Sunday, July 21, 2019

YA Guy Reads... Classic Plague Novels!

YA Guy will admit that the title to this post is perhaps the weirdest I've ever written. But as I'm sure I've mentioned, I'm not only a YA writer; I also have a doctorate in American literature and teach at the university level. What this means is that I read a lot of non-YA literature, and sometimes, I find that it dovetails with the YA I read (and write).

That seems to be the case now, though I'm not sure exactly how or why I started reading the genre I'm currently reading: classic novels about plague. Plague novels are super-popular right now, in both YA and non-YA: we have zombie plagues, hot zone plagues, superbug plagues, and so on and so forth. No doubt this plague craze has to do not only with actual medical threats but with generalized anxiety about the state of the world.

And I suppose, though I've never written (and have no plan to write) a novel specifically about plague, all of my novels are similar to plague novels in that they're about people surviving against hostile environments: the desert-plus-monsters environment of the Survival Colony novels, the sentient, predatory Nature of the Ecosystem trilogy, the threatening exoplanet of Freefall. Come to think of it, the draft novel I just completed does feature a disease as one key plot element. So when I started reading plague novels, maybe I was preparing for my own next book.

Anyway, here are the top three classic plague novels I've read, in order of the date of publication. I wish I could say "enjoy," but like all books of this sort, these three are pretty grim.

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722). Written by the author of Robinson Crusoe, this is a fictionalized account of the 1665 plague in London that killed nearly 100,000 people. Defoe's book relies on archival research, testimony from survivors, and other sources, but its narrator is pure invention, as are some of the incidents. That makes it an early example of experimental, hybrid fiction (or creative nonfiction). Coincidentally, the novel I wrote my senior year in college was titled after Defoe's work, which I'd heard of but hadn't read as of then.

Mary Shelley, The Last Man (1826). Almost one hundred and fifty years before Richard Matheson's 1954 I Am Legend, Shelley wrote this novel of a worldwide plague that leaves no one but the narrator alive. Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is sometimes considered the first science fiction novel, and you could call this book the first post-apocalyptic novel (unless you think of the Book of Revelation that way). It's nowhere near as influential as Frankenstein--and, truth be told, it's nowhere near as well written, with the first 100 pages in particular being full of turgid prose and Romantic excess--but it's still quite an accomplishment.

Albert Camus, The Plague (1947). Originally published as La Peste, this novel tells the tale of plague descending on a twentieth-century city in French Algeria. Narrated by one of the town's doctors--who avoids death himself but loses his wife, ironically, from an unrelated illness she's escaped the city to cure--the book can be seen as an allegory of the German occupation of France or, more generally, as a work of existential philosophy, with the plague standing for the human condition of inevitable death and capricious fate. Either way, it's beautifully written, focusing much more on people's diverse reactions to the pestilence than to the graphic details of plague itself.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

YA Guy Reviews... NELIEM by Clare Di Liscia and WASTED PRETTY by Jamie Beth Cohen!

YA Guy has a confession: I haven’t read much YA this year. There are lots of reasons for that, starting with the fact that I’ve been catching up on some literature I want to teach (and alas, I don’t have the opportunity to teach YA). But since I am YA Guy, I did read two really great debuts/new releases that I want to recommend. Both are similar in being the stories of young women growing to maturity during difficult times, though one is cast in the fantasy mode and the other in contemporary realism.

The first is Neliem, a YA fantasy by debut author Clare Di Liscia. This action/romance is very much in the “kick-butt heroine” vein, which I don’t always enjoy; at times, I feel that the character of the strong, capable, physically active YA heroine has become a mere reflex on the author’s part without context or nuance. Happily, that’s not the case with Neliem, which offers a fully realized, flesh-and-blood main character who kicks her share of butt while remaining complex and convincing.

The narrator and protagonist of Neliem is Oriana, a teenage girl living in squalid poverty on an island nation that’s fallen under the control of the mainland conquerors her people name Untouchables. Her prospects are bleak; many of her fellow islanders have died of the plague that almost took her, and those who survive eke out an existence of penury, servitude, and near-starvation. Oriana draws strength by imagining herself as the legendary hero Neliem, a savior of the poor and unprotected. But when Ezra, an Untouchable boy possessed of all the wealth and power Oriana can only dream of, unexpectedly chooses her as his bride in a coercive ceremony she has little choice but to obey, she’s whisked away to an alien world and forced to live in the household of a husband she can’t trust. Whether she can become the hero she longs to be drives the action of this novel, as Oriana uncovers the truth of the Untouchable culture and of the boy who claims to love her.

