GUEST BLOG: From Poet to Picture Book Author with Marie Harris plus…A GIVE AWAY!

Marie Harris

Today I’m delighted to have Marie Harris as my guest. Marie has had an impressive creative career.  She was Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 1999-2004 and continues to write poetry.  As a poet, she performs at universities around the country and visits elementary and secondary schools as a poet-in-residence.  She is also the author of three picture books.  Her latest picture book, THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013), is the beautiful multi-sensory story of a girl named Jillian who engages the world using her five sense plus  a “special extra sense” called synesthesia which allows her to perceive sounds as colors. How did Marie make the  journey from poet to picture book writer?  Quite by accident, as we shall see. Take it away, Marie!

Some years ago, I wrote a long-ish rhymed poem about not seeing a whale, which I was hoping to sell as a children’s picture book. So far, this has not happened, and I only mention it to demonstrate that, as you’ll note in the following unlikely story of how I became a children’s book writer, at least I am not a liar.

It all began with a phone call from then-governor, Jeanne Shaheen. She asked if I might accept the honor of becoming New Hampshire’s next Poet Laureate. Needless to say, I was thrilled. It wasn’t until a month or so later, when the initial fuss had died down, that I asked myself: What, exactly, does a poet laureate do? And it turned out that the position of NH PL came with no job description, so I set about creating one for myself.

g4granite1Among other things, I decided that I wanted to write something for children. So I let that idea percolate in my head as I took walks in the woods and rode around in my car. Then one afternoon, I heard an announcer say that the radio program I was listening to on NPR was sponsored by Sleeping Bear Press, “publishers of A is for America: An Alphabet book.” And when I went to their web site, I discovered that the press was also publishing an alphabet book for every state! I picked up the phone, asked the editor if they’d done New Hampshire yet, and she said “no.” And I said “Well then, pick me!” And she asked why she should do that and I told her I was the NH PL. And then came the crucial question. “Have you,” she asked, “ever written anything for children?” And I said (see above) “Yes.”

primarynumbersThe next year turned my brain to alphabet soup as I tried to capture the history and culture of New Hampshire in 26 little poems, supplemented by prose sidebars. It was really difficult. It was exhilarating. It was mind-opening. And great fun. G is for GRANITE (Sleeping Bear Press, 2003) was followed by the NH number book, PRIMARY NUMBERS (Sleeping Bear Press, 2005). Both have enjoyed modest success.

In the process of researching the people and places and events that went with each letter and number, I came across all sorts of interesting people and resolved to explore some of them further. One was Amy Beach (part of a sidebar on important New Hampshire women). As I began to research her life, I became more and more intrigued and ended up starting a novel in which she was one of the main characters.

The Girl Who Heard Colors by Marie HarrisThat’s when I met my very first literary agent (via a poet friend) who agreed to take me on. He sent my manuscript all over creation and it ended up in the hands of Nancy Paulsen at Penguin who, though not interested in the novel, was fascinated by Amy Beach’s synesthesia and wanted me to write a picture book about that. I hesitated, not wanting to boil down all my years of research into this very complex woman into a single trait. In the end, I crafted a story about a contemporary little girl with synesthesia and Nancy liked it enough to offer to publish it.

On the heels of signing a contract, my agent retired. And here I am, a freelance, three-time, accidental children’s book writer, wondering where to go next. And feeling lucky to be here!

To learn more about Marie Harris and her fascinating new picture book, visit her website.  Find Marie’s books at bookstores everywhere. She’s also chatting today with Susanna Leonard Hill and Tina Cho!

Now for the GIVEAWAY!  To enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Marie Harris’s THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS, simply leave a comment.  (Note: You must be at least 13 to enter and you may only enter once.) The contest ends Thursday, 2/25/2014 at 11:59 pm EST.  The winner, whose name will be pulled from a hat, will be announced Friday. 

NOTE:  The Giveaway is now over.  Thank you to all who entered. The winner is announced here.

29 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: From Poet to Picture Book Author with Marie Harris plus…A GIVE AWAY!

  1. Enjoyed this post, Marie! It’s often said that poets make the best picture book writers. Will have to look for your books, especially G is for Granite, since my husband’s family is from NH and I know two little munchkins would should have it. 🙂

  2. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to hear colors. You could make a symphony from a sunrise or punk rock from a hike through deep woods! 🙂 Congratulations, Marie – I love you story and that you are scoring a blog hat trick today! Wonderful post, Laura!

  3. I really enjoyed this interview. Marie, I have forwarded info about Girl who Heard Colors to a dear friend who is a special ed. teacher and the mom of a child with a perception challenge. Thanks for the great writing insight, too!

  4. As a musician/artist in love with colors/and yet-to-be-published writer of children’s stories and poetry myself, I absolutely love the topic of Marie Harris’ book and am intrigued where the story’s trail will take the reader. I have had similar writing ideas on the topic of senses and find this story idea inspiring. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  5. As a musician/artist in love with colors/yet-to-be-published writer of children’s stories and poetry, I absolutely resonate with this story topic and am very curious where the adventure will take the reader. I have had similar ideas on writing about the senses and find Marie Harris’ book inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  6. What a great story, Marie! I laughed out loud when you said “yes” 🙂 That’s the way to do it! You should chat with Mike Allegra one day about how he got his contract for Sarah Gives Thanks – which just so happens to be about Sarah Hale. Thanks for a great post, Laura and Marie!

  7. I also love Sleeping Bear Press. My parents are in Michigan and often pick up their lovely books about local places and legends such as Sleeping Bear Dunes or Leelanau. My kids think that they are magical!

  8. What a wonderful tale of Marie’s journey from a brain full of “alphabet soup” to her newest book on colorful music. I love that she created her own job description as NH poet laureate… totally in keeping with the Granite state culture.

  9. As the mother of musicians, I can tell you that many of them describe what the are aiming for in sound using colors. It’s another step into full synesthesia. People of words, i.e. poets, must be fascinated by this as they use colors for descriptive approximation.
    Thank you Marie and Laura, for this post.

  10. This was a fun story about Ms Harris’s journey. Thanks for sharing it. Hearing colors is a fascinating idea. I work with lots of autistic folks and they all have different ways of experiencing the world. I have met some who hear colors and see colors associated with numbers and days. Brains are quite interesting.

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