Sunday, July 19, 2009

One Writer’s Process: Penny Blubaugh

“Writing takes a really long time,” says Penny Blubaugh a writer, librarian, and former flight instructor whose first novel, Serendipity Market, took more than ten years to write. “You can’t really set a timetable with writing. You just have to plow through and keep your fingers crossed.”

She learned patience and the craft of writing fiction for young readers at Vermont College, earning an MFA while studying with masters of the form such as Chris Lynch, Jack Gantos, Ron Koertge, and Jacqueline Woodson.

It was during her time at Vermont College that she came upon the part in her novel with Mama Inez and Toby.

“It came from this dream I had,” says Blubaugh.

Blubaugh was able to develop that dream into a collection of fairy-tale stories, writing during the one day off that she got each week from her full-time job as a YA librarian. Eventually, with the help her of editor, she wove the stories together into Serendepity Market.

Now that her first novel is out in the world, Blubaugh, who lives in Chicago with her husband, has started a second under contract with HarperCollins, and was willing to take time away from her work to share her thoughts on writing.

Wordswimmer: How do you get in the water each day?

Blubaugh: I procrastinate at first, even though I really only get one or two good writing days a week. (I work full-time and I’m just too beat to write on work days!) I check e-mail, I do laundry, I fiddle. But, in my defense, there’s a reason – I’m one of those people who can’t fully concentrate if there’s something on my mind. So, if I know the back porch needs to be swept it’ll devil me till I sweep it. In other words, I have to get everything done and then ease into the real work with pen and paper. (And yes, I use just that. I do everything in longhand at the beginning.)

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat... for short work or longer work?

Blubaugh: I want to see how things work. I’m not an outliner. I start with a premise and try to work toward a perceived end, but I never know how I’m going to get from A to Z. Sometimes when I read things back I think, “Wow. That’s really interesting the way that worked out.” It’s almost a “Did I write that?” moment. This seems to work the same for long and short pieces.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Blubaugh: I feel like I have lots of dry spells! Most often they come when I feel like something’s finished and I’m positive that I’ll never have one other thing that I’ll ever be able to write about. For those periods when nothing’s working I try to remember two things: one is a comment by Ron Koertge that’s something like “I don’t worry about a bad day writing because the next day will be better,” and the other is the old comment about Butt in Chair. Something has to come of that eventually!

Wordswimmer: What’s the hardest part of swimming?

Blubaugh: Getting in the water. In a pool you just have to jump right in. In writing, you kind of have to do the same thing and commit to the work. Otherwise, it’s so easy to stay on the beach in the sun!

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Blubaugh: I’m almost always alone. I don’t have a critique group, although I wish I did! Every one I’ve tried to form has died a quiet death. A friend tells me this is because I’m a writer and the rest of them are dabblers, or something like that. I have a few friends far away that I send work to, but it’s not like the immediate response you get from a writer’s group. But it helps, and my agent will read works-in-progress, as well. So, mostly I just plug on. I think this means extra revisions when things get to my editor, but who knows? Maybe I’d be doing those, anyway. My agent has a Yahoo group and it’s nice to see other people floundering in the shallows just like me, but it’s not a place for feedback.

Wordswimmer: What’s the part of swimming that you love the most?

Blubaugh: Reading something that sings, that catches and holds my attention, that has beautiful words and phrases, good plotlines and resolutions, and knowing that I wrote it! It stuns me every time.

For more information about Blubaugh, visit her website:

For another interview with Blubaugh, check out:

To read a review of Serendipity Market, take a look at:

And if you’d like to read an essay that Blubaugh wrote for ALAN, visit:

1 comment:

Jack said...

I was delighted to hear that Penny, who I remember as a rigorous jogging/walking enthusiast at our Vermont College residencies, has a novel out there--congratulations, Penny!