Dayton, Ohio author Molly D. Campbell’s new YA novel “Keep the Ends Loose” has drawn widespread interest since its February 24th release. Well-known writers such as Beth Hoffman, Robin Black and Anita Hughes have lavished praise on the work, bestowing terms like “brilliant”, “charming”, and “insightful” on both the book and its writer. For Molly Campbell herself however, the novel, a coming-of-age story, about a quirky fifteen-year-old named Miranda Heath, is simply the end result of her interest in unusual names.
“I’m a humor blogger,” the two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Award winner said at a local coffee shop recently. “And I’ve been blogging for a long, long time. I was writing my blog and very active on social media, and apparently my mind works in strange ways. I’ve always been interested in names, particularly unusual names. Your own name, ‘Tim Walker’,” she continued, ”is a perfectly normal name – but if you were walking around with a name like ‘Reginald Arbithnot’, how would that affect you and your life? How would that change things?”
“So,” she said, “I started a Twitter account called “Characters in Search of a Novel”, where every day – and this was just for my own entertainment; I had no followers at first – I would post a person’s name and a one-sentence description of that person. And I did this every day for a year, and I wound up with a few hundred followers. I was just doing it for the heck of it. Then a very gifted writer named Robin Black contacted me and said ‘You know, you’re throwing these away. You need to hire an illustrator, and write a book, with a story written around each one of these characters.”
“So I did that,” Molly said. “And that became my first book, “Characters in Search of a Novel”, with local artist Randy Palmer illustrating the stories for me. And then one day while online I came across The Story Plant, who is the publisher of the new book – I thought it was a literary magazine, and I submitted one of my little character sketches to them. And they wrote back and said ‘We’re not a literary magazine, we’re a publisher – but have you written anything longer?’ I said no, and they said ‘Well you really need to consider doing that.’ At that point I thought they were crazy. I’m a blogger, so I said no. But they kept dogging me, and for a period of probably five years we had this ongoing conversation. So finally they convinced me to try and write a novel.”
Their persistence paid off, it seems. The five-year effort on the part of The Story Plant has been rewarded with an excellent Young Adult crossover novel, “Keep the Ends Loose”. Miranda Heath, the teenage protagonist, is just one of the many interesting characters – and yes, many of them do have unusual names – in Campbell’s second book. “It’s about a teenage girl, she’s fifteen,” Molly outlined when asked about the book. “Her mom recruits her to find this guy who’s her long-lost uncle, and all sorts of things happen. Family secrets are revealed, and chaos ensues.”
Written in a stream of consciousness style which immediately puts one in mind of Holden Caulfield, the book is a charming, poignant, and and often very funny slice of teenage life from a girl who views life through cinematic terms – every time she gets into a difficult situation, she imagines that it’s actually the plot of a movie.
Her older brother, her best friend, her father Roy Heath, her mother and her aunt Iris Fletcher all combine in Miranda’s eyes to make the novel a story of family, love and loss that will have you alternately tearing up and then laughing out loud. The familiar skyline of Dayton, Ohio makes an appearance as well.
“I’ve been in this area for a long, long time. I graduated from Miami, and taught English at Miami-Jacobs. Dayton is in the book – the family doesn’t live in Dayton, but they come to Dayton on one of their quests. The town they live in is totally fictitious, because I didn’t want to be tied down to anything factual where she lives. I had a bunch of information in the book that the publishers asked me to take out, but I asked them ‘Please let me leave the Dayton stuff in, because we’re from Dayton and it’s kind of a tribute’, so there is a lot of local stuff in there.”
Fiction lovers from all walks of life are sure to get a kick out of Miranda Heath’s quest and pithy observations on teenage life. And for those who read the book and wonder if there might be a sequel someday?
When asked if she has any other novels in the works, Campbell responds “Yes, because now that I know I can do it, why not?”
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