THE LIVING TREE
We are thrilled--yay!--to have Lynda Mullaly Hunt as our guest today on the birth day of her debut novel, One for the Murphy's. How cool is that? The actual release day?! We couldn't be happier. I couldn't be happier. I have known Lynda for (how long is it now, Lynda?) for about four years, when we both signed on with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Of course I have known of her for a time before that...we frequented the NESCBWI conference together.
One for the Murphy's is on my desk, all cued up to be read--I can't wait! I have heard a portion of the story read by the wonderful Lynda herself, and I can tell you that it is gorgeous. A story about a foster child who learns to love, it is funny and heartbreaking and real.
We asked Lynda to talk to us, of course, about how landscape plays a part in the story. And here is what she said:
There is something so beautiful about trees. When I was young, I would often climb them. Sit as high up as I could, swing my legs, and watch the world. I still remember the feel of the bark—how its coarse ridges made it easier to hold on. How both the bark and leaves have a smell all their own, which varies from season to season. How trees smell differently on sunny days versus rainy ones. Strong and majestic yet vulnerable, too. They are solid. Something you can count on.
I remember finding out many years ago that leaves don't actually change color in the fall. The chlorophyll, which gives leaves their vibrant green color, disappears as the seasonal temperatures drop, so the brilliant colors of autumn underneath are revealed as the green fades. That the brilliance and unique colorings of each individual leaf were there all along—just hidden. The colors’ revelation rather than changing is an important distinction, I think.
I hadn’t planned to include trees as such an important thread of ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. To be honest, I didn’t realize I’d done it until the book was nearly done. But it makes sense that the trees are there if it’s true that we mine from deep inside ourselves to write fiction. It makes sense that I would include the trees.
The book opens with Carley Connors in the back seat of a social worker’s car. She’s on her way to a new foster placement. The winter tree branches along the road are bare, waving her along as they drive by. When she arrives at the Murphys’ home, she describes their house as the color of dirt with tall trees surrounding it like guards on watch. On this day—the very first one—she, herself, is bare. Raw. Afraid. Vulnerable on the inside but tough on the outside. However, Carley had extraordinary colors that had not yet been revealed. Not even to her.
On the second night, when her oldest foster brother’s words cut, Carley runs from the house and hides in an apple orchard until a Murphy comes to find her. Later in the book, Mrs. Murphy takes to baking apple pies for her—she is literally fed by both her foster mother and the trees, transcending a hunger for merely food. As this family continues to show her a side of life she didn’t think existed, spring settles in; as the buds on the trees open so do the gates of Carley’s walls. The branches of a tree are even used in a creative way to defend the youngest Murphy boy, four-year-old Michael Eric, when he’s being taunted by the neighborhood bully. Trees represent life, love, protection, and how sometimes things are revealed within us that we never knew were there.
The last example I’ll list here is Mrs. Murphy’s love of Shel Silverstein’s book, THE GIVING TREE--and Carley’s distain for it. Their individual takes on unconditional love—what it is. And what it isn’t. Readers will have to decide for themselves who gets it right—Carley or Mrs. Murphy.
Carley also learns that life holds more rain than we sometimes expect. But storms don’t last. There are always new days. New beginnings. We must learn to wait out the storms, stay in groups to protect each other, keep rooted as best we can, and when the gales become fierce it is best to bend in the wind.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the author of middle-grade novel, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin), winner of The Tassy Walden Award: New Voices in Children’s Literature. She is also a former teacher and Scenario Writing coach. Lynda has been Director of the SCBWI-NE Whispering Pines Retreat for six years. Lynda lives with her husband, two kids, impetuous beagle and beagle-loathing cat.
Group Blog: http://emusdebuts.wordpress.com/
Group Blog: http://classof2k12.com/
Facebook: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
A link to a trailer for the book: