Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Words With an Author | Yvonne Ventresca

Welcome to another Words with an Author! Today I have the opportunity of talking to Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic. I had the pleasure of meeting Yvonne at the book festival I held about a year ago and she's such a wonderful person. I hope you guys enjoy the interview! 

1. How did you get into writing? When did you first start writing? 

I was always an avid reader, and wanting to work with words seemed like a natural extension of that. I still have notebooks filled with hundreds of poems I wrote in middle school. Sadly, I threw away the opening chapters of my first attempt at a novel called The Flood.

I studied creative writing (along with computer science) in college but it wasn’t until several years after I graduated that I decided to focus on writing seriously. One of my early freelance assignments was to write career profiles for teens. This led to my first nonfiction book, Publishing (Careers for the 21st Century), followed by a biography of the singer Avril Lavigne (by the same publisher). Getting fiction published took me much longer, and Pandemic, my young adult debut, was actually my fourth attempt at writing a novel.

2. Where did you come up with the ideas for your books? Who/ what is your inspiration?

I’ve always been fascinated with disaster and survival stories. For example, I loved Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The idea of a global, deadly disease has always seemed frightening to me. When swine flu occurred in 2009, it wasn’t particularly lethal, but it did make me wonder about pandemics. 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.

3. Are any of your characters based on people you actually know, if so which ones?

Reggie, the ShopWell cashier, was based on an actual employee at my local grocery store. I have since given him a copy of the novel and he often keeps Pandemic bookmarks in his front shirt pocket when he works.

4. If you had to pick only five books from your bookshelf you could keep, what would they be? 

Stephen King’s On Writing (part memoir, part instruction manual), Collected Lyrics by Edna St. Vincent Millay (my favorite poet), The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron (creative inspiration),  First Things First by Stepen R. Covey (productivity nonfiction), The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (a childhood favorite).

5. How long did the writing process take for each of your books? What does your writing process look like?

Pandemic took about two years to write. My process is slow and messy and basically involves multiple revisions, focusing on different story flaws each time. I have a recent guest post about plotting at KidLit Summer School here which includes this photo of my early revision notes. (I’ve whited out some spoilers.

6. Who are some of your favorite authors?

Laurie Halse Anderon, Nova Ren Suma, Judy Blundell. Also, all of my friends from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, particularly from NJ. 

7. What actors/ actresses could you see playing the characters of your book?

Dakota Fanning (as a brunette) could play Lilianna Snyder, the main character.
Alex Bechet could play Jay Martinez, Lil’s neighbor and the new boy in town. Bechet was featured in Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break” video (
Christian Bale could play Mr. B, the formerly-beloved English teacher who fools everyone with his charm.

8. How did you come up with the title and cover of each of your books? Did they morph as you wrote the book, or were they constant?

“Pandemic” seemed to get the idea across in one word. I experimented with other titles, but nothing else seemed to work as well.

The cover was designed by Sky Pony Press’s Brian Peterson. The fictional bird flu, nicknamed The Blue Flu, inspired the bird image and the main color. The shade of blue—the teal color—is actually a nod to a US organization, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (, which uses a teal ribbon to represent sexual violence awareness and prevention. This relates to a trauma which occurred in Lil’s recent past that she is still trying to recover from. Since the blue-shaded cover creates an almost serene mood, the large, disjointed title was used to produce an unsettled feeling which mirrors the suspense of the story.

9. Are you planning to write any other books?

I’m currently working on a YA psychological thriller about a girl who fears she is either being haunted or going insane. I like the idea of creating scary circumstances in our ordinary world.

10. Have you had to do any outside research for a book you’ve written?

Yes! For several months, I had a teetering pile of books on my nightstand about various infectious diseases. I read about historical illnesses (like the Spanish Influenza of 1918) and researched contemporary pandemics. A local health department officer helped educate me about the realities of managing an outbreak and I also studied some interesting emergency response plan documents for NJ, where the story is set.

11. Where is your ideal writing location?

 My ideal location is anywhere there is a scenic view. My reality is anywhere in the house I can keep an eye on my two dogs. (Below: Luna and Rocky helping me write this summer.)

12. What would your advice be to someone who's aspiring to be a writer?

For the very beginner, making time to write has to become a priority. (See one of my favorite quotes, below). Once you’ve written something, finding a good critique group is important. They can motivate you, advise you, and help make your writing stronger. Critiquing other people’s work in return helps hone your own skills. 

I have more tips here:

13. Finally, just to wrap things up, what's your favorite color and why?

I love the blue of Pandemic’s cover, but right now my favorite is red. It’s such a passionate, vibrant color.

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