Sunday, August 12, 2012

FAST FIVE Author Interview with Adam Sydney

It is my pleasure to host Adam Sydney, author of Yolanda Polanski and the Bus to Sheboygan. By mere chance, I discovered Adam’s novel while researching a very specific topic on my Kindle. Adam is a screenwriter, having completed his Masters in screenwriting at the University of London and also trained at The American Film Institute. Recently, though, he took time off to write novels, including the one he discusses today. In one of the Kindle reviews of Yolanda Polanski, the reviewer writes, “It’s impossible to dislike Yolanda and her joie de vivre, to not want to be friends with her.”
GAIL’S FAST FIVE: Welcome, Adam, and thank you for taking time for an interview today. In this fast-paced world of social media, we’ve grown accustomed to the 140 character comments, but can you share with us a more detailed account of the novel and your research for Yolanda Polanski and the Bus to Sheboygan?
ADAM SYDNEY: I'd be glad to, Gail. And thank you so much for the opportunity to join in your blog and connect with your visitors.

As some of your readers already know, I did woefully little research on Yolanda Polanski and the Bus to Sheboygan. I'm originally a screenwriter, and over the course of my experiences writing for the screen, I discovered that the more I outlined, the worse my work became, so after fifteen years or so of studying and following the rules and struggling to write something -- anything -- good, I finally decided just to write whatever came to me, whenever it came to me. Astonishingly, that first screenplay, which was an experimental comedy, was the first time people seemed to genuinely like my work. The whole experience of writing it was subconscious, and so in a way, anti-outline, and I've continued in this subconscious way of writing ever since.

Another element of deliberate writing is, of course, researching, so when I started to write Yolanda, I did the opposite: I had no idea what I was going to write or in what setting it was going to take place. I just started. When the time came, I made up the name Two Rivers, Wisconsin-- or so I thought! Only after writing quite a bit of the story did I decide to check and see if there really is a Two Rivers-- and lo and behold, my subconscious had dredged it up from somewhere! At that point, I did do a bit of retro-research, but it was very minimal. In fact, an important element of the story is the ice-cream sundae, and it was there that I finally made the connection: I'd seen a TV show years before about Two Rivers and its dispute with Ithaca, New York, as the birthplace of the sundae. Weird, eh, that it would pop up in a novel?!

I might have also been a little more comfortable writing about a small town in the Midwest, as I was raised in small towns in the Midwest. So even though it didn't feel like it, perhaps I was writing what I know-- a central tenet to many writers that has never really felt all that crucial to me. Well, at least consciously!
GAIL’S FAST FIVE: I love your story about how you subconsciously chose Two Rivers, Wisconsin as the setting for your novel. Of course, you already know that my home town is Two Rivers, Wisconsin and this is why I can relate to Yolanda! Is “the job” the most important part of your protagonist’s life?
ADAM SYDNEY: "The job" is absolutely at the center of Yolanda Polanski's life during her time in Two Rivers. Remember, I come from screenwriting, where my professors drilled into my head that every major beat (and most of the minor ones) had better be generated by the pursuit of the main character's goal. I know that reading a novel is a much different experience than watching a film, but I still believe that keeping narrative tension taut is at the core of a good story. So even though I was just letting the characters do whatever they wanted to do, they had to be swept up into Yolands's incredibly strong desire to reach her goal, which naturally leads them to generate goals of their own. 

Yolanda's central purpose also gives us a good insight into her character. The bizarreness of this goal, in fact, lets us know that she's maybe a little crazy right off the bat. But her generosity towards others comes through in that she attempts to befriend a very odd group of people and ultimately never stops trying to recruit them to her team until they befriend her back. 

There is perhaps another element of Yolanda's relentless striving to attain her goal that helps us understand her better as a character. She's constantly trying to get smaller goals accomplished in pursuit of the larger one, but because she seems to misinterpret basically everything that everyone else does or says, she's in many ways her own worst obstacle. I think this situation is often at the heart of a lot of great comedy-- maybe because it reminds me of myself a little...

GAIL’S FAST FIVE: Adam, your basic screenwriting goal of having every major beat (and most of the minor ones) generated by the pursuit of the main character's goal, is also a major tenet of novel writing. What unique or suspenseful twists make your novel and protagonist stand out?
ADAM SYDNEY: I think many of the twists in the book that might help Yolanda stand out among comedic heroines are not actually surprises to the audience, but rather surprises to her. As I mentioned earlier, she misinterprets pretty much everything that she experiences. Hopefully, what's funny to the reader is that juxtaposition between what's obvious to us but isn't to her. I haven't seen this situation much in novels-- and especially novels told in the first-person point of view-- so I thought I'd give it a shot. 

Of course, a major series of twists show up at the end of the book. Here, we discover that some of Yolanda's misinterpretations might not have been as far off the mark as we thought, and we also find out that what she's been telling herself (and us) about her past and present might not be 100 percent accurate. 

