Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ring Bobbie Pyron Interview & Giveaway

Last Week, I reviewed Bobbi Pyron's debut YA novel The Ring my review. Now I have the pleasure of interviewing the author.

Hi Bobbi, first congratulations on your first young adult novel. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, in your - living room, den, kitchen or wherever your computer is.
Thanks so much, Doret, for this opportunity!

Bobbie, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I was born and raised in northwest Florida. I've lived in Utah for about 20 years, but I still consider myself a southerner. I try to get back to the south at least once a year. I live in Park City, Utah, with my husband, three dogs and two cats. I work part time as a librarian for the Salt Lake County Library System.

You were a library director, school librarian and bookstore manager. Which one of these positions gave you the most freedom?
Hmmm...that's an interesting question. I think working in public libraries has given me the most freedom. Although not necessarily when I was a library director, because I had to be so enmeshed in system politics. But working as I do now as “just” a librarian, I have lots of freedom to do what I love: connecting readers with books.

How long did it take you to write the Ring?
It took me about ten months to write the first draft. At the time I was working almost full time as a librarian. The book went through numerous revisions. I'd say from first draft to when it was acquired by WestSide, it took about three and a half years.

Who were your eyes? Who read the early drafts of your novel?
I'm very fortunate to be part of a wonderful critique group. They read early versions of the book and gave me insightfull, honest feedback. I also have a couple of amazing young women—Emma and Julie—who I depend on to read my work and give me feedback. They are invaluable since they're the age of the reader I hope to hook. Early chapters of the book also received critiques at several writers workshops and conferences I attended.

Tell us about your path to publication? How many thanks but no thanks did you receive?
Oh gosh—you have to have thick skin in this business! I probably had at least ten rejections on this book before I found WestSide. Some were the dispiriting “Dear Author” rejections where they don't even bother putting your name. Then I had two or three “good” rejections where the editor actually took the time to say specifically what worked and what didn't. It's amazing how excited writers get about these “good” rejections!
Tells us a little about WestSide Books?
Westside Books is a new publisher dedicated to publishing strictly books for teens that are contemporary and realistic. No blood-sucking zombie fairies for them! My amazing editor, Evelyn Fazio, is really dedicated to bringing books to teen that reflect the world they live in.

And, no pink princesses, thank you WestSide. Tell us a little about Mardie?
I think Mardie is a pretty typical 15-year-old girl from a pretty typical family. She's funny, smart, insecure, stubborn, passionate, and frustrated and confused by all the changes in her life. She doesn't want to be like anybody else, yet she finds herself doing things she wouldn't normally do to fit in, to “have a place at the table.”

Tell us a little about Mardie's relationship with her older brother, Michael?
Mardie and Michael, like a lot of brothers and sisters, were close when they were younger. They had their secret things they did just the two of them (like pretending they were mute) and adventures. But when they got older, they grew apart. Their roles in the family dynamic also changed: Michael became the perfect son and Mardie became the official family screwup. Mardie's dad defined Michael as being “just like” him and Mardie as being “just like” her mother. I think, unfortunately, this is pretty typical of parents. They have to see their children as either just like them or not like them, rather than seeing the kid for who they are.

Mardie dad's defintion of Michael changes when its revealed, he's gay. Did you always know Micheal was gay?
I think probably somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspected he was gay. So when I wrote that scene where Megan tells Mardie everyone knows he's gay, I was a bit surprised, but not entirely. What I was more surprised by was that he didn't deny it at first.

When Mardie is asked whats wrong by her parents, she doesn't have an answer. Will Smith was right- Parents Just Don't Understand. At 15 there are so many new emotions. They are hard enough to decipher let alone explain. When confronted by her parents Mardie is stuck for answer.

