By Barry Lyga
“Watch out for the Ewoks,” my brother told me.
Let me explain.
The time: A couple of years ago. The topic: The third and final book in my thriller series I Hunt Killers, titled BLOOD OF MY BLOOD. The book hits shelves on September 9, but at the time of the conversation with my brother, I had just begun writing it.
“Watch out for the Ewoks.”
The I Hunt Killers series takes place very much on earth, in the present day, with nary a lightsaber, hyperdrive, Jedi, or Bantha in sight. It tells the story of Jasper “Jazz” Dent, the son of Billy Dent, the world’s most notorious serial killer, and his quest to figure out if he’s been damned by nature and by nurture to follow in his father’s footsteps. It’s gruesome, intense, and very, very down to earth.
So why was my brother exhorting me to beware the fuzzy alien critters from Return of the Jedi?
It’s my own damn fault. You see, when I wrote the second book in the series, GAME, I ended it on not one, not two, but three cliffhangers, leaving all three of the major characters in serious life-or-death jeopardy: Jazz shot and left to die in a New York City storage unit. His best friend Howie bleeding out on the floor of Jazz’s own home. And Jazz’s girlfriend, Connie, worst of all, in the clutches of Billy himself.
My editor was leery of GAME’s cliffhangers. She was worried readers would be upset and, sure enough, when the book hit, my email inbox and Twitter timeline clogged with readers ranting, imploring, and wheedling. It was just the passionate reaction I was looking for: If readers don’t feel invested in your characters and in your story, all the cliffhangers in the world won’t get a reaction out of them.
“How could you do this to me?” they screamed at me.
And almost every time, I responded, “This is the middle part of the story. When things go bad for the heroes. It’s like The Empire Strikes Back. Luke loses a hand, Han gets frozen and carted away. Things fall apart.”
I was happy with my answer, but something lurked in the back of my mind until my brother’s chance comment brought to the fore:
“Yeah, you pulled off Empire,” he said to me when I began writing BLOOD OF MY BLOOD. “Watch out for the Ewoks.”
The Ewoks. Those annoying, too-adorable-by-a-half, ridiculous merchandising opportunities masking as characters from Jedi! I’d hated them as a kid seeing the movie and I hated them still.
After Empire, I waited with bated breath for years to see the resolution to the story. And George Lucas, in his eternal wisdom, fed me Ewoks.
And I wondered: Was I going to do the same? Had I given my readers a triple dose of cliffhanger fever that I would try to cure with the metaphorical equivalent of walking alien teddy bears?
Oh, God, please! No! Anything but that!
It’s one thing to set up a cliffhanger. Any idiot can do that, and I was three times the idiot at the end of GAME. But now I had to not only resolve those cliffhangers, but also deliver a satisfying ending to the story as a whole.
I suddenly felt an enormous amount of sympathy for the much-maligned Mr. Lucas. Granted, the entire population of the planet isn’t waiting for BLOOD OF MY BLOOD the way everyone in the world waited for Jedi back in the eighties, but still. I felt a kinship with him.
Momentarily, at least. Because at the end of the day, I knew my ending. I’d conjured it years before, in the early stages of writing the first novel. I’d even written the entire epilogue while working on GAME, so that I could just slot it in when I was ready. And—miracle of miracles!—that epilogue still fit when I got to it.
Knowing the ending in advance meant that I had a goal to shoot for. It meant that I’d laid out all of the paving stones—and some landmines!—for myself through the first two books. And now I only had to follow them.
Follow them I did. And now BLOOD OF MY BLOOD, the culmination of five years of work on my part, hits shelves and the hands of readers. I should probably be nervous, but I’m actually pretty calm. Whether the story is any good or not is, of course, up to each individual reader to decide. But I’m proud of the ending to the whole bloody mess. There’s no last-minute Death Star run, but there are betrayals and traps and twists and, yes, quite a bit of blood.
No Ewoks, though. I’m pretty damn sure of that.
Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published twelve novels in various genres in his seven-year career, including the New York Times bestselling I HUNT KILLERS and the controversial, award-winning BOY TOY.
To learn more about Barry, please visit his website.