5 Questions with M. Molly Backes

Published May 9, 2012 by LS Murphy

M. Molly Backes has taught students of all ages and abilities. As an English teacher in a struggling rural New Mexico school, she designed and taught curricula to a wide spectrum of students, with a close consideration of state and national standards and benchmarks. In honor of National Novel Writing Month, Molly got 150 middle schoolers to write their own novels. As a teacher, she developed classroom writing workshops, pushed for greater emphasis on interdisciplinary writing in core classes, ran trainings for educators in writing workshop implementation, led her school’s Educational Plan for Student Success Goal Team and served as English Department Chair in 2007.

Her YA novel The Princesses of Iowa will be published in Spring 2012 by Candlewick Press. In addition to novels, Molly pens the “Writing Tips” column for The Prairie Wind (the newsletter of the Illinois Chapter of SCBWI), blogs at Bittersweet, has been a guest blogger at Puffery, Brood, and This Wasn’t in the Plan, and is a frequent contributor to StoryStudio’s own blog Cooler by the Lake. Her story “Teacher’s Pet” appears in the anthology Good Dogs Doing Good (LaChance, 2009).

Molly is the Assistant Director at StoryStudio, where she’ll be happy to answer all your questions about life, the universe, and all our classes.

Now on to the FIVE QUESTIONS

1. Congrats on The Princesses of Iowa. How long did it take you from concept to publication?

Thank you! I started working on the first draft in May 2005 — I was supposed to be packing up the house in preparation of a big move, but instead I spent a whole weekend writing the first chapter. So it was seven years from first draft to publication.

2. What was the spark of inspiration for Paige and her journey?

To be honest, I don’t exactly know. I always tell my writing students that the subconscious mind is like a crock pot — you put a bunch of stuff in it, turn on the heat, walk away, and come back to find something cooking and ready. I think the subconscious mind is way smarter than the conscious mind, and it builds bridges between disparate ideas, making connections between moments and images that you’d never link with your conscious mind. So I suppose a lot of random ingredients went into the Princesses of Iowa crockpot — my experiences as a teenager, my time in the classroom surrounded by teenagers, questions about conformity and gender and tolerance and bullying, homesickness for Iowa, etc — and one day the story appeared to me, pretty well formed.

3. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t even think about the market or marketing until your book is a fully formed, finished, polished draft. Don’t worry about building a platform; worry about making sure your book is the best possible book you can write.

4. What is your solution to writer’s block?

Writing. There’s only one solution, and it’s to write. Start a totally new project, write page after page about how much you hate writing and what a talentless loser you are, whatever. Just write. Writing begets writing.

5. Finally, Beatles or Rolling Stones?

“Wild Horses” is one of my favorite songs ever (particularly the cover by The Sundays), but I walked down the aisle to a Beatles song, so I feel like I owe it to my marriage to say The Beatles. 🙂


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