Archvillain Contest Winners!

This week, I ran a contest to give away some early copies of ARCHVILLAIN. These aren’t bound ARCs or galley copies — these are actual copies of the book, which won’t be in stores for another week or so.
Lots of people entered, here on, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Ultimately, as always, the winners were the ones who managed to strike my fancy or catch my attention in a particular way. In no particular order, they are:
“a.a.,” who said: “a power i would like to have is to be able to transform into an object i see or want to be.
That way i could help people and experience things differently. I think it would be awesome!”
Scott Pollack:
Ho, ho…you are truly evil, my friend. Only ONE power? How can one choose? tempting, but all too common. Invulnerability…too greedy. Plus, what if it goes out of control and nobody can touch me? Super Speed? Nah. I’m just starting to jog a few times a week…let’s not ruin it, eh?

So how about the ability to elicit pheromones from my body. That way I could make people laugh more, thus feeling better about life and themselves. I could frequent hospitals and nursing homes, adding to their quality of life. Plus, it would be a great classroom management tool for my sixth graders!

There you go. Pheromone control that could make people laugh.

Thanks for making me think Mr. Lyga!
I think it was the idea of controlling a sixth-grade classroom that got me…
Nate Wilson, who nailed the absurdity of superpowers with: “I would want the power to hurl a yak into space using only my mind. I admit it’s not the most practical power, but since when do villains need to be practical? Just think of the fear and despair I could inflict upon the yak-loving public.”
Julia Walter, who thought it through, pointing out, “I would want to be able to shut off my superpower…”
Superpowers mess people up. A lot. Telepaths can become insufferable and lose their humanity. See Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series and Alfred Bester and the Psi Corps in “Babylon 5.” Superman, Batman, Spiderman all have problems of intimacy and letting people get to know them. They are lonely, as is Wolverine, Remy Chandler (Thomas Sniegoski’s fallen angel), Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher’s very human wizard gumshoe in Chicago). So if I had a superpower I’d want the ability to control it so it didn’t make me less than human.

I think I’d want to be an empath/ healer.
And last but not least, from Facebook, Christy Beaver:
I would love to have the power to pass along knowledge/information to others with just a touch. So many conflicts, arguments, etc. are because of a misunderstanding. I wouldn’t want the power to change actual opinions, just be able to explain my side of something without the risk of messing up the words. Couples could hire me to share their perspectives with each other. Plus, I’d be Super Librarian with the ability to answer reference questions like no other! 🙂
Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who entered!

Archvillain Reviews Are In!

It’s still a couple of weeks yet before Archvillain officially hits bookshelves, but reviews from the usual sources have begun to trickle in. Here’s what I have so far…

  • “Kyle is a far cry from a sympathetic character… But he plays the antihero part with comic aplomb, and Lyga displays a nice grasp of superhero tropes (especially the gadgetry, with radiation- dampening antennas, brain-wave manipulators, and the ilk) that middle-grade boys should flock to with much enthusiasm.” — Booklist
  • “…the whole is good, snide fun.” — Kirkus
  • “Who is the good guy and who is really the archvillain? Tune in next time….” — School Library Journal
  • “Comic book fans in particular will appreciate this clever origin story, first in a new series…. Lyga (Goth Girl Rising) laces his story with ample humor, from the persnickety AI sidekick Kyle makes from his iPod to his failed Pants Laser prank. Readers will find plenty to ponder, from guessing Mike’s true motivations to debating whether Kyle is a hero–or a villain in the making.” — Publishers Weekly

You can read the full reviews here. Contribute your own (or links to your own) in the comments below, if you like!

Archvillain Contest!

Archvillain officially hits store shelves on October 1, but I have some copies in my hot little hands right now. And I want to give them to you!

All you have to do is comment below and answer this question:

What one superpower would you like to have…and why?

At the end of the week, I’ll pick five winners and they will get signed copies of the book. Simple, right?

Go to it!

(The contest is over, but to see the original comments and entries, click here.)

Writing Life #17: Hamlet Was a Douchebag

I’m back!

Sorry I was absent for so long. As I indicated previously, I recently took a long-overdue vacation. But right before I left, I got sick, so some blogging stuff went undone. And when I returned, my internet service decided to play hide-and-seek, and it’s only been about 24 hours since I’ve had a reliable connection. Hence the absence.

But now I’m back, to thrill or bore you with more tales of the Writing Life!

Every now and then, I think about character likability. Specifically, the likability of the protagonist. I have occasionally been dinged in reviews and comments for writing protagonists who are not “likable.” In fact, the very first blog review for my very first book savaged The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl because Fanboy was unlikable. Notably, this person did not say that the book was bad, just that he/she couldn’t enjoy it because he/she didn’t like Fanboy.

Now, tastes are different and I don’t harsh on anyone if they genuinely don’t enjoy a book. This isn’t about me settling a score. Many of my fellow YA authors have lamented the same phenomenon, so I’m not just talking about myself or my work.

I am, however, talking about being puzzled.

Puzzled because… Really? Does the likability of the protagonist matter so much? I mean, yeah, I get that all things being equal, we’d generally rather read about pleasant people. But I can’t think of any time in my life when I’ve read a book and thought, “Wow, that book sucked because I didn’t like the main character.”

