Catching up with Yvonne!
We caught up with New Jersey author and debut novelist Yvonne Ventresca, to find out a little more about her process and how she writes across genres. Yvonne has been a member of SCBWI since 2002. She’s the author of Pandemic (Sky Pony Press/Skyhorse Publishing)—a contemporary, realistic young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly flu outbreak. Yvonne’s other writing credits include two nonfiction books for kids: Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field). Find out too what degree Yvonne will go to to take a break from writing!
NJSCBWI: Your debut novel Pandemic released earlier this summer, congratulations! Please tell us where the idea for this book came from?
YVONNE VENTRESCA: I’ve always been fascinated with disaster situations. Since a pandemic is a scary and realistic possibility, it seemed like the perfect scenario for a story. When the Swine Flu pandemic occurred in 2009, it wasn’t particularly lethal, but it did make me wonder: what if a virus was extremely contagious and caused a high death rate? And what if a teen girl had to survive a contemporary illness on her own? I began developing Lilianna’s character, and I liked the idea that her life was already difficult before the pandemic hits. She has a problem trusting people, but that trust will be essential to her very survival.
NJSCBWI: You’ve written nonfiction books before. What have been the main differences, hurdles or otherwise working on a fiction novel to the books you’ve written before?
YV: In nonfiction, you are restricted to telling the story using the facts. One thing I love about writing fiction is that you can manipulate the truth. Although the story has to feel real (and shouldn’t have glaring errors), I found more creative freedom in writing a novel. One thing the genres do have in common, though, is research. I still spent a great deal of time researching historical and contemporary diseases, for example, even though Pandemic is fiction.
Taking Notes: Pages from Yvonne's Pandemmic notebook.
NJSCBWI: What was the biggest challenge writing Pandemic and how did you overcome it?
YV: One challenge was naming the characters. I usually like to throw in the first names of family and friends for minor characters, but Pandemic involves a high death toll. In the story, there's a blog to help communicate who has died, and I had to be careful not to kill off anyone I was related to.
NJSCBWI: What are you working on now that you can share with us?
YV: I’m working on a YA psychological thriller set in Hoboken, NJ, where I used to live for many years. It’s about a teen who fears she either is being haunted or suffering from mental illness.
NJSCBWI: Who inspires you?
YV: I find inspiration in learning about other people’s creative journeys. For example, when you hear a song on the radio, it sounds amazing, but you might learn that there were originally five different versions before they perfected it. That gives me a sense of perspective (and hope!) when I’m muddling through a messy draft.
Dojo Party: Yvonne signing books at Mendham Karate Academy where she's a student
NJSCBWI: What do you do to switch off or reenergize when you get stuck?
YV: I’ve been studying Isshinryu karate for the last nine years and have earned the rank of second degree black belt. I find that any activity that requires complete focus (like karate) is an energizing break when I’m stuck on a creative problem. In general, stepping away from a manuscript and coming back to it later works better for me than trying to plow through.
Launch Party: Yvonne outside Words in Maplewood.
NJSCBWI: What top piece(s) of advice can you offer to other writers who are interested in writing for more than one genre?
YV: Treat writing like any other job that requires certain skills. Evaluate what you are good at and what you need to improve. Maybe your weakness is unnatural sounding dialogue or adding too much description (or not enough!) for the target age group. After determining what needs work, focus on that area by reading craft books, doing research, etc. and concentrate on developing that skill. Just because we are good writers doesn’t mean we are good at every part of writing
You can read more about Yvonne in these places online: