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One out of every five U.S. residents functions at a "below basic" level of literacy, struggling with tasks such as rea... More


Author Showcase

Winter 2007 Featured Author, W. Royce Adams

RT: Your Rairarubia Tales series is, in part, drawn from the stories you and your daughter Kate had created together. As you began to transform that "oral history" to written prose, did the stories come to life in new ways?

Royce: Yes. The oral stories had been told over a period of years, so by the time Kate challenged me to write the stories, many smaller details were forgotten or needed to be changed to fit the story as we began to write down what we remembered. Both Kate and I got excited when we began recalling and sometimes recreating our characters and events.

RT: On the Rairarubia Web site you explain that you worked to keep the books true to the original tales you and Kate had created. When the time came to add characters or turn a plot in a new direction, did you just go it alone or did Kate help you with the new path?

Royce: Kate had a much better memory about many characters and events than I did. As I wrote, I would ask her questions and sometimes had to make changes to fit the flow of the plot. She understood changes were necessary for the story to make sense to others, but she was insistent that all characters we made up get in the story and that we stay true to our original plot. That’s the main reason there are six books in the series. Kate and I did readings of manuscripts in progress at elementary schools that helped us see what readers liked or didn’t understand.

RT: Having seen her own creativity in print — not to mention the books' successes and popularity — does Kate have any interest in becoming a writer herself?

Royce: Interesting you should ask. Kate, an English major and senior at UCLA, just became an intern for the web site www.savvymiss.com. She will write book and movie reviews for them. She has become a fine, insightful writer, but where that might lead, who knows.

RT: With the adventures of The Rairarubia Tales now complete, do you see yourself creating another book (or series) for children? If so, will it be for the same target audience? Will it be the same genre?

Royce: I have written three other novels since the series: The Computer’s Nerd, a middle-grade novel, and two young adult novels, Me & Jay, and the sequel, Jay. I doubt I would do another series, but I do toy with the idea of another young adult novel. I never know when the muse will sit me down.

RT: Have you always had an interest in science fiction? If so, do you think The Rairarubia Tales shares elements in common with some of your favorite stories?

Royce: Actually, I never was much of a true science fiction fan. Fantasy and exotic adventure always interested me, As a kid, I liked to escape into stories that challenged the imagination, not so much on a scientific journey as a journey into the mind. Obviously, Kate forced me to tap into my own imagination with her fantasies and we both let ourselves open to any possibilities. When young, Kate used to listen over and over to the Sheri Lewis one-minute mythology stories on tape. I’m sure some of her ideas came from those stories. When she took a class on mythology in college, she was surprised how much those tapes stayed with her and helped her in that course.

RT: All of the titles in The Rairarubia Tales have "R" as the initial letter. Was the alliteration of the titles by design with the plot built around the title, or is it more coincidence and a byproduct of the plot turns in that particular volume?

Royce: After the second book, Return to Rairarubia, Kate was dissatisfied because we hadn’t included all the characters in the story. I didn’t want to make the books too long, knowing the many young readers wanted short, easy-to-read adventures. So the titles of the rest of the books all came by design with the plot built around the title and characters involved and intentionally using the Rs.

RT: One of your goals for the series has been to give middle-school readers something exciting and interesting to read. When you talk with school audiences, what are the things that interest them most? First, in terms of the Rairarubia Tales themselves, but also in terms of what kinds of books get (and keep) them reading.

Royce: In terms of The Rairarubia Tales, most students seem fascinated by the description of the weird creatures and beings and the challenges they bring to the main characters, Romey and Sam. Mostly, I think students just like having an author read to them no matter what the content. When I visit schools, I’m always struck at the difference in the students’ interests at each school. At some schools it is obvious that teachers and parents put a lot of emphasis on reading. When I ask what they like to read, a wide array of titles are mentioned. At other schools, many students haven’t yet found the power and relevance of reading, many claiming that reading bores them. So much depends on parental involvement in the schools. Overall, I’ve found students in the fourth-fifth grade levels like fast-paced adventure stories.

RT: In 2001, you began telling the story of Jay Thornton, the main character in Me and Jay. In 2005, you picked up the story with Jay, A Sequel to Me and Jay. These are truly "down to earth" plots (compared to The Rairarubia Tales). Both of them are listed on our Favorite Titles list for ages 10 and up. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this set of books? Will we learn more about Jay someday?

Royce: When I learned of the death of one of my best friends from high school, I began thinking about some of the adventures he and I had hiking along the Mississippi River: climbing the bluffs and exploring caves near Alton, Illinois, and yes, jumping freight trains. I had lost contact with him and learned of his death before getting to see him once more. In the story, Jay is based on my friend, TJ, and I used some of myself in the role of the tomboy, Geri, in order for the story to appeal to both girls and boys. In fact, in the story of Geri's slipping and almost having her feet cut off happened to me. I still have the scar on my side. After Me & Jay, I wasn't satisfied that I'd said enough about Jay, or TJ, really. I re-lived some of his life events and mine by writing the stories as a way of saying goodbye to a friend I never got to tell how much I appreciated his friendship. More of Jay? Maybe I'll bring him home someday.

RT: The books don't present fantasy or fairy tale, but they aren't tales of hopelessness, either. Was it difficult to craft a story about life as a runaway, isolation, etc. in such a way that it neither glorified the predicament nor left you pitying the characters?

Royce: No, because the novel Jay is based not only on my friend, who did runaway for a short time, but also on a young nineteen-year-old young man I read about who "catches out" on freight trains as a lifestyle. In the story, Jay learns how some new-age "hobos" use the internet and cell phones to find out which trains are safe to jump and which not. When my friend and I were teenagers, no such technology existed. So I researched and was surprised to learn how many young people roam the country jumping trains today. It was a real eye-opener. So Jay is a composite of contemporary teenagers and my friend TJ. Of course, the more I researched, the more I wanted to write a story that reflected the dangers and loss of leaving home for a life that may sound romantic and free, but is deadly for many youths.

RT: In The Computer's Nerd, you seem to be bringing together two genres. On one hand, you have the fantasy of a computer game that can interact with humans; and on the other, the life of a teenager who is trying to deal with being a victim of bullies. A life situation that is all-too-real for many youth today. How did you approach writing this book? What are the things in your plot that allowed you to make this computer-come-to-life story new/refreshing for teen readers?

Royce: As I visited schools, I often witnessed bullying of all kinds, not just physical, but verbal abuse. I wanted to write a story that would show students not only the effects of bullying, but the effects of trying to get even. With so many of today's students computer savvy, I thought it would be fun to have the main character, a very bright young man who is chastised and made an outcast because he is smart and lacks social graces, interact with his main interest, a computer. Who else do you turn to when you are afraid of your bullies, afraid to tell you teachers and being labelled a snitch, and afraid to admit to your parents that you are being picked on? I'd like to continue that story some day, because I'm not satisfied with the ending. I'm not sure Arthur, the main character, will have such as easy time tutoring his tormentor and I'd like to see how it might turn out.

RT: As a career English teacher, do you have any recommendations for parents on how to help their children in school? A number of your published books include exercises for critical thinking. What can parents do at home to help build this crucial life skill?

Royce: Read to them and listen to them read. Stop periodically and ask what might happen next, then read on to see what does happen. Talk about words and how they are used. Have plenty of books of all kinds around the house. Don’t force any book on a child. Take trips to the library and let them see the world of books. Parents should read for their own pleasure and let their children see them reading. Control television time. Families at School, a wonderful book published by the International Reading Association, is a hands-on handbook for parents who are serious about helping their child’s development in reading and writing. I strongly recommend what the book calls “a family literacy program.”

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Royce: The number of students in college who are required to take remedial classes in basic skills continues to grow. Many of those students reach college level without ever having read a book. They are totally unprepared for college reading and writing and many often drop out because of their lack of skills as well as their lack of interest in learning anything beyond what they already know. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of parents in developing their children’s literacy. And thank you, Reading Tub, for letting me share some of my thoughts.

Website: http://www.rairarubia.com




                 

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