Ask an Author – Melissa Wyatt

May 27, 2009

Melissa Wyatt is the author of Funny How Things Change and Raising Griffin. She currently resides in York, Pennsylvania with her husband Andy and two sons, Ned and Will.

1. How did you go about researching for Funny How Things Change?

The idea for the story came during one of our trips to West Virginia for my husband’s semi-annual family reuinion. We’d been going down there since we’d been married, so a lot of the research was already done over those years only I didn’t know it. I just kept thinking “Why would anyone stay here?” (because I didn’t much like it there at first.) And after while, I realized that was a great central question for a novel.

Once I settled in to write, I did a lot of reading on perceptions and misconceptions about Appalachia–because I admit to having my own, even after years of visiting there. I also read a lot of contemporary Appalachian writers. And then I took a horrifying crash course in something I had not known existed: mountaintop removal mining. Where–literally–the top is removed from mountains and dumped into the valleys so that nothing like a mountain remains. It’s a fast and dirty way to get at coal. Remember that the next time you hear the term “clean coal” because it’s not all about how the coal is burned. It’s also about how they get it out of the ground and the irrevocable damage this particular method causes.

And then there was all the snake bite research. At one point in the first draft, (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) Remy was bitten by a snake (mercifully, this was cut before anyone else ever saw it) and I spent a lot of time reading up on the treatment and complications of snake bites. Having a delicate consitution, this meant I would read a paragraph and then have to put my head between my knees to keep from passing out and then read a little more, put head back between knees, etc. And all for nought! It ended up in the cut file.

2. How long did it take you to write the novel?

About a year from the time I finally decided to give in to the idea and write the story. The first half took most of that year and then I kind of got hung up on the last half and how to bring it around to where it wanted to go. But when things finally clicked, the last half only took about three weeks. So a lot of that year was more thinking and whining and complaining than writing.

And then, of course, you’re still not done because there were revisions–revising on my own and then with my editor. So altogether from the first idea until the book when to the printer was probably about three years.

3. Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote Remy’s character? How about other characters?

There is one minor character in the book that is a tribute to a real person, and that’s Cousin Helen. The real Helen passed away a few years ago, and I miss how every year at the Wyatt family reunion, she would charmingly try to force me to eat her hummingbird cake, so she had to go into the book.

But Remy just developed on his own. Even though the book reads like a character-driven novel, I think it’s actually more of a setting-driven novel. So when I started it, I was thinking more in terms of setting than character, so I got to know Remy through his relationship to the setting as I wrote.

4. Would you want to live in Dwyer? Why/Why not?

Oo, excellent question. You know, I don’t think I would. I’d love the small town atmosphere, but Dwyer is too isolated for me. The Appalachian Plateau is very beautiful but also very extreme. I need more horizon around me. But given the fact that I *do* still live in the town where I was born, I understand how a place makes an impression on you and how, for some of us, we need to maintain that connection.

5. Why did you choose to write a male protagonist over a female?

I ought to have a deep, process-oriented writerly response to this, but the truth is that I write what I like to read, and somewhere around the time I turned fourteen or so, I wanted to read about boys because they had suddenly become fascinating. They still are, especially since I live with a couple of them, so I think I’m still trying to figure them out in real life and in writing.

6. Is there anything you would like readers to take from the novel after they’ve read it? If so, what?

When I write a book, at first it’s for me, and I’m usually in love with my main character. So when it gets into the hands of readers, I mostly hope they enjoy the trip and like my main character. Beyond that, if I’m saying anything, it’s “Here’s something I’ve been thinking about. Take a look and see what you think.” If the book makes someone think about something they haven’t considered before, that’s great.

7. What novels did you enjoy as a teen?

How much space do we have? I read a TON as a teen, all kinds of stuff. My mother used to buy boxes of books at yard sales and we would root through them and read whatever appealed to us. So I read everything from classics to trashy romance to biographies of movie stars. One of the best books that came out of those boxes was The Princess Bride, still one of my favorite books of all time. I read everything Mary Stewart ever wrote. I was and still am a big L. M. Montgomery fan. I also loved Madeline L’Engle and still carry a torch for Adam Eddington.

But the author that most influenced me and made me want to write YA was a British author named K. M. Peyton, best known in this country for her Flambards novels. My favorite of her novels is The Right Hand Man, a rare Regency YA with a very virgorous, manly point-of-view.

8. Are you working on any upcoming novels?

I am working on my own Regency YA, but it isn’t vigorous and manly at all. It’s very girly and feminine, with some supernatural mystery stuff thrown in.

Thank you for participating! If you would like to find out more about Melissa Wyatt, just visit her website or blog. 🙂