Three Recent Reviews

The first review is from “Layinda’s Blog.” I’m proud to say that one of the first interviews I did for So Shelly was with Linda. To this day, I feel she conducted one of the most thorough and thought-provoking interviews of the many I have since completed. After reading her unsolicited review, I have grown in respect for her talents as a reader. She truly “gets” the book and presents a balanced review. Check it out here:

The second review is from an online Canadien newspaper. You can read the review here:

And a third from the blog I Like Books:

So Shelly at the Bologna (Italy) Book Fair

Ruta Sepetys, a fellow 2011 debut novelist and author of the much-anticipated, literary young adultnovel, Between Shades of Gray, recently sent this photo from Bologna, Italy, where she is attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (YA novels are automatically categorized as “children’s books”).  The following is taken directly from the Bologna Book Fair web page as way of explanation of the event:  “The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In Bologna authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to sell and buy copyright, find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production, generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships, discover new business opportunities, discuss and debate the latest sector trends.” I’m pretty stoked about Random House giving So Shelly such prominent promotion. My hopes that additional foreign rights will be purchased to go along with the Portuguese rights already sold for the novel’s publication in Brazil.

SO SHELLY in Bologna! Wish I was there.

Thanks, Ruta!

If at First . . .

Yesterday was a disappointing day. My agent informed me that Delacorte/Random House was taking a pass on the novel I had presented as the possible second in our two book deal. My editor described the story as a “page turner” and praised its narrative tension, but she didn’t feel it was as strong as So Shelly nor would it produce the “splash” I need to make with my sophomore effort if I hope to establish a foothold in the uber-competitive world of publishing. I was assured that Delacorte believes in my writing talents but felt that they were being wasted on this book.

 As one would expect, my initial response was one of disappointment. I had labored for over a year and for countless hours in the writing and revising of that novel. However, when I soon returned to my rational self and considered the rejection in an objective fashion, I thought, “If having a book rejected is the worst thing that’s happened to me lately, I’m a very lucky guy. I mean, I should feel pretty fortunate just to be in a position to be rejected by Random House and asked to try again, right?” I also realized that my editor’s evaluation was correct, and that deep down I knew I could, I had, to do better. My editor, Michelle Poploff, is one of the best in the business. She edited Claire Vanderpool’s Moon over Manifest, which was recently awarded the Newbery Medal, one of the most prestigious awards in children’s publishing. In other words, she knows her stuff. Her approach to editing actually reminds me much of my own teaching style. Good isn’t good enough; she expects greatness, and I didn’t deliver. No excuses.

 So, it’s back to the beginning with no regrets. Even though that novel has been consigned to my drawer of failed manuscripts, it wasn’t a waste of my time. I have no doubt that I am a much better writer for having written it, and I am excited to start a new project. For me, there are few things in life more exciting than a blank page waiting to be filled in, and this time, I’m determined to fill it with magic.

A Review of Thy Tears Might Cease

They just don’t write novels like this anymore! Michael Farrell’s Thy Tears Might Cease is the perfect embodiment of the novel form. It is reminiscent of Dickensian novels of the nineteenth century, a golden age when novels were more than short blocks of dialogue and action and when a reader’s attention span was stretched and held by the poignancy of the themes, depth of the characters, and the beauty of the prose.

 This novel was made more intriguing for me, as the author’s grand-nephew, Frank O’Farrell, is one of my best and oldest friends. Frank is originally from Dublin, Ireland. We met and became friends while attending college at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Last spring while I was visiting Frank, he handed me a thick, paperback novel titled, Thy Tears Might Cease. I’d never heard of it, but I was immediately interested by the author’s relation to Frank and by the subject matter: the early days of the “Troubles” in Ireland. I’ve long been fascinated by the history of the conflict between England and Ireland. As I was still in the throes of editing and promoting So Shelly, I set the novel aside for nearly a year, until not long ago, I picked it up and became deeply enthralled, not only with the historical insights of the novel but especially with the personal troubles of the protagonist, Martin Reilly, as he attempts to define his own place in the world, in Ireland, in the “Troubles,” in his family, and in his own conscience.

After I conducted some research, I learned that Thy Tears Might Cease is considered by many scholars of Irish literature to be one of the greatest Irish works of historical fiction and a classic coming-of-age novel. The story is set during the World War I era and follows Martin as he grapples with the pressing issues of his day, some of which have remained shockingly and sadly relevant in our own time as he learns the cost and futility of war; he loses his once sacrosanct Catholic faith to secularism and a budding atheism; he is traumatized by the sexual advances of a Catholic priest; and he finds himself a republican  freedom fighter/terrorist, depending on which side of the Troubles one is on.

If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned, lost classic, read Thy Tears Might Cease by Michael Farrell.

The “F-Word!”

