Be kind and be patient. With yourself, and with the people who are going to help you get there. That means to your husband who is making you cookies. Your mom who is drawing your art. Your children who want snacks. Perhaps, even more so, with the self-publishing company (in my case, Gatekeeper Press) who is helping you distribute your book and anybody who is providing you with assistance along the way. Things take time and there will be hurdles. Then there will be more hurdles and it will take longer. Just go eat some sprinkles and take a breath.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Morgan Duffy.
Morgan Duffy (Mo) is a self-proclaimed modern-day Mary Poppins, who has a sprinkle gun instead of an umbrella. Who has hiking boots, instead of fancy slippers. That’s the magical Mo. The real Mo: she worked on a campaign for President Obama, practiced law (up until a few months ago when she pressed pause to write Peri, and homeschool, oh Covid!). She also has a not so-kiddo-friendly, satirical side. (those books coming soon!)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have to say COVID is part of the reason I fell into this career path. And that’s not to give COVID any sort of fist bump or high-five! I am an attorney. COVID had me working from home, and when daycare/school shut for three kiddos I found the only quiet time to research the ever-exciting nuances of law was at 3:00 a.m. I turned in a few projects in the wee hours of the morning and quickly realized I couldn’t burn the candle at both ends. After I caught up on some serious sleep, art class started and it did not stop. I carried around a 3.5” x 5.5” notebook and miniature watercolor set around my house and painted anything. I loved that little book so much that I proceeded to draw, handwrite and stitch together, two ridiculous children’s books. One was about a fairy that flew from a pot belly stove and the other was about a cheese ninja. Come to think of it, maybe I was still severely sleep deprived. Anyhow, my husband suggested I write a children’s book for all. That sounded intriguing, except I’m not exactly a great artist. Luckily for me, I know a lady! Her name is Mom, and many moons ago she was a scientific illustrator. I took a leap of faith after years of wanting to become a writer. I bought us iPads and digitized her work to color it in, and tada — Peri the Fairy was born.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Hands down: putting your work out there is scary — even when it is a silly book about a blue fairy! I still feel trepidation when telling people I wrote a book . . . about a singing, dancing, harmless fairy! Nonetheless, the act of sharing your work is scary — especially when those stories are personal or potentially expose something vulnerable about yourself. Or maybe you want to make someone laugh and nobody laughs. Putting myself out there is still my biggest hurdle. Honestly, I write a lot. I have close to 100 stories I’ve started and/or finished on my computer. Also, I am a semi perfectionist, and with COVID I knew that the window for this book being applicable wasn’t going to be forever. It was to our advantage that we were working against some illusory deadline. Nothing got to be perfect. It just had to be done. If we didn’t have a COVID flame under our bums we would still be styling Peri’s hair. We learned a lot, fast. I’m grateful for that because it forced us to keep moving forward, when under normal circumstances so many things could have held us up for months.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh yes! Getting hand drawn artwork onto the computer for print quality is a little trickier than taking a photo of the art with your phone. There’s pencil marks and paper fuzz. In my case, we had some contributing artist (a two-year-old who got milk drunk with a black sharpie), some boogers and yogurt too. We found a website where you basically explain what you need and people bid on it providing a solution. You pick the individual who you like best, and they return the work (in theory). Well let’s just say we hired a very nice man from halfway across the world, and with whom we did not share the same language. His attempt was in earnest, but he traced my mother’s art (I actually don’t know what he did) and what he sent back was, well something akin to getting a tattoo in the back of a tractor, who definitely ran over some hay bales. It was so bad, it was good. I still giggle thinking about it to this day. Lesson: be patient and kind. You’ll figure out a solution in time (see below).
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be kind and be patient. With yourself, and with the people who are going to help you get there. That means to your husband who is making you cookies. Your mom who is drawing your art. Your children who want snacks. Perhaps, even more so, with the self-publishing company (in my case, Gatekeeper Press) who is helping you distribute your book and anybody who is providing you with assistance along the way. Things take time and there will be hurdles. Then there will be more hurdles and it will take longer. Just go eat some sprinkles and take a breath.
- Rule of 3s: I’ve been told, about 1/3 of people will like your book. About 1/3 of people will be luke-warm to your book. That leaves the remaining 1/3 of people to not like your book. Sorry, but forget about them, at least for now. Focus on the 1/3 who love your book. Float on that positive energy and engage with those people. Ask why they like it and be grateful you made something that bought those people joy.
- If you feel like writing, STOP, DROP AND WRITE!! Seriously though. Moments of prolific, creativity are not consistent and they sure as heck don’t show up when you want them to (like at 9:15 a.m. when your house is finally void of all small, loud beings). I feel like writing at some of the most inconvenient times. Why can’t I control these creative fireworks in my head? Well I can’t, so I write everywhere. In journals, on my phone, on the backs of envelopes I will surely lose. Write stories that are three lines. Write stories that make no sense. Take notes. Doodle. Make up new words.
- Seriously, pretend you are the writer of your dreams and embrace a “fake it until you make it” mindset. If you can’t find the motivation you need, or are feeling lack luster, get a little out of body and pretend like you are [insert your favorite author]. Go to the coffee shop and just act like you are writing the book of your dreams. Act author-y and awesome and all pent up with amazing words. Stew, giggle, tap incessantly at your keyboard like this rainbow is pouring out of your fingers! Because it is.
