Wednesday, November 27, 2013

YA Guy Shows Off... His Own Cover!

For those who might have missed it on Twitter, I wanted to show off the brand-new cover to my YA debut, Survival Colony Nine! It won't hit the bookstores until September 23, 2014 (mark your calendars, everyone!), but the cover's out, and in my completely unbiased opinion it is stunning!

So here it is:

Gorgeous, huh?

Now that I'm done bragging, let me give you a little background on the cover. Some authors are sent a cover design questionnaire (as I was for my short story "Scarecrow"), or they communicate directly with the designers or indirectly through the editor. In other cases--like mine--the author's input is the manuscript itself, which the editor discusses with the designers to produce the cover.

So in my case, I did not directly or indirectly discuss this particular image with the design folks at Margaret K. McElderry Books (my publisher). My editor, Karen Wojtyla, handled those discussions. And yet, I couldn't be more thrilled with the way the design team captured both the "look" and the "feel" of the story; in fact, when I imagined what the cover might look like, I imagined it very much like the final image! The desert backdrop, the shadowy figure, even the way the number "9" forms such a prominent part of the overall design--all of those aspects were in my mind when I dreamed of my ideal cover. Which either goes to show that my story translates readily to image--which would be good--or that everyone at McElderry is totally on the same page about this book--which would also be good!

Whatever the case, I can't wait to see the real thing on bookstore shelves!

While we're waiting, you might consider adding the book to your shelf on Goodreads, or liking my author page on Facebook.

Because September 23, 2014 will be here before you know it!

Friday, November 22, 2013

YA Guy Reports: Why Girls Aren't Reading

My daughter used to love to read.

Voraciously. As a pre-teen she read just about anything you put in front of her, though she favored fantasy series: Harry Potter, Narnia, The Shadow Children, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner. When she entered her teen years, she started reading realistic fiction: Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, S. E. Hinton. She loved the classics--Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye--and some modern classics, including Life of Pi and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When she met YA writers Erin Bowman and Kat Zhang at a workshop for young writers, she was so jazzed she ran right out and gobbled down their books as well. As the daughter of a writer, it’s perhaps unsurprising that she read so much. But it was still impressive.

And then she started high school.

She doesn’t read anymore. Oh, she reads what’s assigned (currently The Odyssey for English, a book about leukodystrophy for Biology, and newspaper articles for Social Studies). But pleasure reading has shriveled to near nothing.

As I see it, there are two main reasons for this.

--First and most obviously, the amount of homework she has every night and weekend leaves virtually no room for leisure reading. She averages four hours of homework per weeknight, five per day over the weekend. Some weekend days, she does nothing but homework. And much of the homework is repetitive, boring drills: once you’ve proven twenty times that you can summarize a chapter, you really don’t need to summarize any more chapters. But the teachers don’t see it that way, and neither does the school district. And so reading for pleasure takes a back seat to working out three hundred identical algebraic formulas to prove yet again that you can work out algebraic formulas.

--Second and somewhat less obviously, high school--or at least my daughter’s high school--strips the fun out of reading, making it yet another onerous, meaningless chore. It’s bad enough that ninth graders are reading The Odyssey (a book I first read in college, and that my current college students struggle with)--but was it really necessary to use a stodgy, antiquated prose translation of Homer’s epic poem? With so much great literature for young people out there, both classic and modern, what on earth is the point of making young teens slog through a three thousand-year-old behemoth for which they can’t possibly have any associations or context?

We obsess endlessly about why boys aren’t reading. We don’t talk so much about why girls aren’t reading. (Indeed, when I Googled "why girls aren't reading," I got the same articles about why boys aren't reading.)

Based on my experience, I’d have to say girls aren't reading because high school beats the love of it clean out of them.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... ENDANGERED by Eliot Schrefer

YA Guy loves apes.

It's true. My favorite animal since childhood is the gorilla. My favorite movie is King Kong (the '33 original). When I was a child, maybe five years old, I held a baby chimpanzee named Geraldine at the local zoo. She wrapped her furry arms around me and put her head on my shoulder. I was in heaven.

So I was very excited to read Eliot Schrefer's book Endangered, which concerns a teenage girl's effort to save a young bonobo (a relative of the chimpanzee) and herself during an armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Not surprisingly, given its subject matter, I loved it.

The story is as straightforward as I've described it above. The prose is luminous. The main character, Sophie, is sympathetic--part action hero, but mostly thoughtful, caring, vulnerable teen. And her bonobo companion, Otto, is every bit as vivid a character as Sophie. All the bonobos in the story are like that: distinct, lively personalities who are nearly human not only in the literal sense (bonobos share 99% of our genetic material) but in the literary and, dare I say, spiritual sense.

