Just a very brief post to let you know that YA Guy (i.e., me) is giving away three signed ARCs of my forthcoming YA science fiction novel FREEFALL! Head on over to Goodreads to enter. The giveaway runs from now until June 30, so don't miss it!
Wow, I think that's my first post ever where the picture is bigger than the text.
One of YA Guy's favorite things about writing for young people is that I get to visit schools. The energy and enthusiasm students show are truly amazing--and the questions they ask about my novels and the writing process are great. To give you a sample of what I mean, here are some questions that I received from eighth grade students at a recent school visit, along with my answers.
Michael: Did you ever test your writing on your own children?
Me: As a matter of fact, yes! My daughter was my first reader for SURVIVAL COLONY 9 when she was twelve years old (she's now eighteen and about to go to college). I'd written a single chapter and wanted to see if it was any good, so I asked her to look it over. Fortunately, she gave it the thumbs up!
Conner: What were some of the main changes you made in the draft of SURVIVAL COLONY 9?
Me: One of the biggest changes was that I removed a chapter that included a lot of backstory about the world, the wars, the coming of the Skaldi, and so on. It was too much information all at once, and it slowed down the story. So I took tiny parts of it and included them in the chapter where Querry and Korah talk by the pool, and I sprinkled some other parts throughout the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS. If, as I'm currently planning, I publish a prequel, some of the information will find its way in there too!
Brittany: Were any of the characters inspired by real people?
Me: Most of them were, in one way or another. But in particular, I think the character of Laman was inspired by my own father, who's a great guy but (as is sometimes the case with fathers and sons) who sometimes rubs me the wrong way. The scene in which Querry and Laman play catch was definitely modeled on my own life--because the one thing my dad and I can always talk about without risking an argument is baseball.
Alex: Is writing your full-time job?
Me: I wish! Like many writers--maybe most writers--I have a full-time job that pays the bills, and then I write whenever I can. Balancing the two can be difficult, because writing takes so much time. But luckily, I'm a teacher, so I do get summers off!
Abbey: What's the favorite book that you've written?
Me: I'm tempted to say "all of them," but the reality is, one of the books I really, really love is also one that will probably never be published. It's a strange, quirky, satirical science fiction novel that is so personal, I can't see it finding a mass audience. It's what writers sometimes call "the book of my heart," the book I really wanted to write. But as a writer, one has to accept that a book like that won't always be published.
Gaven: Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic movies?
Me: How could you tell? Yes, I love the Terminator series, the X-Men movie Days of Future Past, and a number of other similar stories. Someone told me when SURVIVAL COLONY 9 came out that it was somewhat similar to The Walking Dead, so I watched the first episode of that series. But alas, I've never been a fan of zombie movies.
Austin: How did it feel to create a novel?
Me: This is a sort of dorky answer, but in all honesty, it felt similar to creating a child. I remember how it felt to hold my daughter for the first time, and it was similar to holding my own novel for the first time. (Holding my daughter was better, though. I have to say that or she'll kill me, but it's really true!)
Rocco: Did you ever try to publish any of your novels from the past?
Me: That's an interesting question. Like most writers, I've written more books than I've published, including a fantasy novel I wrote when I was sixteen. These days, with self-publishing, I could easily put those novels out there. But I feel as if that would be a mistake, because there's a reason most of them aren't published: they're not very good. They were the novels that helped me develop my skills to the point where I could write publishable novels, so it's probably better they remain in my closet or on my hard drive!
Lindsey: Is there a particular character you relate to?
Me: I definitely relate to my narrator, because he's the most me: a guy who tries to do the right thing but sometimes fails and sometimes doubts himself. But I also relate to Aleka, the character I'd most like to be. I find her really admirable, because she has a very strong sense of justice that I wish I could live up to in my own life.
Christian: How did you handle criticism from your editor?
Me: Another great question. Like all people, I feel bad when I get criticized, when someone doesn't like my book, when I get a negative review, and so on. But as a writer, you have to learn to deal with criticism--which doesn't mean ignoring it, but putting it to productive use. My editor always has critical comments to make about my manuscripts, and at first they sting a little. But then I take a step back, think about what she's saying, and do my best to learn from her criticism and make the manuscript as good as I can.
Hannah: With all the disappointments in a writer's life, what gives you the strength to go on?
Me: I think the answer to that is simply that I've wanted to be a writer almost as long as I can remember. If I'd given up, if I'd let disappointment stand in my way, I wouldn't have achieved my dream. So every time the going gets tough, I remind myself of why I'm doing this, and that helps me find my way.
Nadia: If you were living under the circumstances Querry lives under, what would you do?
Me: The reality is, I'd probably die. I'm not saying that facetiously; in order to make this book work, I had to take certain liberties with reality (such as the scarcity of water in Querry's world) that probably aren't actually survivable. But if it were possible to live under these conditions, I like to believe that, like Querry, I'd fight for the future, not only my own but that of others.
Jared: Did the ending of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 stay the same from draft to draft?
Me: Yes--but the middle changed a lot! That's usually how it is with me as a writer: I know where I want to go, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. I do a certain amount of planning, but for the most part, I enjoy being surprised by the twists and turns that occur during the act of writing.
Mike: Are there any of your characters that you dislike?
Me: I've definitely written unlikable characters, but that doesn't mean that I, the author, don't like them. Or maybe it would be better to say that I identify with them--I know what makes them tick, I get where they're coming from. I believe it's important for authors to know all their characters through and through, which often means recognizing qualities in them, even negative qualities, that are part of one's own make-up.
Madison: What's the most important struggle in SURVIVAL COLONY 9--the internal one or the external one?
