"Nobody can be you better than you can": 5th Graders Meet with Visiting YA Novelist

Monday, February 11, 2019

What does an aspiring writer do when, in her day job at a cadaver lab, she accidentally orders 600 legs instead of just one? If she’s Columbia native Mary Winn Heider, she turns it into an episode in her debut YA novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson, published last year by Disney.

That, said Heider when she spoke to Heathwood’s 5th graders on February 11, is a perfect example of why, for a writer, even life’s most cringe-worthy moments can have their upsides. “Use your mistakes,” she advised.

Heider, a childhood friend of 5th grade English teacher Lynn Cooper, now lives in Chicago, where she took a job at a cadaver lab some years back to pay the bills while she earned a degree in creative writing. That job was the inspiration for The Mortification of Fovea Munson, the story of a preteen whose surgeon parents own a cadaver lab where she gets stuck working one summer. Hailed as “equal parts screwball comedy, coming-of-age story, and tearjerker” by author Varian Johnson, the novel explores themes ranging from friendship and identity to what to do when three disembodied heads start talking to you.


For students who might want to write stories of their own one day, Heider had four pieces of advice:

--Nobody can be you better than you can, so embrace who you are and your unique perspective, and tell the stories you know best.

--The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t worry about making the story right, just keep telling it, and know you can go back and improve it later.

--Use your mistakes, because if an experience was rough for you, it can be a great growth opportunity for your characters—and, if it happens to be a 600-leg mistake, it can also be pretty funny.

--Go out and get your story, because the things you discover about your characters’ world through research will bring that world more vividly to life for readers.