In a recent interview, I was asked how I decide which portion of my novel to perform during a public reading. I used the word “perform” because for a reading to be successful, it must be a performance. This can be a major block for authors lacking a theatrical flair. It’s exceedingly difficult enough to pry people from off their couches and from their computers to take the trouble of getting themselves to a local library, university, or bookstore for a reading. If all the author provides is a vocalization of what the reader could have done for himself at home, there is very little likelihood that reader will be entertained or ever attend another reading. The best readings I’ve attended have been like one-man plays in which the author adapts his voice, facial expressions, and body language to match the characters for whom he speaks. Therefore, my first criteria for choosing an excerpt for reading is to choose a section heavy in dialogue and play the roles I’ve created. Said another way, I avoid reading long blocks of explanatory text, especially that which does little more than establish setting or directly characterize.
A second criterion pertains to how long the book has been available to the public. If the reading is to take place in the weeks to first few months after the novel’s release, I prefer to read from the beginning. There is no better place to start, and the reading will often serve to whet the appetite of the audience and to inspire their purchase of the novel. However, if the novel has been on shelves for months, and there is a good likelihood that a large portion of the audience will already have read the book, I like to choose a section that works as a self-contained mini-narrative even when excised from the story as a whole. I often find these excerpts buried in the sub-plot of the novel. I have found this sort of audience to find greater satisfaction by such a reading.
A third consideration is the make-up of the audience. I often change my choice of material at the very last minute based upon those actually in attendance rather than those “ideal readers,” to borrow Stephen King’s title,” I had imagined would fill the seats. For example, in my debut novel, So Shelly, the teenage characters use a fair amount of what many would consider vulgar language, including the “F”-word. If I notice a number of young children or elderly patrons, who are typically the ones most offended, I will read from a sectionthat makes minimal use of that sort of language. Although I relish the opportunity to offend my readers beliefs and values as a means of forcing them to examine them more closely, offending the reader or audience through the use of vulgarities is a cheap trick of little substantive value.
Finally, the most important criterion in choosing an excerpt for performance in a public setting is to select a portion which can be read in no more than fifteen minutes. If I go beyond that, I find some grow restless and lose interest. Remember, these are readers. Let them read.
I’ve been notified by my editor that the American Booksellers Associaion, by virtue of its committee’s reading of SO SHELLY, has chosen me as one of its “New Voices in YA.” I’ve always believed that Shelly has something unique to offer the YA community, but I also knew that its uniqueness might also be a hindrance as it searched for an audience. However, I kept the faith that, more-often-than-not, if a work of art is truly deserving, it will find its audience and be recognized. I absolutely trust the marketplace of ideas and artistic taste. Hopefully, the “New Voices” recognition will inspire additional bookstores to fully stock Shelly, international publishers to show greater interest, and, most importantly, more readers to give her a whirl and those, who have already read Shelly, to read it again.
The news couldn’t have come at a better time. These past few months have been a struggle as I’ve worked on finishing a second novel. I’ve actually completed and set aside one novel in order to write another which, I think, shows greater promise for successful publication. There have been many, many moments in which I haven’t felt much like a writer at all. This recognition, if nothing else, reaffirms that at least on one occasion, I was a writer.
I would be more than remiss if I didn’t thank my agent, Katherine Boyle of Veritas Literary Agency, and my editor at Random House/Delacorte, Michelle Poploff. Without their vision and talents, this award would never have been earned. When the complete list is announce on August 25th, I’ll provide a link to the ABA website.
Here’s a link to a very insightful review of So Shelly. It provides one of the better summaries of the novel I’ve read from a reviewer, and although the review is far from glowing, it is positive and well-written. http://thereadingshelf.livejournal.com/15595.html
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 has received a very positive review from VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates). VOYA”s web page describes itself as “a bimonthly journal addressing librarians, educators, and other professionals who work with young adults. The only magazine devoted exclusively to the informational needs of teenagers, it was founded in 1978 by librarians and renowned intellectual freedom advocates Dorothy M. Broderick and Mary K. Chelton ‘to identify the social myths that keep us from serving young people and replace them with knowledge.’”
