Tuesday, July 19, 2016

YA Guy Announces... Launch Week for SCAVENGER OF SOULS!


YA Guy's gearing up for the release of SCAVENGER OF SOULS on August 23, and I've finally scheduled two events for that week. Though I know that most readers of this blog don't live in Pittsburgh and aren't likely to be here in August, I figured I'd post the events anyway:

Launch party, Saturday, August 20, 2:00-5:00
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont, PA 15139

Signing, Sunday, August 28, 2:00-4:00
Classic Lines Bookstore, 5825 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217

If you're in town and can make it to either of these events, I'd love to have you!

Friday, July 8, 2016

YA Guy Reviews... RESCUED by Eliot Schrefer!


When YA Guy was a lad of five, I visited the Pittsburgh Zoo with my father. This was in the days that zoos were essentially prisons, with animals held in solitary confinement in barred, concrete cells. Being too young to realize the full implications of that, I wandered with my dad to the ape and monkey house, my favorite part of the zoo. I enjoyed watching the gorilla in particular, though even at that age, it puzzled me that he was alone, that he did little but stare dully out of his cage all day, except when on occasion he'd regurgitate his food and pick through it. But again, at age five, I was thinking much more about my own pleasure at seeing such an awesome animal than about that animal's well-being, much less his rights.

On this particular day, a surprise awaited me: a trainer had a baby chimpanzee named Geraldine, and was offering visitors the chance to hold her. I eagerly volunteered, and when the little creature wrapped her furry arms around my neck and rested her head on my cheek, I felt something that Eliot Schrefer captures expertly in his book RESCUED:

"It was the first time I'd held something so delicately alive, something it was in my power to drop or save. I went silent with responsibility."

In Schrefer's book, it's a baby orangutan that the narrator, John, is holding, a present from John's irresponsible and eager-to-please father. But the feeling is almost entirely the same. It's from the moment I held Geraldine that I date not only my love for great apes but, far more importantly, my sense of responsibility to them.

RESCUED is the third book in Schrefer's planned four-book YA series about the great apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. Each book, though entirely different from the others in setting and character, features a young person's relationship with one of the four species of ape. In the first two, ENDANGERED (bonobos) and THREATENED (chimpanzees), the settings are African and the apes living in a wild or, at least, semi-wild condition. In RESCUED, by contrast, the setting is the U.S., and the orangutan, Raja, grows up as a captive house pet. The book's action revolves around John's growing realization that Raja is not rightfully his and the teen's subsequent efforts to return him to Sumatra, from which he was stolen as a baby.

I'm going to put it out there right now: Schrefer's books are my favorite YA series of all time. That's partly because of their subject matter, but it's also because of their beautiful writing, vivid characters (human and ape), lush descriptions of ape behavior and human-ape interaction, and keen moral sensibility. Schrefer doesn't preach, but he doesn't pull punches either: John comes to learn that it's wrong, plain and simple, to keep wild things captive, and he takes enormous risks to rectify a crime to which, as a child, he was a willing if unknowing accomplice. Late in the book, the following moment of intimacy between ape and human clinches John's determination to set his childhood friend free:

"Raja kept probing me. When his golden eyes met mine directly I felt more fully seen by him than by any human in my life. It was like he was navigating back and forth in my heart, sifting and sorting every little feeling he found. Neither of us had a self while our eyes were linked: John and Raja were shared between us."

Apes are as close to human as non-human animals can be. But they're also utterly unique creatures, with lives and needs and agendas distinct from ours. That we've come close to extinguishing all of our nearest relatives on Earth (orangutans, along with mountain gorillas, being the most critically endangered of the great apes) speaks very poorly for our humanity. But in a book such as RESCUED, we glimpse what our relationship to these creatures could and should be: one of mutual interest, love, and respect, starting with respect for their right to live their lives without our interference. Maybe, if we can learn this about the apes, we can learn it about the rest of the world's inhabitants as well.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

YA Guy... Feels Like a Failure!

A friend of mine feels like a failure.

She’s young, incredibly bright and personable, hugely talented. She’s in a graduate program, studying a subject she loves, and she’s surrounded by caring friends and family.

But she hasn’t been published yet.

I don’t know the specific details. She’s not ready to talk about them at the moment. I know she had an agent and was working on revising her manuscript, but I don’t know if the agent backed out, or the manuscript didn’t sell, or something else. All I know is, right now, she feels like a failure.

When she told me that, my first impulse was to try to talk her out of it. But as a parent, I’ve learned that you shouldn’t try to talk people out of their feelings. That’s a parental impulse, guided by the desire to protect one’s children from bad things in life (or to not have to deal with them oneself). When children are sad, or angry, or feel like failures, you should affirm that feeling and let them talk about it if they want to, give them a hug if they’ll let you. We can’t go around trying to pretend bad feelings don’t exist or aren’t valid or must be avoided.

So let’s talk. (I’m not able to give you a hug right now, sorry.) Let’s talk about feeling like a failure as a writer.

I felt that way for, oh, the first forty-eight years of my life (or at least the part of it I remember). That’s because I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty-nine.

I had an offer from an agent when I was in my twenties, but she turned out to be a shyster. I had a few short stories published, mostly in online magazines, but all of my novel-length manuscripts went nowhere. I parted ways with an agent who told me she loved my manuscript, then turned around and told me it sucked. But it wasn’t until age forty-nine that I was published.

And you know what? Despite that, I still feel like a failure at times.

I feel like a failure when I get bad reviews like this recent one on Amazon: “Boring. No excitement. Waste of time. Hated it.” I feel like a failure when my books don’t make the bestseller list and some of my friends’ books do. I feel like a failure when my agent rejects a new manuscript of mine. I feel like a failure when I hold a signing and no one shows up.

All of these things, and far worse, happen to authors. And when they do happen, the authors in question feel like failures.

Do they feel as much like failures as people who haven’t been published yet? Maybe not. But what are we going to do, start ranking feelings?

I feel terrible for my friend, and for everyone who aspires to authorship but hasn’t gotten there yet. No one deserves to feel like a failure. Everyone, however, does feel that way sometimes.

If you feel that way most or all of the time, or about your whole self instead of just your writer-self, then you need to seek psychiatric help. I’m not being facetious. You might be clinically depressed, and if so, you’re at risk for self-damage.

But if you feel that way from time to time, and mostly about writing instead of about everything, you’re perfectly normal. Go ahead and feel that way. If it helps to talk to others about your feelings, do so. I guarantee they’ve shared them at one time or another. But if you’re not ready to talk, then simply allow yourself to feel the feeling, as much as it hurts to do so.

And if you need someone to give you a hug, don’t hesitate to ask.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

YA Guy Participates in... The Summer Reading $250 Cash Giveaway!

YA Guy's tickled pink to participate in the Summer Dreaming $250 Cash Giveaway, organized by I Am a Reader and sponsored by a great group of authors and bloggers! You have until July 15th to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway, so get on your swimsuit and go!

Summer Dreaming Cash

Summer Dreaming

$250 Cash Giveaway

June 21st to July 15th

Prize: $250 Amazon.com Gift Code
or $250 in Paypal Cash
to one lucky winner!

Sponsors:

I Am A Reader
Suzi Love
Kimber Leigh Wheaton
Glistering Bs Blog
Lori's Reading Corner
Bonnie Blythe Faith Based Romance
Bella Street Time Travel Romance
Laurie Here - Cont Fiction and More
KellysLuckyYou Deb Atwood Author
Kindle and Me
Melanie McFarlane, YA Author
Heather Gray, Author
Everly Frost, YA Author
Author Pauline Creeden
Subtitled Books
The Page Unbound LeahSay's Views
Joshua David Bellin
Crystal Marcos
The Candid Cover
LOVE. WITHOUT YOU
Here We Go Again...Ready?
Helen Smith
Jennifer Faye ~ Romance Author
B. Kristin McMichael
Cool Cat Mysteries
The Lovely Books
Author Elisa Dane
Simple Wyrdings
D.E. Haggerty, author
Why Not? Because I Said So! (Sheila Staley)
Diana's Book Reviews
Stones of Gilgal Novels
AuggieTalk
Author Dorothy Dreyer

Giveaway Details $250 in Paypal Cash or a $250 Amazon.com eGift Card. Ends 7/15/16.  Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use money sent via Paypal. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by Rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the authors, bloggers and publishers on the sponsor list. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

YA Guy Remembers... Why YA Matters!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, YA Guy recently signed up for NetGalley, so I've been reading the occasional ARC. Some of what I've read is YA; most isn't. I look for titles that sound interesting, regardless of genre or audience, and I hope for the best.

But I've gotta tell you, the results haven't been satisfying. Most of the galleys I've read haven't clicked for me. And I think one of the main reasons is that, having read mostly YA the past several years, I've come to expect certain things from literature that I'm not getting from non-YA books.

Like strong characters. And interesting plots. And thought-provoking conflicts.

You know, things that matter.

YA has all of these things. Lots of other books ostensibly written for grownups don't.

Take the most recent galley I read, Ezekiel Boone's THE HATCHING. The story of monster spiders that eat their way through various human populations around the world, the book was creepy enough in an Aliens or Roland Emmerich Godzilla kind of way (spiders bursting from people's bodies, egg sacs laid in popular sports venues, etc.). But when you got past the shock effects, there wasn't much to the book.

The characters in particular left me cold. Almost everyone was pure caricature: the tough-as-nails cop, the flighty scientist, the ballsy but beautiful woman president, etc., etc. The occasional side character, like the Scottish guy who writes potboilers, was mildly amusing, but such characters had little to do with the plot. For the most part, characters were defined by who they were sleeping with. And who they were sleeping with just wasn't very interesting.

You couldn't get away with this in YA. I'm not saying that all YA has brilliantly drawn characters--but at least in YA, you have to try to make the characters more than caricatures. In a book like THE HATCHING, the characters are merely there to give the monster spiders something to eat. There's no drama in that, no human interest, no occasion for reflection. There's only gross-out gore and sex scenes. And who cares about that?

Throughout my life, I've read and enjoyed many types of literature. I'm certainly no YA snob. But I do wish that all literature aspired to do what YA aspires to do: to transport and transform readers, not just to terrify or titillate them.

YA doesn't always matter, but it always tries to matter. And that, I think, is why it matters to me.

Friday, May 27, 2016

YA Guy Reviews... I AM NUMBER FOUR!

YA Guy’s thirteen-year-old son is really into the YA science fiction series, the Lorien Legacies, that begins with the book I Am Number Four. He’s read all of the books to date, and is eagerly awaiting future installments.

So we rented the movie version of I Am Number Four. And (in his estimation as well as mine) it stank. At his urging, I decided to read the book. When I did, I had no idea this was a Full Fathom Five project, the HarperCollins imprint headed by James Frey.

For those of you who don’t know, Frey’s the guy who duped Oprah and half the reading public with his largely fabricated drug-addiction memoir, A Million Little Pieces. Moving on from that debacle, he founded Full Fathom Five to cash in on the increasingly lucrative YA market. (By his own account, he was looking for the next Harry Potter or Twilight.) His model is unorthodox and aggressive: he solicits highly commercial YA projects, contracts writers (many of them recent MFA graduates) to write them up according to a tried-and-true formula, and makes a gazillion dollars from them. But here’s the catch: according to some sources, Frey’s author contracts are highly irregular, paying out a mere pittance while prohibiting said authors from performing most of the activities (promotion, etc.) that are typically seen as the author’s right.

I’m not sure how true these reports are. I haven’t researched Full Fathom Five or James Frey exhaustively, though I have read (and enjoyed) another of the imprint’s projects, Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I know some people have decided to boycott Full Fathom Five books because of the controversy surrounding the imprint.

Which is unfortunate, because I Am Number Four isn’t a half-bad book.

It’s got some stylistic problems (over-reliance on the helping verb “start,” excessive use of “is,” and so on). It’s also got some major plot lapses (why, if the alien teen living on our planet wants to stay hidden, does he attend a public high school?). And while the main character’s friendship with an alien-abduction obsessed fellow teen feels sweet and genuine, his romance with a one-dimensional former cheerleader-turned-do-gooder feels flat and formulaic.

But for all that, I Am Number Four also tells a compelling story of a teenage boy who just wants to be normal, who’s sick of moving from place to place every time his guardian says so, and who feels trapped by the weight of responsibility that’s been thrust on him, as he’s groomed to save his home planet from an invading alien race. In the tradition of the Harry Potter series or Twilight, the book’s fantasy concept does an excellent job of tapping into the anxieties and frustrations real-life young people face. In short, the book deserves a better publisher than, apparently, it got.

It’s easy to hate James Frey. He’s an unrepentant literary charlatan. In interviews, he comes across as boorish and egotistical. His interest in YA has nothing to do with art and everything to do with payola, primarily for himself.

But let’s put this in a larger perspective. If Frey is all of these things, why is he heading up a YA imprint at a supposedly reputable publishing house? If he’s all of these things, why is there a place in publishing for him at all?

There's a place for him, folks, because we made a place for him.

All of us in the publishing industry, and perhaps particularly in YA—publishers, editors, agents, and, yes, authors—have helped create the conditions under which a person like Frey can not only exist but flourish. We’ve all been looking for that blockbuster to rival Harry Potter or Twilight. We’ve all allowed formula to trump artistry. We’ve all, to one extent or another, put the dollar first and let everything else go to the devil.

So let’s not blame a disreputable character like James Frey for cashing in on a field that was ripe for his particular variety of greed, and let’s certainly not blame I Am Number Four. Like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, Frey is our own creation. And though we certainly don't have to approve of his activities, I don’t think we have the right to be shocked when he goes out and makes a killing.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

YA Guy Reviews... NIGHT SPEED by Chris Howard (plus a giveaway)!

Chris Howard is one of YA Guy's favorite authors.

I read his debut Rootless, the first in a YA science fiction duology (soon to be a trilogy) about a future world without trees, back in 2013. I was impressed by his originality of both vision and voice; he tells great, twisted stories in haunting, sometimes painful, but always beautiful language. If you haven't read Rootless and its sequel, The Rift, I suggest you do yourself a favor and track the books down right away.

Which brings me to Howard's latest, the near-future YA science fiction novel Night Speed. I've been eagerly awaiting this book since I heard about it last year, but I also harbored the tiniest bit of anxiety--like, "can he do it again?" anxiety. I didn't want to be let down.

I shouldn't have worried. Night Speed is brilliant.


Inasmuch as the book's about a dangerously addictive street drug, tetra, that gives its users a brief burst of superhuman speed and strength, it's tempting to say I was hooked from page one. But that's not entirely true, because it took me a while to appreciate the main character, Alana West, a teen who works for the elite Tetra Response Unit (TRU) to chase down the "breaknecks" who wreak havoc while high on tetra. To do that, she has to take tetra herself--which means she risks becoming what she hates. Like all tetra users, Alana knows the "rush" won't last forever; only teens can use it, because adult bodies can't handle the powerful stimulant. But she continues using tetra for two reasons: because she feels guilty about the injury her younger brother suffered at the hands of a breakneck, and--frankly--because she's as in love with the rush as the criminals she hunts down.

It's a gutsy move to tell this story from the point of view of a drug addict, one whose increasingly out-of-control actions are hard to condone, even if her initial motivation for joining the TRU stemmed from a desire to spare others the pain she and her family feel. Howard could have taken the easy way out and made Alana noble or pitiable or self-sacrificing--but he resists that impulse, choosing instead to get inside her addiction and understand it in all its ugly complexity. When Alana goes undercover to try to shut down the dealer who's flooding the streets with tetra, the gang of breaknecks she joins emerges as a cast of equally well-rounded characters, with their own reasons and rationalizations for their reckless pursuit of pleasure at the cost of their own lives and the lives of others. Alana might be the story's hero, but she's as damaged--and as damned--as the rest of them.

But that's the great thing about NIGHT SPEED, and it's the great thing about Chris Howard. He's not looking for simple "good vs. evil" stories or artificial uplift. He's looking for something much more messy: the beauty in the terrible, and the terror in the beautiful. If that's what you're looking for too, NIGHT SPEED will be your kind of book.

And if it is what you're looking for, then enter my contest to win my copy of NIGHT SPEED. (Much as I love the book, I'd rather share it with someone else than hoard it.) No fancy Rafflecopter form; just leave a comment telling me why you should be the one to win this book, and I'll choose the winner based on the best response. The contest will run for a week, ending next Friday. (U.S. only, I'm afraid.) Make sure to leave some way for me to get in touch with you in your comment. And even if you don't win, I urge you to pick up a copy of NIGHT SPEED. You'll be rewarded in ways that won't be easy or comforting, but I guarantee they'll be intense and real.