Young Adult Fiction: A Conversation with Lamar Giles

By Lyzzie Golliher


Lamar Giles writes novels and short stories for teens and adults. He is the author of the 2015 Edgar Award Nominee Fake ID, the 2016 Edgar Award Nominee Endangered, and Overturned from Scholastic Press. He is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books and resides in Virginia wit hhis wife. Check him out online at or follow @LRGiles on Twitter.

LYG: What YA (and other) books inspired you to become a writer?

LG: I was inspired by a little bit of everything growing up. From Spider-Man comics, to Dr. Seuss (HORTON HEARS A WHO!, in particular), the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and so on. The book that made me get serious and really want to pursue writing was IT by Stephen King. I couldn’t understand how a guy could arrange words on a page in a way that caused me to feel physical fear. It felt like magic, and I wanted to know how to do that trick.

LYG: What made you choose YA over the other genres? Do you ever write/publish non-YA works?

LG: It was more like YA chose me. I started my career wanting to be a horror writer, and my first published works—short stories—were geared toward adults. I never could quite crack the barrier when it came to selling an adult novel. While I struggled in the trenches, I began to hear this term that hadn’t really been around when I was a kid…”Young Adult”. Most people seemed to be making the term synonymous with the Harry Potter and Twilight books. The way I heard other adults speak about it—particularly other writers—it sounded limited. And, depending on who you spoke to, degrading. Something for lesser writers. That didn’t feel right to me, so I looked into it myself, and discovered FANTASTIC writers doing amazing things. Some of my favorites include Neal Shusterman and Walter Dean Myers. Once I started reading those great YA books, I felt inspired and decided to give it a shot. That resulted in my novel FAKE ID, which I sold to HarperCollins in 2011. So, while I’ve been publishing YA exclusively over the last few years, I do hope to write something for an older audience one day.

LYG: What do you think is the most challenging part of your writing process? How do you get past it?

LG: Ha! The most challenging part is getting going in the morning. After I eat breakfast with my wife and see her off to work, I always have the sense that some important task—like dusting all the closet shelves, or painting the baseboard in the guest bedroom—must be done before anything else. Life as we know it depends on it! You know what that is, though? The persistent fear that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m going to sit down and fail. So, I feel like every morning I have to really force myself to stop procrastinating and remind myself that I feel that everyday, and I do it anyway. Once I’m at my desk, and get that first paragraph out of the way, I’m golden.

LYG: What do you think is the hardest step in between finishing your novel and getting it published?

LG: Letting it go. First drafts are hard, revisions are hard, but the hardest thing is clicking SEND on that copy you’re never going to touch again. There’s nothing to do at that point. Doesn’t matter if you get the most brilliant idea for a change, it’s gone. You, and the world, will have to live with it as is.

LYG: When you’re writing, do you often draw ideas out of your own life and experiences, or do you prefer to stick purely to fictitious events?

LG: Mostly it’s fiction, but I think you almost have to draw SOMETHING from yourself. Maybe not a one-for-one depiction, necessarily. Often, particularly when trying to find some emotional truth, I think back on a situation that would’ve made me feel what the character should be feeling, so that’s when life experiences really play heavy in the work.

LYG: What would you recommend to help more introverted authors advertise themselves and their work?

LG: The truth is I’m still trying to figure this out myself. Everyone says social media, right? So, maybe that. I think if you go that route, you have to find the platform that works best for you (I like Twitter a lot), and if you can’t figure out a way to be the driver of a conversation, jump into someone else’s (with something positive, mind you). Do that over and over again, and pretty soon, people will begin to recognize you and what you do.

LYG: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you feel like you have enough time to pursue your other interests?

LG: I spend time with my wife. Usually we’re watching movies, exploring our town, or trying to get some exercise. I could make more time to pursue other interests, but lately I’ve been juggling several writing projects so it becomes a situation where that personal interest gets pushed to a single day every other week. And that’s okay. This is the job I wanted, so I’m okay with it keeping me busy.

LYG: How great an influence do you think current events (politics, natural disasters, etc.) have on your writing?

LG: Consciously? Not a ton. I try to avoid writing things based on hot topics because I feel like a lot of writers are doing that. Since we’re all drawing from the same well, I feel it produces a glut of similar stories that have a decreased chance of standing out. Subconsciously, there’s probably still stuff making it through the filter that I don’t recognize because I think we’re all affected by current events. The tension gets in your DNA. And it’s going to show, at least a little, in those pieces of you that make it onto the page.

LYG: If you could, what would you change in the writing industry to make it more commonplace to see popular published works by people of color?

LG: I’d want there to be more diverse people deciding what makes it onto the shelves at major bookstores, or onto the front page of major online retailers. Because there are tons of books published by people of color, but if you walk into a major bookseller, or a big box store that also sells books, you’ll have a hard time finding more than a couple. It’s a discoverability issue among major retailers.

This is an area where I think Independent Booksellers shine, though. Most Indies I’ve encountered go out of their way to keep diverse books on the shelves, and recommend them to shoppers. So, while I’d like to see the discoverability increase in major stores, I’d also say it’s best to spend your dollars at your local Indie because they’re probably already doing great things in terms of visibility for diverse books.

LYG: What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?

LG: Meeting readers who say my books have made some significant difference in their lives. You can’t make yourself famous, or a bestseller, or rich in this business. You can put all you have into each of those books. When you meet a reader who sees that, and connects to it—sometimes in ways you can’t imagine—it makes all the hard stuff in this business worth it.

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