013: I Love Story with Drew Yanno

More than a love, it’s a need.  Reading story, writing story, telling story.  This really is Author Drew Yanno’s life story. At the core of it is a love of reading that started in a small town in Upstate New York.  And it’s that same town, where Drew turned a murder/mystery into a page-turner with In the Matter of Michael Vogel.   

Full Podcast Transcript

[00:00:10] Recorded live from the Sweet Tea Studios in Wellesley Massachusetts. You’re listening to the podcast, Why I Read Nonfiction. Hosted by broadcaster and author of The Perfect Catch and Follow the Dog Home. Here’s Kevin Walsh.

[00:00:29] (Kevin) Hello and welcome to Why I Read Nonfiction and it’s a pleasure to have you here. And just just a little background on how we arrived at this location, and where we are. Why I Read Nonfiction: it’s more than just the book. Sure we’ll talk about books, but this is more about the reader, the readers habits, why they choose the books they do, how reading has a profound influence on their lives, reaches into their hearts and souls, how they come about picking a book, suggesting a book to someone else. And that’s what it’s really all about, the story behind the story. If you’re interested in receiving our show automatically to your podcast directory be sure to hit the subscribe button in your listening directory. It’s easy and is free. Visit our Web site at https://whyireadnonfiction.com to find out about upcoming episodes. You can visit our bookstore and join the nonfiction network.  It’s an exclusive private online community for our listeners. And we will keep the conversation going after each and every episode. Our guest today is Drew Yanno. Drew is the author of In the Matter of Michael Vogel, a murder mystery, and The Smart One, which is a thriller and a half, and The Third Act.  At one time he was probably the most voracious reader I know. Drew, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time and I can’t think of anybody to talk about anybody better to talk about books more than you.  How far back does our friendship go?

[00:02:03] (Drew)  I was thinking about that on the way over. I think about six years.  We met through a mutual friend and it was based on books, really. You had written, I write, and a friend who was also a writer who works with you thought it would be good for us to get together so I think it was around six years ago was just right around when Michael Vogel came out.  (Kevin) And since that time we get together every so often and I think, would you say the common denominator for us really is, is much as you mentioned the writing and we’ve talked about that, is the reading is always there.

[00:02:38] So we always have something to talk about?

[00:02:40] (Drew) Yeah I think we have that in common. We both love to read and I think, if you’re a writer, you better love to read.  I don’t know how you can be a writer if you don’t read. So yeah we talked about books we like, we just talk about reading in general, and yeah that’s common denominator for us.  That and golf, but we don’t talk about golf.

[00:03:00] (Kevin) Well we might talk about golf, golf’s fun, I’m always up for that. But I mentioned that you are the most voracious reader I know. I don’t know if that that’s true right now, but there was a time, and we had a conversation a couple of years ago where you told me you said if you had to buy every book you read, you would go broke. (laughter) At what rate were you reading?

[00:03:19] (Drew) Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but a book a week. My wife would say two. So there was probably a time when I was reading two a week. I just love to read. So, I’d say at the peak a book a week, and maybe for a short period time, a couple of books a week. (Kevin) Have you always loved to read?   (Drew) Yeah actually, you know, it goes back to being a kid.  You know what, early on, you know they teach you to read.

[00:03:48] I won’t talk about how old I am, (laughter) but I remember as a kid, back then, my mother got the encyclopedia in the supermarket. They used to put out a new one every week and so she’d buy it. So, I tell people I read the encyclopedia. That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t read all of it.

[00:04:07] (Kevin) Did you have the whole set?

[00:04:09] (Drew) Oh yeah, we had the whole set.  But I looked forward to it every week, and I would go through that particular volume and read stuff that was interesting to me and it started there. But it really took off I’d say in junior high. And because of the books they selected for us to read things like Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Lord Of The Flies, Count of Monte Cristo and of course To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved all those books every single one of them. And that just did it for me I was just captured by every one of those books. They’re all different, but all classics. So that’s probably when I started you.  You know, and you know how it is, you get to college and now you’re reading for school because you have to.  So probably less for entertainment because you didn’t have the time. But, you know, once I got out of, same thing with law school, you know, probably a little less than. But then once I got out, I just read. I always read.