Me: Wow, fascinating question. I tried to make Querry's internal struggle--to accept himself and grow into a confident leader--connect with his external struggle--to defeat the Skaldi. That's not to say he needed to defeat them to prove himself. It's to say he needed to learn to take risks, to get outside himself and act for the good of others, and to overcome his own insecurities and doubts. The Skaldi, as creatures that steal identity, became important antagonists in Querry's quest to discover who he is.
Santiago: Is there anything you'd tell your younger writing self?
Me: I'd tell him to calm down, to take his time, to not worry so much about the future. When I was a teenage writer, I was so desperate to be published I don't think I enjoyed the journey as much as I should have. I know it's relatively easy for me to give this advice now, since the journey did end in publication. But even if it hadn't, I would have wanted the younger me to be less hard on himself and to feel better about who he was, without worrying so much about who he wanted to be.
It's a little known fact that one of YA Guy's first novels was written when I was a college student back in the 80s. The tale of a college campus that's taken over by a revolutionary cabal, it was going nowhere until I decided to do some research into an actual college campus that was subjected to military rule. My research naturally led me to the shootings that took place on the Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, forty-seven years ago today. In my book, the historical research formed only the lightest thread in an otherwise boisterously absurd comic novel. But I've been fascinated by the history of Kent State ever since. And that's why I was so excited to discover Sabrina Fedel's debut LEAVING KENT STATE, a YA historical novel set in Kent, Ohio in the days before and during the on-campus massacre. I've reviewed this amazing novel here, and I was fortunate enough to have Sabrina visit the blog to talk about her book, her research, and her current works-in-progress.
YA Guy: Hi, Sabrina, and welcome to the blog! As someone who's intrigued by the history of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, I was wondering how you came up with the idea for LEAVING KENT STATE?
SF: The idea for LEAVING KENT STATE came to me while watching television (we can’t always be reading!) and ironing. There was a documentary-style program on about the shooting, and it struck me that it was really a story about young people clashing against their world order. I knew I wanted to write about it. I researched and found that there were almost no books that even mentioned the incident, and no YA stories. Because many YA editors don’t want to see a protagonist over 18, I made my protagonist a high school senior. It wasn’t difficult for me to imagine the rest of Rachel's story, as I was a girl who had to go to the university where my dad taught, even though I didn’t want to, just like her.
YAG: What was your research process for this novel? Did you uncover any unusual or out-of-the-way sources? What was the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered?
SF: To research this story, I started with non-fiction books about the shootings. When I felt like I had a beginning, I made trips to Kent. I studied maps and drove around looking for the neighborhood (and house!) that Rachel would have lived in. I saw where she went to school, where the Twin Lakes were, Main Street, and the campus of KSU. I dove into the archives there, reading the local paper for every day between October 1969, when my story starts, until the end of May, 1970. Every year on May 4th, KSU hosts a memorial commemoration, and I attended a number of those where I spoke to people who worked in the archives or who had been there that day. I went to the local historical society and talked with people there, as well.
One of the neatest things, to me, is that KSU has an online oral history project about that day. Anyone who wanted to come forward and describe what happened to them that day could participate. I found these stories really fascinating and got a lot of contextual information that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience. I also went online to research speeches by President Nixon, and I read autobiographies and nonfiction books about Vietnam. Finally, I interviewed a Vietnam veteran who very generously helped me understand what it was like for him during his service and then coming home.
The thing that surprised me the most was that many people felt that the students deserved what happened to them. The vitriol against the students, even sometimes by their own parents, was horrific. One woman told me that her father was among those who said that the Guard should have shot them all. When she pointed out that she would have been killed if they had, her father told her it was what she deserved. That was really shocking to me. Another thing that surprised me was that during law school, I had lived VERY near to the grave of shooting victim Allison Krause. I learned that from the Vietnam veteran whom I interviewed, who had been a history teacher and had studied the shootings. When he took me to her grave, I thought it was very ironic that I had lived practically across the street from her little Jewish cemetery for a year and never knew it was even there.
YAG: That's an impressive amount of research, and it really shows in your book. At the same time, one of the things I love about LEAVING KENT STATE is that you never let the historical detail overwhelm the story. How did you make sure that didn't happen?
SF: Thanks! I tried to make sure that every detail had a purpose to the story so that it would feel organic. There were things Rachel had to explain, and sometimes I relied on the fact that her family was a bunch of avid newspaper readers to make that happen, or other times I would have it happen in conversations. I tried to keep to a minimum the times that Rachel explained things to the reader. I also tried to pick details that were special to that era, that spoke of it. I did a LOT of research into guitar and car models, the Billboard top forty lists, and double-checked when things that I believed were iconic to the 1970s happened. Sometimes I was surprised to find that things I associated with the period were actually popular later (like the cartoon character Ziggy, who didn’t materialize until after my story ended).
YAG: You mentioned earlier that when you first formulated the idea for LEAVING KENT STATE, you had to develop a high school-age protagonist so it would fit into the YA genre. What do you like most about writing for young people?
SF: I love writing for young people because teens who are readers want to know about other people and cultures. They are eagerly looking to find out both what separates them from others and what is similar. They want to know what it would be like “if.” I’m always fascinated by the way people live and the choices they make, so I think in that way I am a perpetual teen. I want to know the "why" behind things, and so do teenagers.
YAG: Based on that description, I think YA Guy's a perpetual teen, too! So what's the next project you're working on?