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love the “F-word.” I’m not proud of this affinity, but I am not ashamed either, and although it has been pointed out to me that a man of such a large vocabulary should have no need to debase himself with the use of it, I like it precisely because it is “bad.” I suppose I like it in the way that proper English gentlemen of the Victorian Age preferred their two penny whores over their prim and proper wives (Little known fact: prostitution was legal in Victorian England.). I like the way it feels flying off of my tongue as it progresses monosyllabically from its soft “f” beginning to its cacophonic “k” climax like a glorious oratorical quickie. I love the way it pricks my ears and my sense of propriety. I even like the way it looks when typed or written; I know of no other word that draws a reader’s eyes to the page as it does. I like it because it is a vexing word: it irritates, agitates, and excites – all of which are common results of great art and communication.

Like anything of great power, its over or indiscriminate usage results in the diminishment of its effectiveness, but when wielded properly it can be extremely poignant in both writing or speech. When overused, it grows dull and tiresome (I’d suggest Cee Lo Green’s ubiquitous hit song “F**k You” as a prime example of this overuse.). When indiscriminately applied, it’s simply obnoxious (See: Melissa Leo’s Oscar acceptance speech.). I readily admit that there are times and places when the “F-word” should not be voiced or penned. I would never use it in the company of children or my mother, for example, but in the presence of adults, it is an admittedly double-edged sword of vocabulary that I’m more-than-willing to wield and to risk the employment of. In my novel So Shelly, the “F-word” is a favorite of the “bad boy” character, Gordon Byron. I have him use it primarily to establish his outlier status, for the word is seldom, if ever, voiced by the other, less radical characters. Secondly, it helps to establish his immature understanding of sexuality as crass and impersonal. Is this usage a cheap and simple linguistic trick? Maybe. But, I believe, it interestingly shows rather than dully tells a great deal about Gordon’s warped personality.

 For those of you who are vehemently opposed to the use of the “F-word” in any and all cases, that’s cool. I get and respect that. I have no expectation of changing your opinion, nor do I desire to. But, just once, for me, close the door to whatever room you’re in or go out under the cloak of night and let one “F-word” rip. You might be surprised how fucking good it feels.

Publisher’s Weekly Review of So Shelly

Publisher’s Weekly has given So Shelly what my editor calls a mixed review and what my “bright side” leaning agent has called a “far from damning” review with a very positive conclusion worthy of congratulations. After some initial dismay, I’ve concluded, it’s all cool. When I wrote the book, I fully understood that it would inspire a variety of reactions. Most good books rouse a fair amount of debate regarding their merit. What I most desire is a strong reaction in either direction. What I most fear is a tepid response. Remember: John Greenleaf Whittier (a very forgettable eighteenth century poet) threw his copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in the fire, and Wordsworth once dismissed a poem of Keats’s as a “pretty piece of paganism.” In the end, I’m honored that something I wrote has actually been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly! That in and of itself is a dream come true.

So, in the spirtit of total disclosure, below is PW’s review of So Shelly. If you disagree, I’d encourage you to visit the So Shelly page at Amazon or Barnes and Noble online and compose your own review.

So Shelly
Ty Roth, Delacorte, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-73958-0

Roth’s imagining of poets Keats, Byron, and Shelly (a blending of Percy and Mary) in the present day centers almost exclusively on Byron, known as Gordon, despite being narrated by Keats. Following Shelly’s apparent suicide, Gordon and Keats steal her ashes and, fleeing Shelly’s sexually abusive father, they take a boat out on Lake Erie to fulfill her last wishes. Most of the story consists of Keats relaying Gordon’s past adventures, including being sexually abused by his nanny, publishing a YA vampire book, seducing many women—including his cousin and possibly his half-sister—and briefly joining a Greek terrorist squad. Shelly is Gordon’s neighbor and childhood best friend, but his feelings for her have remained platonic while she has fallen in love with him; Keats is Shelly’s trusted friend, though there are only glimpses of that friendship. Despite the intriguing premise, excessive back-story and rehashing of Gordon’s sexual conquests (however accurately they might resemble Lord Byron’s) can grow tiring. But though readers may struggle to see past Gordon’s unlikable personality, Shelly’s ultimate wishes for Gordon and Keats provide satisfying closure. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

Sample Query/Crusaders Preview

Two of the most common questions posed to me since the release of SO SHELLY have been 1) How did you find a publisher, and 2) Is your second novel going to be a sequel. I figured I could answer both those questions by posting an example of a sample query for my second novel, which is tentatively titled CRUSADERS.

To get published in today’s extremely competitive market, especially by one of the “big 6” publishers, a writer must have a agent to pitch the novel to editors at these publishing houses. The typical method of gaining agency representation is by means of a query letter. As for whether it is a sequel to SO SHELLY, those who have read Shelly will recognize that the setting is the same – as are several minor characters – but the protagonists are not. From the beginning, I didn’t want my second novel to be an extension of the plot or a repeat of the gimick I utilized in moderninzed Byron, Shelley(s), and Keats. Rather, I wanted to write a novel born completely out of my imagination. Hopefully, by reading the query below, your appetite will be whetted.

