Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Interview with the Talented Barry Lyga of Fanboy and Goth Girl Fame!
I was reading on your blog that you spent 2010 doing a no YA or Middle school reading challenge for yourself. What were the 5 books you were the most eager to pick up once January rolled around?
Off the top of my head and in no particular order: WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON; WHITE CAT; THE CABINET OF WONDERS; THE DEADLY SISTER; and THE NIGHTMARYS.
You also mentioned Libba Bray’s Going Bovine was your last read for 2009, and she mentioned that you were one of the folks who provided “muffins and treats and company” after her double fractured elbow, Bigfoot fall recently. Has being a part of such a talented YA writing community helped you with your writing?
Hmm. Has it helped with my writing? I would assume so, though that’s really a tough thing to quantify. There’s really no way to say, “If I hadn’t been in this community of writers, this book or that book would have sucked.” I might THINK it’s a better book now, but there’s no way to know that for sure.
I think where the community is best for me is in the commiseration and general camaraderie. It’s great to be able to bemoan a difficult plot point or a character bit that Just Won’t Work, and have people who understand because they’ve been there, too.
What was the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Without a doubt that every writer has a million bad words to write before he or she can produce anything worthwhile. I used that advice to kick off my blog series on Writing Advice: A Million Bad Words
I’ve read that you didn’t find it particularly hard to write from a girl’s perspective because it was Kyra, and you knew her. Was there anything you did find challenging about writing about a Goth Girl with suicidal tendencies?
People don’t seem to believe it, but… No. Not really. It was just incredibly easy and liberating and fulfilling to write from Kyra’s point of view. Someone asked me, “Do you have an angsty 16-year-old girl living inside you?” and the only honest answer is, “I guess so!”
You’ve said that The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is very autobiographical. Was there anything the two of you shared, but Fanboy got the outcome you wished you’d had at his age?
Oh, yes! Definitely! He got to kiss Dina, after all, and I never got to kiss either of the two girls I based Dina on. Plus, he had Kyra in his life, and I never had anyone like her.
Was your worry about sequels why you approached Goth Girl Rising from Kyra’s perspective instead of continuing with Fanboys?
No, not really. That makes it sound like I planned to do a sequel first and then tried to figure out how to make it not suck. But the fact is that the idea for doing Kyra’s story from her perspective is what made me want to do the sequel at all. The idea came before the decision to commit. If I’d never started “channeling” Kyra, I never would have written the sequel. No matter how much people demanded one.
Did writing and working in comics end up being all you dreamed it would be when you were growing up? What was your favorite part, and the part you liked the least?
Not...really. I did very little writing, and what little I did just wasn’t that good. I was a very young, very new comic book writer, and the stories I wanted to tell just didn’t jibe with the sensibilities of the publisher and the artists. The result was a mess. I feel MUCH better about my new graphic novel collaboration with Colleen Doran, which will be on shelves in November. I’ve learned a lot about how to write comics in the past several years, and Colleen and I are totally on the same page (no pun intended!).
Working on the business end of comics was very frustrating because even though I love comics, it’s still a business, with all the crazy corporate nonsense that the word “business” implies. So I was really hamstrung as to a lot of the ideas I wanted to execute.
The least favorite part was just the 9-5 drudgery of it all. My favorite part, without a doubt, was ramping up Free Comic Book Day and building that event into a global success. Lots of hard work, but lots of fun!
I love how Cal crossed cliques in Brookdale, being both a comic geek and an athlete. Was he based on anyone you knew?
Yeah, Cal was based on a guy I went to high school with. To this day, he threatens to sue me for royalties. :)
What does the average writing day for Barry Lyga look like? Do you have a routine or a schedule you adhere too?
It’s pretty boring, honestly. Wake up. Breakfast. Write for a few hours. Gym, then lunch. Then more writing and/or research. It’s not the most exciting day, but I love it.
You mention you have another 3 or 4 books you’d like to write set in Brookdale. Will any of them be about characters already mentioned in, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, Goth Girl Rising, Hero Type or Boy Toy?
Oh, definitely! Otherwise, there would be no reason to set them in Brookdale! At this point, it’s just a matter of finding the time to do them.
You’ve dealt with a lot of difficult topics in your books so far. Is that something you’ve set out to do or just something you fall into? Do you do a lot of research before writing about something like sexual abuse or suicide or do you try to let your characters deal with it as seems right to them?
No, I don’t set out to tackle difficult topics ― it’s just that the characters have lives that seem to intersect with these things. I think good books start with character, not with a theme or a topic or (heaven forbid) an issue. Usually, I begin with something like, “I wonder what it would be like to be one of those kids who has an affair with a teacher?” And then I just play out the logical and emotional ramifications from the character’s perspective.
As to research: It really depends. With BOY TOY, for example, I did all kinds of research, only to find that what I had already planned to write was pretty accurate anyway! So all of that research ― while interesting ― was sort of a waste. I usually do some sort of research, but I don’t let myself be bound by it. For the upcoming I HUNT KILLERS, I had to do a lot of research on serial killer pathology and forensics, and in that case I really had to stick to the research because, well, blood only clots and spatters in certain ways! You can’t just make that stuff up. But a kid recovering from abuse? A girl struggling with suicide? There are as many ways to deal with and describe those issues as there people on the planet, and they’re all equally valid.
One of my favorite moments in Goth Girl Rising is Kyra’s confrontation with Miss Powell. Kyra’s theories about sexuality and feminism are so refreshing in a genre full of pretty girls or girls worrying about being pretty, was that something you set out to do with her? Or just something that evolved as it went?
Aw, thanks! I really like that moment. My rule for Kyra is that she pretty much will always choose confrontation, no matter what the situation is. Which means that she’s constantly learning and evolving because any time someone says something to her, she immediately stakes out the opposing viewpoint...and then she has to figure out what that means!
Kyra evolved a lot during the writing of that book. Originally, it was just her story, but it sort of turned into a meditation on what it’s like to be a teenage girl today. (Because who knows better than a guy in his thirties, right???) I really wanted Kyra to be the one who’s constantly saying, “All of this stuff you believe? WHY do you believe it? How do you know it’s true?” And that became a part of her thinking on sex, sexuality, and feminism ― questioning the prevailing orthodoxies and challenging everyone (herself included) to look for deeper meaning and deeper truths.
Make sure to check out Barry's schedule if you're in NYC this week for the Teen Authors Festival. And if you haven't already, pick up one of his stellar books and get on the Barry Lyga fan bandwagon.