Sunday, July 1, 2007

Author Interview: Scotty Roberts

Interviewed by Andi

A little about Scotty Roberts' debut novel, The Rollicking Adventures of Tam O'Hare:

Tam O'Hare, Irish Lord and swashbuckling adventurer, along with his young squire, Horatio MacNutt, set out to find a young girl who's been stolen by the faeries - the "Good People" of Irish and Scottish lore. The young girl is the granddaughter of Tam's Great Uncle, Argyll Whitebeard, cheiftain of the clan MacDervish in the highlands of Scotland. Through the course of their quest, Tam and Horatio encounter several figures from history - mostly due to Tam's reputation as an aristocratic adventurer - Mary Queen of Scots and her husband James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell; Queen Elizabeth, John Knox and several minor characters.
AM: You’ve detailed it nicely on your MySpace page, but could you briefly explain the process you’ve gone through in creating The Rollicking Adventures of Tam O’Hare for the Estella’s Revenge readers? I know it has been a lengthy labor of love.

SR: It has indeed. The book really started as a series of bedtime stories I told my little twin girls at bedtime. They were seven-years-old at the time - they are now 15. Tam O'Hare was originally William, a very Scottish mouse. Eventually, my daughters wanted to see what William looked like, and as we sat on the floor, drawing pictures with markers, William morphed into a rabbit, and we named him "Tam O'Hare." The very first illustration I did was the one that now adorns the cover of the book. I started writing the story after that.

I secured a literary agent - Sam Flieshman of Literary Artists Representatives in NYC - and he made some initial presentations to some major publishers. The reaction was very good, but I was told that the story was "too long for a children's picture book, too short for a chapter book," and to "realize it one way or another." This was slightly discouraging, as it required me to totally restructure the story, and I set the project aside for nearly a year. My agent reminded me that there are thousands of artists out there who's work will never see publication because they will not alter their creative work. Sam also impressed on me the notion that making a book "saleable," was as important as making it artistic: "Your book can be wonderfully creative, but if it is not marketable and saleable, it will never see the light of day from a bookstore shelf." So I took several months, slowly rewriting the book, shelving it several times.

Family crisis, finances, work, and a whole host of other obstacles seemed to orchestrate themselves in preventing me from finishing Tam O'Hare. Eventually, my agreement with my agent expired and we both moved on to other things. I toyed with the book and illustrations for the following years, always telling everyone how desirous I was to see the book finally published. Sam Flieshman and I reignited efforts on the book about two years ago, and got some very promising rejections from major publishers. The discouragement set in again, and I set the whole project aside for another year-and-a-half. Then in March of this year, a good friend of mine in book publishing, Bill James, contacted me about Tam O'Hare, and in two short months, we were published through his small imprint of Morgan-James (an imprint of Ingram Publishing), my New York Publisher. I hated the name of his publishing house, because it sounded so miniscule, but he got the job done. As Bill says, my foot is now in the door.

The soft cover version is available now through Tam O'Hare's MySpace site, and the reaction has been so good, Morgan-James has ramped up the publication to a hard cover release for this October, with distribution by Ingram.

It's been a long road, with my book taking a back seat to, seemingly, everything else in my life. But it the thrill of opening that first box of books, and holding that first book in my hands, is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Seeing your creation in print, was by far - for me - the next best thing to holding my babies for the very first time.

There is, I believe, a marked distinction between "bragging" and "sharing." As artists, how many of us create our workds of art for the purpose of hiding them in the attic or the closet of our spare bedrooms? None of us. We create for the purpose of sharing what we have created. It's almost as if we step into the sunlight that shines outside our studio doors, and yell at the top of our lungs, "Hey! Come and see this thing I created! I hope you get as much joy out of it as I had creating it!"

AM: What moved you to write in the children's genre?

SR: My children, without a question. After that, it is my love of history and wanting to find ways to express and teach ideals and principles without being boring or preachy. I also wanted a vehicle to house a series of illustrations.

AM: Many of the Estella’s Revenge readers are adults who happen to love children’s literature. Are you one of those adults? What are some of your favorite children’s or young adult works?

SR: Oh yes, I am most definitely one of those adults. I love children's literature. However, being an illustrator, I was originally drawn to the children's genre because of the pictures. Walking through the bookstore, I have always been inextricably drawn to the illustrations and rich colors of the children's/young readers section, and I always said, "I'd like to do a book like that someday."

AM: What advice would you give to a budding author? What are the biggest challenges in the business of publishing?

