Wednesday, May 23, 2018

YA Guy Experiences...Self-Publishing!

YA Guy's self-published novel Ecosystem came out last month. A survival story set on a future Earth in which the physical environment has evolved into a sentient predator, it's on sale for only 99 cents through May 25, if you want to check it out.

Ecosystem isn't the first novel I've self-published--that distinction goes to The Passing of Boss Krenkel, which came out several years ago--but it's the first self-published novel I've taken seriously. I splurged a bit on cover and interior design, and I'm doing much more to market the book than I did with Boss Krenkel. I don't expect to become a millionaire on this book or any self-published book--but then, I wasn't becoming a millionaire on my traditionally published novels, either. I do, however, see Ecosystem (which is the first in a three-book series) as the start of what might turn out to be a viable alternative path for me as a writer.

The decision to take the self-publishing route is a personal one, and I'd never be one of those writing-advice gurus who tell people that the ONLY way to go is to self-publish. (By the same token, I wouldn't tell anyone that traditional publishing is the only legitimate option.) Having experienced both forms of publishing, I can confidently state that they both have their advantages and disadvantages. I won't belabor the obvious, but I will take a few moments to talk about the three major factors that appeal to me about self-publishing.

1. Creative control. This is huge for me, as it probably is for most authors who self-publish. To start with, I like the idea of not having anyone tell me that a story concept that intrigues me isn't "marketable" enough or doesn't fit into a convenient category. Ecosystem is an ecological, post-apocalyptic survival story with elements of both science fiction and fantasy, featuring a teen protagonist but possessing crossover adult appeal. That might be a hard sell for many, possibly most, traditional publishers. By self-publishing, I can forego these gatekeepers and put out a book that's close to my heart as a writer. I did hire a freelance editor--I think every self-published writer owes it to themselves to do so--but in the end, the final decision about form and content was mine; I didn't need to convince anyone that my creative vision was sound, or argue with anyone who didn't like a choice I'd made. I'm not going to badmouth anybody, least of all the editor for my first three books--who undeniably made those books better than they were when they left my hands--but I felt the need to spread my creative wings and venture out on my own, and through self-publishing, I had that opportunity.

2. Speed. Traditional publishing is incredibly slow. It was two years between the two books of my Survival Colony series, which is an awfully long time to wait. With self-publishing, I can make books available to readers as quickly as they can be written, revised, edited, designed, and published. Ecosystem came out in April, I'm currently preparing a collection of science fiction short stories for publication no later than July, the sequel to Ecosystem will appear by November, and the final book in the trilogy will be available by early 2019. Putting books out quickly isn't necessarily a good thing in itself, but as with my desire to control my books creatively, I like having the power to control when and where they appear.

3. No pressure. For me, this is probably the biggest benefit to self-publishing. As a writer, I hate pressure: the pressure of external deadlines, the pressure of other people's expectations, the pressure to sell large numbers of books. Maybe some writers thrive under such pressures; I find that they kill creativity and strip the joy out of writing. I've wanted to be a writer since I was six years old--and I've wanted to be a writer because I love telling stories, not because I want to become rich and famous. But in traditional publishing, the pressure to meet certain standards or hit certain targets is always there, whether that be the pressure to "earn out" your advance, to have a new book ready to satisfy the option in your contract, or to "outperform" your previous books. With self-publishing, the only pressure I feel is internal, and it's a good pressure: the pressure to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them.

At this point, it's too early to say which direction I'll ultimately take as a writer--whether I'll go hybrid, self-publishing some books and traditionally publishing others, or whether I'll settle into self-publishing exclusively. For the time being, I'm still working with an agent on some of my projects, including one that she's shopping around right now. I'm not fretting about the future; I'm just enjoying the moment. And I hope, if anyone out there is weighing the possibility of self-publishing, this post will help you to make your decision.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

YA Guy Announces... The ECOSYSTEM Blog Tour!

