We searched high and low for a second author to showcase in our popular “10 Questions” feature. Many promising authors pleaded with us to feature them but, after a rigorous search, we settled on Ryan Scoville, the reclusive author of The Slithy Toves.
Scoville’s debut novel has received a remarkable 4.9 out of 5 rating on Amazon.com (quite possibly the most positively reviewed novel on the site) – and it’s no wonder. He’s written a winner (and we don’t say that about every novel we read).
We sat down with Ryan to ask him a few questions (10 to be exact): about his novel, his writing process, and the publishing industry in general (and by ‘sat down’ we mean ‘exchanged a few emails’). Rumor has it that Ryan lives somewhere in the USA but no one knows for sure where he lives – even he may not be sure (as we’ve said, he’s reclusive). We don’t have the travel budget for face-to-face interviews but even if we did, we couldn’t be entirely sure where to find him.
Note: This may or may not be a photo of reclusive author Ryan Scoville.
Without further ado here are10 Questions with Ryan Scoville.
1. What was the inspiration for The Slithy Toves?
I don’t remember exactly how, but the story came to me around the time of the Elizabeth Smart abduction, or more precisely, when she was found alive nine months later. Her family went through a terrible ordeal, and even when she came back, things had to be difficult because of all she went through. At some point during all the publicity, I started thinking what if things turned out “differently.” That was the seed for The Slithy Toves.
2. How would you describe your writing process?
I start with an ending. I wouldn’t write anything if I didn’t know how it ended, as that’s the whole purpose to me. Most writers start with unique characters, a unique event, or some sort of setup that is interesting, but they’re not quite sure how it’s going to end. I know the ending and usually have a good handle on the beginning. For me, the difficult part is the middle. I have to be careful that I’m not just adding scenes to get to the ending, but that I’m adding substance and events that are interesting in their own right. If I ever write a chapter and am glad just to have it done, I know I’m in trouble. My goal is that each chapter is supposed to be there and properly adds to the story. I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.
3. Are the characters in The Slithy Toves based on real people?
Not at all, but I do get some strange looks. The story begins with three children who have been abducted, three girls and a boy, buried alive in the woods by their abductor. People who start reading this know that I have three children, two girls and a boy of similar ages, and begin to wonder. The truth is I wrote the book almost ten years ago, before I had kids, and only self-published this year. So any similarities are purely coincidental, but admittedly if you didn’t know that, it’s a little creepy.
4. Why did it take you ten years to self-publish it?
I spent many, many hours working on this book, attended writing classes, and even spent a week at the University of Iowa work shopping it. When it was all done, I wrote the requisite one page query and sent it off to as many agents I could find. When it was all done, not a single agent asked to read any more of my story. Naturally, I was a little disappointed that I could have made it just as far into the publishing world if I had never written the book and only spent an afternoon writing that query. Ten years ago, there were no e-readers and the only form of self-publishing was through a vanity press. You paid someone to do a run of your books, they all showed up in your garage, and you spent the next few years with a box in your trunk, peddling them to whoever listened. I know my skills for sales and marketing aren’t that good, and so I put the book into a drawer, got married, started having kids, and completely forgot about it.
Today it is extremely easy to self-publish and there is a new article every day about some breakout author who was ignored by the publishing industry, decided to self-publish, and became an overnight sensation.
5. So you’re a fan of self-publishing?
Self-publishing is different, and there are pros and cons. Authors, genres, styles, and stories that would have never been seen are making their way into people’s reading lists. Now that everyone can publish, everyone is. I’ve seen books that had double-digit spelling and grammar mistakes on the first page, and their books show up on Amazon looking like everyone else’s. Thank goodness for reviews, although that’s a whole separate topic. I have very good reviews, but will be the first to admit most of them are from friends and family, although mostly unsolicited. So the goal line for success has been pushed further down, and being published is no longer the achievement it once was. (Although I must admit how cool it is the first time you search on Amazon and your book shows up, or when an actual copy lands on your doorstep that you can flip through…) When people say they’ve heard I wrote a book, I’m always sure to sheepishly say that it’s self-published.
6. Have you learned anything about marketing and sales in the publishing world since then?
No. I’ve probably regressed. My title comes from the made-up words “The Slithy Toves,” which a majority of people have never heard of and have no urge to learn about. (It’s from the poem “The Jabberwocky” in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”) The cover has a picture of a child’s foot protruding from the leaves, which isn’t something most people are interested in (thankfully). The free read on Amazon is the prologue, which is a dark and disturbing introduction that many people stop midway through. In the end, the publishing industry probably had good reason to not ask to read any more than the query. But those who actually make it through the prologue, generally find themselves engrossed in the story, finishing it in a few days, and satisfied when their done. So I don’t have sales or marketing, but I do have word of mouth. (And for you dear reader, who’s made it to question six, I can almost promise that you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Slithy Toves if you decide to get it. I have to qualify with “almost promise”, as I don’t think there’s ever been a book that everyone enjoys.)
7. So tell us about the book? (Ok, that’s not actually a question, but we put a question mark here anyway because the feature is called 10 Questions, not 9 Questions and 1 Request for Information)
I can’t, or at least I won’t. There’s something warm and comforting about a genre book, the boy and girl who hate each other at first encounter or the hard-drinking detective who can’t catch a break, but when reading a new author, sometimes it’s fun not to have any guideposts on where it’s going. At its most basic, three children are abducted in The Slithy Toves and it’s a mystery as to who did it and what will happen to the children. Beyond that, I think the reader will enjoy uncovering the rest on their own, without any clues as to what’s going on.
8. Are you working on a second book?
Perhaps. I have a second book that I did many years ago, but it’s too short, about half as long as The Slithy Toves, and needs a lot of work. That being said, I think it has a lot of potential, so I keep adding to it in my head and wondering if the additions will work and if I should blow the dust off and get started. Soon.
9. Is there anything you would have done differently with The Slithy Toves?
Yes. I probably shouldn’t have written it in present tense. The prologue works wonderfully in present tense, and so I just kept with it throughout, but it’s very difficult to write present tense in third person. When I wasn’t careful, I kept slipping into past tense and having to fix it during edits. There’s a character trait I would have liked to add to the main character, but it would have required changing most of the book. There are a few things I would have liked to be “better”, but just didn’t know what better was. And every time I read it, I found myself making large scale changes in the writing. My wife and mother, who helped immensely with the editing, would point out a spelling mistake, and when I’d read the sentence I’d rip up the whole paragraph and redo it, fixing that spelling error but introducing two more plus a grammar mistake. They were both very patient with the rewrites. I completely understand the quote by Gene Fowler, “A book is never finished; it’s abandoned.”
10. Is there anything you’d like to add? (Nobody can accuse us of lobbing softball questions at our interview subjects. That’s some hard-hitting journalism there.)
When writing emails, texts and “10 questions for the Author”, I like to put asides in parentheses. (I can’t help it.) I don’t do that in my formal writing, but can’t help it when writing in my own voice. (I just can’t, I don’t know why.) I interchange “there” and “their” at a scary rate when typing, probably to the point of getting more wrong than if I just flipped a coin. I know the difference, and can easily fix them on the second pass, but my first drafts are littered with this mistake. I tend to think of writers as magicians who just sit down and spew beautiful prose(and admittedly, some do), but I’m also glad to hear that for many it’s work, which means if you work hard enough you can eventually fix those mistakes and make it better and better until it’s… better than what you started with. That also means there’s hope.
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