Memorial Day is behind us, the summer season is here, and that set me to thinking about the origins of my verse novel Kaleidoscope Eyes. While I would like to think all my books would be great for summertime reading, “Kal Eyes” is the one that could definitely be labeled a summertime story.
Long before TV’s Jersey Shore, there was the real NJ shore where kids like me went for our family vacation. These annual trips were a clear and useful memory when I began work on what would eventually become Kal Eyes. Set in the fictional South Jersey town of Willowbank in the summer of 1968, the novel follows three friends as they navigate the challenges of family, community, and race while uncovering what may be a long-buried treasure of the notorious Captain Kidd.
In writing this book, I researched pirates, rock ‘n roll, Civil Rights, and Vietnam. I had plenty of material to work with; the trick, of course, was figuring out how to put all that good stuff together in the right way.
I’m a terrible cook. But while writing Kaleidoscope Eyes, the only way I could imagine the story coming together, was to pretend I was on one of those cooking shows, where they give you a bunch of ingredients that you’d never in a million years want to mix together (radishes, whipped cream, saltines, eggplant, chocolate, mustard) and they say: “Make something delicious.”
Ingredient #1: The Sixties: the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, concerts, tie-dye, Vietnam, peace rallies, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, riots.
Ingredient #2: Pirate treasure: a map, a key, a metal detector, a churchyard.
Ingredient #3: Three 13-yr. old NJ kids: one black, two white, who find something that may be a lost chest of Captain Kidd buried right in their town.
Writing in verse was, I found, the key. The fluidity of the verse format allowed me to move from ingredient to ingredient quickly and connect the seemingly disparate elements (War? A treasure map?). Most important: the verse allowed me to explore and share the inner lives of the characters—even as they were on the wild ride of solving a mystery.