Note from Kate: A few years ago, I was asked to look at a draft novel and give the author some advice. That author was Drew Yanno and the book was In The Matter of Michael Vogel. I was impressed. Advised. And the book was published. Then I was asked to look at his second novel, The Smart One. John Clark looked at it, too, and we were completely blown away. I found it a “can’t put it down” page turner that left me stunned by his talent. I hope you’ll grab the book after you read about Drew, and be as impressed as I was.
Meet Drew Yanno:
Drew Yanno was born and raised in upstate New York and received both his undergraduate and law degrees at Syracuse University.
After serving a clerkship in Albany, New York, Drew joined a large law firm in Boston where he worked for several years before founding his own firm. Throughout his time as a lawyer, Drew also taught law in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.
In 1993, Drew began writing screenplays. Two years later, his screenplay, No Safe Haven, was purchased by Universal Studios after an eight-hour bidding war. Following that, Drew went on to write a number of screenplays, both on spec and for hire.
In 2000, Drew founded the screenwriting program in the Film Department at Boston College where he taught for eleven years.
In 2006, his book The Third Act: Writing a Great Ending to Your Screenplay was published by Continuum International Publishing Group. In 2012, his second book Idea to Story to Screenplay: a Workbook for Writing the First Draft of Your Screenplay was released as a Kindle e-book.
In addition to writing, Drew has worked as a script consultant for a number of writers, producers and directors, including Will Smith and Overbrook Entertainment.
What inspires you to write?
I don’t know if inspiration is the right word. I have just always wanted to write. When I was a boy, I read all the time and was fascinated by the notion that someone could actually write an entire book, especially a novel. After becoming a lawyer, I experimented and wrote a couple of novels, just for the exercise, to see if I could do it. After having done that, I knew that I would eventually do it for real. In the meantime, I happened to get approached to write a screenplay, and following some success in that area, I was able to leave the practice of law and write full time. I also was approached to teach writing, which only further reinforced my desire to write. In all that time, I have written and will continue to do so, in some form or another.
Tell us about your writing process.
As a screenwriter, I was most definitely an outliner. Nearly every successful screenwriter outlines before writing a script. Because of the structure of Hollywood films and the limited number of pages/time you have to tell a complete and rich story, you simply have to plan ahead. You have to know where you’re going before you can even begin the script. In many ways, it’s like a lawyer preparing for a trial. You need to tell a story and manage the outcome.
On the other hand, I do no outlining at all when writing a novel. I find it a much more freeing form of written expression. While I might have some idea of where I might be headed when writing a novel, I trust the writing to lead me to “discover” the story. All the magical moments in a novel happen without planning, at least in my experience.
I don’t create or use character sketches. I take notes as I write and might jot down ideas about my characters that I will want to use later on or to remind myself of something about a character for continuity sake, but no sketches.
Your latest book is The Smart One. Tell us a little about the book and where the idea for this book came from?
It’s a modern-day thriller set in the northeast, although the story takes the main character halfway across the country and back. It’s really a story about identity and who we are, told through the voice of an unnamed narrator who is struggling with some failure as he has grown older. I can’t really tell you where the idea came from without giving away a few surprises in the book, but suffice it to say that with both this book and my first, I sort of followed the advice of Stephen King in his wonderful book On Writing and took two separate ideas and combined them.
Many writers struggle with the process of translating an idea into a written story. What is your process?
Well, with screenwriting, there is almost always outlining, as I mentioned before. When I write a novel, I simply start with an idea and just let the story take me for a ride. In The Smart One, the first 30 pages or so came to me all at once and not much changed from the first draft to the last. And it set me off on a road to discovery. I kind of like the feeling of not knowing where I’m going, figuring that if I don’t know, the reader is unlikely to have any idea.
How much is your process influenced by your law background? By your screen writing background?
As a lawyer, I always try to think of how the law affects many things in our life and so that has to be true with any character in the book. That said, I try to research (if necessary) and make sure it all makes enough sense, at least for the average fiction reader, although maybe not a Supreme Court justice or law professor. As for screenwriting, there are two main things. First, film is a visual medium, so when you write screenplays you quickly learn to write visually and try to make the reader “see” the story. I just do that out of habit now, as much for me as for the reader. The second thing is a bit of a drawback. Screenwriting is all about economy – saying the most in the fewest words. That’s not always a good thing in a novel, so I constantly walk the line between wanting to maintain a healthy pace, but also making sure I’m providing enough detail (and rich enough detail) to capture the reader’s imagination and get that reader to trust me as a storyteller.
As a reader, I was fascinated, in both of your books, by your amazing ability to control the tone of the stories. Can you talk a bit about this, and perhaps give an example?
I’m not sure I can give an example except by saying what I did in both stories. I had such a clear idea of who the narrators were that I could hear their voices in my head and I always strived to stay true to them. In my first book (In the Matter of Michael Vogel), one of the three narrators is a twelve year old boy, and I always had to be mindful of just how sophisticated and worldly he should be. He couldn’t sound too adult. At the same time, he was described as being pretty smart and so that gave me some leeway. Luckily, it was part of the story so it didn’t feel artificial to me, and hopefully the reader as well. In The Smart One, the narrator is also “smart,” but he is in a professional rut and questioning himself to a large degree. He was never going to be jolly, and I pictured him as someone who has trouble with emotions. That helped me to maintain a certain tone throughout the story.
What advice would you give other writers?
I’m hesitant to give unsolicited advice, but I guess this qualifies as solicited. My biggest bit of advice to writers is to read. Sounds simple, I know, but I actually know some folks who claim to want to write novels, for instance, and yet they don’t read novels. That’s kind of insane to me. I think writers should read everything, but in particular, they should read what they hope to write. For example, if you want to write romance, read romance novels. If you want to write Young Adult, you better read a lot of Young Adult.
I’d also tell them to stick with it if it’s what they really want to do. Nobody succeeds on their first try or with their first draft. If it’s what you want to do, continue to write until you get there. You will get better and success, in some form or another, will come.
I know that the journey to publication has been a frustrating one for you. Can you talk a little about that journey, and your decision to try indy publishing?
With the first book, after about two years of seeking agents and having them tell me how great the book was but that they just wouldn’t be able to sell it, I finally just took matters into my own hands. And I’m happy I did. I have been blessed with some very nice reviews, including one from Kirkus, so I guess the agents were kind of right about the great part.
With the second, I had an agent who tried to get it published with the large, legacy publishers. Over the course of that, we had some disagreement about how the story should end, and after doing it her way and not getting an offer, I rewrote it the way I wanted it to end and went the independent route again. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened (or still might happen) with a marketing department and budget behind the books, but in the end I decided I simply needed to satisfy myself and be true to the stories I wanted to tell.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think the stigma of self-publishing and independent publishing has pretty much vanished. It’s much more of a meritocracy now. The market, not some publishing executive somewhere, now decides what the public wants with respect to reading for pleasure. Obviously, there are advantages to being published by a traditional publisher. However, there are just as many advantages to having control over one’s material, both in its creation and its marketing.
I believe both models will co-exist for a time. However, the more reticent the traditional publishers become about taking chances on authors and material, the more that the independent and self-published authors will rush in and fill that void. The demise of the big box book retailers seems to signal an inability for them to dominate the market as they once did. Eventually, the ability to publish outside the traditional model with success will have to have a toll and may even lead to the extinction of traditional publishers, although I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Again, the market will decide. And with new outlets to help generate word of mouth and global connectedness via the internet, it will be easier for smaller books and newer authors to be discovered. It’s already happened. Sites like Book Goodies and others like it are leading the way on that. I, for one, am grateful that they exist.
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print