Rick Yancy's YA lit a hit


Local author Rick Yancey, who grew up in Lakeland and now lives in Gainesville, won a Florida Book Awards gold medal for his book, “The Final Descent,” which came out last September.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 12:43 p.m.

In 1888, an orphan in a spooky corner of New England becomes an assistant to a doctor with a unique predilection: monster hunting. Their adventures reach a crescendo with the discovery of a baby Anthropophagus — a headless monster that feeds through a mouth in its chest.

Want to hear more? Legions of readers do. The scenario described above drives the four books in "The Monstrumologist" series by author Rick Yancey, who lives in Gainesville.

The series' climactic book, "The Final Descent," recently won the gold medal in young-adult fiction in the 2013 Florida Book Awards competition. Another of Yancey's books, "The Fifth Wave," recently captured a Red House Children's Book Award, a prize in the United Kingdom determined by the votes of young readers.

In just over a decade as a full-time writer, Yancey, 51, has become successful enough to have a series of novels carried by two major publishers: "The Monstrumologist" series by Simon & Schuster and "The 5th Wave" series by Penguin Random House.

"I'm incredibly blessed to be able make a living at it; so few writers can," Yancey said. "There is a very tiny percentage that are able to earn their bread writing. I'm gratified to be in that small percentage."

Justin Chanda, vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Younger Readers, said the publisher is happy to have Yancey on its roster.

"Rick Yancey repeatedly redefined the boundaries of YA horror and YA literature," Chanda said. "And each time he did, critics and readers rejoiced."

Yancey grew up in Lakeland, where his father, the late Quillian Yancey, was a state senator and state attorney. Yancey's brother, James Yancey, is a judge in Florida's Tenth Judicial Circuit Court based in Bartow.

Yancey said he aspired to be a writer from an early age. He composed his first short story as a seventh-grader and completed his first manuscript at age 16. He said he drew encouragement from one of his teachers at Lakeland High School, the late Hazel Haley, who taught at the school for 67 years.

He recalled hearing Haley read Shakespeare's "Macbeth" to his class, impersonating all of the characters in the tragedy.

"I already loved books at that point in high school, but she just deepened my appreciation for literature and the written art," Yancey said.

Yancey earned a degree in English from Roosevelt University in Chicago and spent 12 years working for the Internal Revenue Service in Lakeland and Tennessee. He chose southern Polk County as the setting for his first novel, "A Burning in Homeland," published in 2003. He described the book as Southern Gothic in the vein of Flannery O'Connor.

Next came a nonfiction work, "Confessions of a Tax Collector," published by HarperCollins and lauded by The Boston Sunday Globe as "better than most novels on the bestseller lists." That book launched Yancey into a career as a full-time author.

Wanting to be back in his native state, Yancey, who is married and has three sons, ages 17, 22 and 28, moved his family from Tennessee to Gainesville in 2005.

Since dedicating himself fully to writing, Yancey has developed four series: "The Highly Effective Detective," "The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp," "The 5th Wave" and "The Monstrumologist."

"The Highly Effective Detective," a series of four books for adult readers, features the comedic adventures of a bumbling private detective, Teddy Ruzak. The three books in the "Alfred Kropp" series for middle-grade readers center on a teenager thrust into adventures involving Excalibur, the sword of the legendary King Arthur.

"The 5th Wave," published last year, is a post-apocalyptic tale of a girl fleeing a merciless band of alien invaders. A reviewer in USA Today called the book "a modern sci-fi masterpiece." "The Infinite Sea," the second book of a planned trilogy, is due for publication in September.

Yancey said "The 5th Wave" has been optioned by Material Pictures, actor Tobey Maguire's production company, for a film adaptation.

The first book in "The Monstrumologist" series appeared in 2010, with another novel published in each subsequent year. The books are presented as the recollections of the titular doctor's assistant, Will Henry, in old age.

Yancey described the series this way: "Take Sherlock Holmes, mix in a little bit of Charles Dickens, throw in some Mary Shelley and you've pretty much got it."

"The Final Descent," which came out last September, generated positive reviews and the Florida Book Awards gold medal.

Amid the acclaim, some fans seem bothered by the grimness of the book's plot. Yancey, describing the series as a tragedy, said he tried more hopeful endings but realized the only fitting conclusion was a dark one.

"I think some readers have come to the final book expecting or hoping everything will be wrapped up in a nice, neat little bow and everything will turn out OK somehow," Yancey said. "I think they know from the very beginning it's been going down a path toward the final descent. So they may feel a little bit, not betrayed, but [they have] that sinking feeling you get right before a bad accident."

Yancey said he has traveled extensively to promote "The 5th Wave," which has been published in 33 countries.

"Young adult readers become so emotionally invested in the book series — you see that, I think, ever since 'Harry Potter,' 'Twilight,' 'The Hunger Games' and now 'Divergent' — it becomes a social media phenomenon," Yancey said. "And publishers understand that the reading community for young adult literature is fierce and passionate and wants to interact with the creators of these books, so you do quite a bit of traveling and social media work."

In fact, Yancey receives so much reader feedback that he recently hired an assistant to help manage his email, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

"That's a good problem to have," he said.

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