Friday, March 27, 2015

YA Guy Announces... SKALDI CITY, the Sequel to SURVIVAL COLONY 9!

YA Guy is thrilled to announce the following (from today's Publishers Marketplace):

Joshua David Bellin's SKALDI CITY, the sequel to SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, chronicling the further adventures of a fifteen-year-old boy fighting to unravel the secrets in his past in a hostile desert world, as he and the other colony members band together to eradicate the monstrous threat of an alien, again to Karen Wojtyla at Margaret K. McElderry Books, by Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency (World).

That's right, I have a sequel! (Publication date TBA.)

To celebrate, I'm giving away 5 signed copies of SURVIVAL COLONY 9. Just use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. (U.S./U.K. only.)

Good luck! And thanks for supporting me and my writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 23, 2015

YA Guy Celebrates... the Little Things!

When you publish your first novel, you don't know what to expect. (At least, YA Guy didn't.) If I had any expectations at all, they were very modest: my book would be read by some people, get some nice reviews, maybe be taught in a school somewhere; I'd sign books at a few bookstores, maybe speak at a conference or two. That was about it, because, in all honesty, I had no clue what would happen.

Well, it's been six months to the day since SURVIVAL COLONY 9 hit the shelves, and I'm happy to report that the reality has exceeded my expectations.

No, I don't mean the book's become an international bestseller or scored a six-figure movie deal. Sales are fine but not breathtaking. The things I expected to happen have happened, but not in any spectacular way; I didn't pack Madison Square Garden for a public reading.

What I mean is that many little things have happened that I couldn't have imagined before the book came out. Though there have been many such small delights--fan emails, speaking requests, invitations to blurb other people's books--here are five particular highlights:

1. At my launch party in Pittsburgh, I had two surprise guests: a close friend from high school who lives in California, and a beloved cousin who lives in Massachusetts. I was blown away when one of them walked through the door. I was speechless when the other did. (That's my cousin on the right.)

2. A couple of my ARCs went out on "tour" to members of the writers' groups to which I belong. Both of them came back with signatures and nice comments. One of them came back with original artwork inspired by the story.

3. Many friends (and some complete strangers) have sent me pictures of my book on bookstore or library shelves, or in their own hands or the hands of their children. But I didn't think people would actually go out and make SURVIVAL COLONY 9 T-shirts!

4. Thanks to my publicist and my own contacts, I spoke at a number of schools and libraries. Many of them had good-sized crowds; one of the schools had the entire eighth grade class, about 150 students, reading my book. At this same school, one of the students handed me a picture she'd drawn for me. I felt almost as good as I used to feel when my own children were little and gave me one of their special drawings.

5. Out of the blue, I received an email from a friend I haven't seen since high school (that's over thirty years, if anyone's counting). She attended a private all-girls high school, while I went to one of the public schools; she invited me to her prom, and we went as friends. In her email, she said she'd read my book and wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it. It was a mind-boggling experience, and it reminded me how amazing it is to be an author.

Madison Square Garden would be nice. But it's the little things that are the very best.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

YA Guy Talks about... Talent!

Recently, YA Guy noticed an essay that was making quite a stir on Twitter: a piece by a former MFA teacher, Ryan Boudinot, that advanced a number of claims including the following:
  1. Writers are born with talent.
  2. If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it.
  3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
Lots of Twitter folks had issues with Boudinot's essay--not surprisingly, since he obviously wrote it to tick people off. And I'll grant, the tone of the essay, as well as some of its specifics, were annoying.

But I have to be honest: as both a teacher and a writer, I find a core of truth in the above three statements (however snidely phrased). Taken together, they define a basic formula:


Is there any sane person who disagrees with that? Yes, it's true that lots of other factors play a role in success: luck, timing, nepotism, skin color and other visible or invisible markers of privilege, and thus that some people without much talent, effort, or persistence do very well in life (while others with lots of talent, effort, and persistence don't). It's also true that "talent" and "success" are very broad terms, capable of being expressed in a great variety of ways.

But on the whole, isn't it the case that those who hone their innate gifts through a lengthy period of time are putting themselves in the best possible position to achieve success as they themselves define it?

Some of those who responded to Boudinot's essay objected to his claim that talent counts in writing. Why should this claim be controversial? Talent counts in everything else. I'm a pretty good baseball player (even at the age of fifty). But I was never good enough for the majors. I did well in high school math. But I never had the aptitude to be a mathematician or astrophysicist. I can follow a recipe on a box. But I don't possess the keenly refined senses necessary to be a great chef.

Personally, I'm more insulted by the proposition that anyone, anywhere, can learn to be a writer. To me, this demeans the craft and profession of writing; it suggests that writing is no more than a bagful of tricks that can be distributed to anyone with the time or money to collect them.

