Today on the blog, it is my privilege to welcome the wise and wonderful Louise Hawes, who is here to talk about her young adult novel, The Language of Stars, the latest of her many novels. I met Louise my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is on the faculty. Click here to read a synopsis of The Language of Stars.
Louise is represented by Ginger Knowlton. The Language of Stars, published by Simon & Schuster, debuted in May of this year. At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can get this book. Now, let’s talk to Louise!
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Louise: 1) I’m allergic to chocolate. I know, I know! Weep for me! 2) I’m part of a group that meets every week to share responses to our dreams. 3) Before I was an author, I was a sculptor, in wood and stone. 4) My three sisters and I give creativity Playshops all over the world.
El Space: The premise for The Language of Stars is so intriguing. What inspired its inception?
Louise: The summer residency schedule at Vermont College of Fine Arts must have had some “air” in it in 2008. Although VCFA’s students and faculty are usually busy morning to night, I somehow found time to pick up a paper, sit down, and read it! What caught my eye was a story about a group of teens arrested for vandalizing Robert Frost’s historically preserved summer home in Ripton, Vermont [below]. Because they were all underage, and couldn’t serve jail time, the teenagers were “sentenced” to take a course in Frost’s poetry.
I’m sure you can imagine how this article triggered my writer’s “What if?” machinery: what if the poet wasn’t Robert Frost, but a fictional celebrity poet from North Carolina—where I live—who’s done for the landscapes and people of the South, what Frost did for New England? What if this poet, unlike Frost, was alive when his house was vandalized? What if he decided to teach the course himself? And what if he met a young student who . . . well, you get the idea. I just couldn’t stop!
El Space: Your prose has such verve! I love your play script sections. Words and sounds seem very key in this book. Is this your first novel to include poetry? Please tell us how that came about.
Louise: I knew from the beginning that Stars would include both prose and poetry. After all, most of the characters in the novel are writing poetry instead of doing hard time! And two of the characters, Rufus Baylor, my Superstar Poet, and Sarah Wheeler, the 16-year old student whom he meets and mentors, hear the whole world talking to them. That’s where the snippets of dialogue, those play scripts, come in. Sarah, I learned after months of free writing with her, is a wannabe actress, and so this third format was included for her. The lines of dialogue in these scripts aren’t usually people, but things—plates spinning, furniture breathing, sand crabs busy under the beach. Everything has a voice!
And yes, this is first novel of mine that’s featured poetry as an integral part of the book. Actually, though, the poetry in Stars was the least difficult part of bringing this story to life. While the research into Frost’s life and work, which entailed reading everything he ever wrote and everything written about him, was a long, hard process, the poems? They flowed, they filled me up. You see, I’ve always read and written poetry. In fact, I often write a poem for each prose chapter as I’m drafting a novel—not for publication, but to provide an emotional benchmark, to make sure I’ve got the feeling tone I want. So poetry wasn’t new for me, but making it public was. I’d never thought of submitting it, instead I’d kept it private, close to the bone. So even though I’m a bit old to be a “debut novelist,” I guess, in that respect, Stars is a first for me!
El Space: What aspects of your personality, if any, did you donate to Sarah? To Fry? Why?
Louise: Wow! I can tell you’re an author yourself, Linda! We writers know so well that a large part of what we do is building bridges between ourselves and our characters, finding the parts of us that feed them. So far as Sarah, the teenage narrator of Stars, is concerned, there are a lot of bridges: once I’d free written with her—I keep a notebook of free writes for every book I work on—I discovered that she, like me when I was young, wants to be an actress. I even had a brief and supremely mediocre acting career out of college. I learned, too, that, like me and so many other adolescents, she cares achingly about what other people think, so much so that she has trouble finding herself in the mix. As for Fry, her popular, seductive boyfriend? He reminds me of that part, in all of us, that takes good things for granted until it’s too late. It’s funny, because just a few days ago, I got a letter from a reader who wrote me that, although she never expected to feel sorry for Fry, by book’s end, she did. I did, too. . . .