And that's the key conflict in the book: a conflict between those who treat life with reverence and care and those who treat other living beings, whether fellow humans or apes, as mere things to be exploited. There are powerful themes operating in the book's deceptively simple storyline, and powerful moments as Sophie has to decide whether the life of a single non-human creature holds any weight in a world plunged into chaos and death:

I thought not only about [the bonobos] but of the stream of homeless refugees, of my dead friends in the sanctuary, of the larger and yet-unknown tragedies elsewhere in the country, in the world. The creature in my arms wasn't an answer, but it did somehow make the question of how to keep going irrelevant. The weight of him, the prevention of his misery, was the answer that defied all logic.

I might quibble that these thoughts and sentences are overly sophisticated for a teen (the book's concluding chapter suggests that the entire narrative is told from the point of view of Sophie's adult self). But in a world such as ours, where not only apes but humans are endangered by our own violent ways, I found Schrefer's fictional treatment of these themes timely and welcome.

And as someone who's held a baby chimpanzee in his arms, I know exactly how Sophie feels.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Erin Albert's THE PROPHECY Blog Tour!

YA Guy is thrilled to participate in Erin Albert's blog tour for her new YA fantasy novel, The Prophecy! Along with being pretty much the awesomest person in the Twitterverse, Erin's a great writer who's created a stunning, original new fantasy world. Read on for a summary of the book, a pair of excerpts, and some info about its fabulous author!

Back Cover

Growing up on a small farm in the kingdom of Vanguard, seventeen-year-old Layla Givens lives a deceptively tranquil existence. But her carefully constructed life quickly falls apart when she’s abducted by a religious zealot who proclaims her The Fulfillment of an ancient peace prophecy and whisks her away to marry her greatest enemy.

Wilhelm, Prince of the Ethereals, is reluctant to meet his new bride. He's grown up believing Vanguards are evil, an enemy to fight and fear...not love. Can he set aside his prejudices and work alongside Layla to bring lasting peace after centuries of war?

Nash, a loner who has never fit in, carries a huge secret, one big enough to destroy both kingdoms. When he accidently meets Layla, he’s no longer content to live in the shadows, but he must resist his growing attraction—for her safety and for the longevity of the two kingdoms.

When Nash's secret is revealed, a firestorm sweeps through both realms, with Layla at the center. Now she must choose between duty and desire while the fate of two nations hangs in the balance.

Excerpt 1

Even though she had no chance to escape now, Layla shoved the Elder with all her might. The blow sent him flying into the baker’s door, which splintered under the force, and she darted forward.  The Vanguard soldiers moved to block her.

“We are all Vanguards,” she pleaded. “Please let me go.”

For a moment, they hesitated.  Layla used the opening to slip around them.  She ran as fast as her legs would carry her, but they proved to be too slow.  Within moments, the soldiers leapt upon her, knocking her to the ground.  Wrenching Layla up by her hair, they dragged her back to the Elder, whose face now bled from his encounter with the baker’s door.

“I see you’re going to be trouble.” He brushed the dirt off his robes.  “You can’t escape your destiny, girl.”

Excerpt 2

“Everything must be taken down.”  A rotund man, with beady black eyes, surveyed the town, disdain in his expression.  While he did not appear distinguishable from the other black and purple clad men, he spoke with authority. “The First Ones and their great Prophecy must be honored properly.” He sniffed, his actions indicating the very existence of Medlin and its occupants offended him.

Layla wondered what this man considered a “proper honoring” of the First Ones.  The First Ones…they’d been dead for centuries, and, as far as Layla could tell, hadn’t done much in life except start a never-ending war.  She knew nothing more about them except that she was to thank them for good things, curse them for bad, and celebrate them on this day.

“That’s Elder Werrick, head of the Ecclesiastics,” whispered Samson, glancing back at Grant.  Layla noticed the look that passed between them.

Grant nodded his assent. “Get her out of here, brother.”

Samson tried to steer Layla away, but she held her position to get a closer look at the man whom her family so feared. She knew they had good reason to worry—her black hair and purple eyes marked her as a Fulfillment candidate, one with the potential to bring about the long awaited peace. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe Elder Werrick would notice her on the crowded streets, especially with her eye drops and hood. Could he really be responsible for dragging candidates from their homes, forcing them to undergo strenuous, sometimes gruesome, testing for the sake of the Prophecy?  To Layla, he looked like nothing more than a short, fat, unhappy man.  The very notion that he could strike such fear into the hearts of her people seemed almost laughable…almost. As his gaze swept over the crowd, she glimpsed a sinister undertone that made her shiver.

Waving his pudgy arms at the awaiting townspeople, Werrick commanded, “Take it down.” 
Suddenly, his body stilled and his tiny eyes grew wide.  They briefly connected with Layla’s, narrowing with calculation.  The Elder turned to his nearest black clad companion. 

