If all goes according to plan, in the not-so-distant future I’ll be interviewing YA writers, agents, editors, bloggers, and others on this site!
But for now, since I’m just starting out, I decided to interview myself. You know, so you could get to know me better.
And so, without further ado....
YA Guy: So, YA Guy, tell us a bit about yourself and your path to publication.
YA Guy: Gosh, this is so awkward.
YAG: Just relax and pretend you’re talking to yourself.
YAG: Okay. (Deep breath.) Well, I’m a guy who writes YA fiction. But it was not always thus.
I got a Ph.D. in American literature almost twenty years ago, and for a really long time I wrote academic books, full of citations and convoluted syntax and multisyllabic words. I loved it, too: very stimulating intellectually, very exciting to participate in a field of knowledge. But several years back, I decided I’d done enough in that vein, and it was time to move on. I wanted to get back to the kind of writing I’d loved ever since I was a kid: fiction! And so that’s exactly what I did.
YAG: You make it sound so easy. Was it really?
YAG: Well, no. I had a serious crisis of confidence when I made the switch: you know, “Can I really write fiction anymore, it’s been so long, etc., etc.” I took a summer class at a local college to brush up my skills, then I started writing literary fiction and some sci-fi. Got some stuff published, mostly in online journals, which gave me the needed confidence boost to attempt a novel. Started to write one based on my life as an academic, but it sucked. Stopped it after about 100 pages and started to think of writing something else.
YAG: Do you think it was because the novel was too similar to your real life that it sucked?
YAG: Boy, you ask leading questions, don’t you? Of course that’s why it sucked! I had no distance, man. So I started thinking about other genres I enjoyed as a reader, and fantasy popped to the top of the list (I’m a lifelong fan of Tolkien, Zelazny, Donaldson, and others). I wrote a fantasy novel that pleased me, but I guess it didn’t please anyone else, because it’s still sitting in a virtual drawer. Then, one day, while reading to my kids, I said, “Young Adult! I love Young Adult! Why don’t I try that?” And the rest is history.
YAG: Oh, come on, there had to be more to it than that.
YAG: Okay, you got me again. The first thing I did was ask my daughter to read the first few tentative pages I wrote, and she liked them--I mean, really liked them, not “I’m lying to my old man so he’ll buy me a new MP3 player liked them.” I plodded on, working nights and weekends and summers (when I wasn’t teaching and the kids were asleep and/or at camp), and I finally had a complete draft of my futuristic YA novel, Survival Colony Nine.
YAG: And then what?
YAG: Then I got an agent who acted totally excited about the book at first but ended up telling me it stank and I’d need a professional editor to whip it into shape. I got really depressed, fired my agent, revised the manuscript, and searched again. This time I found the amazing Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, who loved the book and got ready to send it out. A few months later, acceptance came from Karen Wojtyla of Margaret K. McElderry Books.
YAG: So roughly how long was it from first word to acceptance?
YAG: Almost two years, from summer 2011 to spring 2013. And it won’t be out until fall 2014.
YAG: Wow! That’s a long time!
YAG: Tell me about it, bro. But I’m cool with the time spent, because I know it made the book better. The manuscript went through five complete revisions, and I’m sure my editor will want even more, and in the end, it’ll all be worth it when I turn out a kick-ass book!
YAG: I notice you refer to Survival Colony Nine as “futuristic.” Explain, please.
YAG: Publishing is very niche-driven these days, which means very genre-driven. Everything has to be labeled. Is it paranormal, urban fantasy, dystopian, romance, chick lit, high fantasy. . . ? But I don’t think Survival Colony Nine can easily be stuffed into a single genre. It has elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, dystopian, literary, family drama, and so on and so forth. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I think that’s what makes the book interesting. My feeling is that the best YA books, like the best books in general, don’t fit neatly into little boxes. In fact, that’s one of my frustrations with the YA genre: too many Harry Potter clones, or Hunger Games clones, or whatever clones. With Survival Colony Nine, I wanted to write a book that couldn’t easily be cloned.
YAG: Very ambitious of you. So with that introduction, why don’t you tell us some more about the book?
YAG: You know, you could get the answers to a lot of these questions if you’d just read my other blog, “Bell’s Yells.”
YAG: Humor me.
YAG: If I must. Survival Colony Nine tells the story of Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old boy living in a future world that’s been devastated by war and environmental catastrophe. Human civilization has virtually collapsed, and what’s left are small, mobile units of a hundred or so people called Survival Colonies. The climate is hostile, water supplies are low, modern technology is mostly gone. To make matters worse, so many people died in the years before the book starts that there’s been a huge loss of cultural memory: things like snow, amusement parks, and marshmallows are just words, with no connection to anything anyone can remember. And to make matters even worse, at the end of the wars of destruction, a new species appeared on the planet: creatures called the Skaldi, monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts. No one knows what they are or where they came from, but the Survival Colonies are trying desperately to stay one step ahead of them.
YAG: Whoa! That sounds pretty intense.
YAG: It is. And here’s the thing: Querry, my narrator, can’t remember anything either. He was in an accident six months before the book starts, and his past beyond that point is completely erased. So you’ve got a narrator thrown into a dire situation without the background knowledge or history that might help him deal with it. And the commander of Survival Colony Nine--Querry’s father, Laman Genn--doesn’t make life one bit easier for him.
YAG: Okay, that’s enough to go on. So tell me this: is it a “guy book”? You’re YA Guy, after all.
YAG: Technically, so are you.
YAG: Let’s not get cute.
YAG: Fine. When I started writing the book, I didn’t think about its “guy-ness.” It has a male protagonist, and there’s a father-son relationship at its heart, but Querry’s conflict, his struggle to know who he is, seemed to me to be a universal one. As I said, my daughter was the first to read it, and she never made a peep about it being too guy-ish or whatever. I’ve written short stories with female narrators, and I’ve always prided myself on creating strong, well-rounded female characters. (Survival Colony Nine has a bunch of them, including Laman’s second-in-command Aleka, the scout Petra, and the teenage girl Querry crushes on, Korah.) It was only when my agent’s reader praised me as a “guy writer for guys” that I started to think about myself and my book that way. But I still believe the book will appeal to all kinds of readers, whether they’re guys or not. I don’t believe there are pure “guy books” any more than there are pure “gal books.”
YAG: Great. I think that wraps it up, unless you have more to say.
YAG: I always have more to say, but this blog isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll save it for later.
YAG: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. We’ve been talking to YA Guy, host of the blog YA Guy.
YAG: Your fly is unzipped.
YAG: You just couldn’t resist, could you?