By Ty Roth
VOYA; circ: 7,000
Until now, high school junior John Keats has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate, and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron—that is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident. After stealing Shelly’s ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly’s body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last “so Shelly” romantic quest. At least that’s what they think. As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly’s and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end.
So Shelly is told by Keats, the confidante of both Gordon and Shelly, which makes for an absorbing plot. This reader is unsure whether knowing about the real-life poets is a hindrance or a help. The smooth, playful writing style skillfully intertwines the stories of the protagonists. Roth has penned a contemporary story of three teenagers’ coming-of-age that takes the reader on a turbulent journey. The story contains a spattering of social issues—abortion, suicide, and sexual abuse—which are best suited to an older reader. The visually beautiful cover immediately catches attention. This novel may have limited readership but is one that teenage girls will thoroughly enjoy.—Amanda McFadden.
With the release date of my debut novel, So Shelly, fewer than three weeks distant, things are about to change. Oh, I’ll be the same person. That is one of the advantages of meeting with this modicum of success at a later age. At this point, I’m too much me to be anyone else or to fool anyone else if I try to be someone I’m not. What does stand to change, however, is the perception of me by others. The vast majority of readers of So Shelly will be complete strangers (Gosh, at least I sure hope so.), but a large number of readers will be former and current students, friends, and family, whose established notions of who I am will be challenged by the content of the story.
Largely due to the controversial sexual attitudes, irreligious beliefs, and outlandish behaviors of the real Byron and Shelley, several scenes of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and the questioning of faith occur in the novel. As a reader and a writer, I’m perfectly comfortable with such scenes, and this inclusion places me in line with a growing and, I think, much needed trend in YA novels and entertainment (as evidenced by such bestselling novels as John Green’s and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson and the MTV series Skins) that portrays the lives of teenagers in a realistic manner and refuses to condemn young people for their sexual natures or for their experimentations with living and free thought. Where this gets sticky for me, however, is in the realization that my parents, in-laws, children, students, parents of students, co-workers, etc. will read Shelly and wonder, “Who is this guy?” The answer is I’m the same guy I always was; however, until now, you haven’t known me as a writer. You’ve only known a sliver of me as a neighbor, teacher, son, or any of the other numerous roles I play in carving out the course that is my life. Some will be surprised; some will be offended; and some will just be a little weirded out because they’ve never thought of me considering such things.
I certainly won’t blame anyone for whatever judgments of me they make as a result of reading Shelly. When I accepted the publisher’s contract, I accepted that risk. Besides, it’s a relatively constant game in the study of literature to attempt to determine where and to what degree the author reveals himself in the behaviors, thoughts, and opinions of his characters, and there is no doubt that I occasionally do so in Shelly, but I will leave that for readers to discern. At the same time, however, a great deal is portrayed that is quite foreign to my beliefs, morals, and values, but, again, I’ll never tell what that is either. It will be part of the fun.
Today’s article is aimed primarily at readers and writers of novels and confronts a trend in fiction that I find disturbing. I refer to pacing. I’ll give you a few seconds to nod and to express your commiseration . . . Okay, I know, not the sexiest of blog topics, but one that gnaws at me nonetheless.
This problem is especially acute in YA literature. The assumption of editors and far too many writers is that readers – due to their constant mouse-clicking on the internet, their incessant pressing of the fast-forward button on MP3 players, and their perpetual rifling through television channels with the remote control – have the attention span of an ADHD-afflicted gnat. They assume that fictional prose must follow suit by constantly pushing the pace of plot at a breakneck speed out of the fear that a paragraph of prolonged description will completely discombobulate our surface-skimming readers. I say, “Nonsense!” Most readers are smart and capable readers. I think that most readers want the depth of understanding that, sometimes, requires a narrative to slow down and provide detail and reflection. Good writing is like good pitching: one must change speeds to be effective. A good hitter then, like a good reader, learns to anticipate and welcome the change of pace.