"Part of me really wanted to talk to her about everything, just like I used to. But I didn't know how to put into words everything that was all tied up inside me. "

It was moments like that I found myself drawn to Mardie. She came across as very real. When Mardie got into trouble she wasn't trying to prove anything or be a so called bad girl. To get Mardie to stay on the right path, she needed an outlet of some kind. Why Boxing?
Listen, people who know me are soooo amazed the story is about boxing! I mean, I'm a Bhuddist, for goodnes sakes! But when my now 20-year-old stepdaughter was 15, she was having a very tough time, like Mardie. One day, she and I were reading the paper and she saw an article about a local boxing club that had classes just for teenage girls. She showed me the article and said, “I want to do that.” Her dad and I signed her up for lessons right away! We were happy to try most anything that might help her deal with all her anger. We took turns taking her to her lessons. I became fascinated, watching the girls train and (quite frankly) eavesdropping on their conversations. I listened to their stories and I saw how boxing helped my stepdaughter.

Does your stepdaughter still box? Has she read the Ring?
No, my stepdaughter doesn't box. She stuck with the lessons for just a few months, and then returned to her number one passion: snowboarding. She will be the first to say, though, at the ripe old age of 20, that those boxing lessons helped give her the focus and confidence to do what she's doing now, which is being a professional snowboarder! I just gave my stepdaughter a copy of the book. She's excited to read it, and I'm nervous for her to read it!

What if any research did you do for boxing aspect of the story? Did you take lessons?
Of course, being a librarian, I did lots of research. I read some great books on boxing—Without Apology: Girls, Women and the Desire to Fight, by Leah Cohen, and Reach, by Laila Ali. She’s the daughter of boxing great Muhammed Ali and she’s a professional boxer. I also read a ton of stuff on line about amateur boxing. And of course, I watched Girl Fight and Million Dollar Baby several times. And yes, I did take a couple of lessons just so I could get those physical details down—the damp feel of the inside of the boxing gloves, how it felt when a punch connected with the heavy bag.

Tell us a little about Mardie's coach, Kitty?
I really like Kitty. She's tough but gentle, she's sassy. She cares deeply about her girls but she's no-nonsense with them too. I think I was as surprised as Mardie was to discover that Kitty had been in the Air Force! She knows what it's like to be an outsider, but she's at that point in her life where she's very comfortable in her own skin.

I thought it was very cool that Kitty mentions she once fought Laila Ail. That said to me, though this novel is fiction, women boxing is not. What would people say when you told them, you were writing a YA novel about a girl who boxes?
Well of course, they'd all say, “Why boxing” and I'd say, “Why not?” It became interesting to me to see people's—even my more liberal, female friends—discomfort with a female participating in a less-than-genteel sport.

Why do you think there aren't more YA novel featuring girls playing sports?
As a librarian, I see quite a few books featuring girls playing sports. But they're always the same: soccer, swimming, horseback riding. I think slowly we're starting to see more female characters playing non-traditional sports, like football in Catherine Murdock’s Dairy Queen. I think as a society, we still have a long ways to go in terms of letting young women step outside our comfort zone!
Don't forget softball. The Diary Queen books are great. Sometimes I don't know if its a comfort zone or if boys and girls are placed in a box. Helped a customer who was looking for a board game for two kids. I showed her this a Ninja board game. Her reflex response, one of them is a girl. Can't a girl like princesses and ninjas. There are too many limitations based on gender.

I think you make a great point. I think we put people in little boxes precisely because we don't want things outside our comfort zone, our world view to make us have to step back and reexamine our beliefs.

One of the things I love about books like the Ring is they challenge the so called norm. What do you want teens to take away from the Ring?
I passionately hope that teens of both sexes will see that it's okay to be exactly who you are, warts and all. I also hope they'll think about how we stereotype people—whether it's in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation—and how limiting and unnecessary that is.
What YA novel would you compare the Ring to?
A book I read several times as I wrote The Ring was Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher. Yes, the main character in his book was a male swimmer, but he had Mardie's passion and strength. And one thing that Crutcher does wonderfully in all his teen novels is show the complexity of relationship.
Note to Self- Read Whale Talk .When I think about boxing Rocky (the original of course) comes to mind with the classic theme song. What would Mardie's theme song be?
When I was working on the first and second draft of The Ring, I listened over and over to the soundtrack to the movie Garden State. So when I think of The Ring, I inevitably hear that soundtrack in my head. I think the song on there that I associate most with Mardie is called “Such Great Heights” by Iron and Wine. I have no doubt Mardie would think it's much too mellow a song though!

