Traditionally Published Children's Book Author
Heather Murphy Capps
Debut MG Coming Out April 2023
INDIGO & IDA
Welcome Readers & Writers & Creative Folk,
I'm happy to announce another debut MG author, Heather Murphy Capps, to the Teazurs Blog! She's debuting in 2023, along with a few of her pals. What a great group of writers! Let's cheer them on to writing success.
Enjoy her interview...
Heather, we met through a mutual author - and newly interviewed on the blog Matt McMann - you’re the 2023 debut author group. Congrats! What’s that like being in such a group? How do you all help each other?
Thank you so much, Angie, and thanks also for the chance to get to know you and your readers. I love our “MG in ‘23” group – we’re such a supportive, positive collection of writers. We have a vibrant chat going on at all hours of the day and night (across many time zones!) on a Discord server that was established by Isi Hendrix (ADIA KELBARA AND THE CIRCLE OF SHAMANS, FALL 2023), and we’re forever grateful to her for carving out a space for MG writers within the larger (also fabulous!) group of 2023 debut writers.
We help each other with so many things, including boosting social media posts and giving advice about planning school visits. We promote, read, and review each other’s ARCs, and we bond over life in general and the emotional rollercoaster that is being a debut author, and we’ve really gotten to be a nice, cohesive group.
You write about history, social justice, science & magic - wow! Do these subjects all show up in one book? What gets you ready and excited to write about these interests?
It’s quite a collection of interests, isn’t it! Typically, my social justice and history books have an element of magical realism to them, which is a literary technique used in narratives told by and about marginalized or oppressed communities. A hallmark of magical realism is that slightly magical events are a normal part of a character’s story and are part of the way they protect their emotional or physical well-being. This is *not* the same as elements of outright magic, which I also love and often include in my books that have science themes to them. (For more on the distinction between magic and magical realism, see my website: heathermurphycapps.com)
I get excited about a book the more I learn about the topic, whether it’s a moment or person in history or a fascinating scientific concept that has caught my interest.
I’m a research dweeb—
love to dig in and learn more, and as I do, my characters find their shapes, and my plot develops.
You are excited about publishing diverse books. Why? Why should kids read outside their ways of being, or race, social norms, etc.?
I am passionate about encouraging all children to read widely outside their bubble and making it easy for them to do so. I think by now, most people are familiar with the Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop quote about books being windows, sliding glass doors, and mirrors for children to connect with worlds both like and unlike their own. Without these opportunities to see outside their own communities, it is easy for anyone to believe the rest of the world looks, acts, and thinks like you. When your life is insular like that, it’s also easy to begin believing that your way is “right” instead of just one option among many.
What’s more, when children can see people who look like them in the books they read, they feel validated and seen, which is crucial for self-confidence and a sense of belonging to an inclusive world.
You were a journalist first, before a fiction writer. How does journalism help you when writing about fiction? Going from researching and telling the truth to making stuff up - what’s that been like for you?
I’m grateful for the skill I honed as a journalist to explain complex or nuanced subjects. For example, when I write about science, I have to understand the scientific concept I am writing about (not easy since I am not a scientist myself!), but obviously, I have to write in a way that is accessible (and interesting) to non-scientists.
The thing that wasn’t so easy to transition from was the brevity of television news reports. In television, our stories typically last from one to three minutes – and three is considered REALLY LONG.
So, imagine going from that to writing a 250-page book without any video to help you with visuals. Ha!
You went to an all-women’s college and then taught at an all-boys high school - what did you notice about that? What did you love? What did you hate? Is it good or healthy to separate genders for learning?
Transitioning from an all-women’s college in Pennsylvania to an all-boy’s high school in East Africa (Kenya) was definitely interesting. I did have a coed element to my undergraduate experience (from a neighboring college) but it was nothing like being surrounded 24/7 by a bunch of teenage boys not to mention living in a world/culture/primary language that wasn’t what I’d grown up with. Talk about a learning curve!
That said, the cliché about my students teaching me more than I taught them most definitely rings true for me. My students were far more mature than I was. They were from a poor, rural community where opportunities to rise in economic status were few and far between. Education was one pathway, but even those opportunities were limited, so the boys were very focused on trying to be one of the few who made it in spite of the odds. As a privileged American, I witnessed and deeply respected their appreciation for education—which my peers and I largely took for granted.
Is there value to separating the genders for education? That’s a tough question, and it’s so subjective that I don’t think one answer fits all. In very general terms, though, I will say I think a single-sex educational opportunity for people who identify as female has great potential. Single-sex classrooms can foster a supportive, encouraging environment that inspires the confidence to be academically competitive, creative, and high-achieving. While our culture has evolved significantly since I was a college student in terms of honoring and amplifying female voices, it’s still true that often women get talked over in class or are called on less frequently than their male counterparts.
You are a biracial being - how has this helped or hindered your writing career? Anything we should know about being biracial that would make the world a better place?
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out how to navigate my racial identity as an African American and Irish American.
