The Road Less Traveled

Growing up in a household with two powerhouse writers had the same affect on me as it would any other kid. My mantra was;

“I don’t want to do what my parents do.”

My late mother, Newbery-award winning author Virginia Hamilton and my father, the iconic poet Arnold Adoff, never pushed me to be a writer, or pushed me in any particular direction for that matter.

Instead, they let me gravitate towards what I was interested in. Encouraging me along the way. But soon, it became obvious to all, that music would be my first love.

Music and words were all around me growing up. My father always had on the radio or the stereo. (That’s right I said stereo 🙂 I was fortunate to grow up with some of the best music from all genres as the soundtrack to my childhood. Being that my father had been good friends with and used to manage the legendary bass player and composerCharles Mingus, jazz figured prominently in that soundtrack. Personally, I think I connected the most with the rock and folk music of the 60s and 70s, with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, Sly and the Family Stone, The Beatles, Janis Joplin. Then I discovered Led Zeppelin and that was it for me. From that point on, rock-n-roll was my passion and my mission. I can remember vividly how I felt while listening to this music. It took me places in my imagination, exotic and magical places, and I believe, greatly fostered my creativity. I went to every musical concert imaginable, day dreaming about what it would be like to be onstage, the star of the show! I soon had my own “garage band” and I was off and running as a wannabe rock star drummer.

After majoring in music in college it was off to New York City to seek my fame and fortune, but like many who came before me, the bitter pill of rejection was what I found.

I began writing as a way to make myself feel better while going through this hard time of rejection and even worse, just being flat out ignored by the record business. I had been in pursuit of a record deal with my band for close to ten years, and it was apparent that it just wasn’t going to happen. So I started writing for the the same reasons as I did when I was a teenager. Back then, I wrote songs to release my emotions and help me get through the ups and downs of teenage-dom. So when the rock-n-roll star thing didn’t work out, I began to write again, this time without the music. Just the poetry. And, boy, did I have a lot to say.

During this same time, two things happened that I just couldn’t ignore. One was the sheer volume of poems, short stories, novel sketches, etc. that I was amassing, and the second was how incredibly awesome I felt while producing these early works. It was at this time that I really felt I was onto something and that it was just the beginning.

From my teens into my twenties, I really had been writing poetry—but with music. Later, in my thirties when I first started writing professionally, I already felt comfortable with words and how to express myself. It was not that much of a stretch from songwriting to writing poetry. And from writing poetry to writing poeticnovels was, I feel, a natural progression. Starting small and then expanding. Just seeing one piece at a time, working on it, giving it a title, and then going on to the next piece. All the while staying connected to the emotion of the moment. What the character is feeling, thinking.

I believe my first experiences with music and poetry organically prepared me for writing this type of book, the novel in verse or poetic novel. Completely by accident, the ingredients were all there waiting for me to put them all together.

Writing a poetic novel is very freeing; I love how I can make a piece more prose-like if I wish or more poetic, depending on what is best for the book at that particular time. Ultimately, for me, this style of writing gives the story immediacy and a raw emotional impact that sometimes is lacking in a more traditional young adult novel. More importantly, the poetic novel is all-inclusive in its readership, bringing together the facile reader with the reluctant and the “I never even finished a book before” reader.

It is truly a win-win for both author and teen alike. I would suggest to all writers to try your hand at one. It forces you to connect on that primordial level, not only with yourself but with your characters. It is the emotions of the character-splat onto the page. Ideally unfiltered and unencumbered by that long arm of the author.

When I speak to students, teachers and those pursuing a career in writing I like to use my path as an example. An example of a career which was born in the most organic of ways. I wrote and still do from the inside out. Getting in touch with one’s innermost feelings, moving far beyond your comfort level, breaking through to that pain and experience truly is the garden of artistic creation. What grows there is real. It may be hard to harvest, but it is from this garden that grows the truth. The deepness of one’s soul is where we must all start as writers.

It is where our story is born . . .


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