Full Cicada Moon, a gorgeous MG verse novel, was one of my favorite reads of 2016, so I'm incredibly happy to share this interview with author Marilyn Hilton at The Hiding Spot today. After reading the q&a, be sure to enter to win one of 3 finished copies of Full Cicada Moon!
Mimi, the main character of Full Cicada Moon, is a joy to read. She’s bright and passionate and, even when the world seems determined to hold her back, she perseveres. Can you share a bit about your inspiration for Mimi’s character?
Thank you for saying that about Mimi! She was a joy for me to write, too. I wanted to write a book about a character like my kids (two daughters and a son), who are also mixed race and who, like Mimi, are intelligent, kind, determined, and courageous. I wanted Mimi to have the ability to transcend her current situation and move in the world as she believes it should be, instead of how it is. This belief in herself and her abilities, combined with her relentless persistence and optimism, are, I believe, what allowed Mimi to succeed. If she had been a real person, she would have changed the world in positive and remarkable ways.Full Cicada Moon, is written in verse, but your previous novel for middle grade readers, Found Things is not. How do you decide which format is best suited for a particular story or character? Do you feel more comfortable writing in a certain format?
In writing this character, I also drew on my own experiences growing up, remembering how it felt at times to be self-conscious and misunderstood, and how painful it is when you don’t fit in. These feelings are universal and timeless, which is why I think readers can relate to Mimi.
The story naturally dictates the form, so I have to “listen” carefully for the right fit in the developmental stage of writing a book. Experimenting with the right format, point of view, and verb tense is fun, though it’s part of the work of writing. Once I figure this out, the writing becomes easier.Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
The story of Full Cicada Moon came to me very quickly, and to capture it as fast as it flowed, I began writing it in free-verse form. I had written lots of poetry in graduate school and beyond, so it felt natural to write this way. Also, this story is as much about Mimi’s observations and emotional responses as it is about what happens, and told from a deeply personal place in the character, so verse felt like a perfect fit for this story.
I really admire writers who can fully outline a book before they begin writing. I’m not one of those writers! I often begin writing because I have a character in a situation that intrigues me. With River, in Found Things, there was a girl who had lost her brother. With Mimi, in Full Cicada Moon, there was a girl of mixed race who was moving to a new home. And I have a question, like: “Will River find her brother?” or “Will Mimi succeed in her new home and at her new school?” I’ll also have a general idea of the story’s arc, and I know how the story will end. Then I begin writing from the beginning. But—either because I can’t keep track of too many details at once or because I like surprises—I like to see where the story goes as it’s being written. I love when it takes unexpected turns—for example, the character of Benjamin just popped into Found Things, and in Full Cicada Moon Mimi lived in 1969 and wanted to be an astronaut. Sometimes these surprises turn out to be rabbit trails, but at other times I realize they were always integral to the story and were just waiting to be discovered.What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration?
This is an interesting question! I’ve had so many jobs—worked in retail, was an administrative assistant, taught college remedial reading, and taught English in Japan. For the past several years I’ve been a technical writer in the software industry, and most recently a technical editor, which I enjoy. I’ve always loved language, and the relationships between words, sounds, images, thoughts, and emotions, and I’ve always wanted to write stories. I think that what has inspired me more than my jobs have been the people I’ve met and the stories they’ve told. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, and whether the story is funny, sad, or sobering, it’s always humbling. A sacred connection occurs between the person telling and the person listening, as if the story is moving from one soul to the other, so I always feel inspired by this experience.If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
Definitely, my favorite word is “Try,” because you’ll never know what you can accomplish unless you try it. I’ve been surprised many times by trying to do something I never thought was possible. Trying gives us the freedom to fail, and in failing, we always learn something until finally we succeed. You never lose by trying—you can only win!My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot.
I had many hiding spots when I was growing up, but the book I loved most for a long time was Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. I used to get into messes like Henry when I was a kid, so I could relate to him. But it was reassuring that everything always worked out fine for him in the end. Years later, I fell in love with Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo for every reason—the story, the character Opal, the other flawed but lovable characters, the voice, and the magic. That book inspired me to write the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. In fact, the day before I met Kate for the first (and only time) at a book signing event, a package of ARCs (advanced reading copies) of Found Things had been delivered to my house. So, I took that as a good sign!What can readers look forward to next?
I’m having fun trying out a few new ideas, which are different from the previous novels but also for middle-grade readers. I love writing for this age group, because readers are experiencing so many brand-new and exciting things, and the books they read can reflect and encourage these discoveries.
3 winners. Open to US only. Ends January 1, 2016.
About the Book
Inside Out and Back Again meets One Crazy Summer and Brown Girl Dreaming in this novel-in-verse about fitting in and standing up for what’s right
It's 1969, and the Apollo 11 mission is getting ready to go to the moon. But for half-black, half-Japanese Mimi, moving to a predominantly white Vermont town is enough to make her feel alien. Suddenly, Mimi's appearance is all anyone notices. She struggles to fit in with her classmates, even as she fights for her right to stand out by entering science competitions and joining Shop Class instead of Home Ec. And even though teachers and neighbors balk at her mixed-race family and her refusals to conform, Mimi’s dreams of becoming an astronaut never fade—no matter how many times she’s told no.
This historical middle-grade novel is told in poems from Mimi's perspective over the course of one year in her new town, and shows readers that positive change can start with just one person speaking up.
About the Author
Marilyn Hilton is the author of two novels and two nonfiction books. She has also published numerous articles, devotions, short stories, and poems in literary and consumer magazines, and has contributed to various compilations. Her work has won several awards including the Sue Alexander Award for 2011.
She holds a MA in English/Creative Writing and has worked for several years in the computer software industry as a technical writer and editor. Marilyn is a member of several professional organizations. As a freelance editor and a frequent contest judge, she enjoys helping other writers develop their gifts. As a speaker, she enjoys encouraging her listeners. As a writer, she enjoys telling “stories that stick” to readers of all ages.