SF: I recently completed a contemporary realism novel about a hockey playing girl who loses her mother and runs away to Venice. It’s all about grieving and the meaning of family. I am shopping that now while I work on my next project, which is also a contemporary realism novel that is kind of The Breakfast Club at a psychiatric hospital. This one is in verse, so we’ll see. I haven’t written in verse before. But so far, I am happy with it.
YAG: I can't wait to read those books when they come out. Thanks again for visiting, and best of luck with your new projects!
SF: Thanks so much for having me visit!
Readers, if you want to learn more about Sabrina and her books, here's where to go!
About the author: Sabrina Fedel’s novel, Leaving Kent State, released in 2016 from Harvard Square Editions. Her young adult short story, "Honor’s Justice," has been nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize, a 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award, and a Sundress Publications Best of the Net '16 award. Sabrina teaches English Literature at Robert Morris University as an adjunct faculty member, and is a 2014 graduate of Lesley University's MFA in Creative Writing program, with a concentration in Writing for Young People. Her poetry and essays have been published in various print and online journals. You can find out more about Sabrina at www.sabrinafedel.com, or follow her on twitter @writeawhile. She also can be found hanging out on Instagram, Facebook, and occasionally tumblr.
YA Guy's mom absolutely loves books. She consumes ten or more a week (personally, I don't know how she does it). So I can't think of a better gift for Mother's Day than a Kindle Fire, along with plenty of extra cash to load it with books! The giveaway runs through May 13, and if you win, you can give it to Mom or keep it for yourself (YA Guy won't tell!).
2017 Mother's Day Kindle Fire Giveaway ($250 Value)
The price of a Kindle Fire has come way down in the past few years, but this giveaway is still valued at $250. That's plenty of cash to buy a Kindle Fire AND load it full of books. The winner will have the choice of a $250 Amazon.com Gift Card or $250 in Paypal Cash!
Thanks to this awesome group of authors, bloggers, and publishers for making this giveaway possible. Sponsor List
$250 in Paypal Cash or a $250 Amazon.com eGift Card. Ends 5/13/17. Open only to those who can legally enter, receive, and use money sent via Paypal or gift codes via Amazon.com. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by Rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter, or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the authors, bloggers, and publishers on the sponsor list. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.
The e-ARC for my forthcoming YA science fiction novel FREEFALL is newly available on NetGalley, and physical ARCs have arrived as well, which means the published book will be out in a matter of months. (September 26, to be precise.) Which further means I'll soon be running out of space on my bookshelves.
So from now until the end of June, I'll be giving away a signed copy of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 or SCAVENGER of SOULS, free of charge, to anyone who asks.
But there's a catch: to get your signed copy, you have to draw a picture of a Skaldi and send it to me (electronically). I'm calling this the "Sketch a Skaldi" giveaway, and here's how it works:
The giveaway runs from this instant until June 30, 2017.
Each entrant can receive no more than one book (either SURVIVAL COLONY 9 or SCAVENGER OF SOULS, not both). If you want to send me multiple drawings, that's fine, but you won't get extra books.
Your drawing can be hand drawn or computer drawn, but it MUST be your own artwork. Grabbing an image off the internet and passing it off as yours is a big no-no.
You don't need to be Picasso--any drawing of a Skaldi, so long as it's your own, is fine with me.
Drawings must be of a Skaldi as described in Chapter 17 of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 or Chapter 6 of SCAVENGER OF SOULS. No fair drawing a picture of a regular person and saying, "Well, s/he was taken over by a Skaldi!" (For an example of an awesome Skaldi illustration, see the picture above, by fan Desiree Schreiner.)
Submitting your drawing gives me the right to feature it on my website, on this blog, or on any of my social media. However, I will never sell your artwork, and I will always give the artist proper credit.
Signed books will be sent to U.S. addresses only. I will honor international entrants, but books will be delivered via Book Depository (and thus won't be signed).
You should send your drawing (in jpg format) to: email@example.com. In the body of the message, please include your name, your complete mailing address, and the title of the book (SURVIVAL COLONY 9 or SCAVENGER OF SOULS) that you want.
YA Guy is beyond thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for PIRATE ISLAND, a new Middle Grade fantasy adventure coming this October from Katie L. Carroll! Check out the cover, add the book to your Goodreads list, learn more about Katie's books, and help spread the word about PIRATE ISLAND!
PIRATE ISLAND blurb:
A thrice cursed island, a
legendary pirate treasure, and one not-so-brave boy. What could possibly go
For centuries, the whereabouts
of Captain William Kidd’s lost pirate treasure has remained a mystery. When
Billy’s best friend, Andy, proposes they look for the treasure on nearby Pirate Island,
Billy thinks it’s just another one of their crazy adventures. It’s usually
Billy who ends up in trouble as a result, but he goes along for the ride…like
But the more he delves into the life and death of Kidd, the more he thinks
the treasure is real and that it might be buried on the small island in Long
Island Sound. Billy—nope, call him William—becomes obsessed with the captain of
the same first name. He even believes he’s possessed by Kidd’s restless soul.
Now he and the spirit of a long-dead pirate are leading the crazy adventure on
Pirate Island. And what they find is far bigger than the treasure they
About the Author:
Katie L. Carroll always says she began writing at a very sad time in her life
after her sister Kylene unexpectedly passed away. The truth is Katie has been
writing her whole life, and it was only after Kylene’s death that she realized
she wanted to pursue writing for kids and teens as a career. Since then, writing
has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She has had many
jobs in her lifetime, including newspaper deliverer, hardware store cashier,
physical therapy assistant, and puzzle magazine editor. She works from her home
in Connecticut that is filled with the love and laughter of her sons and
The title says it all: YA Guy has started an electronic newsletter!
