BRIAN YOUNG – Navajo Author of The Healer of the Water Monster

Brian Young is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University. He is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He enjoys reading, watching movies, playing video games (when he has time), and keeping physically active.

What brought you to writing? When I first wrote The Healer of the Water Monster, I lived in Albuquerque and worked as a meat cutter, and contributed to the native film community as a screenwriter and director. I first envisioned Healer as a movie, possibly a trilogy of feature films. But when I sat down to write it, I knew that a film interpretation wasn’t feasible. The scope and size of Healer’s story was growing in ways that would require an extensive budget to successfully depict. At that time, no one was willing to financially produce native stories because of the prejudiced idea that “Native stories don’t sell.” So, I made the decision to write Healer first as a book because those limitations that filmmaking imposed don’t exist with prose writing. It also helps that I love writing.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Such a long time! Six or seven years? The first draft took me like two months because I was really motivated and in love with the story. I already had daydreamed about the plot points and character growth paths. I did revisions to it for three years. But I was using techniques from screenwriting. I’d have huge paragraphs at the beginning of chapters and scenes going into great detail of the land and environment, then like five pages of nothing but dialogue. I had to grow as a storyteller, definitely as a prose writer. That’s why I decided that getting an MFA was going to help me get Healer published. I was super fortunate but also did a tremendous amount of work to get into Columbia’s MFA for Creative Writing. Through that program, I learned the tools, techniques, and unique abilities that prose writing has.

How long to get it published? I hear this process can take a long time. But for me, it was very short. To complete my MFA program, I did a ground-up revision of Healer for my thesis. I took a third year to rewrite every single sentence of my manuscript. Columbia University’s School of the Arts hosts an agent mixer for third-year writing students and alumni. It was there that I met my agent. I pitched Healer to him, and he wanted to read my manuscript. I wasn’t fully finished with my revision, and he agreed to wait.

A month later, I had finished the revision and sent it to him. When he offered me his representation, I cried. I literally spent ten minutes in my room praying and saying thank you to the Navajo Holy Beings. After accepting his offer through an email, he wanted to go right into sending it out to publishers and editors. After another revision I felt was needed, my agent and I sent Healer out to publishing houses and editors. The rejections came first, as they usually do. But then, we got some interest. My agent set up some meetings, and I had the massive fortune to meet with Rosemary Brosnan, who was gearing up to launch Heartdrum, a native-focused imprint of HarperCollins. I had some immediate gut vibes that told me Rosemary was the one who was going to help bring Nathan’s story across the finish line. After we met, Rosemary offered a pre-empt and my agent worked his magic. By the end, I had a signed two-book deal! It was finalized the day I picked up my mom and sister from LaGuardia for my graduation from Columbia. I had experienced so many setbacks and heartbreaks before. But all that hardship was worth it when I showed my mom my contract. All in all, it took four months, getting an agent then a book deal. After that, Rosemary and I did another revision (I’ve lost count of how many revisions I did), and that is the version that went to print.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? In my opinion, if your protagonist isn’t making decisions that shape the environment, world, people around them, then why are they the protagonist? Nathan, the protagonist of The Healer of the Water Monster, definitely runs the show. Both he and I agreed that his actions would have consequences for the worlds around him. There are very precious few stories that depict native children as heroes whose actions shape the world around them. So, throughout all the revisions and from the very start, both Nathan and I wanted him to be as active as he could possibly be. I speak of him as an actual person because I spent seven years with him! Actually more, because he is in my next book!

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? On that spectrum, I am more of an outliner. I love seeing the story in its entirety. It’s actually my favorite part of the writing process. I love looking at the macro-level of the story and tinkering with plot points and action beats. When writing a new story, I’ll often do a 27 chapter outline and write a paragraph describing what happens in each chapter and break it down further into scene outlines for each chapter.

That being said, my initial 27 chapter outline usually becomes useless because at the halfway point in the actual writing of the story is when I’ll diverge from the outline. Or I’ll discover some story bits or character emotions that I overlooked when writing the whole story. It’s also here in the middle of the story that the characters start to do their own actions and say their own words. When I’m in the zone, I don’t know what the characters are going to do. It’s like I’m reading a new book that is being written right in front of my eyes.

