This week, we’re with Barry Lyga, author of Hero-Type (Houghton Mifflin, 9/2008). He talks to us about writing for at least three to four hours every day, why he thinks book publishing is more akin to magic than business, loving fan mail, and why his agent thought he was disappointed when he got “the call.”
1) What is your typical writing day like?
Very, very boring! I wake up at the same time, eat breakfast while checking some news sites. Then I write for three or four hours. I take a break at around noon, check e-mail, then usually exercise and eat lunch. After that, it depends on the day I’m having and how deep into the project I am. I’ll either spend the rest of the day reading and researching, or I’ll go back to it and write for a few more hours.
2) Do you ever have “dark days,” when you just like throwing in the towel when it comes to writing? What are your coping mechanisms?
Not really. I used to have those days a lot when I was trying to break in, but I’ve published enough books now that I feel like this is what I’m meant to do. Sure, I have days where the writing doesn’t come easily, or where the writing seems to suck pretty bad, but I never feel like throwing in the towel. I just push through it.
3) What is the biggest surprise you’ve experienced when it comes to book publishing?
From a business perspective, I would say the biggest surprise is how book publishing sometimes seems more akin to religion or magic than to business. That’s not anyone’s fault – it’s just that success and failure are dictated by a morass of unpredictable occurrences that all intertwine and feed back on each other. So even the most educated guesses are really just guesses in the end. There are a lot of smart people in publishing, but at the end of the day, their brains are almost insignificant compared to the caprice and whim of the mass audience.
From a personal perspective: Fan mail! I never really thought about fan mail, and now I get it regularly and that’s just way cool.
4) Why do you write YA?
Because when you’re a teenager, no one takes you seriously. No one respects you. No one listens. I wanted to write books for those kids. I wanted to tell stories that respected that audience, that said, “Yeah, I know what you’re going through and I take it just as seriously as you do.” All too often, the adult response to a teen problem is, “Don’t worry – it’ll all work out.” And even if that’s true, it’s the last thing in the world a teen wants to hear, so I wanted to tell stories that show how it could work out, rather than just dismissing it entirely.
5) Authors talk about “the call.” Usually, it has to deal with getting an agent or getting published or getting an accolade. What was the best “call” you ever received in terms of your writing, and how did it go down?
Without a doubt, that would be the call from my agent telling me I had my first book deal. I knew it was coming – three publishers had expressed an interest in the first book, so I knew SOMEONE would end up buying it. But I didn’t know who, and I didn’t know any details.
Then, one afternoon, my agent called me. She was whispering. Turns out she was on vacation in Japan and it was two in the morning there, so she was whispering to keep from waking up the other people in the hotel where she was staying. (It was a traditional hotel, with rice paper walls – very thin!) She told me that she had sold not only the first book, but also the second one! I was beyond ecstatic. I was so shocked I didn’t say anything at all and she thought I was disappointed for some reason!
For more Barry, visit his site.