Marcia Strykowski

June Author Spotlight

yvonneBecause June brings us halfway through this year of author spotlights, I have a special treat—a double delight if you will: two authors who released their beautiful turquoise-tinted young adult novels last year to great acclaim. Let’s get to it!

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. Her YA book, Pandemic, has recently been awarded the prestigious SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Atlantic region. And, after this interview took place, I learned that Yvonne is one of twenty authors published in the “Prep For Doom” anthology which releases NEXT WEEK!

Please share a little about your books.

pandemicPandemic (Sky Pony Press, 2014), is a young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly bird flu outbreak. School Library Journal called Pandemic “an engrossing apocalyptic story” and Kirkus Reviews said “this realistic page-turner will keep most readers enthralled.” My other writing credits include two nonfiction books for teens, Avril Lavigne (a biography of the singer) and Publishing (about careers in the field).

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

For Pandemic, my main process was to intertwine my plot idea (deadly contagious disease strikes suburban NJ) with my character idea (Lilianna, who is recovering from trauma, must survive the illness without help from her family). While writing, I also researched historical and emerging illnesses, as well as public response to them, to make the story feel as real as possible. The fictionalized bird flu progressively spreads and worsens during the novel which creates a series of complications and events for Lilianna to overcome. It took me about two years to write and revise Pandemic so that these pieces came together in a compelling way.

What advice would you give new authors hoping to become published?

Treat writing like any other job that requires certain skills. Evaluate what you are good at and what you need to improve. Maybe your weakness is unnatural sounding dialogue or adding too much description (or not enough!) for the target age group. After determining what needs work, focus on that area by reading craft books, doing research, etc. and concentrate on developing that skill. Just because we are good writers doesn’t mean we are good at every part of writing.

favorite book = My favorite from childhood was The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
favorite movie = I’m not a big movie person, but I love the TV show Criminal Minds.
favorite vacation = Any place tropical!
favorite hobby = Genealogy. I love researching my family’s history.
favorite color = Blue for clothes and Pandemic’s cover. 🙂 Red for everything else.

Thanks, Yvonne, great answers! Keep in touch with Yvonne via these links:
Twitter: @yvonneventresca


005 - CopyFor our second author, we’ll travel to the UK and meet Christina BanachShe is a former head teacher who lives in Scotland with her husband and two rescue dogs. Her young adult novel, Minty, was published last year by Three Hares Publishing and has been described as The Lovely Bones meets Ghost. It was The Scottish Book Trust Teen’s Book of the Month for December 2014, was nominated for a Cybils 2014 Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards and has been shortlisted for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.

Here are Christina’s answers to my questions:

Please share a little about your books.

‘A compelling and ultimately heart-warming story’ – The Book Trust

‘A haunting, eerie and beautiful read that will resonate with you for days after you read it.’ – The Scottish Book Trust

Set in Scotland, Minty is a contemporary ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost. Fourteen-year-old twins Minty and Jess share a special bond; they are inseparable despite the occasional falling out. But, one fateful day while walking the dogs by the sea, the girls argue and the last thing Jess says to Minty is ‘drop dead’. How could she know what was to follow? When Minty tries to save their dog from drowning those words come back to haunt Jess as their sisterly bond is shattered.

The idea for the book appeared early one summer morning, just as the sun came up. During the night I thought I sensed my late father’s presence, after which, unable to get back to sleep, I sat in the sunroom contemplating what had actually happened. Whilst doing this I heard my dog panting and put out a hand to stroke her. Until it struck me – how could it be my pet? She had died the month before. That’s when Minty’s story came to me: one of love, loss, and friendship but over all, one of hope, resilience and strength of character.

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

Once I decide to run with an idea, and the characters have entered the stage, I plunge into the research – surfing the Net, reading books, going on field trips etc – making notes as I go along. I usually add to this research throughout the writing of the book. When it comes to creating the story, I would describe myself as halfway between a plotter and a pantser. Once I have enough material, I do a lot of brainstorming: thinking of scenes, exploring character arcs, considering the structure and so on. I always know how the book will start and how it will end and yet I’m more than happy to deviate from my plans (that’s the pantser in me!) if this will improve upon the story I’m trying to tell.

