Little Willow [userpic]

Interview: Melissa Wyatt

August 30th, 2009 (12:15 pm)
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To date, Melissa Wyatt has written two novels: Funny How Things Change, published in 2009, and Raising the Griffin, published in 2004. Though the books take place in completely different locations - the fictional Rovenia and the very real West Virginia - both books consider the plights of young male protagonists whose lives are about to change in very big ways. I spoke to Melissa mostly about Remy from Funny How Things Change and writing from a male point of view.

Do you approach your stories differently depending on the gender of your protagonist?

The approach is dictated more by the situation and the personality of the character, the feel of the story in general and what it wants to be. In developing a character, of course you have to take gender into consideration but without falling into stereotype traps on either side.

What are the challenges you face when writing in a male voice - and/or writing for boys?

One of the challenges of writing outside of my own gender is that some readers will automatically question the validity of the voice and very often measure it against gender stereotypes they might not apply to an author writing about their own gender.

For example: boys never talk about their feelings; boys never notice what girls wear; boys are only interested in sports and sex. We all know this is nonsense. All boys are not the same. Heavens, don't I know? I live with three of them. And I know that in some aspects, they approach things very differently from the way I do. So I try to sort of refocus the lens when I'm writing from a male perspective.

Do you feel as though there are 'girl books' and 'boy books?' Do you, like me, want to break that division or assumptions?

I think there are books that many girls will enjoy more than many boys and vice versa and I think that's fine. The great thing about books is that everyone is free to choose what appeals to them.

I do worry about marketing trends that lead to covers designed to attract girls specifically because it's assumed girls buy more books, thereby putting guys off from reading books they might otherwise enjoy.

Do you prefer to write in first-person or third-person? Is that decision influenced by the gender of your protagonist?

I like both, but the choice is driven by the -- er -- character of the character, not the gender so much. I've published two books now with male protags: one in first person and one in close third. In Raising the Griffin, Alexei was a more openly passionate person, who projected everything outward. I wrote the first draft in third person and couldn't get a handle on him. I didn't understand him and he always seemed to be one step ahead of me. Nothing he did made any sense. When a friend suggested directly addressing him and asking him questions and having him "write" back to me, his voice finally came out clearly.

With Funny How Things Change, from the start, I felt that Remy was more...modest. While he's more introspective than Alexei, he wasn't as self-centered, so I couldn't see him "telling" his own story in the way first person requires. He needed someone else peeking over his shoulder and letting the reader in on what was going on in his head. Remy would have died rather than let you in on his thoughts. At times, writing his story felt awfully like eavesdropping. But that was because he was a very private person, not because he was a boy. Alexei -- even though he fought against his very public role, wasn't the kind of person who kept his thoughts bottled up.

I'm back to first person for my WIP, where the MC is a very direct young woman who isn't about to let anyone else tell her story.

Are you more impulsive or thoughtful?

Er...I would say I'm hesitant, which isn't as good as being thoughtful. It's frustrating!

Remy's town is very much a part of the story. Were you born and raised in a small town, a city, a suburb...?

I was born in a small city and raised in a new suburb outside that city. The suburb was one of many built around a little town called Weiglestown, but very quickly, the suburbs and their attendant grocery stores and fast food places swallowed up the town and Weiglestown became only a name for an area. There was no town at all. So I grew up without any real sense of community in the way that Remy experiences it. (So much for "write what you know.")

When did you first visit Appalachia? What makes that part of the country so wonderful to you?

I've known southern West Virginia for about twenty years, visiting my husband's extended family in Welch. I have to admit I didn't like it much at first. I'm used to rolling farmland, not steep mountains. I need more horizon around me and the mountains made me feel claustrophobic.

What really struck me about Appalachia was how strongly the people who were born and raised there felt about it, how strong the ties to the land were decades after they had moved away. The question that drove the writing of the book was "Why?" Why do they want to move back? Why would people stay in a place that has so little value the way other people calculate value?

How much research regarding mountaintop removal did you do before or while writing this book?

When I started the book, I had no idea that mountaintop removal mining would come into it. But the more I read and saw and heard, the more it seeped into the story and became part of the theme. From then on, I read everything I could find on mountaintop removal mining.

I couldn't get close to any real mining sites, but I did visit the Twisted Gun Golf Course, which is touted as one of the successes of reclaiming a mountaintop removal mining site, as though a golf course is an improvement on whole mountains.

What would you do if you were Remy? Lisa? Are you anything like any of your characters?

I am nothing, nothing, nothing like Remy and not much like Lisa and only a little like Dana. I do not practice write-what-you-know in a practical sense, and so my main characters are usually as far away from myself as can be. They are more what I wish I was as far as the strength of the choices they make. But sometimes I find bits of myself have slipped into the stories. I hate to admit it, but I am the grumpy wife at the family reunion.

Describe your first post-high school summer.

I went immediately to work in a clerical position for the state government, so I never had that last, languorous teen-aged summer that Remy and Lisa share.

What are your top ten favorite books?

Oh! This is an easy question because I actually have this list on my website. Let's see if I can do it by memory:

1. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnette - My comfort read.
2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
3. Collected Lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
6. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
7. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (except I always rewrite the ending in my head!)
8. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
9. Pennington's Heir by K. M. Peyton
10. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

(I had to cheat and double check just to be sure.)

Drop by Melissa's website and LiveJournal.

Comments

Posted by: medwriter (medwriter)
Posted at: August 30th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)

Great interview!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 30th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)

Thanks!

Posted by: Kimberley Little (kimberleylittle)
Posted at: August 30th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)

Fascinating interview! I lurv Melissa's books! She's such a talent.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 30th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)

Thanks! :)

Posted by: Laurie Beth Schneider (idaho_laurie)
Posted at: August 31st, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)

Thanks! I heart Remy and appreciate Melissa's discussion of third person to capture his thoughts.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 31st, 2009 06:32 am (UTC)

Agreed. Narration is so crucial to stories for me.

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