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Writer’s thought for the day:“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” ~ Gene Fowler
First, I have winners to announce from the last two posts. Helen will be receiving a copy of May B and L. W. Reyes will receive a copy of Neville. Congratulations and thanks for playing!
A few weeks ago I reviewed a wonderful debut novel, One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. You might want to check out that review by clicking HERE. I absolutely fell in love with the characters and story. I’m always curious about the writer’s journey, so I contacted Lynda to see if she would share some of her own story. I’m happy to say she was willing. Here a little about her and then the interview.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature. She is also a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Lynda has been Director of the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for six years. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.
Your protagonist Carley’s habit of turning words and finding an extra level of meaning was interesting to me. Is this something someone you know does, or did your character bring it along with her?
Actually, I do know someone who does this—me! I remember doing this as early as second grade. Therefore, Carley’s turning a phrase or finding a pertinent word inside another word came easily. There were a few times, however, that I had to study words and work at it a bit. Also, there were some obvious ones that fit really well that I didn’t notice until the final editing stage. I couldn’t believe that I had missed them!
I also tend to think in metaphors; my head makes comparisons automatically. My husband and kids have teased me about this for years, but it comes in handy if you’re a writer!
Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you? Maybe you could talk a little about your writing process.
Thanks so much, Rosi!
I’ve tried outlines, but they point and laugh at me.
Not only do I just jump in, but then I proceed to jump all over the place. I begin a book by writing the beginning; seems pretty normal thus far, right? When I’m a few chapters in, my mind will decide to show me the ending, so I write that. Then I spend the rest of the time connecting the two. However, all of those in-between chapters are written completely and utterly out of order.
My writing seems to be driven by the emotions of the characters. I really don’t know what part of the book I’ll be writing as I make coffee and “prepare.” However, when I sit down—BAM!---it’s usually there. Something, anyway. (If the writing stinks to begin with, I just keep writing through the stinky period.)
After finishing a scene, I write its title/subject on a 3x5 card and put it on a magnetic white board. As the book progresses, I work on putting these cards in order. Every chapter of a book is a separate file on my computer; piecing them together to create a novel later is actually fun! It’s like doing the ultimate puzzle! When it is assembled, I read it from beginning to end and add text to create smooth transitions between chapters. It’s a nutty process—but it’s all mine—so I embrace it!
Do you feel your job is easier or harder now that your debut novel is out? Is there more or less pressure? Does the pressure come more from yourself or others?
Well, in some ways, it is definitely easier. Query letters are a thing of the past—and that is a huge relief! I don’t have to sign up for critiques at conferences or worry anymore about “if lightning will strike.”
But there is definitely more pressure—and that is as it should be. Pre-publication, I obviously did write, but my schedule was a lot more flexible. Now, I must write on a regular basis in order to hit deadlines.
Also, marketing One for the Murphys turned out to be a lot more time consuming than I had ever imagined. But, that is partly my doing, as I tend to be an over-the-top researcher and get swept up by attention to detail. I actually like the marketing aspect of the author career, though. It can be fun and is a way of taking a break without taking a break.
My publisher has never put direct pressure on me. However, when I signed a contract, I figured that high expectations were implied. I assumed that my editor and publisher expected my work to be of a high caliber. I assumed that they wanted me to work hard with them to create the very best book that we could. And, I assumed that they wanted me to work with them to get Murphys out into the world through marketing and publicity. We are, after all, a team.
What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?
Well, to be honest, I think that writing with the publishing industry on your shoulder—whispering what the market wants, what will sell, etc. messes with a writer’s voice and craft. My advice is to forget about publication and focus on the writing. Attend workshops on character, plot, and pacing. Forge the best manuscript that you can—then worry about getting it into hands of publishing professionals.
Be open to critiques. I empathize that when you get a critique from someone, we’re sometimes tempted to explain or assume that they “just didn’t get it.” Try to walk the fence between confidence/optimism and knowing that writing for children is a business and that your work must be its very best to compete. Truly consider feedback. True—sometimes feedback is off base--doesn’t fit the voice of the character. However, if you hear something twice, you may want to linger on it for a bit; give it some extra thought.
To be honest, I didn’t really think I would get published in the beginning. I just worked to make my writing better because I enjoyed it and I liked the people in SCBWI. The first time I attended a “first pages” activity, the editor said my page was “cheesy. A horrible 70’s throwback or something. Just terrible.”
I was embarrassed as my eyes shifted left to right, wondering who knew it was mine. But I didn’t dismiss it. I went back to my room and looked at it with a critical eye. And you know what? It was cheesy. It was terrible. I had work to do. Soon after, I abandoned PB writing for novels.
So, be confidant in your skill! But, remember that we all—published or prepublished—have things to learn.
What’s next for you?
My second novel, ALPHABET SOUP, is under contract with Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin) and I couldn’t be happier! Set in the 70’s, it’s about a fifth grader named Lucy who can’t read so she acts out in class to hide it from everyone until a teacher sees through her bluster.
I am very much enjoying working on this book. I wondered if I would love working on another book as much as Murphys, but I really do! It is set to be released in spring, 2014. During the “down times” of editing (when my publisher/editor, Nancy, has the ms) I will be speaking at conferences and visiting schools. I’m REALLY excited about this!
Thank you, Lynda, for so generously sharing your time and thoughts.
Lynda recently posted a link to her new book trailer for One for the Murphys. It’s terrific. It made me want to carve out a day and read her delicious book again. You can find the trailer at this link. It is worth your time! http://lyndamullalyhunt.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/one-for-the-murphys-book-trailer-middle-grade-novel/ You might enjoy poking around her website while you’re there.
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