Monday, 7 February 2011

Interview: Ty Roth - So Shelly

So today I have an interview for you all that I carried out with the brilliant Ty Roth, author of So Shelly - which comes out tomorrow! I have to say this is probably my favourite interview that I've done. I just love Ty's answers and I'm even more excited about So Shelly now than I was. My copy should be arriving SOON and I can't wait to dive into it. Anyway, onto the interview!

Q.: To start with, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and So Shelly?

A.: I teach literature and composition at both the high school and university level. I love my job and can’t even imagine doing anything else. Although I always fancied myself as a writer, I only began to pursue it in earnest over the past six years. It’s an avocation that constantly vexes me and occasionally rewards me. As one of eight children, I am surrounded by family. I am also blessed with a supportive and beautiful wife and three sons of whom I am more proud than anything I have ever done in my life and career.

So Shelly is the story of three friends, all modern-day high school students, based on the lives and personalities of the second generation of English Romantic poets: Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and John Keats. After Shelly dies in what’s ruled a “sailing accident,” the other two steal the urn containing her ashes from her wake and attempt to fulfill her final wish to have them scattered on the very beach where her body washed ashore. In the process of completing their quest, Keats, as narrator, reveals the story of the trinity’s pasts, together and apart.

Q.: Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel? Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

A.: Because of my teaching duties, my time for writing during the school year is limited. I try to work every day on whatever project is before me; however, it’s nearly impossible for me to establish a consistent routine during those months. In the summer, I try to schedule at least five-and-a-half days of writing each week. I like to write for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. If time is available in the evening, I might read and revise what I wrote that day. On Saturdays, I only commit myself to a morning session. Remember, that is the ideal schedule. Often, life gets in the way. I never establish a word or page count as a goal, and I refuse to sit at my desk if the words aren’t coming. I am quick to walk away rather than grow frustrated with and disdainful of the process of writing.

Q.: In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters – what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you’re creating a character?

A.: That’s a very smart observation and a real concern for me in the writing of So Shelly. By their natures, each of these Romantics could be, at best, off-putting and, at their worst, plainly unlikable. Byron was a complete narcissist. Shelley could be brutally insensitive to the feelings of others, and Keats was often aloof. Therefore, if I were to be true to the actual poets’ personalities, my characters had to reflect these traits.

I do think that there is an overemphasis in much of modern fiction on creating “likable” characters who “bond” with readers. I’m not sure that it’s so important that they be likable as it is that they be compelling.

Q.: So Shelly is your first novel – can you describe how you felt in the moment when you first heard that it had been accepted for publication?

A.: One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” where he writes, “Heard melodies are sweet / but those unheard are sweeter.” My point is that, for me, the moment of the call was more awesome in the anticipation of it than in the experiencing of it. Don’t get me wrong, when my editor called and said, “Welcome to Random House,” my knees went all kinds of wobbly, but I didn’t cry, scream, or faint. Maybe I didn’t get the full enormity of the accomplishment at that time, but I kind of just went about my day. It didn’t change my life that much at the time nor has it since, and that’s the way I want it to stay. I think the moment I see my novel actually stocked on a bookstore shelf is when the full reality of making a dream come true will hit me.

Q.: Do you own a Kindle or other e-reader? What’s your opinion on them?

A.: I was an early owner of an e-reader. Over time, I’ve learned that I prefer physical books. I especially prefer scouring for books in bookstores and libraries to scrolling selections and downloading text. Also, with the spike in the use of e-readers, I’m really beginning to miss spying what books others carry or have shelved in their homes.

I’m in no way opposed to e-readers, especially if it inspires reluctant readers to read more frequently, nor am I overly given to nostalgia or resistant to the inevitable transition to e-readers. They just make sense. As a writer, I remind myself that all of these newly-purchased e-reader readers are going to demand a fresh and constant supply of material. I hope to be one of those supplying it.

Q.: What reading for pleasure do you prefer to read standalones or a series? Why?

A.: I rarely read anything in a series. I don’t like to commit myself to a reading project that will require me to stay with or continually re-visit one author or genre for such an extended period of time.

Q.: Some writers take great inspiration from music while they are writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

A.: I absolutely love music, and it is definitely a source of inspiration for me. I never, however, listen to music when I’m actually writing. I find it too distracting; it pulls me immediately out of my writing and into the world of the song. I usually do end up with a sort of soundtrack with each of my novels made up of the music I was listening to at the time of the project. For example, while writing Shelly, I listened to a lot of Better Than Ezra, The Counting Crows, Crowded House, 30 Seconds to Mars, Cat Stevens, and R.E.M., whose music actually plays a major role in the story.

