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Friday, January 30, 2015

Meet Kenn Nesbitt, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate introduced by Andrea Perry

In the spring of 2016 I will be one of a number of featured children's authors in a collection of poems entitled, ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME.  This project was the brainchild of Kenn Nesbitt, the current U.S. Children's Poet Laureate.  Until I was contacted last year to submit work for his collection, I had no idea such a position existed.  Recently I was able to pose a series of questions to Kenn about his title and duties which I would like to share.

How did the Children's Poet Laureate position come to be, and what organization nominates or selects candidates?   Do you have any input regarding future candidates? May I ask if you receive any salary for the time that you serve?

The Children's Poet Laureate award is given every two years by the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization dedicated to promoting poetry in our culture. They established the award in 2006, with the first award going to Jack Prelutsky. Subsequent award winners were Mary Ann Hoberman and J. Patrick Lewis.

I don't actually know how the selection process works. My term will end in June, 2015 when the next Children's Poet Laureate is named at the annual Pegasus Awards ceremony at the Poetry Foundation headquarters in Chicago. They have not asked me for my thoughts on future poets laureate, but it's possible that they might. In any case, I'm sure that I won't be part of the actual selection committee.

I don't receive a salary for my time as CPL, but the award did come with a one-time cash prize of $25,000.

I believe the position is held for two years, but are there specific duties that come with it? I know that you continue to make school visits and are editing a bedtime poetry anthology-what else have you been up to?

Every year, in June, the Poetry Foundation has an award ceremony called the Pegasus Awards. Each year they give the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to honor a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition. Every other year, they appoint a new Children's Poet Laureate.

The duties of the Children's Poet Laureate are to perform two public readings, one during each year of the term, and to select and review a book of children's poetry to highlight on the Poetry Foundation's website. My school visits and books are not part of my duties as Laureate, but are simply how I make my living. Last year, I also created a new website called PoetryMinute.com, as a sort of elementary school equivalent of Poetry 180 (which is aimed at high school students). PoetryMinute has 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, all by contemporary children's poets.
Does anything special happen during National Poetry Month in April because of your position?

No, not really. National Poetry Month was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org). The Poetry Foundation is one of the many sponsors of National Poetry Month, but there are not any specific programs involving the Children's Poet Laureate.

What is so special about poetry?

Poetry is a literary art form that can be enjoyed by people of any age. What makes it different from other literary genres is it's ability to evoke emotions in a very short space. Good poetry, in my opinion, should always make you feel something, and it does so in a matter of a few lines, stanzas, or pages. Poetry can entertain, educate, and inspire readers, even with an economy of words. Other literary arts -- short stories, plays, novels, etc. -- can do the same, but in a much longer form.

I could go on and on about the differences but, to me, what I find most compelling about poetry is the way in which it inspires young people to want to read. When a child discovers a book by Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky, they find themselves engaged and enthralled on every single page, which encourages them to continue reading and to seek out more poetry.

Is there anything I've not covered but you'd like to add?

It was the biggest honor of my life to be selected as the Children's Poet Laureate. I had no inkling that this would ever happen, and I was pretty astonished when I got the call from the Poetry Foundation. There is a long list of incredible writers I would have put ahead of myself on the list of candidates, so I'm not just pleased, but genuinely humbled by the recognition. I can't wait to see who they select as my successor this June.


Monday, January 5, 2015

No Place to Fall

by Jaye Robin Brown


by Jaye Robin Brown

This past Friday, January 2, 2015, Marcy and I posted our answers to Jaye’s debut novel, No Place to Fall. Today, you get to read Jaye’s favorite's. 

Awesome answers, Jaye! We can’t wait for our readers to read the novel. And hopefully to give us a few of their favorites, too. 

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Though I like both of the passages you mentioned, I really love when Amber is by herself in her room, singing along to the radio, the application to NC School of the Arts hidden under her bed. To me it's this wonderful sort of private moment fraught with maybes and I can'ts, but also the beginning of a maybe I can. Even though it ends on a frustrated note, she's planted the seed inside of herself.

"I sing along as the rain falls out my window. Drops of water gather on the windowpanes like a shimmering audience. I play with my voice, testing out my range, creating new sounds, trying to both imitate the radio singers and be myself. Finally I can't stand it anymore. I roll over and grab the folder.

