Sunday, February 15, 2015

Here's a link to an interview I did and also a giveaway of free hardback copies of Utopia, Iowa at this site. I have several other interviews coming up about writing that will be on the web. One is about Merlin and his effect on my writing and on  drinking coffee, and one is on writing and reading and one on process. Also, I have a few book events coming up: I will be at the North Texas Teen Book Festival on March 7,  teach a class for WLT on Plot in Character Driven Fiction on April 4 and be on a SCBWI panel on process on April 11 and at TLA  in Austin on April 16, 17.

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2015/02/brian-yansky-author-of-utopia-iowa-on.html



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Road to Utopia, Iowa, Was Paved With Rejection



Utopia, Iowa, my YA novel, is being published by Candlewick Press today (FEB 10) and that’s a most excellent thing. I’m very grateful. But it almost didn’t happen. That is to say Utopia, Iowa’s road to publication was not a smooth superhighway. It was more like a road I drove in rural Mexico one summer not long after I graduated from high school, one that was an obstacle course of potholes and cracked pavement and that eventually went from poorly paved to not paved at all, then to mud, and then ended in what appeared to be a cow pasture. My choices were hang with the cows or go back and try to find another road. I like cows but…

How many rejections did Utopia, Iowa, get? I could probably ask my amazing agent for an exact number, but I’ll guess in the neighborhood of fifteen, including one from the publisher who ultimately accepted and published it (though not the same editor). And also--an important detail- the version she accepted was not that same version that had been rejected.

We’ve all seen the lists of novels that were rejected numerous times and ultimately became huge bestsellers and/or literary classics. To name a few…

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone--at least 11 rejections. (Bazillion copies sold)
Lord of the Flies: 20 rejections (15 million+ copies sold) Classic
A Wrinkle in Time: 26 rejections. (millions sold) Classic

I don’t know how many of these manuscripts, if any, were rewritten during or after rejections. I have read that J.D.Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was rewritten after many, many rejections and only then accepted by a publisher.

If you enjoy these kinds of lists here’s a long one at this site. http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

Obviously, no one knows for sure what people will buy—so there’s that. But also, since there are a lot of critically acclaimed novels and even classics on the list I’ve linked to, it’s fair to say that experienced editors and publishers may also be wrong about the quality of a novel.

So there’s that.

But what I’d like to focus on is I wrote a manuscript that was the best I could write at the time and that was handily rejected. Eventually, we had to admit that it wasn’t going to sell. I left it in my documents and moved on. I wrote another novel and that one was accepted. And then I wrote another and that one was accepted, too.

But I never entirely forgot that manuscript I’d left behind. Something about it, even after years, still interested me. Maybe part of that interest was that it was set in Iowa, the state I grew up in and hadn’t been back to for many, many years. But I also think I felt a connection to it that I never entirely broke free of. So I pulled the manuscript up and read through it. I still liked parts, but I saw a big problem in the manuscript that I hadn’t seen before. There were two stories and they were competing with each other—not working together. I thought about this problem for a day. Did I really want to go back to the manuscript again? It was going to take a lot of work and a lot of time and I could quite possibly end up in the same place—that damn cow pasture. Ultimately, the answer for me was yes. Part of the yes was that foolish stubborn steak so many writers have that serves us for both good and ill, but part of it was that I thought I could fix the story, that I could make it much better. It was worth the gamble.

So I tried.

And that version of Utopia, Iowa, sold on its first submission and made me very happy. I don’t want to say we should never give up on our manuscripts. Most writers have a few they were wise to give up on. However, I do want to say that if you have a manuscript buried in your documents folder that you couldn’t publish, maybe one that came close to being published or one you still feel connected to in some way, it’s worth taking a look at it again. Maybe the time away will give you the distance you need to see it more clearly. You never know. Writing, like publishing, is seldom a straight road.


Two minute version of Utopia, Iowa—in case you’re looking for a fast read.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Writing And Not Thinking


I've written on writing in the moment before but I want to add something about my process here.