Getting to know the author

As a professional dog trainer, who do you prefer Victoria Stilwell or Cesar Millan?
Victoria Stilwell, paws down! Most of us heavily involved in animal rescue work don't have much good to say about Cesar Millan.

Why, no love for Cesar?
Many of us in dog training feel he relies too heavily on dominance and this whole “alpha dog” thing. In the first place, dogs never confuse us with other dogs. So this whole idea of being the “pack leader” is silly. The relationship should be based on respect and a partnership rather than a dominance-subservience model. Training a dog with respect means shaping the behavior you want through positive reinforcement and extinguishing unwanted behavior by either not reinforcing it or giving the dog a competing behavior that's rewarded. As you can guess, I could go on and on...

What are you reading right now?
I always have several books going at once. Since I have a fairly long commute to and from work (35 minutes each way) I always have a book I'm listening to. Right now I'm listening to the Newbery winner for 2008, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which I am absolutely loving. I also just started a lovely middle-grade novel called The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Katheryn Fitzmaurice, and am half way through the very clever The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks.

What are some of your favorite books this year?
I just discovered Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty series and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I think she's an immensely talented writer. I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. I also read Life as We Knew It, by Beth Pfeffer. While I don't like post-apocalyptic books, I found that one fascinating.

Great Books. Bray's trilogy is wonderful. When and where to you like to write?
Ideally, I like to write at least a little every day. But life often has other plans. But I do try to get in at least 8-10 hours of writing a week, even if that's just working on revisions. I write almost exclusively in my home office. I know when I go in there, fire up my laptop, and turn on the music, it's time to create. Unfortunately, my dogs don't always agree with me on that!

I am most proud of this scene.
Boy, that's an interesting question. I think maybe the scene at the dinner table when Pops finds out Michael is gay. I think the responses of Mardie's family are pretty realistic.

Bobbi, you've used interesting twice, so I'll assume you mean wonderful, thoughtful and oh so smart. This was a great scene, I could almost feel the dinner table get quiet when pops finds out his grandson is gay.

I struggled the most with this scene
Actually, I struggled most with the question in the ending of should Mardie win the championship or not win it. I wrote the book both ways in the second draft. Finally, I decided that it would be more authentic if Mardie didn't win. Perhaps more relatable to the reader too.

Bobbi, thanks for the time and congrats on a great book. I finished the Ring over a week ago, and Mardie still lingers on my mind. I hope many readers discover and enjoy Mardie as much as I did.

Let the discovering begin. The author will send an autographed copy of ARC to the first two people to comment on this post on why they want to read the Ring and link to this interview.


Ali said...

I want to read The Ring because I love the idea of a book about a girl who boxes, and because it's written by a librarian!

Doret said...

Sweet, Ali I think you'll like it.

Apryl DeLancey said...

Oh my! I would really love to read it since I am very interested in the sport of boxing and women in sports!

What a great interview, Doret! Thank you for posting this!

MissA said...

Oh darn I missed the cutoff. Oh well. Loved this interview! I really want to read The Ring because the girl boxing element in a story is different (I still haven't seen Girlfight or Million-Dollar Baby yet. sigh) and the author compares her book to Whale Talk which I loved!! It's my fav book of all time so now I must read the Ring :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wonderful interview! And no kidding about having to have thick skin!!!

Zetta said...

Great interview, Doret!

Esc said...

I have The Ring on order and I will drop everything to snuggle up with it. I loved the interview!

Anonymous said...

What a nice interview!

Doret said...

Thanks everyone.

Ari, I got the idea to ask about Mardie's theme song from your playlist.

Esc, The Ring is very snuggle worthy.

Bethany said...

I look forward to reading THE RING. Great cover and great interview.

Sydney Salter said...

I really enjoyed reading The Ring. Great interview!