BOD Spotlight with Yvonne Ventresca
It’s so fun that I get to chat with you about your book Pandemic. Thank you so much Yvonne for taking the time to be a part of BOD’s author spotlight interview. We’re so happy to have you!
Thank you! BOD is an amazing group, so I’m thrilled to be interviewed here.
Before we get into Pandemic, tell us how you got into writing. Was it something you’ve always wanted to do, or have done? Or does it come from a love of reading?
I still have old poems from around sixth and seventh grade. I was always an avid reader, and wanting to work with words seemed like a natural extension of that. I took my first formal creative writing classes in college but didn’t write seriously until my children were born.
Will you please tell us about Pandemic, and what inspired you to write it?
Here’s a blurb about the story:
In Pandemic, only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder’s sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. After her parents are called away on business, Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness. With her worst fears realized, Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.
In terms of what inspired me, I’ve always been fascinated with disaster situations. For example, I loved Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. 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 not only the practical implications of a contagious disease, like potential food shortages, but also about how fear would change social interactions. Dire circumstances can bring out the best and the worst in people and I wanted to explore that in this story.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pandemic. I love how informative it was from beginning to end. Does the knowledge you write about come from personal experience of what to do in an emergency, or from research?
I’m happy you liked it. 🙂
I did a lot of research, starting with the Spanish Influenza of 1918, then reading about current emerging infectious diseases as well. (I recommend Spillover by David Quammen and Emerging Epidemics by Madeline Drexler.)
The story is set in New Jersey and I was able to find planning documents online, as well as interview a local health officer. He spoke frankly about the H1N1 experience and gave me insight into what problems could potentially occur if a more deadly pandemic struck.
By the way, I thought because of my research that I was well prepared for an emergency. In the midst of writing the novel, we were hit by a severe October ice storm and lost power for about ten days. I quickly found the flaws in my efforts. And there were many! (For example, we didn’t have an easy way to recharge our multiple cell phones.)
I include information about pandemics and preparedness on the Resources section of my website.
I find it ironically scary to have read this book the same week a patient with Ebola was admitted to a hospital in America. How do you feel about this?
Ebola is frightening. The disease obviously differs from bird flu—it has a longer incubation time, for example, and it’s not airborne. But it seems incredibly difficult to protect the medical staff needed to treat it. The spread of the disease is very worrisome.
The sexual assault sub-plot was so well handled in Pandemic. Why did you put this sub-plot in a story about a viral epidemic?
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.
Now tell us some fun facts about yourself. Do you have a favorite treat you like to eat when you’re writing or reading?
I love hot drinks while I’m writing— coffee, tea, hot chocolate—even during the summer. And I’m a big fan of Hershey kisses as a reward for a creative, productive session. I also like Skinny Pop popcorn but it messes up the keyboard if I eat it while I’m typing, so I have to save that as an editing treat.
Do you have a writing ritual or routine you do to get you in the writer’s zone?
It’s not exactly a routine, but in August and September, I participated in WritingChallenge.org. (I’m taking October off from the group to focus more on Pandemic publicity.) The idea is to write 500 words or edit for one hour each day for the month, tweeting and tracking your daily progress. It’s a great way to feel accountable for getting the work done, and like BOD, the group is friendly and supportive.
If you could do one thing differently about your writing career, what would it be?
Earlier in my career, I tended to rush the fiction writing process and I often felt “done” when more revisions were needed. Writing a novel takes a long time for me, and I wish I had realized sooner that leaving a manuscript alone for days (even weeks) between revisions is a good and necessary step.
Thanks for sharing your time with all of us at BOD, and for creating awesome stories to get lost in!
You’re welcome. As a special offer to BOD members in the US, if anyone wants a bookmark for Pandemic, email me the address.
Keep reading to learn more about Pandemic and Yvonne!
An excerpt from the opening pages of Pandemic.
I stood on the smoking corner behind school reveling in my aloneness. Not many smokers had the same schedule, which made the corner the perfect place for solitude. We always stayed a foot off the high school property, near the big oak tree, and since we were allowed to leave during last period study hall, we weren’t technically breaking any rules.
As if rules mattered.
“Hey, got a light?” Jay Martinez asked, interrupting the quiet. In the fall, he’d moved from Arizona to live with his aunt down the block from my house.
I handed him my half-smoked cigarette. Cupping the burning ember, he used it to light his own. He didn’t fit in with the other smokers, but then neither did I. My black clothes, basic ponytail, and minimal makeup placed me in my own category. Maybe Lazy Goth. But the nice thing about smokers was that they didn’t exclude anyone.
“Thanks.” Jay passed my cigarette back to me.
“Is New Jersey always this cold in April?”
Being the new guy at school made Jay the flavor of the month with the other sophomore girls. They craved him in a nauseating kind of way. He was dark, tall, and lanky, and tended to over-communicate. Totally not my type. Now he ruined my aloneness with weather chatter. I shrugged so he’d get the idea that I wasn’t in a talking mood.
“Ethan was hoping to run into you,” he said.
Another shrug. I’d managed to avoid my ex for months. No reason to change the pattern now.
“So . . . do you have Robertson for bio?” he asked.
I nodded. Jay definitely wasn’t taking the hint.
“What are you doing your report on?”
“Emerging diseases,” I said, finally giving up on staying silent.
The school projects I chose did favor the dark this semester. American history report? The decision to drop the bomb. English book talk? A collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. Thematically, Ebola hemorrhagic fever fit right in.
“What are you writing about?” I flicked the accumulated ashes. “Lung cancer?”
He smiled. “The biology of taste. I write restaurant reviews on my blog and that was the closest topic I could think of. Do you like eating at restaurants?”
Leaning slightly forward, he held eye contact a little too long for me. Was he flirting? Nervous, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and crossed my arms. A flirtatious guy was the absolute last thing I needed in my life. No boyfriends, no coy conversations for me. Not anymore.
Before becoming a children’s writer, Yvonne Ventresca wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code. Yvonne’s the author of the young adult novel Pandemic, available since May from Sky Pony Press. Yvonne’s other writing credits include two nonfiction books for kids: Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field). You can visit her website at www.YvonneVentresca.com.