One thing that was important for me to learn is that writing fiction is juggling many things at once and not thinking about any of them while you’re in the act of writing. There are just so many areas of concern: voice, character, plot, setting, language, and on and on. If we think about them while we’re writing, there’s a good chance we’ll freeze up or go into a kind of stiff, forced writing, or maybe make the wrong choices. And the wrong choices can be deadly in a novel. The wrong choices can lead you to other wrong choices and then you’re halfway through the novel and you’re thinking, HOW THE F**K DID I GET HERE? WHAT AM I DOING HERE? THIS ISN’T MY BEAUTIFUL NOVEL. THESE AREN’T MY BEAUTIFUL CHARACTERS (and before you know it you’re in a Talking Heads song—sorry, off topic). 

So--you can't think--much--about writing while you're writing. You can think all around it, of course. When you're driving your car (this, of course, does raise safety concerns but we all must make sacrifices for our art), taking a shower, walking the dog (one of my favorites). I'm constantly turning over aspects of what I'm working on when I'm not actually working but the writing itself, in my opinion, should be as much in the moment of the story as possible.

So yes--writing in the moment is important for making the right choices and discovering connections between plot and character.

But the thinking that goes on around the writing process is important too.  Lately, I've been trying to order this thinking a bit more by writing it out. I'm not yet ready to call it an outline but it is brainstorming in a more orderly way.  I've always been a discovery writer so this is a bit new for me. More later on how this works for me--for now I just want to point out that I think that you can be a believer in discovery writing (finding your way by writing it out) AND mapping aspects of story and character in order to guide some of these discoveries.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My best advice-? Keep Writing

When people ask what my one piece of advice would be to new writers, I always say write and also read, which sounds kind of uninspired except that it is REALLY the best advice. Writers become writers by writing. They learn by writing. They learn by their mistakes and they figure out things and they become better. Reading helps. You have to read, but writing is #1 way to get better.

I wrote five novels before I was published. I wrote five novels where I was learning how to write. I thought they were good at the time. I loved writing them. But they weren't really very good. When I figured out why, little by little, I got better. I'm still working on getting better with everything I write.

I was looking at this youtube by Brandon Sanderson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pLdI8f5BiI
Check it out for inspiration. He wrote 12 novels and hadn't made a penny off of them. He thought the first five were practice but he thought the sixth was very good and he felt like he knew what he was doing. He felt that way about the subsequent novels he wrote, too. But none of them were published. Finally, though, someone did agree to publish #6 which was called Elantris and it became a big hit. Now he's a bestseller.

We've all heard these stories. They're rare but what I like about Sanderson's is that he just kept writing. Twelve books. Whether you traditionally publish or publish independently, you still have to deal with finding an audience. That can be hard. A lot of it is random. A lot of it is luck. What you can control though is your work, your writing, your learning how to write better each book. So the simplest advice---keep writing--is still the best as far as I'm concerned. Write what you love and what you really want to write. Be aware that your writing isn't perfect and keep looking for ways to improve. You'll find your way and you'll love what you're doing.

ALSO, I have a new novel coming out on 2/10/15
My publisher is giving away ten copies of  Utopia, Iowa  at YABC........
http://www.yabookscentral.com/blog/giveaway-utopia-iowa-by-brian-yansky-us-canada

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Fiction Puzzle


Writing/ Fiction Puzzle

I was thinking that it might be helpful to look at the process of learning to write using the idea of a puzzle. I am really thinking of two comparisons here: learning to write generally and learning to write a particular novel or story.

I think that when you first start to write you struggle and part of the struggle is you don’t have the right pieces. You force pieces where they don’t go because you need to do something. Also there are many holes in the puzzle which you try to overlook, though you feel something is wrong. Your puzzle is, in short, a mess.

Writing just takes time. You have to write a lot and finish some things—most of us anyway have to do this—before your completed puzzle looks like anything resembling an accomplishment. You have to struggle through a couple of very ugly finished puzzles before you do something that fits together. You learn how to write by writing (and to a lesser extent reading). An important part of this is finishing a story or novel so that you know what that's like--and revising.

