Having spent his teen years immersed in comic books, Barry Lyga worked for a decade as marketing manager at Diamond Comic Distributors before publishing his first novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin) in 2006.
Fanboy and Goth Girl received two starred reviews and made the School Library Journal‘s 2006 Best Books list. Lyga is the author many books in different genres, including, Boy Toy (2007), Hero-Type (2008), Goth Girl Rising (2009) and Mangaman (2011, all Houghton Harcourt), and is currently hard at work on the sequel to his thriller, I Hunt Killers(Little, Brown, 2012).
Lyga, who lives in New York City, is a guest speaker at SLJ‘s August 9 online event, SummerTeen: A Celebration of Young Adult Books. If you’ve signed up for SummerTeen, make sure to gather your teens to hear Lyga speak on the “Alternate Formats: New Approaches to Teen Fiction” panel from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Registration is still open.
SLJ spoke to Lyga about what how he started writing for teens, his view of librarians, and how his books have possibly saved lives.
What do you like best about writing for teens?
BL: The enthusiasm and passion of the audience. Teens are at an age where a good book—or just the right book at the right time—can still dramatically change their opinions, their visions of themselves and the world, and their futures. Adults are pretty much set. Very few adults radically change their lives in adulthood. But teens are still amorphous, still in progress, so a book can still set them off on an entirely different course. That’s a pretty amazing thing to contemplate. I don’t write books with the intention of changing a teen’s life, but just knowing that it’s possible is phenomenal.
So what’s one of the most moving things someone has said after reading one of your books?
BL: Quite simply, this: “I was going to kill myself, but then I read your book and decided not to.”
How’d you end up writing your first YA novel?
BL: Sheer accident. I had written a couple of adult novels that I didn’t sell and friends kept telling me that all of the characters in them acted like teenagers, even though they were intended to be adults. This made me decide to try my hand at a YA novel. I got about three pages into The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl when everything just clicked for me and I knew that this was what I was supposed to be writing all along.
How valuable are librarians at getting the word out about your work?
BL: Enormously so! I write for an audience that doesn’t always have a great deal of disposable income, so the ability to read my books for free at the library is a gigantic benefit. And librarians—in my experience—are the best people in the world at performing that invaluable service of noticing what a kid is reading and saying to him/her: “Hey, if you liked that, I bet you’d like this…and this…and this…”
You sometimes write about sensitive topics. Do you ever worry about your books being censored or challenged?
BL: I wouldn’t say I “worry” about it. I think about it sometimes. It crosses my mind. But it never affects the writing itself. It can’t. You can’t write a story while trying to please some invisible, unknowable army of hypocrites who will never, ever be happy with what you write in the first place. There’s just no winning that game. So you write the story you want to see out there in the world, and if someone challenges it or yanks it off a bookshelf, you go and you fight the good fight. But to write a book trying to avoid a challenge or censorship… that’s ceding your authorial voice and your very soul to the forces of, well, blatant idiocy. Who would want to do that?
What are you working on now?
BL: I’m working on the sequel to my thriller, I Hunt Killers. I’m also working on a couple of other things. I always have multiple projects on shuffle—but nothing I can talk about yet.
Other SLJ SummerTeen Interviews: