Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t by Mel Ryane

5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, October 17, 2014.

What happens when an idealist volunteers to introduce Shakespeare to a group of unruly kids? Bedlam. Tears. And hard lessons learned. Teaching Will is a riotous cautionary tale of high hopes and goodwill crashing into the realities of classroom chaos.

Every week Mel encounters unexpected comedy and drama as she and the children struggle toward staging a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Woven through this fish-out-of-water tale is Mel’s own story of her childhood aspirations, her acting identity and the heartbreaking end of her onstage career.

In the schoolyard, Mel finds herself embroiled in jealousy and betrayal worthy of Shakespeare’s plots. Fits of laughter alternate with wiping noses as she and the kids discover a surprising truth: they need each other if they want to face an audience and triumph. Teaching Will is an uplifting story of empowerment for dreamers and realists alike.

Exclusive interview with the author:

1) Which authors/books are you most influenced by?

I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of Anne Tyler’s novels. I just sink into her world and embrace her characters. She sets much of her work in Baltimore, a city I have never visited, but I feel I know it because her sense of place is so vivd. When I need to flee my world I go to Anne Tyler. Her people are full and complicated. She writes their struggles, heartbreaks and joys with the kind of human detail we all experience.

I feel the same about Alice Munro and her characters. She unfolds their troubles with a sense of surprise. She takes me to small-town angst with masterful clarity.

I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson in the non-fiction world. I was in a restaurant in Berlin having lunch alone and reading Bryson’s “Neither Here nor There.” In Europe paper products tend to be flimsy. The napkin I was given was as thin as tissue paper which was horrible because I was laughing so hard with tears pouring down my cheeks and scraps of paper melting on my face as I tried to clean up the mess. I had to turn away and face a wall because other diners were looking at me aghast. They likely didn’t know if I was crying in sadness, or laughing in hysteria, or, frankly, completely bonkers. Bill Bryson’s gifts include his very funny points of view and his ability to transcribe these to paper with a sense of wonder in incredibly efficient storytelling.

2) Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?

My favorite part of writing is revision. Once the darn thing is down, in a first draft, I love to go in and clean up, yank out and, quite often, add in more detail. The hardest part of writing is starting the story. A good portion of my time is spent tossing out DOUBT. I wrestle with doubt and then wonder about how to best spend my writing time. I fear wasting a lot of time on a book that no one would ever read. I ask myself if this could be a captivating story, if I can take a reader on a good ride and then I stop trying to answer those questions and just come up with a good first line. And a second line and so on. Then I’m on the trip and there’s no looking back.

3) When you got that first phone call announcing you had sold a novel, how did you react? How did you celebrate?

My artistic background is in acting. I spent a lot of time on the boards and in front of cameras; so I have a natural tendency to rehearse upcoming events. I imagined getting that phone call from my agent with the news that my memoir had sold. I planned my joy as waited for that call. However, she’d first started sending the manuscript out when the recent recession took hold and the publishing industry was in a free-fall with editors losing jobs and fear rising fast. It took six years for my book to sell to a publisher. That was a long time to rehearse my reaction. The champagne chilling in the refrigerator had been long drunk. As it happened, I was in New York having dinner with my agent when she said, “I have interesting news.” By that time the moment was quiet and sweet. Of course, I was relieved and thrilled, but I’d kind of accepted that it would never sell and I’d moved onto writing other projects. Now I’m waiting for those to sell.

4) What’s your strangest writing quirk or habit? Something that would make all of us go, “huh?”

This has become so natural for me that I’m not sure others would find it odd but two important aspects to my writing life are:

1. My writing day needs to begin in the morning. Unless I’m deep into revision, it’s unusual for me to write late in the day or in the evening. I’m most alert and creative in the morning when I have the most energy.

2. I have to write reclining back into my office chair, with my feet up on the desk, and my laptop, yes, on my lap. Previous to owning my current chair and desk, I wrote slouched into a couch with my feet up on a hard-back chair. I’m nearly prone as I write. Somehow the words, thoughts and images roll out of me when I’m in this position. I find sitting straight up while writing anything creative almost impossible

5) Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what do you like to listen to?

Jazz, jazz, jazz. It’s always on when I write. On occasion, when I was writing in screenplay format, I would play movie soundtracks. Those are extremely helpful because movies can be large and so emotional and soundtracks reflect that drama. I’m writing novels now and it doesn’t much matter where they’re set or what time period is relevant, jazz works best for me.

About the author:

Following a distinguished career as a classically trained actor onstage and in film and television, Mel Ryane has found a new artistic home in the written word with her memoir, “Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t.”

Mel became a professional actor during her teens in her native Canada, and then followed her career to New York City and to theaters across North America. After applying her skills to coaching actors on major studio and network projects, Mel was accepted into the Directing Workshop for Women at the prestigious American Film Institute. She subsequently wrote a screenplay that advanced to the semifinal round in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition.

Mel travels across the country teaching “From Page to Podium: Reading Your Work Aloud,” a workshop that helps writers find their public speaking voice. She also offers school workshops introducing Shakespeare to students. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their dog and cat. Visit Mel online at MelRyane.com.

Giveaway info:

Title: Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn’t
Author: Mel Rayne
Publisher: Familius
Author website: MelRyane.com

5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, Oct 17, 2014.

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