Tuesday, July 19, 2016

YA Guy Announces... Launch Week for SCAVENGER OF SOULS!

YA Guy's gearing up for the release of SCAVENGER OF SOULS on August 23, and I've finally scheduled two events for that week. Though I know that most readers of this blog don't live in Pittsburgh and aren't likely to be here in August, I figured I'd post the events anyway:

Launch party, Saturday, August 20, 2:00-5:00
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Blvd., Oakmont, PA 15139

Signing, Sunday, August 28, 2:00-4:00
Classic Lines Bookstore, 5825 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217

If you're in town and can make it to either of these events, I'd love to have you!

Friday, July 8, 2016

YA Guy Reviews... RESCUED by Eliot Schrefer!

When YA Guy was a lad of five, I visited the Pittsburgh Zoo with my father. This was in the days that zoos were essentially prisons, with animals held in solitary confinement in barred, concrete cells. Being too young to realize the full implications of that, I wandered with my dad to the ape and monkey house, my favorite part of the zoo. I enjoyed watching the gorilla in particular, though even at that age, it puzzled me that he was alone, that he did little but stare dully out of his cage all day, except when on occasion he'd regurgitate his food and pick through it. But again, at age five, I was thinking much more about my own pleasure at seeing such an awesome animal than about that animal's well-being, much less his rights.

On this particular day, a surprise awaited me: a trainer had a baby chimpanzee named Geraldine, and was offering visitors the chance to hold her. I eagerly volunteered, and when the little creature wrapped her furry arms around my neck and rested her head on my cheek, I felt something that Eliot Schrefer captures expertly in his book RESCUED:

"It was the first time I'd held something so delicately alive, something it was in my power to drop or save. I went silent with responsibility."

In Schrefer's book, it's a baby orangutan that the narrator, John, is holding, a present from John's irresponsible and eager-to-please father. But the feeling is almost entirely the same. It's from the moment I held Geraldine that I date not only my love for great apes but, far more importantly, my sense of responsibility to them.

RESCUED is the third book in Schrefer's planned four-book YA series about the great apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. Each book, though entirely different from the others in setting and character, features a young person's relationship with one of the four species of ape. In the first two, ENDANGERED (bonobos) and THREATENED (chimpanzees), the settings are African and the apes living in a wild or, at least, semi-wild condition. In RESCUED, by contrast, the setting is the U.S., and the orangutan, Raja, grows up as a captive house pet. The book's action revolves around John's growing realization that Raja is not rightfully his and the teen's subsequent efforts to return him to Sumatra, from which he was stolen as a baby.

I'm going to put it out there right now: Schrefer's books are my favorite YA series of all time. That's partly because of their subject matter, but it's also because of their beautiful writing, vivid characters (human and ape), lush descriptions of ape behavior and human-ape interaction, and keen moral sensibility. Schrefer doesn't preach, but he doesn't pull punches either: John comes to learn that it's wrong, plain and simple, to keep wild things captive, and he takes enormous risks to rectify a crime to which, as a child, he was a willing if unknowing accomplice. Late in the book, the following moment of intimacy between ape and human clinches John's determination to set his childhood friend free:

"Raja kept probing me. When his golden eyes met mine directly I felt more fully seen by him than by any human in my life. It was like he was navigating back and forth in my heart, sifting and sorting every little feeling he found. Neither of us had a self while our eyes were linked: John and Raja were shared between us."

Apes are as close to human as non-human animals can be. But they're also utterly unique creatures, with lives and needs and agendas distinct from ours. That we've come close to extinguishing all of our nearest relatives on Earth (orangutans, along with mountain gorillas, being the most critically endangered of the great apes) speaks very poorly for our humanity. But in a book such as RESCUED, we glimpse what our relationship to these creatures could and should be: one of mutual interest, love, and respect, starting with respect for their right to live their lives without our interference. Maybe, if we can learn this about the apes, we can learn it about the rest of the world's inhabitants as well.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

YA Guy... Feels Like a Failure!

A friend of mine feels like a failure.

She’s young, incredibly bright and personable, hugely talented. She’s in a graduate program, studying a subject she loves, and she’s surrounded by caring friends and family.

But she hasn’t been published yet.

I don’t know the specific details. She’s not ready to talk about them at the moment. I know she had an agent and was working on revising her manuscript, but I don’t know if the agent backed out, or the manuscript didn’t sell, or something else. All I know is, right now, she feels like a failure.

When she told me that, my first impulse was to try to talk her out of it. But as a parent, I’ve learned that you shouldn’t try to talk people out of their feelings. That’s a parental impulse, guided by the desire to protect one’s children from bad things in life (or to not have to deal with them oneself). When children are sad, or angry, or feel like failures, you should affirm that feeling and let them talk about it if they want to, give them a hug if they’ll let you. We can’t go around trying to pretend bad feelings don’t exist or aren’t valid or must be avoided.

So let’s talk. (I’m not able to give you a hug right now, sorry.) Let’s talk about feeling like a failure as a writer.

I felt that way for, oh, the first forty-eight years of my life (or at least the part of it I remember). That’s because I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty-nine.

I had an offer from an agent when I was in my twenties, but she turned out to be a shyster. I had a few short stories published, mostly in online magazines, but all of my novel-length manuscripts went nowhere. I parted ways with an agent who told me she loved my manuscript, then turned around and told me it sucked. But it wasn’t until age forty-nine that I was published.

And you know what? Despite that, I still feel like a failure at times.

I feel like a failure when I get bad reviews like this recent one on Amazon: “Boring. No excitement. Waste of time. Hated it.” I feel like a failure when my books don’t make the bestseller list and some of my friends’ books do. I feel like a failure when my agent rejects a new manuscript of mine. I feel like a failure when I hold a signing and no one shows up.

All of these things, and far worse, happen to authors. And when they do happen, the authors in question feel like failures.

Do they feel as much like failures as people who haven’t been published yet? Maybe not. But what are we going to do, start ranking feelings?

I feel terrible for my friend, and for everyone who aspires to authorship but hasn’t gotten there yet. No one deserves to feel like a failure. Everyone, however, does feel that way sometimes.

If you feel that way most or all of the time, or about your whole self instead of just your writer-self, then you need to seek psychiatric help. I’m not being facetious. You might be clinically depressed, and if so, you’re at risk for self-damage.

But if you feel that way from time to time, and mostly about writing instead of about everything, you’re perfectly normal. Go ahead and feel that way. If it helps to talk to others about your feelings, do so. I guarantee they’ve shared them at one time or another. But if you’re not ready to talk, then simply allow yourself to feel the feeling, as much as it hurts to do so.

And if you need someone to give you a hug, don’t hesitate to ask.