El Space: A poet mentors Sarah in the novel. Who mentored you as an author?
Louise: I am so grateful to you, Linda, for asking this question. It gives me a chance to pay tribute to a teacher I took for granted, someone whose role in my life I failed to recognize at the time. His name is Calvin Atwood, and he was my high school English teacher. He gave me my first book of poetry; I still have it, and it’s inscribed: “For Louise, who will find and give treasure . . . everywhere, always.” That’s a mantra I say every day now. What a blessing it is when someone believes in you that much!
El Space: So true! What writing advice would you like to share about writing for teens or about poetry?
Louise: Three other VCFA faculty members and myself put together a panel on poetry just a few semesters ago. We all wore berets and sunglasses and flounced to our seats as Dave Brubeck music played in the background. Then, of course, we took off the hats and sunglasses and got real. Our point? You don’t have to suffer or live in a garret or exist on some esoteric, unreachable level of sensitivity, to love, read, and write poetry. Its rhythms and music are as essential as a heartbeat, and often just as necessary for survival. So have fun and get down with poetry, don’t put it on a pedestal. Love it, don’t leave it. Feel it, don’t analyze it. Your life will be richer, wider, deeper for it.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Louise: I’m working on two novels right now—an historical fiction called The Gospel of Salomé—yes, she of the seven veils!—and a book for middle graders called Big Rig, about a father-daughter trucking team. I love having two projects going at the same time; that way you never get bored or over-stay your welcome with one story’s characters!
Thank you, so much, Louise, for being my guest!
Looking for Louise? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
The Language of Stars can be found here:
Barnes & Noble
But one of you will be given a copy of this book just for commenting below. Winner to be announced on August 15.
Chocolate allergy image from stickyj.com. Teacher image from globalcatalystgroup.com. Robert Frost from writingasaprofession.wordpress.com. Poetry image from annawrites.com. Sand crab from milkweedpods.blogspot.
Wonderful interview! I especially enjoyed learning about the newspaper story that got Louise playing the what if game. This book sounds great!!
Looking forward to having you and Cordelia on the blog to talk about your book, Laurie.
I also loved the what if aspect. I need to ask that question more. Inspiration is so fascinating! You never know when it will hit.
Thanks, Laurie. I actually got to see a photo of the prof who taught the real vandals, and read his account of the class. The poem he emphasized? “The Road Not Taken!”
Ha! That’s hilarious!
Great interview. Think it’s really cool that a high school teacher inspired you. For some reason, I don’t hear about that happening much nowadays.
You’re right, Charles, and I’m not sure why. Because I know that teachers are still the “front line” in terms of motivation/inspiration. Maybe it’s because there are more tests and rules between teacher and student nowadays?
Sad but true!!! So many teachers I know are so tired from all of the grading and benchmarks. 😦
That’s what I was thinking. It’s more toward the test and students learning the same thing. So teachers can’t take as much time to notice or nurture individual skills. A student who is gifted in music or writing might be overlooked these days.
Yes. I keep seeing kids pushed toward STEM courses. But now more than ever with more and more videogames being produced, you still need people with storytelling ability!
Sort of. A lot of popular games are the phone ones that have very little story beyond the set up. I’ve been out of gaming for a long time, so I’m not sure how common a detailed story comes about. It’s weird that the people running things expect every kid to be into STEM.
That’s true. A lot are a variation on Diamond Mine and Candy Crush.
I’ve heard movie reviewers complain about the need for better plots and character development. What do you think about that?
I think they like to complain, but will get upset when risks are taken. For example, the Suicide Squad debacle. Most of the characters were great and more human than any other superhero movie this year. Yet, the critics tore it apart. It really comes down to people saying they want something, hating an attempt at new, and putting most of their praise on the same old, safe stuff.
That’s what I was thinking about. At first I didn’t believe it, but now I’m starting to see the bias against DC. One critic compared Suicide Squad to Green Lantern, which seemed completely unfair. I’m not sure what’s going on.
