Welcome to Part 3 in a series of conversations with crazy talented author H. P. Wood.
WWWW: What has surprised you most about the business of writing?
HPW: The slowness and inefficiency of the industry continues to surprise me. Occasionally there is a “hot” book where everything comes together very fast, but in general it is a hurry-up-and-wait kind of business. People who profess to like you will nonetheless ignore you for long periods of time, and I do find that very weird and alienating.
WWWW: We know that you are a voracious reader. Which writers’ works have taught you the most valuable writing lessons?
HPW: Stipulating that I am NOT comparing myself IN ANY WAY… John Irving, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, and Erma Bombeck. Yeah, I said it.
WWWW: I adore Erma Bombeck, who doesn’t? (I actually won the Erma Bombeck Human Interest Award a few years back for a piece about ravioli. Yeah, ravioli and my grandmother. Erma gets it, may she rest in peace.) I understand that Magruder was a long time in the making, from head to paper. Where/how/why did the book begin inside your head, and how did you get it out and onto the paper? Who designed the cover and chose the title of the book?
HPW: It began because I got a little fixated on the young woman described in the People’s Almanac, wondering what happened to her. The almanac claimed that she’d gone mad; I thought that was a terrible ending, so I had to make up a better one. And that kind of blended with the London anecdote I just told you: what if the worst thing that ever happened to you is also the best thing that ever happened to you? I mean, this is why so many parents die in children’s books, right? It’s terrible but it’s also a ticket to freedom. It forces you to become who you really are.
The title came from me; the cover came from the publisher. I love the cover, although sometimes it makes people think Magruder’s is a wacky circus book that it is not. I have gotten dinged with a couple of bad reviews because of that. But overall, far more people have picked up the book because of the cover than have been annoyed by it. I am grateful for that.
WWWW: I love both covers! Are your characters inspired at all by people you know?
HPW: Bits and pieces, for sure. But it’s more pastiche than in a direct way. A lot of the characters are aspects of me, to be honest.
WWWW: What surprised you most about switching from nonfiction to fiction?
HPW: The most surprising thing about nonfiction-vs-fiction is going to sound stupid but I swear this is true. After working for so long in reference publishing, where facts are facts, it shocked me to realize that in fiction I could make anything happen I wanted.
What happens is, you write a story in a certain way, but you end up in a blind alley. Something just isn’t working, a plot point doesn’t make sense or a character doesn’t fit. And you think, “Woe is me, what can I do, I’m stuck!!” And you despair and rend your garments over how stuck you are and it will never work and the whole enterprise is doomed.
Then finally a voice whispers, “Just change it, dummy.”
WWWW: Oh, HPW, your natural talents are many, that whispery voice just channels them. In the final part of our interview, expect some honest advice plus info on a upcoming book signing event.