Yvonne Anderson, whose debut novel The Story in the Stars is out now from Risen Books, was one of those weird kids who always had her nose in a book—and always wanted to write one.
She once said: “I’m not sure if the best analogy (for writing) is addiction, illness, or an unrequited love affair. Whatever you liken it to, the drive to write is terminal. So here I am. A writer. Whether anyone likes it or not.”
Yvonne is also on the staff of Novel Journey, and is the administrator of the site’s OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest.
She is happily married and has four grown children and three grandchildren (who, she guarantees, are cuter and smarter than yours).
Read about Yvonne’s novel journey below.
You’ve had an interesting journey as a writer—share about your novel journey with us.
I’ve always loved to write, but for a lot of years I hardly had time to read a book, let alone write one. But there came a point when I was only working 12 hours a week at work, the older kids had moved out, the younger two were in school, and we’d just gotten a computer.
I was in the kitchen, cleaning up after breakfast, when a thought came to me. (This does happen, occasionally.) I had the time, and the equipment. I should write a book.
What a thought! I tried to brush off the idea, but it burrowed in. I finally figured out it was the Holy Spirit, not a tick, so I prayed about it.
Then, after feeling certain it was what the Lord wanted me to do, I sat down at the new computer and, like a thing possessed, I hammered out a 200,000-word monstrosity in nine months. (Yes, I did take potty breaks.)
I typed “The End” and then said to God, “Okay, now what?” The Lord led me straight to KingdomWriters where I was immediately plunged into a rigorous education and introduced to some wonderful people.
Some of those dear buds, namely Ane (Mulligan), Gina (Holmes), and Jess (Dotta), left KW and formed Penwrights. A little later they asked me to join them—and they’ve been dragging me along behind them ever since.
Like most writers, I’d been collecting rejections on a couple of different manuscripts for years. Eight years, in fact.
This past December, another dear writer friend, Michelle Griep, told me she’d been offered a contract with Risen Books.
I’d never heard of Risen but I checked out their website and liked what I saw.
So I submitted a proposal for The Story in the Stars, and they asked for the complete. A couple weeks later, they contacted me again and, among other things, asked about my “vision for the series”.
Umm, series? Well, yes, I had mentioned in my proposal that I’d drafted a sequel. So sure, maybe I could eke out a third. I started thinking about it, and quickly came up with a total of six additional story lines stemming from the original Stars.
The following week, when they offered me a three-book contract “with the possibility of more if the series does well,” my poor dear husband almost had to call 911. Even if I thought I might be offered a contract someday, I certainly never expected my first contract would be for three books.
Speaking of journeying, take us to Gannah—the location of your book, The Story in the Stars. How did you create this world?
I wish I could tell you, but I can’t, because I don’t know. I just started writing and it appeared on the screen.
In your critique group, Penwrights, you’re the one everyone wants to critique their manuscripts—and the one everyone fears critiquing their manuscripts. Explain that, if you can.
[Insert evil laugh.] I’m feared because, like a Gannahan, I enjoy bloodletting. Why people crave this torture is perplexing. Perhaps it’s because my mind works so differently from everyone else’s, the way I carve up their submissions almost looks like art instead of carnage, and they need something to hang on the wall in the den.
Or maybe they just like pain. It’s possible they get some tangible benefit from my insights, but I’m not sure.
What key critiques did you receive on The Story in the Stars that helped shape it into a manuscript that got picked up? In a related note, how did it change over time?
When I did the first draft, I never intended to show it to anyone. I was just having fun. But one of the symptoms of the writer disease is the insatiable urge to share what you write.
When I eventually tested the first chapter on the Penwrights waters, it sank—too many “was”es made the thing leak passively but surely. Plugging those holes throughout the manuscript was my first task. Then a couple critiquers complained it started out too slow.
I agreed with the criticism about the passives, but resented the suggestion that the opening should be changed. When the clamor grew louder, I said to myself, “You want to see slow? I’ll give you slow,” and—with the maturity of a four-year-old—I redid the opening like a fireside tale (Listen my children, and you shall hear…) and put the whole thing in omniscient point of view, with lots of blatant author intrusion.
Eventually I came to my senses and put it back in third person where it belonged.
Yvonne’s Map of Gannah
About the character Pik. You were having trouble conveying his Karkarkian (or Karkar?) characteristics without telling about them—then inspiration, or a triple latte, struck. Take us through the process of struggling and finally breaking through that wall. And is it something we can do in our novels?
You’re right. Along with changing back from omniscient to 3rd person, I had to undo a lot of telling, some of which had been there from the beginning. One of the things I struggled with the most was describing Pik.
The Karkar people are extremely tall, and they lack some of the facial muscles the rest of us have. This not only limits their language, but it also makes their faces just about entirely expressionless. What they lack in musculature on their faces, however, they make up for in fine muscles on the sides of their heads. They express their emotions through subtle ear movements.
