Regal House Publishing’s “That’s My Story” initiative continues with our Fitzroy Books author, Molly Elwood, whose road-rollicking MG adventure novel, Spartacus Ryan Zander and the Secrets of the Incredible, which will be released on August 3, 2018.
We’ve all heard the advice that authors should “write what they know.” But fiction emerges from imagination and creation of new worlds. Do you feel a tension between what you’ve experienced and what lives only in your mind?
There’s something to be said for pairing excessive attention to detail in real life with the ridiculousness of imaginary trajectories. Most days, I notice a lot of inconsequential stuff and catalog it away (today, it was a line of ants fighting along the crack in a sidewalk). Writing about them gives me a release of all of these relatively unimportant details that follow me around (strangely, people are willing to read about ants, but no one in real life is really wants to talk about them). These details get dropped into scenes to add a bit of grounding to scenes, both for the reader and in my own mind. As I edit and revise, that’s where my imagination kicks in and adds the details I don’t recall or the things that should have or could have happened. Then later, when I think back on the actual event, I…uh, I sometimes can’t remember what was real and what I made up.
For example, in Spartacus Ryan Zander and the Secrets of the Incredible, I include a scene where there’s a rat stuck in a crack in the cement. I recall in real life, walking to brunch and coming across a rat in a crack. It was horrible. There was nothing we could do. Later, we passed it again and it was gone. A cat? A good Samaritan? I have no clue. But I went home and wrote it into my book and it became one of my favorite scenes. In that scene, the rat is very much alive. However, to this day, neither my husband nor I can agree whether our rat was alive when we passed it the first time. I insist it had to have been still and playing dead—if it were alive, I would have done everything possible to get it out. Even hunt down some reverse lion pliers.
What surprising skills or hobbies do you have?
I’ve got a weird musical brain. I can pick out songs on most instruments I pick up. I was a voice major for a couple years in college, so I can fake some opera, mimic Jewel, Natalie Merchant, and Grace Slick. I can pick out Ode to Joy on any stringed instrument. I play a mean tin whistle to unstick my writer’s block. And yeah, I totally regret having not focused enough on one instrument to be amazing. Right now I’m trying to play the guitar.
One of the strangest way this manifests itself is this weird auditory/location memory, where I can pair something I heard with where I heard it (and vice versa). Right now, on my jogging loop, every time I pass under the walking bridge, lines from the Modern Love podcast I listed to under it echo through my mind. Someday, I will harness this skill and maybe learn Italian—which I’ll only be able to speak in the park where I listened to language tapes.
Do you view your current genre as being your one and only, or are you tempted to try your hand at others? If so or if not, why so or why not?
My current novel is middle grade. I personally love middle grade as it was such an influential time in my own reading life. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read through recess, meals, while riding my bike (definitely not recommended), under the covers (another warning: don’t use an alarm clock as a reading light—you will be blind by the time you’re thirty). It’s the time where you start pulling away from family and building your own identity, and exploring new worlds is a massive part of it. I want to keep creating stories for that kid, the kid who is a voracious reader, who hungers for longer stories and deeper, realistic themes.
However, I’ve also written a heap of personal, travel, and comedic essays. While I have another MG novel in mind, I also have a bevy of other plot lines listed in my Evernote Ideas file, so I wouldn’t count anything off the table yet.
The market for young people’s books has grown phenomenally and has finally garnered the respect it deserves. Even adults are reading books for teens voraciously. Why do you think it has taken so long for YA literature to come into its own? Why has it done so now?
I don’t think this is a unique answer to this, but I think we can connect the increase in YA popularity to the state of world we’re living in. Since the late ‘90s, we’ve seen shortened news cycles with more extreme headlines. Social media has us more connected to each other than ever—sometimes too much. Adults are looking for an escape from the news, from social networks—yet they need that escape to be short and easy to jump out of. In my opinion, YA is easy to pick up and immerse yourself in in moments.
Plus, I think there is also a confidence that comes with being an adult and reading something meant for a younger audience—you’re getting to go back to your own happier times, but with the wisdom of your experience. It’s rewarding to read about a stressful teen experience and think you’d be capable of handling it. ;)
But all of that totally neglects the main fact: YA books are likely better now than they’ve ever been. Increased popularity means publishers set the bar higher when accepting manuscripts and they spend more on editing and making sure the stories are tight and exciting. Which means more readers, and that again boosts the industry. While I may have read every single Baby-Sitters’ Club book back to back (to back), god knows I would have been better off reading almost anything published now.
Is there any reason grown-ups should or should not read these books?
I admit it: finishing reading an adult novel, like something by Haruki Murakami, always stresses me out, because I’m faced with the decision: Do I start another long, onerous novel—or do I pick up a YA book? The former is a three-month workout, and the latter is like two weeks of eating cake. But I think everyone benefits by adults reading YA. They are more connected to kids, they are more connected to who they still are (if we really get down to it, I think we’re all just teens working adult jobs). I think it also helps adults grow, as many [MG] books cover tough, relatable topics that may give the reader a second chance to process. That being said, I hope adults will continue to read more challenging novels. There are so many ways novels can help us grow and expand our world. To limit ourselves to content intended for children and teens may limit our ability to relate to the world we inhabit.
Molly Elwood lives in Portland, Oregon. She works as a copywriter/creative mind and spends her free time watching bad movies, reading good books, and scheming ways to get on a plane to anywhere. She is currently obsessed with the multiple worlds theory and how it affects cat behavior. She recently discovered this mysterious site: https://www.ihatebartholomewscircus.com/