The list of requirements is long. Transcripts. A long application. Two letters of recommendation, at least one from someone who has been your instructor in your art form. An artist's statement. An audition. The applicant must perform three pieces from the following list. My eyes scan the options. I push the paper back in the folder and shove the whole thing under the bed. I don't even know what half of that music is. I ball the quilt up under my chin and scoot deeper under the sheets. Mama would never have let me go anyway."

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

My favorite chapter ending is one where Amber arrives home after getting in trouble for something she didn't do at a football game. Her brother-in-law, just released from jail, is drunk in the front yard hoping to see Amber's sister. When Amber finally gets to the door and away from him, her parents are fighting over money and her sister runs straight into Sammy's arms. Amber's starting to realize how messed up her life is, and this passage is her reaction to it. (Coby is her nephew, Giant is the dog)

"The three of us--me, Coby, and tiny Giant--huddle under the blankets, blocking out the sounds from downstairs. I make up a story about a singer who rides a magical bird and performs for kingdoms far and wide. 

As we fly out of the window and up into the night sky, my voice stops working.

Because, honestly, I can't see how I'm going to get out of here."

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

This is a hard question because I tend to write big casts of characters and Mama, Devon, Will, and C.A. all vie for places in my heart. But I think I'm going to go with C.A. who was actually inspired by a student I taught. She was this perky blonde cheerleader who, in my mixed up bag of an Art 1 class, truly got along with everyone. As C.A. developed in the novel, she became kind of the same way, and I like that about her. She's the kind of girlfriend any girl would be lucky to have.

This passage is at a school college fair, and Amber has been given a folder about the NC School of the Arts high school program. It shows C.A.'s caring, that she'd push her friend into following a dream even if it meant she'd lose her friend to a far-off city in the process.

"I shrug and take the brochure back from Devon, sliding it carefully into the bag. 'My mama would never let me go to a boarding school so far away from here.'

C.A. looks at Devon. 'Can you talk some sense into her?'

Devon glances at me and answers her. 'Mama Vaughn is pretty protective of Amber.'

'So? I bet we can convince her.' C.A. claps her hands. 'I am awesome with mothers.'"

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

This passage is from chorus when Amber is practicing her audition songs for the group. It's a big growth moment for her as she's gotten over her fear of singing in front of her peers and realizes their reaction is something she'd like to have again and again in her life.

"I close my eyes and my arms lift slightly from my sides. I picture the song swirling inside of me, like butterflies. I draw the notes out. When I release the words, they fly around the room. The chorus is silent, listening, and all I hear is the sound Will and I make. When the final notes of my last 'Maria' land, there's a collective inhale. It's a quiet I wouldn't mind living in for a while."

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

This is a kind of gritty line, but it makes me laugh every time. It's an exchange between Amber and her sister, Whitney, in the car outside of a pawn shop. Amber has withdrawn her entire savings account, all of fifty dollars, to do a favor for a friend and Whitney's questioning her.

"After school, Whitney picks me up. I convince her to take me to the bank and to the pawnshop for Sean.

'So, are you in love with this boy or something?' she asks me.

'Or something,' I answer.

'Does Mama know you're wiping out your savings account?'

'Does Mama know you love Vicodin?' That shuts her up."

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Dave and Marcy!

Congratulations to Jaye on her young adult novel, No Place to Fall! To read more, go to:

Friday, January 2, 2015

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day


by Dave Amaditz and
Marcy Collier

Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to January’s version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut YA novelist, Jaye Robin Brown and her novel, No Place to Fall. Amber dreams of traveling to the big city where she can use her amazing voice to sing and meet new and exciting people. First, though, she must come clean about some trouble she’s found herself involved in, which will hopefully make life better for her and her family.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave – I chose this particular passage because when Amber, the main character, sings she feels like she is somebody, like she is free, which brings her closer to her goal of leaving small town Sevenmile.

As Pastor Early prays over me, I feel a simple strength enter through my fingers and my toes. All of these folks, the people of my childhood, are praying for my success. Success that means leaving them. Leaving my mountains. But I’m not like Kush. I won’t be leaving because I hate this place. I just want a bigger life somewhere, and I want to sing.

