Interview: Danielle Villano On YA, Publishing Short Stories, & Editing For Scholastic

I am so psyched to launch the Millennial Writer Series, in which I interview a Millennial Writer with published work and ask them about writing, the creative process, and our generation.

Starting us off is Danielle Villano, a short-story writer, novelist, and editor living in New York City. Danielle is a Creative Writing graduate from SUNY Purchase and her work has been published in StorychordBreadcrumbs MagToska Magazine, The Young Folks, and other publications. She recently found an agent and is in the process of revising her debut YA novel.

Tell us about your book blog Bibliosmiles.

After graduating college with a degree in creative writing, I knew I wanted to have a place to talk about the books I’ve read, but I didn’t want to create a regular book blog. I’d done that before, and I’d gotten tired of the review format. I started thinking about my other friends who had just graduated, and I thought they’d like a place to showcase their writing, too. Thus: BiblioSmiles was born! I had initially contacted a few friends and asked if they’d wanted to submit reviews of books they had read or personal essays about books and reading. Two years later, and I’ve had about forty unique contributors on the site! I see BiblioSmiles as a blog for bookworms. Reading may be a solitary experience, but the joy we receive from it should be shared.

What types of stories do you find yourself gravitated towards?  How did you get started writing those stories, and what is your advice to a writer who wants to get accepted into magazines and anthologies like you have?

Maybe this is a generic answer, but I find myself gravitating towards characters that are compelling and complex. They don’t necessarily have to be likeable characters; I want to be able to get in their heads and understand how they think. My big love as a writer is the coming-of-age story. I still devour these kinds of stories, with young protagonists who are facing problems and figuring themselves out. Growing up is universal. I’m also very interested in quiet kinds of stories that explore a relationship between two characters. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship, I like laying out a problem for two characters and seeing what kinds of conclusions they come to.

As far as advice for getting accepted into publications, my biggest advice is this: be familiar with the work of the publication you want to get into. Many magazines and websites have a certain tone that they want to keep consistent throughout their issue. Of course, you should always be true to yourself as a writer and write what you want to write. If you feel like you have to compromise what you’re writing just to get published in a magazine, that’s probably not the magazine for you.

We heard you have a YA novel in progress. What is it about and what are your plans for it?

My YA novel is – you guessed it – a coming-of-age novel! Set in California in the 1990s, it’s a story steeped in pop-culture, and it was a lot of fun to write. My protagonist is juggling high school, her relationship with her parents, and some complicated friendships, all while trying to direct a movie for her college portfolio. I completed the first draft a few months ago and I’ve had a few trusted people take a look at it and give me notes. Next up is the editing process. Eventually I’d like to reach out to some agents and see if I can find a home for it! It’s been an exciting, scary process so far. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Danielle VillanoYou work as an editor at Scholastic. How do you see yourself and other Millennials making an impact in the world of publishing?

With digital media on the scene in a big way, the world of publishing is definitely changing. There are so many new ways to get content to readers! Millennials are so in tune with the world of social media, I think that the ways to get content out there are only going to keep growing. I work for an educational publishing division, so I’ve gotten to see how content gets placed in classrooms. The mix of digital and traditional print media is a very powerful, effective learning tool. And while Millennials may be seen as totally “digital,” I know that print is here to stay. I don’t think that will ever go out of style, and I think this generation is going to make sure bookstores don’t either.

What do you think makes the character of a Millennial Writer a powerful new force? Do you see significant differences between older and younger Millennials? What do you see as a unique concern of Millennial Writers?

I’ll answer the concern portion first: I think because Millennials have access to social media and this sort of digital instant gratification, it’s easy for us to get discouraged if our work doesn’t get the recognition we think it deserves. I think it’s also easier to get discouraged, thanks to the comment box. Readers can share their criticism with a click of a button. Agents can send out a rejection letter in an instant.

But this wide access to social media and digital tools also gives us the opportunity to connect with other writers and widen our circles. Older writers may have only been able to share their writing in person at a writers group or a workshop; we actually have a whole world of writers at our fingertips. I’d say that’s pretty cool.

As far as a difference between older and younger Millennials? I think it’s just a matter of experience, and of trial-and-error. Older Millennials may have been in the game longer and may know what works for them personally. Younger Millennials may be more open to trying new things. There’s no right way, in my opinion.

What experiences do you see as formative to your fiction?

I was lucky enough to get into my top-choice creative writing program as an undergraduate, and I had the opportunity to work with some writers that I really admire. I have fond memories of every single fiction workshop I’ve attended. If you’ve never had the chance to get into a group and workshop your writing in person, I highly recommend it. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s so worth it. In a good workshop your readers will look at your story objectively. They will offer critique and comments on the story. It should never be about the writer; it should only be about the story. I’ve learned so much about my writing – what works and what doesn’t – through workshops.

I also think reading a wide variety of genres and story lengths – from great hulking novels to flash fiction – has really shaped me as a writer. It’s cliché advice, but one of the best things you can do as a writer is read as much as you can.

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What is your creative process and how do you harness creativity to make more powerful stories? Do you have a certain writing aesthetic?

My creative process is kind of a mess!  Most recently, I’ve found myself scrawling down certain lines and ideas on whatever scraps of paper I can find; I make it a point to carry a small notebook with me at all times, but sometimes my phone’s note app does just as well. I turn ideas and characters around in my head for a while; I don’t get things down right away.

Most recently if I know I want to get some writing done, I’ll place my phone on the other side of the room. I realize I’m kind of addicted to it. Ah, the curse of the Millennial…

I’d like to say I write best with a steaming mug of tea in front of me, in a clean room with candles burning and classical music playing in the background. That sounds so dreamy! But really, when the mood strikes, I’ll try to write whenever and wherever I can.

What creative outlets do you take part in besides writing?

It’s writing-related but it’s worth mentioning: a fellow SUNY Purchase alum, Bob Raymonda, created a website called Breadcrumbs Mag that I absolutely adore. Each piece on the site (writing, photography, art, audio) is inspired by another piece on the site. You can literally follow a trail of inspiration! So when I’m stumped and looking for an idea, I always find myself on Breadcrumbs.

I’ve also taken a photo every day since September of 2009. It’s become a visual journal of sorts, and I love having the record of the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been in photo form. I can’t see myself stopping that!

What contemporary and classic writers inspire your craft?

I love authors who write complicated characters: Bret Easton Ellis and Vladimir Nabokov come to mind as favorites. A recent favorite of mine is Caroline Kepnes, whose novel, You, is pretty perfect for Millennials. The sequel, Hidden Bodies, just came out this February, and I highly recommend it. Other writers who’ve inspired me: Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. I admire memoir writers like Cheryl Strayed, Melissa Febos, and JoAnn Beard.

What advice do you have for other Millennial writers and creatives trying to get their work published?

Don’t let the desire to get published get in the way of your love for the craft. It is so easy to get fixated on the idea of seeing your name in print somewhere. Don’t lose sight of what you love. Don’t compromise the writing you want to write. Don’t write solely for the sake of others.

But if you want to get published: do your research! As I mentioned earlier, become familiar with the publication you want to write for. If you can’t afford a subscription to a magazine, you may be able to scope out a copy at the public library. Read past issues online. Also, support small presses! There are lots of small publications that are publishing amazing, innovative work.

Finally: read out loud as much as you can! Get to an open mic night and try your material out on the crowd. Read to yourself in front of your mirror. Something that sounds good in your head can take on a whole new tone when it’s spoken. Little things like that can help you shape your piece into something interesting and worth reading.

Thanks, Danielle!

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