How a Poet Writes a Novel–The Wolf Hour, with Sara Lewis Holmes

Wolf Hour Blog Tour tag

Sara, a modern-day Red

Hi, writers! This is a bit of a different post today. Usually I’m just sharing tidbits from my life as a writer, but today, I’m featuring a friend, Sara Lewis Holmes, who has a fabulous new middle-grade novel out with Arthur Levine called The Wolf Hour.

Sara and I write monthly poems as part of the Poetry 7 or Poetry Princesses (because our first project was a crown sonnet). So to celebrate Sara’s new book, I thought I would talk poetry with her. On my main blog (geared toward educators), Sara answered a number of questions about the poetic elements in her novel–which is not a novel in verse. It’s prose, and it’s dark and ominous and magical, full of complex characters and a plot that incorporates elements of several fairy tales. I wanted to share Sara’s answer to my final question here, though, because I asked:

Is there anything you learned that might help other novelists think about how they might incorporate elements of poetry into their prose?

Sara: I know that part of your purpose in asking me these questions was to tease out my techniques—-or as you put it in your email: “how purposeful was your use of specific poetic elements and at what point in the writing process did you work on them?”

Oh, how I wish I could answer this question. You ask it so well. And yet—GAH! I have a terrible time identifying my own techniques and the order in which I used them because for me, poetry is extremely instinctual. I’ve spent many years writing poetry for myself alone…therefore, I’ve had no motivation to prevaricate in it or please anyone but myself. It gave me a place to learn and grow as a writer in a way that my paid work couldn’t. At one point in my life, I thought


A wolf in Sara’s office

transferring these insights to novels would be easy, but it turned out that it’s one thing to write a one-page poem “out of your gut” and quite another to write a whole novel from that place.

And yet, to answer your question, I think I allowed myself to draft this novel as if it were a book-length poem. To write in great bursts of language, and to generate piles and piles of words about a make-believe place and odd characters and especially, to tolerate a plot which turned on, as you say, “beauty and

Art by Diana Sudyka

grotesqueness,” before it made any sense in the literal world.

Only after that wild draft did the work of turning it into a civilized novel begin. And there were many times when I thought it wouldn’t survive the process. I thought the poetry in it would die. Even now, I’m surprised by how much stayed in.
In the end, it’s not a book with poems in it…or even a book-length poem. I think it’s what I wanted it to be: a book written out of the place where my poetry comes from.
The Writing Process Chart Product ImageI love Sara’s answer because it acknowledges that while, yes, we use “the writing process” as we write, the reality is a lot messier than the typical classroom poster. If only it were so straightforward!
It’s also perfect because The Wolf Hour reminds us that each of us (person, story, wolf…) decides what to be, in spite of other people’s expectations. I love the hopefulness of that.
Of course, Sara’s answer also terrifies me almost as much as Miss Grand in The Wolf Hour. As a plotter (not a pantser), I can’t imagine writing a novel in the way that Sara did. And yet such richness and beauty came out of it. I guess it comes down to giving yourself permission to write using whatever process feels right to you!
Check out The Wolf Hour to soak up an example of weaving several stories together, to study a novel using poetic elements, or to just immerse yourself in a dark, Polish forest, full of magic and fear and love–and wolves!

About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
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18 Responses to How a Poet Writes a Novel–The Wolf Hour, with Sara Lewis Holmes

  1. Pingback: The Wolf Hour [Poetry Friday] • Laura Purdie Salas

  2. Thank you for your post! It is just want I needed to hear heading into November and NaNoWriMo. I have a hard time allowing myself that 1st messy draft. The Wolf Hour sounds like a great book. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. Tabatha says:

    I ran off to buy this immediately — I love the way Sara writes poems, so I must read a book written from the same place!

  4. ldk says:

    I love novels with poetic elements so this sounds like one I would enjoy. I also love the message of each person deciding who he/she wants to be. I am going to add this to my stack of books to read. I enjoy novels, but writing one seems HUGE. Congratulations to Sara for her accomplishment!

    • Enjoy, Linda! Yes, the theme grew so organically–never like being clubbed with it. It’s one of those books that make you FEEL the underlying message. Not feel like the author started out to teach it to you.

  5. This sounds like a book I need to read. You had me at making the wild draft civilized. Thanks for highlighting!

  6. lindabaie says:

    Thanks for ‘more’ from Sara, Laura. This is terrific!

  7. mbhmaine says:

    I love how Sara explains her process–so organic! It is simultaneously inspiring and intimidating. Can’t wait to read this book!

  8. Such wise words about writing. It is a sometimes messy and wild process, but so worth the effort.

  9. I am a plotter, too, but I feel that the inspiration for the plot comes from the same place as the poetry: a deep, dark magical pool in another dimension, where I store my oldest memories and my newest aches.

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