YA Guy's got a new book coming out: ECOSYSTEM, the first in a YA fantasy trilogy about a future Earth where the physical environment has mutated into a sentient being. The book releases in e-book and paperback on April 22, which just happens to be Earth Day. Here's the back cover blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Sarah is a Sensor, gifted with the ability to survive within the sentient Ecosystem that swept away human civilization centuries ago. While the remnants of humankind huddle in small villages of stone, Sarah uses her psychic connection to the Ecosystem to travel freely in the wild in search of food, water, and fuel. Sarah doesn’t fear the Ecosystem—but she hates it for killing her mother when Sarah was a child. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people’s sustenance but for revenge.

Then Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Miriam’s beloved, Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.

A thrilling fantasy adventure from the author of FREEFALL and the Survival Colony series, ECOSYSTEM is the first book in a YA trilogy that includes THE DEVOURING LAND (2019) and HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE (2020).

To launch my latest venture, I've lined up a group of amazing YA bloggers, who've got exclusive interviews, excerpts, reviews, and other goodies including a giveaway of signed copies of ECOSYSTEM! The tour starts on April 17 and concludes on April 30, and here's the lineup:

                The YA Gal
April 18: Kristi Helvig
April 19: Jean BookNerd
                Katie L. Carroll's Observation Desk
April 21: Work in Progress
April 22: RELEASE DAY!
April 23: Margo Kelly
               Darlene Beck-Jacobson
April 24: We're taking a mid-tour break!
April 27: Erin's Rhewsings
April 28: Sarah J. Schmitt
April 29: Christina Farley
April 30: Larry Ivkovich

You can also check out the cover reveal that's running right now on YA Books Central, which includes a giveaway. Or, if you simply can't wait to see the cover, you can check it out right here!

Finally, you can enter the giveaway I'm running during the blog tour, with a chance to win one of two signed copies of ECOSYSTEM! The giveaway starts right now and runs through April 30, when the tour ends.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm very excited about ECOSYSTEM, and I hope you are too! Drop me a line to let me know how you like the cover, how you're enjoying the tour, what you think about the book, or anything else!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

YA Guy Participates in... The Spring 2018 YA Scavenger Hunt!

YA Guy's super excited to participate in this year's SPRING YA SCAVENGER HUNT! This is my fifth Hunt, and I've got a new book, the YA fantasy ECOSYSTEM, due out on April 22. 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 purple lettering in this post (not to mention the banner at the top), I'm on the PURPLE 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 PURPLE 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 SIX 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 APRIL 8! (My personal giveaway, though, will run a little longer, through April 11.)


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 purple 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 8, 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 my forthcoming novel ECOSYSTEM! Like the Hunt itself, this personal giveaway is open internationally. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter!

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

Eva Pohler is the USA Today bestselling author of The Mystery Book Collection, The Mystery House Series, and four series for young adults: The Gatekeeper's Saga, A Gatekeeper's Spin-Off Series, The Purgatorium Series, and The Vampires of Athens Series. (That's a lot more than 22 books, if you're counting!) Her books have been described as "thrilling" and "addictive." A Kirkus reviewer said of The Gatekeeper's Sons that it was "sure to thrill Hunger Games fans."

To find out more about Eva, go to her website.

About THE GATEKEEPER'S BRIDE: Unrest brews among gods and mortals alike when Hades makes a deal with the Fates to end his loneliness in the Underworld. But when Persephone proposes to conspire with him in a plot against Demeter, things get out of hand.

Find out the truth of how Hades and Persephone met and fell in love and the impact it had on the rest of the pantheon during these tumultuous times. Learn how their children--Hypnos, Thanatos, Megaera, Tisiphone, Alecto, and Melinoe--came into being. Discover why they were assigned their respective duties as Sleep, Death, the Furies, and the goddess of ghosts. Find out the real reason why the Olympians possessed such profound disdain for these Underworld gods.

This prequel to The Gatekeeper's Saga is more than a retelling of the Persephone myth. Many more of the ancient myths are woven together to reveal the conflict, tension, and relationships among the gods in one of the most beloved pantheons in human history. The Gatekeeper's Bride can be read before or after The Gatekeeper's Saga.

To buy the book, follow this link!

But wait, there's more! Enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of my forthcoming YA fantasy novel ECOSYSTEM! This personal giveaway runs through April 11 (which also happens to be the day a cover reveal for the book runs on YA Books Central)!

About ECOSYSTEM: Seventeen-year-old Sarah is a Sensor, gifted with the ability to survive within the sentient Ecosystem that swept away human civilization centuries ago. While the remnants of humankind huddle in small villages of stone, Sarah uses her psychic connection to the Ecosystem to travel freely in the wild in search of food, water, and fuel. Sarah doesn’t fear the Ecosystem—but she hates it for killing her mother when Sarah was a child. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people’s sustenance but for revenge.

Then Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Miriam’s beloved, Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.

A thrilling fantasy adventure from the author of Freefall and the Survival Colony series, Ecosystem is the first book in a YA trilogy that includes The Devouring Land (2019) and House of Earth, House of Stone (2020).

a Rafflecopter giveaway *********************************************************************************

The Spring 2018 YA Scavenger Hunt is over! Thanks for playing, and happy reading!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Kai Strand, author of I AM ME!

YA Guy is tickled to host one of my favorite authors, Kai Strand, whose latest novel, the YA contemporary I AM ME, is now available. Kai's here to talk about how she manages to be so prolific as an author, and then, as a special treat, she's provided an excerpt from her new book. Read on, and then find out about Kai and where to buy I AM ME!

Just Ger ‘Er Done!

Inspiration from Kai Strand

People often think I’m a fast writer, but I know plenty of authors who write faster than me. They’ll post their daily word counts of upwards of 5,000! I’m lucky if I hit 1,500. What I am – or have been – is consistent. Think: The Little Engine That Could or the tortoise from The Tortoise and The Hare.

My first book, a middle grade fantasy, The Weaver, was published at the very end of 2010 and I immediately began a quest to make it the world’s best-selling book. When I wasn’t even successful in scheduling my first book signing until March of 2011, I realized that marketing a book was both harder than I expected and very time consuming. I didn’t understand that I needed to concentrate more on writing the next book until well into 2011. Therefore, my second middle grade – a contemporary titled SAVE THE LEMMINGS – wasn’t published until 2012. But the second book in my Weaver Tale series was also published in 2012, The Wishing Well. I discovered that I liked publishing two books a year. I liked it very much, so that became my goal.

My first young adult book, King of Bad, was published in 2013 and I got a taste of good sales and that bestseller title I’d hoped for. In 2014, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing with a couple young adult novellas, all while publishing two different titles with publishers – making my publication count for the year FOUR books. I found it difficult to promote, though, and learned I wanted to keep it at two books a year. In 2015 I added a new pen name (L.A. Dragoni) so I could write romance for the grown-ups among us.

Needless to say, in order to publish all of these books, I had to keep writing. And if I average fewer than 1,500 words a day, that means I have to sit down and write on a regular basis. It isn’t always easy. I get sucked into social media or composing blog posts. There are plenty of times I have simply forced myself to open my WIP and just put some dang words down. And the crazy thing is…when you do that…seven years later, you have FIFTEEN books published.

It’s hard for me to comprehend that I’ve accomplished that, but with more books in the pipeline and several others underway…I know it won’t stop there.

I Am Me by Kai Strand
YA Contemporary

Despite—or perhaps because of—her fancy car, private school education, and life of privilege, Lola Renaldi has become a volunteer junkie. Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, visiting the elderly—if it’s a good cause, she’s done it.

Lola’s favorite stint, building affordable houses, puts her directly in the path of Rodney. He refuses to discuss why he’s doing community service, but it’s clear he’s hiding something dark about his past. As their friendship grows, Lola begins to question the true reasons for her obsessive volunteerism and her view of those she has pledged to help.

She is only beginning to understand how lucky she truly is when her life falls apart. After losing friends, her boyfriend, even Rodney, Lola finally recognizes which parts of her life she wants to hang onto and what specifically she wants to go after. But with all she’s been through, will she be able to hang onto who she wants to be? Or will she lose all that defines her?


“Have you ever been completely surprised to learn the truth behind someone’s circumstances?”

Rod freezes, paintbrush held high overhead. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I have a friend who seems to have everything, you know? I’ve always known how far from the truth that is, but she’s got a rock solid fa├žade. Or, she did until last weekend.”

Rod’s rigid posture relaxes, and he resumes spreading paint along the fascia. “Wasn’t last week homecoming?”