- Keep. Going. At first, it’s possible that no one will read your book except your friends and family, and they might not even read the free copy you send them. Don’t stop. Keep getting it out there. Be ready to send many emails to random strangers, that might not get a reply.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
One of the saddest and scariest aspects of COVID for me was the thought of my loved ones falling ill and being left alone to suffer with nobody by their side. For me the idea of Peri the Fairy bringing notes to loved ones was really important. This was two-fold: a reminder that we can still be with loved ones with words and letters to bring them joy, but also this idea of a magical fairy delivering letters (Santa Clause watch out!). COVID is isolating, but we are fortunate to live in a day and age where we have a lot of great ways to easily communicate and interact. It doesn’t have to be a handwritten letter, but for me there’s something special about that. Do whatever works for you.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
The theme in Peri that is critical to understand is that this is hard, and it’s not any less hard for kids. Peri is about letting kids feel connected to what makes them so amazingly resilient — their unconditional ability to have fun and connect with their family and friends. I hope Peri reminds kids to be playful, while also promoting positive thinking around the restrictions imposed during COVID. I really hope there is some magic sprinkled in there too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There are two things moving in the production line that have us excited. Firstly, there will be a second Peri book: Peri and Friends. This one is in the making. It focuses on going back to school and adjusting to a “new normal.” Secondly, and coming very soon, we are excited to share something that’s still related to the current state of affairs, but is for adults. My mother’s art is really special in this one. Get ready, and swallow your coffee, it is called These are the things I will stick up your ass, if you do not wear that f*cking mask. (Follow @assinamask on Instagram or visit assinamask.com.)
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I’m not sure anybody would describe me as a creature of habit. I’m flying by the seat of my pants at all times . . . hopefully flanked by sweet little fairies. I think my notion of “stop, drop and write” would be my best advice on some sort of productive habit. When the urge to write calls, abide!
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I really enjoy non-fiction and self-discovery-ish memoirs. But give me a good coffee book with ginormous waves or tiny homes, and I’ll see you later. If it makes me feel motivated or fluffs thy feathers, I’m in. Specifically, in regard to children’s books, I love Shel Silverstein. His poems and art have always been some of my favorites. “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too?” I mean, he’s awesome!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I really wish I could share the wonder of nature with more people so we could collectively appreciate how valuable our planet is and work harder to preserve it. Not just because it provides energy and food, but because it’s amazingly cool. Corny, I know, but bear with me. I was born and raised in arguably one of the most beautiful towns in America. My mother is a biologist and she instilled a serious love and appreciation for the outdoors. We explored hard. I got rain gear for Christmas, so nothing could thwart our outdoor adventuring. I wanted a fairy dress and sparkly slippers. I got rain paints. Well this fairy princess knows there is truly nothing more magical than being in nature. I would like to drive a van across the United States with my mother and stop to teach children (and adults too) about how incredible nature can be. Our goal would be to inspire our society to improve our personal behaviors to help reduce climate change and save some of our natural resources.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I absolutely did not write this book alone. Many, many, amazing people contributed in big ways! If I could do a backflip for my mother I would. I think my mother would agree, that if we could both do backflips (wouldn’t that be sight!), we would do two for my husband, aka Robby Crocker (because he’s the male version of Betty Crocker in spirit and skill). He did so much to keep me motivated and well fed in writing this book. He’s an amazingly patient problem solver. Anytime my enthusiasm waned, Robby Crocker came to the rescue with crepes, cookies and new chap sticks. He also watched three children when the creative fireworks made unannounced visits. What can I say, my needs are unique!
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I’m no expert, but I think my best advice is have a little bit of structure that you aren’t afraid to stray from. For example: my daughter is in school from 9–3. If I give myself the whole six hours unstructured, I’ll definitely get lost sorting through my chap sticks or replanting some of my 77 succulent plants. If I give myself three hours of specific tasks, then I do those, and my other three hours are generally a lot more productive. With too much structure I feel anxious by the end of the day. I also read some great advice recently that said to aim for doing something awesome at the end of the day. I think this is especially important with kids. We always make time to get outside after school and before dinner. Having some fresh air time is imperative for our sustained well-being.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Well, I just bought a mindfulness necklace that I’m pretty sure is a fancy word for a breathing whistle. Yup, I’m wearing a breathing whistle around my neck, that touts being “whisper quiet.” I may have totally made an impulse buy because it said something like, “developed by ancient/wise/peaceful/amazing monks.” I want to be a fairy monk. Good news: I think it kind of works, despite the fact that it looks like I am hitting a gold cigarette pretty darn hard. But for me, it’s helping to keep my sprinkle wand loaded. You have to be open to finding what works for you, and we are all so different. Needless to say, I’m exploring new options for staying sane, regularly! My only sanity, one-stop-shop is MUSIC. Listen to lots of music. When it relaxes you, RELAX. When it moves you, MOVE! When it makes you cry, CRY. I think music is a fantastic way to shift your mindset.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Everyone smiles in the same language. -George Carlin (supposedly).
The older I get the more I’m aware of how important it is to be kind as you walk through life. At the end of the day we are all human, and our emotions are something we share with everyone. There are no cultural, economic, racial, or socioeconomic boundaries to happiness and sadness. Every human feels. Times are not easy, and not just because of COVID. Spread joy, kindness, happiness, sprinkles . . . whatever you want to call it. You never know what someone else is going through. I’m amazed at how much better I feel if I commit each day to spreading even the tiniest smithereen of happiness. Next time you go to the park or visit a space where you can be safely without a mask, see how many people you can make eye contact with and smile at. You might be surprised that you stop counting and just started feeling like you were shooting sprinkles out of your smile.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I have two instagrams:
- @imoldmanmo (Black and White photography and soon to arrive Coffee Table Book)
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!