I’m often dismayed when I flip through the pages of young adult novels and many works of pulp fiction to find nothing but dialogue and paragraphs of no more than two or three sentences. That model is insulting to readers and limiting to me as writer. This prose style does allow avid readers to pour through an unbelievable number of novels in a very short time, which, I guess, is good for book sales; however, what is lost? I find it hard to believe that much is genuinely felt, that much is deeply considered, or that much is effectively retained by the reader as the result of such a reading experience. We, as authors and editors, do little to foster readers capable of plumbing the depths of serious literary fiction when all we offer them as young readers are “page-turners” and “beach reads.” Then, we bemoan its following the footsteps of poetry on the road toward extinction.
My final analogy is more adult in nature. The array of fiction should mirror the array of alcoholic beverages available to those who imbibe. Some are meant to be thrown back with a shot glass; others are intended to be and best savored by sipping from a wine glass. The world of fiction, especially YA fiction, is in need of more of the latter.
I’m honored to be included in Round Three of the “Author Insight” series at Wastepaper Prose. The Q and A appears one question at a time on Tuesdays and Thursdays over the next few months. Check it out at http://www.wastepaperprose.com/
This week the USA Today reported what for me and for all who support free speech is a troubling trend. According to the report, there has been “an uptick of organized efforts to remove books” from schools and libraries. Obviously, the targeted books are those which some self-righteous, self-proclaimed guardian of public decency has determined to be offensive or to contain “inappropriate content.” This article inspired me to dust off an op-ed piece I wrote for the local paper a few years back, when several libraries in my community were being similarly pressured. Below is my response in its entirety.
It was with great dismay that I read the article “Are these books for children”? in the Register of Feb. 11. With what is a heartfelt yet misguided conviction, a group calling itself Grassroots American Values has called upon the Huron, Sandusky, Elyria, and Lima public libraries to relocate to the adult section several “disturbing” texts from the children’s section.
The expansive public library system in the United States, which places an amazing and eclectic accumulation of information and ideas at the fingertips of any citizen with the wherewithal to seek it, is without precedent or parallel in the history of the world. The greatest strength of this system is the free flow and exchange of ideas it allows and encourages; this flow and exchange is fundamental to our free and democratic nation.
Should these libraries bow to the self-righteous demands of a vocal minority, such as Grassroots American Values, it will be one small step in the direction of fascism, even in our small corner of America. With what claim to legitimacy has this group established itself as the definers of “disturbing?” Should we remove all “disturbing” art from the world’s museums, movie screens, airwaves, and libraries, little of the universally recognized pieces of artistic genius would survive the purge.
It is a fundamental element, even responsibility, of the artist to disturb the collective consciousness of society. Only through such agitation is a society able to define and continually re-evaluate its culture. In this light, it was equally upsetting to read the list of the ten “most challenged books,” which are regularly targeted for recall from schools and libraries.
This list contains several provocative works of exceptional literary and social merit. Several of these “racist” texts are, to the contrary, treatises that reveal the evils of racism and the ignorance of those who subscribe to such perfidious thinking. Only our inability as readers to recognize irony and the subtleties of satire causes these texts to be misinterpreted and sometimes tragically banned.
The greatest disservice we could do our children is to imprison them in a culture of ignorance and intolerance by denying them access to the sublime array of literature, art, and lifestyles available for them to choose during their transitory trip through life. In a world divided by self-righteous justifications for hatred of those of contrary world views and lifestyles, I dream of one united in its dedication to the principles of forgiveness, peace, and love.
Naïve? Absolutely. But if I don’t imagine and share it, I doom my vision to the ash heaps of good intentions that line the pathways to hell, and I tacitly align myself with those who talk of forgiveness yet harbor vengeance, with those who talk of peace yet monger war, and with those who speak of love yet restrict that love to only those of likeminded philosophies.
The onus now falls on the shoulders of the targeted libraries to display the resolve to resist such narrow-minded thinkers and purveyors of hatred masked in religious and political conservatism.
I’m happy and proud to report that at that time the targeted libraries stood firmly on the side of free speech. I can only hope that this current wave of book banners will meet with similar freedom-loving Americans.
Visit my author’s page at www.tyrothbooks.com