Because no other media outlet has requested an interview with me since the release of my latest novel, Island No. 6, I decided to interview myself and to ask the types of questions that actually interest me rather than the typically banal ones interviewers tend to ask.
Me: Thanks for sitting down with me.
Me: Sorry. So, tell me about yourself. (Ty rises from his chair in an effort to end the interview.). I couldn’t resist. Please, stay. Tell me about Island No. 6 then. Had you really begun writing it long before the current pandemic?
Ty: I did. I actually began the first draft in 2011.
Me. But you published Goodness Falls in 2014. I’m just wondering about your process. Do you work on multiple novels simultaneously?
Ty: Not typically, no. Island No. 6 had been a sort of pet project for me, just something I started and left lying around while working on other novels. Whenever those plots went cold, I returned to Island No. 6 and played with it over the next seven years until I had a temporary final draft in 2018.
Me: Why “temporary?”
Ty: Well, once the current pandemic hit, I went back and polished up a few things – not much really.
Me: So would I be correct in assuming you have other novels either unfinished or still waiting to be pitched to publishers.
Ty: That would be correct. I have three other complete drafts and one nearly two-thirds of the way finished.
Me: Do you have any plans to finish and/or publish any of these?
Ty: Not really. I pitched a couple of them around a bit, but when I didn’t receive an enthusiastic enough of a response, I just kind of filed them away.
Me: Wait. So you have three novels more-or-less finished and another two-thirds of the way complete that you have little intention of publishing.
Ty: Correct. There are a lot more swings and misses in writing/publishing than there are home runs – at least in my experience.
Me: I’m sorry. That just seems like a colossal waste of time to me. Those four novels had to have taken years to write.
Ty: They did. I think of them like the songs that don’t make the album or the scenes of a movie left on the cutting room floor. Although I no longer have any intention of publishing them, they’ve helped me progress towards being a somewhat competent fiction writer and to writing the types of novels I’m proud of.
Me: Interesting. Let’s talk a bit about Island No. 6. Compared to your first two novels, it is clearly directed more towards an adult audience, yet at the same time, it contains less of what might considered “adult content.” Why is that?
Ty: First off, you’re correct about the intended audience for all three novels. I actually hate the notion of books being directed toward narrow age groupings. I’ve known some fourteen year old readers who were much more mature and able of dealing with so-called “adult” content and complicated ideas and issues than folks two and three times their age. It’s the publishing and bookselling industries that insist on identifying and targeting specific age groups for their own marketing purposes.
Me: I see.
Ty: In my own case as a reader, it was some of those adult books, which I somehow got my hands on and that were not supposedly “age appropriate,” that turned me on to reading fiction and, ultimately, to writing it.
Me: Really? Like what books?
Ty: One that sticks out is Ball Four by Jim Bouton.
Me: Isn’t that a baseball book?
Ty: Only on the surface. Bouton was a ballplayer, but the book is about behind-the-scenes stuff like players having sex with groupies, players doing drugs, and all of the petty bullshit that goes on in any industry. It was my first realization that the adult world I’d been being prepared for was not the one I was soon to enter.
Me: Interesting. You said “first off.”
Ty: I’m sorry. What?
Me: You began your answer about adult content with “first off.” I assume you had more to say on the subject.
Ty: Oh, right. “Adult content” is more-often-than-not a euphemism for sexual situations. I have a sort of backwards theory on that. I think there should be more frank portrayals of sexuality in young adult novels and, in many cases, a bit less in those written for adults.
Me: Really? Why’s that?
Ty: No one’s talking honestly to young people about sexuality. They get “scared straight” lectures about STDs and pregnancy in sex education courses, but that’s about it. They’re not being spoken to about what a healthy sexual lifestyle looks like for an adult or how to go about forming one for themselves. Like every generation before theirs, they’re groping around in the dark . . .
Me: Both literally and figuratively.
Ty: Right. Good one. . . and trying to make sense of their bodies and natural urgings without fucking up their entire psyche and lives. On the other end, sex is often too easy of a crutch in adult fiction. And anything beyond an occasional sex scene – if it’s well written, which is exceedingly difficult to pull off – is typically gratuitous.
Me: I take it you were not a fan of 50 Shades of Grey.
Ty: I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think the trilogy is a classic work of fiction, but it obviously struck some sort of nerve with millions of women and more than a few men, who, like me, secretly flipped through their wife’s or girlfriend’s copies looking for the good parts. . . . I see what you’re doing. Don’t do it. No bad puns on “the good parts.”
Me: Clearly, you read my juvenile mind. Before we get off this topic. Are there any books of high literary quality that explore sexuality in a productive way?
Ty: Oh, certainly. Many. Although, the ones I’m familiar with are mostly heteronormative and the product of the “male gaze,” and from a modern understanding of sexual and gender relations, they are sometimes – I think fairly – accused of being misogynistic. I’d include several of the novels of Philip Roth, John Updike, John Irving, and James Salter as being quite literary and sexy at the same time. I’m ashamed to admit that my experience with such novels written by women is severely lacking and probably the result of the general lack of women writers being properly represented in the literary canon, promoted by publishers, and equitably reviewed by critics.
Me: Wow! I didn’t expect a lecture on contemporary literature.
Ty: I’m sorry. These are topics that matter to me, but few people are discussing, and I’ll always be a teacher first.
Me: Not a problem. It was to allow for such authorial self-indulgence that I wanted to interview me . . . er . . . you. Let’s move on to another topic. I’ve noticed that all of your novels are set locally. Why is that?
Ty: The simple answer is that northern Ohio, the folks who live here, the lives they lead, and the truths they encounter are all I really know with a depth of lived experience and any semblance of truth. The best writing advice ever given remains to “write what you know.”
Me: That makes sense, and it’s certainly not unusual for an author to mine his or her world for material – sometimes exclusively.
Ty: That’s right. I’ve also come to the realization that a “local author” will be the extent of my reach. I no longer have illusions of some sort of national or international breakthrough to those audiences. So Shelly, my first novel, was in bookstores and is still available in libraries around the country and internationally, but I really don’t expect for that to happen again. I’ve grown quite comfortable with my place in both the literal and the publishing world.
Me: There’s “no place like home.”
Ty: Absolutely. Plus, I’d hate to misrepresent a people or a place with my faulty imagination. Also, there’s a great deal of concern in the contemporary world, especially within the arts, regarding cultural appropriation.
Me: I know the phrase, but why don’t you expound on your thought.
Ty: Well, the concern is with – my apologies to Lin Manuel-Miranda and Hamilton – who gets to tell whose story?
Me: Go on.
Ty: Take the novel American Dirt for example. It’s an amazingly well-told story of a Latinx mother and her child’s attempt to escape the ruthless violence being perpetrated by drug cartels in some parts of Mexico, but the novel is written by Jeanine Cummins, a white, American author. Some accuse Cummins of culturally-appropriating and profiting from a story she does not own. Another example is occurring in Hollywood. A recent controversy involved James Carden playing the role of a gay man in the televised version of the Broadway musical The Prom when he, in fact, is not gay, and there exist many gay actors who could have filled that role with authenticity.
Me: That’s the word. Isn’t it? Authenticity.
Ty: I think so especially once you get past all of the haters screaming about political correctness run amok. But for me, more than anything, I just want my writing to sound authentic. To do that, I need to set my stories in the world I live in and know and to fill it with people I live with and recognize – at least to the best of my limited abilities.
Me: Cool. Let’s stop here for now, but I’d like to continue this another time if you don’t mind.
Ty: Happy to. I’m pretty sure you know how to find me.
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