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Stuff for the Teen Age, Biblio File

Author Interview with Lamar Giles

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One of the cool perks of being a librarian is that you sometimes get to read books before they come out. I had the opportunity (and immense pleasure) to get an electronic galley copy of Lamar Giles's debut novel Fake ID for just this reason. After loading the advance review copy on my nook, I have to admit... the story was hard to put it down. I found the story of "Nick Pearson" and his family on the run quite compelling. It left me with several follow up questions for the author, which we agreed to share with all of you.

I really enjoyed reading Fake ID. What gave you the inspiration to write the book? Had you heard stories about families and teens in the Witness Protection Program? Did you have to do a little research into the topic for the story?

First, thanks for reading the book. I'm glad you enjoyed it. As far as inspiration, I'd read a non-fiction book by Gerald Shur, the man who founded WitSec (Federal Witness Protection). He told stories about witnesses who would join the program but not follow the rules. That gave the U.S. Marshals in charge all sorts of headaches, up to and including having to relocate the witness again. It felt like prime story material so I started drafting an adult thriller about a woman who'd ratted on her crime boss father and went on to cause some trouble in WitSec. That novel was terrible.

I was reading some great YA at the time and I had the wild idea to start over. This time I'd make my hero a teenager, and a boy, and I'd try not to suck. I'm happy to say what came together did not suck. I had a clean first draft in nine months and HarperCollins Children's Books bought it a little over a year later.

Most of the research came from Mr. Shur's book and a few scattered articles. At the time there wasn't much out there about the program, and for good reason. Lives depend on WitSec's secrecy. But, my book is as much a family drama as a mystery, so I drew upon my knowledge of a family dynamic that I felt was similar to WitSec families. Military families.

I grew up next to an army base and knew many kids who moved all over the world because of their parents' orders. The difference between them and Nick Pearson in Fake ID is there's nothing honorable about why the Pearson's bounce all over the place. Nick can't say his dad is serving our country, that his father is a hero. It's really the opposite. Keeping that in mind, it was easy to speculate on how Nick's WitSec family might live.

I think sassy Reya may have been my favorite character. I really like how fiercely loyal she was to her family, and her desire for justice over Eli's death was a driving force behind the book's plot. How did you come up with her character? Did you find it difficult to write a female character at all?

Reya's one of my favorite characters, too. I wanted Nick to have a partner, not just a love interest. She was kind of born from that desire. This girl is no damsel in distress. As you mentioned, she spurs Nick into action and really takes over the job Eli started. Eli made Nick a part of something, and in his absence, Reya brings him into something else, a murder mystery. Maybe that's not the best thing in the world to be a part of, but it's definitely a growth experience.

It wasn't difficult to write Reya because, above all else, I try to go for honest human actions and reactions. In my mind, that shouldn't change based on gender. I'm not saying I'm a master of writing the opposite gender, but I felt all of Reya's behavior aligned with her character. She does things Reya would do, if that makes sense.

Without giving too much away, I have to say I was surprised when I found out who killed Eli Cruz. I didn't even realize that the book was a “Who done it?” until we find out who did it! Did you consciously set up a few red herrings? I think I had maybe three other characters in mind who turned out not to be guilty of the crime.

I did insert red herrings purposely, but when I'm in the middle of a project like this, I always feel like the red herrings aren't working. Because I know who the killer is, I feel like it's obvious to anyone who reads after me. This issue is the source of endless anxiety in early drafts. I can't express how nice it is to hear that you were surprised. It's the best job evaluation I can get.

Were there any novels or stories that served as inspiration for you while writing Fake ID? Do you have any other favorite young adult novels that you might recommend to fans of your book? Are you working on anything new? Any chance you give us a hint on your next book?

The novel that inspired the mystery aspect of FAKE ID is actually an adult novel called Casanegra by Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, and Blair Underwood. Like my book, it features an unconventional / reluctant detective caught up in a murder mystery (sidenote: the detective in Casanegra is named Tennyson Hardwick. In FAKE ID, Nick's principal is Mr. Hardwick. That's a shout out to Mr. Barnes and Ms. Due… they've been an inspiration to me since I was a teen). That being said, it's a VERY adult book, so I DO NOT recommend it for the YA crowd.

Instead, I'll recommend two other books I read around the time I drafted Fake ID. Unwind by Neal Shusterman and Reality Check by Peter Abrahams. Both featured strong male teen leads and I'd like to think if Nick ever crossed paths with Unwind's Connor and Reality Check's Cody, they'd all grab some pizza and compare war stories.

Regarding my next book, I'm actually working on the second draft of a new novel right now. The working title is Endangered, and it's about a teen photographer who stalks the meanest kids in her school and anonymously posts pictures of their dirtiest secrets on the web. However, her vigilante act draws the attention of a deranged individual who kills one of the mean kids and shows no signs of stopping.

I'm really happy with what I have so far and I'm looking forward to improving it with another draft or two. Right now, Endangered's scheduled for release in early 2015. After that, well, I'd like to write a follow up to Fake ID. What do you think? I'd love to see Nick and Reya in action again. Hopefully I'm not the only one.

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