Author Spotlight: Emily Bain Murphy talks The Disappearances
Pardon the squeeing, but today I have author Emily Bain Murphy on the blog! Her debut novel has already been racking up rave reviews. Described by Kirkus as “delightfully whimsical and unsettling . . . a story bursting with color and originality”, The Disappearances has been named a Bookish Must Read YA Book of the Summer, and a Barnes & Noble Teen Most Anticipated Book of the Second Half of 2017. And it's definitely sitting at the top of my TBR! Click here to read the first two chapters posted by HMH Teen.
And now, here's my chat with Emily!
Hi, Emily! Congrats on your debut, The Disappearances ! Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you! The Disappearances is a story about a sixteen-year-old girl named Aila Quinn who moves to a new town after the death of her mother, Juliet, and discovers why her mother never spoke of growing up there. Every seven years, something disappears—the scent of flowers, the stars in the sky, the ability to dream—and no one knows why, but they think Juliet might somehow be to blame. When Aila stumbles upon a breadcrumb trail of clues left behind in Juliet’s old Shakespeare book, she has to use the clues to try to solve the mystery—but it may mean learning things that will change the way she sees her mother forever.
The story was really inspired initially by the idea of the disappearances themselves. When I started writing it, I was spending a lot of time blogging and learning about child trafficking and exploitation and doing some volunteer work with an organization that focuses on prevention and aftercare solutions. I was learning about such dark and bleak things that I had to be very intentional about also seeking out the lovely, beautiful, and magical in the world. At first it was just about trying to stop and notice those things, and then I had the idea—what if those things systematically started to disappear? How would people react, and what would they pay to get them back? What would be causing these disappearances to happen? And the story began to knit into something bigger from there.
Who was your favorite character to write? And which character gave you the most trouble?
I adore the girl who becomes Aila’s good friend, named Beas Fogg. She’s so loyal and lovely and is completely her own person, from inking different lines of poetry above her knee to playing beautiful music on her violin. The most challenging character to write was probably Aila’s mother because she is complex and flawed, and we aren’t hearing any of the story from her perspective. We’re just seeing her through the biased viewpoints and memories of other people. So that was an interesting challenge, sort of like trying to paint an object using only negative space.
Publishers Weekly gave The Disappearances a starred review, calling its world building sumptuous. As a fantasy writer, I’m always interested in world building. Do you have tips for writers who may be struggling to create a cohesive setting?
Thank you so much! This is definitely something I worked at. I’m such a visual person, so it really helps me to find representative images and to make secret Pinterest boards. I pin pictures to capture the feel of the setting and mood I’m trying to evoke—am I going for warm and cozy? Sleek and futuristic? Creepy and atmospheric? Old-time Western? What is everyone wearing? Does that change based on their income level? What currency do they use? What do they eat? Do they have any special dishes they make or unique traditions they celebrate? Because The Disappearances takes place during a real historical time period, there were certain boundaries I had to function within to be historically accurate, but at the same time, that could be helpful—like a set of girders already in place for a building. I did a lot of research on specific slang used at the time, what popular music they were listening to in the U.S. that year, what headlines were in the newspapers, what styles were fashionable, and even samples of advertisements that would hang in the train stations about brands of sugar. I think it can be helpful to sit down and ask yourself a lot of specific questions so you can get a real vision for your world before (and during) your drafting. My agent would ask me to do homework assignments, like draw a map of the town, and even print off a calendar and write down what events were happening on what day. The more specifics you can nail down, the more that world will start to feel three-dimensional and alive, and something you can walk around in and populate with your characters.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it ?
Just getting that full first draft down can be so hard for me, because I’m such a perfectionist and I want it to come pouring out perfectly. Instead, I find that when I write stories, it’s sort of like baking a cake with a lot of layers. By the time I get to the end—aka, the top layer—the cake is usually starting to lean dangerously to one side or it’s already fallen over, and it never looks quite how I wanted it to. But I just need to bake those layers anyway, and then I can take a step back and see what needs to be fixed and adjusted. I need actual material to get my hands on, not just air. Then I keep going back, remixing ingredients and playing with portions and getting other “taste-testers,” if you will, until the end result gets closer and closer. All the reader sees is the end product—but there was a lot of messy work that went into it before it turned out that way!
There are many vanishings in The Disappearances. Without giving any spoilers, what’s the biggest difference between the published version vs. your earlier drafts? Did anything you love have to ‘vanish’ in revisions?
So much changed! But that was a good thing, because I know that every revision made it better. I took out or reworked characters, invented a sport and got rid of it, changed the narrative perspective from third person to first, and changed the entire ending. I did love all of those things at one point, and a few of my darlings were painful to kill off, but at the end of the day, I really don’t miss any of them—because this is the way the book was supposed to turn out, and I love it.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
I just finished ILLUMINAE and GEMINA and I am eagerly awaiting the third book in the installment, OBSIDIO. I absolutely loved Anna Priemaza’s upcoming KAT AND MEG CONQUER THE WORLD. I’m currently reading WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon, THE COLOR PROJECT by Sierra Abrams, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee, and I just got my hands on WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER, by my all-time favorite, Leigh Bardugo.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
Holding my finished book in my hands was so amazing, but I think even more than that, the most rewarding experience I’ve had so far is finding “my people.” I’ve gotten to know other authors and bloggers and readers in this community, and it’s so life-giving to be surrounded by others who love reading and the magic of books as much as I do. I have a couple of emails I’ve saved from a few readers in particular who told me that after all those years of work, I’d written something that they just needed to read at that exact moment in their lives. I think that will be the pinnacle—and honestly, anything else that happens after this is just gravy.
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you would give to other writers ?
Don’t give up! Celebrate every little success you see—finishing a draft, feeling good about a revision, signing with an agent—because it will help you get through the rough patches. And find your people. By that I mean someone who loves your writing and also won’t let you rest on something that is merely good, but will make you dig down deep to find the real gold that will set it apart. That might be an agent or a friend or a critique group or writing instructor. This journey needs equal parts support, encouragement, and pushing—and as it turns out, writing a book is more of a team sport than I ever could have guessed before I did it.
Thank you for having me and The Disappearances on the blog! I appreciate it so much and I enjoyed being here with you.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Emily as much as I did! I want to thank her for taking the time to craft such thoughtful answers to these questions, as well as sharing actionable tips for creating three-dimensional worlds. Be sure to add Emily's mysterious debut to your Goodreads list, or order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
And don't forget! The Disappearances is a featured title in the #BookRave giveaway for July! The rafflecopter for #BookRave opens on July 12, so be sure to enter for a chance to win this amazing new release from Emily Bain Murphy! For more info, see the post here: Get Raving for #BookRave in July!
If you benefited from any of the advice Emily gave in her interview, or if you just can't contain your excitement for The Disappearances, please hop on over to Twitter to tweet Emily directly at @EBain. And for more information, check out her lovely author website at emilybainmurphy.com.
And, as always,