Welcome to 2021 National Poetry Month. It's my fifteenth year of participating (some years better than others).
This year I'm taking a look at some previous poems that I enjoyed and will be revising. Some have been on the blog before and others not.
I have five great interviews lined up:
April 2 POETRY FRIDAY: ALLAN WOLF
April 9 POETRY FRIDAY: LISA FIPPS
April 16 POETRY FRIDAY: CHRIS BARON
April 23 POETRY FRIDAY:
JOANNE ROSSMASSLER FRITZ
April 30 POETRY FRIDAY: LITA JUDGE
I love getting books into the hands of readers so there will be prizes for stopping by and saying hi.
WELCOME AUTHOR LISA FIPPS
When I decided to interview novel in verse authors, I wanted to feature a couple of debut authors. Thanks to Sylvia Vardell's fabulous 2021 Sneak Peek post for all poetry books, I discovered Author Lisa Fipps.
I read this book in one sitting. I fell in love with the main character, Ellie, and how she grows throughout the book. I felt the sting of some the Mom comments.
What led you to write STARFISH? Was there a reason for choosing to write in free verse instead of prose?
FIPPS: I wrote Starfish because it was the book I needed when I was a kid. I was bullied relentlessly for being fat and struggled with so many emotions from all the bullying. Since I was an avid reader, I turned to books, hoping to read a story like mine, hoping to feel less alone, hoping to find help with how to handle it all. But a book like that was nowhere to be found. I ended up feeling even more alone. More different. I’ve always dreamed of writing for children, so it only made sense for my debut novel to be the book I always needed as a kid. I’m really surprised and saddened that from the time I was a kid until now – all those years – a book like Starfish didn’t exist. We need fat- and body-positive books for kids featuring fat protagonists, especially since nearly 75 percent of adult Americans and a great percentage of kids are fat. I’m starting to see more and more children’s books with fat protagonists, so that makes me happy. There’s still a long way to go, though. I wrote Starfish in verse because that’s just how stories come to me. I like it because it allows me to cut to the emotional core of a story quicker than prose. Using fewer words also gives me that staccato effect I love.
Were there characters that were easier or more difficult to write? Were they based on anyone?
FIPPS: Ellie is based a lot on me, so that made it easier to write her story, at least when it came to what happened to her and how she felt. What made it hard was digging up, facing, and reliving past hurts. The dad was hard to write. On a personal level, I have no idea what a dad is like or what it’s like to have a dad. My dad died when I was thirteen months old. A lot of readers love the dad. One reader who found out I grew up without a dad said, “Do you think you wrote the dad you wished you’d had?” And it dawned on me that that’s exactly what I did, without making a conscious effort to do so. Ellie’s dad is the dad I literally daydreamed about having when I was a kid.
I loved the images of the starfish and the whales throughout the book. What led you to choosing those images? I loved the poem “Whaling Wall” when Ellie sees the beauty of humpback whales.
FIPPS: When you’re fat, there always seems to be this one defining moment when everything changes, the moment you go from being a regular kid/person to being the fat kid/person. For Ellie, that came during her under-the-sea-themed birthday party, where she wore a whale swimsuit. She cannonballed into the pool, creating a big splash. From them on she was called Splash or some synonym for whale. That’s why I used the whale image in the book. The starfish image came from the scene where Ellie starts thinking that maybe it’s okay to be herself, to be seen, to be heard, to take up space. When she’s trying to imagine what that would be like, she stretches out in the pool and takes up all the room she wants. She literally looks like a starfish, with her arms and legs stretched out. When she starts to face the bullies and defend herself, she notices she takes the starfish stance: Arms stretched out and feet more than shoulder width apart. I think that the word starfish and the image that pops into your head when you hear or read it, gives you a perfect visual of being free to take up all the space you want in the world.
Were the images in the first draft or did they appear in later drafts?
FIPPS: The whale and starfish images were in the story from the beginning, although I added more emphasis to the starfish as I revised.
