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.
His debut Young Adult novel, FAKE ID, sold to HarperCollins 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.
Lamar lives in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife.
Charles Clark: Lamar, thank you so much for this conversation!
Lamar Giles: Always a pleasure!
CC: Who is Lamar Giles?
LG: Lamar Giles is an extremely sleepy student, and teacher, and LEGO enthusiast, who also writes mysteries featuring black heroes that your whole house will enjoy.
CC: This is our second interview, since our first we’ve become friends or friendly I hope. And I have never asked you this question. Why write for young adults?
LG: We ARE friends! Thank you for all of your support over the years. I’m always down for a BROTHA Magazine interview. As for why I write for young adults, I should clarify that I write (or have written) stuff for adults, too. And I hope to write for an audience younger than the YA crowd. Maybe I’ll try picture books. It’s not that I pick one age group over another, it’s just I have a lot of stories to tell, and some skew toward certain demographics. Lately, the mysteries have been marketed to teens, but I think mystery fans of all ages could enjoy. But, if we’re talking strictly YA, writing for a Young Adult audience is fun. I don’t think there’s been a point in my life when I haven’t enjoyed a good kid/teen detective. Now it’s a joy to be creating some of my own.
Plus, writing for this age has given me the wonderful opportunity to travel all over this country and engage with young readers who tell me they finally see heroes who look like them in my books. That alone make the choice to write for that group one of the best I’ve ever made.
CC: What’s the main premise for OVERTURNED?
LG: Overturned is about a teen poker player in Las Vegas, who lives in a struggling casino, and has to use her underground connections to figure out who framed her father for murder.
CC: Overturned is your third book, was there a different approach in writing than Fake ID or Endangered?
LG: There was a lot more research involved this time. The previous books were set in my home state of Virginia, and not even real Virginia cities (so I could adjust geography to suit plot). This time, I was writing about one of the most famous cities in the world, so I had to get the details right. That involved spending time there, talking to locals, and getting a view of the city that’s beyond what I call “televised Vegas” —which tends to be all about the Las Vegas strip. I learned so much, and saw parts of the city that don’t often get any mention in most media. I wanted to make sure that came through as much as the glamour and glitz of the tourist centers. So, this book took about three times longer to write than anything I’ve done before, but it was so worth it.
CC: I have noticed one thing in all three of the protagonists is their relationships with their fathers. Is this intentional exploration of father/child relationships?
LG: Well, I guess maybe it’s NOT intentional, since I didn’t really know that came through so strongly in all three books. Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I guess that is likely linked to relationships with my own father figures. With my biological dad, the relationship was a bit distant when I was growing up; even though we lived in the same town, less than two miles from each other. We get along, there’s no animosity, but it’s certainly not the relationship one might have growing up with their dad in the home. And then there’s the relationship with my step-father who did live with me. He passed away nearly 18 years ago–and our interactions weren’t ideal…to say the least. So, I might be working out some baggage there. It’s funny how writers can become our own psychiatrists without even noticing.
CC: What kind of research goes into writing your books?
LG: It can vary. In a book like FAKE ID which deals with Federal Witness Protection, very little. It’s hard to find information on the current state of the WitSec Program, as it should be. I used a lot of creative license in that book. ENDANGERED required research into professional photography and urban exploration. That was mostly interviewing experts and reading books on the subject. OVERTURNED was the most arduous because I had to go to Las Vegas and spend a bunch of time conducting interviews, taking thousands of photos, hours of audio recordings, and some video to make sure I could craft a story that FELT like that city, and not just that city as depicted by a guy who’s only been there once. I always say, you have to do enough research so you can tell plausible lies. I hope I’ve accomplished that goal.
CC: Tell me what the EDGAR AWARDS are and how you felt about being nominated twice?
LG: The Edgar Awards are presented every year by Mystery Writers of America, a professional organization for, well, Mystery writers. Pretty much every mystery novel is submitted each year for consideration, and panels of working writers (many are past nominees and winners) nominate books they deem the best in a number of categories. From those nominated titles, one is selected as the best of the year at an awesome award ceremony each April.
It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life to have my first two mystery novels nominated back-to-back. Not simply because of the award’s prestige, but because it’s other mystery writers making the selection. There’s nothing like receiving that kind of respect from your peers, and I’m so grateful for their support.
CC: You write in various in genres. Do you have a favorite? Or Do you just write without being confined?
LG: I do have a favorite. I love horror and fantasy (urban fantasy, to be specific). I started my career selling weird, dark short stories. I hope to one day get back to those genres with some kind of dark, twisty novel that’s way different from my mystery work, just because. We shall see.
CC: What is Lamar Giles working on now?
LG: I’m working on three projects right now. Two I can’t really talk about, but one is a bit of a departure from my mystery work. It’s actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who joins the purity pledge at his church to get closer to a girl he likes, which is NOT a great plan. LOL! That’s still very much a work-in-progress, but I’m feeling good about it. I guess this is a continuation of my answer from the previous question…I don’t like being confined. 🙂