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Q&A: William Awbrey Yarbrough

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Photo by Michael SahadiEthan Myers is lost. His father, Frank, once a national bestselling author, is mired in an extensive writer’s block and locked in a lingering depression following his wife’s tragic death. With Frank unable and unwilling to be the father his son desperately needs, Ethan struggles to overcome a hidden drug addiction while attempting to find himself amid the heavy shards of his mother’s death. Then a mysterious angel in black appears in his dreams and reveals disturbing serial images. That storyline forms the basis of Deliver Us (Xlibris), the debut novel by Berwyn’s William Awbrey Yarbrough, a 2008 Episcopal Academy graduate who is now a freshman English major and creative writing minor at the University of Richmond.

MLT: What prompted the novel?

WAY: One day, my mother told me about a contest centered on explaining a fairy tale, like how Humpty Dumpty got on the wall in the first place. I explored how Little Bo Peep lost her sheep. I never finished it, and the contest had ended, but I had fun with it, turning Little Bo Peep into a modern-day story of teen motherhood.

MLT: Tell us about the title.
WAY: Society offers a lot of quick-fix remedies—drugs, sex, religion, even violence—but none ever really fixes our problems. The book takes you through the downward spiral that can come from that sort of desperate and naïve thinking.

MLT: Is Ethan you in disguise?

WAY: Ethan is a lot like me. He’s very private, slightly tortured, confused, lost, alienated, angry, happy and sad at the same time. Really, he’s one big ball of torrent emotions. He’s got a good heart and he wants everyone to be happy, but the pressure on him causes him to cave in and shut down every so often.

MLT: Are the characters modeled after real-life people?

WAY: Frank is my favorite character—but he’s nothing like my dad, for which he’ll probably breathe a sigh of relief. Ethan’s other two friends are loosely based on two of my friends, though I can’t say who. Ethan’s aunt is like one of my aunts, and Prof. Robert Carson is loosely based on my junior-year English teacher at EA, Robert Bishop. Deliver Us is dedicated to him.

MLT: Any warning labels?

WAY: Ethan’s conflict with the angel—the center ring for the religious issues in the book—directly corresponds to my own questions about Christianity. There’s drug use, along with violence, sex and a few curse words. It’s pretty depressing and dark, even a little gothic, like Wuthering Heights. But just because I’m a teenager doesn’t mean the book solely focuses on teenage issues. The adults, too, face serious moral issues.

MLT: What does this quick, successful start mean for you?
WAY: My friends joke about being on Oprah. I laugh, but in my head I’m thinking, “What if that actually happens?” When I saw the cover for the first time and read my name underneath the title, it was surreal. I’m on Amazon.com and Borders.com. People I don’t know might even buy my book. I’ve finally found something I really like doing. I never thought I’d find it this early—or at all. I guess you could say that I’ve been delivered.

MLT: Does your experience at EA fit into the book?
WAY:
The school Ethan goes to is loosely based on Episcopal, in how its goal is to create young leaders, but also how it’s focused on upholding its prestigious image.
 

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MLT: What more can you say about your former English teacher, Robert Bishop?
WAY:
Besides being one of the nicest and gentle-hearted men that I’ve ever met, he truly taught me what English was about—the expression of ideas and conveying of opinions that make writing such a beautiful art. I felt like he truly believed in me, and that was so encouraging to have at a young age.

MLT: Do kids your age still read? Do they write?
WAY:
Besides this one girl I know who writes fantastic short stories, kids don’t read or write nowadays. It’s a shame. It gets me angry sometimes when I ask someone what books they like and they’ll sarcastically respond, “I don’t know how to read.” Why degrade yourself? Kids today are embarrassed about being smart, and it’s a travesty. There’s nothing wrong with taking interest in something other people might perceive as nerdy.

MLT: Others your age are playing video games or getting into trouble, how did you find the time and focus to write a novel?
WAY:
I have a wild imagination that’s always churning. The book just flew out of me really. I sat down for about 30 minutes, thought out the basic plot, main characters, and moral implications and messages. Then I just went to work.

MLT: What has the publication process been like? What’s been the most unnerving aspect?
WAY:
It’s been a rollercoaster—that’s for sure. When I first started this, I thought to myself, “There is no way I’m going to finish this, I just don’t have the motivation or the discipline.” I’m just really proud of it—the story, the way it’s written, the characters, everything.

MLT: What was your motivation behind publishing your product?
WAY:
I wanted to share it with everyone, but not to show off and say, “I’m better than you because I wrote a book.” That’s not true. I’m publishing it because I want to share a piece of myself with everyone. I want people to engage their minds in something that I think gets the gears turning a bit. Who knows—maybe it will inspire someone else to write a book.

MLT: Is there pressure now for a sequel?
WAY:
I’m already starting to lightly work on another project. Here’s the idea: Paul McGuire is a 45-year-old mail boy at Pendington Publishing Company. He’s recently divorced and has a son who is 21 and lives in New Hampshire. Paul lives in Pennsylvania. The only thing he was allowed to keep from his divorce were the home videos he’d recorded during the years his family was still together, and now they serve as his only reminder to his past life.

MLT: Do you have a title yet?
WAY:
It’s going to be called Home Videos, and it’s told in the first person. The book is to serve as Paul’s journal. He has aspirations to become a writer, and hopes that Pendington will publish his journal. It’s like a collection of short stories that flow into a bigger story. I’ve already written a few of them. He talks about his childhood, the videos, his divorce, his son, his discontent with his job and his separation from his family.

MLT: Is your success and progress as an author a fluke?
WAY:
I don’t think it’s a fluke because I seem to have plenty of stories in my head. For the current project, I know that I have a large marketing phase of the process upcoming and I’m excited to get out there and promote it. This is all just a dream to me right now, and I don’t want the ride to ever stop.
 

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