I’m excited to share the fourth interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! I’ve been talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists this spring and summer, and that will continue throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you. You can find all the interviews in the series collected right here.
I recently corresponded with Emily Bain Murphy about her debut young adult novel The Disappearances (HMH Books for Young Readers, July 2017).
From the jacket:
What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?
Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home—and the place where Juliet grew up.
Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together—scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream—vanish every seven years.
No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible—and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.
As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone’s secrets for long before it starts giving them up.
KIT FRICK: One of my favorite experiences as a reader was discovering the many Variants developed by the residents of the sister towns to counteract—and sometimes even enhance—the ordinary things that have vanished from their lives. If you could try out one Atoning or Enhancing Variant yourself, which would it be and why?
EMILY BAIN MURPHY: Ooh, such a good question! Let’s see. I do love the idea of being able to walk around in a rainstorm and feel as dry and warm as sitting in front of a fireplace. But I guess I’d have to choose the Tempest Variants. I would absolutely love to know what it feels like to have water turn to road under the soles of my feet—especially if it was on a glassy lake or ocean where you could see down to the bottom.
KIT: The Disappearances is set in the small town of Sterling against the backdrop of World War II. While the story’s premise is fantastical and brimming with magic and mystery, the setting itself feels very realistically conceived. Tell us a bit about the research and/or imagination that went into in developing Aila’s world—both the historical world of the 1940s and also the unique small town setting.
EMILY: Thank you, that’s so nice! Oh yes, there was so much research—everything from looking at 1940s advertisements on Pinterest to reading Life Magazine features on teenagers’ lives in small-town America during World War II. I looked at slang, fashion designs, car models, which songs were playing on the radio, and what world events were appearing in newspaper headlines on the days I’d mapped out the story. I also interviewed my grandfather, who was stationed on a naval supply ship in the Pacific during World War II. He had so many good anecdotes about everything from stopping at a pineapple factory in Hawaii on the way out, to how the mail system worked, so I’d know how often Aila could expect to receive letters from her father. I’m glad the details rang true for you—and I am glad that because of this book, I got to glimpse a little of my grandfather’s life that I might not have otherwise.
KIT: Tell us something about The Disappearances that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!
EMILY: I killed off three characters and a sport I invented, as well as my entire original ending. What’s interesting is that my own journey of discovery for the plot actually mirrored Aila’s, in the end. It involved multiple rewrites and even more research once I “discovered” the mystery, but I’m so happy with how it turned out, and I think it’s kind of a fun twist you’d never know from reading the flap copy.
KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? Tell us about something that brings you satisfaction at this moment in time.
EMILY: The most joy I have right now is when I hear reader feedback about what The Disappearances means to them. If it touched something in them, or made them feel happy or hopeful, or just gave them a little piece of joy for a few hours—that is so meaningful to me. Also, holding this book in my hands and seeing it in the bookstore is such an incredible feeling, after years of work spent and pieces of my heart poured into it, and some dark days spent in the query trenches wondering if it could ever really happen!
KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with surprises, twists, and turns for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?
EMILY: I’d say the greatest surprise has been the deep friendships I’ve found in the book world, and how wonderful it feels to have other people who know exactly what the debut experience feels like, in all of its highs and lows. Also, it’s surprising how vulnerable you feel when the book first starts to go out to readers—and how differently people can experience the exact same words written in the exact same book!
KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?
EMILY: Persevere!! Get that first draft down, and don’t worry that it’s a mess. You will find the real gold in it when you’re revising—and go into it prepared to revise A LOT. Every time you revise you can shade in the details, and make themes more prominent, and deepen your characters or your plot. I’m such a perfectionist, so reminding myself of that actually helps to lighten the burden and gives me more freedom to just write. My other advice? Celebrate every small achievement. It’s not silly—it’s how you’re going to sustain through the long haul. And celebrate other people, too! Choose to lift up and cheer other writers who are seeing success instead of giving into (very human) feelings of bitterness or jealousy. You’ll be so much happier overall—and someday, it’s going to be your turn. If you persevere—see point one again. 😉
Thank you so much for having me, Kit!
Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and has also called Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California home. She loves books, Japanese karaoke, exploring new cities, and anything with Nutella. Her debut YA fantasy, The Disappearances, releases from HMH Books for Young Readers and Pushkin Press in 2017.
Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary & Media. She currently lives in the St. Louis area with her family and is at work on her second novel.
Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, summer 2018), and her debut full-length poetry collection is A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press, fall 2018).
The Disappearances is out now and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Stop back soon for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. I’ll be talking to Rebecca Barrow in August and more fantastic authors in the fall, winter, and beyond!