With a Sociology degree from Xavier University and a Masters of English Literature from the University of Toledo, Ty teaches literature and composition at both the high school and university levels. Currently, he lives with his family in Sandusky, Ohio, along the shores of his much-loved Lake Erie, which is the setting for So Shelly.
I first heard about Ty when I read an article on So Shelly‘s February 8th release in Publisher’s Weekly. In this novel, a mix of Mary Shelley’s character and the Romantic poets Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley (Mary Shelley’s husband) are students attending a modern-day high school. I’ve always been interested in these literary giants’ lives, so I found Ty on Facebook and asked him for an interview within, oh, about five minutes of friending him. While waiting for his response, I started brewing up some interview questions and crossed my fingers that he’d say yes. Obviously, he did, and he is here to dish on his boundary pushing novel.
Thanks for stopping by, Ty. Can you give us a summary of So Shelly?
So Shelly is the story of three friends, all modern-day high school students, based on the lives and
personalities of the second generation of English Romantic poets: Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; and John Keats. After Shelly dies in what’s ruled a “sailing accident,” the other two steal the urn containing her ashes from her wake and attempt to fulfill her final wish to have them scattered on the very beach where her body washed ashore. In the process of completing their quest, Keats, as narrator, reveals the story of the trinity’s pasts, together and apart.
Q.: How did the idea come to you?
A.: The idea for writing a novel using Byron, Shelley, and Keats as central characters had been with me for a long time, but I worried that the controversial nature of Byron’s and Shelley’s lives would make their story difficult to package for a YA audience. However, after I wrote three fairly traditional novels that failed to find representation, I decided to take a shot with the novel that turned out to be So Shelly. It’s definitely a “boundary-pusher” and intended for mature young adults and beyond.
I saw that you modeled So Shelly after Byron’s Don Juan. Can you tell us about the poem and how it inspired you?
A.: Don Juan is a mock epic that on one level functions as a literary, social, and political satire, but it is also a fun story of adventure in which the teenaged Juan (a thinly-veiled version of Byron himself) is forced to extricate himself from one amorous imbroglio after another. Byron’s poem inspired me to imitate the layered nature of his work. Like Don Juan, So Shelly can be read and enjoyed simply on the literal level of plot, but it also has layers of allegorical meaning beneath the surface and between the lines. As in Don Juan, my Gordon Byron character hops from one dalliance to another.
Is Percy Shelley’s character in your novel actually a woman? Or is the character modeled after Mary Shelley? I just want to clarify for other readers.
That is a very astute question. Shelly is actually a blending of Mary and Percy Shelley. It is one of the reasons for changing the spelling of the name. I felt that the story needed a female protagonist and that, of the three poets, Shelley would be the easiest and most logical one to feminize. It then made sense to incorporate aspects of Mary Shelley’s life and personality into the character; therefore, my Shelly is an amalgam of the lives and personalities of Percy and Mary.
Has the romantic era always appealed to you, and would you consider yourself a “Romantic”? Can you tell us a bit about that period?
A.: Like most people, I’ve experienced phases in my life and in my reading preference. When I was young and idealistic, I leaned heavily towards a romantic world view. As I grew older and lost some of my youthful enthusiasm and optimism, I became more of a realist and preferred literature that reflected that disposition. In recent years, however, I’ve decided that life is better viewed and the world is better served by Romantic notions; thus, I’m rediscovering and embracing my earlier, romantic self.
Tell us about Keats’s, Byron’s, and Shelley’s relationship. Why do you think people are still so fascinated by these men?
First off, I greatly exaggerate their closeness in the novel. Byron and Shelley were friends, at least to the extent that the narcissistic Byron could ever be one. Shelley and Keats were more professional admirers of one another’s work than friends, and as far as I know, Byron and Keats had virtually no relationship whatsoever.
I think much of our lasting fascination with them is the result of their early deaths and unfulfilled potential. With Byron and Shelley, there’s also the constant swirl of the scandal in which they were embroiled, and as for Keats, the tragic nature of his death, just as he found the love of his life in Fanny Brawne, is especially poignant.
How much, if any, research was involved?
