It has been awhile since we have featured a YA pick on Sundays With Writers so I am excited to share with you a book that I think offers the same charm that I have appreciated so much, like in Rainbow Rowell’s, Eleanor & Park. I am big on quirky characters and I’m also big on coming-of-age adventures and Mosquitoland now tops my list of incredible YA debuts with this heartfelt story of an oddly charming girl, named Mim, who runs away from home and takes a Greyhound bus to be reunited with her mother.
I am so excited to be sharing a little behind David Arnold’s journey as he brings the story of Mim to life for us. I really appreciate hearing how he figured out a way to balance his dream of writing with being a new father and his conscious effort to develop a real and true partnership with his literary agent. It’s really inspiring to hear about!
After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.
So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.
I really began to fall in love with all of these well-crafted characters that Arnold created in this charming book. Each character that she encounters comes with his own set of quirky oddities as Mim’s bus ends up making an unexpected detour and she ends up on a road trip with two unlikely friends in search of her mom. I really loved this one!
Can we also talk about that cover? SWOON!
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with David Arnold and hear more about his incredible novel, Mosquitoland!
I am always so thrilled to feature debut novelists and Mim and the other characters you created for Mosquitoland completely captured my heart in such a beautiful way in this debut. I understand that you never had intended to go the YA fiction route, but found yourself down that path with this book. How did Mosquitoland end up falling in this genre and do you think you have found your niche moving forward as a writer?
Thank you so much for having me! And yeah, it’s true I never really set out to write “young adult”—but it’s not like I set out to write “adult,” either. As an author, I feel it’s my job to tell whatever story I have in me at the time, and to do so as honestly as possible. As this was my first real serious go at writing a novel, I didn’t focus on what kind of book it would be or where it would be shelved, because I honestly didn’t think it would ever get to that point. I wrote Mosquitoland because I had to, because this voice wasn’t going to leave me alone, but only in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would get published. So yeah, I didn’t necessarily intend to write young adult, but I absolutely could not be happier about it.
The last couple of YA books that I have read have shared about the struggles with mental illness in those teenage years. All the Bright Places & Every Last Word are just two books we have featured on the site recently that speak to this struggle with mental illness. You said in a past interview that there are some very brave writers out there in the YA genre and I also find your own writing to be quite brave too in talking about this topic. Why do you think so many YA writers are sharing about this and did you do any research in order to prepare for writing these scenes with Mim?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but (much like my answer above) I didn’t set out to write a book about mental illness. However, once I realized this would be part of Mim’s story, I did feel a certain burden of responsibility, a duty to get it right. In addition to extensive reading on the front end, I ran the manuscript by a number of mental health professionals. Mental illness looks so different for so many different people, it was important Mim’s experience, her responses and reactions, be plausible. It’s a tough thing writing outside your own experiences—I did everything I could to get this one right, and I can only hope it was enough.
Fleshing out a whole Greyhound bus of characters seems like a challenge as a writer and this book overflows with both passengers and new friends that Mim meets along the way. First of all, do you diagram out the bus and all the people on it with a seating chart or do you just dive in and create them as you are writing out the story? Secondly, have you ever taken a Greyhound bus anywhere and did you use any of that experience to help create Mim’s crazy adventures (I’m hoping there is a funny backed-up toilet story for us!)
To answer the first part of your question: no, I never did a seating chart, though I should have! That would have been helpful. I do pretty extensive timelines for my characters, so I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this. But yes, I did take a Greyhound from Nashville to Newark, though this mostly shaped the descriptive language of traveling by bus (sorry to disappoint! All toilets functioned properly. :/), rather than provide any actual fodder for Mim’s experiences.
You are the second musician that also happens to be a book writer to be featured on our Sundays With Writers series this month (we just got to chat with Josh Malerman from The High Strung who also wrote Bird Box this past week.) He spoke very honestly about the difficulties to do both and that now that his book has garnered attention and praise that he is struggling to make the time for writing music. Do you face the same balance struggle now that Mosquitoland has gotten such incredible reviews?
