Wednesday, August 23, 2017

YA Guy Launches... FREEFALL!

YA Guy's newest science fiction novel, FREEFALL, hits the shelves next month (September 26, to be exact), so I'm celebrating a few days early with a launch party on September 24. If you're in or near the Pittsburgh area, please stop by--there will be good conversation, signed books for sale, food and drink, and cool giveaways (I promise).

Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 21, 2017

YA Guy Reads... Really Long Books!

YA Guy recently finished reading Frank Herbert's DUNE--all 900 pages of it--and it made me think about other really long books I've read in the past. Since I'm gearing up to read two additional epics--THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and DON QUIXOTE--I thought it would be fun to post mini-reviews of ten previous examples, listed in order from best to worst.

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS. My favorite book, hands down. I've read it four times throughout my life--once when I was twelve, once during graduate school, once when I taught a Tolkien course to college students, and several years ago just for the heck of it--and I never tire of it. I confess, in my most recent reading, I found the elevated diction and inverted syntax ("Lo! Then did the Lord Aragorn come unto the Plains of Pelennor, and he was as one that was wroth!") a bit forced. But the story, the characters, and most of all the unparalleled world-building were as impressive to me as they were back when I was a kid.

2. DUNE. Another long book I loved as a teen and decided to re-read as an adult. I found it really slow-moving this time around; the first third is pretty much prelude to the uprising that kicks the story into gear. And hero Paul's unflappable, messianic self-confidence was a bit hard to take. But as with Tolkien, Herbert has to be credited for one of the greatest feats of world-building--or universe-building--of all time.

3. ULYSSES. I started Joyce's epic in 1990 and finished it in 2015. But no, it didn't take me 25 years to read it; I started it for a class in grad school, then stopped midway through once the semester ended and never picked it back up until 25 years later. Undeniably a great book, earthy and funny and sensual and smart, with enough daring, dazzling narrative choices to fill up a shelf-full of novels.

4. TOM JONES. This 1000-plus page picaresque is at once an early masterpiece of the novel form and a parody of the same; it pretty much defined postmodernism 200 years before that was a thing. I read it in grad school and don't remember many of the details, except for the fact that the hero kept getting into various affairs and peccadilloes and the author kept commenting on his own book. But I do remember that it kept me entertained for a solid month, and that's something.

5. GONE WITH THE WIND. Yes, it's racist as hell, and I would never excuse or rationalize that racism the way some people do ("oh, everyone was racist then, so it's not a big deal!"). I would say, however, that as a glimpse into the mind of the South, both antebellum and postbellum, it can't be beat. And Scarlett O'Hara remains one of the great fictional inventions of all time.

6. SHOGUN. I read this way back in high school, after I'd watched the miniseries. It's hard for me to recall from all those years back exactly what I thought about it; I don't think I understood it all that well, and I really had (and have) no idea if its representation of feudal Japan is at all accurate. But I remember that the story kept me engaged, and the characters, both Western and Japanese, struck me as simultaneously realistic and of epic proportions, which isn't an easy balance to strike.

7. PARADISE LOST. The only poem on this list, Milton's masterpiece was another book I was required to read in my Ph.D. program. It's not all that long in terms of page or word count, but the difficulty of the language and the complexity of the theological ruminations make it a book that feels much longer than it is. (That's not necessarily said in a negative way.) Of the central quartet of characters, Adam is a shallow pretty boy, God is a vengeful whiner, Eve is an interesting early example of a woman straining against the bonds of patriarchy, and Satan is a recognizably human and sympathetic villain.

8. CATCH-22. I received this book as a prize in college for an essay contest I won, but I didn't read it until a few years ago. I definitely get what Heller was up to, taking the "good war" and making it every bit as pointless, absurd, and depraved as every other war. But the darn thing is so chaotic and fractured, it took me forever to read. And I didn't feel that I connected with it until near the end, when we finally discover what Yossarian witnessed that drove him mad.

9. MIDDLEMARCH. Yet another massive novel that was required of me--or, in this case, inflicted on me--during grad school. I know many people love this book and its self-actualizing heroine, but I found it plodding, dull, and almost impossible to finish. It was ironic, I thought, that Eliot presented Casaubon's Key to All Mythologies as such a tedious, self-indulgent venture when, to me, her own novel felt very much the same.

10. GAME OF THRONES. Without a doubt, the worst long book I've ever read. I'd heard so many people raving about it, I felt I had to read it--but when I did, I discovered that it wasn't at all what I'd been led to believe. An epic fantasy? What's epic about it? And where's the fantasy? There's a wraith-like creature in the first few pages, and a baby dragon on the very last--and then, for the rest of the book, there's nothing but court intrigue and royals engaging in love affairs and other questionable behavior. Who cares about these people? And why did the author decide to kill the one character I had started to care about in the slightest--Ned Stark--in the most pointless, trivializing way possible? Add to that sexagenarian Martin's creepy fascination with nubile nymphet Daenerys Targaryen's genitalia and the various things that can be inserted therein, and this book was complete and total trash, basically soft-core porn masquerading as fantasy fiction.

