young adult book reviews & more

Interview with Mary G. Thompson

What has your experience as a debut author been like so far?
That’s a hard question because the experience is just beginning. But I’ve been amazed by all the support I’ve gotten from my family and friends. Since I wrote Wuftoom, I quit my job as an attorney and went through the New School Writing for Children program. Not one of my family members or friends told me that I was crazy for doing this. Maybe they knew what was best for me before I did. People I haven’t heard from in years have gone out of their way to congratulate me and support me through this process. My New School classmates especially have been there with me every step of the way, even though they haven’t known me for all that long. Basically, all the support I’ve gotten has restored my faith in humanity. People are really pretty good!

What has been the best part of the publishing process for you? the worst?
The Best: It’s been fantastic working with my editor, Daniel Nayeri, at Clarion and my agent, Kate McKean. Both have been behind me and the book 100% and have really taken care of the project at every step.

The Worst: Waiting! I wrote the book in 2007, so it took five years to get it to print. The next one won’t take as long, but the process will never be fast enough.

What were you trying to accomplish when you started writing Wuftoom? What do you feel you’ve accomplished with the finished product?
When I started Wuftoom, I thought it would be a novella, maybe 100 pages. I thought I would get it out of my system and then begin work on a novel. The way I originally conceived it, it would have been more straight “horror” and probably not a middle grade or YA story. As the story came along, Evan became a real, sympathetic person to me, and his story became less about the situation of turning into a monster and more about the emotional transformation from helpless invalid to active decision-maker, for better or for worse for him. So something that was just going to be a quick scare turned into a fully formed character and world.

What inspired you to write about metamorphosis?
Well, that is a mystery. Most of my ideas come to me out of thin air. With Wuftoom, I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting in his bed in a dark room, covered with membranes, with the creature sliding toward him across the floor. And it became immediately apparent that Evan was turning into one of the creatures. Someone in a critique group once theorized that the book was an elaborate metaphor for puberty. I guess you can take it that way if you want, but that’s certainly not what I intended! I just thought it was an interesting situation. How would you react if it happened to you?

The Wuftoom and Vitflys are certainly very interesting and unique creatures. Where did your ideas for them come from?
When I first pictured the Wuftoom, I was really going for something gross. This creature was supposed to be terrifying for Evan, something he wouldn’t want to be turning into! So they are this sallow pinkish color and covered in membranes that I picture as being like flaps of skin, and they have fangs and pale little glowing eyes, and they are wormlike in that they are bendy and can fold their limbs into their bodies. Of course, there’s more to the Wuftoom than appearances. They don’t seem quite as gross anymore if you are one.

The Vitflys came about because, well, giant bugs are gross too! And they are suitable for pure evil, in my opinion, with their claws and their hairiness and their screeching. Basically, I was going for ugly and otherness and a creature that you would probably realize you shouldn’t trust. They had to match the Wuftoom for grossness but lack the redeeming qualities of the Wuftoom.

What sort of research did you have to do for this novel?
Heh. Well, “research” for something as (hopefully) unlikely as a world full of monsters is really just world building. I tried to make everything as plausible as possible if you accept that there’s really a disease that can turn you into a wormlike creature … and there are a bunch of weird gross talking things living beneath us. I didn’t actually look into whether there is such a disease, though, so for all I know, there really is!

What is the most interesting thing you learned while writing Wuftoom? (This can be about yourself, about writing, or anything at all).
If you have something you really want to do, and you work hard at it, you can succeed. That’s something most kids hear from adults, but by the time we grow up, we often stop believing it. We feel stuck with choices we made or failed to make when we were younger and start thinking that change is just too difficult. When I was writing Wuftoom, I didn’t have any friends in the publishing industry, or an agent, or any support at all. I didn’t even know any other writers. But I decided to write the book and try to get it published. Five years later, it’s coming out, and now I’ve created a support system that will help me keep my career going. It took longer than I wanted it to take, but it happened.

What is the most rewarding part about being a middle grade author?
Imagination! Boy can real life be a drag sometimes. Being an author is like skipping the unpleasant parts. Yes, there’s lots of real life stuff you have to do, like selling the book and promoting it and paying bills, but there’s no feeling like really letting your imagination go and seeing where it can take you. Hopefully there will be some readers who get to enjoy that part of the job with me. I imagine that actually reaching readers will turn out to be the real best part. We’ll find out soon!

If there was one thing you could change about Wuftoom, what would it be?
Ask me in twenty years! Right now, it’s difficult to have perspective. It’s almost like Evan is a real person to me and this book is his life. Okay, not quite. But still, the way it turned out feels like what “really happened.”

What are you working on next?
My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From the Pipe Men! It’s about a couple of kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. There will be many eyes, legs, and antennae. Watch for it in Spring 2013!

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