Hometown Memories

Author Will Hold Virtual Event Today At Lakewood Library

Devin Murphy is not afraid of a challenge.

The author points outs that sometimes writing may involve tapping into memories in his own life. For that reason, Murphy loves writing.

“I love the challenge of the work. There’s always a problem to figure out or a surprise that comes from thinking about a story intensity over a long period of time,” Murphy said. “When I finish a story, even one I’ve worked on for years, I read it and think, where did that come from? How did I do that? I think that means I write into the mysteries and curiosities of my own life, which is really rewarding and educational.”

Fiction and nonfiction are Murphy’s main focus. “I’ve written some awful poetry too,” the author said. He writes short stories, essays, articles, and for the last few years has focused on novels, including his new book “Tiny Americans.”

When some writers get ideas, they may start writing down their thoughts to shape and sort out scenes and chapters. For Murphy, it’s a bit different. His ideas need to percolate.

“For a long time I thought novelists had novels come to them fully formed in some type of mental lighting strike. That is not the case for me,” he added. “An idea tends to need to ferment inside me for a long time, and gather many other ideas around it, until a critical mass is reached and I can see the borders of the world I can work in. Those ideas come from my own life, what I read, or imagine all blending together.”

Murphy will admit that he follows a path for developing his novels that has evolved over time.

“My process keeps changing as my life keeps changing. I started my first novel before I had children, so time was easier to come by, and in retrospect, I probably squandered too much of it,” the author noted. “Once I started writing my novel I made a big mess of the draft. I had to keep going back to it over and over for years to get it right. I’d read the manuscript for voice, character development, and for plot. I kept going back with some new tool in hand to edit. It became a matter of endurance and grit, and this layered approach to writing has become my process. I now have three kids and teach, so my writing time each day depends on what time is available to me. I try to be OK with this, as I have faith a little bit of work, over a long period of time, adds up.”

Murphy grew up in Olean in a family with Dutch roots. He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from St. Bonaventure University, a master’s of fine arts degree from Colorado State University, and a doctorate from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Murphy is an assistant professor of creative writing at Bradley University, and has worked various jobs in national parks around the country.

He once had a three-year stint at sea that led him to more than 50 countries on all seven continents. His fiction has appeared in over 60 literary journals and anthologies, including “The Missouri Review,” “Glimmer Train,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “New Stories from the Midwest,” and “Confrontation.” He lives with his wife and children in Chicago.

While Murphy’s debut novel, “The Boat Runner,” was set in a World War II era Dutch town, “Tiny Americans” brought Murphy back to his hometown. In “Tiny Americans,” local readers may enjoy references to Chautauqua Lake, the Buffalo Bills, the power of family, and the struggles of trying to figure out what being a family really means.

Murphy said he worked on “Tiny Americans” for many years through many revisions.

“Too many revisions to count,” Murphy added. “Really. I worked on this book for years. It started as individual stories. Then my agent told me to focus on one place, so I chose Western New York, where I grew up. Then my editor said, focus on one family, so I chose the Thurber family. Once I had that limited scope, I wanted to find a way to make a mosaic of a fractured family that showed the love and kindness between them, but also the breaks and disconnects. It took a long time to find a unique shape and structure to present this family in the way that felt most authentic to me.”

Following the writing process — brainstorming, rough draft, revising and editing, and publishing — can be a difficult task, but Murphy said it is essential for a writer to follow that process.

“You write first to learn what you are trying to say. Once you go back enough to really know what that is, you have to figure out how to give your reader an experience, opposed to telling them a story. That is the hard work. But if you think of it as a process, and not an immediate work of genius, you can keep at it until it works,” he added.

At Bradley University, Bradley teaches his students the process of going back to their drafts with new questions and new tools. “They are always producing amazing work,” he said of his students.

He also has his students read a lot. By reading, he said, one can figure out the rules of the genre that one wants to write in, and be inspired enough to produce work of one’s own. “That is why I love exposing my students to really diverse writing. I never know what student will be excited about what work, but I can always find something they get excited about,” he said about teaching at the college level.

And his advice for aspiring writers is simple: read all genres of literature, then write.

He said the many genres have something to teach writers. “All you have to do is write a little bit at a time. It can be about your own life to start. Write about your fist love, or something that terrifies you. Then, be on the lookout, as once you start writing, you will very soon bump into a problem you do not know how to fix. This is where you either turn back, or teach yourself how to fix the problem by reading how other people have done it. That’s the trick. The challenge. The joy,” he said.

In a virtual author event, Murphy will be discussing his new book “Tiny Americans,” at 5:30 p.m. today at Lakewood Library, 12 W. Summit Ave., Lakewood.

For more information on Murphy, go to devinmurphyauthor.com.


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