A.: Quite a bit. I studied the Romantics both as an undergrad and in graduate school. Also, over the years in preparation for my own lectures on English Romanticism, I’ve done extensive research. In the writing of the novel, I read extensively from biographies of Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats. It’s important to remember, however, that So Shelly is a work of fiction. As Shakespeare did and said, I play “fast and loose” with the facts, never letting history stand in the way of a good story.
What was the most interesting fact you learned when researching the poets’ lives?
A.: Probably, the extent of Byron’s blatant disregard for societal conventions and mores.
What would you say was the most difficult aspect of writing So Shelly?
A.: Plotting. The novel has two major plots running simultaneously, one in the present and one that retells much of the past in the lives of the three main characters. This made it very difficult to keep plot events not only in chronological order but logical order as well.
When you teach about Byron, Shelley, and Keats, how do your high school students respond? Do they enjoy Romantic poetry? If so, why or why not? Is there anything about these men that teens can identify with?
Well, it’s early nineteenth century poetry. The odds of many modern-day students “enjoying” it are small. I do my best to make it tolerable and relevant. With that said, there are always a few who “get it” and fall in love with the language and passion of the poetry. In general, I think my students find the lives of these poets much more interesting than the poetry, but because Romanticism is a young person’s philosophy, if taught well, it can grab a teenager’s interest. My students seem to respond well to the gothic qualities, the rebelliousness, the heightened emotions, and the sensuality of the poems, especially Byron’s.
How did you find your agent?
A.: The old-fashioned way: querying. By virtue of alphabetical order, Katherine Boyle of Veritas Literary was one of the first five agencies I queried. In little more than a month of So Shelly being read by her interns and Katherine herself, I was offered a contract. At the time, I had several agents interested in representation, but I felt a good vibe with Katherine and I couldn’t be happier that I signed with her.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring authors what would that be?
A.: Because of their passion and enthusiasm for writing, it’s the hardest thing to convince an aspiring author to do, but I’d say, Slow down. Unpublished writers so desperately want to find an agent and a publisher – remember, for most of us, we’re talking literally about making dreams come true – that they often submit work that is unpolished and not representative of their authorial best. The most likely result of this rush is rejection.
What is your writing process like? Any rituals, etc.?
A.: Because I am still a full-time high school teacher and an adjunct college professor, my time for writing during the school year is limited. I try to work every day on whatever project is before me; however, it’s nearly impossible for me to establish a consistent routine during those months.
In the summer, I try to schedule at least five-and-a-half days of writing each week. I like to write for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. If time is available in the evening, I might read and revise what I wrote that day. On Saturdays, I only commit myself to a morning session. Remember, that is the ideal schedule. Often, life gets in the way. While writing, I like to eat Twizzlers and Animal Crackers and drink diet pop, but I’m not superstitious in any way.
What are you working on now?
A.: I have a two-book deal with Random/Delacorte. I’m currently finishing my final revisions on book two before sending it off to my editor. The setting and some of the minor characters are the same as in So Shelly, but the plot is not a sequel. I am, however, also working on an actual sequel should there be a demand for one.
Who are some of your writing influences?
A.: I wouldn’t say I write like he did, especially since he is one of the greatest writers of my generation, but my favorite author of recent years has been David Foster Wallace. I think I share with him a respect for rather than a loathing of popular culture that seeps into everything I write. Like Wallace, I prefer to stretch and to challenge readers rather than ever to underestimate them and “write down.” In YA, I’m especially fond of John Green, David Levithan, and Jay Asher. In practical terms and like so many others, Stephen King’s On Writing has been profoundly influential in my work. I never start a new project without reading it.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your writing career?
A.: I don’t think I’d want to give myself any advice that would allow my earlier self to avoid any of the mistakes I’ve made in the process. Failure has taught me more than my successes; therefore, it’s vital to fail. Learn from it and grow as a writer.
My only advice would be to be thick-skinned and endure, for in the publishing business, rejection is the norm and bad reviews are common. Keep in mind that it’s the book being rejected or harshly reviewed; it’s not the author.
If you could be Byron, Keats, or Shelley for one day, whom would you choose?
A.: Hands down: Byron for the obvious reasons.
How can fans contact you?
A.: I have a fan page on Facebook, I am on Twitter, and I also have an author’s web page at http://www.tyrothbooks.com/, where there is a link to my blog and an email address.
Thanks for stopping by, Ty, and best of luck on So Shelly‘s release!