Author Interview (Poetically Speaking): Brenna Yovanoff on “Drowning Variations”

poeticallyspeaking1Brenna Yovanoff was raised in a barn, a tent, and a tepee, and was homeschooled until high school. She spent her formative years in Arkansas, in a town heavily populated by snakes, where sometimes they would drop turkeys out of the sky. When she was five, she moved to Colorado, where it snows on a regular basis but never snows turkeys. She is the author of a number of novels, including the NYT Bestseller THE REPLACEMENT. Her most recent book is PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, available everywhere May, 2016. Visit her online at www.brennayovanoff.com.

Today I’m talking with Brenna about “Drowning Variations” which appears in her latest anthology (written with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton) The Anatomy of Curiosity as well as her writing process.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Brenna Yovanoff (BY): I’ve known I wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Even as a kid, I was always writing and illustrating stories, and starting novels but never actually finishing them. For me, the process of becoming a writer was a long, slow, but very steady one. I took pretty much every English class I could find, and spent a lot of time on the internet, learning about agents and publishing and query letters. Once I finally got to the point where I was reliably finishing stuff, I started sending out short stories to magazines, and queries to agents. The short stories were really important for me because any time one got accepted for publication, it made me feel like I was making progress even while novel-writing-revising-querying remained incredibly slow-going. I got an agent with my second finished novel, The Replacement, and that was the first book I sold!

MP: Since The Anatomy of Curiosity is a book about writing, it seems appropriate to ask about where you write. Do you work best alone? With a writing group? What is your ideal writing space and is it your current space?

BY: I am a coffee-shop writer, all the way! I love to work in places where I’m surrounded by activity, but not expected to actively participate or make conversation with anyone. I have a couple different coffee shops that are my absolute favorites, but I can basically work anyplace where it’s not too quiet, but where no one needs to talk to me.

MP: I loved reading about your writing process in “Drowning Variations” and seeing how the story you wanted to tell changed and morphed through various drafts until it reached its final stage. How do you know when you’re finished with an idea and done with revisions?

BY: There’s this great quote from Paul Valery that goes, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I’ve always loved that, because—as you can see from “Drowning Variations”—I often just have so much to say about a single idea, and so much that I want to do with it. At a certain point though, I usually have to set it down and back away for awhile. That doesn’t mean that I won’t return to it in some other form later on, but I have to wait until I start to have a new perspective on it. If I’m in that place where I would just be saying the same thing over and over if I kept working on something, I consider myself “done for now.”

MP: You write novellas, short stories, and novels. Do you ever write poetry? When you sit down to flesh out an idea do you know right away if it will be a novel or the start of a series or something else?

BY: I actually used to write quite a bit of poetry, and took a number of poetry classes when I was in school. Now though, I write fiction pretty exclusively, although some of the shorts I did when I was running a fiction blog with my critique partners definitely verged on poetry. I’ve never yet written a series, although I’d like to some day. Because I’m so idea-oriented in general, I usually feel like any idea I have could be a novel OR or a short story OR a poem—it’s all about approach.

MP: Do you have any go-to authors and poets that you find yourself returning to when you read in your free time? If you could recommend one book, poet, or poem to readers, what would they be?

BY: My number-one go-to would probably be Neil Gaiman. His work is so prolific and so varied, but he always sounds like himself, and I know that with him, things will always be at least a little dark, and more than a little whimsical.

MP: Can you share any details about your next project?

BY: My next book is coming out May 17th, and I’m SO excited for it! It’s called PLACES NO ONE KNOWS and is about a prickly, super-intense insomniac of a girl who begins dreaming herself into the waking life of one of the most ill-motivated boys in school, and how awkward and terrible and life-saving and intimate that is.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

BY: Read. A LOT. Read things you think you won’t like, or things that seem confusing or aren’t your style. One of the most valuable things for me has always been figuring out what’s working (or not) in books or stories that are completely different from my own approach and then thinking about why someone would choose to tell that particular story that particular way.

Thank you again to Brenna for this fantastic interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Brenna and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://brennayovanoff.com

You can also read my reviews of The Replacement and Paper Valentine here on the blog.

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