Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Boy Scout Leader and Children's Author: Bill Kirk
DMc: The Sum of Our Parts: Circulation Celebration is told in rhyme is an ingenious way of learning the human circulation system. Please share with us your inspiration behind this concept?
BK: Great question, Donna. I suppose it all started with a rhyme I wrote about all the bones in the human skeleton a few years ago. At the time, our grandson was struggling a bit with learning the bones in seventh grade science class. So, I wondered if there might be a catchy way to verbally walk him through the bones using rhyme and a jaunty rhythm to help some of the strange names stick. In the process, I figured I might as well see if it would get any nibbles from editors and publishers.
Finally, after lots of rejections, one editor I contacted liked the anatomical rhyme concept and wanted to see more. So, I decided to pick the body apart into its various systems using rhyme as the primary driver. Although it didn’t work out with that publisher, soon after, I found a welcome home at Guardian Angel Publishing. Other books in THE SUM OF OUR PARTS series (muscles, skin, brain and other systems) are in the pipeline for publication over the next couple years.
As for what started me down this path in the first place, I’ve been a runner for over 40 years and have worked through more than my share of running injuries. I’ve also been a long time student of what makes our bodies tick, including studying pre-med in college—until I ran into Organic Chemistry, that is. So, learning and writing about the various body systems has been a good way for me to keep my hands on the subject. For me, it’s been a fun journey.
DMc: You are an avid Boy Scout leader. Have you incorporated any of your writing into a lesson for your scouts to earn a badge?
BK: What a great idea. Now you’ve got me thinking. Actually, I did write a Scout related rhyme once, although not specifically for earning a Merit Badge. It was after I had completed my training in Wilderness First Aid which is a course required by at least one of the adult leaders taking any group of Scouts into remote or challenging hiking or backpacking areas such as in the High Sierras.
In a somewhat humorous fashion, the rhyme tells of a weary Scouter who has just faced treating broken bones, head injuries, cuts, shock, dehydration and altitude sickness in the wilderness. Arriving home, he debates whether to recount the details when his wife asks, “How was your day?” then decides he can’t bring himself to do it. The rhyme was published in the Boy’s Life online blog Cracker Barrel to generate interest in the course among adult Scouters who participate in High Adventure Team activities. Also Scouts over the age of 16 are encouraged to take the course to develop their advanced first aid skills.
DMc: What is the most valuable piece of advice you received when you first started writing for children?
BK: One positive piece of advice stands out, as well as one negative comment that turned out to be positive. The first was to go for the story first and everything else will follow. That is, if the story is solid, what’s left is for the writer to figure out how best to tell it. But if the story is iffy or not well developed, it doesn’t matter how well written the piece is, it will likely not get an editor’s second reading or capture the interest and imagination of any reader, particularly a child.
The second comment that has stayed with me as a motivator was, “Any story written in rhyme can be written better in prose.” Well, I have to tell you, that is just the challenge I need to prove the person wrong. Granted, some rhyme can be atrocious, including some of my own. But for me, rhyme is a unique form which pulls the reader into the story with the quirkiness, simplicity and fun of the word play and the nature of the rhythm.
In fact, the rhythm can set the tone for the piece. Is the story filled with action? Give it a staccato beat with shorter line length. Is it a mood piece? Allow the rhythm to flow slowly and smoothly.
As for rhyme, the options are virtually endless. Do you rhyme every other line, first-third or second-fourth? Do you rhyme all four lines in a verse? Do you use internal rhyme within the lines or only rhyme the line endings? Within the first few lines of the story, the reader will likely be looking for what to expect in terms of the rhyme, cadence and rhythmic patterns.
When written well, a rhyme can provide both comfort and anticipation as the reader settles into the rhythm and awaits the next rhyming sequence. Besides, it’s a lot of fun to write….
DMc: What has been your most memorable experience as a writer to date?
BK: I was asked via e-mail by the mother of a young student in Texas if he could use a baseball rhyme, “The Cubs’ Last Game” for a poetry recital at his school. I had written the rhyme when my grandson, Dylan, was playing Little League baseball. The mother and her son had been searching for a poem and had come across my rhyme on The Baseball Almanac website under The Casey Collection.
I was thrilled to know someone was reading and using the rhyme and was even happier when the mother e-mailed me a few weeks later to say her son had won first place in the competition. He had actually drawn out a large baseball diamond to lay on the floor. During his recital, he played the parts of the players in the rhyme, even runing the bases to “score” the winning run.
DMc: Please share with us your current work-in-progress.
BK: Ah, so many rhymes and so little time. One story in particular has been “in progress” for over three years. My working title is “A Whale Of A Tale In The Midst Of A Gale.” I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day but it’s been a fun project to get back to it every couple months as I fiddle with lines, add verses, resolve conflicts and try to bring the story full circle to a conclusion.
The manuscript has gone from sort of a long-ish regular rhyming story to one that is now written in a series of chapterettes. I suppose it may turn out to be nothing more than an ongoing warm-up practice piece to help me keep my head in the rhyming game—maybe a little like the warm-up vocal exercises a singer uses before a performance.
Otherwise my writing interests include non-rhyming poetry, humor and satire. And I even have an international conspiracy novel that’s been on the drawing board for two decades. Needless to say, my slush pile abounds.
DMc: A signature request I like to ask every author, illustrator, editor, etc., I interview is for the individual to share with us a tidbit form their lives that the reader will find either humorous or surprising. Bill, can you please share one with us?
BK: Hmmm…. Let’s see. I’ll tell this story for the kids out there. When I was younger, my family used to visit my grandparents’ farm in Mississippi. There was no running water, no electricity and no bathroom except an outhouse. There was also a smokehouse and a chicken house. So, there were lots of chores to do and kids had to come up with their own fun.
During one visit, when I was about six years old, my cousins and I were sliding down the tin roof of the chicken house. It may sound strange but what a great slide it was! We would slide down almost to the edge, then scramble back up to the peak and go again. For added excitement, the dare was to slide down head first—until, that is, I didn’t stop myself soon enough and slid off the roof head first. The good news is I didn’t hit the ground on my head. The bad news is I fell head first into a 50-gallon barrel of slop. For those adults familiar with farms in the old days, you will know what slop is, as in slopping the hogs.
Needless to say being submerged in slop with no way to get myself out was about as close to “Fear Factor” as I had come to that point in my life. It seemed like an eternity. But fortunately my cousins quickly jumped off the roof and dumped me out, spilling slop all over the ground. Of course, the pigs were thrilled with their unexpected feast. As for me, after I had stopped coughing, gagging and sputtering, none of my cousins wanted to get too close to me, at least until I got cleaned up in one of my grandma’s famous super-chilled, well-water washtub baths. Brrrr!!!
Be sure to visit Bill at: http://www.billkirkwrites.com/