I was invited to speak to the sixth graders at the Delhi Book and Media Fair and had a fabulous time! Thank you to everyone there who made the experience wonderful. As part of my interviewing workshop, the students came up with interview questions for author Melissa Wyatt. Here is the interview:
Ideas are everywhere. I've learned to pay attention to things that stick in my mind and won't go away. "Haunts" you might call them. The idea for RTG started from an offhand comment my mother made more than twenty years ago. My mother is a fund of trivial information. And one day in maybe 1982 or 1983, we were driving around Washington DC and as we passed the Falls Church, VA exit, she waved her hand and said "The former Yugoslavian royal family lives there. They just had twin boys." Don't ask me how she knew that.
But it stayed with me and I thought about it off and on for years. It came up again when Communism began to fall in Eastern Europe and suddenly we had all these countries struggling to establish democracies for themselves. There was some talk of restoring monarchies in some of these countries. So I started thinking "What would it be like?" What if you were born to an exiled royal family, living a fairly normal life in a suburb somewhere and then one day, the country that kicked you out wanted you to come back and be their prince? How would you react?"
Now when you first think about it, you think it would be pretty cool. You'd get to live in a castle, have servants waiting on you hand and food, people treating you like—well—royalty, cars, clothes, money, etc. But what we don't think about is that you get all of that in exchange for one very important thing. And that is the freedom to decide what you want to do with your life. And for a teenager to have to give up that freedom—well, that's what I wanted to write about.
Okay, I have to tell you honestly that I HATE revising. I love writing the first draft, but revising is very hard for me. I have a tough time seeing past what I've already written. My biggest challenge in revising this story was in trying to make the reader understand why Alex was so very unhappy in a situation many people think they would enjoy.
Well, the original title was PRINCE, which I thought was short and to-the-point. My editor, however, said it was blunt and we needed something else. She told me they were putting the Rovenian flag on the cover (because authors—for the most part—have no say in what goes on the cover of their books) and asked me to come up with something that would tie in with that. So since there's a griffin on the flag, I played around with that for a while and came up with RAISING THE GRIFFIN to sort of tie in the idea of this flag being raised over this country for the first time in many years as well as the idea of a sort of national consciousness being raised in the main character.
Wow. Tough question. It's hard to choose. I always love my main characters, but I have a real soft spot for Count deBatz. I like how dedicated he is to his ideals, even if he isn't always the nicest guy.
Alex just "came" to me. I liked him right away, liked that he was so terribly self-involved and wondered if I could build a story around him. The name...well, I was looking for a Slavic name that I could get an English-sounding nickname out of.
You know, I almost never ever do that. But when I was revising this book, someone told me that I needed a girl character in it, someone for Alex to play off of. And I started casting around in my head for a girl but I couldn't come up with one. Then I met the daughter of a friend and I knew right away that this was the girl I was looking for. So Sophy is largely based on my friend's daughter, Livy. Though Livy is more self-assured than Sophy and would have made mince-meat of Isabelle.
You never know if other people will like your story. And really, you can't think about it. You have to write for yourself, write what interests you, what you are passionate about. If you do that well, then other people will be interested too.
I loved the over-the-top subject and setting of RTG, but I don't know if I want to write anything like it—at least not for awhile yet.
I love young adult literature. There's an excitement and directness in teen books that I have never felt in adult books. So I write what I love to read. Teen books demand an economy of language, a spareness that is very hard to achieve, so it's not "easy" writing. But the themes of choice and change and finding your place in the larger world are endlessly exciting to me.
It wasn't a who so much as a lifelong frustration with my very boring life. Even when I was a little girl, I had this terrible envy of other people's lives. I didn't envy them their material possessions, but I envied them their experiences. I wanted to live thirty different lives. Writing was an outlet for that hunger. I'm basically a coward, so writing lets me have all these exciting experiences without leaving my house.
Two things: one is the freedom to create people and worlds and situations out of nothing and spend all day in your own created universe. The other is hearing from readers, from people who enjoyed the book because that's what brings that world and those people fully to life.
Revising, making what I want to say as clear as possible to the reader.
I loved to read as a child! My very favorite childhood book was called MISSING MELINDA. This was back when library books had a little pocket in the back with a card in it. When you signed the book out, you wrote your name and the due date on the card. I completely filled out four of these cards front and back for MISSING MELINDA before the school librarian flagged me and wouldn't let me sign it out anymore. I've never forgiven her.
Other favorites: MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, A LITTLE PRINCESS, THE DOOR IN THE WALL, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, THE SWING IN THE SUMMERHOUSE, I could go on and on.
English! (Now called Language Arts in most schools.) I had some amazing, terrific English teachers.
Ha ha! Okay, never ask a writer if she has a regular job! Sure, maybe writing is pretty irregular, but it is a real job. And a writer has to be serious about it and treat it that way. So let's put it this way: I don't have a "day job." Writing is my job.
Now that both of my kids are in school, I get up, get them ready, put them on the bus at 8:00 and come back and do e-mail for about an hour. (There's a lot more to writing these days than just writing.) Then I usually get some laundry going and sit down to write. I'll write until lunch, take a break for lunch, check e-mail again and then write until my oldest son gets home around 3:15. When I'm on a big deadline, sometimes I will write at night, too. Before both my kids were in school, I wrote at night after they were in bed, sometimes until two or three in the morning. I'm glad those days are over!
I've written a bunch of books...probably fourteen. But RTG is the first book I've had published.
Oh gosh! I don't know. I'm actually hoping to just keep on writing until I can't write anymore, I love it that much.
I'm working on a story about a seventeen-year-old West Virginia boy who is torn by wanting to stay in his poor, dying town while watching his friends preparing to leave.
A big round of applause to the 80 sixth graders and the teachers (especially Ro Avila) at Delhi Middle School and a huge thank you to Melissa Wyatt! Thank you also to the coordinators, Linda Norris and Elizabeth Sova, and to my student guide, Tina! — dmf