Wednesday 13 October 2010

Interview with Brenna Yovanoff

I read The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff last week and I’m still thinking about it; it was that bloody good! It’s about ugly things, love, friendship, courage, and secrets. The Replacement debuted at #10 on the New York Times children’s list, and is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The Replacement
Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, Mackie comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement—left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is slowly dying in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with an oddly intriguing girl named Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

Brenna is one of the Merry Sisters of Fate, and I’ve enjoyed her short fiction for a while now. Her energy is incredible, and her writing has always affected me: I become the story, I’m empathic to the emotion, I love and loath her characters and, ‘I’d like to write like Brenna.’ She’s become an online mentor, and I squealed like a wild pig in a crocodile’s mouth when she let me interview her.

1) What was it about The Replacement that made you think, this is the one, this is the one I want to see published?

I wish I had a better answer to this, but I'm honestly not sure. I just had a feeling that this was The One and I needed to send it out into the world. I knew that agents and editors had been talking about wanting more YA fantasy told from a male point of view, and I felt like maybe I had what they were looking for.

2) I've noticed love is a recurring theme in YA, what's being in love like for you?

I think that love is a recurring YA theme precisely because when we experience it in adolescence, it's very new and very raw. There's a lot of uncertainty and confusion surrounding it and it can be very difficult to navigate. For me, being in love now is very different. There's a much greater sense of trust and security—it doesn't come with such an element of risk, partly because I know myself much better.

3) This, from your website, surprised me - "I'm bad at dancing, making decisions, and inspiring confidence as an authority figure. I suspect this is because I am short, and also terrible at sounding as though I have any idea what I'm talking about." And yet your writing is powerful, eloquent, and seductive. What do you think prevents these traits from manifesting in your personality and life?

Thanks for the wonderful compliment, Simon! I do think that one of the great things about writing is being able to tap into characteristics one might not exhibit in one's daily life. I'm a chronic second-guesser, and I think this is because whenever I look at something, even if it's pretty straightforward, I see a lot of possibilities. This trait is better for—say—writing, than it is for deciding on which route to take in a crowded city.

4) If you had the opportunity to talk to young Brenna, what age would you be, and what would you say?

I would probably talk to Brenna at fourteen and tell her to stop worrying so much about how to socialize because no one else has any idea what's going on either, and those heavy bangs are really not a good idea, and please, please try harder at Algebra, because in two years you'll find out that you are actually really good at Basic Physics, but you won't be able to move on to the advanced class because of your woeful knowledge of algebra.

5) Your presence online is comforting, I already consider you a mentor, and I believe you'll become a role model for readers, writers, and young people. Are you ready for this, and is this 'fame' something you've dreamed about it?

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Simon! Personally, I don't know if mentoring is something people are ever really ready for. I think people find themselves in that position, either voluntarily or by chance, and then they get to see if they're cut out for it—so if mentoring turns out to be a part of all this, I'll have to see how it plays out! As far as fame goes, I'll be honest, I've never really dreamed about it. When I was little, I really hated being the center of attention, and even now, if I'm given a choice, I prefer to be an observer rather than a participant. So I don't think much about being famous, just about writing stories that people want to read.

6) Do you think the fantasy worlds that writers create only exist in their imaginations or are they created from something real? Are the fangs, fur, and fey real?

While I'm definitely not a literalist about fantasy creatures, I do think there's something to the idea that we as a species are driven to create them as expressions of our own cultural fears or desires. We invent creatures who transform from human beings into animal counterparts, or who live forever and never age or get sick. I think these things speak clearly to ideas about death and self-control. They might not be real, but they seem to be very effective metaphors for a lot of things that are.

7) Zombies are roaming the streets and your critique partners have been infected. Do you:
a) Blast them?
b) Keep them as pets and train them to be vegans?
c) Let them bite you so you can still be friends?
d) Another option?

Well, you're talking about Tess and Maggie here, so I would absolutely need to find a cure! Even if I could keep them as pets, I'm pretty sure they'd be no good to me as either writers or critique partners, and if it's the zombie apocalypse, I expect to be holed up for quite a while and I'm definitely going to need them to keep writing new stories for me to read!

Thanks for having me, Simon!

Isn’t she cool!

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  1. Great interview! It was great to learn more about Brenna Yovanoff.

    I've heard good things about this book. It's on my wishlist.

  2. Great interview! Especially loved the questions about love, and zombies. This book is high on my wish list.

  3. Hi Brenna and Simon,
    It's great to see the humanity behind a published author. I really enjoyed this. Great questions, Simon, and Brenna, thanks for your openness and honesty.
    I'm behind you both 100%!

  4. Cannot wait to read this! Great interview :)

  5. I love the book cover, but thought it was for a horror book. Would never have guessed it was a children's book. Which probably makes it a brilliant cover. I can see pre-teens or teens picking it up.

    Enjoyed the interview, Simon. You ask great questions and Brenna gave great answers.

  6. Hi everyone, thanks for commenting. Yes, Helen, the cover is creepy and I'd agree, brillaint!

  7. Hi Simon .. what a wonderful review .. I'd never heard of Brenna .. so this was really eye opening and I can see how and why you enjoyed it so much .. I might just look out for it ..

    Great fun and good to know about .. thanks - Hilary