DiBarone Channels His Teenage Self for YA Series
Vito DiBarone was a self-described “egghead” growing up in East Orange and Phillipsburg, New Jersey. He puts it this way: “In the summertime, our library had a contest for who could read the most books. I never won because most of what I read were technical science books.”
He received two Hardy Boys novels on his 10th birthday, and they sparked a lifelong love of mysteries. “I’m stuck in that era,” he jokes. “I’m rereading the story of Edward Stratemeyer, who owned the syndicate that hired Charles Leslie McFarlane to ghostwrite the Hardy Boys series.” (He was surprised to learn later in life that East Orange was home to the Stratemeyer Syndicate).
DiBarone created a Hardy-adjacent alter ego to front his own book series, Botheration, which now comprises two novels with a third on the way and a fourth in the works. His debut YA novel, Part One: The Missing Link, introduced 16-year-old Matty Weber, a recently orphaned high schooler who struggles with the trauma of seeing his parents perish in a car fire as well as with navigating high school’s social hierarchy after he moves to Southern California to live with his grandmother. Throw in a series of cyberterrorist attacks and you have what Kirkus Reviews praises as a “captivating blend of teen drama and techno-thriller.”
Part Two: Waves of Dinosaurs finds 17-year-old Matty coming to the rescue of a paleontology student at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, only the beginning of another adventure that takes extraordinary SF twists and turns—“Dinosaurs are only part of the story,” he teases—while further exploring Matty’s issues with trust and his unrequited crush on popular Samantha, the girl of his dreams:
“When I first met Samantha, I’d thought I would have a relationship with her…. Sometimes I wished I could be like other boys my age, playing sports, going on dates, and doing things with my dad and mom. Mom and Dad—where would I be if they were still alive? I almost had had another dad. So what was wrong with me? I looked around but did not really look at anyone closely. I saw that the other kids had interconnections.”
Any resemblance between Matty and DiBarone when he was growing up is not necessarily a coincidence, he admits. “Growing up short, smart, and not the greatest looking card in the deck, you kind of look at life in a different way from everybody else,” he says. “It seems that everyone has all the advantages, and no matter what you do, you’re never on the winning side. But I framed Matty so that it doesn’t bother him in the same way it might have bothered me. It only bothered me when I thought about it.”
The DiBarone home, when he was growing up, contained “lots and lots of books” that entranced him, his older brother, and his younger sister. DiBarone mostly read science books: anthropology, geology, archaeology, astronomy, and paleontology. As a Catholic school student, he presented a lecture on dinosaurs when he was in the third grade. “The next day, a nun came up to me and told me, ‘There were never animals that big on Earth,’ ” he recalls with a laugh.
His love of science was further nurtured by visits to New York museums when he attended Fairleigh Dickenson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. His favorite, he says, was the Met Cloisters—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annex, whose building is a reconstructed medieval castle.
As for writing, he “dabbled,” he says. In elementary school, he wrote stories that a friend would animate. When he was around 8 years old, he “got the notion” to create a neighborhood newspaper on index cards. “That was fun to try, but it never took off,” he says.
When DiBarone was a college sophomore, he took a class in English composition. He was a physics major, which earned him the enmity of his English comp professor. “That teacher hated Physics majors,” he says with a laugh. He remembers one assignment vividly: a how-to 3,000-word essay. “I wrote how to open a door,” he reports. “I actually analyzed where you should put your feet, which arm you should use to keep your head from getting hit by the door. [The professor] gave me an F. He said, ‘Nobody wants to know how to open a door.’ His message to me was, ‘You’re really smart, but you’re really stupid.’ ”
More encouraging was a public speaking class. His teacher was Martin Roth, a screenwriter on My Favorite Martian, a sitcom starring Ray Walston as a Martian who is stranded on Earth. The two bonded over comedy. But it was a creative writing course that stoked his imagination to write Botheration. He enjoys the writing process: “Coming up with a setting and the characters and then letting them do what they do puts me in a dreamlike state.”
“Write what you know,” the maxim goes. The setting for Waves of Dinosaurs was inspired by a bucket-list trip DiBarone took to Dinosaur National Monument. But originally, Botheration’s protagonist was a Samantha-like character, a calculated strategy based on DiBarone’s research that women buy the most books. “I thought that if I wanted to be successful, I had to write to them,” DiBarone says.
One publisher encouraged him to rewrite his lead character as a boy. “The more I thought about it,” he says, “the more I realized that Matty was me when I was 12 years old.”
DiBarone had his own Samantha, who remains a good friend. She is married and has a family, he reports. “She was a sounding board for a lot of the chapters. I just gave her copies of the second book.”
Botheration was originally conceived as a trilogy, but DiBarone has a fourth book in mind. “Matty has interests going on in his world that can occupy other stories,” he says. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a signpost for him. The third volume will find Matty in college. The fourth will see him return to that school as a teacher.
While his stories have adventure and SF elements, they deal with universal adolescent issues such as friendship, first love, and bullying. “I want to share with readers that they are not alone,” DiBarone says. “We all have the same problems.”