Which is why I reluctantly chose free verse for Purple Holly
Purple being the novel I'm working on.
Verse being a form of novel-writing that, over the past decade, is gaining popularity.
I chose it, however, because the form felt comfortable in my hands. The way it forces the writer to be very sharp in his writing and the way it evokes emotion with an economy of words.
The verse novel hit it big time with Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse's story about the Dust Bowl of the mid 30s.
It came out in 1998 and I bought it back then. That was my introduction to the verse novel. I was intrigued. I liked the story. I was at first put off by the verse.
But I got used to it. And came to appreciate its power.
Fast forward to 2009. And here I am, doing initial character work for Purple Holly when it dawns on me just how much verse fits the style and tenor of the story.
Here's an excerpt.
A woman in a black suit
Sits in a chair at the foot of my
Smiling the smile of a compassionate aunt
A vague relation at a funeral
Head slightly tilted
Dull eyes. The eyes of a woman who has seen
too much sad
I think I nod anyway. A haze
of unreality makes my
There's the hint of pain in my
side. A searing stitch
And then there are the tubes in my arm
My name is Hester Lynne.
I'm with Child Protective Services, Andrew
Hester? Did she say
The police want to talk to you
But I told them I needed to
I'm a psychiatrist, Andrew
I have to establish that you
Hester the Psychiatrist is
here to make sure my
head is not going to roll
off my shoulders
Trauma affects people in different ways
There is a window in my hospital room
through which I can see
the leafless maples and elms
down on Fair Street
The brown of the dead
the mirthlessness that
the end of October brings
before the start of snow
I want to talk to you about
what happened so that I can
state of mind
Fair Street is straight
and bordered by the naked trees
before it intercepts Main Street
with her soldierly brick and historic
I can see the clock tower of the
Opera House at the end
of Main Street
And beyond it, the ridge of
forest: denuded hardwoods, stoic conifers
Over that ridge somewhere is
Owens Mills, last stop
before the White Mountains of
It affects our memory
Trauma I mean, Andrew
It can play tricks. When someone has
been through a tragedy
I look back at Hester the Sympathetic
Tragedy ... ?
Suddenly I know what it feels like
to be high on something
There's stomach-tickling levitation
A lifting up out of reality, not fully
Toes hovering above the ground
A giddy feeling, where words seem spoken through
Yes. A tragedy
Andrew, maybe we should start with your story?
Story ... ?
A blink takes me an hour
Hester holds a sheaf of papers in her
Holding it up
You write very well, Andrew
Yes. I know
I'm getting higher, it seems, and the stitch
in my side is slip-sliding away
Tell me about Purple Holly
That's the first chapter. So far. It could very well end up not in it at all, or greatly altered. The point is, that's verse. A free-flowing, non-rhyming, chunky narrative. When it's well done, it's evocative and direct and powerful.
In some recent verse novels (written primarily for the preteen and teen groups) the verse floats all over the page, and in others, dialogue is offset to the right while the narrative is on the left.
I'm going to finish it in this form, and delay judgment until then.