So, I like to start with having an outline down but will concede to the characters when they start to fully come into their own.

Do you have any advice for new writers? My biggest advice is “Write what you love.” I can’t stress enough that this is a long journey that you are on. From inception to publication, it took me seven years to turn The Healer of the Water Monsterinto a book. You, new writers, are going to be with the story that you are writing for a very long time. If I didn’t love the story or characters, I’m not sure if I would have been as committed to its publication, nor am I sure if I would have been able to devote seven years of my life to Healer. If you love your story, the sacrifices and effort needed to publish a book will be worth it.

People can buy The Healer of the Water Monster on Amazon, but I recommend Red Planet Comics and Books (native owned and operated in Albuquerque, NM)
https://redplanetbooksncomics.com/products/healer-of-the-water-monster?_pos=1&_sid=a217895af&_ss=r

To reach me, here is my author website: https://brianlyoung.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BYoungWrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/byoungwrites/

5 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    What an interesting story about Brian Young’s journey to bring Healer to fruition. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Reply
  2. Glenda Carroll

    Congratulations on the publication of The Healer. You are to a great start in your writing career.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    The story of your novel’s evolution reads like an adventure story itself. Congratulations on realizing your dream and completing your MFA. Best of luck to you with your future writing.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Brian. Sounds like you’ve gotten a great start to wonderful writing career. Much success!

    Reply
  5. Alec Peche

    Congrats on getting a book deal. You mention that you love outlining and start with a detailed 27 chapter outline. As a pantser, that sounds like my version of a monster. I’m curious as to whether there were any pantsers in your MFA class?

    Reply

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Crisosto Apache – Poet – Educator – Leader

Mescalero / Chiricahua Apache and Diné Navajo from New Mexico.

Crisosto Apache is an alumnus from Insitute of American Indian Arts (AFA 1992 / MFA 2015) and Metropolitan State University of Denver (BA, 2013) for English and Creative Writing. His work also includes Native LGBTQI / ‘two spirit’ advocacy & public awareness.

“Entirely new, experimental, and worth the effort of reading. Passionate in places, contemplative in others, he travels from that ancient past toward the distant universe.”—Linda Hogan

“These poems record not only the nine months of history occurring while the poet formed in gestation… it attempts to make sense of the whirling world of chromosomes, of snow across body-laden battlefields, the whirl of strobe lights in a sex club, and the spiral which meets in the center where isdzán and haastiń (woman and man) become indistinguishable. Apache’s collection challenges our footing on things we thought we knew.”—James Thomas Stevens

Do you write in more than one genre? Though most of my writing falls under the poetry genre, more specifically the Native American Literary genre, I am trying to develop my narrative elements by writing a memoir. The emphasis for the memoir is my experience growing up on my Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico as a gay male, as well as my experience off the reservation in urban areas as a marginalized Native American.

What brought you to writing? I originally started my education wanting to be an artist, a painter. During my adolescent years, I did a lot of illustration in my spare time and read a lot of poetry-the classics. I was mostly drawn to the fantasy style of artwork. My illustration got me a scholarship to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the fall of 1989. I studied two-dimensional design my first two semesters when I was approached by Arthur Sze, the head of the Creative Writing department at the time. He convinced me to change my major, and that was my introduction to writing. I can say I have always acknowledged myself as a lifetime student of Arthur Sze because of the influence taught through his courses and the materials offered. My second manuscript, titled “Ghostword,” is highly influenced by a modern Japanese writer introduced to me by Arthur. The writer is Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and the book “A Fool’s Life” (Eridanos Press). I have carried carbon copy excerpts from the book distributed in his class until I finally found the book in a reprinted collection of Akutagawa’s work. Until I located a copy, “A Fool’s Life” had been out of print. So, my second manuscript is a kind of conversation or life response.

