Len Vlahos’ newest YA novel Life in a Fishbowl was like nothing we’d ever read before – and we loved every minute. It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s achingly, painfully true to life, so we were thrilled to chat with Len from his home in Colorado about the inspiration behind the book, his experience writing it, and strange things you can buy on the internet.
BRK: Congrats on the release of Life in a Fishbowl! What do you hope readers take away from this book?
LV: Thanks! So this is a tough question. I guess I hope people take some small amount of inspiration to question the validity and veracity of what we see in media. Just because it’s on a screen does not make it true. We have an obligation to seek and accept the truth when it’s presented.
That said, one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of writing is learning what readers see in your work that you never saw to begin with. I had readers of both The Scar Boys and Scar Girl (my first two novels), share perspectives on those stories and characters I had never considered. Mind blowing.
BRK: Although it’s all in third person, there are many varied perspectives in this novel. Were some easier to write than others, and did you have a particular favourite?
It’s my first novel written in the third person, and I found it liberating in some ways, and restrictive in others. It’s really useful to not limit the reader to a single point of view; at the same time, it makes it harder to emotionally connect at a visceral level.
Each of the characters posed challenges and pleasures, but my favorites to write were probably the two characters farthest outside my comfort zone: Sister Benedict (the nun), and Glio (the brain tumor).
BRK: What inspired you to have the Stone family (rather unwillingly) star in their own reality TV show, ‘Life and Death’?
I didn’t have the TV show in mind when I first started writing, other than knowing that Ethan, the TV executive, would be one of the bidders. As I thought about what would be the most logical and realistic outcome of those four people bidding on Jared’s life, the TV show seemed to me, I’m sad to say, the most realistic possibility.
Once I knew that, I ran with it. How Jackie responds came pretty easily, and I think made it a lot more fun. (I’ll leave the actual spoiler out.)
BRK: Life in a Fishbowl confronts some tough issues around grief, death and loss. How did you go about tackling these topics for a teen audience?
The short answer is I went about it exactly as I would if I were writing for an adult audience. The truth is, teen readers are every bit as sophisticated as adult readers. They’re just drawn to stories about people in a similar stage of life. (Honestly, a whole lot of adults are drawn to those stories, too, including me!)
I’m always very careful not to write down to my audience. It’s why I get in trouble sometimes for using language and themes that may not immediately seem appropriate for teens. But teens live complicated, real lives, and their fiction should reflect that.
BRK: In the book, Jared puts his life up for sale on eBay: what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen advertised or bought online?
So LiaFB was inspired by a man named Ian Usher. He put his life for auction online. Not his actual life, but his things — his car, his house, his friends, his cat. He had just gone through an acrimonious divorce and wanted to start over.
His story became an Internet meme, and when I saw it, I wondered, “Hey, what would make someone put their actual life for sale on eBay, and what would happen if they did? Who would bid? How would it play out?”
And a book was born.
BRK: You’ve been working around books in various capacities for a long, long time – what made you finally get in the ring as a writer?
I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been working in the book industry. The truth is, I spent many years writing songs, and many years as a failed screenwriter, before I wrote the first draft of The Scar Boys.
You can see evidence of my musical career, here:
Don’t laugh too hard… it was the 80s.
BRK: As a bookstore owner (Tattered Cover in Colorado), what are the top 5 books that you consistently recommend to teenagers?
I love this question! I’ll give you five with a bonus book and honorable mentions. [[ Check out Len’s List here! ]]
BRK: Can you give us a hint as to what you’re working on next?
A small hint. It’s a YA novel that takes the current political landscape in America and blows it up. “Nuff said.