Pretty cool, huh? Well, just try conveying that without “telling” the reader. It wasn’t a triple latte; I think it was more like having tried everything else possible without success, including beating myself about the head until my unexpressive ears were cauliflowered. But here’s a snippet that demonstrates how I finally figured out how to “show” these facts about Pik without subjecting the reader to a lecture.
In this scene, Edwin Broward, captain of the medical research vessel that received the distress message from Gannah, comes to Pik’s office to tell him that a plague has reappeared and the Gannahans are pleading for help:
Something clumped in Pik’s gut like a not-quite-done Cephargian blood pudding. “What sort of plague?”
“The message calls it the Karkar plague.”
The pudding rolled over. “I had no idea it still existed.”
“Nor did I.” Broward paused. “Gannah’s never asked for help before. Ever. For anything.”
Pik said nothing. He couldn’t fathom the proud Gannahans being brought so low.
The shorter man looked at Pik with accusation in his brown eyes. “What do you know about this plague?”
Pik returned his glare with a Karkar impassivity no Terrestrial could match. “That was centuries ago. I’m not that old.”
“But you are head of my Infectious Disease Unit, and the plague originated on your planet. How do we stop it?”
“I have no idea.” Neither did he have any idea why one would want to.
“But you can research it.”
Pik’s ears swiveled in a Karkar shrug. He felt confident the captain, being a Terrestrial, would be unable to interpret the subtle gesture of casual disrespect, even if he noticed it.
But Broward frowned, perhaps picking up on Pik’s attitude through his hesitation. “Well? You Karkar might not have the musculature to make faces, but I know there’s something going on behind that expressionless mask of yours.”
The Karkar sighed. “Research the plague?” He paused again. “I suppose I could…”
“And you will. Quickly. We should be there in two standard-weeks. A great many more Gannahans will likely have died by then. Your plague just about wiped them out last time, did it not?”
“It’s a shame it didn’t.”
Broward’s brows rose. “You’re a doctor. How can you say that?”
Pik pulled himself up to his full, proud height, putting him eye to eye with the standing captain.
This shows Pik’s lack of facial expression, his facile ears, and his unusual height, all without resorting to explanation. And yes, this is the sort of thing anyone can do. Whatever vital facts we want the reader to know can be conveyed through the eyes and words of the characters. What amazes me is that I found it so difficult at first.
Were you always a sci-fi writer? If not, what drug you over to the Dark Side? Was there a “Luke, I am your Father” moment when you realized your destiny?
Until I wrote Stars, I’d never considered writing sci-fi, because I didn’t like the genre.
What little of it I’d read, I usually found too technical, too dark and depressing, or otherwise not enjoyable. But truthfully, I don’t think of Stars as sci-fi. It’s more of a fantasy that just happens to be set in space. And good, old-fashioned, Tolkien-esque fantasy is something I’ve always enjoyed.
What is the “what if” moment that launched The Story in the Stars?
I’d experienced some writing frustrations and questioned whether I should be writing fiction at all. While detoxing with some nonfiction, I discovered a little book called The Gospel in the Stars, which set forth the premise that God told the Gospel story to ancient man through the constellations. Though I found the idea intriguing, the book had archaic language and I found it hard to follow.
In an effort to make sense out of it, I decided it might be fun to write a short story incorporating the concepts presented in the book. I guess since stars were on my mind, I gave it a space setting. I never expected to get so carried away that it became a full-length novel—the first in a series of full-length novels, in fact. But I’ve always known I was too long-winded to be a short-story writer, and this just demonstrates that.
What is the best writing advice you have ever heard—or wish you had followed? Why?
Wow, I’ve received a lot of advice over the years. It’s hard to narrow it down to one juicy nugget, but perhaps the vital thing is to be patient. Don’t expect instant success. Keep learning, keep improving, keep submitting, and keep praying.
When God opens a door, run through it, but don’t wear your fingers down to bloody stumps trying to claw through a closed door. You’ll need those fingers for typing your next novel.
Speaking of your next novel, when is it coming and what happens in it? C’mon, you can tell us. We’ll never tell.
The second book in the series, tentatively titled Words in the Wind, is completed and in the hands of the publisher, waiting to be edited. Risen hasn’t set a release date yet, but I expect it to be in December or January. What happens in it? Well, we’ll see more of Gannah, more of Pik and Dassa, plenty of drama, and less humor than in Stars, but it’s all good stuff. I like it better than Stars, in fact.
What about Mom’s Mirror? (Ane made me ask.)
Mom’s Mirror was that 200,000-word monstrosity I pounded out at the beginning of this trek. It launched my journey, but it’s served its purpose, and I’m past that stage. I don’t envision ever dusting it off and trying to pitch it again—but then, I never expected to write a sci-fi series, either. So who knows?
(There, does that make you happy, Ane?)