Monday, April 20, 2015

YA Guy Reviews... A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K. Le Guin!

What could YA Guy possibly say that hasn't already been said about the first book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series?

I mean, the book's a classic. It's been reviewed all over the place. There are nearly 700 reviews on Amazon alone. What's the point?

Well, stick around. I might surprise you.

I first read Le Guin's books when I was twelve years old, right around the time I started reading epic fantasy pretty much exclusively. I read Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, you name it. (I also played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and watched a lot of fantasy films.) My first finished novel was a swords-and-sorcery tale very much in this vein. It was what I was into as a kid, and I ate the stuff up.

I'm not really into high fantasy anymore. I prefer science fiction. Maybe because I've gotten older (and more cynical?), I like my fantasy to be grounded in reality. The most recent epic fantasy novel I read, George R. R. Martin's interminable A Game of Thrones, was pure agony. I finished it, largely so I could say I'd read it, but I don't think I enjoyed one page of its eight hundred (or was it eight thousand?).

But lately, I've been reading novels with my son, who's almost twelve. He reads on his own, of course, but he also likes to read with me, so I've been pulling out some classics from the bookshelf and reading them to him before bedtime. Given his tastes, our reading inclines toward the fantasy books I used to read at his age. We've read The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door (which are basically fantasy or even allegory though they're billed as science fiction), and others. We just finished A Wizard of Earthsea and have started The Tombs of Atuan.

I found Wizard every bit as enjoyable as I did the first time I read it. I loved the world-building, the beauty of the language, the impeccable craft. But I also discovered something in the book I hadn't remembered.

In A Wizard of Earthsea, you may recall, the hero, wizard-in-training Ged, unleashes a monstrous shadow from the netherworld when one of his prideful spells goes awry. The book's pacing is pretty leisurely, with lots of time for exposition and character development, but it picks up steam once the shadow's released. From that point on, Ged's quest to confront the shadow drives the plot forward to a satisfying conclusion.

But here's the thing I didn't remember: the shadow has the ability to possess human beings, turning them into something Le Guin calls a "gebbeth." Here's her fullest description of this creature:

"The body of a gebbeth has been drained of true substance and is something like a shell or a vapor in the form of a man, an unreal flesh clothing the shadow which is real. So jerking and billowing as if blown on the wind the shadow spread its arms and came at Ged, trying to get hold of him as it had held him on Roke Knoll: and if it did it would cast aside the husk of Skiorh and enter into Ged, devouring him out from within, owning him, which was its whole desire."

When I read that passage, my mind jumped to my own novel, Survival Colony 9, and especially to its hero (Querry Genn) and monsters (the Skaldi). Can it be an accident that I too created a monster that devours human beings and travels in their hollowed skin? Can it be coincidence that the name "Genn" sounds an awful lot like "Ged," just as the word "Skaldi" sounds an awful lot like the name of the gebbeth "Skiorh"?

We authors try to be as original as we can, but we're always borrowing from what we've read. In my case, though I haven't read epic fantasy seriously for over thirty years, what I did read as a teen and pre-teen went into me so deeply that certain aspects of that reading--not only specific names and scenarios but the overall structure and pacing of the writing--were bound to come out in what I wrote. As I prepare to revise the sequel to Survival Colony 9, I'm sure I'll be doing the same thing: channeling what I've read into what I write, creating something neither wholly original nor wholly derivative.

So if I were to review A Wizard of Earthsea, I'd say this: it's so good it's gotten into my blood, my brain, and my pen. It's devoured me, though in the good way of great writing, not in the monstrous way of the gebbeth and Skaldi. One of these days, I hope someone can say the same thing about something of mine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

YA Guy Says Goodbye to... Goodreads!

Recently, YA Guy was the subject of a personal attack on Goodreads.

You know the kind: ostensibly a review of SURVIVAL COLONY 9, the post contained ample profanity and unkind remarks not only about my book but about my fitness to publish, indeed to exist. I'd link you to it, but I contacted Goodreads and they removed it.

Problem solved, right?

Well, not exactly.

In previous posts, I've talked about the incivility that seems to be bred by social media. I'm an old-fashioned guy; I say you don't engage in immoderate public attacks of fellow human beings. I have no problem with reasoned, responsible critique and debate--say, in the political arena--but I draw the line at Jerry Springer-style nastiness and hatefulness.

Of all the social media in which I participate, Goodreads seems to be the one that most lends itself to such behavior. Maybe that's because it's the one form of social media in which I participate where I personally have no control over those who post on my page or what they post. The Twitter exchanges in which I've been involved are almost invariably polite and generous: the people with whom I'm connected via Twitter mostly want to be nice to each other. Facebook occasionally gets out of hand, but you can always delete an uncivil post or, at the most extreme, unfriend the offender. Same with this blog and my website. Yes, I get some spam, but I simply ignore it.

Goodreads is different. Though I don't deny it's a nice idea--a community of readers and writers--and though I've had some good experiences with it--new friends, messages from readers, giveaways, etc.--it's also a free-for-all when it comes to those who participate in it and the kinds of discourse in which they engage. Up until this most recent experience, I'd been what I guess you'd call fortunate; unlike many writers, I hadn't been subjected to the gleefully ugly "reviews" in which some Goodreads members specialize.

But I have now, and I'm done.

So no more Goodreads for me, folks. I'm pulling out of that particular social media platform. My books will still be visible there, of course, but I won't. I'll keep my account for another few days in case anyone wants to say goodbye, but then I'm through.

There might be some marginal loss to me as an author as a result of this action; personally, though, I doubt it. Lots of authors aren't "Goodreads authors," and they're doing however well they're doing. I will regret not being able to communicate with readers through this medium, but I'll still have my blog, my website, Twitter, and so on. I'll still review books on this blog, and I hope you'll drop me a line here or through one of the other platforms if you have anything you feel like telling me.

If you do, though, please be nice. There's enough unavoidable ugliness in the world without our adding to it needlessly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

YA Guy Reviews... BLUE GOLD by Elizabeth Stewart!

Elizabeth Stewart’s BLUE GOLD tells the story of three teenage girls on three continents, all of their lives connected by the "blue gold" of the title: the mineral coltan, which is used in many electronics including cell phones.

In Africa, Congolese refugee Sylvie fights to keep her family together after her father’s death, her mother’s descent into despair, and her brother’s attraction to the militias that rule the refugee camp. All are fighting to control the coltan market, and Sylvie fears that if she can’t find a way to get her family out of the country, the deadly battles will consume them.

In Asia, farm-girl Laiping moves to the big city to take a job in a cell-phone factory. At first it seems a dream come true, until the monotonous labor, arbitrary system of reward and punishment, and crackdowns on worker protests reveal the true nature of the system. With her father ailing and her options dwindling, can Laiping find a way to preserve her rights and her pride?

In North America, Vancouver teenager Fiona snaps a suggestive selfie for her boyfriend, only to discover that once the image enters cyberspace, there’s no controlling who has access to it. Fiona’s struggle to regain control of her reputation and her life will lead her in surprising directions, and force her to confront the problems faced by teenage girls beyond her relatively privileged world.

BLUE GOLD is, self-evidently, an “issue” book, one that explores the connections between the consumer lifestyle of developed nations and the poverty, violence, and abuse that exist elsewhere in the world. But though the book can be overly obvious at times, it’s never heavy-handed; the three girls’ lives emerge in vivid detail, drawing the reader into their flesh-and-blood stories. And these stories are rendered with unsparing realism; Sylvie’s rape by militia members, Laiping’s brutal treatment at the hands of her employers, and Fiona’s suffering from a single impulsive act are all handled straightforwardly and with no sugar-coating or artificial uplift. Mere survival is a triumph for these three young women, and the book never suggests that there’s an easy answer to the problems they, their sisters, or their societies face.

I was very impressed by this book, so much so I plan to read Stewart’s other novel for young adults, THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM, which is based on a real-life incident involving the lynching of a Native American teen. If you like realistic stories that address issues beyond the sometimes claustrophobic world of YA, I highly recommend BLUE GOLD. And I also recommend you check out the website The Pirate Tree, a site covering social justice literature for young people, where I first learned of Stewart’s book.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

YA Guy Participates in... The YA Scavenger Hunt!




For the first time ever, YA Guy's taking part in the YA Scavenger Hunt! (Okay, this is the first year I have a YA book out, so that kinda makes sense.) I'm on the Blue Team, along with the other fabulous authors you see below:


This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! Add up the clues on each blue team page, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in our team! There are EIGHT contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

HOW IT WORKS

Directions: In the author biography below, you'll notice I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally. Anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday, April 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered. For more information, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page


Okay, got all that? Then let's meet the author I'm hosting, Suzanne Lazear!

Suzanne is the author of the YA Fairytale Steampunk series THE AETHER CHRONICLES, which includes INNOCENT DARKNESS, CHARMED VENGEANCE, and the latest, FRAGILE DESTINY. Suzanne lives in Southern California with her daughter and hubby, where she’s currently attempting to make a ray-gun to match her ballgown. She’s also part of the Steampunk group blog Steamed (http://wwww.ageofsteam.wordpress.com). Learn more about Suzanne at http://suzannewrites.blogspot.com/ and the Aether Chronicles at http://www.aetherchronicles.com.



About FRAGILE DESTINY: Noli and her true love V fear the worst if the Staff of Eris—a potent Otherworld relic—falls into the wrong hands. Broken into pieces and hidden in the mortal realm long ago, the staff bestows vast powers on whoever possesses it. Ciarán, the dark king, is trying to rebuild the staff, intending to use it to install a new queen.

In a desperate effort to keep the Otherworld from falling into darkness, Noli and V plot the daring theft of a jewel Ciarán needs to complete the staff. But Ciarán is not so easily defeated. Through his devious machinations, he has set a plan in motion for a final showdown that will decide who rules the Otherworld once and for all.

To buy FRAGILE DESTINYfollow this link!



EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

The YA Scavenger Hunt is over--thanks for participating! My personal giveaway of signed SURVIVAL COLONY 9 copies and swag will be up for a few more hours if you still want to enter to win!

Friday, March 27, 2015

YA Guy Announces... SKALDI CITY, the Sequel to SURVIVAL COLONY 9!


YA Guy is thrilled to announce the following (from today's Publishers Marketplace):

Joshua David Bellin's SKALDI CITY, the sequel to SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, chronicling the further adventures of a fifteen-year-old boy fighting to unravel the secrets in his past in a hostile desert world, as he and the other colony members band together to eradicate the monstrous threat of an alien, again to Karen Wojtyla at Margaret K. McElderry Books, by Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency (World).

That's right, I have a sequel! (Publication date TBA.)

To celebrate, I'm giving away 5 signed copies of SURVIVAL COLONY 9. Just use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. (U.S./U.K. only.)

Good luck! And thanks for supporting me and my writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 23, 2015

YA Guy Celebrates... the Little Things!

When you publish your first novel, you don't know what to expect. (At least, YA Guy didn't.) If I had any expectations at all, they were very modest: my book would be read by some people, get some nice reviews, maybe be taught in a school somewhere; I'd sign books at a few bookstores, maybe speak at a conference or two. That was about it, because, in all honesty, I had no clue what would happen.

Well, it's been six months to the day since SURVIVAL COLONY 9 hit the shelves, and I'm happy to report that the reality has exceeded my expectations.

No, I don't mean the book's become an international bestseller or scored a six-figure movie deal. Sales are fine but not breathtaking. The things I expected to happen have happened, but not in any spectacular way; I didn't pack Madison Square Garden for a public reading.

What I mean is that many little things have happened that I couldn't have imagined before the book came out. Though there have been many such small delights--fan emails, speaking requests, invitations to blurb other people's books--here are five particular highlights:

1. At my launch party in Pittsburgh, I had two surprise guests: a close friend from high school who lives in California, and a beloved cousin who lives in Massachusetts. I was blown away when one of them walked through the door. I was speechless when the other did. (That's my cousin on the right.)


2. A couple of my ARCs went out on "tour" to members of the writers' groups to which I belong. Both of them came back with signatures and nice comments. One of them came back with original artwork inspired by the story.



3. Many friends (and some complete strangers) have sent me pictures of my book on bookstore or library shelves, or in their own hands or the hands of their children. But I didn't think people would actually go out and make SURVIVAL COLONY 9 T-shirts!



4. Thanks to my publicist and my own contacts, I spoke at a number of schools and libraries. Many of them had good-sized crowds; one of the schools had the entire eighth grade class, about 150 students, reading my book. At this same school, one of the students handed me a picture she'd drawn for me. I felt almost as good as I used to feel when my own children were little and gave me one of their special drawings.


5. Out of the blue, I received an email from a friend I haven't seen since high school (that's over thirty years, if anyone's counting). She attended a private all-girls high school, while I went to one of the public schools; she invited me to her prom, and we went as friends. In her email, she said she'd read my book and wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it. It was a mind-boggling experience, and it reminded me how amazing it is to be an author.


Madison Square Garden would be nice. But it's the little things that are the very best.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

YA Guy Talks about... Talent!

Recently, YA Guy noticed an essay that was making quite a stir on Twitter: a piece by a former MFA teacher, Ryan Boudinot, that advanced a number of claims including the following:
  1. Writers are born with talent.
  2. If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it.
  3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
Lots of Twitter folks had issues with Boudinot's essay--not surprisingly, since he obviously wrote it to tick people off. And I'll grant, the tone of the essay, as well as some of its specifics, were annoying.

But I have to be honest: as both a teacher and a writer, I find a core of truth in the above three statements (however snidely phrased). Taken together, they define a basic formula:

TALENT + EFFORT + PERSISTENCE = SUCCESS

Is there any sane person who disagrees with that? Yes, it's true that lots of other factors play a role in success: luck, timing, nepotism, skin color and other visible or invisible markers of privilege, and thus that some people without much talent, effort, or persistence do very well in life (while others with lots of talent, effort, and persistence don't). It's also true that "talent" and "success" are very broad terms, capable of being expressed in a great variety of ways.

But on the whole, isn't it the case that those who hone their innate gifts through a lengthy period of time are putting themselves in the best possible position to achieve success as they themselves define it?

Some of those who responded to Boudinot's essay objected to his claim that talent counts in writing. Why should this claim be controversial? Talent counts in everything else. I'm a pretty good baseball player (even at the age of fifty). But I was never good enough for the majors. I did well in high school math. But I never had the aptitude to be a mathematician or astrophysicist. I can follow a recipe on a box. But I don't possess the keenly refined senses necessary to be a great chef.

Personally, I'm more insulted by the proposition that anyone, anywhere, can learn to be a writer. To me, this demeans the craft and profession of writing; it suggests that writing is no more than a bagful of tricks that can be distributed to anyone with the time or money to collect them.

MFA programs have proliferated in the past couple decades--due not to some mysterious increase in the number of talented writers nor to breakthroughs in the teaching of writing but to colleges and universities recognizing a growth market and capitalizing on it. Personally, were I teaching in such a program, I would choose to be honest with a student who exhibited significant deficits in the areas of talent, effort, and/or persistence. I wouldn't tell that student to drop out, but I'd investigate what that student wanted from the program. If the student wanted to develop his/her skills, have fun, interact with others, possibly publish a bit, I'd say okay, you're in the right place. But if that student labored under the illusion that he/she was going to become a literary sensation, I'd consider it unethical (the student is, after all, paying a lot of money for this) not to tell him/her that such an outcome was unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

I just finished reading Anthony Doerr's bestselling ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. I had some issues with it (see my previous post on this), but is there anyone who doubts that Doerr is a phenomenal talent, a writer with remarkable gifts? I'm currently reading Ursula K. Le Guin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA with my son. Does anyone doubt Le Guin's astonishing, jaw-dropping talent? Does anyone doubt that both of these writers honed their innate gifts through years of hard work? And does anyone believe that everybody could be just as good as these two writers (and many others I might name) if everybody had a teacher willing to work with them for however long it took?

Well, I don't believe this, anyway. Doerr and Le Guin (and many others) are just flat-out more talented than I am or ever will be, and I'm no more ashamed to admit that than I am to admit that Pittsburgh Pirates center-fielder Andrew McCutchen generates considerably faster bat speed than I can or ever could.

We can criticize Boudinot for his condescending tone, insensitive remarks, and sexist assumptions (though really, we'd probably have been better off not rising to his bait). But I don't think we should criticize him for stating the uncomfortable truth that writing is not only an occupation but a discipline and a gift.