Wild In the Streets Blog Tour: Interview with Marilyn Singer

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Hi Marilyn! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Hi, Dylan!  Glad to be here!

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Tell us a little bit about Wild in the Streets.

I’m excited about Wild in the Streets: 20 Poems about City Animals, illustrated by Gordy Wright. This is my second book for Quarto.  The first was Who Are You Calling Weird? , about unusual animals, and it was so much fun to write.  I like writing prose nonfiction and I enjoy doing research, especially about animals.  But even more, I love to write poetry.  Wild in the Streets is my 37th collection of poems (the 38th, Who Named Their Pony Macaroni? Poems about White House Pets, illustrated by Ryan McAmis, will be out in October from Disney-Hyperion ). 

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For a long time, I wanted to do a book about urban animals.  I often write about animals because I feel that the more people know about them, the more they want to protect them. I believe in encouraging folks to look around and observe the world with a sense of wonder.  The way that animals have adapted to city life is indeed wondrous.  At first, I thought that this book would be in prose and feature only American critters.  But once it became easier to do research on the Internet, it evolved into a book about birds, mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, and spiders in cities around the world.  And instead of just prose, it became a book of poems, with added prose.  Poetry allowed me, in some cases, to write in the voices of the animals.  In other cases, it enabled me to present an observer’s POV.  I always sympathize with the animals, and I think that’s present in the poems.  I like surprising readers and capturing “photographs” of these animals in action, as it were.  Poetry lets me do that. Additionally, I enjoy writing in different poeric forms, so the book contains haikus, villanelles, triolets, sonnets, even a reverso, etc., as well as free verse, with definitions of these in the back matter.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process.

My process isn’t formal in that I don’t always write every day or at a set time, but I’m constantly thinking about what I’m working on or ideas for new books.  When I am working on a collection of poems, I often go nuts and write non-stop.  My husband, Steve Aronson, says he can tell when I’m “poetizing”—seemingly staring at nothing, but actually coming up with a theme, asking questions, seeing images, getting word pictures, arranging phrases, etc.  Prose doesn’t work that way for me.  If I’m writing a novel, I can spend a long time thinking about where I’m going next and I don’t necessarily work non-stop.  For non-fiction, I do a lot of research first and then organize the information into some order. For everything, though, I revise as I go along and then revise again when I get editorial notes.

As far as where I write, that can be in my house, in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, at a coffee shop, on the subway, on an airplane, or elsewhere.  That’s why I carry around a pad or a small notebook and pens, so I’m not tied to my computer.  A big problem would be getting an idea and having nothing to write it down on.  I like my cell phone a lot, but haven’t gotten into taking notes on that—yet.

Have you always been into writing?

Pretty much.  I started writing poems in third grade and even got some published in a magazine for teachers, I think it was.  I didn’t realize that I wanted to write for kids, though, until I was in my twenties.  I was a high school English teacher for several years.  When I quit, I began to write stories based on characters I’d made up when I was eight.  I joined the Bank St. Writer’s Lab and got encouragement, so I kept at it.  I was lucky in that my first manuscript, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t, was accepted six months after I submitted it. That book was published in 1976.  Would that things were always so easy and fast since then!  Interestingly, although I’d written poetry since I was a kid, I didn’t think about writing poems for kids until much later on.  My first poetry book, Turtle in July, wasn’t published until thirteen years after The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t.

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What’s the most exciting part of your job?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s finding out that a manuscript has been accepted.  Receiving the finished book is also exciting, of course, but even to this day there’s something really thrilling to learn that somebody likes my manuscript enough to want to publish it.  I also find it exhilarating to talk with experts about something I’m researching or to visit a location for a story or a habitat for a nonfiction work—from seeing bats in Austin, TX and monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove, CA (both of which are featured in Wild in the Streets) to attending an exhibit on First Dogs (some of which appear in Who Named Their Pony Macaroni?) at the Newseum in Washington DC or getting a tour of a haunted theatre for a novel I’m working on.  Another thing I love is when I’m strolling in a park, or a museum, or walking on a street or in the exhibit hall at a conference and an idea for a new book pops into my head!

What inspires your creativity?

Lots of things.  It could be noticing animal behavior or realizing that there are few books about New Year celebrations (that inspired Every Month Is a New Year, published by Lee & Low) or my love of dance (which led to Feel the Beat!, published by Dial).  It could be an actual request for a book, such as “Can you write poems about the presidents?” or “How about a book about a little girl in ballet class?”  It could be watching kids I know (and ones I don’t), having an interesting dream, seeing a TV show, play, or film, reading a book—everything and anything can inspire creativity if I open the door to it.

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What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Hmm, I’m not sure what readers do or don’t know about me.  How about this, as it relates to Wild in the Streets?  For nearly eighteen years, my husband and I had a pet starling named Darling, which Steve found as a nestling in the gutter. Unlike most other birds, starlings are legal to keep as pets because they are not native to this country.  We raised her, and she imprinted on us.  She liked to sit on my shoulder and play with my hair.  She’d also part my fingers and toes, looking for food (starlings sift through grass and garbage to find eats).  Darling was a great mimic and could say, “Hello, Birdie” and “How are you?”  She could imitate a squeaky clothesline, do an excellent blue jay voice, and bark like our dog.  She worked for months perfecting the latter.  We let her fly around my office indoors, but she would not have survived on her own outside.  I miss her dearly, but I think she lived a long and happy life.

And here’s something else about me, just for fun.  When I was eighteen, I sailed to England to spend my junior year of college at Reading University.  On the ship, I got to be in a production of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, a poetry collection I have found influential in some of my work.  I also got drunk on a single drink (I have no tolerance for alcohol and don’t even bother to imbibe these days), sat in a lifeboat, and declared, “Je suis la reine” at the top of my lungs.  And that was way before the movie Titanic appeared.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I was a teacher for a while, but I don’t think I’d be doing that.  Possibly, I’d be an editor—I have compiled and edited four y.a. short story anthologies. What I’d find fun is being a casting director for plays, movies, TV.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

More books!  Besides the two aforementioned poetry books, another new book coming out this fall is Gulp, Gobble, a rhyming early reader about how animals eat, from Simon Spotlight, illustrated by Kathryn Durst.  It’s a companion to Float, Flutter, how animals move, which was published this past spring.  Next spring, Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration, and Cake will be published by Dial and illustrated by two-time Caldecott Honor winner, Marjorie Priceman. Several more non-fiction and fiction picture books are in the works, and I’m writing other things as well.  I don’t plan to retire from writing in the near future—or in the far future either.  🙂

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Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

I want to encourage readers, if they don’t already do so, to read poetry.  Some people are afraid of it.  Some think it’s too hard to read.  I promise that there are types of poems for everyone, not just ones written by me, but by many other poets.  Your librarian or teacher, your relative or friend can help you find the right poems for you.   Or you can go on a hunt yourself.   Discover poems that speak to you.  You’ll be glad you did, and so will I and all of my fellow authors.

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