Lamar Giles | Writer with a Purpose

Lamar Giles is an author, speaker, and founding member of We Need Diverse Books (weneeddiversebooks.org), a non-profit dedicated to changing the face of publishing. His love of stories and storytelling began at an early age in his hometown of Hopewell, Virginia. After graduating from Hopewell High School in 1997, he attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. It was at ODU where he decided to pursue writing as a career, making his first professional short story sale at the age of 21.
 
Lamar Giles Pic
From there his work was featured in the DARK DREAMS anthology from Kensington Publishing, he was honored with a fellowship from the Virginia Commission of the Arts, and was a Top 10 finalist in the ScifiNow/TorUK International War of the Words Competition. His debut Young Adult novel, FAKE ID, sold to HarperCollins in 2011, and since its publication in 2014 has gained national acclaim. Among the many accolades are a 2015 Edgar® Award nomination from the Mystery Writers of America, and inclusion on the Virginia State Reading Association’s 2015-2016 Readers Choice List.
 
Lamar has spoken and taught at a number of middle schools, high schools, and for prestigious conferences and organizations like Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Virginia Children’s Book Festival, BookExpo America, and his work has been featured on NPR, CNN, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Flavorwire, Mother Nature Network, etc. 
 
Charles Clark: Thanks Lamar for taking out the time to do this interview!
 
Lamar Giles:  Charles thank you for asking. 
 
CC: Who is Lamar Giles?
 
LG: Lamar Giles is a puppy lover, comic book geek, lapsed gym rat, aspiring LEGO Master builder, horror film critic (I only want to give positive reviews), diversity champion, veteran gamer. Oh, I also write stuff.
 
CC: What/who influence you to become a writer?
 
LG: All sorts of stuff. Comic books (I loved the pictures even before I learned to read), Dr. Seuss, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the Scholastic Book Fair. Then, perhaps above all, the novel IT by Stephen King. I read that brick of a book when I was 11, and it made me want to do what he did, because that book was magical. I haven't looked back since. 
 
CC:  You haven’t confined yourself to one genre of writing.  Is that so you wouldn’t be put in a box?
 
LG: Not exactly. It's not so much about being put in a box--because if we think of "the box" as publishing in general, it's a box I very much wanted to be in for many, many years. I broke into Big Publishing with YA Thrillers, and that's pretty much what my editors want from me at this time. I'm okay with being in that box because I enjoy those stories. I also enjoy other stories, and that's what leads me to write in a lot of different genres. Sometimes an idea comes to me and it's about sorcerors in WWII. Sometimes I want to write about a family dealing with the death of their soft drink magnate patriarch. Everything I want to say doesn't fit in YA Thrillers. So, it's not about anyone else putting me in a box, it's about ME not limiting myself to ONE box. If that makes sense. 
 
CC: Last year you published FAKE ID with much success.  Was there any trepidation about your second book ENDANGERED?
 
LG: Sure, there was a ton of anxiety for me when it came to ENDANGERED. Readers loved Nick Pearson, the hero of FAKE ID. Panda was not him. So there was fear of disappointing my readers, fear of messing up the female perspective. Fear of just going in the absolute wrong direction and being booted from the industry. I'm feeling that same fear with my current projects, and I have to do what I've always done...write regardless. What's become clear to me is the fear never goes away, and I suspect most writers feel it to some degree, whether it's the second or twenty-second novel. We must write on.
 
CC: Both books are for the Young Adult market. Was this always apart of your plan?
 
LG: Yes, there's definitely a plan there. It's one of many, though. I have plans to write adult fiction, and fiction for an even younger audience than YA. I have plans to write comics, and things for the screen. It is my sincere hope that I can write a variety of things through all of the years I'm allowed here on earth. The longer I'm here, then the more things I plan to do.
 
Giles BooksCC: FAKE ID & ENDANGERED main protagonist are dealing with issues  of bullying, self-identity, integrity, and more. Did you draw from personal experiences or your view from of teenage issue of the day?
 