Sample Query (Without Salutation or closing):

The most dangerous student in Trinity Catholic High School doesn’t play violent video games or listen to death metal; she doesn’t own a gun or have a hit list.  The most dangerous student in Trinity Catholic High School is a 105-pound poet.  Crusaders is a 78,000 word novel for mature young adults.

 With weekend football games serving as narrative bookends, Crusaders recounts a cataclysmic week in the lives of a senior boy and girl from polar ends of the social hierarchy of Trinity Catholic High School in Ogontz, Ohio.  The rebellious fires of Notre Dame bound quarterback and closet eccentric T.J. Farrell are ignited by the new girl/emo chick Emilia Iavarone, who, in a moment of Promethean audacity, sets in motion a series of events whose fallout will inflict unintended but widespread collateral damage.  Discovering a shared distaste for the status quo, a passion for poetry, and a dubious faith in God, T.J. and Emilia rock the foundation of the Crusader faithful despite the parents, school administrators, coaches, and classmates who virulently, even violently, oppose them.

 Before the illusion is destroyed by what proves to be the insurmountable, institutionalized power of conformity, T.J. and Emilia rise to share a vision of a future, far from small-town Ogontz, in which freedom of choice, expression, and thought exists beyond the labels, limitations, and expectations imposed by others.

Hopefully, this is of some use to those of you struggling to pen an engaging query; I actually think that this one is much better than the one I wrote for SO SHELLY, which actually worked.

Booklist Review is In!

One of the most influential reviewers of new books is the magazine Booklist. It is published by the American Library Association and followed closely by those inside of the publishing industry, especially book buyers and, of course, libraries. Therefore, I was thrilled when my editor forwarded an advanced copy of the review of So Shelly that will appear in the March 15th edition of Booklist. I’ve included it below and couldn’t be happier with the review.

So Shelly.
Roth, Ty (Author)
Feb 2011. 304 p. Delacorte, hardcover, $17.99. (9780385739580). Delacorte, library edition, $20.99.
In a modern-day Ohio high school near the brooding waters of Lake Erie, Byron is the playboy, Keats the quiet observer, and Shelly the ultimate romantic. Inspired by, and broadly mirroring, the lives and relationships of the Romantic poets, this first novel is lush and emotional, infusing the indulgences, idealism, sensuality, excess, and impulsiveness of the Romantics in a contemporary setting. Michelle “Shelly” Shelley (a composite of Percy Bysshe and Mary) has drowned in a rumored suicide, and her childhood playmate Gordon Byron recruits her newer friend John Keats to steal her ashes from the memorial, hit the road, and scatter them at the beach where she was found. Keats narrates literary prodigy Gordon’s sex-god-like exploits with awe and equal measures of admiration and judgment but holds Shelly close to his heart as he searches for a way to make his mark before his own time runs out. An afterword distinguishes fact from fiction, and there is certainly enough enticement here to lead teens back to the source material for a look at these fascinating characters.
— Heather Booth

It Takes a Village To Sell a Book

In the book business, gathering accurate sales numbers has always been a tricky task; however, all indications from my agent suggest that my publisher is pleased with early returns. Online sales have remained solid, quite a few retail outlets have struggled to keep Shelly on the shelves (She’s a feisty lass.), libraries all across the country are stocking her (the library in Toronto Canada even has more than ten), and I’ve made the sale of rights to a publisher in Brazil and expect quite a few more foreign rights sales to follow.

 Much of Shelly’s early success is due to very strong sales in Ohio. From the onset, my personal hope was to make a splash in the one market I could immediately impact, specifically Northern Ohio, but I had no idea how enthusiastically so many of you would respond. Thanks to you, it looks like that strategy is paying off. You guys have been awesome! I know this is presumptuous, but I really feel that Shelly isn’t just my book; rather, it belongs to and is literally the creation of all of the many family members and relatives, friends (present, past and always), and students I’ve been blessed with throughout my life. I hope you feel some degree of satisfaction in whatever meager success Shelly earns. I hope that readers far and wide, who I’ve only met through Shelly, interviews, or here on my blog, will please consider yourselves new members of this ever-growing circle of my friends – truly part of the village. It’s all love here.

 As a debut author, I lack a built-in audience of previous readers; therefore, I don’t believe my publisher had overly high expectations “out-of-the-gate.” Rather, I’ve been comparing the distribution method and sales of So Shelly to a slow soak rather than tidal wave. I encourage all of you who have read and enjoyed Shelly and joined my extended family to recommend her to your friends and invite them to join the ever-widening circle. It is word-of-mouth that will take Shelly to the “tipping point” of bestseller status. In my heart, I think she has much to teach and many lives to touch, but she will only be able to do so with your continued support and enthusiasm.

Meet Hank, my new friend from Borders. Stop in and see him.