So that wraps it up. Any suggestions for other really long books I should sink my teeth into? As I said, I've already got Hugo and Cervantes on tap, but I should be ready for something new by the middle of 2018 or so!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

YA Guy Discusses... Discussions!

As you've probably already figured out, YA Guy's kind of old-fashioned. (Which is another way of saying that YA Guy's kind of old.) I didn't encounter a computer until senior year in college. I don't own a cell phone. I'm on social media, sure, but I don't use it to flog, bully, and ridicule other people.

Which, it seems, is the purpose to which all too many put it.

I was thinking about this when I read a recent discussion of science fiction and fantasy literature on Goodreads. Ordinarily, I avoid such discussions, because I've learned that the comments tend to degenerate into tantrums, tirades, and taunts. But I thought, "what could go wrong with a discussion of science fiction and fantasy literature?" So I read.

Turns out lots of things can go wrong.

Right at the start, one participant denigrated dystopian literature--particularly YA dystopian--and those who read it. In no time, others jumped in either to defend the genre and its readers or to pile more ridicule upon their unsuspecting and inoffensive heads. Someone used the occasion to make a scurrilous remark about liberals (?), whereupon someone else berated that person for bringing politics into the forum. A couple of times, calmer heads tried to steer the discussion back on track or to suggest gently that different readers have a right to their own likes and dislikes, but to no avail. The troll train had left the station, and it wasn't about to be turned back.

I don't know why people like to attack other people online. I guess the relative anonymity (and hence safety) of computer-mediated discourse brings out the worst in some folks. Or maybe it's just a game for certain people (though why flinging profanities at perfect strangers should constitute some kind of game is beyond me). Whatever the case, in YA Guy's esteemed opinion, this kind of behavior is just plain cruel and pointless.

On Facebook--which, dinosaur that I am, is my favorite social media platform--I have a policy: I don't argue with other people's posts, and I don't permit argument with my own. On the rare occasion that someone violates this policy by calling me a pointy-headed liberal or whatever, I remove their comment and post a reminder that I don't abide such incivility in cyberspace, just as I don't abide it in face-to-face contacts. Life's too short, and damage too easily done by words as surely as fists, for me to engage in shouting contests on the computer screen.

So I'm here to make a plea for restraint in online discussions. Try to be nice to others. If you must disagree, do so respectfully. What purpose is served by adding to the sum total of vitriol in the world?

And if you find yourself posting a nasty response to this column, be assured that your words will be deleted by your friendly neighborhood dinosaur.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

YA Guy Gives Away... FREEFALL Swag!

YA Guy's got some very cool FREEFALL swag I'm just dying to give away to readers! It includes an item modeled on a scene in the book where the narrator, Cam, dons a backpack imprinted with the logo of JIPOC, the company that finances a deep-space colonization mission that goes horrendously wrong. Here's an image of the replica bag:

Pretty cool, huh?

From now until release day, I'm giving away this bag, filled with other FREEFALL goodies, to anyone who preorders the book. Here's what you have to do to claim your swag:

--preorder FREEFALL (in print or digital format) from your choice of retailer before September 26, 2017

--send an image of the receipt (screenshot or digital photo) to me at:

--in the body of the email message, include your mailing address (U.S. only)

I'll mail your bag right out to you, so you'll be able to carry your copy of FREEFALL (and anything else you want to carry) when the book comes out!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

YA Guy Reveals... The FREEFALL jacket!

YA Guy loves the cover to FREEFALL, my forthcoming YA science fiction adventure. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.

But then I saw the complete jacket.

Nice, huh?

There's a jacket reveal running on YA Interrobang for the next week, with a chance to win a signed copy of FREEFALL. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

YA Guy Gives Away... FREEFALL ARCs!

Just a very brief post to let you know that YA Guy (i.e., me) is giving away three signed ARCs of my forthcoming YA science fiction novel FREEFALL! Head on over to Goodreads to enter. The giveaway runs from now until June 30, so don't miss it!

Wow, I think that's my first post ever where the picture is bigger than the text.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

YA Guy Answers Questions... from Students!

One of YA Guy's favorite things about writing for young people is that I get to visit schools. The energy and enthusiasm students show are truly amazing--and the questions they ask about my novels and the writing process are great. To give you a sample of what I mean, here are some questions that I received from eighth grade students at a recent school visit, along with my answers.

Michael: Did you ever test your writing on your own children?

Me: As a matter of fact, yes! My daughter was my first reader for SURVIVAL COLONY 9 when she was twelve years old (she's now eighteen and about to go to college). I'd written a single chapter and wanted to see if it was any good, so I asked her to look it over. Fortunately, she gave it the thumbs up!

Conner: What were some of the main changes you made in the draft of SURVIVAL COLONY 9?

Me: One of the biggest changes was that I removed a chapter that included a lot of backstory about the world, the wars, the coming of the Skaldi, and so on. It was too much information all at once, and it slowed down the story. So I took tiny parts of it and included them in the chapter where Querry and Korah talk by the pool, and I sprinkled some other parts throughout the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS. If, as I'm currently planning, I publish a prequel, some of the information will find its way in there too!