I saw someone claim that Suicide Squad was worst than every Marvel movie ever. Then at the end, they claimed it was as bad as Age of Ultron. This wasn’t a critic though. It really did feel like the critics took offense at this one. After seeing it, I have no idea what happened. Editing wasn’t great, but I had fun.
Actually, there was a critic who wrote that they hated the movie. Yet, the rest of the audience was laughing and having fun. So, the critic was wondering if there’s a disconnect between himself and the audience. One thing I did notice is that ‘Marvel Only’ fans made sure the negative stuff got a lot of traction. Honestly, that really doesn’t help me with my Marvel boredom. Hate to think that I’m almost done with comic book movies entirely.
It really seems that critics were out for blood on this. I don’t understand why. A cash-grab like Nine Lives I can understand. But I think the hatred for this goes beyond what’s been revealed.
There definitely seems to be a disconnect between critics and fans, which is why I’ve mostly stopped looking at the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. If I want to see a movie, I see it without looking at reviews.
I couldn’t figure it out either. It really doesn’t make any sense. Somebody suggested a fatigue of superhero movies this year and Suicide Squad got the brunt of it. All I know is that Doctor Strange comes in November and I’m betting money on it being praised. The trailer didn’t appeal to me at all. It was like superhero Inception at times.
This has definitely been the year I gave up on critics and me getting along. Local guy hated Deadpool and I loved it. Same with Suicide Squad and BvS. Critics praised Civil War for some of the things they hated BvS and X-Men for. It’s confusing.
It reminded me of Inception too! I think you’ll be proved right about it being praised.
I’ve heard about the superhero fatigue. But since Hollywood isn’t offering a good alternative, except for animated films, then I’ll stick to the superhero films.
It is a shame that there’s nothing else out there for action and adventure movies. Tarzan was okay and I know we have Kong Skull Island next year. Still, it seems everything is an adaptation, sequel, or reboot now.
Yes. 😦 Isn’t there supposed to be another Pirates of the Caribbean? I wonder who is asking for these movies? Not me!
The producers because they see your average person going nuts online whenever the stuff is mentioned. Hate to say it, but the majority of people (at least online) crow for the same stuff. It isn’t even the whole package. They want Jack Sparrow in regards to Pirates.
I’m beyond tired of Jack Sparrow. And he was my favorite in the first movie.
Well, Suicide Squad made a ton of money, so Warner Bros. is vindicated.
Yes and no. People are still bashing it and the movie needs some longevity. WB seems to react to criticism like a nervous cat in a thunderstorm, so I’m dreading their reactions.
Jack Sparrow was fun in the first movie. The others too, but 2 and 3 really worked hard to reuse the same jokes.
Thank you, Charles. It’s sad, isn’t it, that this happens less these days. I also have not any teens say the same thing lately. Yet this was also my experience. My high school teacher encouraged me to write. I hope language arts teachers are doing that today.
I think they’re trying, but the system has changed. I’ve heard there’s a bigger focus on non-fiction. Not sure if there’s much on writing.
I’ve also heard about that. I remember liking nonfiction a lot more as a kid. I appreciate some of it. My bent is toward fiction though.
Never got into nonfiction. Always liked the escapism aspect.
Great interview! I loved reading how you played the “what if” game with the newspaper article. Oh, I’m so sorry to read you’re allergic to chocolate.
Thanks, Jill. And about the chocolate? It’s been ever since I was a kid, so I never really knew what I’m missing 🙂
Thanks, Jill. An allergy like that makes me very sad. I saw pictures online of people with chocolate allergies. Looks painful!
“…I often write a poem for each prose chapter as I’m drafting a novel—not for publication, but to provide an emotional benchmark, to make sure I’ve got the feeling tone I want. So poetry wasn’t new for me, but making it public was. I’d never thought of submitting it, instead I’d kept it private, close to the bone. So even though I’m a bit old to be a “debut novelist,” I guess, in that respect, Stars is a first for me!”
Three things: 1- are you SURE you’re allergic to chocolate? maybe you’ve outgrown the reaction, so maybe you should just get re-tested…
2 – writing a poem for a prose chapter in order to grasp & keep its tone in sync is brilliant…I will try this with other prose I’m currently attempting to craft.
