Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007

Young poet catches readers by ‘Storm’

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They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

With a title like ‘‘Storm of Roses,” it’s hard to tell whether E. Tara Scurry’s first book of poetry is meant to be dark or sunny. But perhaps that’s the point.

The author asks readers to dig deeper when approaching her work. She wants to avoid being pigeonholed at all costs.

‘‘I don’t like to put myself in a box,” Scurry says.

‘‘Storm of Roses” is about life, she says, but it’s also about ‘‘death and spirituality and daydreams and fantasy. Life is not all happy, and it’s not all sad.”

Readers have told Scurry they don’t get bored with her book because there’s such variety. She veers between the fluffy and the shocking, borrowing from her own experiences, those of acquaintances, even things she has seen onscreen.

She acknowledges that some of the more violent topics were hard to write, and presumably difficult for some readers to digest. Even her mother had to ask which of the pieces were autobiographical.

For the record, Scurry’s not telling.

‘‘I’m reluctant to say,” she says, because ‘‘I don’t want that to be the focus.”

The first chapter is devoted to spirituality.

‘‘It’s because of God I have this [talent],” Scurry says. ‘‘I don’t want to waste my gift.”

Perhaps there’s such range in the work because it was written over more than a dozen years. Scurry even includes short stories from her first- and second-grade classroom assignments, complete with their original misspellings.

‘‘People have said this is pretty substantial for a book of poetry,” she says, ‘‘but it is years of stuff. I never threw anything away.”

Scurry is not a big reader of poetry, although she admits to a fondness for haikus and Edgar Allan Poe. She says her poetry looks different from mainstream poetry because she’s not trying to mirror anyone’s style.

Her parents encouraged her love of reading, starting with the Dr. Seuss books. When she had ideas for stories of her own, her parents encouraged her to write them. Scurry credits her eighth-grade teacher for taking a special interest.

‘‘She said my writing was amazing,” Scurry says, ‘‘and she wanted to hone in on that. It made me feel it was important. I already knew I enjoyed it.”

Over the years, Scurry shared her poetry at family reunions and at open readings. She decided to compile a book of poetry and prose when people kept asking ‘‘Where’s your book?”

Scurry released ‘‘Storm of Roses” last year at age 23.

‘‘I couldn’t contain myself until I got older,” she says. ‘‘I’m overflowing, and I want to share it with other people and be a role model for younger people.”

She advises young people to find a way to express themselves with whatever they like to do best, whether or not they’re paid for their talents.

‘‘Writing is not work for me,” Scurry says. ‘‘That’s how I know what my passion is.”

She notes that it’s important for writers to share their work, although she gets butterflies every time she stands in front of a crowd to read her poems; once she gets going, she’s fine.

To minimize her exposure to rejection and to help keep control of her book, Scurry chose to self-publish. Now that many of her fears have been erased, she’ll be more open to working with traditional publishers in the future.

Today, she’s finishing a project for a master’s degree in organizational development and strategic human resources while working part-time for the federal government.

‘‘One reason I’m working so hard at my government job is I’d like to make enough money to devote more time to my writing,” Scurry admits. ‘‘I’d be happiest being able to write full-time. I’d be able to share more of my writing sooner.”

Scurry continues to lives in Silver Spring, where she grew up, and draws upon the area’s diversity of culture in her fiction.

‘‘This area has had a strong impact on my writing,” she says. ‘‘There is religious, racial and sexual diversity, and it’s one reason I’m optimistic about my books being successful in the future.”

At work on a series of three novels as well as novellas and short stories, she says, ‘‘There’s so much left to do. I haven’t been on Oprah yet.”

‘‘Storm of Roses” (iUniverse, $28.95 hardcover, $18.95 paperback) is available at B. Dalton in Montgomery Mall and online at amazon.com, booksamillion.com and barnesandnoble.com.