Debut author Lynda Mullaly Hunt‘s novel One for the Murphys doesn’t come out until May 10, but it has already received lots of praise, including a starred review from Kirkus. So, who better to talk writing with?
I met Lynda at a Writer’s League of Texas event in March and as soon as I heard about One for the Murphys, I put it on my to-read list. The middle-grade novel follows Carley Connors, who is thrust into foster care after a heart-breaking betrayal. In the happy, bustling Murphys family, Carley’s in a world she doesn’t understand, and it frightens her. She resists the life of dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom. But with the help of her Broadway-obsessed friend Toni, the Murphys show Carley what it feels like to feel like you belong. Until her mother tries to get her back.
Sounds like it could be heart breaking. (Check out the book trailer at the end of this interview.)
The winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature, Lynda is a former teacher and scenario writing coach. Here’s what Lynda told us about her book and writing process:
Me: When you started writing One for the Murphys, did you begin with characters, a situation or did the whole story pop into your head?
Lynda: I always begin with pure character and then discover the plot later. The first seed of Carley Connors took root during a conversation with my 9-year-old son about Luke Skywalker (from the movie, Star Wars) finding out who his real father is. I began to think how interesting it would be to long for something yet wish it away at the same time. Although, there were other seeds germinating as well that would lead to Murphys.
I had seen the Broadway play Wicked and was struck by the wonderful writing, the main character of Elphaba and the idea of “Defying Gravity.” The more I played the soundtrack, the more Toni, one of my characters in the book, spoke to me.
When I was young, I lived with another family for a few months; they gave me a peek into a world I had not known before. I left their house with new ideas about what my life could — no, would — hold for me.
Finally, as a young teacher, I met a friend who became a mom-figure to me — always kind, supportive and protective. This woman’s initials are JM. This is why the foster mother is named Julie Murphy. I wanted her to have the same initials as this friend who had mothered me.
Three weeks after the Luke Skywalker conversation, the voice of Carley Connors popped into my head while I was doing the dishes. I ran to the computer (although it was awful to tear myself away from the dishes!) and wrote what would become the first chapter of One for the Murphys. I knew my character, Carley Connors, immediately. But, I learned her story as I went along.
Lynda: 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 in the kitchen and “prepare.” Then, 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 3×5 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!
Me: Which do you enjoy most and why: writing the first draft or revising subsequent drafts?
Lynda: Ooooh, hard to answer. Well, I have always liked to revise more than most writers do. However, I suppose I favor writing the first draft, as writers usually write to their strengths and revise to their weaknesses. Most of my emotion/character comes through on the first round and then I revise for plot, adding tension, deepening characters with details, etc. I guess I’m kind of a woos on this question, because I really can’t decide. I love to deepen characters while I revise! But I love to create them out of thin air, too!
Me: Were there any storylines, scenes or characters that you ended up cutting from One for the Murphys? If so, why were they left out?
Lynda: Actually, the first line that appeared in my head while doing the dishes that day was, “I ask the nurse how long I’ve been out.” I mean, I could feel the fatigue of this kid. Smell the hospital. I knew her instantly. It was weird.
However, during my last revision before my agent sent it out to editors, I decided that the story really begins with Carley’s arrival at the Murphys’. So, I cut the first three chapters of Carley being in the hospital (although I copied them off first and highlighted anything that needed to be kept and woven in later). The story now begins with Carley’s car ride to their house and important hospital details are shown in memories.
Also, in the first round of revisions with my agent, I cut way back on two characters, Rainer and Mandy. Both still exist, but not nearly to the extent they did earlier. I wanted to deepen Carley’s experience with the Murphys and her friendship with Toni. If I hadn’t cut Mandy’s subplot, the book would have been too long.
Me: When you’re done with a manuscript, what do you do to celebrate?
Lynda: Erm…well…to be honest? I sleep before anything. However, my husband, children and I do go out for a fancy dinner!
My most *favorite* writerly way of celebrating, though, is early on when I have enough written (50ish pages) that it feels like it’s becoming a book. I go to Staples (They love me there. When I walk in, a banner drops from the ceiling that reads, “Welcome, Lynda!”) and I buy a new binder and new tabs and go home and print out chapters and begin to assemble it. Then I run around the house and show everyone! I LOVE this!
Me: Wonderful! And I love that you celebrate mid-book too.
Thanks for the interview, Lynda. Can’t wait to read One for the Murphys.
Here’s the One for the Murphys book trailer: