Friday, August 11, 2023

Sara Flannery Murphy

Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novels The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.

Her newest novel is The Wonder State.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The Wonder State invites readers into Arkansas, even if they don’t realize it! This was the state’s first official nickname, chosen back in the 1920s. The nickname changed within twenty years because it didn’t draw enough new economic growth to the state, becoming the Land of Opportunity and then the Natural State. The moment I stumbled across this original nickname, I knew I had to resurrect it as my title, and I’m thankful my publishing team agreed.

I hope the title introduces readers to the enduring theme of the book, which is the sense of wonder that my characters experience naturally as teenagers and need to reconnect with as adults. And the interplay of “state” as both a state of mind and a geographic territory appeals to my love of puns.

What's in a name?

My protagonist is named Jadelynne. I notice that writers tend to choose unusually elegant or beautiful names for their main characters, which makes sense. Writers are an artistic bunch, and you have to spend a lot of time with your character’s name … why not name them Julian, Penelope, Cassandra?

But I wanted to give Jadelynne a name that reads as more common, less poetic. And she shortens it to Jay, trying to remove herself from her roots. In contrast, the twins who move in from out of town are named Hilma and Max after visual artists, which is the kind of highbrow name Jay envies.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self would probably be shocked that I’m writing about the Arkansas Ozarks. Just like Jay, in my book, hesitates to use Arkansas as source material in her visual art.

In other ways, though, I think my teenage self would love that I’m writing a novel that incorporates portals, magic, and otherworldly houses. It wasn’t until my twenties that I started agonizing over whether I was writing work that was “serious” enough, which wasn’t good for my creativity. My teenage self was still caught in the unabashed childhood love of fantasy that has, thankfully, worked its way back to the surface.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings and endings are equally easy for me … they’re the bookends that keep me grounded. It’s the middle that gets me.

In the case of The Wonder State, I knew I wanted to begin with the perspective of Brandi Addams, the character whose vanishing pulls the other characters back to their hometown. I had an early, clear vision of Brandi walking alone through the Ozarks forests, seeking a mysterious house, and that’s exactly how the published book begins.

And the ending was the bright beacon that was pulling me through the complicated parts in the middle of the story. The exact mechanics shifted around, but I actually cried when I wrote the final scene because I was so happy to have arrived right where I wanted to (no spoilers).

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

In a word: houses. I’ve always been curious about the houses in my own neighborhoods, or in any town or city I visit. This book is a love letter to the many, many houses that I’ve never set foot inside, but that have made a home inside my imagination.
Visit Sara Flannery Murphy's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possessions.

The Page 69 Test: The Possessions.

--Marshal Zeringue