[00:05:17] (Kevin) Isn’t that the difference though? Because I think of reading, it is, I do it because I need it my life and  I sort of feel this responsibility to be a perpetual student. But the difference this time is I get to select the books.  (Drew) Right, yeah, sure.  (Kevin) And I prefer nonfiction because, for me, I want to, I think truth is often better than fiction.

[00:05:40] But I want to have that reservoir of stuff to pull from in case something comes up in conversation. Or somebody is going through a moment in life where maybe they could use some help, and there’s nothing like, I think, holding a book and having some profound advice or a story that they can vicariously live through and apply in their lives. Has that ever happened to you?  A book that you had where you were just like, I really needed this at a certain time?

[00:06:06] (Drew) I’m not so sure. I need every book (laughter) when I’m reading.

[00:06:10] (Kevin) Well what does the book do for you? How does it transform you?  And settle you down. or how does it touch you?

[00:06:16] (Drew) That’s an interesting term: “settle me down.” I read for entertainment, but also it’s, it’s sort of pacifying to me. It’s, I read before bed.  Helps me go to sleep. I love story as you probably know because we’ve talked about it when it came to our own books.  But I love story and nonfiction, there’s a story in everything.  Everybody has a story.  You stop a person on the street and they’ll say “Oh I don’t have a story.” And then you start asking them questions and before you know it they have a story.

[00:06:44] (Kevin) I feel exactly the same way be forever interesting because I think what you’re getting at is people watching and we all do it don’t we?  (Drew) Right. Sure. (Kevin) Everybody walking down the street, some people advertise a little bit.  That person’s got style!  Got charisma! But it could be a meek person.

[00:07:01] (Drew) Absolutely yeah. Everybody has a story. They have to. It’s you can’t go through life without a story. The person who thinks they’re boring actually probably has the best story. But, you know, so nonfiction it’s just a different story. It happens to be true or mostly true (laughter) because it depends on who wrote it, and how, and when.  And fiction you try to create a story.  You you create an artificial world oftentimes based on truth and fact you know nonfiction, you know real events. (Kevin) Nonfiction is usually, well it is my preference, but I know you have an affinity for fiction and you’re a good enough sport to play ball with me we’re going to get into it.

[00:07:38] (Drew) Yeah and I’m 80, 20 I’d say I’m I’m 80 percent, 80 percent fiction, 20 percent nonfiction.

[00:07:44] (Kevin) Sure and there should be a crossover I think because what you like, it’s good to go to the other side a little bit and explore because you might want to come back to where you were all along, a little bit of a little bit of variety in your life. Our guest today is Drew Yanno author, screenwriter, attorney and dedicated reader for links to Drew’s books and other books mentioned on this show, go onto our web site at https://whyireadnonfiction.com.  Why I Read Nonfiction is brought to you by Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod. Have you ever been to the Cape? If you’re looking for a great spring, summer, or fall getaway check out Nirvana. It’s a coastal theme, newly renovated home, with accommodations for up to 10 guests on a stunning freshwater private kettle pond that’s close to world renowned beaches and is the perfect swimming and fishing hole. Loaded with four species of large trout and bass, it’s my favorite place in the world to fly fish and stay. All right. Back with Drew. So tell me about your reading habits. When do you do it? Where do you do it?

[00:08:46] (Drew) Well again that would probably depend on the time in my life and what I’m doing.  Right now it’s pretty much, I get home from work, maybe while I’m preparing dinner or if my wife’s preparing dinner I might grab the book and read a few pages. Maybe a little bit after.

[00:09:01] And if we’re not watching Netflix, I’ll keep going. But even if we watch something when I go to bed I always pick the book back up before I go to sleep. So that’s my pattern. If we’re on vacation, I just read.  One of the things I love about vacation to be able to bring a few books and just read. So again it depends on what you’re doing. Or, in my case what I’m doing in that particular moment.

[00:09:24] But you know I can sit and read for hours on vacation. Otherwise and the average work day, it’s pretty much you know when I can grab the book and pick it up on weekends maybe a little bit more.

[00:09:38] (Kevin) You have a preference for hard copy or electronic reader? (Drew) Uh, you know, I love the feel of a book in my hands. I know that’s a cliche but I do. There’s something about that I think everybody feels that to an extent.

