I hope you enjoy our new spotlight! We’ve had a lot of fun shining it on Linda Dawda, Brian S. Pratt and Sara Zarr, but it hasn’t stopped shining yet!
This week, our spotlight shines on Jaime Adoff! Take it away Jaime!
I suppose I have been training myself my whole life for this career without even knowing it. I was a musician for many years. Fronting my own rock band for nearly ten years during the 1990's in New York City. It was during this time that I really honed not only my songwriting skills but my performing skills as well. I wrote all the songs for my band and although we came close to a record deal, ultimately, that never happened.
I began writing in the most organic of ways. Beginning with remembrances of growing up in a small town, playing little league, going to different musical shows and concerts. Before I knew it, I started filling up notebooks with poems and short stories, mostly for younger kids. After a lot of trial and error and finding a woman in publishing willing to take a chance on me, I got my first contract in the late 1990's. Soon after, I got my second contract. But because of the business, and the crazy things that happen sometimes, it wasn't until 2002 that my first book was published, which actually was the 3rd book that I sold, The Song Shoots out of my mouth: A celebration of music. That book was a thematic collection of poems celebrating the power of music, through the eyes of kids and teens.
After publishing The Song Shoots out of my mouth: A celebration of music I turned to writing novels— young adult novels aimed at a teen audience. The genre that I write in is called realistic fiction. And in my books it can get very real.
My first YA novel, Names Will Never Hurt Me, was published in 2004 and written in a poetic-prose style that I have since used in all of my novels to date: Jimi and Me (2005) and my latest novel The Death of Jayson Porter (2008). Poetic-prose meaning the novel is written in a series of pieces or poems [a phrase that I (Carrie) like to use to describe this type of writing is proetry]. And those pieces tie together tell the story. Since I began my career as a songwriter then poet, it was only logical and natural at least for me to combine that poetic and lyrical element into a narrative form.
I remember reading the Newbery award-winning Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. That book really changed my life in terms of what could be done in writing a novel. Once I saw what she did in that book, that poetic style of writing that absolute brilliant usage of what is called, "economy of style," [known as writing for conciseness in other areas of English]. Meaning, using the fewest words to convey the deepest and strongest meaning. Once I read that book, a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. And I literally just experimented with anything and everything, in terms of ways to tell a story.
Writing in this poetic-prose style really affords me the greatest latitude in how to tell the story. Some pieces can be more prose like, some more poetic. Whatever I feel is the best way to tell the story at that particular time is how I will tell it. This style of writing is immensely popular with the group we so affectionately call, "The Reluctant Reader."
There have been far too many occasions to list here, when I have been approached by a teacher at a school who tells me that one of my novels was the very first book one of their high school students ever finished or for that matter ever read. [Wow! He may have something golden here!]
I believe one of the main reasons the poetic-novel is so popular with both middle school and high school readers and especially with the, "reluctant reader," is that once this student opens the book, the intimidation factor melts away. They see a less dense format. They see shorter pieces that can be read relatively quickly. The power and emotional impact of the poetry moves them and catapults them from page to page. They get completely sucked into the book and by the time they come up for air, they've read fifty-pages. That is huge for a teen that doesn't like to read, or has never actually finished a book. [Much like the graphic novel format, small tidbits.]
A teen that loves to read and is a good reader will e-mail and say, "Hey Jaime I started your book in first period and finished it by the end of the day. This gives that student such a great sense of pride and adds to their already budding confidence as a reader. Then there is the student who has never finished a book or who absolutely doesn't like to read. This teen will e-mail me and tell me with a palpable sense of pride, excitement and accomplishment that almost jumps off my computer screen, that they have finished my book, in many cases the very first book they have ever read or even liked, and now they are reading my other books, or a poetic novel by another author. The bottom line for me is, that kid, that "reluctant reader" "that teen", is reading, and not only is he or she reading, they are enjoying reading, and want to continue reading. This is why I do what I do.
The Death of Jayson Porter is probably the toughest, most real, and no holds barred book I've done so far. 16-year-old Jayson Porter's life is absolutely miserable. His world is falling apart around him piece by piece. He lives in the projects; A place called Sunny Gardens: "Twenty floors of delusions and despair" to quote him. His mother is both verbally and physically abusive, his father is a crack addict with whom he doesn't have much contact. He struggles to fit in at a private school that he received a scholarship to.
Just taking the bus to his summer job, is a dangerous adventure in the neighborhoods he has to travel through. Jayson's inner as well as his outward suffering is as real as it gets. His pain can be felt, and heard, but sadly (for most of the book at least), never understood. Jayson believes the only way he can find peace, will be by jumping off the railing of his apartment building, ending his pain forever.
The book has two main sections the After section, which has only one piece, the opening piece where Jayson jumps. And the Before section. Which is everything leading up to him jumping.
Then the After section returns, repeating the moment he jumps and showing the reader what happens to Jayson after he makes that fateful decision. Here is the opening piece:
I am a bullet
screaming to the ground.
The air rushing past me, so fast, I can’t breathe,
I am gasping.
The sound—like a 747 taking off in my eardrums.
Getting louder, and louder.
The ground getting closer, and closer.
This is supposed to get rid of my pain,
get rid of it forever.
This is my cure.
It wasn’t supposed to hurt.
I was supposed to go unconscious,
I haven’t passed out yet, and it hurts.
It hurts ‘cause I can’t breathe.
My chest collapsing against itself.
Squeezing all my insides,
The building is an upside down blur, balconies racing past me.
Now I’m going even faster,
my eyes blasted open from the force of gravity.
I try to blink, but I can’t.
much faster than I planned.
I flip over . . .
I start my re-entry into the next life.
I really hope its better than this one.
I can see a woman pushing a stroller––
a man jogging––
Life . . .
[Not as catchy as seen on the actual page, but close.]
Although I have written books for all ages, I've really chosen to concentrate my efforts lately on books for teens. I just feel that this age group is where there is the most need. That is, there is a need to write stories about the sorts of things teens go through in their lives: the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies. Although, some would say I write mostly about the bad stuff. I would say it really is the tough stuff. Those universal problems and situations that all teens go through, and can relate to. Whether it be bullying, the potential for school violence as in my novel Names will Never Hurt Me, losing one's parent and a hidden family secret as in Jimi and Me, or parental abuse and suicide as in my latest novel The Death of Jayson Porter. These are serious issues, for sure, but sadly they are not foreign to any of us.
I do not sugarcoat my novels, characters, or situations; I never shield my characters or my audience for that matter from the harshness of my character's existence. Instead, I let them show me and you how they live, and in Jayson's case, how he wants to die. But even in Jayson's story, there is hope. You may have to trudge through a lot of pain to get there, but ultimately this is a story of hope, and healing, and finding the inner strength to go on, even after all is lost.
Thanks for joining us today Jaime! I think all of us have learned something valuable today! If you have any questions for Jaime, please don't be afraid to ask!
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Whispered by Carrie at 8:55 AM