Tipping my head up, I stare at Rod in surprise. “Yeah, how did you know?”

I see one side of his mouth quirk. “You weren’t here last week. Hank said something about hair and makeup and fingernails.”

I continue to stare up at Rodney. His long frame at the top of a tall ladder makes my head spin in some reverse vertigo thing.

He stops working again and shifts sideways on the ladder. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Oh.” If I shake my head, will the myriads of thoughts spinning through it dissipate into dust, or at least fall into a nice orderly pile that I can sort through later? “I’m…it’s just…” Shrug.

Resting the brush in the paint tray, he somehow adopts a super casual pose on the ladder, perched precariously sideways, with his arms crossed over his chest. His tone is unexpected in its gentleness. “Is this 'friend' really you?”

“What? No!” I leap to my feet and his eyebrows arch, which for some reason makes me mad. “Rodney, why would you even think that?”

His head cocks sideways in consideration. “Someone who seems to have everything. Someone you know well enough that you’re the only one to know she doesn’t.”

I slam my hands on my hips, though really, I want to slug him. “It’s a friend of mine. I’ve known her forever.” A strange expression passes over his face and my anger wafts away on the chilly breeze. “Do you have any friends, Rodney?”

He gives a strange one-shoulder shrug that he probably hopes appears dismissive but is actually an admission of truth. The question of what he did to earn community service—tons of hours of community service, apparently—flashes through my mind and for the first time I wonder if befriending him like I have was really so smart.

A tinge of anger darkens his caramel colored eyes making me think of toffee.

“We’ve moved a lot.”

Oh. Not what I expected. Before I can reply, he continues.

“Poor people do that, you know.”

I open my mouth to voice my offense. His tone is so accusatory. But I see guilt and regret and embarrassment flash in his expression, so I slam my lips shut.

Here's where to buy I AM ME:


About the author: When her children were young and the electricity winked out, Kai Strand gathered her family around the fireplace and they told stories, one sentence at a time. Her boys were rather fond of the ending, “And then everybody died. The end.” Now an award winning children’s author, Kai crafts fiction for kids and teens to provide an escape hatch from their reality. With a selection of novels for young adult and middle grade readers, Kai entertains children of all ages and their adults. Learn more about Kai and her books on her website,

To connect with Kai, go here:
Mailing List

Thursday, February 1, 2018

YA Guy... Stops Reading!

YA Guy loves to read. What writer doesn't?

Over the past seven years, as I've launched my career as a YA writer, I've averaged between 50 and 60 novels per year. Many of them were YA, but many were not. I dipped into classics, science fiction, historical novels, whatever struck my fancy (or was related to my own writing project) at the time. So if you add it all up, that's about 400 novels all told, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 pages.

I've learned a lot from these novels about craft, storytelling, character development, genre expectations, you name it. I've also read some truly great literature (both YA and non-YA), as well as some real clunkers. I've reviewed many of these books--primarily the ones I loved, because I'm not in the habit of writing negative reviews. I dropped my Goodreads account last year, but you can find the reviews on Amazon. And I've tweeted about and otherwise promoted many of the books I read, all in the interest of supporting others who are pursuing this very difficult job called writing.

So overall, it's been a great run. I'm glad, for both personal and professional reasons, that I made a commitment to upping my reading content these past seven years.

But for 2018, I'm taking a break.

Here's the short version of why: I'm beat.

Here's the longer version:

I'm not a fast reader. I average about 30 pages an hour, maybe 40 with YA. So the roughly 160,000 pages I read over that seven-year span represent somewhere around 4000 hours spent reading, or almost 600 hours per year. Which translates, in turn, to almost two hours of reading per day for the past seven years. And that's not counting the time spent reviewing and otherwise promoting the books I've read.

The above numbers might not seem like a lot to some people. But the other things I do during the day include, to list only the most important and time-consuming:

--work a full time job
--spend time with my wife and children
--spend time with my aging parents
--spend time with friends
--attend or otherwise participate in political, cultural, and artistic events
--do chores and other housework
--promote my books, on social media and via live appearances

Again, that's no different from what most writers do. But if I'm spending almost two hours every day on reading, it tends to curtail my ability to do some of the other things. Including, most importantly for me as a writer (if not as a human being), write my own books. This is especially true since I'm an even slower writer than reader, taking an average of six months to complete a draft. And that's not counting revisions and all the other things that are involved to transform a manuscript into a published book.

