Judith Regan author and lifetime WGA member, William M. Akers joined me for an interview this morning to discuss his amazing new children’s book Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way which will be release on March 8th. This hilarious new book is already getting rave reviews from readers. He also discussed his thoughts on the movie Creed.
Be sure to check out the interview below to learn what inspired William to write Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way, and what he has to say about the movie Creed and more.
Can you tell us about your new Judith Regan book Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way?
Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is about the war between a fourth grade boy, Toby Wilcox, and Mrs. Ravenbach, his homeroom teacher. It’s also about a main character who finds his voice, and learns to use it.
Mrs. Ravenbach started teaching this class in September and has had the entire fall semester to get the kids in line, following her plan of order and discipline. They do what she tells them. They do not question her. Because they’re so afraid of her, they do everything she asks, the first time she asks it. When her classroom runs like clockwork, she’s very happy. Then, in January, which is when the book starts, Toby shows up. He just moved to town and is the new kid in school. Needless to say, he’s not a big fan of Mrs. Ravenbach’s idea of how to keep a classroom running smoothly. So they clash, big time.
Mrs. Ravenbach feels that, if a child does not receive a good, solid education, he or she will end up in a penitentiary and she fears that Toby’s free-thinking is going to destroy all the careful work she’s done, the previous semester, to get the children thinking the way she wants them to. Toby is a free spirit. He is not going to be told how to think, especially not by a teacher he has no respect for. So, he busts into her classroom like a dirty little hurricane, messing up everything she’d carefully constructed. It’s an explosive combination between hero, Toby, and his incredibly powerful opponent, Mrs. Ravenbach.
Toby has a couple of friends, and they join him in the struggle. But, because Mrs. Ravenbach lies and is extremely powerful, it’s difficult for Toby to gain a toehold. He’s smart, funny, and never gives up. Try as she might, she doesn’t seem able to crush his spirit.
The book is very funny. I had a blast writing it. I think that shows. It’s also pretty dark. Any kid who’s ever had a bad teacher is going to be able to relate to Toby. Teachers have all the power. Schools often doesn’t listen to the children or their parents. If a teacher has it in for you, there’s not a lot a kid can do. But Toby finds a few little paths that he can follow. It’s a heck of a fight, that’s for sure.
The book is funny with a complicated storyline is complicated, and it really works on an gut, emotional level. A middle school student can appreciate the struggle between Toby and his homeroom teacher… A grown-up can enjoy the humor along with the drama. The book is wickedly funny and Toby’s journey is pretty intense. I hope that’s a good combination.
What inspired you to write it?
Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is my first novel. I wrote a book on screenwriting called Your Screenplay Sucks!, which was a lot of fun, but then I decided to try my hand at fiction. I’ve been a member of a children’s book organization for several years, wrote one novel, then decided it wasn’t unique enough to get published and I stuck it in a drawer.
I’ve been teaching screenwriting at the university level for 20+ years, and know a lot about good teachers and bad teachers. I had some bad teachers myself. Also, a lot of good ones. And a couple of great ones. So, teaching is always on my mind.
Then, I began to wonder what it would be like to tell a story from the point of view of the bad guy. Nobody ever does it. Mrs. Ravenbach is the bad guy. Is she ever! Toby’s the hero. Mrs. Ravenbach narrates and we hear from Toby through diary entries in the form of letters to Willie Mays. All my friends thought I was crazy to try to tell a story from the bad guy’s point of view. It works incredibly well. I didn’t know if it would, but I’ve been very pleased.
I really wrote the book to please myself. I wanted to see if I could write a piece of fiction that worked. I liked the Toby character a lot. And, because she’s sooooo nasty, I really enjoyed writing Mrs. Ravenbach.
Because I’m so busy teaching, the only time I had to myself was in the car, so I dictated the book. I had a handheld recorder and dictated the book… It’s pretty funny to imagine me in the car, driving down the road, pretending to be Mrs. Ravenbach yelling at a 4th grade boy.
I haven’t read it yet, but I see she is known as the Lucifer of teachers. How does a fourth grader stick up to someone like that??
It’s not easy. One of my former students called me, really worried, halfway through the book, to ask, “does it get any better for him?”
What happens to Toby, sometimes happens to kids in real life. I just crammed all the bad parts together in one book. The more difficult the opponent is to win against, the more interesting the story. Toby is clever. He never gives up. He’s always fighting to use his own voice. Slowly but surely, he comes up with a plan that he hopes will defeat Mrs. Ravenbach.
It’s very difficult for children, when they’re being attacked by a teacher, to do anything about it. Toby struggles and fails and struggles and fails. Finally, he doesn’t fail. Or at least… we hope he won’t fail! At times, the story is pretty grim, and you think he will lose. That’s the wonderful thing about drama… when a character has been crushed nearly completely, and you think there’s no hope of any possibility that he will win… he pulls himself up by his bootstraps, doesn’t give up and continues the fight. It’s a lot like real life. It’s a lot like the movies.
From the readers I’ve heard from, it works. I did a school visit a week or two ago, and gave a book to the school library. An eighth grader grabbed it the second the librarian took it from my hands. I later heard from him, “this is the best book I’ve ever read!” That was a lot of fun, and incredibly gratifying.
Because I really wrote the book for myself, having no idea if it would ever be published, the idea that someone would actually read the book was a completely foreign concept. After the time it took to write it, the idea that people will buy it, read it, and hopefully enjoy it, is a strange one to consider.
The Oscars are coming up, and we see that your pick as a Lifetime WGA member is Creed. This was actually not even nominated…why did you pick it?
I hope Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way delivers a big emotional wallop to the reader. Creed certainly does. At one point in the movie, which I saw in a full theater, everyone cheered. I had tears in my eyes at the end. Creed really got its emotional hooks in me. The story was simple, beautifully told, and worked on all levels. That is extraordinarily difficult to do.
Making a movie is like playing three-dimensional chess with live ammunition. It’s tough to pull off. Creed’s script worked beautifully. It’s always a judgment call, when you see a movie and try to tell people what you think. The characters are magnificently drawn. The story really, really works. And I cried at the end. What more could you ask for?
The fact that I got to see it in a full theater of people who were totally involved with the story made a big difference to my appreciation of the movie. When it works with 300 people in the room, you know it really works.
Where can we go for more information and to purchase the book?
On March 8, go to a bookstore near you and buy it! If it’s not there, they can order it. Today, right this second, you can go to Amazon and search for William M. Akers or Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way. It will pop up and they will deliver it to your mailbox on March 8. I’m a fan of bookstores. Once the people at the bookstore know your taste, they can recommend books for you… They’re amazing places. I know how much fun I had writing the book, and I hope people will have fun reading it.