I won’t give away whether Ezra truly loves Oriana, but I will give away that I did. She’s a remarkable character, fiercely drawn and richly layered, provided with a credible personal and social history that makes her thoughts, feelings, and actions utterly believable. She can be scared and overwhelmed one minute, risk-taking and bold the next—but she’s never, from first page to last, anything less than fully real. The world she inhabits took me a bit longer to settle into, probably because Di Liscia doesn’t rush the world-building but lets the details emerge gradually. This approach makes sense, inasmuch as we’re discovering the world through the relatively inexperienced Oriana’s eyes, learning it as she does. The result is a fascinating plunge into an alternative reality that feels both fantastic and familiar, which is what the best fantasy novels achieve.

From YA fantasy, I turn to YA contemporary realism with Jamie Beth Cohen’s debut novel Wasted Pretty. I’ll admit I was sold on this book from the first page, which opens on a summertime film screening at Flagstaff Hill in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, circa 1992. Yes, these screenings are real—they’ve been going on for years, and in fact my first date with my wife was at one such event! So as a lifelong Pittsburgh resident, I had an immediate connection to the world Cohen recreates.

That wouldn’t have been enough to hold my interest, though, if the main character's story weren’t equally strong. Cohen’s narrator is sixteen-year-old Alice Burton, daughter of a radio DJ and a mother who’s developed a line of health foods (and tested them on her daughter, enabling Alice to shed pounds and show the world a newly curvy body). That’s good in one respect—it attracts the attention of college student and aspiring grunge rocker Chris Thompson—but it also garners the unwanted advances of professional baseball player and family friend Karl Bell. An act of sexual assault traumatizes Alice just as other parts of her life seem to be falling apart as well: her dad’s gambling addiction is preventing him from keeping up with tuition payments to her private high school, her relationship with her best friend is feeling the strain of boyfriends and beer bashes, and the enigmatic Chris Thompson clearly likes her but won’t fully commit to her. Spanning a turbulent summer, Wasted Pretty paints an unsparing portrait of a young woman coming to terms with who she is and what she wants from life.

The disturbing scene in which Karl Bell assaults Alice is the novel’s centerpiece, with everything else connected to it in some way. But there’s no shortage of marvelously realized scenes to choose from in this novel (perhaps my favorite being the nicely understated scene in which Alice and her father overcome their estrangement to share a meal at the neighborhood Friendly’s). Cohen gets the local and period details right, delving into the music groups, hair and clothing styles, and high school party culture of the day; she also gets the interior details right, with Alice’s pain, confusion, hopes, and anger coming through with perfect timing and clarity. The butterfly on the book’s cover becomes a multilayered symbol for the transformation Alice undergoes, with all its struggles, possibilities, and triumphs intact.

You don’t need to know Pittsburgh to love Wasted Pretty. You just need to know someone like Alice—and we all do.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

YA Guy Shares... Artwork from HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE!

If you've read HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, the final novel in YA Guy's Ecosystem Trilogy, you know that there's an illustration at the end representing the family tree of the Queens who are featured in the trilogy. The artist, Jessica Khoury of Lizard Ink Maps, produced the stunning line drawing, and I couldn't be more thrilled with the results.

Or, then again, maybe I could--because as a special favor, she produced a mind-blowing full-color version of the illustration, using a technique that simulates the look of stained glass. Here it is in all its glory!

Nice, huh?

This is, by the way, one of the pleasures of self-publishing; though I enjoy publishing books the traditional way as well, it's unlikely I could have convinced a publisher to include an extra illustration in my book. With self-publishing, it's all up to me!

Enjoy the artwork, and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

YA Guy Hosts... Malayna Evans, Author of JAGGER JONES AND THE MUMMY'S ANKH!

YA Guy is excited to introduce debut author, friend, and agency sibling Malayna Evans, whose middle grade novel JAGGER JONES AND THE MUMMY'S ANKH comes out on May 28! To me, this historical fantasy-adventure, first in a series set in ancient Egypt, sounds like it rivals the Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan, so I can't wait to read it. I asked Malayna to talk about her path to publication, and she responded with a story that's both bittersweet and empowering for aspiring authors everywhere!
I always wanted to be a writer … in the same way my eleven-year-old daughter wants to be a mermaid. It’s not that I didn’t mean it. I did. I even went back to school to earn grad degrees in ancient history, in part because I thought a few fancy pieces of paper might magically transform me into the next Margaret George or Madeline Miller.

Then life happened. And believe it or not, my mermaid job never magically materialized.

And then, life happened some more. In the midst of a family crisis, I took my son, then nine, to lunch one day for a heart-to-heart. I don’t know how we ended up talking about ancient Egypt. At the time, we both adored the topic. (Sadly, one of us--now sixteen--has outgrown it). After a depressing debrief, perhaps we just wanted to lighten the mood. It’s the following moments that are still clear in my mind. He asked me what ancient Egyptians looked like. I told my beautiful, biracial son he’d fit in well. And he said someone should write a book about a kid who looked like him in ancient Egypt.

When my son and I drafted chapter one, it was a parenting exercise, something for us to work on together during a rough spot.

When I kept writing, it was a hobby to spend time on as I found myself with a lot more free time on my hands than I was accustomed to.

When I finished a full draft, tracked down real feedback, tossed the first manuscript in the trash, and started again, I began to wonder: could I really land a job as a mermaid?

I didn’t know at the time how hard it is for unpublished authors to get an agent, or find a publisher, or actually launch a book into the world. In retrospect, my naivete might have been a blessing.

I did know I wanted to write a book that featured bright, creative kids--kids like my two little people--on a memorable adventure in ancient Egypt. And I wanted to share my passion for history with middle school kids, and make it fun enough that they’d enjoy learning, or, better, not even realize there was learning involved.

When I landed an agent, I thought my big mermaid-break was just around the corner. Turns out, as hard as that was, it was only the start. Fortunately, my fabulous agent, Liza Fleissig, has the patience of a mollusk. She stuck with me, helping me improve the work until it was good enough to send out. It took a minute (okay, a few billion minutes), but eventually she found my series a home.

Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, is scheduled to be released on May 28th from Month9Books. And no, it doesn’t mean I’m a professional mermaid now. Turns out, most authors need regular-old-human day jobs. But it’s a start. And the goals that animated my pursuit are in sight. If kids read this book and see themselves in Jagger and Aria, or discover an interest in the ancient world, I’ll coin myself a successful mermaid … and quite possibly track down a seashell-drenched tiara to don. Because mermaids may not be real, but celebrating life’s accomplishments should be!

About the Book: Jagger Jones is a whiz kid from Chicago's South Side. Ask him anything about Ancient Egypt, and Jagger can fill hours describing all that he knows. But when he and his precocious little sister Aria fall more than three thousand years back in time to the court of Amarna, Egypt, Jagger discovers a truth that rocks his world: books don't teach you everything there is to know. Mummies, pyramids, and cool hieroglyphics make awesome movie props, but the ancient court of Amarna is full of over-sized scorpions, magical amulets, and evil deities determined to scare unwanted visitors away. If Jagger and Aria are to return safely home, they must find nine soul-infested gemstones, defeat an evil general, save the royal family, and figure out how to rescue themselves! Armed only with Jagger's knowledge of history and a few modern objects mined from his pockets and Aria's sparkly purse, the siblings have exactly one week to solve supernatural riddles and rescue the royal family. If they can pull it off, Jagger Jones just might return to Chicago a hero.

About the Author: Malayna Evans, author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She’s used her education to craft a magical time-travel tale set in ancient Egypt for middle graders. Malayna lives in Oak Park, Illinois, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hamster named Pedicure.

You can learn more about Malayna on her website:
Or you can follow her on social media:

To preorder JAGGER JONES, go here:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

YA Guy Proudly Presents... The Ecosystem Trilogy!

Well, it's finally done. The Ecosystem Trilogy, a project YA Guy's been dreaming about and working on for years, is completed, released, and launched. The three books are out there in the world, and I hope readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

To celebrate the completion of the series, I'm running a promotion for the Kindle e-books, each of which is on sale from May 2 through May 6 for only $0.99. By my calculations, that means you can buy the whole series for a mere $2.97. If you're interested, here's the link:

Thanks for tagging along with me on this journey. Traveling through the Ecosystem with you has been one of the best adventures of my life.

Monday, April 22, 2019


YA Guy was happy to find a big box o' books on his doorstep a week ago, heralding the arrival of copies of HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, the third (and hence final) book in the Ecosystem Trilogy.