This year is going to be particularly busy in regard to writing, for at least two reasons: I have multiple projects in the hopper (one of which my agent is currently shopping around, the others of which are in various stages of completion), and I'm contemplating self-publishing another project, thus requiring time not only to perform the necessary actions but to learn a whole new form of publication.

Hence my plan to take a break for a year. I'll read a few things that I absolutely have to--like the novels and other materials I'm teaching, or the occasional 2018 publication I'm so excited about I simply can't pass it up--but for the most part, I'm going to go reading-free for a year and see what happens. Certainly, some 2018 books I'd like to read will pass me by, and I'm not sure I'll have a chance to catch up on them. Possibly, I'll find myself so bored I'll regret my decision. But ideally, I'll be freed to focus for a year on all of those other things in my list, including, most importantly, writing.

Every writer has to figure out how to make all this stuff work. There are only so many hours in a day, a year, a life. Some writers (maybe the ones who read and write faster than I do) find ways to do it all. I'm not one of those writers, and I'm trying to be honest with myself about my limitations.

So if you're putting out a book this year and hoping I'll read it, I'm sorry to disappoint you. If I seem ungenerous and you decide not to read my books in retaliation, that's okay. If all goes according to plan, I'll be too busy writing to notice.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

YA Guy... Visits Schools!

As YA Guy has said before, probably the coolest thing about writing for young people is that I get to visit schools (and libraries). And probably the coolest thing about those visits is answering questions from students, who always challenge me and give me a new perspective on my own writing.

Recently, I visited Shaler Area Middle School (close to the city of Pittsburgh) and talked about FREEFALL, science fiction, and social justice to a group of young readers who'd just finished a unit on segregation. Here are some of the great questions they asked me, with my reconstruction of how I answered them:

Charlotte: Do you believe the society represented in FREEFALL is likely to occur in the future?

YA Guy: Actually, I think it's happening right now. Not only nationally but internationally, we're a people divided by race and class, and in some respects those divisions have worsened despite legislation that was meant to shrink them. That's one of the things with science fiction: though it's typically set in the future, it comments on events that are happening right now, sometimes tweaking those events just the tiniest bit for the purposes of fiction.

Jamin: When you're writing a story, how do you know if your idea is good or not?

YAG: The short answer is that you don't. Or at least, if you mean "good" as in "lots of people will want to read it," it's hard to gauge that while you're writing. So my best advice to writers is to write what YOU think is good--the story that you want to tell (or that you'd want to read). You can't really control whether others will think it's good, so you probably shouldn't waste time worrying about that.

Taylor: Have you ever based a character off your own personality?

YAG: In the largest sense, every character I create is based (at least in part) off of me, because I'm the person whose thoughts and feelings I know best. But sometimes there's an even closer connection. For example, Cam Newell, my narrator in FREEFALL, is a guy from a relatively privileged upbringing whose viewpoint is changed when he comes into contact with people from very different backgrounds. His process of development is quite similar to what I experienced when I went to college, where for the first time my eyes were opened to people, perspectives, and issues that I'd never been exposed to before.

Tiffany: Where did the title FREEFALL come from?

YAG: Sometimes, I don't have a title for a book until I'm about halfway through, when I've finally figured out what the book is about. Other times, a word or phrase just pops into my head, and I decide it would make a good title--but then I have to figure out how it's relevant to the story I'm telling. That was the case with FREEFALL. I liked the word, partly because I knew I was writing an outer space adventure, and I was playing with the ideas of gravity and being grounded (or being thrown out of one's accustomed ground). But I also started to think about how being in love is kind of like being in freefall; it's scary and exhilarating and unpredictable all at once. So since the book has romance elements too, FREEFALL seemed like a good title. Eventually, to make it even more relevant to the story, I named one of the starships the Freefall.

Shahaan: Do you write books to inform or to entertain?

