by Guest Laurel Peterson
cj Sez: Today, Lyrical Pens welcomes poet/novelist Laurel Peterson. Laurel is not a relative of mine, but I believe she’d be a wonderful addition to the family. Take it away, Laurel.
Thanks, cj, for offering me a spot on your blog today. I’m delighted to be here.
I had a wonderful professor in graduate school who said poets couldn’t write novels, and I’ve read some novels by poets that bear out his point. But I’m a poet with two published poetry chapbooks and a full-length collection coming out next year from Futurecycle Press, and I’ve written a mystery novel titled Shadow Notes, released May 17th by Barking Rain Press. And there are others out there that have done both successfully—perhaps some of you reading this!—so I’m going to challenge his thesis. I would say that poetic focus can be an advantage in writing novels.
That professor, the poet Dan Masterson, had four “rules” for poetry, which are equally as useful for novelists. First, he said, write lines good enough to go on a t-shirt. While I think novelists don’t agonize over each individual sentence in the same way poets do (we’d never finish our novels!), we do care about our language. It must capture attitude or mood, as well as conveying information. It can’t be the easiest word that comes to mind. Instead it has to be the right one, and often has to convey multiple layers of meaning. (cj Sez: That is so true, Laurel. To quote Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”)
The second rule is to use concrete imagery: not he walked by some pretty flowers (what kind of flowers? what kind of walk? how pretty?) but he sauntered past a mass of delicate lemon-colored roses spilling over a grey split-rail fence.
The third, an engaging story line. Well, that’s self-explanatory, no?
The fourth, some center of emotional pain or truth. This is the core of what we need to do as writers—communicate real human experience to our readers. In Shadow Notes, my protagonist Clara Montague is afraid of losing another parent, frustrated at her inability to talk to the one she still has, lonely because she has returned to a town where she has few friends. Those common human emotions draw readers to our stories and keep them there, rooting for our characters to win.
Poetry teaches a writer to pay attention to details—the right word, the right image, the most important moment to portray. All of us who love words care about those things. So what do you think? Is being a poet an advantage or a disadvantage when writing a novel? Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear from you!
Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. Her first mystery, Shadow Notes, has just been released by Barking Rain Press. Find her on Twitter (@laurelwriter49), Facebook, LinkedIn, or at her website: www.laurelpeterson.com.
Clara Montague’s mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead. Clara suspects she and her mother share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.
Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.
Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma, and then there’s a second murder. Can Clara find the connection between the murders and her mother’s past that will save her mother and finally heal their relationship?
cj Sez: Thank you so very much, Laurel, for sharing this great information with Lyrical Pens readers. I am not a formal student of linguistics, but syntax and semantics are important to my writing, so, yes, I believe being a poet is an asset. And with your attention to emotional detail, I expect Shadow Notes to be the first of your best sellers