Maryrose Wood is the fantastic author of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall In Love, My Life: The Musical, Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, and How I Found the Perfect Dress, all of which are absolutely fantastic books that you all must read as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her, and, wow, are her answers awesome! Some of my favorites, ever. So go on, what are you waiting for? Read it!
What’s your favorite Broadway musical? Why?
I admit to preferring the brainy dark ones over the Cats and Les Mizzes of the world, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Sweeney Todd is my all-time favorite. It’s just the nearest thing to flawless – perfectly structured plot, gorgeous music, brilliant lyrics, unforgettable characters. Tragedy and comedy, mystery and horror! It’s got everything.
And Merrily We Roll Along is the sentimental favorite, because I was in it! When I was eighteen I was in the chorus of the original Broadway cast of this show, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.
Emily and Philip in My Life: The Musical are hugely dedicated fans of the musical Aurora, and of Broadway in general. Have you ever been such a dedicated fan? Of what?
Umm, okay. I think I have never said this in an interview before, but let it be known now and forevermore – I was a MAJOR Star Trek geek as a kid. MAJOR. Like, not quite to the point where I walked around in a Star Fleet uniform, but I watched the show religiously and knew every line of every episode.
I was an ardent Beatles fan, too, and later, Sondheim musicals. I still love Star Trek, Beatles songs and Sondheim musicals, by the way, so my taste hasn’t changed much! Now I love them like everyone else loves them. But I remember very well what it was like to have fandom slip from a reasonable to somewhat unreasonable level, when the object of your obsession becomes the magic portal to all meaning in life, and that’s where Emily and Philip are in the book.
You have a background in theatre yourself. Do you think that telling stories on a stage helped or prepared you for telling stories in the form of novels? How?
Oh, yes yes yes. This is such a good question. Of course, writing plays makes you very practiced at writing dialogue, which comes in handy in novels as well.
But the main thing, as noted in your question, is the insight you get into how to tell a story. When you write for the stage or for a movie, telling the story is your number one job — not crafting fancy language or elaborate descriptions or any extraneous stuff like that.
You have to focus on plot and structure because plays and movies are watched in real time. The audience is trapped in their seats, looking at their watches. It’s not like a novel where you can put it down and come back to it later, or even skip ahead if you get to a boring bit.
So, if you stray too far or too long from the main plot, or if you fail to keep developing tension and making the story move forward at a good pace, the audience gets bored and soon, furious. There is nothing so excruciating as sitting trapped in the audience at a terrible play, and there’s an hour left to go and you know you can never get that hour of your life back again. It’s agony.
The other incredible lesson you learn as a playwright is that the audience does not lie. If you think something is funny, and the audience does not laugh, it is not funny. You are wrong, and you must change what you wrote and make it funny. If you think what you wrote makes sense, and the audience is sitting there scratching its collective head because they can’t figure out what’s going on or why, you are wrong, and must fix things.
It’s the most extraordinary discipline. I really do try to keep myself honest as a novelist, in terms of making funny bits funny and the story clipping along in a coherent and engaging way, and I feel totally schooled by my many years writing (and performing) for live audiences.
Also, I always read my books aloud as part of the editing process, just to make sure the language sounds good to the ear. It’s an old habit from playwriting but one I don’t intend to break. Even when we read silently to ourselves, we “hear” the language in our heads. I think consciously crafting the cadence of language is an essential part of writing well.
In Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, Morgan goes on a bike tour in Ireland. That’s quite an interesting vacation for her! What was your most interesting or memorable trip?
Many years ago, when I was still acting professionally, I did an international tour of a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. We toured five cities in India and two in Sri Lanka. It was an amazing experience. I got to see the Taj Majal, ride elephants, and sing showtunes!
One fun bit of trivia about that tour – I had a small part in the chorus of the show and understudied the lead, which was played by the marvelous Jodi Benson. Not long after we got back to the States Jodi was cast as the voice of Ariel in the Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid. How cool is that? I was so glad when my daughter (now a teen!) went through her Mermaid phase as a little girl and watched the movie a zillion times; having Jodi’s voice singing in my house all day was like having a friend over.
How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?
See, my mom would say since I was in second grade, because it was then that I wrote the first piece that earned me some notoriety as a writer. It was a short story about a Christmas tree, and ended sadly, with the dried-out tree out on the curb waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck, reflecting on its brief but glorious career. It was all very existential! Not bad for a seven year old.
But the success of the piece backfired, because I’d simply written a story that had occurred to me, and all of a sudden teachers were asking me questions about where I might have copied it from and so forth. I think an IQ test was administered. Anyway, all the attention made me feel like I’d done something wrong. So, though I kept writing bits and pieces of things and always wrote very well for school, I didn’t entertain the notion of writing as a career until I was almost thirty.
