As promised, I'm posting my interview with the lovely and talented Yvonne Ventresca, author of the debut YA novel PANDEMIC, which was released in May (SkyPony Press 2014):
As the title suggests, Yvonne envisions what would happen if a deadly strain of bird flu were to strike a single town in New Jersey, and rapidly spread throughout the world. As soon as the novel launched, both it and Yvonne hit the ground running. PANDEMIC has earned a 4.5 (out of 5)-star rating from Amazon, and School Library Journal has called the book an "engrossing apocalyptic story." I've reviewed it here, and here is what Goodreads has to say.
As for Yvonne herself, she's been a human whirlwind over the pas three months, what with book- signing events -
- panel discussions, readings, school and library visits.... I get tired just thinking about everything she's been doing. It's really a bonus for authors to have the kind of organizational skills Yvonne has, honed by her previous career in the business world. And it typically generous YV style (yes, I feel fortunate to be able to say that Yvonne is my friend), she's somehow found the time to answer my interview questions. So here goes:
1. In the beginning stages of writing PANDEMIC, which came to life first for you: the character and backstory of Lilianna, or the public health crisis? Whichever the answer is, what difficultiesdid you have in integrating that second aspect of the story with the first?
The idea of the deadly outbreak came first, but I quickly realized that Lilianna would have an emotional trauma in her past. This became a key part of her character and her ability to cope as the story progressed. It didn’t present any difficulties to integrate, but I did interview both a public health officer (about contagious diseases) and a social worker (about how a teen like Lil might react and recover), to make both aspects of the story as real as possible.
2. PANDEMIC is a work of speculative fiction, but it’s obviously based on an impressive amount of research, and you stick very closely to realistic projections of how such a catastrophe would actually play out. Were you ever tempted as you were writing the book to stray further into the realm of science fiction or fantasy? Why or why not?
I will admit to not reading much science fiction or fantasy, so writing the story that way wasn’t something I ever considered. My goal was to portray a situation that could actually happen, because in some respects, the reality is frightening enough.
3. Whom (age, gender, interests) did you envision as your ideal reader before the book was published? Do you have a sense of how much (or how little) that vision now corresponds to reality? Have you gotten fan mail from readers, for example?
I envisioned this as a book that would be interesting to teens girls, but the cover design and the supporting male characters have allowed it to appeal to a wider market. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the feedback from a range of readers, both in gender and age--lots of adults have been enjoying the story as well.
4. In what ways have you been surprised and delighted by the realities of having PANDEMIC out in bookstores and libraries, and on the home shelves of young readers? Are there ways in which you now feel that you were overly optimistic or naïve?
In some ways publication is everything a writer dreams about. I do have published friends who showed me the realities (beyond the dream) ahead of time, so I think my expectations were realistic. When I read reviews from strangers who loved the story, I feel slightly amazed at the people it’s reached.
In terms of being naïve, I knew that promoting the book would be a lot of work, but I didn’t fully appreciate how much preparation and effort various events (book signings, live interviews, etc.) require. It’s been a process of trial and error to work on publicity but not become overwhelmed by it.
5. Has anyone (teachers, librarians, etc.) suggested to you that PANDEMIC might be a little TOO realistic for young readers? Too frightening for them to handle? How do you feel about that?
This hasn’t happened yet. If anything, I’ve been surprised by the maturity of young readers and the feedback I’ve gotten from some of the parents. If kids are reading THE HUNGER GAMES (which is listed as ages twelve and up), then there seems to be a different level of readership today compared to when I was that age.
6. Now that the book launch is a few months behind you and you’ve been able (I hope!) to get some perspective on the whole process, what would you say has been the best thing that has come about for you personally as a result of PANDEMIC’s publication? When you look at yourself in a mirror now, do you see the same person you did before, or someone a little bit different?
To quote one of your June blog posts, Susan, “Becoming a published author does not change one's character. Sure, it changes one's writing goals, and it adds a book launch party and an editor and a contract and a schedule of deadlines to one's life. But an anxious prepublished author who gets a book published will become an anxious published author; only the focus of his or her anxiety will change.”
I think this is very true. I’m not essentially different now, although it has been satisfying to achieve a personally meaningful goal. I do think PANDEMIC has boosted my confidence as a writer. As I hit rough patches in my current work-in-progress, I remind myself that I’ve created one successful story, so I should be able to do it again. I hope. J
7. Last question: Hooray! PANDEMIC’s out in the world! What’s next?
I’m working on a YA psychological thriller about a teen who fears she either is being haunted or suffering from mental illness. I love the dark stuff! I’ve been enjoying the process of trying to create a mystery without giving away the end, so it’s a new challenge.
* * * *
Need I even add that Yvonne is also a whiz at social media? Here's where she can be found online:
And just one more thing: you might be interested to know that Yvonne's fascination with birds is nothing new for her:
Thank you, Yvonne! Can't wait to read your next one!