Tell us about your writing process: My writing process varies from time to time. First, I must say it is important for me to distinguish myself as an artist first before identifying myself as a writer. My identity as an artist is what fuels my creative aspiration for writing. Most of my creative bursts come during the night. I am sometimes awakened by jolting moments to write. When this occurs, I do get up and go directly to my computer and begin typing. It is during these moments many of the fundamental ideas come through for my poetry. The writing is almost automatic, and it feels closer to being on “automatic pilot.” Many of the poems in my book GENESIS have come from these waking moments. Some of the approaches for my writing focus on the juxtaposition of my indigenous language and the English language. Through translation, I found this technique interesting how the language interacts as meaning and description. It is fascinating to me to examine the interaction of language and the mapped direction the language interaction takes me, which resembles the action of “unfolding” or “uncovering.” I always look forward to reading other writers’ work because I draw influence and encouragement from what is written. I often think and wonder if the “jolting wake” in the night comes from the influence of reading, where my mind finally assembles ideas for my writing.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is finding time to focus on the writing and revision process. Because my time is mostly dedicated to my teaching job as an English professor (and all the facets of faculty responsibilities) and my volunteer position as the Associate Editor of Poetry for The Offing online magazine, it can sometimes be challenging to find dedicated time to focus on my writing. I have a small office in my house where I have a small library and a computer. I sometimes have closed the door and try to focus on my writing. I keep the door closed when I am not in my office so I can separate the concept of the room as not part of the house. When I am in my office, I am usually in the headspace of work. It is especially important now in these current times of the pandemic. I do take my time seriously when I am in my office and focusing on my creative written work.

Do you have any advice for new writers? About writing, my only encouragement is to just write. The act of writing is the most important part of the writing process, even though it may be bad writing. I save all my scribblings and voice recorded entries to various folders on my computer. I learned to carry with me a voice recorder to voice my ideas. I used to carry a small notebook but often misplaced them. My voice recorder fits into my pocket and works simply fine. It is important to find or reserve time to focus on writing. It is simply not enough to assemble and collect ideas. Much of the writing process is composing ideas into the structure and revising. Working on a manuscript also takes a lot of time and care. Deciding how much material should go into a working manuscript and to what order also is part of the process that deserves much consideration. If you are a beginning writer and have made it to the point of assembling a manuscript, then you deserve recognition and congratulations. It is a huge accomplishment to assemble a manuscript. Publishing your work is also important. Finding places to publish your writing can be challenging. Rejection is part of the writing process. Do not criticize yourself for rejection. Sometimes it is all about timing. Most of my publishing opportunities come from my network of friends who write. Establish a network. To summarize, make time to read, submit & publish, and most importantly, keep writing.

How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want posted?

GENESIS book order Link: http://amzn.to/2FzG409

My website: http://crisostoapache.com/books-2/

Lost Alphabet’s website: http://www.lostalphabet.com/genesis/

Twitter: @Crisosto_Apache

Instagram: @crisosto_apache

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Eric Davis

    A really great piece George.

    Reply
  2. Ruby Hansen Murray

    Love the concept of “a small office in my house where I have a small library and a computer,” separated for creative work. Thanks for this interview, Crisosto &George.

    Reply

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An Image is Worth a Thousand Words or . . . a Novel?

The Birth of The Mona Lisa Sisters

Ten years ago, I was managing Safety and Security for Palm, Inc. A few months later, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm in what is often referred to as a disastrous acquisition. Not long after, H-P began the layoffs. I got a weekly list of those to be laid off the following week. When the notice came for my team, I gave them the week off to start on a job hunt. A few weeks later, I learned I would be terminated the following Monday. I cleaned out my office but hung around in case there were any problems.

Then began my introduction to how rampant age-discrimination had become. After three months, it was so obvious; I started a spreadsheet. I recorded 140 applications after that. Often, I could swear the hiring company had used my resume as the requirement for the position. My mistake was being honest. I included that I was a Vietnam War Veteran. Any H/R person in the world would spot that and know I was at least sixty years old. I got one interview. I walked in, business suit, tie, and white hair. The two people I talked with were wide-eyed twenty-somethings. They were polite in their T-Shirts, torn pants, and sandals . . .for about five minutes. Then, “Thank you for coming in, George. Have a good day.”