What happens after that, when you reach a certain level, having worked on the different aspects of craft (character, language, dialogue, plot, setting, voice etc… the different puzzle pieces) is you begin to be able to put a puzzle together that creates a coherent picture of varying interest. What our challenge is at this point—and it’s a challenge that never ends—is to improve the pieces of the puzzle and the way they fit together in a particular story. Writing is ultimately about connection—about making all these pieces fit together in a way that makes an interesting—at the basic level—story. WE hope for more, of course; we hope for surprising, brilliant, exciting. We hope for transcendence, power, beauty….More. 

I think some writers become competent with the puzzle and they’re fine with that. They’ll continue to create interesting stories that fit together and they will be similar in content and structure and that’s ok for them. They don’t keep struggling to learn more because they’ve mastered what they need.

Others struggle on. They keep learning. They try different things. Their work may be a bit less polished than the writer who does a similar thing over and over, but they also have a better chance of creating something...More. I try to be this kind of writer.
***

Every writer faces the second kind of puzzle every time they begin a new work. They must discover the pieces of a new puzzle and how they fit together. Since every story is different, even a writer who writes similar stories will likely struggle with this. It will be easier, of course, but it will still be a challenge.

OK, enough with the puzzle. My point is pretty simple. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always get better if you keep fighting to find new ways to improve your skills. This fight and improving skills put you in a position to reach higher levels with your work. Sure, writers are born with different levels and kinds of talent. That we can’t change. What we can change is our skills and these skills can give us the opportunity to create works we would otherwise be unable to create.

Put it another way--Successful art comes from hard, steady work and from being in the right place at the right time. The poet, Randall Jarrell, once said he stood out in the rain hoping to be struck by lightening. Poets can be a bit gloomy but he’s right that writing is about constantly trying to learn more so that you can be in a place where, if the right connection is made, if the right strike of lightening hits, you can use it in a way that gives you the chance to write the best story you’re capable of writing.

Or so I think today.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Connections/ How to Make them in a Story


The connections between characters and plot situation and setting and their relationship to internal and external conflict is what drives a novel forward. I struggle with this all the time. I think this simple way (Use THEREFORE, BUT and not AND THEN) of looking at the relationship between what happens in a story is helpful.

Check out this very short video (about two minutes) by the creators of South Park—their # 1 Rule.

They say that what you’re doing is trying to link what happens in a story by either a “THERFORE” or a “BUT”; what you should avoid is the “AND THEN” because this will just lead to a sequence of unrelated events etc. I think this is a simple way to remember one of those larger guiding principles of propelling your story forward.
THIS HAPPENS Therefore THIS HAPPENS
But
THIS HAPPENS so (therefore) THIS HAPPENS

For example

Boy steals a car/Boy gets caught by police/Boy calls parents to come and get him out/ BUT parents won’t because they decide it will teach him a lesson/therefore-when he’s in jail he gets beat up so badly he gets put in the hospital/ therefore…. And on it and on.


Also giving away another ARC of Utopia, Iowa, at Goodreads—I’m down to one.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fear of Failure--Even Stephen King Deals With It


Fear. Even Stephen King has it, and not because he scares himself when he writes. He fears failure—fear that he will fail to finish what he’s writing. He’s written something close to 70 books and he still deals with what every writer I know has to deal with—fear of not being able to finish a story and worse, that it won’t be very good if you do finish it. It’s that nagging voice that you have to silence in order to write at all. Is it comforting or terrifying that it still comes to a man who’s written about 70 books? For me it’s comforting. We all struggle.

So here’s a writer on Jane Friedman’s blog writing about fear and quoting Stephen King from an interview in Rolling Stone. And after that a link to the interview itself.

Also an interview I did for SCBWI—not about fear but… and a link to a giveaway soon to be over.





One day and change left on my giveaway of 5 signed ARCs of Utopia, Iowa—Candlewick-- which comes out Feb. 2015—enter here if you so desire.