more than you ever wanted to know about torey hayden!

Megan Stone’s Interview


Torey came to our middle school, which is called Brockside, and did a talk about writing to our class, which is an eighth grade journalism class. Four of us got the chance to interview her afterwards for our school paper.

I decided I wanted my interview to be different because what everybody really wants to know about people who are famous is their personal lives. You can read about the stuff they got famous for in lots of places, but you can not find out about them personally unless you get to meet them, which most of us can’t.

So, this is my personal interview with Torey Hayden.

MS: What were you like when you were a kid?

TH: I suspect I was a pretty challenging one! I was very active, very curious and inclined to get into everything just to find out what it was like. Also I liked being different, so I didn’t mind making a fool of myself. I liked being alone a lot because I had an extraordinary fantasy life.

MS: Were you a good student?

TH: I was an OK student. School was easy for me but I wasn’t very interested in it. My grandfather, hoping to focus my mind a bit more, promised me the year I was nine that he’d buy me a new pair of ice skates if I brought home a report card with straight A’s. I didn’t actually manage it until the year I completed my master’s degree” (And no, he didn’t keep his promise!)

MS: Did you read a lot when you were a child?

TH: Oddly, given my work now, no. I think this may have been because I was a very active child. No doubt I would be classed as hyperactive by today’s standards. I found it very hard to sit still and concentrate on something like reading for very long. I was always a fluent reader but I did not learn to enjoy it until I was in my early twenties.

MS: Even so, did you have a favorite book when you were little?

TH: I did have one absolute favorite book called BEAUTIFUL JOE by Marshall Saunders, which was about this dog who lived a very sad life and was rescued by this nice lady. I must have read it a dozen times when I was about eight or nine.

MS: What was your favorite subject at school?

TH: I don’t remember having any classes I liked better than others. It was more the combination of a challenging teacher and a challenging subject that appealed to me, so it varied from year to year. In ninth grade it was Latin, because I had a teacher who was challenging and I had a very good time. But I didn’t like Latin at all in tenth grade. It was boring that year.

MS: Were you good at English?

TH: Yes, I was good at English but I never cared for it very much. I spent all my time trying to get good grades without actually reading the books! I was rather a nasty show-off in that way, I’m afraid. Recently I met up with one of my old English teachers from high school and I apologized, because I am embarrassed now by how I behaved.

MS: Did you have a nickname when you were in school?

TH: Not really. My real first name is Victoria, so when I was little, I was called Vicki. I hated that name from the very start. It wasn’t “me”. Plus, it was a very popular name and one year there were five of us in my class alone! Since I was the only one whose full name was Victoria, I started going by Torey in my teens. I remember practicing different spellings for about six months before I settled on this one!

MS: Did you get picked on or bullied when you were at school?

TH: No. I was a rather self-contained child when I was little. I liked to play by myself a lot of the time, but I also had a good time with friends. I remember there were kids I didn’t like and who didn’t like me, but I don’t remember being bullied. I was the kind of kid who gave as good as she got.

MS: Who’s the teacher you remembered most?

TH: I’ve had a lot of memorable teachers, not always for the best reasons! But I think I would say Anne Arnold, an English professor at Montana State University/Billings. Because I didn’t especially like English but had to take two English courses to get my liberal arts degree, I decided to fulfill one by taking a summer course in Billings because I thought it would be a soft option. Anne Arnold was almost sixty that summer.

She had short, gray hair in kind of a Prussian soldier’s helmet style. She wore glasses with these black, 1950’s style frames, had a cast one leg and walked with a cane which she regularly used to whack desks loudly with.  And she swore. Like a sailor. Which was a pretty surprising thing for a little old lady professor to do in those days. And when she arrived in the class on the first day she immediately told us that no one ever got an A in class and if we didn’t like it/her/her style of teaching, we should leave then.
This was like a red flag to a bull for me. Because she said no one got A’s, I was determined to prove her wrong. So, I wrote the required essays with everything I could muster and I did get the A’s. But Anne Arnold did not let this become a power struggle between us, which is what I think I’d enjoyed doing with teachers previously. Instead, she called me into her office one day and told me I could really write well and had I thought of doing anything with it? 
She was the first person who ever said this to me and from that point on, she was my staunchest supporter. I’ve always felt enormously grateful for Anne’s place in my life. She became an important mentor, who, through the years, helped me develop my writing right up until her death three years ago.

MS: If you didn’t become a teacher and an author, what job would you have liked to have had?

TH: I would love to have been an astrophysicist or a cosmologist. My high school physics teacher would probably drop his teeth, if he heard me say that, because I goofed around in physics a lot. But I was actually quite good at it, continued to take it in college, and as I got older, I found these were the kinds of books I enjoyed reading. In answer to the earlier question about which subjects I liked, what I did always find fascinating was science in all forms. Not so fascinating that I behaved in class, mind you, or even did my homework! But once I got past my very annoying adolescent stage, this area I liked a lot.

MS: What’s your greatest fear?

TH: Hmm. That’s a hard one. There are different ways you could interpret that question.

Literally? Me, personally?

Dying, I suppose. Death doesn’t scare me particularly, but the idea of dying doesn’t turn me on too much. On a more esoteric level, I am afraid of losing things I love, whether they be family or pets or whether they be intangibles like freedom, but I’m working on that fear. I don’t think it’s a good one to have.

MS: Who’s the person who has most inspired you?

TH: Hmm. Gosh. Another hard one.

As I said earlier, I was a very self-contained child and so I didn’t look to others very much for inspiration. If I were really, really honest, I would have to say it was a fantasy character whom I created when I was four and who inspired me to try almost everything I pursued in childhood and adolescence. This largely formed the personality I developed in adult life. I now think of that character as my “fairy godmother”, because without her I would never have become the person I am. Certainly not in terms of writing, as it was to record that world that I began to write. So, as far as ‘inspiration’ goes, she ‘inspired’ me.  However, I have also been fortunate to have had several mentors in my life people who have recognized talents in me that I didn’t always recognize myself at the time and who shepherded me on to become a better person

I owe a particular debt to a man called Roy Aichele in Walla Walla, Washington. It is he who introduced me to the world of special education, a career I would never even have considered otherwise I was planning to be a biologist! Moreover, he gave me an enormous amount of encouragement and freedom to develop my skills at a time when I was very young and inexperienced, and I am incredibly grateful to him. 

MS: Who’s your hero

TH: Albert Einstein. I like the way he could think so creatively. I’m fascinated by the kind of “thought problems” he came up with – and solved! And I am impressed by his sense of moral responsibility. He is the perfect “imperfect hero” to my mind. 

MS: What trait do you most like to see in other people?

TH: It sounds a cliché but definitely a sense of humor.

MS: Tell me three things most people would be surprised to know about Torey Hayden

TH: Hmm.  Hmmm! You’re going to be a very challenging journalist when you grow up!! 

Well, here’s one: I can mirror write and I can mirror read. I can read backwards or upside down almost as fast as the ordinary way. Most people probably don’t know that about me. Most people could probably live just fine not knowing that about me! 

Two: I’m a “Trekkie”. I got hooked on the original “Star Trek” back in the year I was teaching Sheila and I have been a devoted fan ever since. I’ve even got a book about the episodes and three autographed pictures!   

And three: I’m a “techie” and can get seriously geeky about it all. I’m heavily into computers. I can build them. I currently have two machines at home, one with a Xeon chip that I do graphics on and an Athlon. These names will only be meaningful to other geeks.  And I often fix friends’ computers for fun, which annoys my daughter enormously. We will go 6000 miles from home on vacation and then she’ll end up having to spend her time reading because I have my head stuck inside someone’s computer.

Johanna Pitt’s Interview

Johanna, like Megan, felt that only the personal stuff is really interesting, especially to people her age (15). 

She wanted to know even weirder things.

JP: How tall are you?

TH: Just a shade under 5’10”. (That’s 177cm for the metric crowd.)

JP: What is your favorite food?

TH: I like Mexican food really well. I think if I had to name one single food, it would be avocados.

JP: What TV programs do you enjoy?