Before then, of course, I was totally involved in theatre! I was an actor from my late teens until mid-twenties, and then I directed and did comedy improv and all kinds of performance-related things. Finally I sucked it up and admitted I just wanted to write. But I spent another decade writing plays and screenplays, many of which, coincidentally, featured teens or kids in prominent roles.
My good buddy E. Lockhart helpfully pointed this out to me, and introduced me to the world of YA fiction, and the rest, as they say, is history. I pitched the idea for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love to an agent, who pitched it to Delacorte, and all of a sudden I had a book deal. That novel, my first, came out in 2006, and I’ve been writing full time ever since. In fact, I’m just starting what will be my sixth book! No wonder I’m tired.
Will there be more books about Morgan, from Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and How I Found The Perfect Dress? What about your other books–any planned sequels?
A timely question! I’ve just committed to writing a third and (I’m pretty sure) final book about Morgan, and I’m so excited. I love her and her world, and of course I adore Colin, her irresistible Irish hottie. I get e-mails from girls wanting to know if Colin is real. I wish, girls! I wish he were real and my age and lived next door!
I have a working title for the book but I’m not sure it’s the right one, so I won’t say it yet. But in this book, basically the whole future of the faery realm gets dumped in Morgan’s lap. And Colin finally finds out about Morgan’s half-goddess nature. Ooh, I can’t wait to write it!
No sequel plans yet for Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love or My Life: The Musical, but I never say never. I certainly get requests from readers. One girl already asked me if I would write a sequel to My Life: The Musical in which Emily and Philip really get together. I was like, hmmm, I think you might read the last few chapters a bit more carefully…
What book do you wish you had written?
I’ll pick three. Jane Eyre, because it’s a timeless classic. Harry Potter, because I would be rich. Feed, because it’s so cool and good.
Who are some of your favorite books or authors?
So many! I’ll just pick a couple of things I’ve read and loved recently. In the classic tome category, Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare. In the adult book category, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. In the YA author category, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is superb. Am gnawing on the edge of my desk for the sequel to Octavian Nothing too, by M.T. Anderson. Somebody send me an ARC, please!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice shifts depending on what you mean by aspiring. For people who long to write but find themselves not knowing how to begin, or who begin things and never finish — remember that writing is nothing like reading. When you read a book, it is the end result of many, many drafts, and the earliest drafts are often closer to notes and stream of consciousness than actual paragraphs and chapters.
Writing accrues, like a painting or sculpture. First you whack the piece of rock into the right size and shape, then you kind of rough out the basic proportions of what you’re trying to represent, and then you go back a million times and work each little bit into shape. When it’s done you step back to judge the whole effect, and then you zoom into fix, step back to judge, zoom in, step back, repeat as needed.
I think the people who get stuck imagine that books come out whole, sentence by sentence from start to finish, the same way you read them. Then they get flummoxed and quit when it doesn’t happen that way.
For people who do finish and are struggling to figure out how to get an agent and get published, please follow all the good advice that’s out there. Join SCBWI. Joint a crit group. Make sure your work is ready. Learn to write a query letter. Find the agents that rep work like your book. It’s not rocket science.
Honestly, I don’t believe that brilliant books get ignored for very long. If you’re getting rejections and hearing a lot of the same feedback from a lot of smart people, be honest about whether you’re still writing the three or six books or fifteen books you might need to write to kick your work up to the next level, where you ARE ready to get published.
“But Maryrose! Your first book got sold on proposal! Why can’t that happen to me?” I can hear you screaming through the computer screen. Listen, before my “first book,” I’d written maybe seven full-length plays, two full-length screenplays, two full-length musicals, one-acts and short films and ten-minute plays and so many miscellaneous pieces of various kinds I can’t even remember them all…and we are talking many drafts of each of these. So yes, Kittens was my first book. It was also really something like my fifteenth book, in terms of writing mileage. Are you willing to write fifteen books before selling one? No? Hmmmm…
I think some people fall into the trap of saying, “well, my book is at least as good as a lot of the crap out there, why can’t I get published too?” The right question is: Is your book as good as the best book you’ve ever read? No? Then push yourself harder. Read excellent books and pay attention to why they’re so good. Then hold yourself to that high standard.
What are you writing now?
I just love my current project: it’s called A Beautiful Nothing, and will be my next book for Delacorte. It’s a retelling of the plot of “Much Ado About Nothing,” set in the Bronx’s Little Italy.
I’m having so much fun with this book! “Much Ado” is one of my favorite plays, and Italian is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s like Shakespeare with mozzarella. And baseball too! The Bronx without the Yankees is just not the Bronx, ya know? Fuhgeddaboutit!
Now, ask yourself a question (and answer it).
“Maryrose, you look incredible! How on earth did you lose ten pounds since yesterday? And get taller too? And noticeably younger?”
“No big deal, really! I just tapped my heels together three times! Wanna brownie? Want twelve? With ice cream? That’s all we eat around here now!”
Thanks so much!