Interview with Lamar Giles, Author of THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER
HS: Give us the elevator pitch for THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER:
LG: THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER stars The Legendary Alston Boys of the supernaturally weird Logan County, Virginia. There’s Otto, a loving know-it-all, and Sheed, who’s sometimes cranky, but always cool. When they’re tricked into freezing time on the last day of summer by the mysterious Mr. Flux, they unleash a bunch of weird creatures they either have to align with, or battle, to save the day. It’s like the Hardy Boys crashed into The Phantom Tollbooth.
HS: This book was so much fun—a mix of superheroes and adventure. As a kid of the ‘80s, I could really get a Back to the Future vibe. What were your writing or storytelling influences for this one?
LG: Well, you hit the nail on the head calling out Back to the Future. That film is easily in my top 3 most influential stories, and the book is littered with references to it. Also, any time travel or time-related stories I enjoyed in addition to BTTF I tried to drop a reference for it. There’s something in there for fans of Dr. Who to Octavia Butler’s Kindred. But the primary influence for how this story came to be is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I’ve loved that movie for as long as I can remember, and I was always struck by how George Lucas dropped us into a world/war that was already in motion, without a need to explain what had gone on before (until we got the prequels many years later). I liked the idea of Otto and Sheed being Weirdness Veterans when we’re introduced to them, and that all started in a galaxy far, far away.
HS: The We Need Diverse Books movement has started so many discussions in the industry. As you travel to promote LAST DAY, are you finding discussions with young readers are different than discussions with adults? How so?
LG: Yes, the conversations are very different. I find that young people are generally excited about the possibility of different kinds of people in different kinds of (good) stories. They tend to be more open to variety in their stories. Adults, by and large, are open to variety, too…but there seems to be much more anxiety about it. What’s the right way to do it? Who can tell the story? And if the adult has an aspiration to write, the anxiety doubles. It’s interesting and justified given how much attention botched diverse stories get; and I’m up for any conversation on the topic. But I’d say rigidity is another symptom of age and time passing…we adults don’t have the flexibility of our young counterparts.
HS: I love how you play with time in this book: freezing time, also, the appearances of Father Time, Time Suck, Clock Waters, AM / PM, Witching Hour, etc. Do you feel that time passes differently for young readers than it does for adults? (I’m thinking here how adults seem to want to freeze time, and kids seem to want to make it hurry up—kind of like Tom Hanks in Big, another ‘80s movie I caught myself thinking of as I read.)
LG: I absolutely believe time passes differently for young people than adults. The older you get, the faster it moves. Which drives innate desires to alter it somehow. As a child you want it to speed up because it feels painfully slow—except when you’re having fun. That drives Otto’s desire to keep that last day of summer as long as possible. He thinks he’s at his best in those fun summer adventures, not realizing that prolonging his pleasure is to also court pain. Pain for the residents, and pain for himself as he realizes that time must go on, and there are certain unpleasant inevitability that comes with it. But, there’s joy too. That’s what life is right? Ups, downs, and how we choose to deal with them.
HS: I also love the idea that the person who controls time has great power. What do you want young readers to be thinking about regarding power?
LG: Power should be handled responsibly, and of our two heroes, I think it’s a notion that Otto struggles with more than Sheed. Otto looks to control things, extending what’s pleasant, and trying to undo what’s not. Certainly, there’s something to be said about being proactive to make situations better, but at what cost? So, what I’d love young readers to think about it is if it’s worth getting all you want if it means other people will be hurt?
HS: This book includes so many imaginative turns and events and creatures, etc. But it’s also got almost a low-tech feel (for example: the Polaroid camera). What’s your take on how tech is impacting the imagination?
LG: I think tech, in any era, compliments imagination. Example: the way the show Black Mirror on Netflix has tried to implement the elements of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel in a streaming movie. The results are mixed, I think, but someone’s going to build on that tech and the story to either create something better, or new. I believe that will be the case with all sort of emerging tech, be it augmented reality, virtual reality, or whatever comes next (I’m thinking holodecks—shout out to my Star Trek fans!)
HS: You write such great action scenes. Do you have tips for writing action?
LG: Yes! Cut, cut, cut. Shorter is better. Shorter scenes, shorter sentences, shorter words. You need to vary how you use this of course, but I’ve found that writing action scenes is akin to Vin Diesel in the Fast and Furious films stripping the extra weight from a car before a race. The less you have to carry, the swifter the vehicle becomes.
HS: What was your writing process like overall? Are you an outliner?
LG: I’ll write a synopsis, this three to five page thing that lays out some version of the story, and then I’ll write the story and end up changing maybe 50% of what the synopsis said. So, that’s not outlining. I don’t know what that is. Messy? Sounds about right. LOL!
HS: What overall message do you hope readers will take away from this book?
LG: Essentially, I’ve written an elongated version of the phrase “enjoy the time you have.”
HS: What’s next for you?
LG: I’m working on a coming of age story called Not So Pure and Simple, about a young man who joins the Purity Pledge at his church because he likes a girl who’s in it. At the same time, he starts sex education at the local high school. As the only member of the purity pledge even allowed to take the course, he becomes a go-between finding answers for the sheltered church kids, and causes a bit of a stir in his town.
Thanks so much to Lamar Giles for such a thoughtful interview! Snag yourself a copy of LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER and keep up with Lamar here.