The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life: Introducing Ginny Moon and an interview with author Benjamin Ludwig

Let me introduce you to my favorite new character, Ginny Moon, the irrepressible title character of Benjamin Ludwig’s debut novel. Ginny is fourteen years old, loves Michael Jackson, eats exactly nine grapes for breakfast and does not like to answer more than one question at a time. Like a lot of teenagers, many aspects of the adult world strike her as tedious. Autistic and developmentally-delayed, however, Ginny is also trying to find her place in this world after being removed from an abusive home five years before and placed in a series of foster homes, the last of which “might” be her “forever” home. Finally, she is desperate to find out what happened to her Baby Doll when she was separated from her biological mother, Gloria, so desperate that she is willing to risk everything by scheming to get herself kidnapped by Gloria once again.

There is nothing quite like being inside Ginny’s head as she plots her return to Gloria—Ludwig uses her distinctive world view to both reel the reader in and unfurl a dazzlingly compelling plot that held me in its thrall to the very end. Ginny Moon is one of the most deeply satisfying reads I’ve had in a long time, Ginny taking her place right alongside literature’s most resonant child narrators: Huck Finn, Ellen Foster, Paddy Clarke. Launching May 2, preorder it now here or here or find it in your local bookstore and you too can tag along on Ginny’s journey and make a friend for life.

Ginny Moon is author Benjamin Ludwig’s first novel and the inaugural title of the new Park Row literary imprint, with a first print run of 100,000 copies. I was fortunate to have met the author a few years ago through this blog and to follow his incredible story. A quintessential writing geek, he was gracious enough to answer some questions for us. Read on for more inspiration from Benjamin Ludwig:

You talk about writing since you were a teenager and about having written many novels before Ginny Moon (I think you said you wrote 10). How did you keep the faith through all those novels? What kept you writing?

I write mainly out of curiosity. I have these ideas – situations, characters, places – in my head, and I need to write them down in order to better see them. But that isn’t enough, usually. And since they’re imaginary, the only way to know more is to make them into something more – to literally keep writing. So I write in order to discover. For me, writing has always been an adventure. It was every bit as enticing as reading, when I first started as a kid. Then more so. I really wonder if it’s an addiction. When I was in junior high, I had two great friends who read my stories. They were my first audience. We’d pass each other in the hallway and hand off my notebook to one another. I knew, then, that I wanted to see my work in print – but honestly, I was so invested in the characters and plots I was creating that I would have kept writing no matter what.

You also taught full time and had a family while you were writing, and got an MAT and an MFA along the way. Can you tell us how you found the time for writing, how you made the time, rather, in a full life like that?

The MAT happened before I was married or had children, so really it was easy. Easy in the sense that I wasn’t taking care of kids or working a job, that is! But I was a full-time public-school teacher when I started my MFA. I knew I wanted to teach at a college or university someday, and you really need an MFA (among other things) to do it. For a long time, the most I could manage was one course per semester.

But yes, things are busy, and it’s never been easy to get the writing done. I have to steal time when I can. I get up at 3:30 in the morning to write. When I was teaching, I’d write during lunch and during my prep period too. I carried a laptop or notebook around everywhere I went. I’m not teaching right now – I really needed the year off to support Ginny Moon – so I write a lot more these days, especially when my three-year-old is taking a nap. Still, early in the morning, before everyone else is milling around, is when I crank out most of the pages.

You write about Ginny Moon’s unique voice just coming to you and working backward from that. I can certainly see that—her character is one of the strongest I’ve read in recent years. Can you tell us a bit more about the story of how this novel got crafted—written and revised—and how went from there into this wonderful debut event?

I started writing one night after I came home from our daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice because Ginny’s voice was ringing in my ears. I’d never heard anything like it. It was an other-worldly experience. She talked so fast that I had a hard time keeping up with her. It was the happiest I’ve ever been while writing. She was so funny and odd. But I quickly saw that under all the humor was a lot of darkness. Like I said before, I write out of curiosity, and I was curious to explore where this extremely intense young woman had come from.

It took about a year to write the manuscript. The first draft came together much quicker than that, maybe six months total. Then during the last six months I revised. I sent off a query and sample pages to a handful of agents, and one wrote back right away to ask for the rest. He read the book that day, then asked if we could talk on the phone. A day later I signed the agency agreement.

It took about a year to revise the book. The voice was there, the plot was there, but my agent said that something was missing. He wasn’t quite sure what it was. So I read it again myself, and saw that he was right. Reading through the middle of the book, I felt like I was walking over a wooden floor, and suddenly my footsteps sounded hollow. There was something under there. So I wrote and wrote, and lifted the boards away until I uncovered a character. Her name was Crystal with a C – and if you’ve read the book, you know what an important role she plays in unlocking Ginny’s secret.

At that point the book was ready. It was December though, so we waited until a week after New Year’s, and then my agent sent it out to one editor. We had a preemptive offer in about two days.

What would the Benjamin Ludwig working today, touring with his first book, working on the next novel, say to the Benjamin Ludwig of five years ago?

You mean like time travel? Cool! I’ll make a list!

  1. When people tell you hey, maybe chill out a little, don’t work so hard – Keep working so hard.
  2. Writing is a solitary thing but getting the writing out there for people to read (publishing) is all about community. You’re going to be stepping between two worlds a lot. Get good at hopping.
  3. When it’s time to leave teaching for a little while, don’t worry – you’ll get back there.
  4. I know it’s going to feel a little weird at first, flying around the country to meet so many people, but man, you’re going to love it.
  5. When you go shopping for a new pair of black shoes to match your suit, try both of the shoes on, OK?
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