Q.: Can you tell me a bit about your journey with So Shelly? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

A.: The notion for a novel using Byron, Shelley, and Keats as central characters has been with me for a long time, but I didn’t begin writing So Shelly until May of 2007 after three other novels failed to find representation. Shelly was placed with my agent within six weeks of beginning the querying process in August of 2009. I agreed to a two-book deal with my publisher on October 1 of that same year, and it is finally reaching bookstore shelves in February of 2011. In total, it’s been just under four years.

Q.: How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

A.: One of the most surprising realities for me in publishing has been how much the author is responsible for his own marketing, but it actually makes good sense, for who has a larger stake in the success of a book or should be more willing to work to ensure it than the author himself? An author who is unwilling to turn over every stone in the pursuit of marketing his work is a fool. To that end, I’ve found no better way to contact old friends and acquaintances and to make new ones than through the social networking means you’ve mentioned.

As a fringe benefit, I have greatly enjoyed how this media has enriched my private life by reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. It takes up a huge amount of time that I’d rather spend writing; however, it is what it is. I can piss and moan about it, or I can use it to my advantage. I choose the latter.

Q.: Which authors do you think have most influenced your own writing style?

A.: I wouldn’t say I write like he did, especially since he is one of the greatest writers of my generation, but my favorite author of recent years has been David Foster Wallace. I think I share with him a respect for rather than a loathing of popular culture, and it seeps into everything I write. Like Wallace, I prefer to stretch and to challenge readers rather than ever to underestimate them and “write down” to them. In YA, I’m especially fond of John Green, David Levithan, and Jay Asher. In practical terms and like so many others, Stephen King’s On Writing has been profoundly influential in my work. I never start a new project without reading it.

Q.: What advice would you give to writers who want to make the leap from writing as a hobby to actively pursuing a career in writing?

A.: First off, I have great admiration for anyone who writes “as a hobby.” For me, writing is always work, and I can’t imagine writing a word without the full intention of seeing it published somewhere.

For those interested in writing professionally, and I can only speak to long-form fiction, my best bit of advice is always to slow down. Unpublished authors, in general, are unaware of the glacial pace at which the publishing industry moves, but I’ve learned that it moves that way for good reason. Although it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to hurry, writers would be well-served to imitate that sluggish pace. In their understandable rush to make their dreams a reality, authors typically believe their work is much nearer an acceptable state of completion than it actually is. As a result, they start the querying and the submissions process prematurely and send out what is less than their best work, which, consequently, is rejected.

Q.: I love the cover art for So Shelly. Did you have much of a say in the design?

A.: Thank you. I agree. I think it is an engaging cover that dares the reader to follow the model into the pages of the story. Since my talents in the field of the visual arts are all-but-nonexistent, I actually wanted very little to do with the cover design. One of the best lessons I’ve learned throughout this entire process is to trust the experts. My editor did ask my opinion on a few things and she kept me well-informed during the process of the cover’s creation, but to be honest, I had very little to offer and I was more-than-willing to trust my editor, the artists, and the sales professionals in terms of creating an effective cover design.

Q.: Thank you so much for your time, Ty. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

A.: Trust me, the pleasure is mine. As for future projects, my next novel will not be a sequel in terms of plot, but it does take place in the same setting as So Shelly, and some of the minor characters return. My goal with my novels is to replicate a real world high school in which the students graduate only to be replaced, but many of the teachers and administrators stay the same. I hope that this will build a comfort level for my repeat readers who, when they begin my stories, will immediately feel comfortable with the familiarity of the setting and with a few of the minor characters.

I’m also working on a sort of sequel which will tell the love story between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, who I introduced at the end of So Shelly. It’s been done before in the Jane Campion movie Bright Star, but I’d like to put the same modern high school spin on it as I did with Shelly.


Thank you so much, Ty! I really do love this interview - what do you guys think? And have any of you read So Shelly yet? If so, what do you think?


  1. Nice interview and I learnt alot more about what the book is about. Do you know if this is being published by Random House UK?

  2. What an absolutely FASCINATING interview. I'm really dying to read So Shelly, I think the premise of it sounds really interesting. Will it be published in the UK? I might have to plump for ordering it online.

  3. But WHO did the cover art?!!! I'm so curious!!!


Thank you kindly for the comment, you sweet thing.