Thursday, December 14, 2017

New Voice: Lisa Bunker on Felix Yz

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lisa Bunker is the debut author of Felix Yz (Viking, 2017). From the promotional copy:

“If it wasn’t for the fused-with-Zyx thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means.”

When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. 


The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. 

So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. 


When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor, Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.


What first inspired you to write for young readers?

It might sound a touch dramatic, but it’s true: when I was a child, stories saved my life. I was a quiet, shy, word-geeky kid carrying the secret burden of an unexpressed gender identity, and I found refuge and solace and strength in the books I loved.

Those books also showed me my purpose in life, which is, I believe, to pay it forward by creating as many more such stories as I can—particularly stories that offer refuge and solace and strength to other young LGBTQ+ humans who are just beginning to figure out who they are, and maybe feeling alone in that.

Gender-neutral pronouns Lisa used in Felix Yz.
Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?

Whatever else I was doing, I also just kept on writing. I wrote pastiches of stories I loved. I started dozens of stories and novels I never finished. I filled notebooks with character sketches and plot outlines and drafts of scenes.

And, I paid attention to how the makers of stories that touched me managed to do that. Not just books: TV and movies and theater too.

I still do. Whatever story I’m taking in, part of me is just enjoying it, feeling all the feels, and another part is like, oh, see how they used foreshadowing there. Effective story-craft give me no end of geeky glee.

What was the funniest moment of your publishing journey?

Not so much funny ha-ha as funny heart-warming coincidence.

My partner and I had planned to spend a few days in New York City just before Christmas, so we arranged to meet our agent, Bri Johnson (she represented both of us at the time), for a get-to-know-you lunch.

A few minutes before our scheduled meeting, Bri got the email from Viking with a pre-empt offer for Felix Yz, my first book. So as the last thing before her holiday break, Bri got to tell an author in person about an offer, which she said she had never gotten to do before. And of course it was my big break, so it was a magical day all around.

Lisa giving a reading of Felix Yz.
How are you approaching the journey from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

I actually really enjoy the business-y half of authorship. I’m an organized person and a hard worker, and I understand and accept that the creation of an author persona and platform is a valuable part of the work.

Especially since, as a transgender person, I feel a sense of mission around authorship. I feel called upon to put myself out in the world.

There are so many people who have never met a trans person, and there are many more with only glancing familiarity.

I want to meet as many of these folks as I can and offer myself to them as a memorable, positive example of a human person just like them who is navigating life with a trans identity. (See Lisa's article, Writing While Trans, a conversation with Alex Myers from the Huffington Post.)

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

No matter what, just keep writing.

Cynsations Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Felix Yz a starred review, "Above all, it’s about Felix’s voice: acutely perceptive, disarmingly witty, devastatingly honest, and utterly captivating. Joyful, heartbreaking, completely bonkers, and exuberantly alive."

Felix Yz also earned a star in Publishers Weekly, "Set against a countdown to the unknown, Felix’s story is a love letter to anyone who feels out of place and a testament to the beauty of being 'different.'"

Lisa Bunker has written stories all her life. Before setting up shop as a full-time author and trans activist she had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine.

Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner.

She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. She is not as good at chess as she would like to be, but still plays anyway.

Her next novel, Zenobia July, about a teenage trans girl with a troubled past who solves cyber-crimes, will be published by Viking in Spring 2019.

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