Yes, with my third book, FREEFALL, coming out in just a few months, I decided it was time. I'm busy preparing my first newsletter, full of information about upcoming publications, giveaways, contests, appearances, and more. If you want to sign up, you can click the button below:
I promise not to overwhelm subscribers; at most, I'll email one newsletter per month (and you can always unsubscribe if you want). But to stay up-to-date on all things YA Guy (aka Joshua David Bellin), this is the place to go!
Once again, YA Guy's taking part in the YA Scavenger Hunt! This time around, I'm on the GOLD TEAM, along with the other awesome authors you see below:
This bi-annual event was 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 GOLD 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 FIVE 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 April 9!
HOW IT WORKS
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 gold 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 9, 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 ARC of my forthcoming novel FREEFALL! Like the Hunt itself, this personal giveaway is open internationally. Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter!
Okay, got all that? Then let's meet the author I'm hosting, CECIL CASTELLUCCI!
Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Plain Janes, The Year of the Beasts, Tin Star, and the Eisner nominated Odd Duck. In 2015 she co-authored Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure. She is currently taking at least 22 weeks to write Shade, The Changing Girl, an ongoing comic on Gerard Way’s Young Animal imprint at DC Comics. And her newest Graphic Novel Soupy Leaves Home comes out in April 2017.
About SOUPY LEAVES HOME: Pearl “Soupy” Plankette ran away from her abusive father, but has nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a disguise that gives her the key to a new identity. Reborn as a boy named Soupy, she hitches her star to Remy “Ramshackle” Smith, a hobo who takes her under his wing. Set in 1932, this is the story of two misfits with no place to call home, who build a relationship during a train hopping journey from the cold heartbreak of their eastern homes toward the sunny promise of California.
The Spring YASH is over, but there's still a little time to enter my personal giveaway (below)!
To enter my personal giveaway for a chance to win a signed ARC of my forthcoming YA science fiction adventure FREEFALL, use the Rafflecopter form below!
About FREEFALL: When the 1% and the 99% clash, the fate of the human race hangs on the actions of two teens from very different backgrounds in this thrilling sci-fi adventure.
In the Upperworld, the privileged 1% are getting ready to abandon a devastated Earth. And Cam can’t wait to leave. After sleeping through a 1,000-year journey, he and his friends will have a pristine new planet to colonize. And no more worries about the Lowerworld and its 99% of rejects.
Then Cam sees a banned video of protesters in the Lowerworld who also want a chance at a new life. And he sees a girl with golden eyes who seems to be gazing straight through the feed at him. A girl he has to find. Sofie.
When Cam finds Sofie, she opens his eyes to the unfairness of what’s happening in their world, and Cam joins her cause for Lowerworld rights. He also falls hard for Sofie. But Sofie has her own battles to fight, and when it’s time to board the spaceships, Cam is alone.
Waking up 1,000 years in the future, Cam discovers that he and his shipmates are far off-course, trapped on an unknown and hostile planet. Who has sabotaged their ship? And does it have anything to do with Sofie, and the choices—and the enemies—he made in the past?
Years ago, in the days before YA Guy was YA Guy, I wrote a number of works of literary criticism. (That's what you do when you have a doctorate in English and teach at a college.) Eventually, I decided I'd rather write my own literature than write about it--but I'm still very proud of my academic books, which I think are well-written in their own right. I don't recommend them to the non-scholar--they're written for an academic audience, full of language and concepts only specialists fully appreciate--but I had fun writing them, and I'm glad they're out there.
One of the things I loved most about academic writing was the research that went into it. For each of my books, I spent years reading, filling up my file cabinets with photocopies of obscure seventeenth- through nineteenth-century documents, many of them accessible only on microfilm or microfiche, some of them available only at specialized archives. I found that, though technically I was a literary scholar, I ended up doing as much historical research as literary research; I wanted to know as much as possible about the time in which the works of literature were written in order to understand them in their own context. At a certain point, in fact, the line between "historical" and "literary" research blurred; much of what we know about history we know through written documents, and when you're reading the journal of an eighteenth-century traveler among the southeastern Indians or the spiritual autobiography of a nineteenth-century Ojibwa convert to Christianity, are you reading "history" or "literature"? To me, history and literature have always been intertwined if not inseparable, and I loved exploring the many ways in which they come into contact with each other.
Which is also why I'm so excited about my new work-in-progress, a historical novel called Polar. Based on Commander Robert E. Peary's final North Pole voyage, which took place in the years 1908-1909, Polar is speculative history, not straightforward; I take considerable liberties with the facts in order to tell the story I want to tell, a story that includes some paranormal elements. But I'm still having to do a ton of research to understand the world of the time, the biographies of the real-life people involved, the details of Polar exploration, and more. And I'm coming across a lot of great historical material in the process.
For example, check out this cover page to the New York Times from September 7, 1909, the date on which the paper first reported Peary's ostensible (though now disputed) discovery of the geographic North Pole:
Or take a look at this photograph of Peary dressed in full Eskimo (Inuit) garb on the deck of the steamship Roosevelt, named after then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who sponsored Peary's final voyage (and who plays a walk-on part in Polar):
There's much, much more, but that'll do for a start. I can't wait to see what other gems I discover as I continue the research process.
Writing science fiction, as I've done for my first three YA novels--including the forthcoming Freefall--involves a degree of research; I've had to learn about parasitic organisms, deep-space travel, and more. But it's especially fun to be doing the kind of sustained research a historical subject requires.
