Emily Murdoch’s debut novel, If You Find Me, is a touching story of a young girl’s triumph over unimaginable circumstances. Told from the first person point of view of Carey, a teenage girl who has been forced by circumstance to live in a camper in the woods raising herself and her little sister, it is the kind of story that produces both the sad and happy cries, and leaves you feeling satisfied with the journey at the end. Ms. Murdoch was kind enough to talk to me a little bit about how If You Find Me came about, the book’s thoughtfully realistic relationship between Carey and her sister, and Carey’s strong and unique voice. Read on for the interview.
The Daily Quirk: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Emily Murdoch: I’ve always been a writer, without question or thought. I started writing poems and stories in Kindergarten, and never stopped.
TDQ: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not writing?
EM: In the outside world. Out of my head. With my animals and family. I also love to read.
TDQ: Where did the inspiration for If You Find Me come from?
EM: One night, I happened to watch two news magazine stories back-to-back on parental abduction and alienation. One was the story of four-year-old Sean Goldman. American-born Sean was abducted by his Brazilian-born mother and taken to Brazil, leading to an international custody battle. I ached for his father, David Goldman, left behind in America, desperate to get his child back.
TDQ: How long did it take to go from inspiration, to completed book, to published novel?
EM: Everything with this novel happened at the speed of light. The stars lined up. At least, that’s how it felt. If You Find Me was my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) ‘10. I wrote it in 24 days.
I had the idea of “parentally abducted girl isolated in the woods returns to civilization”, and I proceeded from there. I don’t outline, nor do I know what the story will be from day to day. That’s the gloriousness of it. I just sit down and let the story tell itself.
I put the draft aside while revising another manuscript, and afterward, I went back to If You Find Me, reading it through three more times to revise and polish.
My agent, Mandy Hubbard, read both manuscripts and offered representation a few days later. We chose If You Find Me to submit first. I revised a little more, and then the novel went out on submission at the end of November, 2011. We had notice of interest within a week, and an offer a week after that, and then another, and another. I think it was four altogether, from both YA and adult editors at the Big Six. It became an informal auction, and in the end, my editor, Jennifer Weis, made the winning bid on behalf of St. Martin’s Press on December 19th, 2011, from a cab in NYC on the way to a Christmas party (I like to imagine a light snowfall out the cab window and a plate of homemade gingerbread men with icing smiles balanced on her lap, but I digress.). It was an amazing time. And now my novel is ready to enter the world officially on March 26th, 2013.
TDQ: Carey’s first person point of view really opens the eyes of the reader to how many things they take for granted. Each time she described simple joys like taking a hot shower and climbing into a cozy bed I remember feeling a great sadness for her- the opposite of her experience. I found it really impressive that you were able to make me as a reader have that kind of response. Was it your intention to subtlety clue in the reader to the level of neglect she suffered by making her talk about how much she appreciated these things, rather than dwelling on the absence of them in the past?
EM: What you’re seeing is the man behind the curtain, so to speak.
I believe we can concentrate on what we have and be grateful for all the blessings, or concentrate on the lack, and spend our time miserable. We’re always simultaneously blessed and lacking no matter what we do or don’t have at any given moment.
Even during the hardest times in my own life, I’ve always felt simultaneously lucky. My maladies were wrinkles that could be ironed out. As long as we’re alive, there’s hope.
Transferring this philosophy to Carey, she learned to make do with what she had, such as her heart and her capacity to love (Jenessa), her own hands (violin, hunting) and her fertile mind filled with the words of great writers (her books).
Her hands, heart, and mind were full. In Carey’s experience, the rest is surplus. A reason to celebrate.
TDQ: I also loved your use of language. Carey’s reminding herself to use certain words and self consciousness about how she comes across added a vulnerability to the tough exterior she portrayed. How did you decide how Carey would “sound” or “speak”? Did you write her thoughts first and then edit them to fit her, or did her words come to you how she would speak them?
EM: Thank you! Carey’s words just came to me in her peculiar southern dialect, in a voice that’s a mixture of tough and prideful, wounded and wistful. I did almost no editing of her dialogue. Her voice is a hybrid of her backwater, violin-playing mother and the way poets and writers “speak” in books. She knows it makes her sound funny, but it’s all she knows.
I remain amazed at how real she’s always sounded and felt, and by how much she has to say. I used to smile when writers remarked about characters talking inside their heads. Not anymore, except to laugh at myself!
TDQ: The relationship between Carey and Jenessa is beautifully written, with Jenessa a full fleshed out character and not just there for Carey to be worried about. Where did you draw the inspiration for their sisterly bond from?
EM: Sometimes we can do for others what we can’t do for ourselves. Like a mother lifting a car off of her toddler. You do what you have to, for the love of another — even the impossible. Carey lost her childhood and her innocence, and in her mind, it became that much more important to preserve Nessa’s childhood and innocence.
I’ve always gravitated toward the gritty as a writer, because there’s so much to learn there. But I also knew if I was going to write about life’s darknesses, I needed to write the light (love) into it.
In this case, Jenessa is Carey’s light. Her love.
TDQ: Is there any scene that stands out as having been particularly enjoyable or difficult to write?
EM: The most hard-hitting scene for me emotionally, was writing Carey coming clean. She won’t let her mind go there for most of the book, and you have to respect that, and so we hold our collective breath, even though we have dreadful suspicions. Finally, when she feels safe enough, when Jenessa is safe, the truth comes out, including how it makes her view herself in heartbreaking, fourteen-year-old consequence.
I felt conflicted about writing the truth of what happens to Carey and Nessa. But Carey’s greatest weapon is the truth, as double-edged as it may be. I couldn’t leave her alone with it, and I couldn’t flinch, if she didn’t.
TDQ: If You Find Me was your first published novel. What’s next for you?
EM: There will be a next book, and I’ll have an announcement soon. All I can say in the meantime is that we’re not done with the tissues! Thanks so much, Ashley, for featuring If You Find Me in The Daily Quirk and for helping spread the love for young adult contemporary fiction. It’s been a pleasure spending time with you! Now off I go to feed a vampire to my werewolf.
The Daily Quirk would like to thank Emily Murdoch for taking the time to discuss If You Find Me with us and encourage you all to check the book out when it’s released on March 26, 2013.