MG Adventures with Lija Fisher

By Hannah Haddadi

Lija Fisher's thing is writing humorous adventure novels for kids. Her debut novel, The Cryptid Catcher, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and the follow-up, The Cryptid Keeper, is forthcoming in 2019. Ahead of her craft talk How to Write the YA/MG Adventure Novel, we talked to her about finding her audience, her favorite MG books, and more.

Q. What drew you to writing MG novels?

A. Actually, the genre chose me! When I first wrote the book that would become my debut, I wrote it as an adult novel about a Delta Force soldier hunting mythological creatures. Every agent I queried (and there were a LOT!) passed on it, except for my current agent who liked the premise but encouraged me to rewrite it as a YA novel. So I did, but it was terrible. It was basically about a teenager who hunted creatures while thinking about getting a girlfriend. So my agent suggested I try the MG genre, and it perfectly fit my voice. It morphed into a boy searching for cryptids, like Bigfoot, to find the immortal one and keep it away from the bad guys. I had no idea I was an MG author; I just stumbled into it by trying different genres to find the one that fit.

Q. Do you have any MG favorites—old or new—that inspire you?

A. I don't know if they're considered MG, but I've always been drawn to epic fantasies. As a kid, my friend introduced me to David Eddings and I was hooked. From there I devoured Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, Terry Pratchett's Discword series and anything else with a castle on the cover. Escapism has always been my bag!

Q. You also have a background in theater! Have any lessons from that world been helpful to your writing process?

A. Absolutely! When I lived in NYC, I volunteered for the Lark Play Development Center, where I read tons of new plays. Plays are all dialogue, so it taught me how to move a story forward and make each character unique through that. I'm terrible at writing a character's inner monologue, which is why YA was so hard for me. But give me a scene partner, and I can make the story. I miss the collaboration of doing a play, since writing is so solitary, and I dream of writing a book while sitting in a theatre during a play rehearsal, just so I can be filled with the magic of that space.

Q. What are the key differentiators between an MG adventure novel and just a regular MG novel?

A. Definitely the pacing is faster, as you want people turning the page to see what happens next. And the sense of stakes and danger has to be clear. Plus all the mystery! But really, none of that matters unless the reader has characters they care about, which is true, I think, for all books. 

Hannah Haddadi is one of Lighthouse's summer interns.