That's a lotta books, isn't it?

Anyway, today--Earth Day, 2019--is the book's release date. (The first book in the series, Ecosystem, released on Earth Day last year, with the second book, The Devouring Land, tucked in between.) I'm personally very proud of this series, into which I poured a lot of my heart and soul, and I hope readers will enjoy its futuristic vision of an Earth in which the natural environment has become a collective sentience bent on humankind's destruction--and of the brave people who try to come to some sort of reconciliation with Nature. Yes, it's an allegory for our times--but even more, it's an exciting adventure story with a fiery protagonist, tons of action, and really cool monsters. So check it out and order a copy today!

Or, if you're in the Pittsburgh area and would like a signed copy, you can check out the book's launch party, which takes place next Tuesday, April 30. Here's all the information you need:

I hope to see some of you at the party, and I look forward to hearing from you about your reaction to the Ecosystem Trilogy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

YA Guy's in... The Spring 2019 YA Scavenger Hunt!

It's my favorite time of year!

YA Guy's super excited to participate in this year's SPRING 2019 YA SCAVENGER HUNT! This is my seventh Hunt, and I've got a new novel, the concluding book to the Ecosystem trilogy, due out at the end of April (on Earth Day, of course). So I'm totally ready for the Hunt, and I trust that you are too! (I mean, why would you be here if you weren't?)

As you can probably tell by all the green lettering in this post (not to mention the banner at the top), I'm on the GREEN TEAM, along with the other awesome authors you see below:

The YA Scavenger Hunt is a bi-annual event 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 GREEN 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 FIVE contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! But don't delay: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will be online only until noon Pacific time on SUNDAY, APRIL 7! (I'm also running a personal giveaway during the same period of time.)


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 Green 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 to 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 7, 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.

Personal Giveaway: In addition to the prizes named above, readers who enter my personal giveaway will have a chance to win a signed copy of the three books in the Ecosystem series! Like the Hunt itself, the personal giveaway is open internationally. See below on how to enter!

Got all that? Then let's meet the author I'm hosting, AMANDA MARIN!

When Amanda was a child, her father traveled frequently for business, always bringing her back a book (or 22) as a present. It wasn't long before she was hooked on stories! Nowadays, she writes books of her own. Amanda has degrees in English from Salve Regina University and Boston College, and her favorite things include Starbucks lattes, lazy summer afternoons at the beach, and books with characters that make you go "awwww." She lives in New Hampshire with her family and furbaby, Snickers the Poodle.

To stalk Amanda, go to her website or visit her favorite social media hangouts:

Twitter: @AMarinWrites

About NORTH TO NARA: Neve Hall has always admired the good works of the civil servants who brought prosperity back to the Nation. She especially respects the Sufferers--empaths who, with the help of technology, anonymously bear others' troubles for them. But when her assigned empath is abruptly retired, she uncovers certain secrets. Like the identity of her new Sufferer, Micah Ward... and the fact that behind his kind smile is a life filled with loneliness and pain.

The closer Neve grows to Micah, the more desperate she becomes to protect him from a cruel and gruesome fate. But in a world where only a few are allowed the luxury of love, saving Micah comes with a price: Neve must choose between her loyalty to the Nation or her heart--a decision that will take them both on a race for their freedom, and their lives.

To buy the book, follow this link!

But wait, there's more! I'm also running a personal giveaway, in which one reader will win a signed copy of the three books in the Ecosystem series: ECOSYSTEM, THE DEVOURING LAND, and HOUSE of EARTH, HOUSE of STONE!

Set on a future Earth where the natural world has mutated into a planet-wide predator, the Ecosystem trilogy tells the story of Sarah, a seventeen-year-old girl with the psychic ability to survive within the sentient Ecosystem that drove humankind to the brink of extinction. In order to protect her family and her community, Sarah must face the Ecosystem's deadliest creatures and travel to its most terrifying places. And she must decide whether to save the boy she loves, Isaac, at the cost of losing everything else she holds dear.

You can enter my personal giveaway in one (or all) of the three following ways:

--comment on this post
--follow me on Facebook at
--subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter at

Each form of entry gives you one chance at winning. The winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries.

THE SPRING 2019 HUNT IS OVER! I'll be compiling entries for my personal giveaway this week, and contacting the winner by week's end. Thanks to all who entered!