Many years ago, back when I was a Wee Wannabe, I attended a writers conference in order to pitch The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. One of the first editors to show an interest in the book was Alvina Ling of Little, Brown.
Through a series of events no one involved can remember, Alvina somehow never got the chance to bid on the book when it went to auction. For some reason, the book just never went to Little, Brown. Oops.
Well, it worked out all right anyway ‘cause the book was published by the fine folks at Houghton Mifflin and people seemed to dig it, which is cool.
But Alvina and I had really connected, and as time went on we kept bumping into each other at various publishing functions, and I kept swearing to her, “I have a book I’m working on that you’ll want to see.” And she kept saying, “Great!”
And then I kept falling down on the job, deciding over and over that the cool thing I intended to show to her just wasn’t ready yet. (It still isn’t, Alvina. Someday…)
Cut to 2009. I moved to New York and Alvina, upon finding out, suggested we get together for drinks. As we chatted, I mentioned a couple of projects I had in the hopper that I thought might interest her ― one was a picture book and one was a YA superhero novel (no, not Archvillain ― something else entirely). She was polite, but I could tell neither one really intrigued her.
(BTW: No one else wanted the picture book, either. And I haven’t done anything with the YA superhero novel…yet.)
She asked what else I was working on. At the time, I was deep into a tough part of the first draft of a book so massive and complex that I had nicknamed it “The Book That Will Kill Me.” So I said something like, “Well, I’m working on this real killer―”
Mishearing, she immediately perked up. “Wait. You’re writing a book about a serial killer?”
“Oh,” she said, “that’s too bad. I really want to publish a YA novel about a serial killer.”
Maybe it was the alcohol clouding my brain, but the world suddenly no longer made any sense. “You want to publish a book about a kid who goes around killing people?” I asked her. “Are you kidding me?”
Alvina thought about it for a second. “Well, maybe the kid isn’t the killer. Maybe he just knows the killer.”
I shrugged. We finished our drinks. I went home.
In the morning, I called my agent and told her that if any of her clients had a YA serial killer novel that Alvina was the editor to call. My agent was aghast: “A YA serial killer novel? That’s disgusting!”
“I know!” I said. “I can’t believe it. Who the hell would write something like that?”
Of course, then I woke up in the middle of the night, suddenly and unaccountably obsessed. It’s not that the kid was the killer. It’s not that the kid knew the killer. It’s that the kid’s father was the killer! More than that, he was the world’s most notorious serial killer.
The title ― I HUNT KILLERS ― wouldn’t stop bouncing around in my brain.
So I got up and I pounded out a quick synopsis of the book and sent it off to my agent.
My agent read it and said, “A YA serial killer novel? That’s brilliant!”
Off it went to Alvina. Now, I can’t speak for her, but I’m pretty sure I HUNT KILLERS wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. And I imagine that it came as a hell of a surprise, too. But she dug it, and everyone else at Little, Brown dug it (or at least, that’s what they say to my face) and the next thing you know ― ta-da! ― I HUNT KILLERS was a reality…
Barry Lyga is the author of several acclaimed young adult novels, including his debut, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. He knows way too much about how to dispose of a human body. Barry lives and writes in New York City. His website is www.barrylyga.com.