[00:09:54] But I do have an iPad with the Kindle app, and I did that years ago when I was going to Hong Kong and I thought I can’t pack six books because you know you worry I’m not going to like this book so that I better bring some more.  But you can load a bunch of them on that obviously.

[00:10:12] So I do both, but I prefer you know hardcopy.

[00:10:19] (Kevin) You had an interesting rule that for reading and how long you will stay with a book before you bail on it. What is it? (Drew) You would remember that, huh? (Kevin)  And I remember the book too that you bailed on and I probably should have bailed on, but I knew I had to discuss it with a reading club and I, I looked back at it.  What was it again?  (Drew) About 50 pages.  If they haven’t gotten me at 50 pages, you know what are you doing?  That’s my feeling.  You’re taking too long to get into the story, or to to capture the reader if it’s nonfiction. You know, I want to know what it’s about.  Why am I my investing my time?  So, I’ll give it about 50 pages. I can say some really good books I’ve given longer because people have said “You gotta go to page 90 on this one.” It’s funny that we talk like that, but you know and they were right. You wonder, sometimes I think it’s a in the case of fiction it’s just the author trying to get their sea legs. They’re not even sure what the book is about, but they don’t want to waste those 90 pages.  In fact they can use them, you always talk in writing about, how, you know, you’ve got to use what you put down there because it’s getting it’s in your pocket, and there’s a reason it’s there, and you can use later.

[00:11:28] (Kevin) Well I like what you said about other readers saying “No you need to stick it out on page 90, because that’s, when readers talk with one another, you learn from it.  Just like you said, because I always felt kind of guilty because I spent the money. I bought this book and I’m going to get my money’s worth! And then I’m like well, it’s like a bad movie.  Why am I paying myself to punish myself? Or why am I paying for it? If anything I want somebody to pay me for that kind of thing. But it’s it’s just not worth it.

[00:11:54] (Drew) No and that’s what… I used to have the opposite rule which is if I start the book I have to finish it.  And then I realized you know time is short. Right? And there’s a lot of books out there. Why should I do that?  If the author hasn’t gotten me (laughter) by page 50 or whatever I decide it is, then I’m, you know, I’m going to move on.  (Kevin) And the other thing. I think friend’s advice about what to read, and how to go about it is golden because they’re your friend, because you have similar interests.  So, if it’s good enough for them it’s probably good enough for you.

[00:12:22] (Drew) Yeah. And you know what’s interesting about that? It depends on the friend. There are certain friends who will recommend certain kinds of books.  Like you’ll recommend nonfiction. I have other friends who recommends nonfiction which is how I’ve chosen some.  Then I have other friends who like a certain kind of fiction that I might not like, and then there’s the other who I know if they’re recommending, you know something, yeah I’m going to read it.

[00:12:43] (Kevin) Tell me about what was the most influential book in your life?  And what was going on in your life at the time that, that book you really needed it?

[00:12:53] (Drew)  Well you use the term influential. I could say favorite, I could say most important, and most admired all in the same breath: To Kill a Mockingbird. And you know again that goes back to the time I mentioned you know junior high school I guess it was when we read it. I think it was just, I mean it’s a remarkable book obviously.  And so influential, I mean it changed the culture literally changed the culture in the country. You know that’s a time in your life when you don’t know who you are. Right?  But you know Scout and Jem, they’re at that age. Right? So you can relate to them.

[00:13:39] (Kevin) Well give me examples of what was going through there. Just talk for those that have been down the road and remember the book or those that need a refresher.

[00:13:47] (Drew) Well it’s it’s Alabama back in the days when, you know, racial relations weren’t that great and their father is an attorney and he’s you know tasked with representing a black man accused of rape. Falsely accused it turns out. And it’s about, you know there’s that time period I think in your life where up until then everything is sort of innocent and you assume the world is good and you don’t see evil and you don’t see the bad side of people. And then all of a sudden you see it and that’s when you start to mature and grow and realize, boy I gotta pay attention to my life. And I suppose that was a lot of it. Plus it’s just a phenomenal story. I’ve told you this and I think you were at read the reading I did where I said this to people and they were kind of surprised but, it’s the only book I ever read and when I finished and went back to page one and read it again.

