INTERVIEW: Rhonda Hayter

Aurora is pleased to welcome Rhonda Hayter, a member of the Class of 2K10 debut authors. The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams stars Abbie Adams, who is a regular eleven-year-old girl with normal problems like a really strict fifth-grade teacher. (Meet Miss Linegar. Rhymes with vinegar.) She’s chronically behind in homework, forced to keep a big secret from her very best friend and hoping like heck she can remember all her lines in the drama club play. But Abbie also happens to be a witch and in addition to everything else, she has to cope with stuff like her little brother morphing into a werewolf and trying to eat his first-grade teacher…not to mention figuring up exactly what is up with her very, very peculiar cat.

Rhonda is now working on the sequel to The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams. She told me that she’s discovered that, for her, second books are much harder to write than first books.

I asked her to tell us a little about this new book.

“Though it keeps changing with each new draft, Abbie 2 will definitely involve Abbie confiding the secret that she’s a witch to her best friend Callie…and Harriet Tubman figuring in…and Abbie’s little brother Munch causing some major difficulties.”

Historical characters, like Harriet Tubman, will appear in each of the Abbie books, so as part of her research Rhonda likes to read biographies and, if possible, collections of letters so she can try to capture a particular voice and personal characteristics. She loves the research she does for her books and told me that the Internet makes it easy.

“I have a historical character in Abbie Adams, who comes into the present day and I wanted him to get excited about the fact that somebody invented rubber soles for shoes,” she explained. “All of a sudden, I realized I had no idea when rubber soles were invented, so I just Googled, ‘invention of rubber soles’ and there the answer was.”

Rhonda told me she didn’t always want to be a writer.

“I always wanted to be an actress and I was too, for a long time but when I quit acting (actually, it quit me) I found that writing gave me exactly the same thrilling sensation of being completely in the moment in an imaginary world,” she said. “All the ex-actors I know who write (and there are a lot of them) say the same thing.”

Even when she wanted to be an actress, though, she always wrote. However, somehow she never managed to finish anything. Then, once she had kids (she has two boys—Duncan and Ethan) she couldn’t seem to find any time to write at all.

“My life was fantastically full and happy and immediate and I was so caught up in their growing up that their behavior and experiences started bubbling up in my mind like a witch’s cauldron. Once they got to the ages of 10 and 7, I managed to steal some time to start filtering it all into a novel,” she told me. “Kids are all I thought about for years and now kids are whom I write for.”
“If you could give any advice to your readers, what would it be?” I wondered.

“Read in the bathtub, in bed, on the bus, in the car, with your cereal, with your after-school snack and every other minute you’re not doing important stuff like running around with your friends, relating to your family, doing homework, acting in plays, singing, playing sports.”

The best advice she was ever given on writing, she gave to herself.

“Keep telling yourself it’s the most brilliant thing that’s ever been penned…until you get a first draft down. That fends off your inner critic until it’s an appropriate time for her or him to pay a visit.”

Her husband, Stephen, is the only person who is allowed to read any of her works in progress, because she can rely on him to tell her that what she’s writing is utter genius—and laughing at all the right spots.

“This inspires me to stifle my inner critic and keep writing, because I have a duty not to deprive the world of my brilliance.”

Stephen is so proud of her that she told me she has to give him a little kick on the ankle now and then to stop him from telling people they’ve just met about her book.

“What’s your favorite word?” I asked.

“Apparently, it’s the word, ‘well’. I didn’t know it was my favorite word until I started revisions on The Witchy Worries and discovered that I had made Abbie start just about every second line with it, as in, ‘Well, I guess I shouldn’t have cast that spell after all.’ One whole round of revisions consisted of going through the manuscript deleting wells as if there was no tomorrow.”

It may come as no surprise that her least favorite word is also ‘well.’

I questioned Rhonda about her writing process.

“First I yell at myself to stop playing Internet Scrabble. Then I yell at myself for checking my e-mail yet again. Then, I try not to get my eye caught by the latest celebrity scandal…and fail. Can you believe that Tiger Woods? Then, I finally buckle down and enter my book’s world for two to three hours at a clip. Then, I reward myself with a little game of Scrabble.”

Rhonda and her family also share their home with a poodle-terrier mix who, last June, wandered onto the campus of the school where Stephen teaches.

“I resisted it assiduously for years and at first I only agreed to foster…but you know how that goes. Now, after loftily rolling my eyes at ‘dog-people’ for years, I’m the most dyed in the wool dog person you ever saw. I can hardly restrain myself from hauling out photos and cooing over the adorableness. Today in fact she was especially cute because she was learning how to use her doggy door…and she kept… Shall I go on? No?”

Rhonda Hayter was born in St. Jean, Quebec. She was an actress for some time, appearing in plays on tour and in New York and Los Angeles. Now, she works as a story analyst for a famous movie producer. When she and her husband found themselves with two little boys, one of whom morphed into a werewolf one day, The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams was born. Rhonda now lives in Los Angeles with her family. This is her first book.

Comments

  1. What a fun, sparkly interview. I totally want to read “Witchy” — and I’m a grown-up, sort of.

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