Monday, December 15, 2014

2nd Annual Diversity Month Day 16: Author Interview w/ Barry Lyga+Kindle Fire 6" and Book Giveaway!

Okay, okay, okay!So this next author a part of our series is someone we've tried to catch up with for a while and we're so happy to have FINALLY gotten a chance to interview him. 

For those of you like us who have a penchant for...unorthodox themes or topics in YA, you might already know Barry Lyga. He's not out there writing about skin that glitters in the sunlight or predictable love triangles, instead he chose a risque theme to center off his successful Jasper Dent books:

Serial Killers

So for those of you that don't know him, get to know him. You won't regret it when you do!
It's hard to say you need an introduction because we rave so much about you on our blog, but to the sad few that aren't familiar with you or your writing, what's there to know about Barry Lyga, the author?

I sort of feel like the most honest answer to that question is “Nothing.” I mean, I’m not terribly interesting and I don’t really think there’s anything people should or need to know about me, as opposed to my work. I guess they should know that I’ve written a bunch of books other than the I HUNT KILLERS series. You can see ‘em all at Jasper Dent Series, Pure Brilliance! How long did it take to come up with the initial idea and why in a category that dishes out trends of love triangles and vampires, did you choose to write about serial killers?

 The initial idea took almost no time at all. One night at dinner, my editor made a remark about me writing a teen serial killer book. I sort of shrugged it off and didn’t think of it at all, but a few hours later, I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking, “His father is a serial killer!” And, honestly, ninety percent of the story just dropped into place in that moment.
Which, in a way, answers the second part of your question, too — I didn’t specifically sit down and think to myself, “Hmm, what can I do that is different from what’s already on the market?” The idea and the story came first, and it was only much, much later that I realized how different this book would be. I think writing a story either to cater to or to disrupt the market or the trend is sort of a fool’s errand. The market and the reading public move faster than publishing, so by the time you’ve written your book, your target has already moved. I just write the stories I want to tell and then cross my fingers and hope that people will like them! Sometimes I hit the target, sometimes I don’t.

The Jasper Dent series is not marketed as a diverse title per say, but we discovered it from a blogger who mentioned how diverse it was. Was it your intention to include diverse narratives in a genre that doesn't usually offer that much inclusion from the very start?

Yeah, it was intentional, but probably not for the reasons people assume. It’s not like I looked around at the landscape of YA in 2009 (when I began writing the series) and thought, “Oh, I should add in some diverse content so that I’ll stand out.” The diversity was just there from the beginning. I always want my books to feel like they take place in the real world, and since the time when I was a kid, one area where we’ve made progress, I think, is in interracial relationships.

 I mean, when I was a kid, it was this rare, rare thing, and I remember people being very dismissive and cruel to people in such relationships. And today’s teenagers don’t even blink at it. It’s awesome and I love it, and my thinking wasn’t “I will have an interracial relationship so that there is racial parity in my book and so that people will applaud my progressive thinking,” but rather the vastly simpler, “Today’s teens live in a world in which these relationships are totally cool, so I will reflect that.”

And then I noticed that there’s a weird racial component to serial killers — they tend to “hunt” within their own racial groups. So, whites kill whites and black kill blacks, and so on. And I knew that Billy would be different, but in the same moment, I realized that since Jazz’s girlfriend was black and Billy had never killed an African American… Wow! I realized that this would add a whole layer of disturbing complexity to Jazz and Connie’s relationship. Because Jazz would be wondering, “Do I actually love her, or am I just with her because I think it’s safe to be with her, as opposed to someone I might be ‘programmed’ to kill?”

And then I realized further that so much of race relations in the U.S. has to do with dehumanizing “the other,” convincing ourselves that “all black people are X” and “all white people are Y” or what-have-you. Which is totally what serial killers do to their victims. And suddenly what began as a reflection of reality became really ingrained into the central themes of the series. Everything just sort of dovetailed perfectly, and when that happens, I can never tell if it’s a coincidence, or if there’s just a really, really smart, subtle part of my subconscious at work!

So umm because you know too many of our trade secrets, a few of us fan girls gotta know, are you a Sista on the low, A black guy with a Full Blown vitiligo or just an extensive researcher? The research involved with Connie was spot on and on point, there's like no way you didn't have some kind of help along the way.

(Unless you didn't and in that case that's even more rad!)

First of all: How awesome would it be if I were secretly a black dude? You guys could totally run an exposé on me. Now you have me remembering this cool old episode of Law & Order, where this guy had light enough skin that he spent his whole life passing as a white guy, and no one ever suspected…until his wife had a baby and it was black!

But, no. Sadly, I am a standard-issue white guy. And believe it or not, I didn’t really have any help on Connie or any of the other characters who don’t look like I do. It was all thinking and research. In retrospect, I probably could have saved myself a lot of time and stress if I’d just called up some friends and asked some questions! But I’m something of a hermit and my attitude is “Why bother someone else if I can figure it out myself?” So with Connie, specifically, I just sort of thought, “OK, let’s say I’m a black, teenaged girl. What’s going on in my life?” And I ran with it.

 Same with Hughes or Howie. Same, honestly, with Billy. “OK, let’s say I’m a lifelong serial killer. What’s going on in my life?” And I just went with what made the most sense to me. It’s really about paying attention to the world around you. I mean, you’d have to be an idiot not to know that Connie is going to see the world differently from me or from Jazz. Once you know that, you say to yourself, “OK, in what way or ways is it different for her? And how does she react?”