LG: A little of both. I'd say for each of those issues--with the exception of bullying, I was fortunate enough to not have dealt with that sort of torment--I'm able to draw on some personal experience. There's no one-for-one in any of the books, nothing drawn from my life exactly. I think memory is fuzzy and biased. But, emotions tend to remain static throughout generations (people will always have crushes, people will always feel slighted) and I find drawing on those feelings helps me view the issues I see teens going through today in a more enlightened manner, and I try to bring that to page in a current and relatable way.
 
CC: ENDANGERED main character is a girl, any hesitation writing from a female perspective?
 
LG: There was some hesitation. Not so much in the sense of writing a female, though. More because I wasn't writing  Nick Pearson again. The thing about writing from the female perspective, that I think is key, is never to write something that's meant to be a thesis on girls. Nothing I write should be considered a definitive breakdown of  "this is what girls do".  What I tried to do was make Panda act the way PANDA acts. "This is what Panda does."  
In addition, I had the benefit of have all female beta-readers (my wife, my agent, my editors). So, I had help...which I'm so thankful for. 
 
CC: What advice would you give writers just starting out?
 
LG: Write a bunch of short stories, and practice finishing them. You'll learn the basics of telling a story from beginning to end faster by writing short stories (you could conceivably write dozens of short stories in the same time it takes you to write a single novel). And practicing finishing--as opposed to starting a story, hitting a rough patch, and abandoning the story to start a new one-- will serve you well once you sell work, and the person you sold it to wants more. I'm not saying you should never abandon a story, but you should finish more than you abandon.
 
CC: What continues to motivate you as a writer?
 
LG: It's fun. It's relaxing. It's satisfying.
Now, I'll be honest, when you're facing down a deadline and things aren't coming together to your satisfaction, it's not AS relaxing...haha.
 
But, it's still the best job I've ever had, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. That being said, being a writer means you write stuff. You'd be surprised how many people think being a writer is about touring, and conferences, and parties. There's some of that, for sure. But it should happen after you've filled some pages.
                                                                                                                                            
CC: Why do you feel that is such a low percentage of books with people of color as the main character?
 
LG: Traditionally, Ships turn slowly, and publishing is an old ship that's been going in the same direction for a long time. So, you've had decades of propagating a self-fulfilling prophecy. People keep saying books with heroes who aren't white/straight/cis/able bodied don't sell. Few of those books are acquired and/or published, so few sell. Then someone says, "See, the books we rarely publish and never promote don't sell! Do not deviate course!" 
 
That's where we are. With every single diverse book fighting for its life, trying to gain visibility when 10 to 20 of the same (non-diverse) authors get huge pushes from their publishers, making them perennial bestsellers, and, again fulfilling that horrible prophecy. 
But, there is hope...
 
CC: Is there anything we can do to change it?
 
LG: I'm glad you asked. There's a ton of stuff that can be done. The best thing is for readers to stay vocal when they discover a great author who isn't getting the attention they deserve. You gotta talk that author up, tell your friends and if they don't buy the books, get them copies for their birthday. Tell influential people about those authors. If you cross paths with your town's mayor, or your cousin who works in Hollywood, or your dentist who's also a member of his kid's PTA, you have to tell them about the authors you love, so they can fall in love (and spread the word, too).
 
Also, there's are organizations actively working to increase awareness of diverse books. I'm a founding member of We Need Diverse Books (weneeddiversebooks.org) and we sponsor internship programs, give grants, and we will start giving literary awards that will help change the face of publishing. 
 
Get active in SOMETHING; because the thing that doesn't work is complaining about it, but doing nothing else.
 
CC: What’s next for Lamar Giles?
 
LG:  I'm up against two looming deadlines right now. First, is my book for Scholastic Press, OVERTURNED, about a Teen Card Shark in Las Vegas who must solve her father's murder, and the untitled followup for FAKE ID, which I'm writing (and LOVING) right now...I so missed Nick, Reya, and the rest of Stepton's residents. 
Last modified onTuesday, 19 January 2016 20:44
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