Early 2012, I saw that the local senior center was offering a writing class. I figured it might help with a new resume—wrong. It was a fiction writing class. I was learning creative writing, and I loved it. After a month or so, the instructor passed out random pictures to each student. The assignment: “Study the image, take fifteen minutes, and describe the scene.”

I took one look at my picture, two girls looking up at the Mona Lisa, and ignored the assignment. In those fifteen minutes, I knew I would write a novel. I had notes on paper, the story in my mind, and the title. And it all came together to form the genesis for The Mona Lisa Sisters.

That began an eight-year journey.

I enrolled at Las Positas College and took writing classes. Unlike my earlier college years, it was no longer drudgery. I earned straight As. The assignments lead to multiple revisions of my novel.

In a class taught by Karin Spirn, I read about a fantastic instructor at UC Berkeley who did not have a doctorate. Instead, he held an MFA. In another class, I was introduced to the work of Native American poet Joy Harjo. She was recently appointed to a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. I began following her on social media. I saw that Harjo was a guest lecturer at the Institute of American Indian Arts, MFA Program. An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, I called IAIA and applied. Five days later, I received an acceptance notice for the Low-Residency MFA Program. IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For the next two years, my manuscript was my thesis paper, The Mona Lisa Sisters. I rewrote, revised, and learned. My mentors were terrific and have, over time, become much more to me. One area that I got dinged on was when I brought my characters to the dinner table. The settings often lacked enough detail to draw the reader into the scene. Ismet “Izzy” Prcic, roared “People don’t go to dinner and leave. They eat. What the “F” are they eating—saying?”

Mona Lisa is set in the early 1890s. So, I had much research to do before bringing food to the table. I did it—overdid it—added several thousand words.  Izzy, “I don’t need to know every single effen thing they ate and how it was prepared.” I subtracted words to please him.

Each addition or subtraction required rewrites.

The program required a great deal more than working on my manuscript. I attended lectures, readings, workshops, and read and wrote critical reviews of over forty books. Two authors I had held extreme distaste for became favorites—Albert Camus and Joyce Carol Oates. Most of those forty books are full of underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. My mentors and I collaborated on the selection of books. Native Americans wrote at least half our choices. I was introduced to the work of such great authors as,

  • Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish) – Perma Red
  • Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) – The Round House
  • David Treuer (Ojibwe) – Little
  • Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) – Ceremony

I met many who shared their world and writing. I met Joy Harjo and chatted over cafeteria dinner. Tommy Orange, There There, was a contemporary, as was Angela Trudell Vasquez. Angie is the Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin.

When I faced the challenge of my thesis/manuscript, one of the questions came from another, fantastic teacher and author, Pam Houston. Her first question had to do with the scenes set in . . .  the dining room. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. I know Izzy put her up to it.

This year, I finished the twenty-third revision of The Mona Lisa Sisters. Agent queries had been returned with polite rejections.  I sat back, told the manuscript, “I’m starting to hate you. I’m finished.”

I reached out to Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press and told her I was done and wanted her to publish the bloody thing. She agreed. I figured my work was done—wrong.

The cover design took months. Getting back-cover reviews became urgent. I was stuck until I recalled a talk where a young author mentioned he sent out requests to known authors and asked them to read and write reviews. “What have I got to lose?” I asked myself and sent out four requests. Three agreed to write reviews. I even had one person, out of the blue, offer to write one.

I used two. Ramona Ausubel wrote one. I love her novel No One is Here Except All of Us. The other, by playwright, editor, and UCLA instructor Victoria Zackheim. I also used a Kirkus review.

Violet (Vi) Moore came on board as the editor. She forced me to pick up the manuscript and read it line by line and make corrections before she would touch it. I’m glad she did. Over two months, we made more corrections and changes than I will ever admit.

Then the galleys came, and Paula made me do it all over again. The editor is usually done by then–nope. Vi called and ordered me to reread it. I know we missed at least one typo. One of my readers sent me a note informing me of my oversight.

Paula, Vi, and the cover design team were all very reasonable in the charges to bring the project to fruition.

