Tag Archives: writing poetry

On Poetry: Interview with Alan Shue, creator of the Bug Rhymes Stories

This is the fourth and final installment in my series of interviews on the craft of writing poetry. Today Alan Shue, author of the hilarious Bug Rhymes Stories series of children’s books, talks to us about his approach to the craft.

Writing for children is a bit different than for older readers, and Alan kindly explains why.


CJJ: When did you begin to write poetry?

AS: I began to write poetry in small amounts during the 1960s and 70s, mainly in the form of song writing (little of which I can find now). In the 80s I started writing poems mainly for Christmas, family birthdays and other events to send out with cards and found I really enjoyed it. After a while I branched out into writing just for fun, playing with alliteration and various rhyming patterns and broadening my mix of topics to include humorous, romantic, and more serious themes. When I retired in 2008 I also started writing rhyming stories for children.

CJJ: Your published work is primarily children’s books. When did you realize this was your calling as an author? Have you written in other genres?

AS: I’m not sure I’ve had a calling as an author per se – I more or less stumbled into writing children’s books. When I reached retirement I knew I wanted to spend more of my newfound free time writing poetry and maybe also take a shot at writing short stories or novels. One warm summer day in 2008 I lay on my back in a grassy area in a park, looked up into a clear blue sky, and casually thought about what kind of writing I’d like to do. Within moments a few rhyming lines and silly plot ideas about fleas and other bugs popped into my mind. They felt fun and funny enough that I decided to give rhyming children’s stories a try, to see if I could create something I liked. That impulse turned into a series I call Bug Rhymes stories.

I have tried a few other genres. In the poetry realm I have written lyrics for a set of “New Age” compositions whose melodies I loved so much I felt compelled to put words to them. In the past five years I have also tried my hand at adult prose in the form of a short story (more like a novelette) and a fiction novel currently in progress. I find writing prose for an adult audience to be far more difficult than writing goofy rhymes for kids.

CJJ: What do you enjoy most about your work?

AS: I like the creative process of trying to communicate ideas and stories via rhyme. I enjoy the challenge of finding unusual and clever rhymes, giving rhythm to poetic verse, and employing alliteration to make lines and quatrains “roll off the tongue” (although admittedly I sometimes create tongue twisters). I’m a member of a local writing group and like the learning process involved in receiving critiques of my work and making improvements to it. It also has been a pleasure to visit elementary schools to read my books aloud and talk to students about writing. My greatest enjoyment comes when I receive feedback from kids and adults who have had a good laugh or a nice feeling from my ditties and stories.

CJJ: What do you find easiest about writing for children, and conversely, what is most difficult?

AS: My children’s stories tend to “anthropomorphize” bugs, i.e. they put bugs into situations faced by humans. I think having bugs as characters allows me the freedom to make the stories as humorous or dramatic as I want while still appealing to a child’s sense of fun and fantasy. I can create my own culture and world, e.g. a pair of bedbug bicycle cops on the trail of a bedbug bed burglar.

My greatest difficulty is keeping my children’s stories as short as most publishers recommend. Many children’s books are just a few hundred words long. My stories sometimes creep up to around a thousand, plus or minus, which can exceed the attention span of some who are in my target 3 to 9 year age range.

CJJ: What advice would you give other authors who want to write for children and who may be just starting out?

AS: My books are all self-published, which is far easier to do now than it was in 2008, so I would suggest considering that approach as it is far quicker and easier than acquiring an agent or publisher. By all means join a good critique group where you can get constructive criticism from other authors. I was not academically trained as a writer and listening to other writers has resulted in far better finished work from me. Read as many children’s books as you can to see what is getting published, what the market is looking for, and what your niche could be. Think about your goals. My niche has been the adventures of bugs scorned or overlooked by most other children’s book writers (e.g. fleas, mosquitoes, bedbugs, gnats, etc., no butterflies) and my goal has been to write stories kids and adults will enjoy, not necessarily to achieve commercial success.

CJJ: Finally, what are you currently working on?

AS: I’m about 35,000 words into my first full length novel. I’ve discovered that it takes far more research and skill for this type of writing – to make it realistic and keep adults engaged – than for fantasy-based rhyming stories for children. Additionally, I have several more finished Bug Rhymes stories that need illustration to become books. Kudos to my wife Linda (creative director and colorist) and my illustrator Elisa Wilson for the three Bug Rhymes books completed so far. I’ve found my participation in the illustration process immensely interesting and rewarding, but expensive, so am not sure what the future holds for additional books. I am also still writing poetry as new ideas, events and holidays stimulate.


Thank you for allowing me to prevail upon you, Alan.

I highly recommend Alan’s books for the fun rhymes, the overall stories, and the wonderful, detailed art.

My 7-yr-old grandson, Byron, loves “Grant the Ant.” We had a long discussion on the phone about the redemption of Zeater and what a great ending the book has.  After all, in Byron’s mind, the best stories have fun words, a lot of action, and a certain amount of “ew!”

Also, Byron thinks I should add a glossary at the end of my books as he liked the one at the end of “Grant the Ant.” I’ve always listened to marketing advice from my grandsons, as they are rarely wrong.

This series of interviews with working poets/novelists has been fun. I’m always interested in how other authors work. In case you missed them, here are the links to the three previous interviews:

Stephen Swartz

Shaun Allan

Maria VA Johnson

Writing poems doesn’t stop us from writing novels, or vice versa. We can give ourselves permission to approach the craft of writing in whatever way makes us happy.

