Saturday, July 12, 2008

Squeezing Poetry into your Novel

Aaron Paul Lazar, 2008

Good morning friends and writers,

I hope you all a had safe and delightful July Fourth week, full of family, laughter, and sun.

For me, the last two weeks were jammed with challenges. Full of angst. Incredible fear. And relief. Plenty of relief. Blessed relief.

I won't go into the scary details here, as I really want to write something "writerly" today, but suffice it to say alls well that ends well, and I now have a gorgeous granddaughter, Isabella Marie. She's home with her mom now and thriving. Thank God.

And her aunt, my daughter Allison, after a frightening four days discovered she's going to be okay when faced with a horrendous possibility. Both events were totally unrelated, but happened to overlap and fill our fourth of July vacation week. And of course to top it off, my wife's MS went off the charts. Probably because of the high stress, but exacerbations happen anyway. We don't always know what triggers them.

While all this was going on, I babysat my two beautiful grandsons and managed to sneak in some enjoyable moments playing "war" (cards), relearning how to play Sorry (the board game), swimming, hiking, and scarfing black raspberries from the bushes in the woods. These were deeply moving and pleasurable hours which helped me get through the tough times.

I didn't get to write or read as imagined, and to be honest, that disappointed me. A lot. Such lofty plans I had, rather ambitious, but heavenly. I'd pictured vacation being a writing nirvana, punctuated with moments devoted to loving my wife, daughters, and grandsons and sitting by the lake, sipping wine while the boys skipped rocks. While I was fortunate that some of that happened, I have to realize that this "vacation" week was really not about me It was about supporting my family. Jenn needed me to watch the boys while she recovered from her rather severe wounds (emergency C sections aren't as neat and tidy as the usual ones) and while the NICU at Strong fought to stabilize my granddaughter.

(that's Isabella's tiny handy on my finger;Aunt Allison feeding Bella for the first time)

Okay, so we're back on track, life is good, and I've been picking and eating baskets full of strawberries, cukes, zukes, and green beans. That fresh garden produce also helps bring me back to life after a stressful day or week. Man, it tastes good going down. And it's so satisfying to tromp through the tropical-like vines that burst into color and fruit in a few short days. I swear they grew 18 inches while we were away.

So. Enough about me. Let's talk writing.

For those of you who'd like to write a novel, or who already have, let's specifically talk about poetry.

Poetry? How does that fit in a novel?

I'm talking about short descriptive passages that capture those lush images branded in your brain the last time you glanced out your car window and sighed at the beauty around you.
You've had moments like those, right? Even if you live in the middle of the city, there must be visions that thrill you. Like a brave cornflower poking out of a crack in the sidewalk, or the way the lights sparkle at night in the oily puddles, or the majesty of an old brick house whose character lasted for centuries.

Descriptions of these scenes may be used to slow down the action, to paint the scene, or to simply delight your readers. And it's okay to include some poetry like this smack dab in the middle of your book. Really, it is. Anyway, who cares about what the rule books or the stuffy experts say? I say, write from your heart and with your intuition, and worry about genre and rules later. Okay, so I'm a bit of a rebel. Maybe that's why I'm not a NYTimes bestseller yet. (Grin.)

Sometimes I think these poetic little gems turn a plain old mystery into a "literary mystery." But let's not delve into genre right now, or what distinguishes one mystery from another. Maybe that's a topic for another day.

So, regarding "poetic passages cleverly inserted in a great book," I've noticed these little gifts in books by Dean Koontz over the last few years - especially in the Odd Thomas series. Whenever I come across these astounding lovely nuggets, I smile and savor them. Gifts, that's what they are. Pure and simple. Our friend Patricia F. is a master at this. Her writing is pure art and yet, so real and approachable. Don't you think? If you don't know her yet, check out her pieces here.

When I write my LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries, a similar thing happens. It's not a conscious thing, not at all. It just comes out of me when I picture Gus LeGarde standing in his gardens, or hiking through the rolling hills. And because the beauty of the Genesee Valley here in Upstate NY astounds me on a daily basis, it's a great opportunity to capture and share it. With you. With my readers. And with those who may someday read my books. Like my grandkids.
Most of my "poetic" passages come from visions I'm blessed with just driving to work or walking on the Genesee Valley Greenway. Or even in my own gardens. This heady, bucolic environment breathes life into me, inspires me to no end. And often -as some of you know--I get to capture the scenes with photos.

Here's one I took yesterday, but the image has been ingrained in my head for years. I wrote the following segment in the fifth LeGarde Mystery, FIRESONG: AN UNHOLY GRAVE. (It's not out yet, but I'm working hard editing it, so this came to mind.)
In this scene, Gus has just passed an area of the tornado-ravaged countryside and is driving home to check on his family.

"Beyond the perimeter of the damage, the late June wheat crop stood intact, ready for harvest. Heavy-headed stalks waved in the breeze, producing undulating patterns in the great expanses along the roadside. A hint of green whispered beneath the golden-pink surf that rippled over the fields."

Understand, I'm not saying that's the best writing in the world, I'm sure I could hack it up over and over again to tighten it further. But it's an example of what I mean.

Want to practice some poetic writing? I loved it a few weeks ago when you all wrote haiku for us to match my photos. So let's do it again, but this time let's imagine a scene where your character takes a breath, or pauses to reflect, or simply plops down on a rock in the woods. Write us anything that makes you smile.

Here are a few photos to inspire you. Let your imagine fly, dear writers, and post your pieces in the comments below. I'll then copy and add them beneath. And if you want to share passages of your previous work, you don't have to use my photos. Be sure to let us know what book you're quoting from. ;o) I encourage authors to promote their books. After all, nobody ever bought a book they haven't heard about!

Purple clematis

Foggy morning on the lake

Misty gray morning

On the board walk

Campanula (I forgot what variety, but it spreads like mad all over my yard, even under trees)

Okay, that's it for today. I hope you enjoy your Sunday. And if you love to weave words, remember to write like the wind!

- Aaron

Playing in the water.

The boys took the following photos of us - they're getting to be good little photographers, aren't they?

Julian and Papa

Gordie and Papa

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008.


Marta Stephens said...

Well ... I for one am glad you're back from vacation and thrilled to know all is well with your family. Isabella Marie is a gorgeous little baby with a special mission in life. I'm sure of it. What a blessing.

I agree completely with letting a bit of poetry slip into our writing. Although I write crime that leans into hard boiled, I’ve had numerous readers tell me that there are sections of the writing (a line or two at a time) that have a poetic feel to it. It's not the traditional form of poetry as we know it. It’s the rhythm (not the rhyme) certain words create when they’re strung together into a sentence. There’s a beat to their sound and it makes them flow in a very soothing way.

It has to do with the number of syllables in each word used and how those syllables/words are combined. It’s not a conscious effort either. I just know when it’s right because although I could use any number of words that mean the same thing, only one of those words gives it the “beat.” Like you, I’m probably breaking some “important” genre rule, but that’s okay. It works and that’s all that matters.

s.w. vaughn said...

Wonderful post, Aaron. :-) Your poetic passages have always been one of the things I love most about your work. You consistently dazzle with description!

I'm so glad everyone over your way is doing better and recovering after a horrendous week. Now stay better! LOL

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thank you, Marta and S.W. You guys are the best!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

I did receive a number of entries from this post that I also put up on I've added the submissions to that article - if you'd like to see them, please check out my Gather page at