3 – your last comment in the above quote doesn’t jive with how I suspect you treat your own students…if a significantly older student told you they’re a ‘bit old to be a debut novelist’ how would you react to that statement?
I read the synopsis and am excited to crack open the book!
And Linda, how sweet to honor a former professor via your blog… 🙂
Hi, Laura, sadly yes. I’m sure about the reaction–it’s to caffeine in any form, which includes chocolate (even a few bites), coffee, decaf, black, green, and white tea. The works 😦 Good luck with your w.i.p. Hope the poetry helps. And you’re right, of course! What’s wrong with starting fresh at any age??!!!
I agree! That’s what I love about VCFA. So many of the students are older and ready to start fresh. 🙂
Thank you. 🙂
Are you working on a book, Laura??? Please tell!
I need to get back into poetry too. I wrote more at one point, but fell from grace. And then I read Andy’s poetry and think, “I can’t measure up” and then stop.
Only indirectly…I thought this idea of writing a poem to help in the chapters will aid in my re-writes of a fic-in-prog when I get back to it…so I’m putting it in my tool box for now!
And remember, any poet worth his salt, wants his work to be an inspiration to others, not a measuring stick…and Andy certainly wouldn’t want you to stifle your inner poet on account of you feeling ‘I can’t measure up.’ Right, Andy?
You’re right. 🙂
I’m glad you have a work in progress, along with your music. You are very busy!
Absolutely, Laura. I often read work by other poets that inspires me, gives me that ‘I need to write’ feeling. And sometimes I read something which makes me think ‘I need to up my game! 🙂
So keep at it, Linda. You too Laura!
Will try! Today is a good day to return to it!
Wonderful interview. Life is all about following the “what ifs” . . . isn’t it?
Thank you, Nancy. It is indeed. But I know I need to ask this question a lot more as I think about a new story.
And I love that you said, “life,” not just “writing,” Nancy. Some of us are more daring on the page than we are in the flesh. It’s nice when some of that adventurous spirit carries over!
This sounds excellent. I am definitely adding it to my reading list. I love where “what ifs” take you, if you are brave enough to follow.
Thank you, Lisa. It really fits your latest post. 🙂 Now I want a Wonder Woman cape.
Yes, Lisa! I love the definitions of bravery in your blog. Thank you….
What an inspiringly wonderful interview. Thanks to you both for doing this.
I, too, like the “what if”, which is something many think about but don’t act upon. You did, Louise, and I’ll look forward to reading how that went.
Thanks, Penny! I also love that aspect and need to ask myself that question more. Sometimes I want to be lazy and avoid asking a deep question like “What if?”
Thanks, Penny. If you read the book, you’ll see just how far that “what if” took me: imagine Robert Frost with a Southern drawl!!!!! 🙂
What a great interview! What ifs are the best, if we can let go and follow. And the idea of a poem to examine each chapter of prose – wonderful! Can’t wait to read your book, Louise!
Thanks, Sharon! I know, right? I need to try that exercise. So that I means I’ve got thirty poems to write!
Hey, Sharon! And say hello to Lennie (if he’s still scuttling)! I love hermit crabs!!
Great interview, Linda! I love “hearing” Louise’s voice again and hearing about her process. I can’t wait to read The Language of Stars!
Thanks, Terry! How are you doing? Congrats on your book’s milestone. You’ll have to come on the blog for an interview!
Thank you for the wonderful interview! I remember Louise reading from this book at the various VCFA residencies, and I look forward to reading the finished book soon!
“Various” residencies, is right, Lyn! This one was years in the making! I hope you enjoy it 🙂
I miss those readings! It’s so much fun to think back to that time, and then later see the finished product.
Louise opened her heart and hear memories genuinely for you Linda . ( I know at last your name ! ) . You made a beautiful interview filled with sincerity and emotion..
Thanks, Michel –it was a delight to see how your last post counterbalances the horrors of recent terrorist attacks in France, with the simple but profound joys of being with family.
I am bvery honored by your reply, Louise.
