Paul Mosier is the husband of Keri and the father of daughter Eleri. His younger daughter, Harmony, passed away from rhabdomyosarcoma on May 2, 2018.
Mosier is the author of Breakfast at Tuli’s (2013), Story Girl (2015), Train I Ride (2017), and Echo’s Sister (2018), about a girl whose younger sister suffers from cancer. His latest book, Summer and July, comes out July 7, 2020.
Mosier graciously agreed to share his writing process with ARHtistic License.
What is your day job? How do you find time to write? Do you write every day?
My day job has been proprietor of Invest Green, helping people who want their investments to reflect their concern for the environment and issues of social justice. I have been stepping away from it over the last few years, and this time next year will no longer be giving any time to it. I feel really lucky to have had a day job that is interesting and rewarding, and to have had clients who have felt like friends to me, but the muse is unrelenting, and answering her call is where my heart is. My green investing gig has been a profession that I have largely been able to choose how much time to devote to it, beginning with my first Nanowrimo in November 2011, and in the last couple of years I have only been servicing existing clients a few hours per week. I do write or engage in related activities essentially every day, with the exception of when I am traveling on holiday. Even on those days it’s in my head.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a pantser, though even pantsers have to plot eventually. I used to be hostile to plotting in advance, but I’m softening with practice.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I think inspiration comes from the muse, though she takes on different guises. I usually don’t write about things which resemble my own life, with the exception of Echo’s Sister, but even there, most people who experience cancer don’t experience it as a novel. When I look at what I’ve written and cannot explain where it came from, when I look at it and think that I cannot have done something so smart and lovely and unexpected, that’s when my belief in the muse is reaffirmed. I’m just one of her instruments. Perhaps you can relate.
Why do you write for kids?
After writing two novels for grown-ups, my older daughter Eleri was asking when she could read them. I thought rather than waiting for her to age into them I’d try to write one for her age range. That became Story Girl, which I self-published after a couple dozen agents passed on it. I was unknown at the time, but think it’s pretty solid. It was an amazing experience to read the last two chapters aloud to the girl I had written it for. Reading children’s lit to both of my daughters taught me that I could write for that age with the emotional depth necessary to have a rewarding artistic experience. Specifically, Kevin Henkes’ quiet, poetic Junonia pushed me to giving it a try. I read very little as a kid, between Go, Dog, Go! and Heart of Darkness for AP lit in high school. I still read very little compared to almost all writers, but I try to read well when I do. Lastly, I feel very connected to my own childhood, like it’s close enough for me to touch. I have a freak show memory.
How long does it take you to write a book?
They get a little easier the more tools I have sharpened, but generally for a middle grade book, a few to several months for a first draft. That of course is only the beginning, but there is a lot of waiting with what comes after the first draft.
Paul Mosier with daughter Harmony
What types of books do you like to read? What authors do you admire?
I have said that I have a fondness for southern and Latin American literature and their use of magical realism, because if you’re gonna tell lies, they might as well be good lies. That said, I’ve been in a realistic middle grade fiction contract with HarperCollins. My favorite work is The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, but I’ve also loved Salinger, Vonnegut, Marquez. But I think I am more inspired by poets and lyricists than other novelists. I’m constantly embedding lines and lyrics.
What is your favorite book about writing?
I have almost zero experience studying the craft, which I know is setting myself up for the comment of “it shows.” I’ve not taken any writing classes, aside from one day of fiction writing in college before dropping the class. I guess I have read things such as Aristotle’s poetics. I was recently recommended The Magic Words, by a woman named Cheryl Klein who is an editor, and I thought it had some useful stuff. But I cannot read a book like that from front to back. There’s something wrong with my brain.
What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?
The most fun part of writing a book is perhaps being surprised by it, being carried by it, laughing and crying at the words coming out. I don’t feel like the creator of a novel so much as the first person to experience it, and experiencing it as I give birth to it is magical. The most rewarding part is connecting with people you haven’t met, having them tell you what your words meant to them. Thinking of what is most difficult certainly falls into the category of First World Problems, and the sort of problems that many of my talented writer friends wish were their own, but wrestling with the story editor at one’s publisher might be the most difficult. Or waiting to see the fruit of your labor.