My looks are just enough of a blend of both races to sometimes confer privilege and other times make me feel unsafe, depending on where in the country or the world I am. I’ve spent years being exhausted by people who need to know specifically what race I am before learning anything else about me (or assuming I’m not American because of my looks). I’ve been flabbergasted by people who felt comfortable assuming I was the nanny when I was shepherding my (light-skinned) children around town. Not sure I have the answers to making the world a better place (other than publishing more diverse books!), but I sure would love to live in a world that made fewer assumptions and was less judgmental.
I’m fortunate to be building a writing career during a time when there is more focus on the importance of diversity than ever before. I am grateful to organizations like We Need Diverse Books for their tireless advocacy in helping authors like me be more visible and valuable to publishers.
What is the blog - Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-grade Authors about? Why should we read it?
From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors is the book blog I help administer and publish! We are a team of regular contributors who post articles about writing craft, book lists, issues of interest in the publishing world, and author interviews. We do not do book reviews, but we get a chance to dive into process and inspiration with so many wonderful authors. I think readers get a chance to learn more about the people who write the books they are enjoying or discover new authors.
Among our many regular features are two that really differentiate us: We Need Diverse MG (WNDMG) and STEM Tuesday.
WNDMG is a series I started two years ago, deriving the name from the We Need Diverse Books organization. We run the second Wednesday of every month, and our mission is to amplify the voices of creators of color and diversity issues in publishing.
STEM Tuesday has a team that posts wide-ranging STEM-based articles every Tuesday.
Both series have dedicated followers, which is exciting.
You love magic - if you could have any magical power, even one you make up - what would that be?
Teleporting! I would love to be able to get from one place to another in the blink of an eye. I guess that’s probably more of a superpower than magical power, but I’m going with it anyway. 😊
Your debut book, Indigo and Ida, is coming out in April 2023 - why did you write this book? What is your favorite part of it? And why should we buy it?
INDIGO AND IDA is my fifth book—and I always like to be clear about this because I think new writers often get frustrated if their first book doesn’t do well. I’d been writing for nearly seven years when I finally had something that was well done enough to garner attention.
I wrote this book because I wanted to investigate what it looks like to discover what we all must discover at some point while growing up: some friendships last a lifetime, and others don’t. I also wanted to explore themes of race and bias that our country can’t seem to resolve—it was painfully instructive to see that many of the issues Ida B. Wells dealt with and commented on in her lifetime haven’t evolved at all. Not even a little bit.
And finally, I wanted to carve out my own place within the African American literary tradition that illustrates the “double consciousness” (a term coined by W.E.B. DuBois) and what it means to be brave enough to use your public voice to speak up about uncomfortable truths.
How did you land your agent? Any advice for querying?
My agent is the amazing Shannon Hassan with Marsal Lyon Literary. She and I joined forces after the Pitch Wars 2020 showcase. I had admired her for years, so I was thrilled when she was interested in working with me after reading INDIGO AND IDA.
The best advice I have for querying is to be thoughtful about reaching out to agents who are specifically looking for elements in your manuscript. It’s not worth your time to just throw a million queries into the wind without researching who is looking for what. The Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL on Twitter) website is invaluable as a starting point, as is social media.
And, of course, the fundamental truth is you have to keep writing, improving your craft, and keeping faith in yourself.
This is a difficult business to break into. Even if you don’t get an agent with your first book, you might with your second or following books.
Also—and I can’t emphasize this enough—connect with other writers. (Like we did!) My writing friends are such a wonderful source of humor, perspective, feedback, and support, and I’m a better writer because of them. I encourage all writers to find their writing groups and lean on each other!
You have book lists on your website - did you read all of these? Which list is the genre you love the most and why?
I have read ALMOST all of them. A few of them are by authors in my debut cohort and haven’t been published yet, but I have those ARCs on my TBR! I love contemporary and historical fiction, with a close second of magical realism, thrillers, and some fantasy.
Do you belong to SCBWI? Why should others join?
Yes, I belong to SCBWI – it’s an invaluable resource for all kidlit creators, and I strongly encourage joining. You can connect with other creators, stay abreast of changes in publishing, and attend their amazing conferences, which are always jam-packed with terrific learning, networking, and collaborating opportunities.
Who is your biggest cheerleader?
I’m so lucky to have lots of cheerleaders. My family and several groups of lifelong friends and writer friends are always there to cheer and celebrate and also to pick me up when things get tough, which happens in this challenging business. I am so grateful for their love and boundless support.
Any final thoughts?
I am excited to tell everyone that my publisher, Lerner/Carolrhoda Books, will be launching a terrific preorder campaign in February to coordinate with Black History Month. I really hope readers will be interested in preordering INDIGO AND IDA so they can receive their own copy the day it publishes! To preorder, you can go here: https://linktr.ee/hmcwrites
Stay in touch with the amazing Heather Murphy Capps:
Author of INDIGO AND IDA (Carolrhoda Books/Lerner, April 2023)
Twitter and Insta: @HMCWrites
Wow, Heather! Thank you for a great interview packed full of helpful writing tips. Count me in as one of your cheerleaders! I look forward to reading Indigo and Ida!
And if you are a writer, agent, publisher, or bookish person and would like to be interviewed, please email me at angazur@gmail .com
Until we meet again,
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