YAG: Many authors will say that the only purpose of writing is entertainment, and I do agree that entertainment is primary. But with a book, we're not talking about random light shows or clown acts, which might be purely entertaining; we're talking about language, which means that there's also going to be information conveyed from author to reader. I don't believe in hitting the reader over the head with a "message," but at the same time, I see nothing wrong with the author having information s/he wants to convey to the reader, so long as s/he leaves it up to the reader to receive and process that information.

Chris: When you use first-person point of view, what's the best way to describe your narrator?

YAG: Well, you probably want to avoid the overused device of having your narrator look in a mirror (or other reflective surface) and describe him/herself. You might ask whether you really need a physical description of the narrator, or you might drop little nuggets of physical description here and there. But if you want a single, sustained description, you should try to find an original way of doing it, such as I tried to do in FREEFALL, where Cam reads his own physical data on the screen of the life pod where he's been in suspended animation for 1000 years.

Logan: Where do you get the names for your characters?

YAG: Lots of places. I'll meet someone with a name I like, or I'll hear something on the news, or I'll create a name from scratch. In the manuscript I'm currently working on, everyone has names from Greek myths, so it was fun researching those names. For FREEFALL, I named the three male leads after my son's favorite NFL players.

Sammy: What was your inspiration for the Upperworld?

YAG: I honestly looked around at the real world and thought about wealth disparity, segregation, and oppression in the here and now, and then said to myself, "What if current trends get worse and worse in the next hundred years?" I'm no prophet, but there are very troubling signs that the world's wealth is becoming more and more concentrated in a smaller and smaller percentage of the global population, and if that keeps happening, we might literally have an Upperworld and a Lowerworld in the next century: an elite 1% with all the wealth and a remaining 99% with none.

Candace: How do you stretch a short story into a novel?

YAG: First, I'd point out that if you're writing short stories right now, there's no need to stretch them into anything other than what they are. Short stories are the perfect length for young writers: you can complete them in a week or a month, and thus feel a great sense of accomplishment, whereas for most teens (including myself forty years ago), tackling a novel is an exercise in frustration--it's just too much, and the likelihood that you won't finish it tends to produce feelings of failure. That being said, I've found that the key difference between a novel and a short story is that in a short story, the narrator or main character has ONE challenge s/he has to face and resolve, whereas in a novel, there will be multiple such challenges, each one yielding to a greater one. But I do want to repeat that for young writers, I think short stories are the best way to go: they give you a chance to hone your skills, and possibly even to gain some publishing credits.

Alexandra: Do you plan your novels out first, or figure things out as you go along?

YAG: I'm what people call a "pantser"--that is, I don't plan much, and so I kind of fly along by the seat of my pants. I'll have a basic idea for a novel--such as in FREEFALL, where the idea was to write an adventure/romance having to do with outer space colonization--but I'll let the rest unfold as I write. The reason I like to do it this way is that I feel as if I make my best discoveries as a writer "in the moment," where one idea will lead to another that I hadn't foreseen. But other writers like to plan out more than I do, and I think it's important for each writer to find the method that works best for her or him.

Maddox: How did the plot of FREEFALL develop?

YAG: This is a perfect example of the process I just described, where one idea leads to a wholly unexpected one. I'd created my main characters, Cam and Sofie, but I felt that something was missing--they were too similar to each other, and thus there wasn't enough tension and conflict in their relationship. But then the idea of Upperworld and Lowerworld popped into my head, which led me to the obvious conclusion that one of my teens would be an Upperworlder and the other a Lowerworlder. Once that idea was in place, the story took off: if they were from different parts of the planet, they'd have to meet somehow, and there would be some kind of conflict when they did, and each of them would have to learn from the other, and so on and so on. I didn't plan any of that when I started writing, but all of it unfolded in a series of discoveries during the writing process.

Emma: What's your favorite part of FREEFALL?

YAG: I think my favorite part is a scene where Cam and one of Sofie's Lowerworld friends are working together to rescue her from the book's villain, and they have a conversation where Cam realizes that, though they have the same objective, they have drastically different motivations. That was an important scene for the story, not only because it leads Cam to question his own motivations, but because it raises the question of whether it's possible to understand the life experience of someone whose circumstances are very different from one's own. I personally think it's possible to respect someone's position even if one doesn't fully understand it, and I hope that's what Cam learns too.