[00:14:45] (Kevin) Yeah that’s profound. (Drew) Yeah. (Kevin) And the beauty and the power of a book is it’s in your hands and it’s looking back at you and you have the time to think about stuff and reflect on it. And if you hold onto that book then you can refer to it as a reference. I do that with a number of books in my life. The Prophet is one that I read cover to cover a couple of times, but I go back and I cherry pick chapters because just the wisdom of life that Kahlil Gibran passed along to us is just is so profound. Our guest today is Drew Yanno, author, screenwriter, attorney and dedicated reader for links to Drew’s books and other books mentioned on this show, log on to our web site at https://whyireadnonfiction.com.  Why I read Nonfiction is brought to you by Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod. Have you ever been to the Cape? If you’re looking for a great spring summer or fall getaway check out Nirvana. It’s a coastal theme newly renovated home with accommodations for up to 10 guests on a stunning freshwater kettle pond that’s close to world-renowned beaches and is the perfect swimming and fishing hole. Loaded with four species of trout and bass, it’s my favorite place in the world to fly fish and stay.  All right so let’s get into your books.  In the Matter of Michael Vogel. Give me the elevator speech. What’s it all about?

[00:16:02] (Drew) I’m not sure I can do an elevator speech on a book.

[00:16:04] (Kevin) No you can. I know you have, because I’ve heard it before.

[00:16:07] (Drew) Okay. (laughter) It’s the story. It’s set in a small town in 1966, small town in upstate New York. Very much like the one I grew up in. (Kevin) Where did you grow up?  (Drew) I grew up in a town called Little Falls, New York which is really central New York, up 20 miles north of Cooperstown. I always said as a reference point because people tend to know our Cooperstown especially sports fans. (Kevin) Baseball Hall of Fame? (Drew) Hall of Fame, absolutely.  Beautiful town if you ever go visit. And it’s the story of the drowning of an eight-year-old boy in the town municipal swimming pool.  And it’s inspired by something that actually did happen there. But when I say inspired by I mean it’s not based on it.  As I tell people everything that happens after page eight in the book didn’t happen in real life and everything that happened in real life doesn’t happen in the book. I remember I was, I was already a lawyer I was out of law school and I was a lawyer and I heard it, when it happened as a boy went missing at swimming pool, they emptied the pool, they looked for him, in the actual case they looked for him for days.  And finally, I think it was three days later, I actually know the police officer who found him.

[00:17:23] He dove down.  They were ready to empty the pool. He found him at the bottom of the swimming pool.  And at first they thought “well this is suspicious because we didn’t find him for three days. Could somebody have put him in the pool? and it turned out that they hadn’t.  He had drowned, the water really was murky and he was down, I think he got caught up against the the drain. It was those powerful drains in pools. But I remember when I heard the story and I knew nothing, I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know anything. I just remember thinking wow!   What if someone had actually killed him and put him in the pool? And that stuck with me for years and then I decided this would be a good thing to write about. So I wrote about it but fictionalized, like I say, everything after the autopsy reveals that there’s freshwater in his lungs but it’s it’s totally different. (Kevin) The fresh water which wouldn’t be like the chlorinated water that you would normally have in a pool.

[00:18:15] Meaning that he died somewhere else in his body was was placed there. (Drew) He drowned but somewhere else.  (Kevin) Your other book The Smart One.

[00:18:24] (Kevin) Same thing. Elevator speech. How did you come up with this?.

[00:18:29] (Kevin) And I gotta tell you, when I read it I was thinking about the smart people in my high school and the dumb people. (Drew) Yeah. (laughter) That’s the smart guy, this is the dumb guy. But I want to hear you tell it.

[00:18:39] (Drew) I can’t tell you every part of it about it because it might give away some things, but basically, it’s about a guy who’s always been smart.   Just sort of a guy from an ordinary family who’s just, and you’ve probably known guys like this, or women like this, they’re just really smart.  And his whole life he’s succeeded.  He gets through Ivy League school in three years, gets his Ph.D. in three years, he’s a success, you know, as an author and as a consultant, kind of a Malcolm Gladwell that’s what I make it akin to.  And he gets this unusual task assigned to him when the doctor in his small town passes away and his widow contacts him and hasn’t come to the funeral. And she hands on him a list and says the doctor wanted me to give this to you, and he doesn’t know what to do with its 12 names, he’s never heard of them. And she said, I don’t know either, but he says once you figure out who they are you’ll know what to do. Basically, because he’s so smart, and the mystery is he can’t tell anybody about it. There’s a reason it’s dangerous if he tells someone about it.

