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new england writers at work

Yannick Murphy warms creative fires in Vermont

Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

Over the course of four novels, two story collections, and three children’s books, Yannick Murphy has won over readers with her deft and generous characterizations. Her most famous novel, “The Call,” follows the trials of a New England veterinarian. A winner of the Pushcart Prize and Whiting Writers’ Award, Murphy lives in Vermont with her family.

THIS OLD HOUSE: When we built our house, we built it alongside the old Cape [already on the property]. My husband didn’t want my family to live in the old Cape — it’s not well-insulated, and there’s a dirt basement. The old house is now my office.

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THE WARM-UP: My writing is completely dictated by wood. I’ve got a wood stove. In the morning, it takes a good hour for my office to start heating up. In the meantime, I’ll work with the kids on whatever they’re doing. Two of my kids are homeschooled, which keeps us busy. By the time it heats up in my house, I run into my office, and I’ll work. Then I have to make a big decision: Am I going to put more wood into the wood stove and keep writing, or am I going to save the wood, go out, exercise, and come back later when it’s nighttime . . . and use more wood? It’s a wood-based writing schedule.

AT SPEED OF THOUGHT: I have terrible handwriting. I can barely read it myself. I’m a really fast typist, so I prefer working on a computer. It kind of prevents me from writing received language. If I had to take the time to write something out, I would have a millisecond to edit at the same time. In my case, that’s not a good thing. When I don’t have to filter myself when I type, the speech I put down is closer to natural speech. I try to reach for those rhythms because they can give you ideas.

DANGEROUS SEASON: In the summer, I’m [in my office] in the evenings, so because I can work later, I can tap into writing that may be a little more dangerous. It’s a time where I can more easily say something that no one would dare put down on the page. I can write what’s not predictable, and I remember that my job as a writer isn’t to instruct or explain feelings, but to bear witness. I’m that proverbial mirror walking down the road.

WEALTH OF QUESTIONS: I like to be one of those writers that supplies questions, not answers. The minute you start explaining those things in your stories, you lose the surface tension that you create in the beginning.

SURPRISE ENDING: I’m not one of those people who has too many quirks about her writing. I don’t collect things or have good-luck charms. I don’t need special things around me. But I don’t know the endings of my novels. If I did, I would limit the mystery of my own writing. If I don’t know the ending, I can avoid a linear system, which is predictable. [Endings] are always a surprise to me.

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: The aim of my writing is to become timeless, that 100 years from now, someone can look at it and it might still resonate with them. I think the only way I know how to do that is by being monocular, by putting my heart on the page. That takes a lot of concentration . . . I pay attention to truth-telling and showing how the world is. I want to be a recording angel.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson@ gmail.com.
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