Friday, November 30, 2012

Lynda Mullaly Hunt Interview: One for the Murphy's

Today we welcome Lynda Mullaly Hunt,
debut author of the moving novel, One for the Murphy’s (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin 2012)

In the wake of heart-breaking betrayal, Carley Connors is thrust into foster care and left on the steps of the Murphys, a happy, bustling family.

Carley has thick walls and isn’t rattled easily, but this is a world she just doesn’t understand. A world that frightens her. So, she resists this side of life she’d believed did not exist with dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom.

However, with the help of her Broadway-obsessed and unpredictable friend, Toni, the Murphys do the impossible in showing Carley what it feels like to belong somewhere. But, when her mother wants her back, will she lose the only family that she has ever known?

You can view her book trailer here:

1. Is it true that the idea for this book actually pulled you away from washing dishes? Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for the book, and the path the book took as you developed it? Were there false starts and revisions along the way or did it pour out seamlessly?

I was actually working on what will probably end up being my third book. I stopped writing it to begin Murphys. My exasperated writing partners couldn’t understand why I would jump from a book that had some editor interest to write this one. I finally told them that it was the book I was afraid to write and so I thought it time that I just do it.

Once it started, it poured out (Although all of the chapters were written out of order!). Although my editor, Nancy Paulsen, asked me to significantly cut the word count, and then deepen the characters of Mr. Murphy and Toni, the book was published pretty close to its original form. (Although, those are big changes huh? )

As far as inspiration, many things came together to create a book about a self-protective kid in foster care.

The first piece was that I lived with another family for a few months when I was young. Staying with that big, bustling clan gave me a close look at a kind of life I had not been familiar with—but the kind of life I knew I wanted when I got older. The first night I was there, I leaned forward and stared down the center of the dinner table. I heard myself say, “So, this is what it’s supposed to look like.” The time in that home changed my view on what my life could hold. And all of its possibilities…

Also, only months before starting One for the Murphys, I’d seen the Broadway show, “Wicked”, and was struck by several elements in the storytelling. First off, the writing and music are incredible! I thought a lot about the idea of “Defying Gravity” since I’ve had my share of doing that. I played the Wicked soundtrack while writing a good chunk of the book which is surprising, as I usually cannot write while listening to music with lyrics. However, it seemed to propel the story forward.

Following this trip to see, “Wicked,” I had a conversation with my nine-year-old son about Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and how, in one sense, he wanted to have Darth Vader be his father, yet also wished it away. I began to think about what that would be like. To long for something and wish it away at the same time.

And then, yes, Linda…about two weeks later, while rinsing a plate at the kitchen sink, I heard Carley speak the first line in my head. I “tore myself away” from the dishes to write the first chapter of what would become One for the Murphys. Once that was done, I just had to finish it—like having a sliver in my hand. Painful, at times, but I just had to get it out. The book was finished in ten months. However, revisions would follow. Don’t revisions always follow?

2. You’ve said that a wish underlies everything you write. What is the wish underpinning One for the Murphys?

I guess the wish would be that someone had taken me aside when I was twelve and told me the things that Mrs. Murphy helped Carley learn. I would have worried a lot less about the future. Having a compass is so important for kids.

3. Heroism is a major theme in this book. Who are the heroes in this story? Are they modeled after any heroes in your life?

Well, I have been working on the teacher’s guide and this is a question in there! Really, there are few characters in the book that aren’t heroes in one way or another.

Mrs. Murphy is modeled after a teacher that I met as a young teacher. She was twenty two years older than me and taught me a lot about the world. About marriage and teaching, and raising children. She also demanded that I look upon myself differently than I had.

Carley is me. The facts of the story are made up but her emotional journey is one that I have taken. Some of my friends in SCBWI know this. I think it’s heroic to come out of any difficulty life hands you looking upward and to the future. Opening myself up to Carley and the other characters in One for the Murphys was the last leg of that race.

4. Wicked plays a big role in this book. What drew you to the play personally? What does the play mean to Carley?

Well, I think we all feel like we don’t fit in at one point or another. I guess this is what drew me to the story. I loved Elphaba from the beginning—not because she didn’t belong, but because she is a fighter. Because she speaks up for both herself and others who have no voice. Because she is tough yet deeply vulnerable.

At the end of the first half of Wicked there is a song entitled, Defying Gravity—I have never seen anything so visually, musically, and emotionally stunning. I love the message of rising above the difficulties in your life. Let’s face it—it’s necessary to have a happy life. But let me be clear—rising above is not the same as forgetting or dismissing.

And, that’s what it means to Carley. 

5. Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a little about that? Is the process different than what you went through writing One for the Murphys?

I am working on another middle grade entitled ALPHABET SOUP. It is about fifth grader, Lucy Nickerson, who is growing up in 1973. He beloved brother is in Vietnam and she is always in trouble at school, as she uses misbehavior to hide the fact that she can’t read. However, she finally comes across a young teacher who sees through her bluster.

The process is the same—a bit nutty! I typically write the initial three chapters first, then the final chapter and then I spend the rest of the time connecting the beginning to the end. A strange process but an effective one!

6. Is there a question you’d like to answer that I didn’t think to ask?

Well, actually, I’d like to know a little more about YOUR Earth Day book that is coming out in the spring. Care to give us some details???