Do you have a favorite scene or quote from the book?
FIPPS: I think the scene where Ellie starfishes and says “behold the thing” as she confronts her mom is my favorite. It is the defining moment for Ellie. For their relationship. But it was so emotional for me to think about, let alone write, that I will never read that poem aloud.
I noticed that use you used the library for some scenes in the book. How did being a librarian inform you that there needed to be a library in the book? (Being a retired K5 librarian, I notice when books feature a library)
FIPPS: I am the director of marketing for a public library, but I’m not a librarian. I included libraries in Starfish because they were my refuge when I was in school. And, as an avid reader whose family was too poor to buy a lot of books, I visited the school and public libraries all the time when I was growing up. Coming home with a stack of books felt like Christmas.
If you were to give a reading, what might you read to the audience?
FIPPS: I always enjoy reading a few poems from the beginning and the poems with Dr. Woodn’t-you-like-to-know. They’re just fun to read.
I’ve been taking some classes at the Highlights Foundation with Cordelia Jense. We’ve been discussing what is the definition of a verse novel? What are your thoughts on the definition? (As the once chair of the CYBILS Award Poetry category, we wrestled with where the verse novels belonged in Poetry or in Fiction or their own category.)
FIPPS: To me, anyway, verse is poetry but it’s also its own creature. It’s a living, breathing, changing artform. You can bend and shape it any way you want it. That’s the beauty of it. It really feels like clay in my hands.
What is next up for you? Do you have any new books in the works?
FIPPS: Like all writers, I’m always writing. Stay tuned to social media for some exciting news in the future.
How did you decide on Author Lisa Fipps and not just Lisa Fipps?
FIPPS: Great question! Lisa Fipps is a common name and so is Lisa Phipps. A lot of people spell my name wrong. Fun fact. When I was a journalist, other reporters in the newsroom got sick and tired of hearing me say, “Lisa Fipps. F as in Frank, i, p as in Paul, p as in Paul, S as in Sam” every time I had to leave a message for someone to call me back. I got sick and tired of hearing me say it. You’d think it’d be an easy name to get right. It’s five letters. One syllable. Alas, it is not. I kept track of the misspellings. There were thirty-four, including Slitz, Flips, and Phillips. I thought the most common misspelling would be Phipps. It wasn’t. It was Simpson. I can only guess that people thought of Lisa Simpson from the TV show when I was trying to spell my name. Dunno. Weird. Anyway, I thought if I branded myself as Author Lisa Fipps for my website and social media that it’d help people find me since it is a common name – although, apparently, wretchedly hard to spell. Lol.
Did you read BLUBBER by Judy Blume as a kid? It's been so long since I've read it, but it came to mind as I read your book.
FIPPS: I didn’t read Blubber when I was a kid. It was a popular book, and I had planned on reading it. But then when we were in line after library time, getting ready to head back to our classroom, a boy saw a girl holding that book and said, “Blubber’s reading Blubber.” The girl wasn’t fat by any stretch. So, I was afraid to be seen reading it, knowing it’d give the other kids another reason to bully me. That’s one reason I chose the title Starfish for my book. It’s not a title that a kid would be embarrassed to be seen carrying or reading.
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing this book with the world and for allowing me to interview you.
Wondering about my National Poetry Month Project? Here's what I have been up to since April 1, 2021:
April 1: Welcome and Morning Prayer
April 2: Interview with Allan Wolf
April 5 Redux: "Outside My Window"
April 6: Sun/Grian
April 7: Adelanto/A Day's Journey
April 8: Wings Redux
Stop by, leave a comment and get entered for book giveaways at the end of the month.
Many thanks to Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference who is hosting Poetry Friday. She has a great project with translating poems into a second language.
All photos and poems in these blog posts are copyrighted to Jone Rush MacCulloch 2006- Present. Please do not copy, reprint or reproduce without written permission from me.