Guest Blogger Nicola Hassapis Interviews BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES Author Yvonne Ventresca
Nicola: You noted in the book’s acknowledgments that Black Flowers, White Lies went through some extensive changes during the revision process. What were some of the elements you overhauled and why? When you arrived at the final version, how did you know it was the final version?
Yvonne: Black Flowers, White Lies evolved over the years, and Ella’s character evolved with it. In earlier versions, Ella didn’t believe in the paranormal and her best friend Grace did. I realized it was more suspenseful if I reversed it. In the revised story, Grace and Ella’s mom are both skeptics, which provides some interesting conflict around Ella’s beliefs. Blake, the stepbrother, started as a female but worked better as a male. This meant a major rewrite, but once I started the revision, I could tell that it was taking me to a better creative place.
I also changed the plot over time. My original idea was about a teen girl who needs to rescue her kidnapped mother. In the final version, Ella doesn’t need to rescue her mother—she needs to save herself. This shift in focus really brought the story together for me, because it clarified her journey as a heroine. I knew it was the final version when the story came together in a satisfying way. It was definitely an iterative process to get there.
Nicola: You also mentioned in your acknowledgments that having Black Flowers, White Lies published by the team at Skyhorse Publishing’s Sky Pony Press “felt like coming home.” What was it about the publishing process that left you with such a positive impression?
Yvonne: I loved my debut experience with Pandemic at Sky Pony Press. Having the opportunity to work with the team again for Black Flowers, White Lies brought a sense of joy and familiarity.
Nicola: As Black Flowers, White Lies develops, readers begin to realize your protagonist Ella may be an unreliable narrator. At the same time, Ella herself is starting to have doubts about her mental health. Was it always your intention for that doubt to creep in simultaneously? What was your thinking behind that?
Yvonne: My intent was to keep the reader guessing about what’s actually happening in the story. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but I hoped to create multiple possibilities about the strange goings-on and the truth behind them.
Nicola: You live in New Jersey, and both of your novels have been set on the East Coast. Do you feel “writing what you know” in terms of geographical setting helped make the books’ backdrops seem more vivid and believable?
Yvonne: Yes, I do think “writing what I know” in terms of setting definitely helps me incorporate realistic details. So much of writing a novel is based on imagination—it’s helpful to draw on the reality of familiar settings. Both novels are set in places I’ve lived. For Black Flowers, White Lies, I revisited Hoboken several times and made a Pinterest board of my photos that I could refer to as I was writing.
Nicola: Your first book Pandemic is different to Black Flowers, White Lies in that it’s an apocalyptic novel, but the two books do share the themes of psychological unrest and the resurgence of past traumas and personal demons. What keeps drawing you to these themes, and what makes YA the preferred genre through which you explore them?
Yvonne: I prefer YA because it’s such an interesting age to write for, and because the teenage years are filled with both potential and uncertainty.
In terms of themes, writing a novel is a long process for me, so I pick topics that I find intrinsically fascinating. As morbid as it sounds, the idea of a deadly contagious outbreak, for example, is a topic that can create a lot of interesting scenarios. Would we help our neighbors in that situation, or would we focus on self-preservation? I wanted to explore that idea in Pandemic, and have the survival story exacerbated by the fact that the main character is emotionally traumatized before the disaster occurs.
In Black Flowers, White Lies, the idea of our ordinary world being disrupted by mysterious events was also of interest. How solid is our perception of reality, and how can that possibly change? Both of my novels feature characters who are forced to draw on an inner resolve they didn’t know they had. I think people are often stronger than they realize.
Nicola: Black Flowers, White Lies offers a brilliantly intense reading experience fraught with chilling developments and perplexing twists. Given the unsettling subject matter, what was the writing experience like for you?
Yvonne: Creating the first draft of a difficult scene is definitely emotional, because I do tend to mimic the strong feelings of my characters (grief, fear, etc.). I’ve been known to wrap myself in a throw blanket as a source of comfort while writing the hard scenes. It sounds goofy but it works!
Nicola: Speaking of the writing experience, how do you approach the act of writing? Do you favor a specific environment or time of day? Do you prefer writing longhand or typing? Silence or noise?
Yvonne: I’m a big believer in trying to set up rituals so that my brain knows it’s time to create. Before I start a new novel, I go through a process of cleaning out and organizing files from the previous project. It’s a way for me to clear both mental and physical space.
I’m not picky about the time of day, but I almost always sit in the same chair with my laptop and my favorite mug filled with coffee. Unless I’m doing research, I close my browsers and email, and I definitely prefer quiet. When I first start a story, I journal longhand about my ideas until I have a sense of the main characters and the key scenes. Then I shift to typing for the rest of the process.
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