What sort of research did you do for Train I Ride? Did you take Rydr’s journey?
My little family and I had taken most of the route described in the story in the summer of 2014, and I wrote the first draft in spring of 2015. So I’m sure I would not have written the story if not for having taken the trip from Flagstaff to Chicago and back, though the immediate impetus was the first line of Elvis Presley’s song “Mystery Train” running through my head. Aside from that I had to spend a little time on Amtrak’s website, and looking at timetables to know what my protag would see if she looked out the window. But the trains are subject to significant delays, and I found it necessary to buy myself extra hours with a meteorological event.
How did writing Echo’s Sister help you deal with your daughter’s illness?
Echo’s Sister was a helpful way to process what we were experiencing, how to find the beauty and meaning in it. Also, as the big sister is the narrator, it gave me another reason to consider the uniquely difficult experience of my older daughter. Really, I think every novel and art activity is about finding the beauty and meaning in what we are experiencing in life. Writing novels is how I arrive at feeling.
Who is your agent, and how did you connect?
My agent is Katie Grimm of the Don Congdon agency. Our relationship is new, after parting ways with my first agent, Wendy Schmalz, a few months ago. After parting ways with Wendy I was afraid that nobody in the industry would ever say yes to me again. Katie had rejected a query of mine several years ago, but this time around she said it was so good to hear from me. She had been a fan of Train I Ride. That’s a nice development. Katie was on my short list of hoped-for agents, and I appreciated that she had previously repped at least one MG novel concerning baseball, as my next novel has baseball as its vehicle. My first three novels I had rejections or ignores from 150, 36 and 24 agents respectively. Train I Ride I sent to twenty, with very little hope, and only one asked to see it. Within a couple months I had a multi book deal with HarperCollins.
Your upcoming book deals with two girls who have a crush on each other. What do you hope your readers take away from Summer and July?
That’s an interesting question. I hope they laugh and cry and want to listen to the Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds” and learn to surf. I hope that readers will feel an awful lot, and fall in love with the characters, and read it repeatedly and feel like it was the wildest, happiest summer they ever spent, even though it was experienced vicariously through two girls in a novel. I expect that the nature of the crush will bring some criticism, for the fact that it’s between two girls, or for my being a middle aged man writing a crush between two girls, or because I got it all wrong. To which I’d answer they fell for each other without any help from me. It doesn’t take any real bravery to write about such a crush today, and I’d like to thank the folks who wrote about same sex love and crushes in decades past, when it meant making their own lives considerably more difficult. I cannot wait to share that book with the world.
What’s up next?
Next up is Thirty Parks, a story about a girl named Lefty whose father takes her on a tour of all 30 Major League Baseball parks in a desperate attempt at repairing their relationship. I’m ironing it out while giving consideration to some of my agent’s ideas– she’s pretty hands-on, and good with plot, whereas my strengths are character and voice– and then she’ll take it to market in September. Summer and July is my last book with Harper, as I was having a hard time seeing eye to eye with my story editor, though I’m grateful for the books we made together. So Thirty Parks will have a different home. It’s a strange development that I haven’t a particle of doubt that it’ll find a publisher that I’m happy with.
Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?
My brain doesn’t organize info that way so much, but one that comes to mind is when I was at the ALA school librarians annual conference, and I had a librarian shoot video of me telling Jonathan Sonnenblick, author of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, that I had written the cancer book (Echo’s Sister) that was going to make people forget his cancer book (Drums etc.) Of course I was only kidding, and we traded books. The MG Lit world is filled with incredibly nice and supportive authors. I really feel lucky to be a part of the community.
What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?
I’d like for readers to know how grateful I am that they want to read what I’ve written, and that when they throw the words back at me and tell me what the story has meant to them, it’s an indescribably wonderful feeling. To share experiences and feelings with readers is the best thing about writing novels.
Learn more about Paul Mosier on his author website and by reading his books.