“Do you feel that?” Layla heard Werrick ask. 

The other man looked skeptical.  “Feel what, Elder?”

Werrick leaned in as the two whispered, stealing furtive glances in her direction.  When the Elder’s companion pointed at Layla, Samson grabbed her arm. She heard his breathing change from rhythmic to jagged as he pulled her away from the men.

“We have to go now.” His urgency spurred her into action.

Grant moved to block them from the Elder’s view.  “Get her away from here, Samson.”

The Elder looked up to see everyone staring at him as if frozen. He repeated his demand, “I said take everything down.”

The townspeople, joined by the Elder’s minion, scampered to remove their decorations, anxious to “properly” celebrate the First Ones.  Their flurry of activity concealed Layla as Samson and Grant escorted her away.  Layla scanned the streets, horrified, as the people of Medlin stripped the town’s center barren.  In no time, everything appeared as it always had, devoid of any celebratory adornments.  She looked up at the sky with its gray clouds lingering overhead.  A bad omen…

On the hill, a safe distance away, Layla watched a group of Ecclesiastics erect a monstrous stage where the donkey races should have occurred.  She heard the braying of the angry animals, harnessed and corralled on the orders of the Elder to avoid interfering with the “true” Day of Dawning celebration. Her ire rose.  Who did they think they were coming in and changing everything? 

An icy, phantom finger traced a frigid line down her spine.  After hearing warning after warning from the Mantars her whole life, Layla knew exactly what the Ecclesiastics could do, what they had done to others in the past.  Maybe Samson and Grant had been right.  Maybe she should never have come, especially today.  Layla turned her back on the town, resolved to go home, to safety. 

“Layla!” Samson’s alarmed tone sliced into her, and she swung around toward him. 

To her horror, two Vanguard soldiers forced Samson to the ground.  She knew just how much strength he possessed, yet he couldn’t free himself. Her hands balled up into fists, shaking with their desire to unleash the full force of their fury.

“Run!” Samson screamed before a soldier’s fist smashed into his face. 

His body stilled.  Panic, coupled with indecision, crippled her.  She should run like Samson commanded, but she couldn’t leave him lying there.  To her relief, Grant ambled toward them, his eyes full of rage. 

“Run!” Grant echoed Samson’s warning.

With a final glance at the two boys who’d been as close to her as brothers, Layla fled.  She flew down the hill, swinging her head from side to side in alarm.  Ecclesiastics swarmed throughout the city, making a clear escape route difficult to discern. 

Terror rose within Layla.  Why hadn’t she listened to her family?  She’d been foolish to believe she could sneak around under the ever-watchful eyes of the Ecclesiastics, and that hubris put Samson and Grant in danger as well.  She choked back a sob. 

“Run,” she whispered. 

Willing her feet to move forward, Layla darted toward the back of the baker’s shop, hoping to take a shortcut through the back alleyway.  She swerved to miss a wooden box and stumbled, arms flailing to right herself. Unfamiliar hands reached out to break her fall.  Once stable, Layla looked up to find Elder Werrick staring down at her.  She screamed but no sound came out of her open mouth. 

“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, a wicked smile on his face. 

About Erin

Erin Albert is an author and fitness trainer.  Since she picked up Morris the Moose Goes to School at age four, she has been infatuated with the written word.  She went on to work as a grammar and writing tutor in college and is still teased by her family and friends for being a member of the "Grammar Police."  In her free time, Erin enjoys acting, running, kickboxing, and, of course, reading and writing.

Find me online:

Twitter:  @ErinAlbertBooks

Saturday, November 2, 2013

YA Guy Gives Away.... JAMES DASHNER Tickets!

Through the generosity of the folks at Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, I have two pairs of tickets to give away for the James Dashner appearance in Pittsburgh, coming up this November 22!

For those of you who don't know about Dashner--and where the heck have you been hiding?--he's the author of the wildly successful (and genuinely brilliant) Maze Runner trilogy, the first installment of which hits the big screen next year. He's also launched a new series, starting with The Eye of Minds, which released this October.

I'm especially excited to be hosting this giveaway on YA Guy because Dashner's books appeal equally to young people (not to mention middle-aged people) of both genders. Call them "boy books" or just plain good books, Dashner's works prove that YA is for everyone!

So here's the deal: enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win one of the two pairs of tickets I'm giving away. In consideration of others, please don't enter unless you can actually be in Pittsburgh for the lecture. If you can't, I'd appreciate it if you'd spread the word. Winners' tickets will be held at the will call window the evening of the event.

Good luck! And for those who win: I'll see you there!

a Rafflecopter giveaway