Emmy Laybourne is not your typical Young Adult author. Not that there is a typical type of YA author but Emmy is definitely one of the most interesting. She is a former actress and improv guru who has worked with the likes of actors including Amy Poehler, Janeane Garafalo, Eric Stonestreet and Zach Galifianakis in groups like Chicago City Limits, Improv Olympic and the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was her one-woman show that got the Vassar grad handpicked by Mr. Lorne Michaels himself for a role in the Molly Shannon/Will Ferrell vehicle Superstar.
Emmy was having a great time in that life but after getting married she decided she was ready to start a family and get back to her lifelong dream of writing, specifically a YA novel. After having her first child, Emmy and her husband relocated back to New York (they had moved out to L.A.) and Emmy got to work. She had always wanted to write YA books. “There are people who are wondering, ‘Should I write a YA book?’ I have a desk job, can I do it? Personally, I think it is an easier entry into the world of literature and books. I am not saying it is the easiest to write but maybe easier to imagine yourself writing a YA book than the great American novel. I think in the end what you really need is a good sense of story. That is what sets it apart from novels. An adult reader is more tolerant of a meandering thought but the teen readers wants the story. They want the characters that you can dig into,” Emmy told The Grindstone.
And it sounds like Emmy has produced a story with those wonderful characters and those captivating stories. The first book of her YA series, Monument 14, was just published this month. It centers around 14 kids of various ages ranging from very young through high school-age who are trapped together in a chain superstore after a volcano erupts several thousand miles away. This sets off a series of events beginning with a massive hailstorm and ending with a chemical spill that could possibly tear their world apart. Emmy describes it as, “Lord of the Flies set in a Wal-Mart or The Road meets Gossip Girl meets Cormac MacCarthy. It’s a brutal world. Dark, really hard, depression and just really scary things happening to these characters. I played a lot of classical Radiohead to get in the mood.”
Emily Ellsworth of The Deseret News called it an “action-packed novel set in a dystopian world that is chilling and creates an atmosphere that will keep you turning the pages.” And why wouldn’t it? If the appeal of Hunger Games, shows anything it is that we like to see people surviving extraordinary circumstances, especially young, vibrant ones. And when you hear Emmy describe her writing process, you know you are in good hands.
“With a writing process you need a routine you can stick to. You have to sit down at the same time everyday and wait until it comes to you. The characters just become alive eventually. You sit down and they start talking to you,” she said. Routines help but Emmy said having two children around and knowing she only had a small amount of time each day to write was also excellent motivation. “Having a daily rhythm is very helpful, especially with children. They crave it and need it. I think I function much better than I did in my 20′s because of that.” Two years ago she handed her agent 160 pages of Monument 14 and it was sold and they signed on for the sequel as well, which Emmy has already completed.
She also said her years of improv training also came in handy when writing. Monument 14 is narrated by an adolescent boy named Dean. “I definitely write in character and in the first person. It helps me develop the characters better,” she said. Improv training is really the best thing because you can’t improvise and criticize yourself at the same time. You can’t make something up and then apologize for it. When you do it for a while you learn how to turn that asshole off on your shoulder,” she said.
As for the comparisons to Hunger Games, Emmy could not be more supportive. “I am a huge fan. This was how I felt about Will Ferrell. He is so talented and personable. You want him to have every success in the world. That is how I felt about Hunger Games. It was so full of action and romance and heart. No surprise at all it is huge hit,” she said. As for what she thinks about seeing a similar success for Monument she says, “You dream of having something as successful as that but Suzanne Collins had been writing for a very long time before she had that. You definitely do let that part of your brain think, if this could be a movie then great but the fact that I sold a book in this economy and have a book tour is amazing.”
You can learn more about Emmy at her web site.