I quite agree! 🙂
Merci, Michel! So glad you enjoyed it.
I’m always glad to see photos of your garden at your blog. 🙂
“We must cultivate our garden ” Candide says in the satire written by Voltaire in 1759. We can of course give various philosophical interpretations to this quote and I disagree with some but it is historical.
Great interview! I love the idea of writing poems to check in with the emotional benchmark of each chapter.
What really touched me is Louise’s tribute to an early mentor. How wonderful to have the opportunity to put that gratitude out there. It’s always vital to acknowledge the important teachers in our life, the ones who help us to learn who we are.
I also love the comment about Fry. I really hope he gets a chance to heal. But I fear he is one of those damaged kids who will end up a damaged and unpleasant adult.
I agree, Amanda. As Charles brought up in another comment, I haven’t seen many tributes to English/Language Arts teachers lately. But I agree that gratitude is important to share.
Thanks, Amanda! Yes, you are so right. The opportunity to thank the mentors who helped shape our creative paths, is rare. I was much too young when I worked with this teacher to recognize just how young I was 🙂 Or to see how much of a difference he would make as I grew older. I’m so grateful that Linda asked the question!
Somehow I missed this post on WordPress, and came here via Facebook.
The book sounds great, an intriguing mix of poetry and prose. And what a great, inspirational dedication by the teacher, too. I still hark back to a primary school teacher who encouraged me. I tried to track her down and give her a copy of my book, but so far have been unable to. The search goes on.
I thought you’d like it, Andy, since this is your forte. 🙂
I hope you can find your teacher! I’m sure she’d love your book!
Maybe if we both keep trying, Andy. I, too, tried to reach this important teacher, but failed. Perhaps he’ll read this post 🙂
Great interview! Louise is a wonderfully talented writer and a gentle teacher. Thanks for this conversation about her process for The Language of Stars. I am so eager to read this latest book and see how Louise uses both prose and poetry to tell the story. Free writes! I know, Louise, that I need to do this more. Thanks for the reminder. Joyce
Thank you, Joyce! I agree. Louise is awesome!
Thanks, Joyce and Linda. The rich (in the best sense of that word) and lucky thing about teaching, is that you never stop learning right along with your students! And yes, Joyce, I’d love to see how you feel about all THREE formats: the prose, the poetry, and the play scripts?
Okay, Louise! As it happens, I just picked up my very own copy from my local indie here in Maine, so I will soon be immersed in this book with the beautiful cover art! I am so in love with buying books and saying, “This is an awesome author I know”, or “This amazing author was my mentor!”
I know! I began with one shelf to house books by friends and students. Now? I can’t find enough shelves!!!
Isn’t that fun, Joyce???
Thank you Linda and Louise. What an inspiring interview, right from the four quick facts! A chocolate allergy? And how fascinating to give creativity Playshops all over the world with your sisters!
I can see why the article about judge’s unusual punishment would catch your attention, Louise. I wonder how many of those little tidbits I allow to slip away.
Thanks! But I’ll bet you catch the “tidbits” that feed you. Of course, no one can notice everything. Still, I’m certain we each have a personal filter, a unique perspective, that responds to the cues we need to tell our next story. Have you ever noticed how, once a project is underway, each experience and everything you see, seems to be related to it? That’s the filter at work!
Good point, Louise! I never thought about the filter. I love that idea!
I think you’re right. When I’m working on something, my mind is attuned to ideas related to that project. And if my filter is on the right setting, I’ll catch what I need. Thanks for the reassuring words.
I wonder that too, Nicki. I can read a news story and not be inspired in a way that I recognize. But inspiration strikes me at odd times.
Like in the shower, right?
Ha! Yes! It usually hits me in the tub or when I’m doing the dishes!
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An insightful interview. This resonated with me:
We writers know so well that a large part of what we do is building bridges between ourselves and our characters, finding the parts of us that feed them.
I wish Louise all the best for the future.
Thanks for the comment, Timi, and those good wishes! Right back at you!
Thanks, Timi! Yes, bridge building is what we do (hopefully).