By Brian Yansky
I’ve written elsewhere that my first short-story, “Santa Claus and the Twenty-seven Bad Boys,” which was written in the first grade, neatly outlined my material for a lifetime of fiction writing: it had a stubborn fascination in the mythological and supernatural creatures that haunt and enliven our culture, an affection for odd and strange characters, and a desire to be both comic and serious.
While this is surely true, I don’t think I found the complete expression of it until I wrote Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(chapter one PDF).
What I mean is this: though writing quirky novels was nothing new to me, the fantastical elements in those novels was never central to them. The novels were rooted in realism and the fantastical events were appendages added to them in various ways for various purposes. I’d published two of these novels. Both of them had received mostly good reviews and one had won a prestigious award, but neither had sold particularly well.
After those, I’d written my next novel, and that novel had been rejected by my editor and several other editors. After those rejections I have to admit, rightly or wrongly, to a feeling that I was doing something wrong. And I have to admit I had no reason to believe there would be a line of publishers interested in my next manuscript if it were like the others. So what I thought at that point was I needed to try writing a more conventional novel. I needed to reel in my quirky characters and mute the fantasy element. I needed to try something different.
With this in mind, I started a novel. It died after twenty or thirty pages. I started another and same thing happened. This went on for a while. I did what writers in a bad place must do, I kept writing. Eventually I started one that began, “It takes less time for them to conquer the world than it takes me to brush my teeth.” Okay, I thought. Kind of funny. Kind of weird.
But not more conventional.
Not following the plan.
I was about to erase the line when another came. “That’s pretty disappointing.”
I had a voice. I couldn’t deny I had a voice. Every writer loves when they feel they have a voice, a narrator who speaks distinctly. But this was still not the novel I had planned. This was definitely not that novel. My finger hovered over the DELETE key.
But, come on, I had a voice.
I remember thinking to myself, “Really? You’re really going to write this novel? This totally unsellable even-weirder-than-usual novel? Really?”
Be reasonable, I thought. A novel takes a year. Maybe more. No on gets that many of those.
But I had a voice. I had a character. What could I do?
(Let me interject here that there are many wonderful conventional novels, but that, for me, writing a conventional novel is like trying to write in a strait jacket. I couldn’t do it if I tried. I did try. I couldn’t.)
This novel that I wrote thinking no one would buy is the novel that sold to one of the best publishers around, Candlewick. If I’d listened to the voice of reason, I wouldn’t have written it.
Sometimes we writers have to be unreasonable. Sometimes, even though there are many good reasons not to, we have to write what we have to write. And, for me, the writing of Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences taught me a lot about what I want to write and how to write it. So that leap in the dark, that to “hell with it,” that unreasonable act, made, as Mr. Frost once said about a certain less-traveled road, all the difference.