This month I had the opportunity to interview Yvonne Ventresca. I'm lucky enough to be friends with Yvonne and have gone to some book signings and book festivals with her since she lives not too far away from me.
Her debut novel Pandemic came out this year. Before she entered the thrilling world of authordom she wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now, she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code. Her other writing credits include two nonfiction books for kids Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field.)
Alissa: What inspired you to write Pandemic? What's the most interesting thing you learned when researching this book?
Yvonne: I’ve always been fascinated with disaster situations. 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 the illness on her own? Pandemic is more about the experience during the disaster than the aftermath. I found it interesting to think about how fear would change social interactions.
One interesting thing I learned is that the Spanish Influenza of 1918 had a different mortality pattern than previous flu outbreaks, with the highest death rates occurring in adults between the ages of twenty and fifty. The reasons for that pattern are still not entirely understood.
A: So being something of an expert about such things, should we be scared about Ebola? Why or why not?
Y: Everyone has their own comfort level about disaster and disease situations. I do believe it’s good to be prepared for an emergency, whether it’s a hurricane, a severe snow storm, or a quarantine. I used to be one of those people buying batteries right before a storm, but I’ve changed my ways.
A: Pandemic has both a disease storyline and a sexual assault storyline. How do these two storylines go together?
Y: I wanted to create a story where the main character is in a difficult place at the onset, even before the disease strikes, so that she must find a way to heal and become stronger during the crisis. The sexual assault was an integral part of Lil’s character for me.
I was also interested in the moral dilemma of whether or not we would help others if it puts us at risk. Since Lil’s philanthropy leads to harm prior to the outbreak (it’s after a food drive that she’s assaulted), she struggles to become altruistic again.
A: What's your favorite part about writing fiction - writing or revising? What are your tips for writers when writing a first draft? What are your revision tips?
Y: Definitely revising. I find it so much easier to work with something already formed than to stare at a blank page. My tip for first drafts: work as steadily and consistently as possible to keep the momentum going. My main tip for revisions is to start with the big picture problems and fix those first. It sounds simple, but I know I have to fight the tendency to wordsmith as I revise. Ultimately, those scenes might get cut or reworked anyway, so I have to remind myself not to get caught up in the small changes.
Another idea: I like to make a chapter by chapter list (in Word or on paper) of important elements I’m tracking. Here is a (messy) page from my Pandemic notebook. It includes basic plot elements in black. The blue writing had to do with the flu and its consequences. The green scribbles were some of my ideas for changes. (I whited out some of the spoilers.)
A:. Tell us a fun fact about yourself, something we might not have known about you.
Y: In elementary school, I made a shoebox diorama of the library for the school librarian. I still love libraries but refrain from giving geeky handmade presents. (A: I think I might have seen that diorama on an episode of Community!)
A: What's an average day like for Yvonne Ventresca?
Y: I’m sure you didn’t expect a pie chart as an answer to this, but one of my first bosses in the corporate world suggested we track our time each day (for our own use). It’s a habit that stuck long after I left the job. Although the days vary, here’s a sense of how I spent my time recently:
A: What are you working on next?
Y: My current work-in-progress is a YA psychological thriller about a girl who fears she is either being haunted or going insane.