Molly Beth Griffin graduated from the MFAC program in January 2009. Since then she’s had two books published: a picture book, Loon Baby (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) and a YA novel, Silhouette of a Sparrow (Milkweed Editions, 2012).  Today she talks about the development of Loon Baby. 


Please describe the book in under 50 words.
Loon Baby is a lost-and-found story about a baby loon learning how to dive, set against the backdrop of the eerily beautiful north woods and its many inhabitants. 
Would you tell us a bit about the story’s development?
I scribbled the first words of the story while camping in the BWCA in 2007, where I had the privilege of watching two baby loons learning how to dive. Some of the language of that jotted-down draft remains in the published book. The title changed from Dinner Dive to Loon Baby at the request of my editor (who wanted “loon” in the title), and I trimmed a lot of verbiage when the illustrator’s sketches came through—we wanted a 10 x 10 book with large print, and there just wasn’t enough room for Anne Hunter’s beautiful art without cutting some text. The illustrator’s dummy also had 34 pages, so I needed to cut one full repetition/scene. The result is a much tighter book and a more engaging read-aloud.
How did it come to the attention of its editor?

Ann Rider spoke at Hamline and invited our submissions. She passed the first story I sent to a 
colleague, who rejected it kindly. So I sent this story to that other editor, who passed it to Ann!  This one suited her, and she asked me to do some market research to bring to her acquisitions meeting.  Ultimately, she accepted it! She has rejected everything I’ve sent her since, but I still appreciate that she is willing to carefully read my work. 

What research was involved?

I did some loon research, to make sure the story was accurate. We did not want the characters to be unnecessarily anthropomorphized. I am very familiar with the north woods, and I wanted this story to convey the beauty of that area to child readers.

Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?

No. I wrote it early in the semester, and felt it was polished by the time workshopping came around.  But Phyllis Root was my advisor that semester, and her critiques helped me revise the story for submission. Her love of the MN landscapeand her passion for language deeply influenced this story (and my writing in general). 

What was your critical thesis on?

Survival novels and how they help connect modern kids to nature.\

What was your creative thesis?

Several picture book manuscripts (including what is now Loon Baby) and a full YA novel (what is now Silhouette of a Sparrow).

Did you discover and fall in love with any books while in the MFAC program?

Oh yes.  Far too many to name. Some that influenced Loon Baby might be Looking for a Moose and Oliver Finds His Way by Phyllis Root and Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Chall.

Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are.  When do you share a piece of writing?

My writing group, comprised of two other Hamline grads, meets in person and sees pieces in all stages—right now they are reading a very raw, bare-bones draft of my new YA novel.  I don’t have an agent, but send work (once I think it’s polished) to several editors, including the editor of Loon Baby.  I sometimes read new work at my monthly Picture Book Writers’ Salon meeting.


Can you briefly describe your writing life? How has it changed since you graduated?
I am mainly a stay-at-home mom now, so I have to make the most of small windows of writing time.  The real writing also has to share time with teaching work, critiques/freelance editing, book promo, website maintenance, and all that. It’s very different from the long stretches of just-writing that I did in grad school, but I still manage to get the work done.

What are you working on now?
My YA novel, Silhouette of a Sparrow, just came out last fall, so I’ve been busy with events and blogging for that. I recently put a middle grade novel into a drawer, and launched into writing a new contemporary YA novel. I am totally in love with it.  I’m also always submitting picture book manuscripts. I haven’t written a new one in a little while, but I try to be open when inspiration strikes.

What would you like to say to current or prospective students?
Make the most of this time—when you can focus all of your energy on generating new work and revising it. Enjoy it. Try to leave with as much material as possible. Then, when you’re done with the program, you can launch yourself into the business side of the industry. But right now, write.  Get in the habit of writing so that you know what it feels like to be fully engaged in it, and you can dip back into that state later on whenever you can.

Learn more about Molly, her books and her teaching on her website.