Author Spotlight: 'Going Bovine' By Libba Bray

Today’s Author Spotlight is on Libba Bray who joins us  on the blog tour for her latest novel Going Bovine. A world away from the Gemma Doyle trilogy, Libba introduces us to Cameron, a 16-year-old boy diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, aka Mad Cow Disease, and facing certain death. Or is he? A cure and a chance to save the world (long story) may just lie with a punk rock angel named Dulcie if he chooses to accept her mission and set out with his dwarf friend Gonzo. Then again. it all might just be a hallucination conjured up by his disease-riddled mind. Either way (no spoilers here) it’s a crazy, thoroughly enjoyable ride.

Going Bovine is out in book stores now, but we’re giving away a free copy to the first three commenters who share a memory from their teen years where humor helped you get through a difficult time.

going+bovineYpulse: How in the world did the idea for Going Bovine come to you?

Libba Bray: I know! Nutty, right? (pause)
You want an answer. Crap. Well, it starts as most books do, with a random assortment of ideas, memories, questions, and too much coffee. Years ago, my mother told me about a man in our hometown who had contracted the human variant of mad cow disease. He saw hallucinations, one of which was a wall of flames that would pop up into his field of vision. I was horrified by that, horrified by the idea of going crazy, of never really knowing what was real or not. And then I thought, “Well, how do we ever really know what’s real or not?” As my son asked, “How do we know if we’re really living our lives or if this is somebody’s dream?” Great question. We don’t know. And that got me to thinking about the nature of existence and all the big questions: Why are we here? Where do we go next? What really matters? How do we assign meaning to our lives? Is there a God and, if so, is S/He asleep at the switch? What makes microwave popcorn taste so good? You know, the biggies.

YP: What type of research did you do on Mad Cow disease and string theory and all of the other obscure mythological references in the book??

LB: I love doing research, even if I’m terribly disorganized about the way I approach it. (I need a librarian on call.) I make use of the Internet a lot. And I check out the books and news articles I need to check out. I watched “The Elegant Universe,” Brian Greene’s wonderful PBS special about string theory, and then I picked up the book. What happens next in the process is what I like to call the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game of research, where looking up one thing makes you curious about six other things you must look up and so on. So after “The Elegant Universe,” I checked out Michio Kaku, Ed Witten, Lisa Randall, Hugh Everett III, many worlds theory, the Large Hadron Collider, CERN, the Copenhagen Interpretation, Schrodinger’s Cat, etc. etc. One of the kids I babysat went on to get his degree in physics from Columbia, and he studied all of this. Adam McInroy, the kid who used to play Risk with me as a kid, was suddenly in my kitchen explaining string theory and chaos theory and the theory of everything while eating my guacamole. It blew my mind. Thanks, Adam. You turned out okay. Now, wash your hands and make sure you have your homework.

I had dabbled in Norse myth (really, who doesn’t want to throw that into a conversation?) while writing The Gemma Doyle trilogy, so I dove back into the books and the Internet to read up on Balder and the nine worlds of Yggdrasil. I’m sort of a myth freak—D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths was one of my childhood favorites—so I will read just about anything that has to do with myth or world religions. So from that you also get the Norn and the old woman, Mrs. M. Digging around in the classics gets you to the Gates of Horn & Ivory, which I kept wanting to call the Gates of Good & Plenty, like they were giant candy doors. Next book.

Anyway, that stuff is just fun to do. Really. I swear. Why are you looking at me like that?

YP: The trailer for “Going Bovine"is hilarious (Ed. note: watch it now!). What will the marketing plan be like for the book?

LB: I plan to wear the suit and go door-to-door. I think people would buy the book just to get rid of me. Oh, and there’s a blog tour. People, I am on your Internets 24/7. I am your virus. But with better shoes.

YP: How did you balance humor with the more serious undertones of Cameron’s story? Do you have any comedic role models? Who?

LB: I think comedy and tragedy are different sides of the same coin. Maybe it’s that I come from a family well-equipped with a witticism at times of distress—gallows humor—but I think life is often absurd, and that absurdity is both maddening and hilarious. I mean, I think Beckett is funny, so there you go. But in terms of finding balance, I do think you learn to “listen” to the rhythm of your writing and you can feel when it’s time to come down off the helium or when it’s time to take off all the bumpers and get crazy.

My comedic role models are many and varied. Monty Python is hands down number one. After that there are: Christopher Guest, Eddie Izzard, Stephen Wright, Gilda Radner, The Carol Burnett Show, Black Adder, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, John Irving (who does that balance of comedy/tragedy beautifully), Mel Brooks, Looney Tunes, National Lampoon magazine back in the late seventies and early eighties, Jonathan Swift, Chaucer, Joss Whedon, and drag queens.

YP: What was it like to depart from the world of gothic romance and Gemma Doyle and write from the perspective of a modern teen guy?

LB: It was big fun. Don’t get me wrong: I loved being in Gemma’s gothic Victorian world. But it was great to just go nuts with the weird and to be able to poke a little fun at modern life and pop culture. Gemma never got to watch MTV.

The other thing was that Gemma, because she was a product of her time (more or less—I think the Gemma Doyle trilogy is a mash-up), couldn’t really be straight ahead with her snark and anger. I really enjoyed getting to just unleash that in a very direct, unapologetic way. I could write a whole essay on how we don’t allow that in our female characters, which is a shame, because girls feel that stuff just as much as guys do. We’re just discouraged from expressing it. I think that’s why I identified so strongly with male characters when I was a teen, because they could give voice to that anger inside.

YP: What comes next for you?

LB: A shower. I think people want me clean. After that, I’m working on another dark comedy about a plane load of teen beauty queens whose plane crashes on a deserted island. Kind of like LORD OF THE FLIES meets LOST, but with a swimwear component.

For more coverage of YA books and publishing, check out the Ypulse Books Channel sponsored by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, publishers of Ash by Malinda Lo.


  1. Brian

    One of my friends that I sat with everyday at school, died suddenly one day from a brain aneurysm.  And one thing that helped me was a comic he made of the OJ Simpson trial which he was addicted to.

  2. Lena

    When I was in high school, one of my classmates was shot and killed.  Even though I didn’t know him very well, it was really scary and the whole school was pretty depressed.  One of the things that would cheer up my friends and I was listening to this Aaron Carter song:

    It’s so bouncy and happy that it just made us jump around and laugh.

  3. Jenna

    Having a sense of humor about my anxiety disorder helped me get through the hard times, especially when I could see the crazy things I was doing and make fun of myself with others.

  4. Meredith

    Man!  I’m number 4!  Well, anyway….I’ve struggled with bipolar disorder since before high school, but high school was a particularly difficult time.  No matter how I was feeling (whether flying off the rails or sulking in bed) I had a standing weekly “date” with a friend of mine where we’d eat chinese take-out and give our own running commentary during iron chef.  I don’t know if it was the MSG or the silly meta-commentary, but it got me through the week.

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