t help but feel hopeful

Finally, I love that novels-in-verse require an active partnership with the reader. They invite readers to work with the writer to make meaning from the words left after the poetry has distilled the idea down to its essence. As the writer Jason Reynolds says, there may be only ten words on the page, but there are 10,000 underneath them. In verse novels, the reader picks up what the writer puts down and together they make meaning from those 10,000 unwritten words.

Whether you’re already a fan of novels-in-verse or it’s a new genre to you, I hope you will accept my invitation to read and enjoy ALONE, and that it will lead you to discover many more wonderful verse novels.

About the Book

by Megan E. Freeman

Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: January 12th 2021 by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.

As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life? 

About the Author

Megan E. Freeman attended an elementary school where poets visited her classroom every week, and she has been a writer ever since. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her debut middle grade novel, ALONE, is available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Megan is also a Pushcart-nominated poet, and her poetry chapbook, LESSONS ON SLEEPING ALONE, was published by Liquid Light Press.

An award-winning teacher with decades of classroom experience, Megan taught multiple subjects across the arts and humanities to students K-16. She is nationally recognized for her work leading professional development workshops for teachers and school leaders throughout Colorado and across the country. She studied theater and dramatic literature for many years, earning degrees from Occidental College and the Ohio State University.

Megan is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Northern Colorado Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Columbine Poets of Colorado, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is an Impact on Education Award winner, a fellow with the Colorado State University Writing Project, a Fund for Teachers fellow, and a member of the Colorado Poets Center. She used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives near Boulder, Colorado.

Megan is represented by Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency. https://www.meganefreeman.com/

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