GAIL’S FAST FIVE: What draws Yolanda Polanski into the novel’s suspenseful situations?
ADAM SYDNEY: The beauty of character-driven stories, I think, is that the main character often generates the suspenseful situations herself, rather than being dropped into them. I hope this is the case with Yolanda Polanski. Basically, she comes to a little town on the western shore of Lake Michigan that's minding its own business and proceeds to create over-the-top scene after over-the-top scene. There is no suspense before she shows up because there's no real conflict, but because we see how important her goal is to her, hopefully readers care about all the hot water she lands in-- and voila, suspense! How did she get herself in this situation? And how on earth is she going to get out of it?! Stories with this kind of suspense always engage me, so my goal was to engage readers in the same fashion.
GAIL’S FAST FIVE: Is Yolanda Polanski and the Bus to Sheboygan part of a series, and are you working on a sequel?
ADAM SYDNEY: One of the nicest compliments I got on this book was that a few people wanted the story to keep going. That meant a lot to me. But I'm one of those restless writers who wants to keep moving forward. I started off with a serious literary fiction novel, My Heart is a Drummer, and then I wanted to try my hand at a more comedic story, hence, Yolanda. Now, I'm getting a little more experimental and am presently revising a semi-narrative horror novel called Something's Wrong. I know it's not very bright for marketing purposes, but I keep jumping around genres. So after the third one, who knows what I'll be writing next...
So to sum it up, I have a feeling that Yolanda's main story has been told in this novel, so there's probably not a sequel in me-- but you never know!
GAIL: Along with many delightful tales about Yolanda, your interview today reads much like a tutorial in novel writing. I’m sure many authors looking for helpful hints will find your responses enlightening. Adam, this last isn’t so much a Fast Five question as an “if/then” scenario: If Paris is not an option, then where would you most like to spend your time writing and why.
ADAM SYDNEY: Darn, because I just love Paris, Texas. 

Okay, so a second option... Well, I'd have to say the countryside of Essex in England. I lived for a while in the northern suburbs of London and would often drive up into the ancient villages of Essex, which had a particular appeal to me. Besides being beautiful, the area seemed very peaceful, which I think would foster good writing. And Central London would only be 45 minutes away, so when I needed a little sensory overload to goose my faculties, I'd have that option. But then again, I've discovered that places where you really want to be often can be detrimental to getting any writing done, so maybe I should have said Fulsom State Prison or something.
Is it too late to change my answer? 

Where readers can follow Adam Sydney and his books:
My publishing company's website:
My blog:

My Twitter account:
My company's Facebook presence:


  1. Loved this interview! I can't outline either. I freeze when I go to write the story when I do.

    Hugs and chocolate,


  2. Great interview, you guys.

    I'm with Mr. Sydney about England's countryside - breathtaking beautiful:)

  3. I appreciated the connection between where sundaes were created and Two Rivers as to how you came up with a location. Interesting interview Adam and Gail! It's helpful hearing about outlining as well as just sitting down and start writing! Good questions. Good luck, Adam, thanks for sharing. Thanks Gail for posting the interview.

  4. Shelly, I don't outline either. I'm trying something new with the next novel, writing the full synopsis to follow. Adam's process amazes me!

    Anne and Adam, I've never been to England (sounds like a song!) You must have been in heaven with the Olympics this year!

    Judy, the sundae part is my favorite! And, yes, Two Rivers IS the sundae capital of the world! Chocolate syrup on vanilla ice cream is a food group. I think maybe Adam's Yolanda Polanski is on a chocolate high!

  5. Thanks for the great comments, everybody! Shelly I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who shouldn't outline! And it's true, Judy, the mind and its connections are truly a mystery. I realized today that analyzing my dreams is very similar to analyzing my stories-- trying to find the connections. I wonder if there is some use for writers in looking at how they associate different concepts in dreams?

    Thanks again for the opportunity to do this interview, Gail! Anne and I actually decided to take a day trip one day and drove into the Essex countryside. We crested a hill and came upon a village so idyllic that it was honestly like looking at heaven. Later on, we found out that the village had been voted as the best one in the U.K. We got lucky! So if you ever do go to Great Britain, let me know; I'll definitely have some suggestions for you...

  6. Is Finchingfield the little heavenly village you're referring to by chance? I loved YPATBTS! Although I must say that I believe Ithaca to be the place where the sundae was invented.

  7. Finchingfield! Yes, Anonymous, that's exactly the little, heavenly village I was referring to. It must be more famous than I thought!

    Glad to hear that you loved Yolanda Polanski! But I'd watch what you say about Ithaca being the birthplace of the sundae on this blog. You might find yourself in a little hot water...

  8. Yes, Anonymous! The Birth Place of the Sundae is Two Rivers, Wisconsin! Just ask anyone born there!


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