I was writing the second book in the series when Trayvon Martin was killed, and my first reaction was as a middle-aged white guy — “This is tragic” — and then I reacted like Connie and I was like, “What about my kid brother?” And the author in me went, “Oh. Oh, right.” Because to Barry Lyga, the Trayvon Martin story could be abstracted into “We as a society allow this to keep happening,” but to Connie, it’s damn personal. Because she has a brother who’s going to look like Trayvon in a couple of years. And that’s how everything clicks for me when I write someone who’s different than I am. Less tragically, we can look at Connie’s hair, which is something I’ve been praised for. 

And really, hair is such a weird thing for me because I’ve been going bald since my late twenties, so hair isn’t anything I’ve spent any amount of time thinking about for the past decade or so. And I’m always caught off-guard when people actually care about their hair because it’s just this alien thing to me.

But I decided Connie would have her hair in braids and I don’t even know why. I probably saw a woman with her hair like that when I was walking down the street and my brain filed it away. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it’s just that when I thought of Connie, that’s what she looked like. OK, fine.

I don’t know anything about hair, period, since I have almost none! But I’ve picked up little tidbits here and there over the years, things my writer brain just notes and flags for later use. So I knew Connie’s commandment — Thou shalt not touch thy African-American girlfriend’s hair — right off the bat. 
 And then I had another of those weird bifurcated moments. I was walking down the street in Brooklyn, and there were something like four or five stores in a row that had window signs advertising “African Hair Products.” And I’d never really noticed them before because to a white dude — a BALDING white dude! — those signs might as well say, “Not for you.” But I clicked into Connie and I was like, “Damn, she would LOVE this! This is all for her.” And I spent a bunch of time thinking about hair and researching it, and I learned a lot and I think I was able to flesh her out even more for that knowledge.

Whew! That was a long answer!

Let's talk about the inclusion of Jasper's best friend, Howie. He was a total scene stealer and hilarious but we think the thing that most stood out to us was that he lived with a disability, Hemophilia. Characters with disabilities don't receive a lot of representation in YA novels or many novels for that matter. What went into deciding that Howie would be a Hemophiliac? originally began as a very crass, very insensitive joke. The idea was that no kid in town would be friends with Jazz, but Howie wasn’t afraid to be because he knew that his hemophilia made him too easy a target. It would be no challenge to kill him, so Howie figured that made him safe. And that was my thinking going into it. It was incredibly insensitive, but teens aren’t exactly renowned for sensitivity, so I thought it fit.

And then I wrote the first scene between them and I was like, “Oh, wow. No. I was wrong. That’s not it at all.” I realized that their relationship wasn’t based on a joke at all. It was based on Howie being this constant reminder to Jazz of the fragility of human beings. It wasn’t that Howie hung out with Jazz because he wasn’t afraid of him — it’s that he hung out with Jazz to humanize him. And Jazz knew this on some level and even though a part of him thought he should push Howie away for Howie’s own safety, his desire to be human caused him to cling to Howie nonetheless.

So, again, as with Connie, my inclusion of Howie was intentional, but not because I wanted to have a disabled character in the book. I wanted Howie in the book, and Howie has hemophilia.

Please consider buying his short story Blood Boy. It centers on Howie, who lives life with Hemophilia and ALL his profits for this book will be donated to the Adam Lynch Award, a scholarship established by the Hemophilia Association of New York, check it out here.

And you know I have to ask about Dear Old Dad. How scary was it to get in the mind of a serial killer? Do you think you'll write a short story inside of Billy Dent's head?

You know, it’s the same process, regardless of who I'm writing. When I write Jazz, I try to purge as much Barry from my system as possible and think like Jazz as honesty as possible. And when I write Billy, I jettison my own morality and upbringing and allow myself to wallow in Billy. The result is that it isn’t scary at all! 

Sometimes I freak people out when I say it, but it doesn’t creep me out at all to write Billy because when I write him, I AM him, for all intents and purposes. And Billy doesn’t think there’s anything wrong or scary about himself. So I just happily sit at my computer and pretend I’m a crazed sociopath and write. A friend once asked me, “So, if it doesn’t scare you to think like Billy, does it scare you that it doesn’t scare you?” And it really doesn’t. I guess I was born without a soul!

As to a Billy short story: Yeah, some day. I thought it would be this year, but then my daughter was born and very selfishly began demanding my time and attention. Probably next year. With all your success from this and your other books, what do you think is next for Barry Lyga? Are there any topics you're dying to play with in your next project?

My next book will be out in August 2015. It’s titled AFTER THE RED RAIN and it’s a collaboration with Peter Facinelli (yes, THAT Peter Facinelli!) and Rob DeFranco. It’s very different from my other work: sci-fi, post-apocalyptic with a bizarre twist. I hope people give it a shot and enjoy it.

I also have a novel coming out in early 2016 that I can’t say much about, but I will say that those who are looking for diversity in their novels will find much to enjoy in it!

Where can readers go to discover where to learn more about your current and upcoming projects as well as all things Barry Lyga?

BL: I’m at,,, and on Twitter: @barrylyga. 
Of course, the aforementioned newborn baby keeps me offline a lot!

*About Barry Lyga*

Barry Lyga is a recovering comic book geek. According to Kirkus, he's also a "YA rebel-author." Somehow, the two just don't seem to go together to him.

Be sure to check out our giveaway too! What could be better than books or a Kindle Fire to get you started on your ebook needs!


  1. Asdfghjkl!
    *heavy fangirl breathing*

  2. @Kayti , right though? He was awesome right?


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