YA Guy's happy to join a great group of bloggers and writers in this year's "Luck of the Irish" Giveaway! Enter for a chance to win a $250 Amazon Gift Code or $250 in PayPal Cash--and learn about some awesome authors and books in the process!
March 17th to 31st
Enter for your chance to win a $250 Amazon Gift Code or $250 in Paypal Cash!!
Thanks to this awesome group of bloggers and authors who have joined forces to bring you one fabulous prize!!
YA Guy is excited to welcome Marty Reeder, author of HOW TO BECOME A PIRATE HUNTER, to the blog! This time-travel fantasy for young readers is a lot of fun, with a boy who feels he doesn't have any talents discovering that he's a natural born pirate hunter! Marty stopped by the blog recently to chat, and here's what he had to say...
YA Guy: Welcome to the blog, Marty, and congratulations on your new book! How did you come up with the idea for How to Become a Pirate Hunter? What do you think is the most fun or fascinating thing about this story?
Marty Reeder: I hear the phrase "natural born" every now and then, and I once wondered what my natural born talent would be. Well, I couldn't think of a modern one, but I thought that it would be cool if I were a natural born pirate hunter (that's where my mind usually wanders). I knew there wasn't much I would be able to do about it ... unless I wrote about it in fiction. The idea stewed for a while until the story came into focus and I finally got to live my dream of what it would be like to hunt pirates!
My favorite parts in the story are those parts that came as surprises to me. While I had the story pretty much figured out, as I was writing some of the important scenes, the reasons for the protagonist to achieve his triumphs were subtly different from what I expected. I'd like to think that it's because there is hidden truth there that refused to be let out of the story.
YAG: I'm a big fan of discovering the truths in my story as I write, too! What do you enjoy most about writing for young readers? (If you have a particular story to share, please do!)
MR: I never write for a young audience. I write what I think would be interesting to read. As it turns out, I must be young at heart because once I started getting serious about doing something with my writing, I found out that I had to label my audience before submitting it to publishers. I realized that my protagonists are all youth--I had been writing to a younger audience this whole time and didn't even notice it. It's probably why I ended up being a high school teacher ... it's about my maturity level!
YAG: Walk us through a day in your life as a writer. Any habits, quirks, or special ways you approach the writing process?
MR: Because I have a family and day job (high school teacher), my writing process has taken some necessary adjustments since my lonely bachelor-writing days. Generally, however, I've found that I write best in the morning and edit best in the evening. The morning is when I am most alert (not the case for everyone, I know!) and my mind is fresh and ready to spill out ideas. By the evening, I'm tired from the day and don't have the endurance for solid writing sessions. However, my mind is calmed down enough that I can take a sensible look at my morning's work and help it make more sense. I suppose it's sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach.
YAG: I like that approach: draft early, revise late. Speaking of writing, what are some of your favorite YA or MG books? How have they influenced you as a writer?
MR: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Treasure Island as an influential young adult work for me, especially in the context of How to Become a Pirate Hunter. I've long had a fascination with history and sailing, and I'm not sure if Treasure Island started that or simply furthered it, but either way it is such a strong piece of literature in plotting and characters I would be hard pressed to find a single piece of (non-series) young adult literature that matches it. Lloyd Alexander is another stalwart author from my youth. Going back and reading some of the stories of his that I loved to lap off the library shelf as a kid, I realize how efficient and engaging his writing is, a combination that is truly difficult to sustain. His more known series is the Chronicles of Prydain (The Black Cauldron and The High King earning Newbery Honor and Winner awards, respectively), but one that I simply love is the tight and emotionally investing Westmark Trilogy.
YAG: Now that we know what you've read and what you've written, tell us what's next for you and your fans!
MR: First of all, we'll have to see if I have any fans! But for anyone even remotely interested in How to Become a Pirate Hunter, a sequel is in the process of being written. I know that's pretty common for most young adult stories, but for the longest time I did not think there could be a sequel to Pirate Hunter (and I have had this story finished or close to it for years). But last year, just before it got picked up by a publisher, an idea sparked and I realized that there was a story that I still wanted to tell within this world. I'm a few chapters in and I'm pretty excited by it, so hopefully fans will be too! For now, however, I'm just satisfied with this fun process of letting the story go out there and see how far it reaches.
YAG: Thanks for visiting the blog, Marty! Personally, I'll be on the lookout (in the crow's nest?) for the sequel to PIRATE HUNTER!
Readers, here's some more information about Marty and links to find him on the web!
About the author: Marty Reeder lives in Smithfield, Utah with his wife and five children, where he teaches Creative Writing and Spanish at the local high school. Though not a natural born pirate hunter, he taught sailing at Scout camps for many years and uses his history degree to fuel worlds of piracy and compensate for perhaps being born in the wrong time and place for his passions.
If you know anything at all about YA Guy, you know that my favorite movie of all time is King Kong (the 1933 original). I first saw it when I was a child, and like many people who've made and loved fantasy films--Ray Harryhausen, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson--I was blown away by its combination of humanity, grandeur, and wonder. Though it's possible to argue that stop-motion animator Willis O'Brien's effects don't stand up today, it's impossible to deny how revolutionary and influential they were at the time. Kong is very nearly a perfect movie in every respect, and it's simply not possible, in my opinion, to do it better than it was done back in '33.
But they keep trying. And they keep failing.
There was Son of Kong, another O'Brien vehicle that was mysteriously budgeted much lower than the original blockbuster and that suffered from a flabby script, overacting, and a white-furred, comic baby Kong. There was the 1976 fiasco, supposedly featuring a life-size Kong but actually, in all but a single brief scene, sporting makeup artist Rick Baker in an utterly unconvincing gorilla suit. There was Jackson's homage to the original, wisely set during the Depression but very unwisely drawing out the story to twice the original's length, much of that extra footage wasted on interminable, implausible CGI battle sequences. And now, there's Kong: Skull Island, about which the less that's said, the better.
I watched the movie today, and I'm sorry to report that it's idiotic on every level. Kong himself is ridiculously big, presumably so he'll be matched in scale with Godzilla for the upcoming remake of the Japanese film in which the two monsters duked it out. He's also, for all his semi-realistic fur and musculature, utterly weightless, which is a problem the CGI gurus have simply not been able to figure out--everything floats around without the merest appearance of mass, making the creatures look like preposterously realistic cartoons cavorting in live-action settings. Completely lacking in personality, this Kong is nothing but a hundred-foot-tall wrecking machine, doing equivalent amounts of damage on helicopters, giant octopuses, and stupid-looking giant lizard-things with human arms but no legs. The cast is full of actors (Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman) whose careers are clearly bottoming out, if being eaten by stupid-looking giant lizard-things is any indication. And the supposed "message," something about how the Earth doesn't really belong to us and we should treat it better, falls completely flat amidst all the mayhem. This was a movie that should never have been made, and my sole regret is that I wasted nine bucks and two hours of my life on it.
There are still some great fantasy and science fiction movies being made. Arrival, based on the Ted Chiang story, was terrific. So was the stop-motion masterpiece Kubo and the Two Strings. The Star Wars movies of recent years, though no longer revolutionary, remain well-crafted and engaging. The Martian had the benefit of great source material (the Andy Weir book) and a great director (Ridley Scott). So it's not as if I've given up on this kind of film, even when, as is so often the case, substance takes a back seat to spectacle.
But I think it's time to admit that Beauty killed the Beast for good. Ever-more frantic attempts to resuscitate him are doing nothing but heaping ignominy on his once-majestic career.
YA Guy's currently putting the wraps on a science fiction novel I plan to send to my agent. After that, I think I'm going to turn to a genre of YA that's new to me as a writer: historical fiction.
I love history almost as much as I love literature. In fact, I often think of the two as intertwined, if not interchangeable. Back in the days when I was writing and publishing literary criticism, I did as much historical research as literary research, and I was fascinated by how historical documents can be read as literature (and vice versa). So I'm eager to sink my teeth into a project requiring research and (unlike the novels I've written to date) the imaginative creation of a world from the past, not the future.
But here's the thing: I haven't read a whole lot of YA historical fiction, and I'd like to get my hands on some good models so as to immerse myself in the genre. I've read THE BOOK THIEF, CHAINS, ELEPHANT RUN, and some other excellent examples--but I want more. For the next several months, I want to read nothing but YA historical fiction, until it seeps into my pores and pours out of my fingers as readily as science fiction does.
So here's what I'm asking you, dear readers: suggest some YA historical fiction titles that I should read. If they're books you love, chances are I'll love them too. If they're your own books, all the better--I'm in the mood to buy, and review, and publicize. In fact, I plan to buy the first 10 titles recommended to me that sound interesting enough. Ten books should keep me busy reading for a while.
Leave your recommendations in the comments section, and if you want to direct me to the book, leave a link as well. I'll read straight YA historical fiction from any place or time period, and I'll also read YA alt-history if you've got any. I'll read hybrids too: YA historical horror, for instance. The only books I'm not eager to read are 1.) steampunk (I'm trying to stay away from sci-fi) and 2.) books that plop a conventional YA love triangle into a historical period and call it historical fiction. I like romance if it serves a larger historical purpose--for instance, I'd love to read a YA historical novel featuring an interracial couple set during a time of intense racial conflict. I'm just not looking for any teen bodice-rippers.
YA Guy thanks you for your help, and I look forward to your recommendations!
In an earlier post, YA Guy promised to get around to listing my favorite YA science fiction novels. Having written that, I decided there's no time like the present. This list isn't in any particular order; everything on it is as good as it gets.
Chris Howard, Rootless. A wildly imaginative novel about a world without trees and a young man who constructs artificial ones. The imagery is wonderfully bizarre, the voice unlike any other. The two books that follow, The Rift and The Reckoning, aren't quite the equal of the original, but they're well worth reading nonetheless.
Fonda Lee, Zeroboxer. I give this book a slight edge over Lee's follow-up, Exo (though as you'll see if you read my review of the latter, I loved that book too). The story of a young athlete who fights in zero-G arenas, Lee's debut is distinguished by its visceral and very convincing fight scenes, its otherworldly settings, and its perceptive social commentary. Many sci-fi writers excel at either action-packed or thought-provoking stories. Lee excels at both.
Phillip Reeve, Railhead. Set in a galaxy where light-speed trains (not starships) zip from one planet to another, this book is a bit short on characterization but light-years long on dazzling, innovative world-building.
J. Barton Mitchell, the Conquered Earth trilogy. I've been singing the praises of this series for years, and I hope people are listening. Comprising Midnight City, The Severed Tower, and Valley of Fires, this epic story of aliens who master humanity via a telepathic signal that reduces all but teens to slavery features some of the most imaginative settings I've ever encountered, particularly the Strange Lands, where the laws of physics go haywire. The representation of diverse teen-led cultures that have developed in the absence of adults is notable too, as is the appealing cast of characters.
Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker. Unlike many YA science fiction writers, Bacigalupi writes sci-fi for adults too. And it shows: Ship Breaker feels like the work of an artist with a deep knowledge of and respect for the genre, not that of a dabbler trying to cash in on a craze. Ship Breaker, the tale of a young man's odyssey in a post-fossil fuel era, is excellent, and its sequel, The Drowned Cities, is nearly as good, particularly in its further development of the most fascinating character from the first book, the hybrid "half-man" Tool.
M. T. Anderson, Feed. The twisted tale of a future society in which everyone sports a "feed"--a link to the internet wired directly into their brain--this book is hilarious and scary in equal measure. One of the best YA science fiction satires I've ever read.
Mindy McGinnis, Not a Drop to Drink. Along with its sequel, In a Handful of Dust, this stark representation of a world with barely any potable water is just barely science fiction--which is not to say it's not believable. On the contrary, without resorting to high-tech gadgetry or other hallmarks of the sci-fi trade, McGinnis does an utterly convincing job of portraying a future that looms dangerously close at the present moment.
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Illuminae. When I first heard of this book, I'll admit I thought it sounded gimmicky. But when I read it, I was blown away by the technique, as the story of a spaceship fleeing interplanetary assault and at the mercy of a HAL-like computer is told through a series of hacked documents and mind-blowing typographic effects. The tale isn't quite as original as the telling, but the two in conjunction will keep you rocketing along. I haven't read the next book in the series, Gemina, but I'm definitely planning to.
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy. There are not only a number of great sci-fi contrivances in these books--mutts, the Arena in Catching Fire, the pods in Mockingjay--but on the whole, the series offers a highly effective satire of violence in the entertainment media. What makes the endless copycat stories so vastly inferior is their failure to attempt anything similar: they've got a girl with a gun, but they don't have the sharp satirical sensibility of Collins's books.
James Dashner, The Maze Runner trilogy. The prequels are terrible, so don't waste your time. And the trilogy gets increasingly frantic and unbelievable as it progresses. But the Maze and the Grievers are brilliant sci-fi inventions, with the Scorch not far behind.
So there you have it, folks. Enjoy these books, and drop me a line if you have any suggestions. I'm always looking for good, original, compelling YA sci-fi!
Though YA Guy has very strong political opinions, I've tended to shy away from politics on my blog. Maybe I thought this space wasn't the proper forum, or maybe I was concerned about alienating readers who don't share my political views. Whatever the reason, I've devoted the great majority of my posts to book-related subjects, my own and other writers'.
But you know, I've decided that I've been wrong to relegate politics to such a minor role on this blog.
Recently, I read a report that noted with some optimism that rates of suicide among gay teens have declined markedly as an apparent result of the movement for marriage equality. That was, I thought, a positive sign that the country might be moving away from discrimination and its corrosive effects.
But then today, I read that as one of his very first actions in office, Donald Trump's Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era protections securing transgender students the right to use the bathroom that aligns with their identity. Like many Republicans, Sessions believes that states, municipalities, and districts rather than the federal government should make the determination as to whether transgender students should be required to use the bathroom that matches their chromosomes. He has also cited some parents' concerns about male students posing as transgender girls in order to assault their peers in bathrooms. As is so common with the current administration, neither he nor anyone else has been able to produce data to suggest that this might actually occur or be occurring.
It was only a couple of generations ago that segregation based on race was legal--and one of the arguments for such segregation was the specious claim that white women were at heightened risk of rape by black men. Sessions, a native of Selma, Alabama, surely remembers those days. And he likely knows that leaving transgender rights to the whim of local school boards will produce (and already has produced) the same pattern of unequal rights by geography as existed in the days of George Wallace and Bull Connor.
So yes, writing about political issues like this is very much the province of the YA Guy blog. I'm a writer of literature for young people, and as such, any issue that affects young people, for good or for ill, is my business. I regret having shied from such issues in the past in the mistaken belief that they were best left to more overtly political forums. In the future, though of course I'll continue to write about books, I'll also continue to use this blog as a place to write about issues beyond the printed page.
I suppose I might lose a reader or two with this approach. But to be honest, any reader who's comfortable with depriving a group of young people of their civil rights isn't one I care to have reading my blog or my books anyway.
Being YA Guy, I read a lot of YA science fiction. I've always loved sci-fi, and my own novels are in the genre. So I'd say one-third to one-half of the YA titles I read every year are billed as science fiction.
But you know, most of them are really bad.
Derivative plots. Weak or nonexistent science. Magic instead of logic. Zero philosophical complexity. Heavy petting and happy endings where I'm looking for ambiguity and enduring questions.
The problem, it seems to me, is that far too many writers of ostensible YA science fiction aren't really interested in sci-fi. They don't know it; they don't care about it; they don't feel it. They write it, I can only speculate, because it's popular in the wake of titles like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent (which, whatever strengths it might have, is very weak science fiction). Instead of being lifelong lovers and advocates of the genre, they're dabblers. They write romantic fairy tales set in the future and call it science fiction, and those of us who cherish the genre are, I think, rightfully appalled.
All of this is preliminary to announcing that Fonda Lee, author of Zeroboxer (2015) and the brand-new Exo, is an exception to the above. She writes YA, but she's a true science fiction writer: in her heart, in her mind, in her blood. She knows the genre--its history, its traditions--and she pays tribute to it while extending it in exciting ways. That's what makes her so good.
Exo tells the story of Donovan Reyes, a teen soldier on a future Earth that's been colonized by an alien species. After years of war in which humanity suffered greatly at the hands of a technologically superior race, an accommodation has been reached between us and them; though the aliens effectively run the show, they've shared certain aspects of their technology with humankind, incorporated some humans into their kinship networks, and biologically transformed a select group of human beings, including Donovan, to exude an exoskeletal armor covering at will. When Donovan's captured by humans-first terrorists and forced to confront their beliefs head-on, his allegiance to the alien regime is called into question. And when he's required to choose between his father, who's a key figure in the accommodationist government, and an equally important person from his past, who's a central member of the terrorist group, Donovan's conflict comes to a head.