MFA programs have proliferated in the past couple decades--due not to some mysterious increase in the number of talented writers nor to breakthroughs in the teaching of writing but to colleges and universities recognizing a growth market and capitalizing on it. Personally, were I teaching in such a program, I would choose to be honest with a student who exhibited significant deficits in the areas of talent, effort, and/or persistence. I wouldn't tell that student to drop out, but I'd investigate what that student wanted from the program. If the student wanted to develop his/her skills, have fun, interact with others, possibly publish a bit, I'd say okay, you're in the right place. But if that student labored under the illusion that he/she was going to become a literary sensation, I'd consider it unethical (the student is, after all, paying a lot of money for this) not to tell him/her that such an outcome was unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

I just finished reading Anthony Doerr's bestselling ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. I had some issues with it (see my previous post on this), but is there anyone who doubts that Doerr is a phenomenal talent, a writer with remarkable gifts? I'm currently reading Ursula K. Le Guin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA with my son. Does anyone doubt Le Guin's astonishing, jaw-dropping talent? Does anyone doubt that both of these writers honed their innate gifts through years of hard work? And does anyone believe that everybody could be just as good as these two writers (and many others I might name) if everybody had a teacher willing to work with them for however long it took?

Well, I don't believe this, anyway. Doerr and Le Guin (and many others) are just flat-out more talented than I am or ever will be, and I'm no more ashamed to admit that than I am to admit that Pittsburgh Pirates center-fielder Andrew McCutchen generates considerably faster bat speed than I can or ever could.

We can criticize Boudinot for his condescending tone, insensitive remarks, and sexist assumptions (though really, we'd probably have been better off not rising to his bait). But I don't think we should criticize him for stating the uncomfortable truth that writing is not only an occupation but a discipline and a gift.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

YA Guy Talks History

YA Guy's currently reading the bestseller by Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See. It tells the interweaving tales of two young people, one a blind French girl living through the Nazi occupation of her homeland, the other an orphaned German boy who's both an electronics genius and a recruit in one of the Reich's elite paramilitary corps. It's very well written, of course, and tells an intriguing story. I'm about a third done, so I'm not ready for a full review yet. But I'll admit I find one aspect of the book deeply troubling.

Doerr's book distributes sympathy evenly among the suffering French and the (supposedly) equally suffering "ordinary Germans" who are taken advantage of by Hitler's regime. Poor youth like orphaned Werner are abused, terrorized, and victimized by their ruthless Nazi overlords, while back in Werner's home, chronic poverty among the German masses contrasts starkly with the wealth of unscrupulous Nazi officials. To which I say:


Obviously, not every German benefited from Nazism. But most did. While those who were directly persecuted by the Nazis were relocated, incarcerated, or exterminated, the vast majority of "ordinary Germans" saw rising employment, sinking taxes, and a booming economy. It's one reason so very many "ordinary Germans" enthusiastically supported Hitler and the Nazis, even during wartime. The idea that most Germans opposed the Nazis but were afraid to speak their minds is a myth that's been exploded by modern historians. Only when the war started to go badly--that is, only when they started to suffer in ways similar to the human beings their society had persecuted--did significant numbers of Germans begin to grumble about the Party and its leader.

I think it's important to set the record straight on this, because there have now been not one but two massive American bestsellers based on the proposition that Nazism was a terrible trial not only for its millions of victims but for the German people as a whole. The first of these books was The Book Thief; now there's All The Light We Cannot See. Neither of these books is, strictly speaking, YA; but both have young protagonists and appeal to young readers. While there's nothing inherently wrong with books like this, I can't help thinking we're seeing a revisionist strain in young people's understanding of the Holocaust, and I also can't help thinking it's rooted in the tendency of books for young readers to reduce the complexity of how totalitarian societies actually work.

Think about Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series, or President Snow and the Capitol in The Hunger Games, or any of a number of comparable YA or MG dystopian novels. The understanding of totalitarianism in these books is that a very small, ruling elite reaps all the benefits while everyone else silently suffers. While there are some historical examples where that model more or less applies--Stalin's Soviet Union being the most obvious, and the one George Orwell's 1984 used to set the pattern for dystopian literature--I find it disturbing to see this model creeping into the literary representation of the Holocaust. It's almost as if the tropes of dystopian YA have been read onto the historical record, rather than history being used to inform the tropes of historical YA.

Maybe I'm wrong about all this (hey, it's been known to happen). Maybe my reading of Holocaust literature for young people is too limited (though I've read quite a lot of it over the years); maybe two examples don't a trend make. If so, I'd love to hear some examples of YA novels that tell the true story of Nazi Germany--the story of "ordinary Germans" benefiting from, and for the most part suffering no qualms over, the incalculable suffering of those who were the Reich's true victims.