Friday, September 2, 2011

Debut Author Interview: Molly E. Johnson

Molley E. Johnson
                           Author of Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows

1. Is Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows your first book? What inspired you to write it?

Yep! This is my first book. There's too much going on in it, though, to name just one inspiration. My literary inspiration is easy to pinpoint. Spartacus and his voice were really inspired by Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee. I know, I know, that book is from forever ago, but I remember how much I loved that book when I was ten...and again when I was sixteen...and when I was twenty-two... I really started out creating a fantastic person in a normal world, like Maniac...but then, as it went on, I realized that Spartacus was really just a normal kid in fantastic circumstances.

2. How long did it take to write Spartacus?
This is kinda embarrassing... Spartacus was my undergrad thesis and then my graduate thesis-and it started out as just a short story. I've been working with this character on and off, ten years. I know, it's ridiculous. I re-wrote the story four times: once for each thesis, once when I left a laptop with the only digital copy in the back of a cab in China (ARGG!!!), and once after RainTown accepted it. I feel like Spartacus exists in about fifty different realities where everything has happened at least once. If I hear one more person say, "Hey wouldn't it be cool if Spartacus..." and it's something that was in one of the other versions, I'm gonna scream.

3. Are any of the characters in your book based on anybody you know? If so, explain.

I'd say 90% of the names have connections to friends-and Lousy the cat was a real, whiskey-drinking cat I knew of. But the biggest connection would be with Will and my older brother, Casey. His wiliness is definitely sprinkled throughout Will's character. When I was Spart's age, I suspected Casey was always one step away from doing something atrocious. But I think Will's attention to Spartacus is totally misunderstood-as I suspect my brother's was too. From Spart's perspective, Will is a complete jerk, but if you take a step back and look at Will's actions-I mean, the sheer amount of time Will takes to plan and carry out his pranks could almost be flattering (that is, if they didn't end up so badly for Spartacus). I dunno. Call me sentimental. I like to think my brother really liked me and that's why he got me to lick the driveway, or smell his feet, or clean his room, right...?

4. What is the most surprising thing you learned in writing and publishing Spartacus?
Discovering how huge the MG/YA community was! I mean, I was on Twitter as a normal person, talking with friends and stalking celebrities, but I never knew that everyone was out there, just Facebooking and blogging and tweeting away-I mean, there's a #writingparty every moment! And I spent so many Friday nights where I typed away alone, feeling pathetic. It's really encouraging knowing you're not the only one slaving away.

5. What is your favorite scene or favorite part of Spartacus?
I love all the random circus and sideshow knowledge (and random trivia about rats in cracks and semi-trucks and New Mexico and, and, and) that went into the story. Two circus examples:
  1. Robin Marx, a character in the book, was an alias that carnies would give back in the old days. It was a play on the words Robin (i.e. robbing) and marks which were the suckers on the mid-way, spending money on junk. Get it? Robbin' marks?

  2. Circuses never, ever play the song Stars and Stripes Forever unless something goes terribly wrong. It's a secret code to let the performers know there is an emergency without frightening the audience...They call it the "Disaster March."
6.  Do you ever get emotional about your characters or situations when you write? Explain.
I don't think you can write some scenes if you're not feeling it yourself. One night in winter, while on a deadline, I was sick and exhausted and typing away at an emotional scene between Spart and his mom and I was really moved. (So moved, in fact, that I think the scene is a bit heavy-handed.) But at the time I wrote it, I knew how Spart was feeling because I put myself in his shoes. And, I've blogged about this, too, that I write with music a lot to get me feeling how I want the character to be feeling. It's a really fun writing trick.
7. Who are some of the writers you admired growing up? Do you have a writing mentor?
I mentioned Jerry Spinelli earlier. I loved his writing while growing up and I still love it now. But I also wasn't someone who was picky about books as I could never get enough, so I read (and reread) a lot of crap right along side great books like Hachet (Gary Paulson), Forever (Judy Blume), The Indian and the Cupboard (Lynn Banks), and Charlotte's Web (E.B. White).
And my writing mentor is actually my fiancé, who is also a writer. He's one of the few people I've met whose edits and opinions I trust-and whose edits and opinions I'm not afraid to argue with.

8. What is the hardest thing about writing?
Being disciplined enough to do it! And then sitting down to do it, even when you feel like there isn't a creative thought left in your head. But when something does come out of that creative's really something.
9. Are you working on another novel? Tell us about it.
I am, but it's barely out of that Desert Stage right now-I'm afraid if I even talk about it, it may dive back under the sand. But I'll keep you posted. 

Thanks to Molly Johnson for a great interview and the insight into the writing process. I loved Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows.  A very funny first novel. Congratulations! 

Click here for my book review.


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