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YVONNE NAVARRO: The Ideas Never Stop

July 2000
By Paula Guran

"Most readers . . . believe to their souls that a horror novel means blood and guts and intestines spilling all over the sidewalk, they think a vampire automatically means Bela Lugosi or something a la John Carpenter and they think this is going to make them sick to their stomach. These same people who won't visit the horror section of a bookstore will go see something like the movie END OF DAYS -- where the human equivalent of Satan literally lives (and talks) through getting his body ripped in half by a subway train in all its intimate detail -- because this movie is marketed as a sort of dark thriller rather than as a horror movie." -- Yvonne Navarro

Back in May 1997, when I last formally interviewed this Chicago-area author, Yvonne Navarro's third original novel had just been published by Bantam and she'd done a couple of novelizations. Three years later, none of those novels are sitting on bookstore shelves. (A few decades ago, they joked in the publishing industry that the shelf life of a book had fallen to somewhere between that of milk and yogurt. No one finds this bon mot very amusing any more. It's too uncomfortably close to the truth.) Currently on the shelves are her last four: THAT'S NOT MY NAME (Bantam), DEADTIMES (Darktales), BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE WILLOW FILES VOL. I (Pocket Books), and -- hanging in there since November 1998 -- RED SHADOWS (Bantam). Coming in November is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: PALEO and she has a romantic ghost novella at MightyWords. Eventually all three of those out-of-print novels will be available again. AFTERAGE will be reprinted by The Overlook Connection ; novels DEADRUSH and FINAL IMPACT will be reprinted by DarkTales Publications.

Yvonne Navarro The attractive, blonde Navarro could pose as poster girl for the modern electronic-age author: she works hard at promoting her books (including maintaining her own Web site, Darke Palace and sending out email updates to her fans); has novels out from both a traditional major publisher and a specialty publisher; a digital story on MightyWords; and out-of-print books coming back into print from a small publishers using print-on-demand technology. She already tried electronically re-publishing a book several years ago on disk herself. What's she discovered so far about this new publishing world? "I've learned that most people still want an old-fashioned book in their hands, something they can carry from room to room at a second's notice and not have to worry about dropping in the tub other than how long it'll take to dry out. They want to be able to take it to the beach and use it as a shade to cover their face, and they want to be able to swat a fly with it, fold down the corners of a page, tuck a treasured photo in it, and they want to be able to read it ANYwhere... without having to worry about the battery giving out.

"I've learned that the majority of people who say they'll read text off a computer really won't -- they want to print it out and read it where and when they will... just like a book. No matter what anyone says, surfing the Internet or gaming for eight or nine hours in a row just isn't the same, and there are few people indeed who will read a book off the screen for the same amount of time they'll even devote to reading or answering email.

"I've also learned that print-on-demand has definite possibilities for both out-of-print authors with good books and new authors with not-so-good books. It's helping bring the smaller genres, such as horror, back into print in a world where people want it but the bigger publishers only want bestsellers."

Deadtimes Cover Another mark of many modern writers is writing novelizations or series tie-in novels. Navarro did Aliens and Species novelizations and is currently doing Buffy the Vampire Slayer tie-ins. Compared to writing her own work, Navarro finds this type of writing to be "quite limiting, especially when you're dealing with an on-going series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy has very strict controls -- both Pocket and Fox watch everything from what the characters wear to what they say to what they would do in a given situation. And of course there's the general concept with tie-ins, which I've heard many Star Wars authors talk about. This is, quite simply, that you must end up in the same place where you began-- i.e., you can't permanently change either a given character or that character's future. The Buffy books run a season or so behind the series (in other words books are being written now in the third season when the fourth just ended on television), so this is especially important. This means that in the books, you can't use characters which have already been eliminated or written out on-screen, such as Mayor Wilkins, Faith, Mr. Trick.