[00:19:50] (Kevin) It is dangerous and there’s some bad hombres in it. (laughter). (Drew) There’s some bad people in it yeah.  (Kevin) Some crash it up stuff.  And that’s where fiction is cool. That’s where I will make the crossover because it’s just so compelling.

[00:20:01] (Drew) Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I’ve been fortunate to get some really good reviews for it and for Michael Vogel as well I am I’m incredibly appreciative.  And there actually, I’ve been told they’re teaching Michael Vogel in the high school I went to now which is about the biggest honor I could ever have because that puts me back where I was reading those books I mentioned they’re actually reading my book in an English class.  (Kevin) And the screenwriting started before the books?  (Drew) You know I always wanted to write novels.

[00:20:32] I wrote a novel after law school, in between jobs, when I took some time, off got an agent, and my first lesson in rejection.  Went to all the big publishers. My agent said “you’re gonna be you know huge.” And (laughter) it didn’t get published.  (Kevin) And the reality we know as authors is, the door slamming in your face more than it’s opening, right?

[00:20:57] (Drew) You know it was, it turns out it was more young adult fiction than fiction. And, she sent it to houses that do fiction, and you know young adult fiction wasn’t even called Young Adult fiction yet. Then I suppose it would be a different case today. Then I went back and just said I’ll go back to practicing law because there was a time when we had opened our office. So I did. And then I, I got into screenwriting almost accidentally because a good friend of mine, who happened to be our real estate broker when we moved offices in our law firm, I happened to mention that I’d written a novel and he said “Hey can I read it?” I gave it to him, and he said “Hey you ever think about writing a screenplay?” And that started the screenplay thing. And so I did screenplays for you know 10, eleven years, and taught screenwriting at Boston College.  Wrote a book about screenwriting you mentioned The Third Act which is about writing endings to the movies.

[00:21:51] (Kevin) But do you see how long of a time that that spans through?  The sticking with it, putting it aside, going back to it. (Drew) Yeah sure. (Kevin) I think the thing that that I admire about you and other writers and people that just love to read is they do it for themselves and in the end it’s a creative thing that you want.

[00:22:08] It’s an itch that you want to scratch. (Drew) Yeah, you almost can’t avoid it.

[00:22:13] It’s you know that. I feel like I have things to say and stories to tell and it just it pleases me you know to think that I could write something that they’d read in my high school just like the books I read. And, look, I’m not saying In the Matter of Michael Vogel is as good as any of those, A Separate Peace, or Lord of the Flies and certainly not To Kill a Mockingbird, but good enough for them to choose to read it.

[00:22:35] Which is again an honor.  (Kevin) Well I think the fact that people are still talking about it, and I’ll talk about it, and I tell people about it all the time it is definitely worth the time.  (Drew) I appreciate it. (Kevin) And even though it’s a little different than something, you know, the fiction nonfiction thing, I think there are enough real elements in it.  I love it. I love the way you write. It’s the way you write is kind of how you talk. And it really, really sung to me. I think it will for other people.  Drew, thank you for joining us again for more information about Drew Yanno’s books and other books mentioned on the show. Log on to our web site at https://whyireadnonfiction.com.  And be sure to visit our web site at https://whyireadnonfiction.com to find out about upcoming episodes.  Visit our bookstore, join the nonfiction network an exclusive private online community for listeners, and we will keep the conversation going after each episode. And thank you to Nirvana on Cape Cod. The perfect spring, summer and fall getaway with world-class trout and bass fishing to boot right on the elbow of the Cape.

[00:23:35]If you enjoy the show and are interested in receiving future shows automatically to your podcast directory be sure to hit the subscribe button in you’re listening directory. It’s easy and it’s free.  And do us a favor be sure to share the podcast with a friend. For Drew Yanno, I’m Kevin Walsh.  We’ll see you next time on Why I Read Nonfiction.

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