YA Novelist Brian Yansky on Writing for Boys, Part 2

[Below is part two of my recent email interview with YA sci-fi novelist, Brian Yansky. Here’s a link to the interview’s first part. My conversation with Brian is part of a larger series on teen male aliteracy, all of which can be found on the Yellow Bird Blog.]

BPW: I recently read a great essay by author Matt de la Pena about how becoming an active reader can change a man’s life, young or old. In our emails leading up to this interview you mentioned how reading “saved you” when you were young. How so?

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BY: I didn’t start reading a lot until I was seventeen. Before that I was, to put it mildly, unfocused. I was close to flunking out of school. I knew the local police much too well, and they knew me.  But when I started reading and writing (I started writing a diary because of the reading), I found a different kind of excitement from the kind that had been getting me into so much trouble. Reading and writing became healthy obsessions. They gave me focus. They gave me hope.

BPW: Andy Sherrod describes some basic differences between boy books and girl books. These have to do with the personality of the hero, the types of and settings for conflicts the hero must face, the narrative voice, and the use of factual information in the story. Your most recent novel,Homicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments, fits pretty neatly into all of Sherrod’s defining characteristics for a boy book. How did you come to specialize in writing for a young, male audience? Did you make a conscious choice?

BY: Well, like a lot of YA writers, I thought my first book was for adults. I found an agent who thought so too and tried to sell it. Several publishing houses liked it, but it didn’t sell. Then my wife and [YA novelist]Cynthia Leitich-Smith both encouraged me to think of it as a YA novel. I revised it a little but not much. It sold, almost immediately, as a YA.

I love writing YA characters. That age has so many possibilities. There’s a freshness to the world and experience and at the same time a naivety in some instances. It’s also a time of great change. There’s school and friends and first love and a lot of firsts. It’s just an interesting time, ripe with dramatic possibilities. It comes down to this: I’m excited and thrilled by writing characters this age. You should write what excites and thrills you.

BPWHomicidal Aliens ends with a major victory for the protagonist but leaves one antagonist unaccounted for. Does this mean a third book is in the works? If so, can you give a little taste of what future annoyances readers can expect for Jesse? If not, what’s next on your writing horizon?

BY: My next novel is not a sequel. Alas, no more alien books.  My next novel is called UTOPIA, IOWA, and will come out in early 2015. I just finished the final edits with my editor. It’s about this character who sees ghosts, but this is not the big deal to him because everyone on his mother’s side of the family sees ghosts. However, it becomes a big deal when a girl in his school is murdered, and she starts insisting he find out who killed her. I hope my main character, a–surprise,surprise– seventeen-year-old male, has a strong and interesting voice.

[If Yansky’s past heroes are any indication, his newest protagonist will indeed have a unique and memorable voice. Many thanks to Brian Yansky for his great answers here and for all of his great books. Earlier in this series, I asked Andy Sherrod for his boy book top ten. So it only seemed fair to ask the same of Brian. Here are his boy book recommendations:]

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Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
Unwind by Neil Shusterman
Godless by Pete Hautman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson (due out 2014)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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