Brittany: Were any of the characters inspired by real people?

Me: Most of them were, in one way or another. But in particular, I think the character of Laman was inspired by my own father, who's a great guy but (as is sometimes the case with fathers and sons) who sometimes rubs me the wrong way. The scene in which Querry and Laman play catch was definitely modeled on my own life--because the one thing my dad and I can always talk about without risking an argument is baseball.

Alex: Is writing your full-time job?

Me: I wish! Like many writers--maybe most writers--I have a full-time job that pays the bills, and then I write whenever I can. Balancing the two can be difficult, because writing takes so much time. But luckily, I'm a teacher, so I do get summers off!

Abbey: What's the favorite book that you've written?

Me: I'm tempted to say "all of them," but the reality is, one of the books I really, really love is also one that will probably never be published. It's a strange, quirky, satirical science fiction novel that is so personal, I can't see it finding a mass audience. It's what writers sometimes call "the book of my heart," the book I really wanted to write. But as a writer, one has to accept that a book like that won't always be published.

Gaven: Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic movies?

Me: How could you tell? Yes, I love the Terminator series, the X-Men movie Days of Future Past, and a number of other similar stories. Someone told me when SURVIVAL COLONY 9 came out that it was somewhat similar to The Walking Dead, so I watched the first episode of that series. But alas, I've never been a fan of zombie movies.

Austin: How did it feel to create a novel?

Me: This is a sort of dorky answer, but in all honesty, it felt similar to creating a child. I remember how it felt to hold my daughter for the first time, and it was similar to holding my own novel for the first time. (Holding my daughter was better, though. I have to say that or she'll kill me, but it's really true!)

Rocco: Did you ever try to publish any of your novels from the past?

Me: That's an interesting question. Like most writers, I've written more books than I've published, including a fantasy novel I wrote when I was sixteen. These days, with self-publishing, I could easily put those novels out there. But I feel as if that would be a mistake, because there's a reason most of them aren't published: they're not very good. They were the novels that helped me develop my skills to the point where I could write publishable novels, so it's probably better they remain in my closet or on my hard drive!

Lindsey: Is there a particular character you relate to?

Me: I definitely relate to my narrator, because he's the most me: a guy who tries to do the right thing but sometimes fails and sometimes doubts himself. But I also relate to Aleka, the character I'd most like to be. I find her really admirable, because she has a very strong sense of justice that I wish I could live up to in my own life.

Christian: How did you handle criticism from your editor?

Me: Another great question. Like all people, I feel bad when I get criticized, when someone doesn't like my book, when I get a negative review, and so on. But as a writer, you have to learn to deal with criticism--which doesn't mean ignoring it, but putting it to productive use. My editor always has critical comments to make about my manuscripts, and at first they sting a little. But then I take a step back, think about what she's saying, and do my best to learn from her criticism and make the manuscript as good as I can.

Hannah: With all the disappointments in a writer's life, what gives you the strength to go on?

Me: I think the answer to that is simply that I've wanted to be a writer almost as long as I can remember. If I'd given up, if I'd let disappointment stand in my way, I wouldn't have achieved my dream. So every time the going gets tough, I remind myself of why I'm doing this, and that helps me find my way.

Nadia: If you were living under the circumstances Querry lives under, what would you do?

Me: The reality is, I'd probably die. I'm not saying that facetiously; in order to make this book work, I had to take certain liberties with reality (such as the scarcity of water in Querry's world) that probably aren't actually survivable. But if it were possible to live under these conditions, I like to believe that, like Querry, I'd fight for the future, not only my own but that of others.

Jared: Did the ending of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 stay the same from draft to draft?

Me: Yes--but the middle changed a lot! That's usually how it is with me as a writer: I know where I want to go, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. I do a certain amount of planning, but for the most part, I enjoy being surprised by the twists and turns that occur during the act of writing.

Mike: Are there any of your characters that you dislike?

Me: I've definitely written unlikable characters, but that doesn't mean that I, the author, don't like them. Or maybe it would be better to say that I identify with them--I know what makes them tick, I get where they're coming from. I believe it's important for authors to know all their characters through and through, which often means recognizing qualities in them, even negative qualities, that are part of one's own make-up.

Madison: What's the most important struggle in SURVIVAL COLONY 9--the internal one or the external one?

Me: Wow, fascinating question. I tried to make Querry's internal struggle--to accept himself and grow into a confident leader--connect with his external struggle--to defeat the Skaldi. That's not to say he needed to defeat them to prove himself. It's to say he needed to learn to take risks, to get outside himself and act for the good of others, and to overcome his own insecurities and doubts. The Skaldi, as creatures that steal identity, became important antagonists in Querry's quest to discover who he is.

Santiago: Is there anything you'd tell your younger writing self?

Me: I'd tell him to calm down, to take his time, to not worry so much about the future. When I was a teenage writer, I was so desperate to be published I don't think I enjoyed the journey as much as I should have. I know it's relatively easy for me to give this advice now, since the journey did end in publication. But even if it hadn't, I would have wanted the younger me to be less hard on himself and to feel better about who he was, without worrying so much about who he wanted to be.