Poems that Tell Stories: Author Meg Eden, & Her New Novel in Verse [interview]

The novel in verse is a perfect merging of my love for telling stories in the little moments, and the introspection of poems.

Meg Eden

Editor’s Note: this interview conducted via email has been lightly edited for formatting and clarity, and does not necessarily reflect the views of this website.

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1) When did you first discover novels in verse as a genre? What first attracted you to novels in verse?

My good friend Laura Shovan writes novels in verse, so I first learned about them through her and her debut The Last Fifth Grade Class of Emerson Elementary. This book is a really unique novel in verse that takes on the voices of eighteen (!) fifth graders, all protesting, through poems, the closure of their school.

For the longest time, I didn’t open myself up to the possibility of novels in verse—I thought I was a “literary poet,” whatever that means! But I’ve learned to not close anything off, to always be willing to try something new. And once I let myself try it, I absolutely fell in love with it! The novel in verse is a perfect merging of my love for telling stories in the little moments, and the introspection of poems. I’ve often been told my poems are too “narrative” or “accessible,” and that my fiction “doesn’t have enough plot”—so I think the novel in verse is just a right middle ground for the kind of stories I want to tell!

2) From your perspective, what is distinctive about novels in verse?

What’s so cool about them to me, as someone who writes both poetry and fiction, is how the mediums converge. In a novel in verse, you can write in those little chunks of poems. You can hone in on the details and emotions of a moment. But you also have narrative bones, both in the individual poems and as a collective.  It’s a great way to tell a story while also using the power of poetry.

3) Why do you think novels in verse are growing in popularity?

This is a great question. I don’t have an answer, but I can speculate. NIV are faster to read than a typical novel; I’ve found that especially in COVID I’ve been able to handle focusing and reading NIV better than a typical novel. They’re great for reluctant readers with the shorter lines, lower word count, and white space. They’re also just a great medium for conveying the emotional experience of a character, and really getting into their head. They’re a way to make the joys of poetry accessible for a wider audience.

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4) Tell us some about the novel in verse that you’ve recently written, Good Different.

Good Different is a middle-grade novel in verse about an autistic girl named Selah who wishes she were a dragon, but learns to be powerful like one through self-advocacy. She learns what her needs are as an autistic person, and how to fight for accommodations through writing poems. Her story is also told through poems as a novel in verse.

5) Why did you decide to write a novel in verse?  What surprised you about the process of writing it?

The funny thing is, I didn’t decide! For the longest time I resisted them—I don’t know why. I think I was so focused on being a “YA novelist” that I really limited what I could do. But then one day during the pandemic, a poem came out, and a character was speaking. I knew there were more poems in their voice. I wrote and wrote, and eventually had a novel.

It surprised me how easy it was! I wrote my first NIV in record time. I had so much fun. I felt so much, and was able to get out things I’d felt my whole life, but never had words for. It was very cathartic. I don’t know why I resisted the form for so long, because I think it plays to my strengths. My poems are often deemed “too narrative,” and my novels are less plot driven and more internal, so typically less commercial. NIV give a nice balance as these elements work together to tell a story.

6) What other novels in verse would you recommend? Why?

There are so many great NIV out there! A few that come to mind are:

  • Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu – Haydu uses the novel in verse form to explore generations of women in a family who have experienced some kind of sexual harassment or assault because of their gender. Through the poems, we really get into the minds of women across different times in American history, and the different ways we still experience the same problems as women. Highly recommended.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – This is a classic, and for good reason! Lai tells a compelling story of leaving Vietnam for the USA after the fall of Saigon, and adjusting to life in a new country. The specificity in Lai’s descriptions really pulled me in as a reader.
  • One and Being Toffee by Sarah Crossan – Crossan does such a great job of writing powerful poems, and merging them with powerful narratives of two seemingly different characters: a girl running away from an abusive home, and an elderly women with dementia. I love that the endings are hopeful, while still being authentic.

7) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a novel in verse?

I really strongly encourage those interested in exploring a story in verse to study poems—whether that’s in taking some webinars or courses or doing lots of reading—just to get a sense of some of the tools at your disposal, and strengthening those poetic instincts. I don’t think everyone that writes a novel in verse needs to have an MFA, or needs to necessarily even think of themselves as a poet, so don’t panic! But I do get really pulled out of a novel in verse when they use the tools of verse to no clear purpose. There are lots of unique tools in the toolbox of verse, things like line length, enjambment (where you break the line), stanza size, punctuation, white space and caesuras, or how you justify the lines. I think a decent number of novels in verse that come out don’t pay as much attention to these tools, and it’s a missed opportunity.

That’s the other thing—really make sure the content needs to be in verse. This is something my editor and I talk about a lot, and when I read content in verse that feels like it’d do better in prose, it really feels off. Verse tends to call subjects that are really emotionally resonant, and usually introspective. If you want to write a story in verse, make sure you feel confident that you could argue why it HAS to be in verse, why it can’t be anything else.

8) Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Meg. I haven’t had a chance to read Good Different yet, but I look forward to checking it out! To end our time together, how can readers like myself find a copy of Good Different?  

I’m currently giving away a copy of Good Different (called an ARC, or “Advanced Reader Copy”), as well as some other goodies. Anyone who fills out this raffle by April 14th will be entered into the drawing. You can also find out more about Good Different at: https://linktr.ee/medenauthor!

Thank you for your time, Meg!

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Meg Eden Kuyatt teaches creative writing at colleges and writing centers. She is the author of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature winning poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (Press 53, 2020) and children’s novels, most recently “Good Different,” a JLG Gold Standard selection (Scholastic, 2023). Find her online at https://linktr.ee/medenauthor

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