Monday, 16 December 2013

YA Crime Report: GUEST POST – Barry Lyga

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 , and I urge you to check out both Game and I Hunt Killers – info about both books is available here and specifically for Game, here

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

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.

Xx Ellie

Monday, 2 December 2013

Sandpaper your way to Christmas CHEER

I’m going to give some stuff away today, but first, I have to tell you that I got sick last week.

I got sinusitis.  Have you had this disease?  A friend – a previous sufferer – and me were discussing that it should have a more appropriate name.  Because ‘sinusitis’ seems like a really bland, innocuous name for the thing we both had.

We made a short list of potential names that we could submit to the medical fraternity to replace the harmless-sounding ‘sinusitis’ moniker – names like ‘Imminently Exploding Head Disease’, or ‘My Eyeballs are Hurting Now Career’, or maybe ‘Extreme Facial Agony Syndrome’. 

Yeah, that was what I had.  I confess that, when I finally dragged myself to the doctor, I cried in the doctor’s office.  I was like, ‘Please don’t send me home with nothing!  This can’t be normal!’, which was kind of embarrassing but also fruitful.  I was given strong painkillers and antibiotics, and my husband was surprised that actually, yes, there appeared to be something genuinely wrong with me (because rolling around groaning is not, in our house, sufficient indication that there’s a problem).

So I took the painkillers and antibiotics, and then…  Wow.  Just wow.  I’d been in pain for days, and now it was gone.  I had not experienced that before, outside of childbirth.  I think I laughed a little in the car on the way home, because it felt so amazing, and I was so relieved to be a person again (and the pain killers were a little spacey, yeah?).

I can’t say there are many things that throw writing completely out of my head.  But this was definitely one of them.  And since I got sick, and now in recovery mode, I haven’t had a chance to do any writing.  In fact, that’s okay.  It’s meant I’ve had a whole week of not setting my alarm for an early morning – actually, it’s meant a whole lot of not doing anything at all.  And I am okay with that.  I think, for the moment, recuperating is enough.

Because earlier this year I read a great article by Isobelle Carmody in The Victorian Writer*, about how you have to be quite exposed to write.  Carmody expressed it a great deal more beautifully than me, but basically she said you have to be out of your comfort zone – you have to open yourself up, and be vulnerable.  She described it as ‘having that safe smoothness rubbed off how you live your life’.  She felt that generally people work towards giving themselves a comfortable life, that most of the time we walk around really unconsciously, not really seeing or hearing or experiencing things, especially the every day things.

But you can’t do that if you want to write.  You can’t be unnoticing – or maybe you can be, but you’ll make rather dull writing.  We are all, Carmody said, normally looking for ways to be comfortable, but writers have to seek outside their comfort zone, where ‘everything hurts and everything feels scary’.  She referred to it in terms of letting life sandpaper its way over you, so you’re open and unsafe.  And you have to have a certain amount of mental stamina to do that, to allow yourself to be open like that.

Last week I got sandpapered all to hell.  I’ll remember that, but now it’s time to absorb and recuperate, and then I might be able to draw on that experience when I return to my writing (in a few days – a week is a long time for me not to be working).  I’ll also be able to build myself back up for the next sandpapering, and the next.  If I want to keep writing, and not burn myself out, I need to have that store of mental and emotional stamina.  It’s something I’m constantly striving for – sometimes I feel like I have it, and other times I just feel exhausted.  I just try to take it easy and remember that this is a long haul process.

So – recuperating!  Yay.  Recuperating, at this stage, seems to involve a lot of napping and reading.  I mean, I’m still doing all the usual household things that you do within your family, and to keep the house running, but in between those things I’m napping and reading.  Which is great – that’s a recuperation strategy I can totally get behind, you know?  And Christmas is coming, which I’d almost forgotten about until now, when it’s a month before Christmas and I haven’t bought anything for anybody.  So my plan is to recuperate, prepare for Christmas, and then cheer, because we got through this amazing year.

Would you like an early Christmas pressie?  As I’ve been so slack with preparations this year, on account of books launching and so on, I was surprised to discover that I have actually got a special pressie for those of you who read the blog.

Here it is – it’s the very last of my Every Breath launch packs.  A poster, a t-shirt, and a signed copy of the book.  Voila! (wow, I feel so organised!)

If you’d like to win this prize pack, then put your name in the hat.  I don’t really do the rafflecopter thing, so I’m just going to ask people who would like to enter to either: 1) Comment here on the blog, or 2) Comment on my Facebook page, or 3) send me a Tweet @elliemarney.  That’s it – just do one of those three things, with your name (your first name or Twitterhandle is fine), and then in 2 weeks, when I put up a new blogpost, I’ll draw somebody’s name out of the hat, and you might be the winner!

So – in my weakened state *cough*, that it is for today.  Although it would be remiss of me not to mention that Every Breath features in the December issue of Dolly magazine, and has been getting lots of lovely new reviews…so now I’ve mentioned it.  Next blog post, I’ll draw the winner of the Every Breath prize pack, and also interview a cool new YA Crime author.  Until then, enjoy what’s been (for us) a late start to summer, with plenty of rain and not too many baking-hot days just yet.  Take care, don’t get sinusitis, see you next time J

And now it’s time for my nap.

Xx Ellie

* The article is called ‘Fish Hook in my Heart’ from April 2013 and I recommend you look it up, it’s a ripper.