“That book sucked because the main character was boring?” — Sure.

“That book sucked because the writing was terrible?” — Sure.

“That book sucked because the main character was inconsistent/unconvincing/ill-suited to the tale?” — Sure and sure and sure.

But what matters to me as a reader (and as a writer) is that the main character is well-written and interesting, not that he or she is “likable.” (I vote for Presidents the same way. We had eight years to see what happens when people vote for the likable guy.)

Likability, of course, is a spectrum disorder (for lack of a better term). Fanboy to some people is a whiny, obnoxious, self-absorbed brat. To others, he’s a put-upon, wounded, insecure and tormented victim.

Kyra is a tough, take-no-prisoners empowered girl to some. To others, she’s a stone-cold bitch with no redeeming qualities.

Kyle Camden (from my upcoming Archvillain) is arrogant and cruel. Or maybe he’s just too smart for his own good, in a world where people don’t often look beyond surfaces.

As you can see, I have no problem ascribing negative traits to my own characters. I acknowledge that they’re there, and while I obviously come down on the side of “these characters are worthwhile” (else why write about them?), I can see how some people would be turned off by them.

And yet, I still wonder: If you’re turned off by a character, does that really mean the story’s bad? Maybe the author just did a really good job writing about an unpleasant person. And maybe that’s an opportunity to read about and learn about a kind of person we usually don’t usually get insight into.

Not everyone had a gooey center. Not everyone has a heart of gold. There are people in the world who are angry and defensive and arrogant; sometimes they have good reasons for it. Sometimes they don’t. But they usually believe that they do, and sometimes we can learn from their pain, even if it’s only to learn, “I don’t want to be that way.”

Sure, Kyra’s a stone-cold bitch for most of Goth Girl Rising. By the end of the book, she has matured tremendously. If she’d started out mature…there wouldn’t be a story. There’d be no point to writing it. Characters have to evolve if fiction is going to mean anything.

I don’t care if a character is likable or not. I just want to be entertained and — maybe — educated by that character.

The notion that a protagonist is unlikable and, hence, unworthy isn’t a new one. It even prompted YA rock band Tiger Beat to pen and perform an original song with the continuing refrain, “Holden Caulfield is not an asshole.”

It’s a terrific song, with an infectious beat (and spoiler-laden lyrics), but I beg to differ: Holden was an asshole. Not always, but often. And you know what? That’s OK. Because even when Holden was an asshole, I was still captivated by him and his journey.

That’s what matters: Being captivated.

Hamlet was, as the title of this blog indicates, a douchebag. There’s no two ways about it. Critics have argued for centuries over Hamlet’s state of mind — is he insane or merely too crafty for his own good? — but I think that even a charitable reading of the play shows that regardless of his mental hygiene, he’s pretty much a dick. And yet people read and perform and watch that play all the time. Why? Because Hamlet is mesmerizing. He’s fascinating to watch, even when he’s being a dick to his friends, even when he’s screwing over Ophelia, even when he’s arranging for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (whom he could have merely exiled).

Hamlet: Unlikable. How many people say that ruined the play for them?

Similarly, let’s talk about a hero of mine from childhood: Luke Skywalker.

Thanks to Luke Skywalker, I can peg almost exactly when I began to develop my notion that likability was not necessary in a protagonist. It dates to 1980, when I was eight years old, watching The Empire Strikes Back in the movie theater with my father.

There’s a moment where Luke is training with Yoda on Dagobah. He attempts to use the Force to levitate his downed X-Wing fighter from the muck of a Dagobah swamp, but fails, claiming the fighter is too large. When Yoda chides him for lack of faith, Luke snarls, “You want the impossible” and stomps off into the swamps to sulk.

I was enrapt by this scene, and then my father interrupted, murmuring as though to himself, “Luke has a lousy attitude.”

I was shocked! How on earth could my father say such a thing? Luke was the hero! And since he was the hero, that meant he was always right…right?

Moments later, Yoda levitated the X-Wing with minimal effort, to the amazement of Luke Skywalker and eight-year-old Barry Lyga, and I began to realize: Just because Luke was the hero, didn’t mean he was always right.

Furthermore, just because Luke was the hero didn’t mean he always had to be pleasant. He could have — in my dad’s words — a lousy attitude.

This realization led me to a new appreciation of the movies and the character. When I re-watched Star Wars, I saw Luke’s dangerously callow attitude early on. His whining about not being hang out with his friends. His fruitless daydreaming. Even his self-centered complaint in Return of the Jedi, as Shuttle Tydirium closes on the Death Star: “I shouldn’t have come; I’m endangering the mission.” Delivered in a plaintive, annoying tone by Mark Hamill, and immediately shut down by a snarl from Han Solo.

All of which made Luke’s eventual maturation — throwing away his lightsaber rather than raising it against  his father — more powerful.

But what I also realized was that Luke was still the hero. I didn’t like him quite as much as I once had, in the days when I’d thought him perfect and infallible, but I still enjoyed his story and his journey.

So, how about it, readers? Do you have to like a character in order to enjoy his or her story? Where is the line crossed for you? Best of all: Who’s your favorite character that the rest of the world just doesn’t seem to “get?”