I've been following the career of author Diana Murray since we started corresponding in July of 2011. I was applying for the Barbara Karlin Grant and saw that she had won it in 2010. Her manuscript was rhyming, and so was the one I was submitting, so we "chatted" back and forth about the writing process. She has made great strides since that SCBWI win, and is going full steam ahead with her writing career. She took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for the GROG.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey from that 2010 Barbara Karlin Grant to your current books? What manuscript won that award, and where is it now?
The manuscript that won was an early version of GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH. At that time, it was under consideration at another publisher and I was working with an editor on revising it. I had met the editor at a SCBWI conference and she heard GRIMELDA read out loud at a first page session. She then gave me her card. Unfortunately, I did not end up getting an offer from that publisher in the end. But that's OK! Because a couple years later, the same manuscript got me my agent and subsequently sold in a two-book deal to Katherin Tegan Books/HarperCollins. So, it all worked out, but boy, does this business take a lot of patience.
Where did the idea for City Shapes come from?
I used to live in midtown Manhattan for many years. I loved taking long walks around the city, exploring the different neighborhoods. I made an extra effort to be observant and notice details. I often took photos or drew sketches. There is more about my inspiration in this essay I wrote for the Little, Brown newsletter:
Do you have an agent, or a working relationship with an editor? Will you have different books from different houses?
Yes, both. I have an agent at Writers House and also multiple books with some editors. I currently have books with seven different publishers.
Are there any techniques you use to make your rhyme sparkle and be fresh?
That comes with practice. It's important not to let the rhymes control the story. I usually write a rough outline, spread by spread.
Do you use other rhyming authors as mentor texts?
I wouldn't say I methodically "use" them, but I've certainly read and enjoyed work by lots of other authors who sometimes write in rhyme. I like Julia Donaldson, Karma Wilson, Lisa Wheeler, Sarah Weeks, Alice Shertle, J. Patrick Lewis, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Adam Rex, and many more.
Do you stick to a writing schedule or write in spurts? About how many drafts did you do for CITY SHAPES? Did it change a lot from your first draft?
No, I just write whenever I can. CITY SHAPES didn't change that dramatically from the first draft. However, the publisher did ask me to include two more shapes (which ended up being diamonds and stars) and I also put in more of a day to night transition to give it a stronger arc.
I just have to ask about NED, THE KNITTING PIRATE. How did that come into being, and did that just flow, or did you do a lot of revisions?
I got the idea for NED when I was watching an episode of "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations". He was in Sweden and met two tough, extreme snowboarders who were really into knitting. And to top it off, they were descended from Vikings! I just thought it was an interesting contrast and wanted to explore the general idea more. I ended up going with pirates which gave me the chance to write sea shanties--so fun! And no, it went through a lot of revisions. When I first wrote it, I gave up on it, thinking it might be too weird. But then I found it in my files about two years later and suddenly, all the issues became clear to me and I knew just how to fix them. Fresh eyes work wonders! Before it was accepted, the editor also wanted a pretty major revision. I wasn't sure if I could pull it off. But in the end, I did like the revised versions better. It's kind of cool how you get to work as a team with input from different people.
What can we look for in the future from you?
I'm not happy unless I'm writing, so hopefully, you will see a lot more books from me. I would love to work on some more early readers because I kind of have a soft spot for those. My first one (PIZZA! PIZZA) is coming out with Random House (Step-Into-Reading) in the next year or so.
Diana Murray writes poetry and books for children. Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines including Spider, Ladybug, Highlights, and High Five. Diana grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. She is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House literary agency.