April 29, 2010
Interview with Rhonda Hayter
Rhonda Hayter is the debut author of the middle grade novel THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS. She used to be an actress and now she's a mother writing a series about young witch who keeps encountering historical figures! This was a very fun interview, and I'm sorry that it took so long for me to arrange. I hope ya'll enjoy it to (and come back tomorrow to read my review).
1. I've asked many authors about the difference between writing for an adult audience and a young adult audience. But for a middle grade audience, you definitely have to be aware of content and language. What made you decide to write for children? Did you cut anything from the story that you didn't feel was appropriate for a younger audience? Did you add any content for the audience?
At the time that I first wrote Witchy Worries, I had a second-grader and a fifth-grader and was completely fascinated by, in love with, and focused on them 60 seconds a minute...as well as being around zillions of kids their ages on their play dates, their sports activities, volunteering at their school and so on. So it was no leap at all to speak to their age levels and find the voices for characters that age. At no point did I have to make any conscious choices about what was appropriate content, or how the language should be tailored, because I was living and breathing it 24-hours a day.
As to why I decided to write for children...well, I have to admit, there was no conscious decision there either. (Gee, I gotta start thinking about things more.) A middle-grade book happened to be what came out of me at that time, because that was my life...and the kids had just gotten old enough that I actually got five minutes to myself occasionally and could find time to write.
2. One part of the plot of THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS deals with returning young Thomas Edison to his proper place in time. How did you decide on the way time travel works in Abbie's world?
Well, as a teenager, I loved the sci-fi, baby. Later I become a dyed in the wool Trekkie and in my day job as a script reader for a movie producer, I read a lot of great sci-fi concepts too. So time travel and the kinds of anachronisms that can occur have always been fun things for me to dream about. I didn’t want to set up the idea that Abbie and her family could go back in time and start actually interacting with people back then because it all could get so complicated and take the focus off of Abbie’s daily life. I really wanted Abbie to be just a normal girl with normal problems that any kid could identify with...while sometimes encountering magical complications. So I made the rule that the witches can only observe the past and not change anything. Then when I wanted Abbie to get to know Thomas Edison, I figured I’d bring him into her time with the rule that when he goes home, he’ll have no recollection of it.
3. Before writing THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS, you were an actress. Do you use any experiences or techniques from your former profession to write?
I love that you ask me that because when I wrote the book, I was so fascinated by how exactly the same it is that I couldn’t stop talking about it. The essential questions any actor has to ask himself in finding a character are: Who am I? What do I want? What’s in the way of getting what I want? What can I do to overcome these obstacles to get what I want? Of course it’s exactly the same for a writer finding the characters and creating a story line. And best of all... it’s just as much fun as acting but you don’t have to wait for anyone to hire you to do it. You get to become somebody else and live in a whole different world, in exactly the same way as you do when you’re acting. Every actor and ex-actor I know who writes says exactly the same thing. They’re so excited at finding something that gives them the same exhilarating rush that acting does.
4. I like the cover of your novel - I'm fond of cartoon covers and I especially like the way cat Tom looks. Do you feel the cover is a good representation of the story?
I screamed when I saw it. It was so adorable and exactly perfect. I think it absolutely catches the tone of the book, that it’s fun and magical but that there’s some learning in it too. And my best friend says that the picture of Abbie looks exactly like I did when she met me thirty years ago. It was so cool to see my ideas filtered through somebody else’s imagination; the jacket designer’s and the illustrator’s...to express what I intended. Kinda magical really (you should pardon the expression).
5. Abbie has a complicated relationship with her younger brother Munch, since she often has to use her powers to get him out of trouble when he uses his own at school. Is this relationship totally made up or based on something you've personally experienced? (Not the magical part, but keeping a sibling out of trouble. I don't mean to imply that you're a witch. ^_^)
The character of Munch is based on my younger son Ethan, when he was younger. I’ve told this story a few times now but when he was little, he looked like a little Valentine’s cherub, all dimpled elbows and curly golden hair and he was sweet and funny and wise for a little guy...except when he wasn’t. He had a problem processing really big feelings and if he got mad or frustrated, he’d disintegrate into these terrible, hour-long meltdowns. While coping with one of them one day, I turned to my poor stressed husband and said, “My God. It’s like he turns into a werewolf.” That gave me the idea for a little boy who really did turn into a werewolf when he got upset. So Munch was my first idea and then I thought about what it might be like if Munch was your little brother. I had a little brother of my own growing up, but I would imagine the fact that Ethan’s older brother had to live through the meltdowns too probably influenced that idea. By the way, Ethan’s twelve now. He’s outgrown all that...and he gets a kick out of the fact that Munch is based on him.
5. THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS is your debut novel. Do you have any plans for future releases? Do you think you'll continue to write middle grade fiction, or would you consider writing for older audiences?
So nice of you to ask. I’m feverishly pounding away on Abbie 2, which is in revisions and I’ve got a good jump on Abbie 3. Abbie’s going to meet Harriet Tubman in number 2 and Susan B Anthony in Book 3. Complications will ensue. I’ve started about four other books too but they’ve had to be put aside for right now. It’s funny, as my boys get older, I’m getting more YA-ish in the newer books. Hey, by the time they grow up, I might be ready to tackle an adult novel.
Thanks so much for having me and for the great questions. Your question about why I write for children made me laugh at myself because I had never actually thought about it before.