Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Author Interview: Caroline Starr Rose

As part of the Novels In Verse Reading Challenge I'm going to be doing an author interview each month with an author in this genre. I got the challenge started a little late so this is the first interview so far. 

Please welcome debut novelist...

Caroline Starr Rose author of the new middle grade novel May B! 
If you haven't heard about Caroline or her book you can read a quote and synopsis below, and click HERE if you want to read my review.

"I've known it since last night:
It's been too long to expect them to return.
Something's happened."

May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

Okay, lets get started!

Born Bookish: What is your favorite novel in-verse?

The first I ever read, Karen Hesse’s OUT OF THE DUST.

Born Bookish: May B is your first novel; how does it feel to see it on store shelves?

Thrilling and surreal, especially when friends have sent photos of May in bookstores elsewhere.

Born Bookish: I read an interview with you where you said you had only read two novels in verse before you wrote May B. That’s not very many. What made you want to write your book this way?

May B. didn’t start out as a verse novel. My first few attempts at writing the story felt distant and lifeless. It wasn’t until I returned to my research (and specifically a book called READ THIS ONLY TO YOURSELF: THE PRIVATE WRITINGS OF MIDWESTERN WOMEN, 1880-1910) that I saw the patterns these women’s writings had in common: terse language, stark circumstances, a matter-of-fact tone in all things -- whether talking about laundry or the death of a child. It was if the heavens had opened for me, and I was able to climb inside May’s world, using the voices of the women I’d encountered through research.

Having read only two verse novels beforehand both terrified and liberated me. I didn’t let myself anywhere near OUT OF THE DUST while writing, for fear of crumbling into a heap of worthlessness (though I felt I understood for the first time why Karen Hesse told her story this way -- the immediacy verse brings speaks volumes, especially in trying times). On the other hand, I wasn’t bound by patterns or rules. Several readers have said May B.’s pacing reads more like prose (swifter than the typical verse novel), which ultimately served the story.

Born Bookish: Do you think you’ve found your niche with books in verse, and will your future books be written this way as well?

I certainly have more stories I want to tell this way!

Born Bookish: With May B being set in a Kansas prairie setting, did it take a lot of research to make sure it was historically accurate?

Yes! At first, all I knew was I wanted to write about the frontier but hadn’t homed in on Kansas specifically. My first attempt at writing had been historical fiction, and I learned from that disastrous manuscript that regardless of the history, the story had to belong to the character; I couldn’t beat historical facts into my readers’ heads. I went into May B. trusting that if I kept my protagonist’s perspective and understanding of her world, enough history would organically seep in.

A blizzard plays a key part in May’s story, so I needed her somewhere where weather extremes weren’t uncommon. I also was enamored with sod houses, which also limited in what part of the country May could live.

One special challenge was locating exactly where May’s sod house stood. There’s a reference in May B. to Tom Sawyer, so the book had to take place in 1876 or later. I wanted her in a part of western Kansas that wasn’t very developed and was semi-close to a railroad. It was also necessary to have wolves around. The first place I located May was outside of Dodge City, where she would have been smack dab in the middle of the Chisolm Cattle Trail -- not exactly the solitude I was looking for (I also wasn’t interested in telling the sort of rowdy cowboy story that Dodge City brings to mind). The story couldn’t take place much beyond 1880 because in order to have wolves, buffalo still needed to be prevalent; by 1880 these animals were widely wiped out. Gove County, Kansas became a good location: the railroad (and therefore surrounding communities) was still relatively new but old enough to have been there before 1880; the short-grass country of western Kansas supported sod houses; and wolves, while not spotted everyday, would have still roamed in packs at this time.

Born Bookish: I read that you were a big Laura Ingalls fan growing up. Which of her books was your favorite?

My favorite Laura books often change. Right now I’d say ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK and THE LONG WINTER.

Born Bookish: Do you find it hard to throw obstacles in your characters way or make life difficult for them?

I’ve had this problem with other manuscripts, though it wasn’t too difficult with May. (Of course, my editors gave me some specific ideas, making the process easier). The thing about May Betterly is she’s so very brave and strong -- she just doesn’t know this early on. I knew she could withstand what was coming her way, so while I sometimes felt sad she had to go through certain things, I was so proud to see her fight and come to understand how capable she is.

Yes, I’m talking about May in the present tense, as if she’s real. It’s hard not to think of my characters this way.

Born Bookish: Do you have any other books in the works that you can tell us a little bit about?

I’m working on a picture book about the Louisiana Wetlands and another historical verse novel.

Born Bookish: Here at Born Bookish I have a segment called Breathtaking Book Covers where I post the cover image of a book that I think is stunning. Is there a book cover that has ever taken your breath away? If so, what book? 

I adore Tess Hilmo's WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE.

THANKS for the interview Caroline! =) 

Check back soon for a May B related giveaway! And if you haven't joined the challenge yet, don't worry you still can! Just click HERE


  1. Wow - fantastic interview! Thanks for sharing it,

    Jessica from Booked Up!


  2. Awesome interview! I love The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls too! <3
    I really need to check May B! :)

    1. Thanks for stopping in! May B is a quick and excellent read you should definitely check it out =) Especially if your a Laura Ingalls fan!

  3. Oh, I was curious about this novel but I didn't realise it was in verse! Ha, I remember reading Out of the Dust for school. Wonderful interview! x

    1. Surprisingly I've never read Out of the Dust! I should probably get on that...


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