Interview with Devin Murphy, author of The Boat Runner

We’re chatting with Devin Murphy today. His novel The Boat Runner debuts in September!

What’s your book about?

The Boat Runner is about a wealthy Dutch family whose world is upended over the course of four years during the WWII Nazi occupation. As the family struggles to stay whole, we follow the youngest son through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life forever.

Share a teaser sentence or two from your novel.

“I allowed myself a small, transcendent moment of feeling alive again. As I watched them, I had a deep and swelling love of trees, their sway and dance, and thought how goddamn beautiful this world would be if we’d never been allowed to touch it.”

What do you want people to know about your book?

I wrote this book because I was fascinated by how Nazi Germany used controlled information, news, and propaganda to establish power, and how storytelling cut through all that into the truth of what really mattered.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this novel?

I learned I needed to be patient and trust my instincts with research, as the more I dug into a topic the odder and more unique details arose to help guide this story to new and interesting places.

What was your timeline from drafting to publication?

About 8 years. Though I did lots of other writing and family making during that time as well.

What is your favorite part of writing (drafting characters, making up scenes, plotting, developing emotional turning points, etc). Why?

I love the wild first jolt of drafting new work. It’s exciting. I don’t know where it will lead or what it will demand of me, yet everything I see, think, feel, and read winds up becoming relevant when my imagination is delving into a new project. I love how my own life gets stitched right into process as I go. This process makes me feel attuned to my days at a deeper level and I wish that first draft feeling could go on much longer, as when it stops, then it’s time to turn back and look at what a glorious mess I’ve made and now have to fix.

Briefly, where did the idea for your book come from?

My mother’s father was an engineer in the Netherlands who had to go into hiding during WWII. I never met him, but his story was so interesting it wound up finding its way into my writing and got me started on this book.

How do you feel now that you’re done with this book?

Relieved. Joyful. Excited. I get to share this story with others now. The novel is going to be translated into Dutch, so I get to give it to my mother in her native language. I love that.

When do you do your best thinking about your work in progress?

At the computer. I’m not sure when it happened but I think best while typing and watching the screen, the click-clack lets me access a dream space better where I can see and then do what W.B. Yeats once wrote as his To Do List for the day, “Hammer thoughts into unison.”

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I once heard a writing hero of mine, Richard Bausch, tell a room of writers something along the lines of, “When you’re stuck, lower your standards and keep going.” I like that a lot. It takes the pressure off. I can always write through a tough spot to get to something good, then come back and fix what wasn’t so good.

What’s next?

I’m currently finishing a second novel and short story collection and when those are done, I’ll start another book and keep going. That’s the plan. Those first drafts are too much fun.

“Murphy is a rare writer whose prose rings with authority and beauty as it weaves the devastating story of children coming of age in the darkest hours of the twentieth century. Every page is alive with discovery, surprise, and ultimately, the mystery of what drives the human heart. The electricity which sets this story on its journey continues to crackle and spark long after the lights begin to go out across Europe, one after another, until we finally understand the cost and meaning of resistance, our only weapon against the tyranny that threatens to destroy civilization. This is an unforgettable tale of human triumph.” — Jonis Agee, author of The Bones of Paradise

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