"While tie-ins are fun and they certain help pay the bills, for this reason they can also be frustrating. Bottom line: even though you're writing it, it's not your property and so you must work within the guidelines they provide and pretty much make any and all revisions they request, even if your heart and writing fingers disagree. I don't believe, however, that tie-ins are a bad thing -- I get too much fan mail from young adult readers, aged anywhere from eleven on up, to believe this. In this age of handheld electronic games and computer graphics that can fascinate a kid for eight hour stretches, the fact that some of them are reading books can't be anything but a good thing. These young adult readers, I think, will grow up to be adult readers-- and those will be the ones who will, I hope, buy my adult books."

Getting the picture, readers? Writing is not an easy way to make a living. Up until a little over a year ago, Navarro was working as a legal secretary in downtown Chicago (AKA "The Office from Hell") as well as writing. Since becoming a full-time writer, she's discovered it's no less a struggle to find the time to write than it was when she had the day job. "Working from home seems to be an invitation for interruptions," she says. "Five months before I gave up my job, I also sold my house and moved in with my Dad; where before I ate breakfast at work at the computer (yogurt), ate lunch at the computer while I wrote emails to keep caught up, and read or watched TV while I ate dinner (unless I felt like eating while writing), I'm now expected to eat all three of those meals at the dining room table, devoting anywhere from a half hour to an hour for each. I'm available, apparently, for interruption at any convenient time... for other people. Errands, too-long phone calls, household projects, answering questions. In fact, I quite often feel like I get lesswriting accomplished now than I did before. Concentration is a precious commodity indeed, and the administration end of things -- tracking stories and deadlines, record keeping, promotion, email -- takes an INCREDIBLE amount of time."

Writing has also become a "necessary job as opposed to something I did for pleasure that might earn me a little extra money." The pressure level has definitely increased.

THAT'S NOT MY NAME BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE WILLOW FILES VOL. I RED SHADOWS

Despite the challenges of the writing life, Navarro has learned "there really is something to that I have to do it statement. I've had periods where I didn't write for a couple of months -- call it burn out, or just being so flat tired of the rush rush rush that my motivation just completely crashed -- but as more time passes, I get... crabby if I'm not writing. I tell myself that it's because I know I should, but the truth is it's because I want to and I'm not, for whatever reason, allowing myself to do that. The longer I go, the crankier I get, and any little thing that gets in the way-- errands, parties, someone's dinner plans, ANYthing-- just makes it worse. The most fun thing in the world becomes nothing but an obstacle between me and what I really want-- a big slice of private, focused and UNINTERRUPTED time to write."

Once the writing is completed, more challenges appear. The recently published DEADTIMES, for instance, was originally intended to be her second novel. She started it on August 4, 1985. (Yes, she's REALLY that organized.) The draft wasn't delivered to her agent until September 1, 1991. Ultimately the manuscript was rewritten several times. Bantam read the novel, but Navarro's agent had specifically submitted it to them apart from her contract for other books at the time, He didn't want it considered as the second submission as he felt it wasn't mass market format. Navarro explains, "While the novel has the same character throughout, it see-saws through time and that gives it the feel of nine or ten novellas strung together rather than one book with a single plot." Now it's found publication from a new specialty press using print-on-demand technology.

Her current mass market novel, THAT'S NOT MY NAME is listed as suspense, even though it has horrific aspects. To Navarro the line between labeling something as horror, suspense, thriller, etc., "is always whether or not the book has supernatural elements; to my agent, it's whether or not the book has a happy ending. THAT'S NOT MY NAME never had a happy ending until he pointed out to me that if I didn't give it one, it would never be considered a mainstream or a suspense novel. Since it was a bit of an experiment -- I wanted to tap into a new genre and see if I could reach a sector of people who were generally unfamiliar with my work -- I took his advance and modified the ending. I suppose it could be called happy, but it's also a bit bittersweet. My personal opinion is that it's going to be very difficult to get a reader (or editor) to believe that a book is mainstream -- suspense or a thriller-- if you've got something in it that you just can't explain with science, such as a monster, ghost, or even when you crawl along the line of acceptability with a psychic."