Mostly, I write at my desk, in my office (a converted upstairs bedroom), typing straight into my computer. However, when I’m working on a first draft, I park myself in a comfy armchair in the sitting room or, occasionally I’ll work in a coffee shop or cafe. I rarely right longhand, but I always have a large journal by my side (I go through several per book) into which I write detailed notes, that are then used in self-editing the manuscript. It usually takes me a number of drafts to get the story right. From second draft onwards I seek feedback on the manuscript from trusted beta readers.

What advice would you give new authors hoping to become published?

Gosh, Marcia, I’m only a debut novelist so I’m not sure that I’m qualified to give advice. I’ll try, though. The first thing I would suggest would be to read as widely as possible, especially within your chosen genre, because you learn so much about the craft of writing by studying other authors’ work. Also I’m a great fan of writing guides. I know some people believe that writing can’t be taught. My answer to that is that talent can’t be, but technique surely can. I have a study-full of helpful books that helped me on my journey to publication. I’d advise new writers to start with the more generic guides and, as their writing skills progress, to move on to the more in-depth books devoted to plot and structure, character, dialogue etc. For the self-editing process I’ve found James Scott Bells’ book on Plot and Structure indispensable. Websites can also be useful – there are lots of very helpful ones out there, including yours. One I highly recommend is the Words and Pictures online magazine from the British Isles chapter of the Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators (SCWBI). Another suggestion is to seek out other writers – join a critique group (impartial feedback on your work is essential), attend courses and conferences if possible. If you’re a children’s or YA writer then seriously consider joining SCBWI – the support from the other members is amazing. Above all, write as often as you can. Don’t be a perfectionist – give yourself permission to write drivel. But get that story written! OK you might think your first draft is rubbish, but you can always iron out any problems through the revision process. With each draft, the story that you are trying to tell will slowly evolve. Finally, if you love writing and dream of being published then don’t let anything stop you, least of all yourself. Try not to be discouraged by rejections from agents and publishers – easier said than done, I know (from experience!). The thing is, rejection comes with the territory but as someone wiser than I pointed out, try to look at each one as another step along the road to acceptance. Good luck!

favorite book= Children’s/YA: Skellig by David Almond because that’s the book that inspired me to write for young people.  Adults: It’s a toss up between Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
favorite movie= A Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela is a hero of mine)
favorite vacation= anywhere by the sea, or soaring mountains. Better still, soaring mountains by the sea.
favorite hobby= reading!
favorite color= All shades of mint (pretty obvious, huh?)

Wonderful, thank you, Christina! Here are links to keep in touch with her:

Twitter: @ChristinaBanach


  1. clarehelenwelsh

    Two great interviews from two very talented authors ! …. And a lovely interviewer too! 🙂


  2. Bobbi Miller

    As always, these are great interviews! Informative and inspirational! And, I love these two books, too. Very well done!


  3. Thank you for the interview, Marcia!


    • You’re welcome, Yvonne. Thank YOU for your wonderful books and knowledge.


  4. Marcia, great interview. I am so happy to see success with a fellow Sky Pony Author!


  5. Rebecca C

    Definitely double delight! Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) both books, I was pleased to see interviews with their authors. Nice interviews, Ladies!


    • Great to hear you enjoyed both of these exciting well-written books. Thanks, Rebecca!


  6. Ashley

    These interviews are great. I enjoyed meeting Christina and Yvonne!!


  7. Bette Norton

    As always I enjoyed your Author Spotlight Posts and learning about these two authors. Their books look intriguing! It is interesting to hear from other authors their techniques and helpful hints in what works for them in their writing. Your Author Spotlight Posts are a great tool for would be writers and writers that are already established.


  8. I need to acknowledge for penning these very perceptive interviews. They made excellent reading apart from providing authentic introduction to the authors.




  9. Good spotlights, thank you. And thanks for stopping by my blog.


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