Each month, if the right submission strikes our fancy, we’ll feature it and its author on this blog. For August, we’re highlighting V. Murphy Johnson from Paris, Kentucky. She’s a teacher, aspiring novelist, and playwright who’s had more than seventy of her plays produced.
In addition to the interview below, you can also read an excerpt from The Bridge of Toome. If you’d like to submit your own work for consideration as next month’s Writer of the Month (you’ll receive 6 free credits, too), simply click here.
Pubmission: First, tell us a bit about this novel. Somehow it ties together the theft of valuable artworks from the Isabella GardnerMuseum (one of my favorite museums, by the way) and an Irishman pretending to be a member of the IRA in Dallas, TX. And it’s a comedy, yes?
V. Murphy Johnson: The Bridge of Toome is a period piece about Larry and Neil, two Irish-American men approaching middle-age with limited prospects who rescue a young illegal Irish immigrant named Gavin Kelly and come to believe that he is a member of the Irish Republican Army. He’s not, of course, but as long as Larry and Neil will provide a roof, regular meals, and unlimited cable television, Gavin’s not going to point out their error. Eventually the ruse gets out of hand, and Gavin is pursued by a private detective for some stolen paintings. It is a comedy set in Dallas in the early nineties. (Before widespread Internet and cellphone use.)
Pubmission: What inspired you to write it?
V. Murphy Johnson: My maternal grandparents came to the United States around World War II and spoke Gaelic at home when they wanted to speak privately. As a dedicated eavesdropper, I always had an interest in improving my language skills. In the nineties, I was taking Irish language lessons in the back room of the Tipperary Inn in Dallas, and while I was trying to learn the intricacies of lenition and the use of the fada, the young men around me just kept asking our instructor to teach them how to say “Death to the English” and “Let’s blow up the Brits.”
This struck me as pretty peculiar as most of these men’s families came to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. They had little knowledge of Irish history or culture, and they weren’t even Catholic. It was easy to imagine them taking a presumed Irish revolutionary under their protection with very little proof. That’s where the story started.
Later I realized that through this story I was wrestling with some of my own questions about what it means to be simultaneously Irish and American. Can a person truly belong equally to two very different cultures? Or do you end up becoming a hybrid that doesn’t belong anywhere? Does ethnic origin even matter?
Pubmission: Your bio says that you’re a teacher and a playwright. You’ve had more than 70 plays produced. What made you switch to the novel and do you think you’ll stick with the form?
V. Murphy Johnson: Drama is collaborative. That’s a double-edged sword to say the least. Also, as I get older the delights of cold rehearsal halls and even colder coffee don’t tempt me as much. The writer has so much more control in a novel. If someone chooses to cough through your painstaking exposition, you’re not there to hear it.
Pubmission: Dialogue is certainly the strength of your submission sample. What advice can you give other writers on how to produce effective dialogue?
V. Murphy Johnson: Learn to listen. Really listen. Unashamedly eavesdrop and write down the best bits. If you have a talent for it, pick up a few other languages. Eavesdropping is even better when you’re translating.
Also, I forget whether it was the Romans or the Greeks who used the Oracle of Hermes, but it works something like this. At home, think about the question to which you’re seeking the answer. Plug up your ears and walk to the center of the marketplace where there’s a lot of people. Unplug your ears. In theory you’ll hear your answer. Good dialogue is usually the result of good listening.
Pubmission: I saw that you put some work into your marketing analysis and used an Editor Rating to help promote your submission on Pubmission. What other means are you using to promote your writing and get the attention of publishers?
V. Murphy Johnson: The promotion at present is pretty old-fashioned…mailing the book to publishers, having a reading at the local library, entering contests, etc. I do have video footage for a promotional YouTube video to be released in September. Self-edited. No financial outlay except for the hot dog I ate while filming.
I am adapting the book as a screenplay to enter in the monthly Amazon contest. My thinking is that if I find a market for the screenplay, the book could be published as a tie-in and vice- versa. In a perfect world Wes Anderson would direct and the Wilson brothers would play Larry and Neil.
Pubmission: Where can our readers learn more about you? Do you have a website or blog?
Thanks to Ms. Johnson for the interview! We wish her the best of luck in finding a publisher for her novel.