My thanks today to Rebecca Kai Dotlich for being my guest, and to those who have been asking why she didn’t appear last Friday as promised. Rebecca and I both did our best to get her here on the 16th but busy people are simply busy people and sometimes we can’t do it all at the same time. My philosophy toward my guests is that I wouldn’t be asking them to be here if they weren’t successful, popular people. I’m grateful that so many are giving their time and attention to posting remarks here to share with the many readers who have learned to check in on Fridays.I promise you that the extra week of waiting for Rebecca’s remarks are well worth the expectation! I’ve arranged some of the best questions Rebecca received into a Q/A format so without further waiting, here’s Rebecca Dotlich.
Q/A for David L. Harrison’s blog
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
April 23, 2010
Q/A for David L. Harrison’s blog
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
April 23, 2010
Q: Diane Roberts
When you begin to write a poem, do you always know how it’s going to end?
Not always, Diane. After the first line, idea, or emotion, I usually try and let the words lead me. Sometimes I have a pretty good idea how I want the poem to end, but it isn’t rare for me to let the poem surprise me. I start, I try things, I pay attention, but still there are times the words take me in a different direction than I had planned.
Endings are not easy, and I think it’s partly because there are so many choices for those last lines, depending on decisions of voice or direction or emotion. If it is a rhyming poem of course rhyme helps dictate the ending. And a poem is part mystery, so no way explaining how it goes, how it ends.Sometimes a poem fits together and flows out like it’s meant to be. Sometimes the making of a poem is sheer luck. And most times it is like anything we set our minds and hearts to; it is work.
So back to your question. I either know the ending and write each and every word and line to ‘get there.’ Or I have no idea and it’s as much a mystery to me as how a conversation with a friend might end; at some point, the words and the emotions just bring you to that last goodbye.
And Diane, I love it that you read Lemonade Sun to your granddaughter!
And I was the fortunate one, getting to know you at the workshop. You kept me laughing. And laughing some more.
I’m looking forward to seeing you at IRA! I know you have collaborated with other poets like J. Patrick Lewis in the past, and I wonder how collaborating changes your writing process from creating poems individually?
Thanks for your great questions, April. Let’s see. Collaborating is a very different way to work. Pat and I worked well together on CASTLES because we’re both perfectionists and had the same vision. (Although I’m sure many if not most writers might be perfectionists.) For the most part, we made a list of all the castles we wanted to write about and split them up. So besides the splitting up, that is what I would do if I were writing a collection alone. Make a list of the poems I wanted to write.
But then after we wrote each poem, we’d email it to the other and we’d each make suggestions for revision. I can’t think of an instance where we didn’t agree with the other, so we made the changes and the poem was completed. I guess the real difference is that instead of writing to please just yourself and your readers (and editor) you know you have another person to please, too, because the book is part theirs. So you want to make sure they really like each poem.
We also shared research. If one of us needed to know a fact about a castle or a time period and had any confusion, the other would pitch in and do some research, too. Pat works faster than I do (an understatement) and so he completed his poems long before I did. He probably had a level of frustration at that, but never said it. He is a gem and a gentleman.
I have also collaborated with Jane Yolen on two collections and we work very similar and had more back and forth during the poem writing process. (Where Pat and I shared poems and suggested revisions more after a poem was finished.) We suggested revisions freely and for the most part took each other’s advice. I think once or twice we each said ‘well, you’re right, I’ll change x, but I’m keeping z.” Or something similar.
It was loads of fun. Jane is very straight out. She tells you when something doesn’t work (Cut that part!) but she also has loads of delightful praise. Both times went very smoothly for me. I’m also discussing the possibility of collaborating with two other poets in the near future. If we come up with a project we love.
I would like to know which of your picture books you’ve been particularly pleased with in terms of the illustrations and why.
Of course it is hard to choose a favorite book with regards to illustrations. There are many things I admire about each one. But I have to say I am particularly pleased with, and attached to the illustrations for Bella & Bean by Aileen Leijten.(www.aleijten.com) . Her work is so whimsical, so magical. Tender yet playful. I love the colors and the movement. I adore the pages with words and stars just free flying in space. From the plum colored canopy of flowers on the beginning page, to the expressions on their faces, to the silhouette of Bella & Bean writing under the moon on the last page I was, and am, captivated.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a few things. I recently finished revisions for a rhyming picture book that will be coming out in 2011. I am working on a few poetry collections, a few picture books, and a beginning chapter book. I never seem to work on one thing at a time. (I can just hear my grandmother saying “what’s new, honey.”)
Just finished my stack of books from the library. It was a wonderful read. Lemonade Sun brought back a lot of great memories. I love the imagery captured in these poems. I’m wondering if that sort of thing comes naturally to Rebecca or if it is as much work as getting the meter and rhyme correct.
Thanks so much for writing, Liz. Wow, great question. Does the imagery come as naturally as getting the meter and rhyme right? For me, the imagery is probably more natural and the easiest if you will, part of writing a poem. The meter comes fairly natural to me, too. I’d say the hardest part is the rhyme, because I like the rhyme to either seem flawless or be unexpected. I don’t always succeed. Not at all. But I try. Like most poets, I try on and try out a million rhymes or rhyming words before the one that fits pops out at me.
I’m wondering how the Harper Growing Tree books were initiated. Was the series the publisher’s idea or yours? Mama Loves and A Family Like Yours are wonderful creations. I enjoyed the balance of the text, the repetition and the message.
My ‘series’ with Harper’s Growing Tree line started as one book. So it wasn’t my idea or the editor’s idea. To be honest, my agent Elizabeth Harding deserves all the credit on this one. I wrote a poem called “What is Round” and it was rejected by a two magazines. So I sent it to Elizabeth and asked her to send it out for me to a third magazine. She looked at it and said (basically) “magazine? This is a Growing Tree book.”
She sent it to Simone Kaplan, and Simone bought it, I believe, that day or the next. Wow, I thought, if she likes it that much she might like the same book on squares. So I wrote “What is Square?”, sent it to Elizabeth and it turned into a two book contract. After that, a few months later I wrote the triangle book. (So at that point I guess you could say I was thinking series, yes!) Then I looked in my files and found a poem about transportation that I had written and thought it might fit the series and we sent it in, too. Again, it was bought. Now I was on a roll.
And then they discontinued the Growing Tree line. Such is life. It was great while it lasted!
I’m wondering if Rebecca hears the sound of a line first or does she start with an idea and then try to find the sound. (I’m thinking it can work either way – and maybe other ways too! Come to think of it, I should probably re-read Bella and Bean for this answer…)
You are right Liz, it can be either way. But I would say for the most part I hear the sound of a line in my head first, like the first line of a song. I remember specifically hearing that first line for Mama Loves: “Mama loves dancing in slippers …”. Then the rest followed. Sometimes I just start with a word. I either overhear something, or I hear a word that I love the sound of … and I’m off. And of course a healthy dose of imagination always plays a big part in the making of each poem. And you’re right, Bella and Bean pretty much answers this better than I can.
Thank you everyone for writing questions and being curious and thank you David for inviting me on as a guest on your wonderful blog. Hello to every reader out there. I love it that you love poetry, whoever and wherever you are. Rebecca
My thanks to Rebecca! If you have questions or comments, please post them below. For further informatin about Rebecca, I’ve listed three good links for you to enjoy.