Author and MFAC alum Blair Thornburgh talks about her YA novel, Ordinary Girls (published June 4, 2019).
For siblings as different as Plum and Ginny, getting on each other’s nerves is par for the course. But when the family’s finances hit a snag, sending chaos through the house in a way only characters from a Jane Austen novel could understand, a distance grows between them like never before.
Plum, a self-described social outcast, finally has something in her life that doesn’t revolve around her dramatic older sister. But what if coming into her own means Plum isn’t there for Ginny when she, struggling with a hard secret of her own, needs her most?
What inspired Ordinary Girls?
After I wrote Who’s That Girl, the first book I published, my sister complained that there was no sister character in it. I responded that if I were going to write a sister character, I’d really want the sister relationship to take center stage…and then that became a book. That, and I’ve long been inspired by the canon of books about sisters: Sense and Sensibility, I Capture the Castle, Little Women…so it was fun to write something of a love letter to those books while still creating my own characters and world.
What were the challenges (literary, psychological, logistical, etc.) in bringing this book to life?
Time! Writing a second book on a contract is so much different than selling a completed novel. I only had a few months to draft (and did I wait until the last few weeks? Yes I did.) Then from a literary standpoint, I wanted this to be, you know, good, but it’s also very much a book about books and reading, and I didn’t want that to come off as pretentious or incomprehensible. Ultimately I just followed my instincts as I created the voice and it…seems to have worked out?
If you could be friends with only one of your characters, who would you choose and why?
I think the older sister Ginny and I would get along. This is because I am (Surprisingly more so than Plum, the younger sister who narrates.) I also think I’d like Kit Marlowe the cat (even though I am allergic).
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
The time issue, as I mentioned above—a very real logistical hurdle!—but also I think I was willing to stretch my limits a little further and try something just a touch more structurally ambitious. This book is also much more character-driven than my first one, and so I had to write much more intuitively than previously, where I could fall back on a stronger plot backbone whenever I got stuck.
What did you edit out of this book?
A VERY early form of this book was actually my first-ever Hamline project, which I worked on with Emily, and it has changed an awful lot since then. Originally, the dad was alive, Ginny had a crummy boyfriend, it was told in two timelines, and there was a German composer character named Helmuth Hamster (pronounced HAHM-shter). None of this, thankfully, has survived.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Right now I am on a sewing kick! I’m not very good and rarely produce wearable garments, but I love the practice of it. Unlike writing, there’s a clear set of instructions to follow (a literal pattern) and it’s good for occupying my creative brain without stressing me out over “getting it right.”
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Finish your books! You can’t move forward with a project (revision, publication, fame and fortune, etc.) until the book is done. Just learning what it takes for you personally to finish a novel is a huge skill to cultivate.
What is next for you? What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on edits for my second picture book, Second Banana, and then trying to write something new! I’m casting about in my mind for some good YA concepts to tackle…bits and pieces are emerging, but nothing cohesive yet. I want to find something I’m really on fire to write.
What else would you like to add?
Only that I love Hamline!
Blair Thornburgh writes books for and about smart teenagers. Her first book, Stuff Every College Student Should Know, came out from Quirk Books in 2014 and makes a great gift. Her other books include, Who’s That Girl (2017) and SKULLS! (July 2019). She lives in Philadelphia.