Hi, Caroline! In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about May B?
From the book jacket:
I watch the wagon
until I see nothing on the open plain.
For the first time ever,
I am alone.
May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.
This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded.
May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.
Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?
Because I primarily write verse, any sort of word or page count utterly discourages me. On a good day, I might hit 300 words. On a spectacular day, I might get to 500. Instead of page or word counts, I force myself to sit with the book, even when the words aren’t there. As long as I don’t have appointments or errands, the day is wide open. It can be painful, but every time I enter this phase, I’m so glad this time of forced focus is there. Otherwise, I think I might run and hide.
In middle-grade in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?
Voice. Emotions and experiences that ring true, even if the reader can’t directly relate. Honesty.
What sort of research did you have to do for May B? How did you go about doing this?
I read up on the American frontier -- first-hand accounts of prairie women, books about families moving across country to start life in barren, dismal surroundings, general overviews of this period in history, and several novels/biographies (notably Mari Sandoz’s Old Jules).
The middle-grade book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets May B. apart from the pack?
There are actually three things that made my book a really hard sell: it’s a historical literary verse novel. Not exactly what everyone’s clamoring to read. On the flip side, these three traits are what make May B. unique and what sets it apart from other middle grade titles.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?
I’m a little of both. I find I need to know my setting and characters before I begin. I also like to plot a very general story and character arc. Then I dig in, fully knowing things will change.
Can you tell me a bit about your journey with May B? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?
I started May B. in 2007, signed with my agent in 2009, and sold it, at auction, in 2010 with a publication date scheduled for September 2011. After working on revisions, line edits, and copyedits, my publisher, Random House Children’s Books, closed down my imprint, Tricycle Press. This meant my editor and all her colleagues lost their jobs and May B. was without a home. For six weeks, I had no idea what would happen to my book. Thankfully, another RHCB imprint, Schwartz and Wade, picked it up. I went through revisions, line edits, and copyedits again. My publication date moved to 2012. As hard as this was, I’m so glad I got to work with two different editors. My work is better for it.
Before signing with my agent, I counted up over three hundred rejections from editors and agents spanning eleven years and eleven books. Writing is not for the faint of heart!
How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?
It’s important, but what I think is most important is for authors to participate in social media they enjoy. I’m not on Twitter and have no plans to be. I don’t have the time or inclination. Maybe I’m missing out, but I’m okay with that.
What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?
Procrastinating and /or agonizing over starting something new.
Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?
For historicals, I make sure the names I pick were actually being used in the time and place I’m writing about. May’s name came to me before the character herself did: Mavis Elizabeth Betterly. I liked the idea of her being May B. and the double entendre hinted at there -- maybe being a rather weak, non-committal word. I also liked that her last name hints at “better”. In developing her character, I determined there needed to be some way she felt weak, something she longed to be better at.
What did you hope to accomplish by writing May B? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?
Wow, that’s a huge question. I’d say apart from hoping to create a unique, compelling book, my primary goal was to let kids know everyone feels like they don’t measure up in some way and that a person’s worth isn’t wrapped up in what we can or cannot do.
Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?
Since I write middle grade, I’d say my pre-teen years certainly have influenced what I write today. There is an intensity to young children that I want to honor in what I create. I remember feeling passionately about certain things as a girl and how easy it would be to brush off those “childish” ideas now. Books like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series remind me that those first experiences with fear or anger or confusion or joy are valid and okay. I hope my writing shows children the same.
There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?
I have no problem with topics that provoke conversations or show kids (in the safety of their own worlds) what painful choices or horrible events might lead to. I especially love when a reader is left with the element of hope. The thing that is personally difficult for me to see in teen literature is the passive girl who is only complete with her boyfriend by her side. Maybe this is part of the reason I write middle grade?
What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?
All the Class of 2k12 books, of course! (www.classof2k12.com)
Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Reading, running, spending time with my husband and boys. I relish a simple, quiet life.
Thank you so much for your time, Caroline. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?
I’m currently working on a picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and have begun another historical verse novel...details to come.
To learn more about Caroline and May B you can visit the following links: