The Hive is a dystopian thriller that imagines a not-too-distant world in which justice–and punishment–is carried out via social media. It’s also the first book collaboration from husband and wife team Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden. The pair talked to us about their new book, about the future of social media, and about being better online (and real life!) citizens. Keep reading to find the full interview below, and don’t forget to pre-order the book before its release September 3!
The Hive is a breathless race through the day after tomorrow, where online and real life are blurred beyond recognition, and social media casts ever-darker shadows.
Barry, you are probably best known for the I Hunt Killers series, a YA series that wasn’t afraid to be edgy—and dark. Morgan, you’re a ghostwriter. This is your first collaboration (not counting your kids!). What was it like working together creatively on such a big undertaking?
Barry: I’m something of a control freak, so whenever collaboration is on the table, I always fear for my partner. Like, will I be able to rein in my inner diva? But in this case, I was fortunate in that I knew something most people didn’t know — namely, that Morgan is a really terrific writer! Because everything she’d done was under another name or still in-progress, no one knew! But I did. So it was very easy for me to imagine working with her because I knew the writing would be excellent, which is what matters.
Morgan: I honestly didn’t even hesitate to work on this book with Barry. I’ve been witness to his writing process and habits for so many years now, and we both talk to each other about our work quite a bit, so I was pretty confident we’d work well together! And it really did operate like a true partnership. We played to each others’ strengths in any way we could!
The concept for the book was a collaborative effort with actor Jennifer Beals and studio executive Tom Jacobson. What was that partnership like?
Barry: See above about my control freak tendencies…! But from the first time I talked to Jennifer, I knew that she was approaching this project without a scintilla of ego. She and Tom both wanted Morgan and me to take the story and make it our own. They didn’t pluck our names out of a hat — they specifically wanted what we brought to the table, and that mutual respect made it easy to work with them.
Morgan: Jennifer and Tom provided us with a really concrete format for the book, but also allowed us to extend the storyline in some new ways and to put our own spin on it. And they were so thoughtful in their feedback; it’s clear they really respected both the process and the material. It was a privilege to work with them!
Of course, with this kind of collaboration The Hive feels almost destined for the big screen, don’t you think?
Morgan: Well, we certainly think so! The book’s concept was always fast-paced and dangerous and thrilling, and we really tried to replicate that momentum in the writing.
Barry: You always imagine that, of course. But, yeah, the nature of the book and the fact that it came from Jennifer and Tom makes us a little more sanguine about the prospects. Still, we had to write it to work as a book first and foremost. If a movie happens, great!
The plot kicks off as Cassie, the protagonist, makes a fateful error—she posts a tasteless joke about the president’s grandchild—and is forced into hiding, running for her life from the Hive. But the reason she makes the joke is to try to fit in at her new school. Do you have any personal examples of these kinds of peer-pressure-induced mistakes?
Morgan: I would love to find someone who doesn’t have a personal example of a peer-pressure-induced-mistake! In a way that’s one of the reasons I love writing YA so much – it gives me the chance to transfer all the regrettable teenage decisions I once made into fictional characters, and lets me then control the outcomes of their bad decisions.
Barry: I think a lot of us like to look back and say, “I was fiercely independent as a teen! I never followed the crowd!” But the truth of the matter is that most of us did. There are some things I did as a kid that I look back on and think, “Oh, wow — that was seriously uncool and I didn’t even question it at the time because it seemed like EVERYONE was doing the same.” But I grew up in a pre-digital world, so I was allowed to do stupid stuff. Today’s teens — like Cassie — live fully documented lives, where their mistakes and stupidities will follow them forever.
The book feels a little like George Orwell meets The Hunger Games, but what’s really striking is how real the world of The Hive is. It’s a thrilling work of speculative fiction that seems so close to our current reality that the not-too-distant future seems like it could be next year. Is our current social media-driven existence of digital justice warriors paving an unstoppable path to the kind of “instant justice” depicted here? In other words, are we doomed?
Morgan: It really does feel like we’re at some kind of turning point, doesn’t it? Like either we can pivot into a more healthy, sustainable form of social media, or…yeah, basically, we’re doomed. I’m an optimist at heart, so I have to believe we’re heading towards a pivot. Too much depends on it.
Barry: Doomed. So, so, so, so doomed.
One aspect of The Hive that really resonates is the disconnect between the humanity of the analog world and the ease with which we forget that humanity in the digital world. It’s more complex than merely shedding light on the dangers of technology per se, and instead explores the dangers of mob mentality in a digital landscape. Do you see this disconnect between analog and digital social interactions in your own virtual and actual lives?
Morgan: Even in my favorite online spaces where there are respectful, healthy commenting communities, it can be way too easy to forget that I’m talking with real people behind the screen names – with real lives, real emotions, and real problems. And I’m an adult! So this isn’t a kid or teen problem, this is a human problem. Remembering our humanity while online is a struggle.
Barry: Absolutely. I am no saint. I am 100% susceptible to the notion of “Oh, this isn’t a real person.” I see someone say something abjectly idiotic on Twitter and my first instinct is to fire away: “You’re so stupid and useless that you should apologize to your mother for making her give birth to you.” But my better angels win out and I remind myself that this isn’t why I’m on social media and, more importantly, this isn’t who I am! It’s only the scrim of dehumanization provided by the screen that makes me think I should act like this.
How can we all be better social media citizens?
Morgan: We absolutely have to tackle the platforms where hate and violence are allowed to thrive. Solving that problem is mandatory, and the first step in improving social media. And as for me personally, I try to live by the grandmother rule: if I wouldn’t want my mom-mom to read a tweet I wrote, I probably shouldn’t tweet it. (Of course, my mom-mom was a very cool, progressive lady, so that gives me some wiggle room!)
Barry: We’ve been together for eight years and this is the first time I’ve heard of the mom-mom standard for your social media! This book just keeps revealing new things about you. 🙂
I think that being a good social media citizen requires the same work as being a good citizen, period. We all need to be better informed. Learn to distinguish between healthy skepticism and outright head-in-the-sand ignorance. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t just read the headline. In short, it’s WORK to be a good citizen, offline and on.
What books are on your nightstands?
Morgan: I’m beginning to wonder if there are any books that aren’t on my nightstand! I just counted—there are 22 books towering over me. Including Barry’s Thanos: Titan Consumed, which has been on my nightstand since it was released last year. (Uh oh…he’s going to see this, isn’t he?)
Barry: I not only see your answer, but I also see the copy of Thanos that’s been on your nightstand since November. I sleep next to you!!!
As for me: I’m reading Famous Men Who Never Lived by K. Chess. I’m a fiend for parallel universe fiction!
What are you working on now? Will there be a sequel (or are your lips sealed)?
Barry: I think the story is a terrific opportunity for a sequel, but most of the time, I really try to focus on the book in front of me. If the readers demand a sequel, I’m sure we can provide. As to what I’m working on: My inner twelve-year old is geeking out while writing Flash: Crossover Crisis. I’m also partway through an intergenerational murder mystery. And my magnum opus, UNEDITED, hits shelves next summer…and will probably break those shelves, since it’s something like a thousand pages long.
Morgan: I seem to have taken a page from Barry’s playbook in that I, too, have a bunch of projects in the works…though, thankfully, none of them are a thousand pages long. As soon as I can announce any of them, I will!