blo Teens Read and Write: Author Interview: Ty Roth - SO SHELLY

Monday, January 31, 2011

Author Interview: Ty Roth - SO SHELLY

We're excited to have Ty Roth here today for an interview! His debut YA novel, SO SHELLY, is a contemporary take on historical figures and is available Feb. 8.  


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.

1. You say that your Catholic faith influences your writing, how did it influence the story of SO SHELLY
 Each of the major characters in the novel, as they did in their real lives, struggle against some monolithic institution or undefeatable force. Gordon Byron struggles against the morals of polite society. Shelly struggles with the Christian church, and Keats with death. These conflicts serve as major motivators for the actions, philosophies, and feelings of each of the trinity. In my life, the Catholic church has been that omnipresent and omnipotent force. 

2. Your characters are based on historical figures but are there any characters based on your real life students?  None of the characters’ personalities are based on contemporary, real life individuals, but when picturing them in my head and describing them, I often took a sort of Dr. Frankenstein approach. For example, in describing the Byron character, I took his eyes from one former student, his hair from another, and his physique from yet another. The closest I came to using a complete and real person is for the Greek revolutionary, Zoe. During the time when I was writing her scenes, I noticed a student who looked the way I imagined Zoe would. From that day on, unbeknownst to her, I had my model. 

3. Why did you decide to tackle a novel with such deep emotional issues? 
I’m not sure I ever consciously “decided” to do so. The nature of Romantic philosophy and the actual events of Byron’s, Shelley’s, and Keats’s lives, upon which much of the novel is based, lend themselves to emotionality. Besides, I don’t think I would be much interested in reading a novel that didn’t explore and expose “deep emotional issues,” and I’m positive that I’m not interested in writing one. Also, in young adulthood our emotions are especially acute; they drive our decision making more directly than they will in the sober years of adulthood. As the novel is primarily aimed at young adults, it only made sense to ratchet up the appeal to readers’ emotions. 

4. If you could go back in time and interview Keats, Shelley, and Byron, what would you ask them? 
Byron seemed to face a dilemma similar to that of Achilles: Live a glorious life but die young, or live a long but unremarkable life. Like Achilles he chose the former. Given the chance, I’d ask him if he regrets that decision. 

Keats was faced with a similar dilemma. With a premonition of early death, he chose to commit himself wholeheartedly to his poetry. I’d like to know, if given the opportunity to re-live his last years, would he do the same thing, or would he throw himself into the pursuit of more worldly pleasures. 

Shelley’s principled refusal to renounce his essay, “The Necessity of Atheism,” destroyed his relationship with his father and all but doomed him to a life of poverty and social rejection. I think I know his answer, but I’d like to ask Shelley if he ever regretted that decision. 

5. What do you think Keats, Byron, and Shelley would like most and like least about contemporary society? 
As for Shelley, I don’t think that he would like much at all. Many of the social ills he hoped to conquer through love and poetry remain unresolved, including poverty, institutionalized religion, and the general oppression of the common man. One change he might appreciate is a greater recognition of a father’s right of access to his children, which he was denied after his scandalous behavior lead to his first wife’s suicide.

As to Byron, the easy answer would be modernity’s greater sexual freedoms, at least as allowed in most of the West. But Byron was a man of the world, so even more, I think, he’d appreciate the ease and speed of travel we are afforded today. As for what he’d like least, I’d say the constant hounding by the press endured by today’s celebrities. Byron certainly took full advantage of his fame, but he would have found the invasiveness of paparazzi beyond the Pale.

Keats, I’d say, would greatly appreciate modern medicine’s ability to treat illnesses that often proved fatal in his day. Remember, he, his mother, and brother all died of tuberculosis, a disease which has been all but eradicated outside of the third world. One of the most troublesome realities of the modern world for Keats would be the near extinction of poetry in wide cultural circulation, which has doomed poets to near complete anonymity and irrelevance. 

6. You say you’re always “a teacher.” What do you hope readers take away from reading SO SHELLY
If pressed for a moral, I’d say SO SHELLY is a cautionary tale against the dangers of self-absorption, especially as realized in Gordon’s (Byron’s) sexual carelessness and in Keats’s self-pity and preoccupation with death. I’d like for older readers to see how self-absorption also causes each of the main characters’ parents to fail to properly monitor and guide their children’s choices and behaviors.

I’d also love it if readers caught some of the spirit of Romanticism as revealed in the values of the main characters, such as freedom, rebellion against tyranny of the body or mind as exercised by social institutions, individualism and nonconformity, passion for living spontaneously and in the immediate moment, concern for social justice, and an appreciation for the power of emotion.

SO SHELLY also explores themes related to such issues as racism, the class divide, sexuality, suicide/death, abuse/violence, and religious faith.

This is going to expose me as a geeky English major, but from a literary standpoint, I hope that more astute readers will appreciate the layers of symbolism, satire, irony, and meta-textual commentary, but it is not necessary to recognize any of this in order to enjoy the story – I hope.

7. As you’re teaching your class, Keats, Shelley, and Byron crash through the ceiling (and the space-time continuum) dressed like famous superheroes – which superhero is each one dressed up as and why? 
Byron appears as Batman, the Dark Knight. Like him, Byron was wealthy, aristocratic, intelligent, athletic, darkly handsome yet almost impossible to pin down. He was a complex figure who was simultaneously loved and loathed.

Shelley would wear the costume of Captain Planet. Although he could be shockingly callous towards loved ones, at heart, he was a shameless do-gooder. He sincerely wanted to change/save the world – literally through free love and poetry. I think that naive idealism is also present in Captain Planet. Also, in “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley identified himself with the wind, an element of nature and instrument of change.

Keats, I see as a sort of Invisible Man, so I guess I wouldn’t “see” him at all. His goal as a poet was to – like Eminem – “lose himself” in the subjects of his poems. Keats felt that the poet’s goal was to be personally reductive to the point of nothingness so as to become part and parcel of the subject of which the poet writes rather than being a spectator outside of the subject merely reporting, therefore, the Invisible Man. I hope that makes sense.

Ty, thanks for stopping by and sharing such interesting, fun and in depth answers!


Missie, The Unread Reader said...

Amazing! I didn't know there would be a literary tie in. Now I'm even more excited to read the book.

Fun questions, as always, guys! Especially that last one. LOL!

nymfaux said...

That was a FANTASTIC interview--on both sides!!!!--Really enjoyed it!!!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I never thought of those 3 as superheros. What a great answer. Hm... will be thinking about that! :)

Shelly B said...

Great interview! This was my Waiting on Wednesday book last week b/c the title has my name in it.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Whoa. What an interview. This guy is really interesting. I love the questions he had. Wow. Great post!

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