Last summer I took a writing class taught by the super awesome Molly Backes at the Story Studio in Chicago. Besides being a great writing teacher, Molly is also a super-talented author. Her voice will draw you into her stories right away, and you will be in awe of her totally flawed, compelling characters. Her newest book Princesses of Iowa was released last May and is a must read. So enough rambling. Here’s my interview with the fab Molly Backes:
What inspired you to write The Princesses of Iowa?
MB: I can’t point to one particular moment or thought that inspired the book – as I always tell my students, the subconscious mind is like a crockpot: you dump a lot of ingredients in, let it simmer for a while, and come back to find a mean (or sometimes just a mess). I was teaching 7th and 8th grade English in rural New Mexico when I started the book, so the Princessess crockpot has a lot of middle school angst and thoughts about conformity, identity, and girlhood, as well as a healthy does of homesickness for the Midwest.
The characters are so real and riddled with compelling imperfections. Are any of the characters based on real people you know?
MB: Thank you! I stold some of Mr. Tremont’s best lines (and lesson plans) from writing teachers I’ve had, and filled in the rest with my own teaching voice – one reader told me she thought “Hey, he stole that from Molly!” as she was reading – but the rest of the characters are totally fictional. I did work intentionally to give them all flaws, so thank you for noticing!
Your main character lives in Paris for a summer and works as an au pair before the story starts. Have you ever been to Paris or were you an au pair in Paris and if not, would you totally kill to go there?
MB: I spent a few days there when I was seventeen, but most of it was spent either mooning around Shakespeare’s Books or curled up with my journal in the Jardin du Luxembourg, alternately writing about the people around me and obsessing about my college application essays. No babysitting involved!
What made you decide to be a fiction writer?
MB: Wether or not to be a writer was never a decision – I’ve never felt I had much choice in the matter. I did, however, consciously shift my focus from writing poetry to writing fiction about ten years ago, in part because I’d heard it was tough to make a living as a poet (and writing fiction is so lucrative, haha).
You are such an awesome writing teacher. What do you think is the most important thing young writers should know about the craft of fiction writing?
MB: Thank you! I read something years ago about a writer’s apprenticeship being a million words on the page, and I still think about that a lot. You have to write a lot. We’re a very impatient culture, and we’re a culture that celebrates youth and prodigy and early success, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the rush to publish. I have met so many young writers who tell me they MUST be published before they turn 25, and high school students who ask me about how to get an agent. Publishing is fine, but publishing isn’t the point. The point is writing. The writing is what matters. Focus on the writing, and the rest will come in time.
Finally, are you teaching any classes for young writers over at the Story Studio in Winnetka or Chicago this summer or in the fall?
MB: I’ll be teaching my Advanced Young Adult and Children’s Writing Workshop, as well as an Intro to the YA Novel and a class called “Start your Novel Now” in the fall, all classes for adults. I’m not personally teaching classes for young folks these days, but Story Studio is running some week-long writing camps as well as some single-session classes for kids in grads 6-10 at our Winnetka location.
Oh, and how is your best-ever dog?
MB: She’s the best. As ever. 🙂