Teen Writers Bloc has interviewed a bunch of totally awesome YA and MG authors over the years (wow, has it been years already?!), but our latest is extra exciting because we’re interviewing one of our own!
TWB contributor Mary G. Thompson‘s debut middle grade novel Wuftoom is on sale now, and she’s dishing all her secrets about her writing process, her upcoming novels, and her former life as a lawyer!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
Well, a long long time ago, in a demented alternate universe, I was a lawyer. This involved a lot of long hours and stress, and except for the fun of wearing a suit and having a large office with multiple desks, it wasn’t the rewarding career I’d always dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one desk does make one feel very important. Also, I had a nice big window with a great view of a freeway, and that was really interesting. But the whole time, I really wanted to write. I’d write after work and on the weekends, and I found that I much preferred sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop and no desk at all. So I wrote Wuftoom and a couple more manuscripts, and I started attending writers’ conferences, and I met my agent, and the rest, as they say, has something to do with the number of desks you can stack in a courtroom while shouting “I object!” and pretending to try on a leather glove.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of Wuftoom? How did you come up with the concept for the book?
Wuftoom is about a twelve-year-old boy who is turning into a disgusting wormlike creature. Everyone else thinks he’s sick, but he knows what’s really happening because this creature visits him all the time. Evan is terrified of turning into this monstrosity, so he makes a bargain with the evil Vitflys. The Vitflys give him the power to inhabit the bodies of other boys so he can have a taste of life again, but in exchange, he has to promise to help the Vitflys destroy the Wuftoom. Of course, as Evan’s transformation progresses, things become a whole lot more complicated. The Wuftoom also want something. And are the Wuftoom really as bad as Evan thought? The Vitflys threaten Evan’s mother, and Evan has to figure out where his loyalties lie.
The concept just sort of popped into my head. I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting on his bed in a dark room, debilitated by membranes, and the creature was sliding toward him across the floor. It was immediately apparent that Evan was turning into the creature. I then wrote out a quick outline, but I didn’t really follow it. The original concept was actually (if you can believe it) much darker and a lot worse for Evan. It ended up evolving into the more heartfelt, fun-gross adventure it is today.
What’s your writing process?
With Wuftoom, I wrote after work in various coffee shops and chain restaurants, or when I could, at home in my comfy chair. That was not an ideal situation, which is why I decided to quit the job and come study at The New School. Now I try to write first thing in the “morning,” which means something different to me than to most people. I just try to write every day or whenever possible. Even if I don’t feel “inspired,” I sit there pulling my hair out until something gets written.
What has your path to publication been like?
After I wrote Wuftoom, I started attending writers’ conferences and managed to get an agent pretty quickly. It took a long time to sell the book after that, though. I hated all that waiting, but my agent never gave up on me, and four and a half years after I finished the book, it’s finally on bookstore shelves! I think the most surprising part is how much support I’ve gotten. People I haven’t seen in a long time have gone out of their way to congratulate me, and of course, my classmates at The New School have been fantastic, even though we just met less than two years ago. Not that I expected mass disapproval, I just didn’t expect people to be so nice. Yay!
Can you talk a bit about world building? What is your process?
I start with the main character and their basic situation. With Wuftoom, it was Evan turning into this disgusting creature, and with Escape From The Pipe Men! it was Ryan and Becky having grown up in this zoo and not really knowing anything about how normal kids live on Earth. Then I work outwards and build the world around the kid’s adventure. There are times when I have to stop and spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like and how it works, but I try to always keep the main character and the adventure in mind. As the character explores the world, so do I, and by the time I’ve revised the book about a thousand times, the world has magically become a real place — at least to me!
You’ve already sold a few other books since Wuftoom. Can you talk about looking at writing as a job and seeing it as a business as much as art?
I’ve sold two books after Wuftoom: Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013). I’m also trying to sell more at various different age levels, so watch this space! I do see writing as an art, but I also approach it as a business in that I don’t believe in inspiration or writer’s block. I think you just have working and not working, industry or laziness, motivation or lack of it. If you are genuinely motivated to succeed, you will do everything you can with what time you have. When I had a full time day job, what I was able to do was limited, but I was still able to accomplish something. Now that I’m sort of mostly a full time author, I really don’t have any excuses! I always feel like I could be doing more, and I think that feeling is essential. You can never be happy as a writer! You always have to want more and be flagellating yourself for every failure to meet a goal.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
Somebody at a conference once said something that really stuck with me. If someone says “I love this line!” you’re in trouble. Nobody should be noticing the “writing.” They should be so absorbed in the story that nothing like that jumps out at them. I guess that’s along the same lines as Stephen King’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”
My advice to aspiring authors would be finish your book. I don’t care if you think it’s crap or if it really is crap. I wrote two books before Wuftoom that never went anywhere, and I think finishing those manuscripts, even if no one will ever see them, taught me the skills I needed to get it right.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
My favorite book as a kid was Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s one of her lesser known books, and I think it deserves a lot more recognition. It’s about a town that’s run by these seven weird guys, and it’s totally out there and weird and creative. It’s stuck with me all these years. Right now I’m reading Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s about a somewhat disturbed kid who moves in with the father he’s never met and discovers the old man is a grave robber. It’s not fantasy, but it has a great, absorbing horror feel.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From The Pipe Men! It’s about two kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Get ready for multiple eyes, legs, tentacles, portals, and of course, an exciting alien space fight! Look for it in Spring 2013!
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
Interacting with other writers is essential for my sanity, because there are some things about the job that people who aren’t writers don’t understand. I love reading my friends’ work and sharing mine. That said, it is not a good idea to write a book in a committee. You have to take some and leave some.
Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, OR. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She was educated at Boston University, the University of Oregon, and The New School.
Book cover image courtesy of Clarion Books