Mary Knight has always enjoyed the power of a good story, whether it’s been as a children’s librarian, a freelance writer or a writer-in-residence teaching kids how to write. Several years ago, she decided to go back to school to learn how to write a novel. After graduating from Spalding University’s MFA program in writing, Mary completed her middle grade novel, SAVING WONDER, found the agent and editor of her dreams, and is now a published author with Scholastic.
Of all the things she appreciates in life, she especially values loving kindness, a good laugh, the wisdom of young people, and the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes. She believes this last quality, empathy, is the key to being not only a good friend and an awesome person, but being a good writer as well. “I must first step into the minds and hearts of my characters to discover their viewpoints,” she says. “Only then, can I find the words to create their world.”
Speaking of the world, Mary has lived in many beautiful places—among them, northern Michigan and an island in Puget Sound where she often saw whales, eagles and great blue herons close to home. She now lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she enjoys the rolling green hills of horse country, exploring the Appalachian Mountains, and watching University of Kentucky basketball. Most of all, she treasures time with friends and family who add great wonder to her life.
Author photo by Lee Thomas
Having lost most of his family to coal mining accidents as a little boy, Curley Hines lives with his grandfather in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. Ever since Curley can remember, Papaw has been giving him a word each week to learn and live.
When a new coal boss takes over the local mining company, life as Curley knows it is turned upside down. Suddenly, his best friend, Jules, has a crush on the coal boss’s son, and worse, the mining company threatens to destroy Curley and Papaw’s mountain. Now Curley faces a difficult choice. Does he use his words to speak out against Big Coal and save his mountain, or does he remain silent and save his way of life? With everything changing, Curley doesn’t even know if there will be anything left to save.
From debut author Mary Knight comes a rich, lyrical, and utterly transporting tale about friendship, the power of words, and the difficult hurdles we must overcome for the people and places we love.
“A remarkable debut novel
from an author to watch.”
School Library Journal
“…Inspirational.” Publisher’s Weekly
2017 Green Earth Book Award
Parents' Choice Award
Notable Book for Social Studies
Children's Book Council
"Mary Knight is masterful as she weaves a moving and important story with gentle humor and huge consequences."
- Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Newberry Honor author
Where do you get your ideas?
This is probably the question I get asked the most as a writer and it’s by far my favorite. I love how ideas come to me, how they get planted in my subconscious, “incubate” and grow. All novels come out of a writer’s experiences in one way or another—whether it’s through research or their own life. Once the seed of an idea is planted, however, it tends to take on a life of its own. I love it when that happens!
Here are a few of the seeds that became SAVING WONDER . . .
THE POWER OF WORDS TO SHAPE OUR WORLD
The central premise of Papaw giving Curley a word a week—and the one that helps form the structure of the novel—comes from something that was related to me as a child. My mother would tell me the story of how her father (my grandfather) would give her and her sisters a word to learn every night at the dinner table. They would then use that word throughout their conversation that evening. It became a game that the whole family played.
My mother’s love for words was passed down to me, of course, which is one of the reasons I became a writer. I also believe strongly that words have power—that the words we speak and hold in mind help shape our experience of the world. This idea was a source of major inspiration for SAVING WONDER. I also feel the spirit of my own grandfather in Papaw. Although he died before I was born, I hear that he was a kind and generous man.
My grandfather’s desk where I sometimes write.
While I was working on another novel, I took a trip to Eden Park in Cincinnati to do some research for a scene I was about to write. During that visit, I discovered a gazebo that had been there for over a hundred years. All around its stone base, people had carved their initials and left little messages—some of them dating as far back as the early 1900s. I was enchanted by this historic gathering place of friendship and love. As I ran my fingers over the engravings, I came upon one that had an unexpected effect. Someone had carved, “I love Curly Hines.”
In that instant, I knew who that boy was. It was as if he had plopped down into my psyche and said “How do you do?” I knew he was tall and thin; he had curly hair, of course, and he was inquisitive and kind. I also knew he came from the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
Sometimes I say that Curley Hines “haunted” me, but what I really mean is that the idea of this character wouldn’t let me go until I wrote down his story. It was a year before I wrote down a word of it, and then two more years before I wrote it in earnest. But honestly, the writing was a joy and I felt companioned in the process—by all of my characters. I love every one of them.
THE ELK TOUR
When my husband and I moved to Lexington, Kentucky from the Seattle area, we began missing the mountains that held so much beauty for us in the Pacific Northwest. We decided to explore the mountains and surrounding countryside here in Kentucky, so that we could fall more in love with our new home. When we saw that the state park system was offering elk tours in the Appalachian Mountains, we jumped at the chance.
Although we saw a lot of natural beauty that weekend, this was also our first exposure to mountaintop removal mining. Like the tour in my novel, this one took us to an active mining site in order to view the resident elk herd. In our eyes, the devastation to the landscape was profound. Much of what a reader will find in the “elk tour” scene was very much like what my husband and I experienced that early February morning.
So those are just three of the sources for all the ideas that make up the novel, SAVING WONDER. Some ideas come from my life, what I already know and have experienced. Other ideas come from my curiosity—my research of people, places and things I want to know more about.
All ideas are gifts.