Marcy – Amber is passionate about singing. This is the first instance where she allows her mind to wander and explore the idea of using her talents outside of her hometown.

“It doesn’t matter. My mama would never let me be in a band. She thinks singing’s only for church and baking.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think about it much.” I’m surprised at my own answer. I mean, of course I’ve thought about it. I thought about it Sunday when Sammy asked me to be in his band. I thought about it down by the creek when Basil was talking about American Idol. I think about it all the time

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger? Amber’s life at home has always been filled with love. Even so, she knows her father has been cheating on her mother and she wonders if her mother is aware of what her father is doing or is simply na├»ve. My favorite cliffhanger occurs while Amber is in the mall shopping with her mother.

Mama slowly flips the cap on a bottle. She raises it to her nose, but the lilac smell hits us both quick. The bottle drops from Mama’s fingers. It’s the scent. Daddy’s other woman. Lilac with a hint of vanilla and spice. Mama shoves a handful of bills at the saleslady and grabs the bags.

Marcy –  There is so much turmoil in Amber’s family life. Amber’s sister Whitney became pregnant very young and got married to Sammy who has many faults, including being a drug dealer. This chapter ending is heartfelt and foreshadows events to come.

“I love you, Whit.”

She doesn’t answer, but I can feel her tears as they hit my arm. I hope they’re going to lock her husband up for a good long time.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why? This book has so many great characters, all of whom play a pivotal role in the story, all of whom are so believable and so easy for me to relate. If for no other reason than to get to use another great line of dialogue, I chose Devon as my favorite character. He’s Amber’s best friend, someone with whom she has shared for so much of her life almost all of her secrets and desires - - and someone that also happens to be a homosexual, which is key to understanding the following line of dialogue. Amber has just told him she had sex with his brother. His reaction caused me to laugh out loud.

Dave – “Mad? I love my brother. I love you. It’s the closest I can ever come to hooking up with you myself.”

Marcy –  There are so many favorite characters to choose, but Devon’s character hit home for me. He is Amber’s best friend and regardless of her imperfections and the bad choices she makes, he loves her. He remains her best friend throughout the novel and the rock that supports her when she falls. His endless humor and good spirit shines through from the beginning to the end of the novel as demonstrated in the line below.

Devon purses his lips and gives me his best Marilyn Monroe. “All right, darlings, let’s go find us a man.”

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description? The town where Amber lives is near a rest stop on the Appalachian Trail. She likes to go there to meet the hikers passing through and to hear stories of places she only dreams of going. More than that, while she’s high in the mountains it helps her to escape some of the more unpleasant things life has dealt her. These few lines beautifully describe her feelings.

Up there, the air felt clean. I felt free, like it didn’t matter who I was or what I did. I was like a current in the air, flying, swirling, traveling. From up there, this place looked beautiful, but from down here…

Marcy – I adore Amber’s Mama. There’s a scene later in the book where Mama shows off her strong self, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. This offbeat image of how Amber sees her Mama is said so well in a few words.

I wrap my arms around her. People may make fun of fat people, but I like having a squishy mama. She’s comfortable.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue? This particular line of dialogue comes from about midway through the novel. Her sister, Whitney, is speaking and I think it highlights well why it will be so difficult for Amber to achieve her dream of leaving home.

Dave – “Life. Just. Is. I’ve got Sammy. Daddy’s got Mama, and Mama’s got Daddy. And you, you’ve got a wild dream that’s going to do nothing but disappoint you.”

Marcy – Some of the scenes and exchanges between Amber and Cheerleader Amber are hysterical. I had to share two scenes with the two girls, although there are three girls named Amber in the book!

“You’re a gossip girl,” I say, nudging her with my arm.

“Yes, but I’m one that’s made of out fairy dust and unicorn fur.”

Then another scene when Cheerleader Amber wants to go into Amber’s attic to explore.

“So you’re not afraid of ghosts, but you’re afraid of spiders?”

Amber shuts her car door and follows me. “Girlfriend, have you not been reading all those new paranormal romances in the library? There are some really hot ghosts.” 

To read more about Jaye Robin Brown and her young adult novel, No Place to Fall. go to: