Perhaps prophetic to career as an author in terms of her love for mysteries, as a small child Merrill Wyatt first wanted to be a princess (“if I’m honest”), then a detective who was “dressed every bit as well as a princess – a princess detective.” By high school she wanted to be a writer. Her path to being a teacher and author was not straight and filled with its own various rejections. She started college wanting to be a writer and wishes she would have gotten her creative writing degree. However, as a freshman she worked on an archeological dig in Isthmia, Greece, then obtained a degree in business administration, worked for the Department of Commerce in Washington, DC for two years and after realizing a “desk job was not for me,” she returned to the Toledo area. She obtained a degree in English literature, then worked as a construction site office manager, and finally obtained a business education degree, and became a teacher which she has been doing for 18 years.
Now, teaching middle school “connects me back to that age again and remembering what it was like and how desperately I wanted books like what I write when I was that age group.” As a middle schooler, author Merrill Wyatt “really wanted more books that for me were escapism.” For her, “middle grade was right around the time that I personally lost interesting in reading for a period of time.” A voracious reader before that, and again later in life, she had “suddenly found, at that point and time and it’s different now, there weren’t a ton of books I liked. Suddenly everything that you were expected to read was supposed to either be a great work of literature or teach you a life lesson or help you grow as a person. Being a middle grader is tough enough without people constantly trying to push less on you.” Loving mysteries and humor, she found few books that fit her interests.
Addressing many of the ordinary issues and struggles of her target audience, Ms. Wyatt’s books Ernestine, Catastrophe Queen (2018) and Tangled Up in Luck (2021 with a sequel anticipated in fall 2022) feature protagonists “who were feeling like the world wasn’t quite the way they wanted it to be… [and are] either trying to change that or trying to fit in. In the first book, main character “Ernestine is very much about somebody trying to change her world…she was actively trying to change her circumstances.” In Tangled , the two main characters “largely feel like they don’t have the control over their world that they would like to have, and would like to change that in some way.” One character was “attempting to fit in,” while the other “was attempting to stand out.” These issues are not necessarily unique to middle schoolers, and she feels that all people, but especially middle schoolers, “are trying to figure out what part of your world you can change, how do you fit, how do you stand out, [and] what are the tradeoffs of all those decisions.”
Ms. Wyatt’s two books are from different publishers and the two experiences were quite different. Although Ernestine sold quite well, it did not make the NewYork Times bestseller list, and the publisher passed on a sequel, and then greatly narrowed its author list. However, despite Tangled not selling quite as well in the same time period, perhaps due to Covid, the publisher has committed to a second and third book. Book two, anticipated for fall 2022, Tangled Up in Nonsense, takes place in Toledo at fictional Tangle Glen (recognizable as the historic Wildwood mansion but moved to the banks of the Maumee River) and deals with a nearly 100 year old bootlegger mystery. Book three is in very early stages at this time.
Originally titled as The Serendipity Project by Ms. Wyatt, Tangled is set in her hometown of Wauseon, Ohio. When asked why that setting, she explained: “you always want the place that you live to be more exciting and more interesting because your standard for more exciting and more interesting is what you see on TV. [Growing up] I wanted there to be mysteries and murder mysteries and robberies…and of course that never happened.” She admitted that as a kid, “I never paid attention in class – my brain was all over the place. If I didn’t have a book in my hands I would immediately start telling myself stories – ‘What do I think is the most interesting thing that could happen right here, right now.’” Her “biggest challenge is not coming up with the ideas, but following them all the way through, and not losing interest and not getting distracted midway through by something new.” Ideas are “constantly bubbling in my head.”
Despite working on the two sequels, she would “love to do a little more magical based mysteries,” but is putting those ideas “on the back burner for the time being” as such are not big sellers at this time. She has also not completely ruled out her sequel to Ernestine . Now being an experienced author, she has learned that, despite feeling pressure to do so, writing “something big or important” to everyone isn’t necessary or even realistic. It’s much more important to write a book that is “big or important” to someone. Ms.Wyatt also addressed a common misunderstanding about being an author – “that if you are a published author that you must be making millions of dollars and…if you’re not making millions of dollars that then your book is not successful. That shouldn’t be the standard for success.”
Discussing rejection and being an author, particularly in relation to publishing, she noted that “you both get used to it and you never get used to it at the same time.” Ms. Wyat commented about the “constant rejection” involved in being a writer. However, “ultimately you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get ready to get hit again.” Covid did not affect her much as a writer because many things happened just before the pandemic including her agent leaving the business, her editor not taking on a sequel, and having to change publishers. Then, “coincidentally Covid hit,” and she experienced rejection after rejection, trying to find a new agent. However, she was determined to find a new agent – “Covid didn’t knock that out of me!” Readers are quite grateful for that!