TH: I don’t watch very much TV. What free time I have I usually spend at the computer, as I’m a bit of a games nut. At the moment the only program I watch every single week is “Star Trek: Voyager”. And I have a soft spot for “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”. The writing is very good on that. I love the dialogue. Plus, Sheena is a fan, so I usually watch it with her.

JP: What’s your favorite film?

TH: “Star Wars”. I think I’ve seen it 26 times! “Men in Black” comes pretty close, (although I’ve only seen that twice!).

JP: Who’s your favorite actor?

TH: Hard one, that. I don’t think there is any one special person. It just depends what they are in. But I am a sucker for the old flicks, so I am very fond of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. And I like to look at Pierce Brosnan!

JP: What about your favorite actress?

TH: My tastes vary from film to film. When I watch films, the ones I enjoy most are the funny, really relaxing no-brainers. So maybe I’ll be really honest on this and instead of listing some excellent, powerful dramatic actress, I’ll say Julia Roberts, because I usually come out feeling good after I’ve watched her stuff.

JP: Do you like to watch horror films?

TH: Yes, some of them.  I’m particularly fond of the “Scream” series, which I think are very witty. 

JP: What’s your favorite kind of music?

TH: I’m a classical music person. I got into opera when my daughter, then seven, developed an obsession with it and I’ve loved it ever since (although she has gone on to more normal tastes as a teenager!) I will also confess to a secret love of country music, which is what I grew up with in Montana. I’ve tried and tried to like rock but I’ve never really managed it. Even when I was a teenager, it sort of annoyed me.

JP: What’s your favorite piece of music?

TH: An aria from the opera “Norma” by Bellini. It’s called “Deh! Non volerli vittime” and I think everything about it is achingly beautiful: the music, the words, the ambiance given to it from the storyline of the opera.

JP: Who’s your favorite musical artist?

TH: Maria Callas. If you mean modern, I will confess a soft spot for Shania Twain.

JP: What’s your favorite smell?

TH: Lilacs.

JP: What’s your favorite color?

TH: Green.

JP: Do you have any pets?

TH: Yes.  We are all very fond of pets in our family.  We have a Labrador named Teddy and four much-loved cats.  Plus we now care for my father-in-law’s elderly Border terrier named Judy.

JP: What’s the best feeling you’ve ever had?

TH: I’ve had a lot of them. But it was probably discovering I was pregnant with Sheena.

JP: What do you think is the worst feeling in the world?

TH: Grief. That is just one really, truly shitty feeling.

JP: Can you speak any languages besides English?

TH: I used to be much better than I am now. If I don’t practice all the time, I forget words easily. But I can speak German, Welsh and French reasonably well and I can read them much better. I am learning Italian and Japanese.

JP: Do you go on the Net a lot?

TH: Yes, most days. I’m not into chat rooms and that sort of thing, but I really enjoy some of the sites people have put up. And being an information junkie, I’m in my element, particularly at the science sites. I annoy my family with all the little tidbits I’ve picked up.

JP: Do you look yourself up on the Net?

TH: Doesn’t everyone?!!

But yes, it’s a good way to check on how the books are doing and to respond to people’s questions. That’s how this web site came about, because otherwise I would probably not have bothered to do it.

JP: Which book did you most enjoy writing?

TH: My most recent novel, THE MECHANICAL CAT. I got the chance to explore a lot of issues I wanted to write about and to create some fun characters. The problem with the nonfiction books is that the plot, the characters, etc. are all set, and so there really isn’t much creativity involved.

JP: Which authors do you like best?

TH: Hard question. There’s a million of them. While I wasn’t into reading books in high school, I’ve matured a lot since then and read voraciously now, probably an equal mix of fiction and nonfiction. For fiction, I particularly like Thomas Mann, Russell Hoban, Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My absolute favorite nonfiction writer is Loren Eiseley.

JP: What was the last very good book you read?

TH: I just finished reading THE GLASS BEAD GAME by Herman Hesse. It’s one of the best books I think I’ve ever read.

JP: What’s your favorite quote?

TH: I believe it is a Shaker proverb: “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.