Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Towards Publication and Beyond: Paul Michael Murphy

It is a pleasure for me to introduce Paul Michael Murphy. I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon Paul's blog. But, when I did, it became clear that his blog was the place to be. And then when he welcomed me by name in a post, I thought, 'finally--I've made it to the cool kids' table.' I've had the priviledge to read a WIP, and I would be surprised if an agent didn't snap it right up when he puts it out there. He's a genuinely nice guy and funny writer. Here's Paul.

Thanks for the interview, Paul. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small town called Cass City, Michigan where I had a relatively easy time of things. School wasn’t too hard, I was good enough at sports to avoid being ridiculed, my dad worked, my mom was usually home, and I had a brother who quit whenever a call went against him in whiffle ball. I went to college at Michigan State University and that was nice too. Classes weren’t as difficult as I feared they might be. The girls were pretty. I had lots of free time and played a lot of video games. I became a teacher, met a girl who I managed to convince to marry me, had a daughter, and did some other stuff not worth mentioning. A few years ago I started writing with the idea of getting published.

What are you currently working on?

What I hope is a humorous young adult fantasy about a girl who’s kidnapped by a self-described “swashbuckling buccaneer” and taken to Load, a place ruled by a sarcastic teenager. Load is about to be invaded, and the king’s defenses consist of pollen, colored lozenges, and songs you can’t get out of your head. He’s also training teams of debaters. Lauren realizes that the only hope she has of getting home and of saving the lives of her new friends is to inspire the people of Load—who spend most of their time watching security camera feeds—to overthrow the king before the invasion begins.

What made you start to write seriously?

I try to not write seriously. As for what makes me write instead of take Facebook quizzes or watch Num3ers or cross-stitch, I find the thoughts in my head more entertaining than most TV shows and video games and I lack the dexterity for cross-stitch. So for me writing is about self-gratification. If I write something I like I give it to other people and hope they like it too. And if they don’t then I figure they have bad taste. And they probably watch Num3ers.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

During the college basketball season, my favorite blog is Mark Titus’s Club Trillion ( For writing, I’ll be boring and say Nathan Bransford’s because in spite of his reality TV fetish he seems like good guy and he posts regularly.

What is your favorite blog post that you have written?

This one was both fun to write and a service to men everywhere:

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Verla Kay’s Blue Board is awesome, especially if you’re just starting out. When I got serious about writing I spent hour after hour reading old threads and I benefited from the wisdom of people who were farther along the path. No one makes you feel like an idiot at Verla’s, even if you obviously are. I also watched a lot of videos here: and read a lot of stuff about famous writers’ paths to publication because there’s something deeply satisfying about other people’s struggles.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

I feel like I got a late start and I’m constantly playing catch-up. I don’t want to throw my high school teachers under a bus here, but they really taught me nothing about how to analyze a text or how to write much of anything except useless five paragraph essays. I read quite a lot in high school, especially for a guy, and I wanted to write. I just had no idea how. Thank God for the Internet.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

When I was trying to lose weight I read something that said on those days when you really didn’t feel like exercising you should put your exercise clothes on anyway because having those clothes on triggers something in the brain and you’ll feel like doing it more. I think it’s the same with writing. Just turning on the laptop and staring at it usually leads to something. It might be crap, but even crap is better than nothing.

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

When I first thought seriously about writing I checked out a lot of books on the craft from my local library. One was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King and as I read it I realized I was already doing a lot of the things I was supposed to be doing. I found myself nodding along more than anything else as I read, and I thought, You know, I can do this.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My practical goal is to get published and go to a bookstore and see my book on a shelf. And then I’m going to take my book off the shelf and find one of those tables where the really hot books are showcased and I’m going to replace them with my book. My reach-for-the-stars goal would be to write a book that’s already on the hot books table.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

There’s not much I don’t like. I’ve cyber-met lots of fun people. My writing has given me an excuse to blog and I like doing that. It’s made me a better writing teacher and that’s something I actually get paid to do. I’ve had enough small successes to remain encouraged and enough disappointments to realize I can handle them. The best part is the writing itself. When it’s going well and when I’m writing that just-for-my-own-selfish-pleasure first draft, there’s not much better. Except maybe a Mythbusters marathon.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

I’m kind of risk-averse, so most characters are out of the question because they’re always getting into dangerous situations and fighting bad guys and whatnot. I’m a big fan of stories where the main character is the smartest guy in the room. I loved A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting and I like biographies of really smart dudes. So since I write for kids, I’ll say Nick Allen of Frindle. He’s the kind of precocious kid I wish I would have been. Plus, at the end of the book he’s in college and he’s loaded. And he did it all without having to confront an evil wizard.
Eveyone, please make Paul feel welcome, and post a comment or question in the comments. He's going to check back when his teacherly schedule permits.


  1. Great interview...and great interviewee! :) I'll have to check out Paul's blog. Sounds like a good guy with a great imagination.

    I, too, love "Self-editing for Fiction Writers". My critique group studied that last year. Soooo much good info there.

    I'm looking forward to hearing what publisher picks up your story. Sounds like a hoot! (in a good way!)


  2. Paul--Thanks again for the great interview. I loved the advice about workout clothes and turning on the computer--I'm going to try both, in my exercise and writing life.

    I wanted to ask if you are actively revising and drafting at the same time--what kind of rhythm do you get into for simultaneous projects in your writing life?

    And--I'm curious--what is your timeline for finishing projects--how long do you spend on a particular draft and revision?

  3. Great interview! I think it's true about turning the computer on, or just carrying your manuscript around. Thanks for introducing Paul. His book sounds interesting.

  4. Thanks for the interview, Heather. Makes me feel like a big shot.

    Right now I'm revising the YA you mentioned having read. I'm hoping to have it ready for agents with good taste in January. The book about the kidnapped girl is about half-way done and I started it when I was in between other projects. I'll go back to it while the other one is out on submission.

    I'd like to work on one thing at a time and work that thing until it was perfect, but have found that to be impossible. I wrote the YA while waiting on a contest for my MG. When I didn't win the contest I went back to the MG and revised. Then I sent it out and worked with an agent to improve it. When that didn't work out I shelved that book for the time being and went back to revising the YA.

    All of which makes it hard to answer your last question because the whole progress ends up fragmented and protracted.

  5. Nice interview. I started following PMM's blog back when he interviewed James Kennedy. And like you, I found him to be nice and funny and inclusive and all that. I feel like watching him enjoy blogging has taught me a lot about these on-line writerly communities(I still have a lot to learn). He seems to just attract people because he has such a good time and is so genuine. If I were to ask him a question it would be: How conscious are you of making this community and what is your blogging goal?

    Heather, I enjoy your format here. I like how you even ask questions in the comments, allowing others to get involved. I have visited before but this is the first time I have commented. Thanks for your interviews and inspiration.

  6. That's great about the agent interest in your MG ms. Do you still have a relationship there--will you send your next finished product his/her way?

  7. Oops. The above comment is a question for Paul (hopefully that is implied).

    Tina--thanks for stopping by! And you are right--PMM is a wonderful host on his blog. I'll be awaiting his answer to your question as well.

  8. I'm wondering if PMM could give us a link to the KENNEDY interview, because I'm too lazy to look for it and I can only sorta remember it.

  9. @Tina--My goal with the blog is to entertain and to appreciate the people who read the thing. If I do those two things well enough, I figure people will keep reading and new readers will find their way there.

    @Heather--The MG didn't work out with the agent after two revision attempts, but when we parted ways he offered to look at the YA when I had it ready.

    @Anita--If you google "Order of Odd Fish Week" it should be right there.

  10. Paul-- Your answer to Anita's question took me to many internet places. And several things have occured.

    "I am no man" has become a tag line between me and my kids, and my son (and I) very much want to read Kennedy's Order of Odd Fish.

    In your opinion, is the book appropriate for a nine-year-old? I'm assuming it is since the MC is 13. Normally, I preview books for my son, since I want to read MG and YA anyway, but my current draft is an absurd YA fantasy, and I want to get the voices and first draft down well before I read anything else absurd.

    But it sounds very cool.

    Thanks again for the interview!

  11. Okay, this is the third try to leave a comment. Something mighty weird is going on with either my computer at work or this site.

    @Heather - great questions. Now this is the cool kids' table.

    @PMM - our lives are scarily similar.

  12. Great interview! I loved learning more about you, Paul - I feel I "know" you but there's so much I don't "know!" You're so mysterious! And, Heather, great questions. I'm off to tweet this link!

  13. That was a fun interview! I had no idea what your current WIP was about, sounds cool!
    The exercise clothes is a good idea in theory, but I tend to overeat in yoga pants because they are so darn stretchy! ;)

  14. Heather, I just looked to the right at what you are writing. I love your short, sweet synopsis of a boy and the star and the wish that connects them!!!

  15. Paul! Heather! Kelly!

    (everybody else too)

    Great interview. Just so you know, if my book ever gets published I FULLY intend to engage in a little bookstore civil disobedience (read: moving many of my books to high traffic areas of the store...)

    I will also do this for friends.

    Again, great interview!

  16. There's nothing inappropriate about the content of Odd-Fish, but it is longish (350 pages maybe?) and much of the language would be challenging for most nine-year-olds. But don't take my word for it. Read the book! (I get a kickback from James every time I say this.)

  17. Tracy--glad you felt inclined to try three times--what comment stamina you have!

    And, at some point, it became cool not to be cool, so I have mixed feelings about the implication. But, thanks.

  18. Debra--thanks for the tweet. What fun these interviews are.

  19. Kelly--thanks! I hope someday soon that wip will be polished up enough for agent eyes.

  20. Bryan--I'm on board. We'll start an underground movement.

  21. Paul--I'm excited to check it out, and not sure why it wasn't on my radar before. Hopefully it'll get my son off of his re-reading Harry Potter kick (all seven books--again, and again, and again). I mean, we've had tons of fun with HP, but some variety would be welcome!

  22. HEATHER: 10-year-old daughter says your son should try ANGIE SAGE'S series....apparently not as good as HP, but what is???

  23. word verification: "unretail," which is so me!

  24. Anita--Thanks for the recommendation. I've picked those up in the bookstore a few times, because the covers are so compelling, but never bought any. Tell your daughter, thanks!

  25. as for this blog or PMM's blog being the cool kids table.. neither are. the cool kids were usually boring. lol. nnice interview, Heather. Awesome answers, Paul. and i think Odd Fish is suitable for any literate kid.

  26. Hi Monica! Maybe we'll just say that these blog spots happen to be the spots in the universe that are cooler than the cool table.
    Thanks for stopping by. I agree, Paul's answers give great insight into his writing life.

    Odd Fish is now on our must-read-list.