The other day I was casting around for suggestions about who we should have to visit on the YA Crime Report, and while a couple of people sprang to mind, I secretly knew who I really wanted to interview. This is someone whose work I’ve read and admired, and who I think is genuinely pushing the envelope in writing for YA. Someone whose books gave me serious chills and thrills – think Silence of the Lambs kind – and whose new releases I always keep an eye out for.
I didn’t think I could actually just cold-call this author and ask them for an interview. But, as Barry Lyga kindly pointed out, I totally could. This kind of generosity completely blows me away, I have to say, because y’know, authors are busy people.
So I’m rapt to be introducing this week’s blog visitor. Barry Lyga has a pretty incredible resume of achievements – he graduated from Yale with a degree in English, then worked in the comic book industry for a good long while before throwing it in to write his first YA book The Amazing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. Since then he’s published Boy Toy, Hero Type, and the keenly-awaited sequel to Fanboy, Goth Girl Rising, as well as a middle grade series called Arch-Villain. He’s even ventured back into comic book territory with Wolverine: Worst Day Ever and Manga Man, and released an adult novel, Unsoul’d, as an e-book, and somehow managed to keep putting up heaps of cool stuff on his blog.
So clearly, he’s already the mash-up-genre-and-audience master. But it’s his books in the Jasper Dent series that have me really excited. I read I Hunt Killers earlier this year, after hanging out for it for a while (you know how long it takes us to get some books here in the Antipodes…well, grr is all I can say to that). I Hunt Killers is the first episode in the story of Jasper ‘Jazz’ Dent, who suffers from a serious case of Daddy Issues. With his haemophiliac best friend, Howie, and kick-arse girlfriend, Connie, in tow, Jazz embarks on a desperate search for a murderer haunting the streets of his hometown, Lobo’s Nod.
But in Jazz’s case, nothing is at it seems. Because how do you deal with murder if you’re the son of Billy Dent, one of the world’s worst serial killers?
The whole thing is an amazing ride, and an extraordinary hook for a story. Jazz seems to be always walking a very fine line between determined investigation and creepy obsession, and he spends a lot of time worrying about whether he’s turning into a monster – another version of his old man. At its most fundamental, Jazz’s story seems to be about what it means to be human, to try to be a good person, against pretty staggering odds. The next part of Jazz’s story has just been revealed, with the recent release of Game, set in New York.
So I won’t give any more clues away, just ask you to please put your hands together and excuse my fan-girlish squee. He’s been called a ‘YA rebel author’ by Kirkus Review, but I am just going to call him a cool guy for agreeing to this interview by some random person from a country far away… I’m stoked to welcome Barry Lyga to the YA Crime Report!!
(I always think of Kermit doing these introductions, with the wide open mouth and the waving green hands…)
Hi Barry, how’s things going over your neck of the woods?
Busy, busy, and busy! I have a slew of things in the hopper right now, including — of course — the final book in the I HUNT KILLERS trilogy, and my collaboration with Peter Facinelli and Rob DeFranco. And my e-published adults-only novel, UNSOUL’D. And other things that haven’t been announced yet.
Now last time I saw you, you were being interviewed by a toucan plushie, which has to count as a unique experience. Could you tell us something that nobody knows about Barry Lyga thus far?
Yeah, that interview was…different. I’m not sure what there is about me that people don’t know at this point. I’m pretty boring, really, so there aren’t any amazing hidden stories about me. I mean, my wife recently wrote about our wedding on Huffington Post’s Weddings blog — short of being chased by paparazzi, I feel like I live a fairly public life, certainly more public than I’d like.
Congrats on your wedding! So do teenagers make good detectives? And how do you give them agency, and make their involvement believable, in a situation where adults seem to have all the authority?
99.9999% of teenagers probably make shitty detectives. And Jazz isn’t really a detective, per se. He’s more a scattershot profiler and budding crime scene guy. And as the books prove, he’s fairly good at it, but he has a lot to learn.
As to providing agency and making it believable… Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, the way Kafka says, “Oh, by the way, Gregor Samsa is a cockroach now — just trust me.” But also… Look, if you really read the books, you’ll see that I actually go to great pains to explain how all of this can be happening. I mean, in the first book alone, the cops specifically forbid Jazz from getting involved until the third act, when they’re so desperate that they — shock! horror! — let him look at some files and visit a crime scene. It’s hardly on the level of them deputizing him and giving him a sidearm, right? It’s a move made out of fear and despair, and I think a lot of things are credible in that context.
Can you tell us a little bit about Game, without giving too much away or freaking us the heck out? And is it a complex thing, creating a criminal investigation from scratch and putting the clues and red herrings and psychology of it all together?
GAME is sort of my way of saying, “Remember how scary and bloody the first book was? Yeah, that was me playing nice.” You have to ramp things up in the second book, otherwise people think you’re going soft on them. :) I wanted to take the characters out of their comfort zones and put them into ever-worsening situations. GAME forces Jazz into a new position, a new city, and in new straits. Connie and Howie get more face-time, but they also learn that just because you caught one serial killer doesn’t make it any easier the second time…
And as to creating the investigation — God, yes, it’s tough! Deciding what order to reveal what facts, figuring out how to pace the revelations… It’s difficult because ideally you don’t want the reader to know anything for sure until the moment he or she reads it. It’s OK if people suspect something, but even then… My preference is for the reader to be completely shocked and caught off-guard at every turn. But that’s a nearly impossible goal, so at the very least you want them uncertain.
Excuse me for getting deep here, but another author – I think it might have been Ian McEwan – once said that ‘Sadism, and the inability to empathize with others, is a failure of the imagination’. Do you think that’s accurate, in relation to a character like Billy Dent?
You know, I’m not entirely sure. It SOUNDS good, right? If you can’t imagine what it’s like to be someone else, you won’t have much empathy for them and that can easily lead to doing horrible things to them. But it seems — to an armchair philosopher like yours truly — just as reasonable to assume the opposite, that an inability to empathize kills the imaginative process that would allow you to at least PRETEND to care.
Some of the info you use in the series, about mass murderers and their methods, is way creepy – I was both pleased that you didn’t make Jazz’s story ‘serial killer lite’ and amazed you got it past your editor! Clearly, gore and horror are not as shocking to teenagers as some people might think, but was some of that stuff a hard sell?
Not really. I toned down a couple of things, but honestly, that’s like saying I mopped up a few drops out of a gallon. It’s a bloody, dark, intense, disturbing series and the publisher is behind it all the way.
Do you have a favourite crime author?
There are many I admire, but one of my favorites for so long is the inimitable, late, lamented Ed McBain. Such an amazing writer.
What about when you get brain-strain – how do you recharge your batteries?
When I figure that out, I’ll you know!
Barry, you’ve been an incredibly gracious guest! Thanks for coming on the YA Crime Report, and all the best for your writing!
If you’d like to catch up with Barry Lyga, which I recommend you do, the best place is at his website here http://barrylyga.com/ , and I urge you to check out both Game and I Hunt Killers – info about both books is available here http://barrylyga.com/novels/ and specifically for Game, here http://barrylyga.com/novels/game/
You can buy the books where all good books are sold, or hit the links for online sales at the bottom of the page here http://barrylyga.com/novels/
Okay, I’m gonna stop squeeing...phew J Now the next thing I promised was the draw for the giveaway…
So…the Every Breath giveaway prize pack has been won by…………Catherine W from Goodreads!! Yay – good on you, Catherine! Please get in touch with me (elliemarney[at]gmail[dot]com) to forward your details so I can send on your book+poster+t-shirt.
I’m also really chuffed to mention that Every Breath won the 2013 People’s Choice award for children’s and YA over at Allen & Unwin – which is a lovely way of saying that my publisher is excited about the book, and that makes me pretty happy.
The copyedits for Every Word, the second book, are happening over the next few months, so that’s really thrilling, to see the book finally start to take shape. I’m a big fan of editing, and I know this book is going to be gorgeous by the time me and Sophie are finished with it. Wow, the publication is coming up fast… I’m doing the Kermit thing again, at the idea of showing it to you J
And the first draft of Every Move is nearly complete! First draft stage is always kind of amazing and excruciating, but now I’m on the home strait, and I can see what the book is going to be like at the end. That always spurs you on, that feeling of being so close, and getting a clearer picture of where you’re going to take it all. Just like everybody else, I often have no idea of where the characters are headed when I first start writing – what, you thought I had a master plan? Heh heh…well actually, um, no – but now Rachel and Mycroft are really directed. It always makes the writing easier, when your characters give you some clues about what they’re up to…
Finally, I’d like to say thanks to everybody who sent good wishes for my health after the last post. The sinusitis is long gone now, thank god, and I’m a whole lot better, but reading peoples’ messages helped lift me out of the gloom. I sincerely hope you’re all healthy, and not going too crazy with seasonal madness – it’s a busy time, so stay sane! – and good luck with all your holiday plans and Christmas shopping. I recommend books as presents – books are extremely easy to wrap J
That’s it. I’ll try to put up one last post before Christmas, with the traditional list of recs, and then I’m going to sign off for a couple of weeks while I go camping with my family – ‘the family that camps together…’ yeah, etcetera!
Take care, all the best for the season, and see you soon.