Friday, October 3, 2014

Publication Interview with Molly Beth Griffin: Rhoda's Rock Hunt

Please describe the book.

Minnesota Historical Society Press
Jennifer A. Bell, illustrator
Rhoda’s Rock Hunt is a picture book about a kid on a camping trip with her aunt and uncle on the north shore of Lake Superior. Hiking is hard work, it turns out, but Rhoda loves collecting rocks along the way. In fact, she loves rock collecting so much that her pack gets heavier and heavier as she hikes and by the time they get to the big lake, she can’t lift it at all. In the end she makes cairns from her collection and brings just a few precious rocks back to the cabin.

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’ve been trying to write a rock-hunting book for many years. The original story was called “A Perfect Rock for Lena,” which I started in 2007 while at Hamline. That manuscript went through lots of revision and I submitted it many times, and racked up the rejections. Eventually I decided it was flawed, and put it away. Years later a new story emerged, just chicken scratches in a notebook while on vacation. That one never even made it onto the computer. Then in 2012 I went car camping up north with my son (2 ½ at the time) and my partner and some friends. I combed the beaches for rocks, as I do, and Jasper wanted to do nothing but throw rocks in the water. One day while he was napping in the car, I sat in the driver’s seat with a notebook and wrote the draft of this NEW rock-hunting story. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was a retelling of a story I’d tried to write twice before.  But now, it had a real problem for its character to solve, an element of tension that had been a glaring hole in the previous versions. The character was essentially the same, and obviously the setting was the same, and it was still about the love of rocks (and a kid connecting to the beauty of the natural world), but this time it had a plot! It went through a couple of revisions, mainly to the ending and to some of the language, but after years of simmering it came out pretty fully formed. Once I sent it to the editor (Shannon Pennefeather) it only needed very minor polishing. She was amazed that it was in as good of shape as it was—but she didn’t know about the three versions and the stack of rejections and the years and years in the drawer!
What research was involved before and while writing the book?
This was not a research-heavy book, but it came out of 20-some years of trips to the north shore, camping in the boundary waters, and rock hunting. Most of my writing is inspired by setting, and this book is no different in that way.

Loon Baby, your first book, was published in 2011. What have you learned about the business of writing since then?
Oh, wow. My career has grown and changed a lot since then. At that point I was just doing the writing, and a little teaching. Now I teach a lot, in person and online, and work one-on-one with critique clients. I host a monthly Picture Book Writer’s Salon. I put out a monthly e-newsletter. I try to keep my website relatively up to date. I blog a little. I do Facebook more than a little. I apply for grants and fellowships. I do events and read to kids and speak at conferences. I connect with the fantastic community of writers in Minnesota, and their support makes this work so much more satisfying and enjoyable. And although all that leaves less time for writing, it also makes for a richer work life. It’s all about balance, which is a daily struggle, but I’m gradually learning how to manage it.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I work in cafes, primarily. My son just started kindergarten, and thanks to the McKnight Fellowship I am able to afford a part-time nanny for my daughter (in our home), so I get to leave the house and “go to work” a few mornings a week. I love the ambient noise and the people watching. And the donuts.

Do you remember the first book you loved?
No, unfortunately. I have a terrible memory. But I grew up with Golden Books, especially the ones with Sesame Street characters, and I have some serious nostalgia for the feel of those little cardboard-and-paper books. Of course I prefer beautiful glossy hardcover picture books, but anything that makes stories accessible to kids is a good thing in my opinion. And I still love Super Grover!


Molly Beth Griffin is a January 2009 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more about Molly and her writing, please visit her website.


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