TEEN THURSDAY: Barry Lyga Writes His Life

Barry Lyga is the author of a bevy of Young Adult novels, including Goth Girl Rising (now available in gorgeous violet-lipped paperback). He was generous enough to stop by and tell us why he can't really write a guest blog... Here's Barry:

When Melissa was kind enough to ask me to guest-blog on The Contemps (and do you realize how easy it is to mis-type that as “The Contempts???”), she included a list of possible topics. A very good move on her part because otherwise my tendency towards paralysis through analysis would have stymied me on this particular assignment, as I spent days and weeks and months agonizing over what topic to discuss. (She was also wise enough to supply a deadline. She knows me well!)

Melissa’s suggestions were uniformly great. In fact, I’d like to share them with you:

Tell us about the worst day of your young adult life.
I like this one a lot. I had many “worst” days in my young adult life, but one in particular really stands out and would be a juicy story...

Tell us about the best day of your young adult life.
Heh. If I’m being honest, talking about this one would make me look sort of smug and petty, in retrospect, but “best” is “best,” right?

Tell us about your first kiss.
A tale as goofy as you would imagine coming from a geek like me...

Tell us about your favorite HS teacher.
I love this one — I usually make out teachers as dolts, idiots, and just plain useless in my books, but there were a few (and one in particular) I really admired in high school, and it’s way past time for me to pay proper homage.

Tell us about one book you remember reading as a young adult and why you think it's stuck with you.
Oh, wow, this one is so good. It really gets to the core of how and why I write.

Now, you may have noticed something: I commented on all of Melissa’s ideas, but I didn’t actually answer any of them.

That’s because I realized, as I sat down to work on one, then the next, then the next, that in each case, I would most likely someday write a book about each of these. Or build a scene around one or more. Or use one of them to influence the building and development of an important character.

This goes beyond, “All writing is autobiographical to a degree.” See, when you write, say, fantasy, you still infuse autobiographical elements, but they’re disguised and morphed to such a degree that their provenance is largely lost. Same goes for other varieties of paranormal and horror and historical and sci-fi and dystopian.

But when you write contemporary, realistic fiction… Well, in those cases, your influences, your autobiographical elements, and your personal anecdotes end up flapping free and naked in the breeze. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hanging out with a new acquaintance and casually mentioned something from my childhood, only to have this person — this person I just met! — say, “Oh, yeah, I knew that. I read your book.”

It’s weird. It’s discomfiting. It’s undeniably cool, too, but yeah, it’s also weird and discomfiting.

(True story: First question people asked after Boy Toy came out — “So, uh, um, er… Did this happen to you?” Answer: Nope. But people assume.)

And it works the other way, too. If you tell the world (in an interview, in an article, in a review, in a — ahem! — guest blog) something about yourself and then use it in a book, a little piece of the magic goes away. What might have been affecting or heart-warming or surprising is now predictable. “Oh, I had a feeling it would turn out that way — that’s how it happened in real life, after all.”

So as much as I really wanted to tell you guys the story of my first kiss or the story of my best day in high school, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s not that I mind sharing those pieces of my past and my soul — it’s just that I feel like I need to guard them jealously until that day when I decide to exploit them.

Revealing our deepest and darkest (and brightest, too!) secrets to the world at large with little in the way of disguise or armor is one of the hazards of writing the kinds of stories we contemporary writers write.

But knowing that these small moments of our lives can be illuminating for others... is one of its joys.

Thank you, Barry! I agree. I really save my personal life stories for, um, my books.

Have you ever read a book and wondered if the experience came from the author's real life?


Claire Dawn said...

lol. I wonder all the time if authors are writing from experience. Is Stephanie Meyer's husband a vampire, for example, just kidding.

Micol Ostow said...

Yay for Barry! Also, I do love that violet lipstick on the GOTH GIRL cover.

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...

Yes, yes, yes! So many of those uh, "memorable" (mostly embarrassing) moments from my teenage years make it into my stories. I always worry people will guess how much truth there is to some of these things, but then think, oh well...it happens to everyone. I just chose to relive them and share them with everyone and showcase just how awkward and clueless I was...uh, there's a prize for this, right??? Right???

erica and christy said...

Man, I love that cover each and every time I see it pop up on the blogosphere.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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