Amazon released The Mona Lisa Sisters on August 14, 2020. A little over eight years after the instructor handed me a picture of two young girls looking at the Mona Lisa.

I met and have become friends with so many fine people as the result of my diving into the world of fiction writing. I have been and will forever be blessed for having started the journey when I couldn’t find a job.

19 Comments

  1. Shelley Lee Riley - Author

    There are times when I wonder if I should know more, and then I ask myself…do I need to know it all? In this case, more was definitely better. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. John G.Bluck

    As I read his blog, vivid images popped into my mind of novelist George Cramer and his team at Palm when they suddenly lost their jobs. This began his journey to write a book. In a few short pages of his blog he clearly paints word pictures that showed me his decade-long effort to write “The Mona Lisa Sisters” . . . and how he first decided to write, how he chose to learn, and how he worked through multiple edits in his process to create his novel.

    The story of how he accomplished the feat of writing an excellent piece of literature is inspiring and is a must read for any aspiring author. Maybe Cramer will write a memoir as well. He has the talent to do it.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    Thank you, George! You have walked a long path to write a novel. Glad you arrived and finished one!

    Reply
  4. Violet Moore

    Fred Barnard, an advertising executive during the early 1900s, is credited with this saying from a magazine ad he wrote to attract new customers, but the origin is centuries older. Perhaps backstory, your journey to publication, will birth a new phrase, “One picture is worth a novel.”

    Reply
  5. Dennis Koller

    George — the blog shows what a great writer you’ve become. I’m off to get my copy of The Mona Lisa Sisters.

    Reply
  6. Kat Wilder

    I love this backstory of YOU, George! Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Connie Hanstedt

    Such dedication to your craft and then publication. Congratulations!

    Reply
  8. Jim Hasse

    It is interesting to know the backstory and how seeming disappointments can lead to great success in the long run. The front cover is beautiful and eye-catching, and the reviews tipped the scales in your favor. The Mona Lisa Sisters is the best book I read in 2020. Your persistence paid off for you and readers like me. Congratulations, George.

    Reply
  9. Jordan Bernal

    And we are blessed to have you as a writer—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, you do each genre proud.

    Reply
  10. Carole Price

    Impressive!! You persevered and now here you are, a published author.

    Reply
  11. Deven Greene

    Thanks for giving us a ringside seat to your foray into becoming an author. If everyone knew how difficult it was, few would ever dip their toe in. As it is, most people become slowly acclimated to the onerous situation, like the frog in a pot of water being slowly heated.

    I found your description of age discrimination illuminating. Of course I’ve read about it, but haven’t been faced with it myself (that I know of). Ever think about writing an article (or perhaps a book) on that?

    Reply
  12. Michael A. Black

    Great recounting of your journey to publication, George. It’s inspiring, and having read The Mona Lisa Sisters, I’m glad you persevered.

    Reply
  13. John Gulick

    Maybe the acquisition of Palm will turn out to be a fortuitous event!!

    Reply
  14. Mark Clifford

    Thanks for sharing your journey, George. It is as inspiring as it is a validation of the writing process. So many people minimize an author’s efforts to take their work to publication. Ninety percent of America’s claim to have a story in them. One percent bring their dream to fruition. Writing is daunting, riddled with reasons to quit. You did it!

    Reply
  15. Marilyn Meredith

    What a fantastic journey and you definitely were rewarded at the end.

    Reply
  16. Patricia Schudy

    Congratulations–On publishing and persevering!

    Reply
  17. Julie Royce

    I loved this blog. Sometimes backstory is as interesting as the main plot. I am glad you attended that class at the senior center, and that it opened new windows of opportunity. Keep writing.

    Reply
  18. Julie Royce

    I loved this blog. Sometimes backstory is as interesting as the main book (Although the book was great). I’m glad you attended that class at the senior center, and I’m glad it opened new windows of opportunity. Keep writing.

    Reply
  19. Margaret Mizushima

    It’s amazing what it takes to bring an idea to print, isn’t it? I loved reading about your journey to publishing, George, and am looking forward to reading The Mona Lisa Sisters!

    Reply

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