Ten Questions About Unsoul’d, By Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga has a hit YA series on his hands — I Hunt Killers — and so it’s interesting to see that when he had an adult novel ready to roll he juked left and decided to publish it himself (becoming one of them “hybrid authors” they grow in labs in the Pacific Northwest). Here is is to talk about the book:

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?

I’m just a guy who writes shit, and for some reason people — actually, big corporations — are crazy enough to pay me. Which is nuts because I’d pretty much do it for dark chocolate M&Ms and health insurance.

Before doing what I do now, I spent ten years working in the comic book industry, occasionally writing comics, mostly trying to get the public to remember that comic books still existed. Now — thanks to the movies — friggin’ Iron Man is a billion-dollar franchise. I’m going to take some of the credit for that, even though I absolutely do not deserve it. But let’s see how powerful the reach is of Terrible Minds. Let’s see if we can get the culture to believe I’m responsible for Iron Man. It’ll be an interesting test of virality and meme theory.

GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:

Randall Banner — depressed, frustrated author — sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a hit book. Hilarity, horror, and sex ensue.

WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?

I love “deal with the devil” stories, but I’ve always felt like they fall into certain patterns. They become redemption stories or cautionary tales. For years, I imagined telling the story of a Faustian bargain that turns those notions on their heads. A story where the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, seem clear, but really aren’t, and where the devil gets all the best lines. And with a twist at the end that changes everything that has come before.

I mean, I carried this thing around in my head for something like a decade, maybe more. And finally I said, “Fuck it, I need it out of my head and out in the world where it can bother people.”

HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?

Hmm. Unlikeable main character? Cynical worldview? Don’t give a fuck if all the “right people” approve of it or not? Radically different than anything else I’ve written? Takes shots at my industry and my profession?

Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, I have this bizarre, misunderstood empathy for bad people. Not necessarily evil people, mind you — just bad people. People who don’t get along. People who are outcasts, usually due to some personal failing to which they’re blind. I get these people. I don’t know what that says about me, but there it is. I get them and I can’t stop writing about them. And really, truly: I believe there are things we can learn from them. Not every character has to be boyfriend or girlfriend material. Sometimes we learn as much from the people we hate as we do from the people we admire.

WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING UNSOUL’D?

Other than finding the time to do it in between all the other stuff I’m writing? Probably the concern that some people would completely misinterpret crucial aspects of the book, leading to the usual call for my head. But at some point you just have to say, “Hey, not every book is for every reader.” My career has been a crazy-quilt of different genres, different age groups, different topics, different styles and voices… If people don’t dig this one, maybe they’ll dig the next one. I write for myself, really, and I’m so damn lucky that there are enough people out there who are similar to me that I can make it a career!

WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING UNSOUL’D?

That writing sex can be exciting and depressing at the same time. That the guy you thought was “you” in the story sometimes turns out to be someone else. That everyone you speak to — upon hearing the soul-for-hit-book premise of the novel — will feel obligated to say, “So is that what you did?” Oh, and that my fianceé is the single coolest person in the world because she still loved me after reading this thing.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT UNSOUL’D?

I love the sheer id of it, man. It’s about a guy who sells his soul for the pettiest of reasons, really, and the whole book is a wallow in creature comforts, self-pity, and sex. With no apologies. If you were the sort of person who would sell your soul in the first place, you wouldn’t be all that nice or all that pleasant, I figure, and I wanted to be honest about that. So Randall is just the kind of guy who would sell his soul, get everything he ever wanted, and still bitch about it.

I get that people identify more with characters who are like them or who are likable, but I think there’s real value in exploring people who aren’t quite so gooey at their centers. Like I said before, I think we can learn things from examining the sad, pathetic bastards of the world.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?

I think I’m still too close to it to have the perspective necessary to answer that, honestly. With every book I write, I look back at some point and think, “Oh, crap, I missed X, Y, or Z.” Sometimes it’s little things and I just want to tweak a sentence or a bit of dialogue. On one occasion, there an entire book I wish I could just rewrite from scratch.

But for me, I always need some emotional and temporal distance before I can get to that point. And Unsoul’d is still too fresh for me. I’m still in love with it. It’s still our first night together. I haven’t woken up next to it and smelled its terrible hangover breath yet.

GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:

Oh, man… I don’t even… I don’t know where to start! I’m tempted to say the opening of the book is my favorite paragraph because I think it just sets up the story to absolute perfection. I’ve always been hypercritical of my openings, but this one time, I think I nailed it. And almost every time the devil opens his mouth, I love what comes out of it.

That said, I can tell you the paragraph that made me giggle like a demented schoolboy when I wrote it. It’s not just a paragraph, though: It’s a single sentence that stands alone, and it’s actually an entire chapter unto itself:

“I have no words.”

Trust me: In context, it’s a killer. 😉

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?

I’m still cranking away on the I Hunt Killers series, wrapping up revisions on the third and final book. And there’s a middle-grade dark sci-fi-ish sort of thing bubbling up right now. I’ll probably write an epic fantasy after that because this is how my brain works.

Barry Lyga: Website / Twitter

Unsoul’d: Read First Half For Free / Buy Here

6 comments

  • Barry, I Kindled to my tablet yesterday and come evening, on our deck, overlooking about 22 thousand acres of MN wildlife refuge, think back-yard deer, Sandhill cranes dancing in the pastures, coyotes yipping in the woods, Great Horns even deeper, hooting, yet in the midst of all this wildness, my head is in the big city with your protag and laughing my ass off. Finally my partner asks, what ARE you reading?

    Plainly, not done yet, but here’s the question: Chuck intro’d you as with a hit YA series. Umm, help me here. You or anyone else who like to opine this question. Where IS the line in the sand re language and sex in YA? Seems the map is wild spotty, between chaste kisses to down and dirty.

    I’ve been grudgingly restraining myself in my current WIP, but after Unsoul’d, am questioning said restraint!

  • Hi, morgynstarz,

    Yep, Chuck intro’d me as a YA author, but also stated that UNSOUL’D is my first novel for adults. So, if you’re asking me about sex-in-YA because of UNSOUL’D, well… 🙂

    But if you’re just asking because I’m generally a YA guy, my answer is “I dunno.” Like you say: It’s all over the map, and a big part of it depends on your subject, the quality of your writing, and the tolerance and support of your editor. My book BOY TOY was loaded with sex between a 12-year-old boy and his 24-year-old teacher, for example, and everyone was OK with it because of the context. YMMV.

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