Please describe the book.
Teddy Mars feels invisible in his huge family, especially because of his little brother Jake, a.k.a. The Destructor. Teddy loves The Guinness Book of World Records, and the pigeons that live next door. He does not love Grumpy Pigeon Man who owns the pigeons. But when life gets to be too much, he moves out into a tent in his backyard, and he winds up working for Grumpy Pigeon Man. With the help of his friends, Lonnie and Viva, he plans to break the perfect record, until his little brother destroys that idea. In the end he reconciles himself to his family, and they prove to him that they truly see him
As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about? When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
I started this book my first semester when I was working with Ron Koertge. I wrote about twenty pages then put it away until the last residency. After graduating, some time passed, and then I picked it up again. I finished it and revised it over the course of a year. I sent it out to Tina Wexler, who loved it but had more revisions she wanted before she sent it out. That took a few months. The two biggest changes to the book were that it first started as a book in free verse. Ron pointed out that there was no reason it should be in verse, and so I turned it all into prose. The second change was that the original book took place over the course of a year, but when the book was bought, and they wanted it as a series and asked for two more books, they asked if I could truncate the action so the three books could all take place over one year.
What research was involved before and while writing the book?
I researched pigeons. We do live next door to a bunch of them. I also keep a number of copies of The Guinness Book of World Records beside me.
Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?
Yes, my last semester at Hamline with Anne Ursu and Eleanora Tate.
Did you discover and fall in love with any books while in the MFAC program?
A million, too many to name.
Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are (e.g., live-action writing group; online writing group; editor; agent). When do you share a piece of writing?
The first draft of Teddy Mars I took to a week-long workshop with Stephen Roxburgh and Carolyn Coman. They were the first people to read the whole thing. The second Teddy Mars book (which I’ve just finished copy edits on) was first read by my editor, Maria Barbo, and my agent, Tina Wexler. I think I’m a pretty private writer. A lot of time, I keep work private because I’m sorting it out myself, and I’m trying to listen to my own heart tell me what the book is about. I’m trying to get better about this and share more easily, not only because I’m used to putting work out to people from our program, but also because I’m teaching a writing class and forcing them to share their writing. I see how valuable it is. Sometimes I think I keep it to myself because my life is so full of opinions from other people kids, partners, newspapers—that I just want a little time with me. But I could be fooling myself.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I have a small room in our house that my husband built for me. I need quiet when I write so I can hear all the voices in my head. And I think I’m like Virginia Woolf—a room of my own is important. So much of my life goes out to others. As everyone in my family knows, if I was in a café I would end up watching the people, listening to their conversations; I would never get any writing done. This is why I’m always placed facing a wall if we go out to dinner. Otherwise it’s too distracting.
Do you remember the first book you loved?
I loved many books, but I will say for a picture book, Bread and Jam for Francis and middle grade, Tuck Everlasting.
Molly B. Burnham is a June 2010 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. To learn more about Molly and her writing please visit her website.