In Riding Invisible (Hyperion), author Sandra Alonzo creates her first novel along a path that is partially familiar to her, a life in close company to a horse. Yancy, a teenaged boy, is moved to run away from home by a brother who is out of control and parents who won’t recognize Yancy’s need for security. Written as a journal, the natural blend of spot drawings, freehand text, and cartoons bring authenticity to Yancy’s voice and the steps he takes to become visible.
We recently asked Sandra if she could talk more about writing this book.
Question: Two of your published books have prominently featured horses. For Riding Invisible, does the landscape come from the horse-riding experiences of your childhood or your current rides in your neighborhood?
Answer: Much of the landscape in Riding Invisible is near an area where I grew up, and where I lived for many years as an adult, as well. The trails described in the book are real places. I could visualize them in detail because I’ve ridden them many times.
Question: We often ask if a certain character is modeled after someone you know. Is Shy, Yancy’s horse, modeled after a horse you’ve known?
Answer: My childhood horse was a sorrel mare, not a buckskin gelding like Shy, but she had the same type of temperament. That horse would do anything for me. Yancy’s relationship with Shy is much like the relationship I had with my mare, Sandi.
Question: When you were writing Riding Invisible, did you envision someone doing the graphic treatment that Nathan Huang developed for the book?
Answer: I designed Riding Invisible as an illustrated journal and the manuscript sold to Hyperion as such. For the cartoon panels, I’d mapped out the drawings and typed the words inside the call-out bubbles and fit these into the manuscript. Some of the drawings I described in author notes and others were left entirely up to the artist. Nathan Huang did an excellent job “becoming” Yancy when he created the illustrations. He added many creative ideas to the author notes and took the drawings to a new level.
Question: When you began writing this book, did you have a sense of how it would end? Or was it a book that followed its own path until it found the ending?
Answer: This book had a solid ending from the very first word I typed into the computer. Through the many revisions Riding Invisible experienced, perhaps the final scenes are what changed the least.
Question: Will, Yancy’s brother, seems to be so out of control, but you’ve done an admirable job of making their parents’ reluctance to institutionalize Will believable. Did you and your editor work on this aspect of the book? Could you share some of back-and-forth that occurred?
Answer: I don’t remember having big issues with the parents’ reluctance to institutionalize Will, but with their failure to protect Yancy. My wonderful Hyperion editor, Christian Trimmer, encouraged me to find reasons to support the parents’ naïve attitude about what was really going on between the two boys. How did things get so out of control without their knowledge? It was challenging to show the parents as loving people who were partly in denial and also unaware, without making them seem negligent.
Question: Tavo is a possibly dangerous, but ultimately life-saving, character in the book. Have you modeled him after someone you know or is he one of those characters you wish you knew?
Answer: My husband’s parents were very much like Tavo, the type of people who would definitely take in a Yancy character and nurture him in real life. They believed in helping others, and truly lived this ideal through their actions.
Question: Why did you decide to write your first novel with a male central character rather than a female?
Answer: I enjoy a challenge!
Question: Yancy works hard to be a normal kid to make up for his brother’s behavior. Have you given any thought to who Yancy might be when he’s a man? How his childhood with Will might affect the rest of his life?
Answer: There’s a scene in Riding Invisible when Yancy and the girl he likes, Christi, have a conversation about their violent childhoods. This is how it’s written, with Yancy speaking first:
“Have you gotten over the horrible things that happened to you as a kid?”
Christi didn’t need to think about it. “No,” she answered. “It’s always there, like in my dreams sometimes, or when I notice the scar over my mom’s eyebrow, or when I watch a violent movie.”
Her face looked so sad all of a sudden, and I stared at the ground again. “Sometimes I try to concentrate on the future,” I told her. “Maybe I’ll become a professional artist, like a dude who can paint these amazing, emotional abstracts. When people look at my work, I want them to feel comforted.”
Christi rested her cheek on my tee-shirt sleeve. “That’s beautiful, what you just said,” she whispered.
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