Beginning Monday, I’ll continue the series on poetry and short fiction with Drabbles (100 word stories).


About Alan Shue:

Raised in Las Vegas, Alan moved to the Pacific Northwest to attend Oregon State University and then made Olympia, WA his home. As a published author Alan has a not-so-secret love for the written word and rhymes in particular. In addition to writing children’s stories, over the years he has written a great deal of poetry for family, holidays, and just fun.

As a contrast, during his career Alan wrote thousands of pages of information systems analysis and technical design. So, a little right brain here … a little left brain there … add in some bugs, rhymes, goofiness and imagination, and you have the origins of his Bug Rhymes Books series.

Alan lives with his wife of 50+ years, Linda, who has been instrumental in the illustration of his books. His published works so far include: Chee the Flea, Tweeter and Jeeter, and Grant the Ant. Alan is coordinator for the 150+ member Olympia Writers Group.

To find out more about Alan’s books visit his web site: http://bugrhymesbooks.com/

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On Poetry – interview with @StephenSwartz1 #amwriting

This is the first in 3-part series of short interviews with novelists who also write poetry. Today features Stephen Swartz, a good friend who came though on short notice! But first, I’ll need to lay a little groundwork.

When I think of the Romantic movement in poetry, I think of poets like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, and Lord Byron.

According to Wikipedia, “The Romantic movement emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.”

I have a reason for opening with “the big guns of Romantic poetry,” so to speak. The roots of my guest’s writing life were shaped by Romanticism.

For some who write poetry, the muse, the inspiration to bend words is not always a constant companion. For some of us, our writing career begins with poetry, but as we branch out into other genres, the poetic muse slips into the background and emerges at odd times.

Yet we sometimes feel we are the only one who have wandered away from that beginning.  It helps to know that others experience this wandering too, that writing a novel doesn’t make us less of a poet.

Poetry is always waiting to be rediscovered, accepting of the fact it will be set aside when something shiny catches our authorly attention.

Unlike most spurned lovers, Poetry forgives us when we abandon it for greener writing pastures. When we return to it, Poetry welcomes us home with no recriminations.

And now, my good friend, author Stephen Swartz, has kindly consented to answer a series of questions regarding both his current work and his life as a poet.


CJJ:  When did you begin to write poetry?

SS: I probably dabbled at silly rhymes early on, but I would count my poetic career beginning at age 12 when I became a Romantic…and have remained a member to this day. I used to write love poems to the girls in high school and college – mostly unappreciated. My first poem publication (school newspaper) was a set of rhyming quatrains about a young knight fighting a dragon and saving the town.

CJJ: What is your favorite form, rhyming or free?

SS: Depends on the subject. Although serious subjects still can lend themselves to rhyming, modern poetry favors free verse. In the past two years I’ve dabbled in Twitter poetry (from posted prompts) and for the sake of the short format I often write haiku or limerick.

CJJ: For me, poetry becomes an emotional catharsis. Where do you find the emotional strength to write and publish something as deeply personal as poetry?

SS: In the past few years, poetry has been more a mental exercise (like for the Twitter prompts), although I do try to say something. Otherwise, I write when I feel an emotional knot that needs to be untied or cut and putting it out in poetic form is cathartic. They also help me remember what I felt at various times in my life, like emotional postcards.

CJJ: We all write what we are in the mood for. Which literary form, novel or poetry is easiest for you today?

SS: I just finished a contemporary crime novel set in my own city. It was easy in the sense I did not need to “make up” anything because the real features of the setting were right there. However, previous novels in sci-fi and fantasy had their easier parts when I was able to simply invent something rather than having it conform to known facts. I tend to shift back and forth with regard to genre. I feel the urge now to swing back to something more fabulous than realistic.

CJJ: What are you currently working on?

SS: I am rather in limbo at the moment. I should finish a sci-fi book I’ve been working on since my first NaNoWriMo. I started an apocalyptic plague novel when the lockdown began but lost interest at 5000 words; I may yet return to it. I also need to get back to Book 4 of my vampire trilogy, sitting at 35,000 words. And there’s Epic Fantasy *With Zombies to work on. Now that my summer staycation has begun, I may yet be productive!


Thank you, Stephen! You came though beautifully on exceedingly short notice to help me kick off this 3-part series of interviews with working poets who are also novelists.

Tomorrow, Thursday, I will feature an interview with poet/novelist  Shaun Allan, and on Monday, Maria V.A. Johnson has agreed to talk about writing poetry from an autistic person’s perspective.


ABOUT AUTHOR STEPHEN SWARTZ

Stephen Swartz grew up in Kansas City where he was an avid reader of science-fiction and quickly began emulating his favorite authors. Since then, Stephen studied music in college and, like many writers, worked at a wide range of jobs: from French fry guy to soldier, to IRS clerk to TV station writer, before heading to Japan for several years of teaching English. Now Stephen is a Professor of English at a university in Oklahoma, where he teaches many kinds of writing. He still can be found obsessively writing his latest manuscript, usually late at night. He has only robot cats.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Blog: http://stephenswartz.blogspot.com/

Facebook: Author Stephen Swartz

Twitter:

  • @StephenSwartz1 (general use)
  • @dreamlandtrilogy (The Dream Land trilogy specifically)

Follow Stephen on Goodreads

You can find all of Stephen’s books on his Amazon Author Page

 

 

 

 

 

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