It’s sad, but I haven’t written any new music in probably two years or so. I used to have a home studio where I wrote and recorded music for indie films, commercials, and youth camp videos. That all fell by the wayside when my wife and I found out we were going to have a baby (surprise!). I said goodbye to music (though at the time I would have sworn this would be a temporary goodbye) and became a stay-at-home dad. You can’t really record music with a newborn, but whatever down time I got became writing time. I wrote most of Mosquitoland while he napped or, when he got a little older, watched Sesame Street. Any stay-at-homes out there who are looking for time to write, but also happen to be on a budget, I have a helpful tip: child care at the YMCA is free (with membership), and while they don’t allow you to leave the premises, they say nothing of setting up your laptop in the lobby. A huge portion of Mosquitoland was written at the YMCA. Writers write, under any circumstances. But I digress. Yeah, music has definitely taken a backseat to writing novels. But I’m okay with it, because I want to take every advantage of the opportunities I’m given, and right now, that means pouring everything I have into my books.
Why did you decide to put that age gap between Mim & Beck when you know we wanted them to be together so bad? Darn you, David! Although my mom heart would be pleased if my daughter was reading it…so maybe that is why?
Ha, yeah. There may be something to the parent thing, but the real reason I wrote it that way—and man, I’m going to take some flack for this—is because generally speaking (NOT in every case, you understand) I am fairly indifferent toward love interests in books. THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. Plenty, actually. But I never wanted a love interest for Mim. I mean—it just didn’t feel like part of her story. But when I toyed around with the age gap between Beck and Mim, I found myself intrigued in a way I hadn’t been before. Here’s this guy who is just old enough to make a romantic relationship morally questionable, but just young enough that it almost wouldn’t be. It was a challenging in-between, but also opened up a whole new arena of writing for me.
As a writer, I know as soon as that book hits the world (and often before that), you are already working on the next book project which can be so challenging to push forward. What do you have in store for us next and was it hard to move into something else after spending two years on Mosquitoland?
Book two is the worst. I don’t mean, you know, as a book (at least, I hope not). I mean its execution. In my case, I had a two-book deal, so when Penguin bought Mosquitoland they also bought a second novel based on a one-paragraph synopsis. When the time came to actually write the thing I was paralyzed. As I mentioned before, I wrote Mosquitoland for myself, on my own time, with zero expectations. I was now being asked to write a book, which had already been paid for, on someone else’s time, with many expectations. I’m not complaining by any means—I know how lucky I am to have gotten the opportunity. But I think there’s a romanticized notion that once you get a book deal, you’ve got it made in the shade. Aside from parenting, writing a novel is the most challenging thing I’ve done. This was exponentially true of book two. That said, I absolutely struck gold with my professional writing team—my editor and publisher, my agent, everyone has been incredibly patient and smart and kind. I’ve only written two novels (the second comes out in September), but they are both a product of teamwork.
One thing that really stands out to me about you is that in other interviews you have shared about taking your time to find the right literary agent that gets you and not just going with the first one who gets back with you. I had the same experience as a writer and find that there is something magical when you find someone who just gets you and gets what you write about. Can you speak to that for just a moment about why you really took your time selecting your agent and do you think the time you spent on selecting this partnership really helped with the success of your book?
Absolutely! As professional relationships go, your editor is buying your book; your agent is buying you. If things go well, the writer/agent relationship could last years, even decades. I think there’s this common misconception that just getting an agent is enough. But just like all manuscripts and authors are different, so too are agents. This is part of why form queries are a horrible idea. Each agent has their own personality, and each agent looks for something different on the page, which is why you hear now famous authors talk about their stacks of rejection letters. I spent about two months getting a query letter into shape, then another 4-6 weeks researching agents—who they represented, what they were looking for, even their tones during interviews. Agents can tell when an author has done their homework.
Your cover is just perfection and one of my favorite covers probably ever. How did your team come up with such a great concept and is there anywhere we can purchase a print of it? It’s just fantastic!
THANK YOU. I love it too, and would love to say I had even an ounce of its conception/execution, but alas… I have very limited artistic skills. The cover was designed by the very talented Theresa Evangelista at Penguin, and illustrated by Andrew Fairclough at Kindred Studios. I had some small input toward the end, but they’d already done such a fantastic job there was little for me to say or do.
I have “Raise High the Roof Beam” tattooed on my forearm. I am unapologetic in my love of J.D. Salinger, specifically the Glass family novellas. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters really struck a chord in me, and of course, the original poem by Sappho is outstanding.
You can connect with David Arnold on his website or through Facebook! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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