Jena Benton - Writer and Illustrator

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Blog: Of Tea and Mermaids

Another Simply 7 interview with Diana Murray

Posted by Jena Benton on August 7, 2016 at 10:30 PM

Diana Murray has THREE picture books coming out this summer, her debut summer as a picture book author nonetheless!  I interviewed her about her first book "City Shapes" here: http://jenabenton.webs.com/apps/blog/show/44076269-simply-7-interview-with-diana-murray


She has a great sense of humor, is a mom to two children and a goldfish named Pickle.  You can learn more about her at her website here: http://www.dianamurray.com/


She is joining us today to discuss her latest book "Grimelda: the Very Messy Witch" (a very funny story about a very cute witch who is organizationally challenged).


Me: This book, “Grimelda: the Very Messy Witch” is funny! Do you find it hard to right funny stories?


Diana: No, I love writing funny, wacky stories! Of course, I can never be sure if it will be funny to other people. But I typically find that if I can surprise myself while writing or even make myself chuckle, then I'm probably on the right track. I also test things out on my husband. If he smiles or laughs, I know it's working. If he's rushing through the text and asking me, "Is this much longer?", then I know it needs work. I have critique partners who are writers, as well, but he's always my first reader.


Me: Do you know any messy witches? Was Grimelda based on anyone you know?


Diana: Um, yeah. Grimelda is pretty much me in witch form. I really try not to be messy, but it's so hard, because I'd rather spend the time on more creative endeavors. I'm constantly losing things. And yes, sometimes I'll even resort to buying a new something-I'm-missing because I can't take searching anymore. Naturally, I always find the missing item shortly afterward. I also think it's fun to find surprises when I finally get around to a thorough cleaning. It's nice to find that pair of sunglasses I lost last year--a kind of reward for rolling up my sleeves. My children can also relate.


Me: You have another story coming out next year with Grimelda (“Grimelda: Spooktacular Pet Show”). Did you have the sequel already in mind when you sold the first story? Did you enjoy revisiting the character? Are there other stories with her in your future?


Diana: Not at all! I had no idea there would be a sequel. The publisher was particularly interested in character-driven picture books. My agent and I met with them at their office to discuss some of the stories I was working on, back in 2012. When they offered me a book deal (a few weeks later), it was a two-book deal. After I signed the contract, the editor and I brainstormed some ideas for the sequel. I was thrilled to be able to go deeper into Grimelda's world. It was SO fun. I'm not sure if there are more Grimelda stories in my future, but that would be wonderful.


Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing “Grimelda: the Very Messy Witch”?


Diana: When I got the first revision letter from my editor, Katie Bignell, it seemed like a tall order. I was surprised that I was able to accomplish what she wanted. I was also surprised by how much I agreed with her. She was an amazing editor. Sadly, she's no longer with that publisher. Earlier in my career, I had a more difficult time revising. I was more reserved and scared to cut things out. Now I'm like a revising ninja with a machete.


Me: Grimelda isn’t your average witch. There are quite a few things in this story that I’d never heard of before in other witch stories. How did you go about inventing her world and surroundings? Was it a matter of letting your creativity run free? Or was it a matter of making up words that helped fit into your rhyme scheme?


Diana: Definitely not the latter! That's a big no-no. You never want to let the rhymes drive the story. You need to stay in control. Sometimes a rhyme does add an element of surprise, but you only use it if it fits, and seems natural, and you like it. It shouldn't appear forced. When it comes to fictional creatures, they can be however you want them to be. There was a lot of talk in my crit group, for example, about whether there were boy witches in Grimelda's world. Doing a bit of world building was extremely fun for me. I wanted Grimelda to be a classic, striped-tights-wearing witch. I also wanted to incorporate a lot of elements that are contrary to "normal" standards. For example, liking mess instead of cleanliness, liking "rot sauce" instead of "hot sauce"--that sort of thing. Something to let readers shake their heads in disapproval, but in a delighted way.


Me: What does your writing process look like?


Diana: I write every chance I get. Whether I'm on vacation or waiting for the bus. It's gratifying and I feel like I'm going crazy when I don't get some writing in.


Me: I understand that you have a goldfish named pickle. In this story, Grimelda can’t find her pickle root. I’m sensing a theme. Are you a fan of pickles?


Diana: I LOVE pickles! My mom used to make them herself. And lots of other pickled things, like tomatoes, and cabbage, and peppers. But my daughter named the goldfish so that had nothing to do with me. Come to think of it, both of my daughters like pickles, too. To me it was funny, though, that Grimelda might use a witchy herb to make something pickle flavored. If I had a jar of grated pickle root, I'd sprinkle it on everything! Also, "pickle" is a funny word. It just is.


LOL!  I absolutely have to agree.  The funny thing is, when I was younger, I remember watching an old movie called "The Glass Slipper" (with Leslie Caron).  It was an interesting adaptation of Cinderella where the fairy godmother was kind of this doddering old lady who was treated like the town witch.  SHE said that she had favorite words and one of them was pickle!  And she paused to prounounce it slowly.  I laughed, but that scene had a profound impact on me and the way I thought about words.  It made me wonder what my favorite word would be.  Yeah for witches and pickles!  LOL!  


What favorite words do you have dear readers?  Not sure?  Run out and read a copy of "Grimelda: the Very Messy Witch."  There are some fantastic new words in it that just roll over the tongue in the loveliest of ways.  It's a great read aloud!  Thank you again Diana for stopping by!

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2 Comments

Reply Diana Murray
8:43 AM on August 8, 2016 
Thanks so much for the interview, Jena! Oh, wow. How funny that you mentioned that scene from The Glass Slipper!! That made a huge impact on me, too. That character was so fantastic and quirky. My FIL gave me the dvd a few years ago. There was also this great article about writing humor and how words with a lot of consonants are funnier than words with mostly vowels. And they used "pickle" as an example! Wish I could remember where I read that. Anyway, thanks again!
Reply Jena Benton
2:29 PM on August 8, 2016 
You're welcome Diana! Isn't it funny the connections we make with words? =)