Molly's YA 2012 novel Silhouette of a Sparrow was recently released in paperback. The novel received the 2013 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers and was nominated for several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award and the Minnesota Book Award. Molly was an early Inkpot Interviewee for her book Loon Baby; that interview can be found here.
Please describe the book in under 50 words.
In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging in ornithology and visiting an amusement park, but in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of oppressive guardians. Only a job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocation of traditional femininity. (adapted from Promo Copy.)
Would you tell us a bit about the story’s development? (e.g., 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?)
I grew up in Excelsior, MN, just after the famous amusement park was torn down, so it always fascinated me. This story grew out of its setting, and transformed from a middle grade novel (in which the mother was having all the fun) to a YA novel. The pivotal moment was when I asked the character (at the bidding of my Hamline advisor Liza Ketchum) what was in her pocket, and she answered “scissors.” Why would a teenage girl carry scissors in her pocket? The entire silhouette-cutting idea (the main yearning of the character, and the central metaphor of the book) came from that exercise. Research also added depth to the story as I revised, and I tweaked the language quite a bit to make it believably historical but not fussy. In a late revision with my editor I also enriched the backstory with the father character, which made the whole book much more satisfying.
How did it come to the attention of its editor? (slush pile, agent, etc.)
I interned at Milkweed Editions straight out of undergrad, and knew one of the editors there quite well. Although I felt that this book would be a perfect fit for them, they did not, at the time, publish YA. I approached the editor socially after the book was “done” and learned that they just started a YA list—and he agreed to read my manuscript. Many, many months later, the book had a home. My editor has since been laid off, but Milkweed has done a fantastic job with the book and I am thrilled to have it published by the largest independent, nonprofit press in the nation.
What research was involved?
Plenty. I did a lot of work in the special collections room at the Mpls central library, reading newspaper articles and looking at photos from the time and place in which the book is set. I also referenced bird books constantly, and did some reading about WWII, the Audubon Society, hats, jazz, and so on. I am NOT a very enthusiastic researcher, but what I enjoyed most were the experiential kinds of research I got to do, like riding old carousels, restored streetcars, and steamboats. I also kept a bulletin board of images by my desk to inspire me.
Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?
Yes. The beginning was workshopped once while I was at Hamline. And I worked on it extensively during the semesters—first with Liza Ketchum (when it was in a very rough, early form), and later with Marsha Qualey (when I was polishing it for inclusion in my creative thesis). I also worked on it with Phyllis Root, though my main focus was PBs during those semesters. All of these people helped shape the story, and helped teach me how to go about writing a novel! I was very overwhelmed by how big and messy the process is.
What would you like to say to current or prospective students?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! I had never written a novel before when I started the program, but I was encouraged to write outside “my” genre, and this book is a result of that experiment. I still feel most comfortable with the picture book form, but I am very proud of this book and hoping my new novel can build on the success of Silhouette. You have such an opportunity, in the Hamline program, to work in multiple forms and explore lots of kinds of writing. Enjoy that, and take that kind of creative flexibility with you into your post-Hamline writing life.