Brian Yansky on Brian Yansky: “It’s an old story. I was born and I was very small and then I got larger and then one day I stopped growing and, with minor adjustments, I’ve stayed about the same size ever since. All of this growing happened in Iowa where, I once read, there are eight pigs for every person. I didn’t really notice at the time, but I still felt compelled to leave at my earliest opportunity. I had wanderlust.
“I moved around a lot for several years. Eventually, I ended up in Texas. I got a couple of degrees along the way. One at the University of Texas. One at Vermont College–an MFA in Writing [adult program]. I wrote a lot of unpublished manuscripts before I wrote a published one. Like being born and growing and having wanderlust, this is very common, at least among writers.
“My first published novel was My Road Trip to The Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). My second published novel is Wonders of the World (Flux, June 2007). I live in Austin, Texas with my wife, Frances Hill, and some dogs and a cat named Chaos.”
How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout, “yes!” Or run the other way?
I shouted “yes” in a quiet kind of way. I loved to write. I didn’t love to do many things, so finding something I loved to do was cathartic. It changed everything.
Why did you decide to write for teen readers specifically?
My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World was written as an adult novel but accepted for publication as a Young Adult. I started reading YA novels then, and I loved reading about characters that age. I discovered a lot of amazing novels and writers. I became a YA reader. I wanted to write another YA novel. This time I wanted to be aware I was writing a YA novel while I was writing it.
Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles?
I’m the poster person for try, try again. I wrote five novels before I published my first novel. I wrote dozens of stories before I got one published in a literary journal.
Stumbles? Oh yeah. I kept myself going by telling myself this was what I wanted to do. If no one else was interested, I was still going to keep doing it for me. Being blindly obstinate can be helpful to a writer. The other thing that kept me going is that I love to write; I love the whole struggle to get a story down on paper.
Your first novel was My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). What was the book about?
Identity. The main character is adopted (like I was) and is getting into trouble at school and with his parents and with the law. His girlfriend drops him and he decides to take off on a road trip to find his birth parents. He has some adventures along the way and ends up in the Pretty Girl Capital of the World, which is Austin, Texas, my adopted hometown.
Congratulations on your new release, Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007). What was the initial inspiration for this book?
The novel is about street kids and takes place on the street. I worked at the University of Texas for a while and I used to see this group of street kids getting up in the morning in a park across from campus. There were a lot of them some mornings, and some of them were very young. I wondered what their stories were. I thought about my own youth when, for a time, I hitchhiked around the country. When I was passing through cities, I sometimes stayed in the same places as street kids did.
Even back then there were kids living on the street. I decided that I wanted to tell a story about a teen who ended up on the street and his struggle to find a way off it.
What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?
I guess it took me a little over a year to write the novel and then another few months for my agent to sell it. Then it was a year and a half after that to publication. There are always major events of the imagination while working on a novel. You struggle with a certain point in the plot or a character and you find your way (at least you hope you do). Besides these internal struggles, I attended a workshop called Writefest that was very helpful in motivating me to finish the novel.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
I did some research on street kids. Nothing in depth, but read a few articles and books and looked around on the web. I discovered a very useful site called Stand Up For Kids, an outreach group for children and teens who are homeless and living on the street.
I was appalled by this statistic: about 1.5 million kids and teens live on the street in America. It confirmed my sense that there are a lot more teens and kids living on the street than most people think. My biggest challenge was creating the world my characters live in. I hope I got it right.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Try to write the kind of work you love to read. Read. A lot. Write. Rewrite. Listen to everything writers you admire say about writing, then only use what works for you. This will take patient experimentation. Some of the best advice I got was try to find what your characters yearns for and let that direct the story. Characters will not always be up-front about this, so sometimes you will have to write a lot to figure out what they really want. Another good piece of advice for me was try to get to the place inside you that allows you to write intutitively in a kind of continous dream. Rewrite looking for places where you seem to have lost the flow of that dream.
How about YA novelists specifically?
For me, writing YA fiction is no different from writing adult fiction except that it’s about young people. It has a different feel because if you’re true to voice and character your characters will see the world through the eyes of someone who is a teenager regardless of how old you are.
Like me, you’re married to a fellow author. How do you relate to each other in the writing part of your lives?
Wonderfully. We support each other and read for each other. There are some parts of the writing business that are very difficult, and we help each other through these. I feel very lucky to be married to someone who walks into the room where I’m supposed to be writing and sees me staring out the window (at length) and does not feel obligated to point out that I do not seem to be writing, or for that matter doing anything. I seem to be lost in space. She understands that writing, in fact, requires that you stare out the window a lot. At least for me. When I start talking about a character as if he or she is a real person, she does not suggest I see a therapist or covertly call friends and family for an intervention. She understands. I feel very lucky to be married to another writer.
What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?
Teach, watch movies, travel, exercise, eat out, listen to music, play with my new Old English Sheepdog.