Guest Edition

Mary Winn Heider–What Was on Her . . .

Mary Winn Heider

This week, I’m celebrating the release of The Mortification of Fovea Munson, one of the most zany, screwball, full-of-heart middle grade books you will ever read. The creator of the story is Mary Winn Heider, and you’ll want to stick around because being an actor, writer, and sometimes receptionist at a cadaver lab gives Mary Winn creative insights you will not find anywhere else. Promise.

Mary Winn was happily working on another novel when she landed the aforementioned cadaver lab job. Very soon, the novel went into a drawer and she started writing what would become The Mortification of Fovea Munson. Mary Winn says, “So there I was, at this intersection of super high stakes and total absurdity—and it felt so perfectly like my experience of middle school. Deadly serious. Completely bananas.” Newberry Honor author Adam Gidwitz calls the resulting story, “Hilarious and disgusting in equal measure. In other words, exactly what you’ve been waiting for.” Definitely jump over to the side box and read more about The Mortification of Fovea Munson. Honestly, it’s middle grade summer fun you will not want to miss.

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. (Disney Books)

Mary Winn joins us today from Chicago, where, as you’ve heard, she writes and acts. She is also a member of the Barrel of Monkeys Theatre Company, teaches creative writing to third, fourth, and fifth graders, and is on the faculty of the Highlights Foundation, which provides workshops for children’s authors and illustrators. Oh, and she is a graduate of the phenomenal Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults program, where she and I were not only workshop-mates but suite-mates.

But enough of me talking. Let’s turn things over to Mary Winn so that we can hear What Was on Mary Winn Heider’s …

Notes of What Never To Do in a Book Again:

  • Do not write a book where almost fifty percent of the main characters are bodiless talking heads.
  • Do not try to force through subplots that are more complicated than the entire rest of the book (looking at you, seven stepmothers with seven food trucks).
  • Do not try to come up with another rhyme for Hippocrates.

Notes of Must Dos Next Time Around:

  • Do figure out how to sneak more love notes into the story. Any story. All stories. More love notes all the time please.
  • Do learn how to outline. Maybe just a little. Maybe just try, okay.
  • Do build more dioramas of the action scenes so I can hold blocking rehearsals for my characters and figure out what the physics are and track all the props.

Diorama Set: For the climactic scene of FOVEA, the characters were represented on set by their stunt doubles: Zoidberg, two Doctor Who’s, a Lego cowgirl, a unicorn, a tree-horse (?), a robot with a gripper hand for [redacted], a finger puppet monkey and a non-finger puppet monkey (there are a lot of monkeys in our house). And a Hot Wheels conveniently stepped in for the hearse.

Calendar: Right now I just have two things on my to-do list. I need to write my second book. And I need to register people to vote.

Selected Resume:

  • Cadaver Lab Receptionist
  • Miss Havisham
  • Barista
  • Barista
  • Barista
  • Horse
  • Nursing Home Vaudevillian
  • Public Radio Reporter
  • Stella Kowalski
  • Italian Family Circus Ethnographer and Popcorn Seller
  • Bartender On a Train in Alaska
  • High School Drama Teacher

Or maybe I am actually still a high school drama teacher and this is all a long, strange dream.

Stage: Noises Off. It will probably surprise no one that my brain is secretly always trying to make a farce happen, complete with slamming doors and mistaken identities and plates of sardines.

Reading List: The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara, Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty, Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Spineless by Juli Bernwald, My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris.

Um, to begin with.

Street Corner: A little burger joint! I’ve spent a fair amount of time there staring off into the distance trying to solve fictional problems. I bet the bartender thinks I have a very tumultuous personal life, because I often catch myself making faces that telegraph how my characters are feeling.

Desk: I have a standing desk set up right now—it looks like the back half of a giant balsa wood stegosaurus—so technically, I have a desk on my desk. I have so, so many notebooks stacked up, all of which I am CERTAIN have valuable information in them. There’s a stack of biohazard bags. Enough sticky notes to sink a ship. For my birthday, my husband got some wooden crafting balls and painted them to look like the heads in the story. I’ve got them balanced on shot glasses, otherwise they’d go rolling everywhere.

Mind: I’m very lucky to be able to write books. And I hope that in the over-under, my books, weird as they are, generate more love and kindness in the world. But I’m also really aware that that’s not enough, and so what’s on my mind is how to be a more effective advocate for the disenfranchised and the marginalized among us.

Mary Winn Heider Mary Winn Heider Mary Winn Heider Mary Winn Heider Mary Winn

You can keep up to date with Mary Winn by visiting her online at and by following her on Twitter at @marywinnheider. If you would like to order The Mortification of Fovea Munson, simply click on the book below:

If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit

 Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel

4 thoughts on “Mary Winn Heider–What Was on Her . . .

  1. Thank you for this lovely interview, Mary Winn and Sandra! I remember when you first workshopped this book and presented your revision for the grad reading. Looking forward to seeing how it turned out in the end!

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