Like most of us in the horror lit biz, Navarro and I have talked about the disadvantage of the "horror" label in the past. "I think it was 1995 or 1996 that I asked someone I worked with if they'd read one of my books and she looked me in the eye and said 'Horror? Oh, I don't read that crap!' She immediately apologized, but you get the idea. I'm still loathe to go to social gatherings where I don't know people and the majority of them aren't writers; invariably I get questions such as 'How can you [insert delicate shudder here] write that stuff -- doesn't it scare you?' "You write what?" [insert distrustfully raised male eyebrow here] Wow.' As a writer and a reader, I've never automatically discounted a book because of genre. I have romance favorites and I still occasionally buy one. I also buy thrillers, westerns, mainstream and, frankly, just about anything I pick up if it looks interesting enough to catch my eye and then holds my attention. But read the sentence before last again -- I do this as a writer. Most readers don't do this; they believe to their souls that a horror novel means blood and guts and intestines spilling all over the sidewalk, they think a vampire automatically means Bela Lugosi or something a la John Carpenter and they think this is going to make them sick to their stomach. These same people who won't visit the horror section of a bookstore will go see something like the movie END OF DAYS -- where the human equivalent of Satan literally lives (and talks) through getting his body ripped in half by a subway train in all its intimate detail -- because this movie is marketed as a sort of dark thriller rather than as a horror movie."

Afterage deadrush Final Impact

What writers does she have waiting to be read and who can she recommend? "I have more than 150 unread books waiting. I said I bought them, not that I had time to read them! But seriously, on my bookshelf, waiting patiently: Peter Straub, Elizabeth Massie, Jay Bonansinga, Joe Lansdale, Tabitha King, Nancy Collins, a couple of books by some guy named King, Douglas Clegg, F. Paul Wilson, Sephera Giron, Olivia Goldsmith, Thomas Tessier, Poppy Z. Brite, Stephen Spruill, Brian Hodge, and a hundred more plus dozens of still unread anthologies and several hundred (I am not kidding) horror magazines. My all-time favorite is probably still Robert McCammon."

Most of those books will have to wait awhile. Navarro's just about finished with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE WILLOW FILES, VOL. II; has a horror novel, MIRROR ME, with 50-some-odd pages of it finished and a very detailed outline; a fully outlined suspense novel, DIE WITH ME (and remember, this woman is organized -- when she says "outlined," she means OUTLINED); there's a fully outlined time travel science fiction novel that will involve immense, complicated research; a great idea for a vampire novel; a "cool idea" for an X-Files graphic novel. "I always wanted to rewrite what I thought at the time was my first horror novel (not at 240 pages, but what did I know back then?) because I still think the idea is neat even if it is a bit 'gentle'." The Overlook Connection will be re-releasing her novel AFTERAGE soon, and she's promised Overlook's Dave Hinchberger that she'll put serious consideration into a sequel to it. "So the ideas, thankfully, have never stopped flowing!"

Three years ago, I asked Navarro when she would feel as if she had "made it." She answered: "When I make that million? Seriously, I suppose the material aspect of having 'made it' is to be in a position where I can finally write full time, make my move to Arizona and get my female wheaten Irish Wolfhound puppy. As for the emotional aspect, I think I'll feel like I've accomplished something when I see a total stranger reading one of my books on a commuter train or a bus." She's accomplished some of that now. Does she closer to "making it"? "No," she says. "Because of recent [publishing] industry cutbacks I feel even farther away from it, unfortunately. While I did go full time, and I did get that Irish Wolfhound puppy (a male that I sadly had to return to the breeder after six months), I'm farther away from moving to Arizona because giving up my full time job substantially cut into my income and I now no longer have a major publisher contracting for my solo novels. Without that, Arizona is going to be a long time coming, indeed. And I never did see that person reading one of my books on the train."


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