I didn't love everything about Exo; some of the emotional turning-points in the early going felt rushed to me, while the ending felt emotionally but not entirely intellectually satisfying. But what I did love about the book far made up for what I didn't: the imaginative rendering of an alien civilization; the plausible representation of human life under a colonizing power; the probing philosophical questions and moral quandaries; and, quite frankly, the really cool exocel armor system. There's action aplenty in Exo, and some romance too, but I never felt the way I feel about too much YA science fiction: that the futuristic setting is an excuse for lots of poorly executed fighting and smooching scenes. In Exo, the science fiction comes first, and that's the way it should be.
One of these days, I'm going to get around to compiling a list of my favorite YA science fiction books and authors. When I do, I'll share it here. And you can be sure that Fonda Lee and Exo will be on it.
YA Guy is thrilled to welcome my good friend, Jennifer Bardsley, to the blog! DAMAGED GOODS, the second book in her YA science fiction series, has just been released, and Jennifer was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions.
YA Guy: Hi, Jennifer, and welcome to the blog! Can you tell us about DAMAGED GOODS and the Blank Slate series?
Jennifer Bardsley: Thank you so much for having me on The YA Guy! I always joke that it's like we are Internet married because my Facebook page is called The YA Gal. (And side note, you were really cool about me ripping off your idea on that one.) I'm so happy to be chatting with you today because you and I both write Sci-Fi and speculative fiction, which are my favorite types of books to read.
My newest book is called DAMAGED GOODS, and is the sequel to GENESIS GIRL which came out last year. They are about a teenager named Blanca who has never been on the Internet. Her lack of a digital footprint makes her so valuable that she gets auctioned off the highest bidder. In GENESIS GIRL readers find out why Blanca was shielded from the Internet her entire childhood and how that impacted her life. In DAMAGED GOODS Blanca struggles to move past her sheltered upbringing and doles out justice to bad guys from her past.
YAG: Sounds awesome! Have you always liked sci-fi? If so, what are some of your favorite stories (books, movies, or both), and why are you into them?
JB: I have always loved Sci-Fi because it's the ultimate escape. In high school Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut were two of my favorite authors and I watched all of the "Star Trek Next Generation" episodes on repeat, These days, if I turn on one episode of "Battlestar Galatica" I will spend the next forty eight hours binge-watching and morph into that couple from "Portlandia" who are the biggest "Battlestar Galatica" fans ever.
YAG: Cool! Now what about the other half of the equation--the Young Adult half. What appeals to you about YA?
JB: As an adult reader, I love young adult fiction because it's the chance to revisit high school and have fun. When I was in high school, I was so focused on grades and getting into a good college that I never went to a wild party or got caught in an epic love triangle. But I also enjoy YA because they so often include stories of teens taking control of their own lives and forging their own paths.
YAG: You've got a great agent (as I know, since she's mine as well) and have built a great platform for yourself and your books. Any tips for beginning writers about how to achieve success?
JB: My biggest tip for writers would be to not give up. This industry is challenging on so many levels, but there are multiple ways to achieve success. My second tip would be to put your manuscript away for three months and then come back to it with new eyes. I'm a big believer in revision. I never give anything to my agent unless I've revised it twenty-two times, and that includes incorporating feedback from multiple beta readers.
YAG: Excellent advice! Last question: tell us something funny or unusual about yourself that few people know!
JB: People who already follow me on social media already know that I have a poodle named Merlin, but what they don't know is that Merlin has a fetish for old ladies. We think Merlin must have been owned by an elderly woman who died before he went to the shelter that we adopted him from. Merlin is a sweet dog to begin with and friendly with everyone, but when he sees a woman of a certain age, he becomes ecstatic. My kids and I joke that Merlin's dream vacation would be a week at a retirement home.
YAG: Okay, not even your internet husband YA Guy knew that story! Readers, if you want to learn more about Jennifer and her books, here's where to go:
Jennifer Bardsley writes the column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. Her novel Genesis Girl debuted in 2016 from Month9Books, with the sequel, Damaged Goods, releasing in 2017. Genesis Girl is about a teenager who has never been on the Internet. Jennifer, however, is on the web all the time as “The YA Gal” with over 21,000 followers on Facebook, 19,500 followers on Instagram, and 9,000 followers on Twitter. On Facebook, she hosts the weekly instant book club called #TakeALookTuesday where YA Gal friends geek out, share pictures of what they are reading, and chat about books. Jennifer is a member of SCBWI, The Sweet Sixteens debut author group, and is founder of Sixteen To Read. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives near Seattle, WA where she enjoys spending time with her family and her poodle, Merlin.
Blanca has everything she ever wanted, a hot boyfriend named Seth and the loving support of her foster father, Cal. She’s finally escaped the abusive control of her birth father, Barbelo Nemo, and her tortured childhood at Tabula Rasa School.
But the scars of Blanca’s Vestal upbringing run deep, especially when the FBI starts asking questions. Blanca feels abandoned by Seth who is hunting for Lilith, Blanca’s only blood relative. The Defectos, a support group of Vestal-Rejects, offer Blanca comfort instead.
While the Vestal order crumbles, Chinese rivals called the Guardians rise to power and wrest control of important Tabula Rasa contacts. Now Blanca’s life is in peril once more, and this time, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.
Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.
Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.
Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.
By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.