Interviewing Mary Ann Heider, Author of THE MORTIFICATION OF FOVEA MUNSON


 An Interview With
Mary Winn Heider


A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Mary Winn Heider lives in Chicago, where she is an ensemble member with the theater company Barrel of Monkeys. Through the company, she teaches creative writing to 3rd-5th graders in public schools all over the city. She has also recently spent some time working for a medical school cadaver lab, which contributed to the more factual elements of The Mortification of Fovea Munson.

It's easy to note all the Frankenstein/ Igor comparisons in the book. Was Frankenstein one of your inspirations for this story?

Oh, definitely! And from two different directions, really. Right after I moved to Chicago, I got involved with the theater company 500 Clown—part of their rep was a hilarious and devastating version of Frankenstein. Because of that show, I wound up being more familiar with the source material than I probably would have otherwise. That was a good ten years before I started writing Fovea. And then, of course, Young Frankenstein(the movie) is forever and ever in my comedy bones.

A cadaver lab makes for an intriguing environment. Do you have personal experience in a lab like the one Fovea's parents run or did you get a chance to visit one for research purposes?

Yes! Following your typical theater/anthropology/writing degree path, I ended up spending several years as the receptionist for a cadaver lab! I don’t even know how it happened. It wasn’t an anatomy lab, the kind where the whole cadavers are embalmed and used all year. I was in the kind of lab that’s in the book, a surgery lab—we’d only get certain body parts, which were flash frozen and defrosted as needed. In the beginning, the job was just to let people in, but gradually my responsibilities grew. I had a little…er…hands-on work. Very minor spoiler: there is a part in the book where Fovea accidentally orders 600 legs. I totally did that.

Since our extra special heads are musically inclined, it has to be asked, was there a playlist you listened to while writing this book?

About a million years ago, I was in a production of The Sisters Rosensweig, and I kept going back to the sound design for that show, which included tunes like “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” But that was really for thinking about what the guys were into singing. While I was writing, I had a hard time listening to anything with lyrics, so I gravitated toward a lot of movie soundtracks.

Without being spoilery I'll just say that I loved The Future of America aspect. What's your advice for any readers who, like Fovea, aren't quite sure what they want to be or what their passions are?

That was me for so long! What I’ve got is what worked for me: stay curious and try things and especiallydon’t be afraid to fail—failing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the thing! It just means you already learned a way to be better at the thing.

If this book were a dish at a restaurant, what would it be?

Accidentally undefrosted chicken adobo.

What was the best aspect of working on this story?

Oh boy. Anatomy humor just gives and gives and gives. It never stopped being fun.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this story?

Writing about music. I’m doing it again right now, and I have no idea why I’m making it so hard on myself!

If there is only one thing readers take away from The Mortification of Fovea Munson,what would you hope it would be?

Hmmm… maybe that it’s more fun to live than to be afraid of living.

Can you talk a little bit about your work at the theater company Barrel of Monkeys?

Yes! It’s the best. Barrel of Monkeysis the Chicago-based sibling of NY-based Story Pirates—both came out of the Griffin’s Taleprogram at Northwestern University. We go into Chicago Public Schools, teach six-week writing residencies, and then adapt what the kids have written and perform it for them in their own schools. The program gives the kids space to be expressive right at a time when they’re getting slammed hardest with state testing. And then we reflect back to them what creative rock stars they are when we treat their work the way we’d treat professional writers’ work.
The kids are endlessly inventive and inspiring—just a few weeks ago, I was in a show and got to play a reckless, heart-broken volcano, a metal-singing devotee of a potato chip god, a monster drawing come to life, and, as part of a reinterpretation of A Wrinkle in Time, played Mrs. Mild Sauce alongside Mrs. Ketchup and Mrs. Honey Mustard. The kids are where it’s at.

 Do you prefer plays or musicals? What are some of your favorite shows?
Ha! Well, I can’t sing to save my life. So while I love musicals, if I were forced at scalpel-point to choose, I’d pick plays so I could be in them. And probably everything you’d ever need to know about my writing you can learn from this: I lovelovelove Noises Off. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was in third grade. My mother was in a production, and after it closed, my brothers and I watched it on VHS after school everyday for maybe a solid year. I learned so much from it: the rhythm, the language, the set-ups and pay-offs. I used to have a thing where, before an audition for anything, I’d learn the sides and then for the last hour or so before the audition, put them down and just reread the script of Noises Off. No matter what the play was. The joy of it just got me so excited about doing plays. Aside from Noises Off, there’s a 12-hour adaptation of the Greek tragedies called All Our Tragicthat I can’t stop thinking about. I love Suzan-Lori Parks and everything Phillip Dawkins writes. I loveAngels in America.I could go on and on.

O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Mary Ann Heider
Release Date: June 5, 2018 
Publisher: Disney Hyperion


Fovea Munson is nobody's Igor. True, her parents own a cadaver lab where they perform surgeries on dead bodies. And yes, that makes her gross by association, at least according to everyone in seventh grade. And sure, Fovea's stuck working at the lab now that her summer camp plans have fallen through. But she is by no means Dr. Frankenstein's snuffling assistant!

That is, until three disembodied heads, left to thaw in the wet lab, start talking. To her. Out loud.

What seems like a nightmare, or bizarre hallucination, is not. Fovea is somebody's Igor, all right. Three somebodies, actually. And they need a favor.

With a madcap sense of humor and a lot of heart (not to mention other body parts), this is a story about finding oneself, finding one's friends, and embracing the moment.