Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
“Writing Historical Novels in Verse”
by Margarita Engle
Poetry forces me to be brief. All the facts and figures won’t fit in my verses, so I choose only those details that are most meaningful to me. My hope is that the uncrowded page will invite both reluctant and passionate readers.
Researching a historical novel is painstaking work, but in writing poetry I let my imagination soar. By incorporating the two—detail and spirit—I try to offer a glimpse into the lives of young people who made hopeful choices in times that must have seemed hopeless.
My grandma, “Fefa,” whose stories have inspired me to write poetry about my family’s history.
For me, the process of writing poetry demands solitude, but it also requires nature, so I spend a good deal of time outdoors, allowing the words to inhale fresh air, letting them move to the rhythm of the my gait. The process feels like time travel, an exploration, the journey of a seeker; I’m discovering the flow of my characters’ thoughts and feelings. At the same time, there is an element of rehearsal in it. Writers need practice, just like dancers and musicians, or athletes. Old-fashioned pen and paper are my tools during the first draft, when I allow myself to daydream and scribble.
The Cuban landscape still inspires my writing.
We can’t expect too much from our first attempts at writing. Only after many failures and false starts am I finally ready to submit a draft to my editor. It’s at this stage the teamwork begins. It’s hard work, and it’s scary, and it’s my last chance to improve my story. The time for pen and paper has passed. It’s all indoors now, electronic and modern, with deadlines. No more walking in the woods. No more daydreaming. Harsh reality. And yet—just like the message I try to convey in each story—there is hope.
An original article by Margarita Engle
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Margarita Engle. Images courtesy of Margarita Engle.
Eds. Note: Margarita Engle’s most recent title, The Wild Book (Harcourt, 2012), was inspired by stories her grandmother told her “about her childhood on a farm in Cuba during the chaos that followed U.S. occupation of the island after the Spanish-American War.” Engle reports that, as a child, “My abuelita also suffered the confusion of dyslexia. How did she feel? What were her choices? Choosing verse rather than prose gave me a chance to distill that complex historical and personal situation to its emotional essence.”
More online resources about Margarita Engle:
- Hear Margarita Engle introduce and read from The Wild Book. Listen Now
- Hear Margarita Engle share the pronunciation of her name. Listen Now
- See all online resources for Margarita Engle.