Dante: Have you had any hardships while writing?

YAG: Many. For example, with FREEFALL, my first draft was so horrible I almost gave up on it, but fortunately, I had the experience to know that if I set it aside for a while, I'd come back to it with fresh eyes and be able to make an objective assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. Writing is hard work--though nowhere near as hard as many of the jobs that people perform--and you have to be strongly motivated to persevere in it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

YA Guy Lists... His 2017 Top Ten!

YA Guy didn't read as many books as usual in 2017. In my defense, among the books I did read, several were whoppers, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (500+ pages), The Sword of Shannara (700+ pages), Dune (900+ pages), and The Count of Monte Cristo (1200+ pages). So when compiling my yearly Top 10--which, true to my name, I try to confine to YA and MG--I didn't have quite as many books to choose from as I typically do.

But I still read some great stuff. Here are the best of the bunch, listed in no particular order. I focused this year's list exclusively on science fiction and fantasy, so some great realist fiction (for instance, Sabrina Fedel's debut LEAVING KENT STATE) didn't make the cut. Most of these are 2017 releases, though a few are from late 2016.

Fonda Lee, EXO. A refreshing take on the alien-invasion narrative, Lee's second novel is driven by ethical and emotional issues rather than by implausible victories over advanced civilizations (in the manner of the Independence Day movies). To give you an idea of how highly I value Lee's work, I nominated EXO for a Nebula Award, and I believe it deserves to win. Oh, and there's a sequel, CROSS FIRE, coming in 2018!

Philip Reeve, RAILHEAD. Miraculous world-building in a galaxy where light-speed trains (yes, trains) cruise from planet to planet and godlike intelligences rule the masses. The character development is a bit lacking, but the worlds (and the trains) are stunning. I haven't yet read the sequel, BLACK LIGHT EXPRESS, but I hope to get to it soon.

Lisa Maxwell, THE LAST MAGICIAN. This New York Times bestseller features time-traveling thieves, a gritty depiction of turn-of-the-century New York, and enough magical razzle-dazzle to keep the pages flipping. There's a sequel coming out (I believe) next year, so stay tuned!

Michael Northrop, POLARIS. The sole Middle Grade entry on this year's list, Northrop's novel is historical science fiction about a Darwinesque voyage to the Amazon that returns bearing a horrific passenger. Particularly notable for its realistic sailing details, which perfectly ground the flights of science fantasy.

Cindy Pon, WANT. This novel, which takes place in a future Taipei that's even more radically divided by wealth than in the present, has a wonderfully realized setting, appealing characters, and a thoughtful message for our own time. The book has made numerous Top 10 lists, and deservedly so.

Paolo Bacigalupi, TOOL OF WAR. The third and, I assume, final installment in the author's Ship Breaker series, this book isn't quite as strong as the first two. But Bacigalupi is a master at rendering the peoples and places of a climate-ravaged future Earth, and his semihuman protagonist, Tool, is one of the great science fiction inventions of all time.

Jennifer Brody, THE 13TH CONTINUUM. When Earth's surface is rendered uninhabitable for a thousand years, a handful of survivors escape into deep space and the deep ocean. Now they're returning--if, that is, the totalitarian societies that have developed during that millennium will allow them. A fast-moving and fascinating dystopian tale, first in a series.

Michael Miller and AdriAnne Strickland, SHADOW RUN. There were parts of this deep-space adventure--the parts set on-planet--that I found less than gripping. But the scenes in outer space, where a small vessel "fishes" for the volatile substance known as Shadow, were full-on awesome. If memory serves, a sequel is due for this one, too.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, GEMINA. Book 2 of the wildly imaginative Illuminae Files trilogy, this tale couldn't quite match the intensity and physical creativity of the first book, but it came darn close. The final book in the trilogy, OBSIDIO, will be out in 2018.

Joshua David Bellin, FREEFALL. Oh, come on, I can put my own book on my list, can't I? But seriously, I'm a fan of this deep-space colonization novel that features a class-divided Earth, a revolutionary teen prophet from the global underclass, and frightening outer space monsters--both human and otherwise.

Happy reading, everyone! See you in 2018!