Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Talking with Award Winning Writer Rick Yancey about THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST

Over Halloween weekend, I picked up a copy of Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist. It sounded spooky and Victorian and dark in all the right, Halloween-y ways for a chilly autumn weekend read. Even better: It is a Printz Honor book for 2010.

It took all of two pages to get me completely, unequivocally hooked. Everything a Halloween read should be and more, The Monstrumologist left me quaking in my proverbial boots (was reading under a blanket in my stocking feet) and gasping for air.

I couldn’t help it… Monday morning, as I was swallowing the last of my luke-warm coffee and trying to replace visions of headless monsters with spreadsheets and business memos, I contacted Mr. Yancey to ask if he would do a quick interview for Carpe Keyboard.  

What follows is a Carpe Keyboard interview with award-winning writer Rick Yancey.

Carpe Keyboard:  Your book, The Monstrumologist, illustrates a rich ambiance of Victorian New England. What kind of research did you do research to get the details of this era down so vividly?

Rick Yancey: I've been reading history and literature from that period since I was in high school, so thankfully I didn't have to get too bogged down in research. I'm a mediocre researcher - mediocre in the sense that I tend to get lost in very interesting esoterica that ultimately I cannot - or should not - use.

Do you dream about the Anthropophagi? These monsters and their lair are truly horrifying! Do you read other horror stories or have a favorite horror writer? Does it impact you emotionally to write scary, bloody scenes?

(This is actually three questions - but who's counting?) No, but the story began with a dream I had in late childhood, in which some huge, hulking, faceless beast is chasing me. It never catches me, but I know in my dream it is only a matter of time until it does - and when it does, it will eat me. I haven't read horror since I was in my twenties (Stephen King), which is funny, the extent of my wussiness. Many readers have compared the books to the work of Lovecraft, a little odd, since I've never actually read his work, though it is flattering to be mentioned in the same breath. And as to the last question, of course it does. I shiver. My mouth drops open. I claw at my face and peek through my fingers. But I look. I drink it in. Don't we all?

Your writing is lyrical. I found myself folding down corners of pages just so I could go back and read sentences again – those that resonated with rhythm and stunning use of language, or even whole passages where devices like  alliteration were used with just the right touch. Do you have advice for writers about when to use devices such as alliteration, metaphor, allegory, foreshadowing, or others?

First, thank you. More than any book I've written, with each sentence I fought to find the perfect word. Sometimes I was more successful than others (there are some uses of alliteration I wish I could take back). My advice to writers is to use what works for you. Develop your own inner ear. Your words should sing to you. Reading aloud helps. I read much of what I've written aloud, especially if I'm getting overly proud of myself: the mistakes tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

Will Henry, Pellinore Warthrop, and even the erstwhile Jack Kearns (aka John J. J. Schmidt – which made me laugh!) are characters whose names fit their actions, dreams, and…well…characters so well. How do you choose names for your characters?

Again, I try to use my ears. I never settle on a character's name until I hear it spoken aloud - usually from another character (by that I mean in dialogue). First, a name has to sound right. I also like names which sort of describe the character (a common practice in the 19th Cent). Pellinore was chosen for obvious reasons. I liked William James Henry because of the way it sounded and also because it evokes the two famous brothers, one literary, one scientific, of the era.

Here is a question I ask a lot of authors: I’ve recently learned (the hard way!) that the editing process is where a huge part of the art of writing happens. I think some writers would argue the magic is in the act of writing the first draft. What do you think?

It's damn near impossible to edit as you compose. I think the more you write, the faster you can do both - maybe not better, but faster. "Magic" only happens (for me) during the first draft - when it's going well, I cease to exist. That may sound awful to a non-writer, but those who have ears . . .

When do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I try to avoid writing as long and as often as possible, because it terrifies me. It is the unassailable mountain. It is the sea of bones. It is the impenetrable dark. It is the blinding light. It is that sublime thing which cannot be named. It is failure. It is that place a millimeter from paradise. It is the demon come to drag me to hell and it is Beatrice come to guide me home.

Any advice for new and hopeful writers, especially those in the children’s or YA market?

Don't follow trends - Follow your heart. This is the Golden Age of young adult lit - be one of its beacons. The best way to avoid writing something stupid is to write practically anything at all (pick up a YA novel at random - preferably from your local supermarket - and you'll understand what I mean). Don't make Stephanie Meyer your model: is your goal to make a lot of money or to be immortal? Be immortal - there are enough rich hacks. Read, read, read, but be kind to yourself and avoid the garbage. "But a lot of people loved this book! It was a bestseller!" Remember Bill Murray's line from the immortal film, "Groundhog Day": "People like blood sausage too; people are morons." Don't be a moron - spit out that blood sausage!

Now if your goal is to make a zillion dollars - get out of the book business. Odds are you won't. Go start a religion or something - in case you haven't noticed, not many practitioners of any faith actually practice it. Invent a religion that's easy, and you'll have more money than God. Or at least Bill Gates.

Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Yancey! Good luck with The Monstrumologist series and continuing with the writer’s life. I look forward to more of Will Henry’s adventures in The Curse of the Wendigo.

Oh…and I, for one, am sure that this Beatrice will guide you home.


  1. "[Writing] is failure. It is that place a millimeter from paradise. It is the demon come to drag me to hell and it is Beatrice come to guide me home." Brilliant. Fantastic interview!

  2. Hey thanks for having me by! Good with your blog and all your writing! Rick

  3. does rick write with music?

  4. I don't know if Rick writes with music...but you could look up his webpage and I believe there is contact info there for him. Good luck!

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