Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ty Roth, debut author of So Shelly, a novel for mature young adults, due to be released by Delacorte Press (a division of Random House) in February of 2011.
So Shelly is based on the actual lives and personalities of romantic poets Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley and his wife Mary (author of Frankenstein). The twist is that in So Shelly, they are all modern day teenagers, and the title character, Shelly, is a feminine compilation of Mary and Percy. Although the setting is completely different, the author has taken pains to bring facts to the fore, incorporating actual events from the lives of the poets into their modern day counterparts’.
The action begins with Shelly’s death, and the theft by her friends of her ashes. The story goes “back and forth” between the present and the recent past, shedding light on what brought the characters to this point.
“Entertaining” and “sexy” are adjectives used by in-house readers to describe the story, and after some consideration, that’s okay with Ty. (See Ty’s blog post to read his perspective on including sex in YA novels.)
When asked about his writing process, Ty says that he always starts his books knowing the beginning and the end. Then he writes his way through, always keeping in mind where the plot is headed. He writes in short spurts, 45 minutes or so at a time, and likes to “layer” his themes.
I asked him what writing manuals he uses, if any. Ty said that he owns Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, which he likes a lot, but he was quick to mention that he doesn’t only use “said” for his dialogue tags. He refers to “The Rules” as a guideline, but he’s not afraid to go with whatever seems right at the time. How does he feel about adverbs? “I tell my students that adjectives and adverbs are like salt and pepper. If you don’t use them, your story will be bland, but too much isn’t good, either.”
As for developing a network from which to glean writerly advice, he didn’t. Although Ty joined AQConnect to get the benefit of the agent database, he never actually posted anything on the forum. He didn’t have any critique partners, either. In fact, he says that he has never even printed his manuscript out, and no one besides himself (other than people at the literary agency and the editors) has read it to this day, not even his wife.
Contrary to popular writing-forum wisdom, he doesn’t feel that having a perfectly polished manuscript is as important as some people seem to think. He describes his completed manuscript as “rough.” It’s important to make one’s work presentable, but “having a great hook” is really the key. “It’s the story.” Even the most flawless manuscript is going to go through several edits with the publisher, and Ty thinks that every author is going to have a better product by the end of it, no matter how perfect he/she thought it was.
When I asked if it was painful to go through editing, he told me that he did have to part with a few of his darlings, but he didn’t make the mistake of thinking that the manuscript was “his baby.” He had faith in the editing process, and heeded almost all of their “suggestions.” “They know what they’re doing,” he said.
Tomorrow: Great Guy, Great Story, Great Advice Part 2: How Ty got an agent and landed a healthy publishing contract for a two book deal.