Devin Murphy’s debut novel is out one week from today on Tuesday, September 5. He’s another on of my fellow 17Scribes authors who I am happy to introduce to you with today’s interview. Pre-order The Boat Runner now or find it in stores next week.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
I’m a creative writing professor so am lucky to talk with aspiring writers on a daily basis. I often point them to Nathanial Hawthorne’s classic short story, The Mechanical Butterfly. In this story a watchmaker devotes his life to the creation of something remarkable. There comes a point in the story where he holds up his cupped hands to the other characters and lets go of a beautiful butterfly that lifts from his palms and does its flittering dance about the room. Then, mere moments later, the delicate insect gets swatted and smashed to the ground, where it is exposed as simply gears and wires, not this amazing living creature. When the secondary characters, and reader, think the watchmaker must be as distraught as any human could be, having his lifework and masterpiece destroyed, he essentially shrugs it off.
I would tell aspiring writers to study this moment. The moment that craftsman, artist, and not so subtly hinted at writer which Hawthorne appears to be speaking to is faced with defeat, shrugs off the loss of his work, saying: I’ll do others. I’ve learned from this. There is more work to do. That last one no longer matters. What comes next is important.
Aspiring writers should write and write a lot. Put everything into each piece. Learn from each. There is no controlling how each will be received, praised or flattened. So consider yourself as the work in progress, not one solitary piece of art. This will keep you on the path you aspire to.
What was your childhood dream? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a professional soccer player. Was that a thing back then? No. Was that going to stop me? No. Was I a good soccer player? No.
When I was 12 my dad bought me a book of poems about sports, edited by George Plimpton. In that book I read a poem about Pele, the Brazilian soccer legend. There was a line about him being so good at this game that if you passed him the sun, he would cage it in the back of the net. That image stunned me. It was an awaking to metaphor, the possibility of language, and that it was okay for aspiring professional soccer players to look for beauty in the world. After that, language was my new love and I was going to be…..a professional language user? Was that a thing?
When you think back to your childhood dreams for your adult life, did any of them turn out like you imagined?
No. I still suck at soccer.
The professional language user though, well… that was much, much harder than I could have ever imagined, requiring the sort of methodical, day to day labor over a lifetime. However it is starting to turn a corner for me, and I feel I’m building something of substance on top of the piles of work I’ve done reaching all the way back to being a kid who first fell in love with language.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I almost went pro as a soccer player.
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
Yes. Twice. Once caused a fight. I took that to mean I should have written the scene in question better.
The second isn’t quite along the lines of your question, but close enough: My dad read a story of mine about a mentally unbalanced woman and thought, “Oh, no! Devin’s wife is in trouble.” No. No. I assure you, she is the sane one in our marriage. I just had to train my dad up on how a fiction writer’s mind works, and that this story he read is not me, or my life, but a fabrication I’m constructing to get at something I find interesting, odd, or beautiful. This is my latest attempt to make gears and wire flutter. It’s making a leap with language—taking the sun from the sky, dribbling it between your feet, and facing the net before you strike!
About the book
The Boat Runner, is a sweeping story of a wealthy Dutch family, industrious owners of a light bulb factory in a small town, whose world is upended over the course the WWII Nazi occupation. As the family struggles to stay whole, we follow the youngest son through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, as he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life forever. This is a novel that explores the true cost of war and questions what national borders really mean when weighed against a single human heart.
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