Thanks for joining me on Lupine Seeds! You can find out more about Lynda and her work at her website at and at her blog

And to answer Lynda's question, When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story, the story of the creation of the first Earth Day, should be out next spring.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Snowzilla: Interview with Janet Lawler

A Snowzilla-sized welcome to acclaimed picture book author, Janet Lawler! She’s here to talk about her latest book, Snowzilla. In this delightful winter tale, Cami Lou and her brother build the hugest snowman the world has ever seen. Snowzilla is a sensation, drawing tourists from near and far. But neighbors complain that Snowzilla is a giant problem. Can Cami Lou find a way to save him?

I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book. To be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment after this interview.

Janet, can you tell us what sparked the idea for Snowzilla?

In 2008 I read an online news report about an injunction issued to prevent an Anchorage, Alaska man from building a 25-foot snowman. It seemed like a sad commentary on our times. So I ruminated for several months before writing my tall tale about a giant snowman. I decided that my Snowzilla would be built by kids, and that, in spite of the big problems he causes, his story would have a happy ending.

The book is in rhyme. You make this look easy, but I know how difficult rhyme is to write. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

There is certainly an element of my writing process that is intuitive. I have been writing in rhyme since I was a little girl, and I love the way rhyme can weave a web of sounds to further a good story and enchant little ones. Over the years, I have analyzed and broken down the steps I take while writing in rhyme, and now I consciously work on creating smooth beat/rhyme patterns, and revise many times to eliminate forced rhyme, inconsistent rhythms, trite rhymes, and words that don’t “flow.” I also focus on eliminating too much description, so an illustrator will have some room for creativity, and I strive to focus on action and “fun” verbs. Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “What if?” and “What else?” and try taking the story or couplet in a whole different direction that might open up new rhyme possibilities. I always read my work out loud, many times, before deciding on the best choice for a word or a line.

This book tackles a sticky issue, a community controversy, yet it remains upbeat and age-appropriate. How did you manage to pull this off? What do you see as the theme of your book?

We all can benefit by living more like kids, finding joy in the world around us (building snowmen!), and figuring out ways to get along and solve conflicts. So right from the beginning, I kept thinking, what would a kid do? I had a lot of fun having Cami Lou use modern technology, in an age-appropriate way, to send out an S.O.S (Save Our Snowman!). She doesn’t generate any negative energy or attack the nay-sayers. Her approach is all positive, solution-seeking, genuine effort. It is how we all should tackle problems and controversies.
My theme is that if you dream big and take positive action, anything is possible.

Cami Lou is a delightful, take-action kind of character. Do you see her as a role model for girls?

Yes. I definitely see Cami Lou as a role model and I hope she inspires girls (and boys) to dream, create, and most importantly, communicate. She orchestrates family cooperation to build Snowzilla. Then she encounters very big obstacles when neighbors complain and lawsuits are filed. But she reaches out and draws the entire community into a workable solution. And she doesn’t stop there—what will she dream of next?

Would you like to share a little of the book’s journey to publication?

After a few rejections on an early round of submissions, I let the story percolate a bit and went back and revised some more to start the action quicker and eliminate too much description.
In February of 2010, I decided it was a perfect time to get an editor’s attention, since the record-breaking snowfall of that winter had much of the Northeast shoveling, piling, slogging—and building snowmen! Within a few weeks, I had two publishers interested in the project at the same time! I ultimately continued discussions and accepted an offer from Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books. I revised a bit more with my editor that spring, and illustrator Amanda Haley started work shortly thereafter. The book released on October 2, 2012 by Amazon Children’s Publishing, which acquired Marshall Cavendish earlier this year.

You’ve published a number of other picture books, including If Kisses Were Colors and Tyrannoclaus. What draws you to writing picture books? Is there a thread that connects all your work?

The threads of nature and family bonds are woven in much of my writing. I am always inspired by the beauty of nature. I also believe that the bonds of love that tie families and friends provide a foundation for lives well lived and dreams realized. And I suppose the thread of “wonder” is there, overriding everything. Kids view so much of the world with a sense of wonder, and I still think I have that sense too, which is why I am drawn to writing picture books. I can wonder about what Christmas might be like in the time of the dinosaurs, or share the wonder of showing love to a newborn baby. And the very act of sharing picture books reinforces the bonds of which I write, and that gives me a very good feeling!

Could you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I just finished writing an early non-fiction counting book for National Geographic. Ocean Counting, which comes out next spring, features breathtaking undersea photographs by Brian Skerry. I truly had a sense of wonder as I gazed at the pictures and wrote text to describe the sea animals. I also researched and wrote interesting “Did you know?” facts to share with little readers.
I am also working on a couple of other picture books, as well as a middle-grade novel that was inspired by a family trip to Vietnam five years ago. I am enjoying the challenge of writing in a new genre (and am more than ever in awe of my colleagues who write novels).

Thank you, Janet! And thank you, kind reader, for visiting my blog. I’ll be thinking of Snowzilla on the next snowy day. And for those who would like to find out more about Janet and her books, you can visit her website at
Don’t forget, if you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy of Snowzilla, just leave a comment after this interview.