Thursday, March 12, 2015

Publication Interview with Diane C. Mullen: Tagged

Charlesbridge Publishing
March 10, 2015
Timothy Tang, cover illustration
Please describe the book.
TAGGED is a contemporary novel about Liam O’Malley, a fourteen-year-old graffiti artist living in the projects of Minneapolis with his mom and three younger siblings. When Liam’s estranged older brother coerces him to tag a graffiti symbol over a rival gang’s tag, Liam’s life is threatened. Afraid that he might turn out just like his older brother, Liam’s mom sends him to a small town on Lake Michigan for the summer to live with her best friend, Kat, a sculptor and art teacher. Liam soon delves into the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg, and his own personal aesthetics. He’s encouraged to consider his art seriously and how it might contribute to a greater community. Having to decide between staying with Kat to pursue his dream and returning home to his siblings who need him, Liam’s story inspires him to reinvent himself for the better.

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?
The biggest change during the process was the title changing from PIECES OF A WRECK to TAGGED. That happened when I first began working with my editor, Julie Bliven, at Charlesbridge. There were also some changes made during a couple of rounds of revisions with my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. I first began the work on this novel during my final semester in the MFAC program, and the first eighty-five pages became my Creative Thesis. I was inspired to begin a brand new novel in my fourth semester because of the work I did with Kelly Easton during my Critical Thesis semester.

What research was involved before and while writing the book?
TAGGED was extremely research heavy! Here are a few topics – graffiti art; Pablo Picasso; baseball; gangs in Minneapolis; abstract expressionism; Minneapolis housing projects; art camps and boarding schools; Jean-Michel Basquiat; the fine arts of sculpture, painting, printmaking, and dance; Lake Michigan; gang hand signs; the Southie neighborhood in Boston; Claes Oldenburg; small resort towns; contemporary art; and handguns used by gangs and drug dealers. Most importantly I had to figure out what it was like to be a fourteen-year-old boy.

Did you ever workshop this story at Hamline?
I workshopped earlier versions of this novel during a couple of Alumni Weekends at Hamline.

Did you discover and fall in love with any books while in the MFAC program?
During my time in the MFAC program I fell in love with many amazing books, but three novels stand out above the rest - The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier because of the characters and the story, and because Cormier refused to make everything tidy at the end of the novel; I was moved by Carolyn Coman’s story and unflinching portrayal of domestic violence in What Jamie Saw; and I was blown away by Chris Lynch’s use of second person narration in Freewill. I’m certain that the work of all three have had an influence on my own work.

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?
My first readers are a good friend who has an MFA in Writing, and my agent. I share new work with my friend when I feel like it makes enough sense for her to understand what I’m trying to do. And I usually send new work on to my agent when I feel like it’s ready for submissions. But sometimes I’ll send her a bit of something new just to see if she thinks it’s worth going forward with.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I do all of my new work writing at home, sitting at a table next to ten-foot tall windows overlooking my urban neighborhood. But when it comes time to revise I always go to a café/restaurant named Barbette down the street. I seem to be able to read my work much more closely when I have some commotion going on around me
Do you remember the first book you loved?
The first two books I loved where The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton which my mom used to read to me over and over; and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George which I read over and over by myself.


Diane C. Mullen is a January 2009 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives and writes in Minneapolis. To learn more about Diane and her work, please visit her website


  1. I've always been intrigued by graffiti. I like looking at it on the side of the train as it goes by. =) Some of it is amazing! Tagged sounds like a great book!

  2. Congratulations, Diane! Can't wait to read it!

  3. Yes, Congratulations! Re-reading this is like meeting with a dear friend, and finding them as brilliant as you remember.