SR: As cliché as it may sound, my advice would be to "stay with it, and don't let the roadblocks get you down." I faced inumerable obstacles along the way, but remained persistent and focused. It took time, but it is finally here. Never stop the creative process.

AM: When you were writing the book did you avoid reading other books in the same genre for fear the tone or voice of other works would seep into your own?

SR: Absolutely yes. I avoided any and all books within my genre. I feared having them taint my originality. My ideas were my very own, and I did not want there to even be the perception that my work was derived from another author's work - which has still happened, anyway, with comparisons being made to other much more established authors. I am very glad - especially at this point - that I did not allow those other works to have any influence on the creation of my own.

AM: Which books or authors have served as your biggest influences? How about artists?

SR: My earliest influences were Mercer Mayer's East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like. Mayer's pen and ink and water colour illustrations told the stories nearly all by themselves. Chris Van Alsburg's lush pencil illustrations locked my attention for hours at a time.

AM: Your artwork is undoubtedly spectacular. Are you formally trained? How long might it take to create just one of your stunning illustrations?

SR: Thank you for that. I have no formal training in the arts, as I was once a theological scholar, bound for ministry. My college majors and seminary Masters studies were focused on theology, biblical studies and textual criticism, and history.

I have always drawn and painted, as far back as I can remember. I gleaned a lot of influence from comic books when I was a kid in the sixties and seventies, but really had a desire to go beyond the simple hard line ink illustration of that genre. Despite taking a couple of art courses in college, I, honestly, trained myself, practicing with pencil and watercolor all the time. I dabbled in oils now and again, but was easily frustrated by the amount of time it took to complete anything of significance.

AM: Do you have a chance to read for pleasure often? What are some of your favorite books of all time?

SR: I don't get the chance to read as often as I used to, and that really bothers me. I love to read, and instilled the love of reading in my children when they were very young (they are voracious readers today). It sometimes seems that the busy-ness of life gets in the way of good reading time. However, when I DO get the chance now-a-days, I read a lot of history and biography. I recently finished Richard Zach's, The Pirate Hunter, a biography of Captain William Kidd. I also really, really enjoyed Gregory McGuire's, Wicked, the story of the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I loved the Oz he created, putting meat on the bones of the old Baum stories. It is political allegory as much as it is an essay on the true nature of Evil. I took the time to read it very slowly, a chapter or two at a sitting, with my children - who also enjoyed it very much. Being the Aurthurian buff that I am, another all-time favorite of mine is the late Marian Zimmer-Bradley's, The Mists of Avalon, a spiritually engrossing book for me, dripping in researched history.

I have to include here some of my earlier favoritees and influences: I devoured all of Robert Ludlum's novels, as well as the complete works of Leon Uris, both of whom were great influences on my writing style - Ludlum for his intense, screenplay-like scenarios, and Uris for his pathos and history. I also loved Mary Stewarts Aurthurian classics, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day.

AM: Do you have any writing routines? Unbreakable habits?

SR: Hmmmm... yes. I smoke too much while I write, and I don't make many notes. Heh. A bad habit to my writing is that I simply sit down and start typing, letting things pour out as they come to me, allowing the narrative to, sort of, "build itself" as it were. The only *real* notes I take are generally not related to the story line, but, rather, the research. For Tam O'Hare, I studied and researched the historical figures I included in the book, as well as ships, swords, castles and clothing of the day for both text and illustrations.

As far as unbreakable habits...? I am reminded of one time where I wrote the entire opening paragraphs of the first chapter of the book, "Anticipation," on the back of a church bulletin while sitting through the pastor's sermon on a Sunday morning. The paragraphs appear unchanged in the book.

AM: Do you have any other literary projects on the horizon?

SR: I am deep into the writing of Tam O'Hare and the Banshee of Ballyglenmorrow, book Two in The Rollicking Adventures of Tam O'Hare series-to-be. It is going to be a much longer story, and - having reflected on Tam O'Hare for a few years - much darker in tone. Still good for younger readers, but definitely more geared to the slightly older reader. When I say "darker," I mean a little heavier in tone, more involved, delving deeper into Tam's character. Sure, he's just a rabbit, but at the core, he is a rabbit with a human heart. I will give you some more detail on this as soon as I feel there are viewable portions.

Thanks so much to Scotty Roberts for his insight into the world of children's publishing and illustration. Make sure to get your hands on a copy of The Rollicking Adventure of Tam O'Hare HERE.

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