Tuesday, February 12, 2019

YA Guy Can't Wait for.. These 2019 Books!

YA Guy's always on the lookout for great books. Here are five from the first half of 2019--all but one of them for young readers--that I'm particularly excited about. I'll freely admit that I have a personal connection to each of the five authors (heck, I'll even tell you what that connection is), but at the same time, no one's paying or even prompting me to promote their books. I've listed them in order of release date--and the first one on the list comes out a mere week from today!

Louise Cypress, NARCOSIS ROOM (February 19). We share an agent and (sort of) a moniker--she's the YA Gal, I'm YA Guy--but one other thing we share is a love of twisty, creepy sci-fi stories. Her latest, set in a world where one's looks and identity can be surgically enhanced--or destroyed--will definitely freak you out in the best possible way.

Jessica Khoury, LAST OF HER NAME (February 26). I've loved Khoury's books since her debut, ORIGIN, and I love space operas. (I also love the artwork she drew for two of my own recent novels.) Her latest is a sci-fi retelling of the Anastasia story set in a distant galaxy, and it's just what I need to get through the wintertime.

Kat Ross, INFERNO (March 15). Way back in 2014, Ross and I met as members of a debut YA novelists' group. Since that time, she's put out some of the highest quality fantasy novels I've read, including two series that span the centuries and are linked by common characters. INFERNO, the final book in the Fourth Talisman series, promises to be yet another wickedly fun adventure into the worlds of the weird, the monstrous, and the undead.

Cadwell Turnbull, THE LESSON (June 18). Currently one of the rising young stars in science fiction, Turnbull was once a student of mine at the college where I teach. But trust me, I didn't teach him how to write this novel, a wildly imaginative tale of an alien race that settles for unknown purposes in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nick Courage, STORM BLOWN (July 16). Pittsburgh author Courage writes the kind of books my kids loved when they were still kids. (Now the one in high school reads ancient history, and the one in college reads what she has to read for her classes.) His latest, which focuses on children battling a hurricane, sounds like a high-energy thrill ride.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

YA Guy Has... Trilogy Fever!

The final book in YA Guy's Ecosystem Trilogy is due out in April (on Earth Day, of course). Titled HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, it completes a series I first dreamed up in 2011 and have been working on pretty much nonstop for the past two years.

So I figured, while we're waiting for Book Three, what better time than now to offer readers a discount on Books One and Two? From today (which also happens to be my birthday!) through February 11, you can purchase the e-books of ECOSYSTEM (Book 1) and THE DEVOURING LAND (Book 2) for only 99 cents each. That way, you'll be all caught up on the adventures of Sarah, Isaac, Miriam, Leah, and the rest as they battle the Ecosystem, search for love, and defend the City of the Queens--just in time for the release of HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE!

Here are the links. Enjoy, and let me know what you think about the Ecosystem Trilogy!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

YA Guy Defines... Success!

What does it mean to be a successful writer?

For many writers--and, perhaps, for the general public--"success" means six-figure advances, bestseller status, big-ticket awards (including those just announced for this year's very deserving Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz Award winners).

By that definition, most of us--including YA Guy--are abysmal failures. Given the very nature of publishing, the very nature of any business venture, most people don't achieve that kind of success. Most of us plug along somewhere in the middle, perhaps making some money, perhaps not, perhaps making a career of it, more likely not, perhaps winning an award or two, perhaps not, but never becoming household names.

I've been writing since I was about eight years old. (Actually, earlier than that, but it was around age eight that I tried to write my first novel--on my mom's manual typewriter. After a page of typos and frustration, I gave up.) Since that time, and with increasing frequency from the year I started college (1983) to the present, I've produced numerous creative nonfiction essays, short stories, academic books and articles, and partial or completed novels. Some of the above has been published, some of it hasn't. None of it has skyrocketed to fame. But all of it, even the things I didn't finish for one reason or another (because the idea wasn't as good as I first thought, because I ran out of steam, whatever), has been written.

So I decided to pursue a different definition of "success," one based purely on page totals. In my calculations, I ruled out academic books and articles, as well as short pieces (fiction and nonfiction), and focused on novels. The numbers are skewed downward by that decision, considerably so, but since novel-writing was and is my highest aspiration (as it is for many writers), it made sense to me to narrow my output in that way.

For purposes of this quantitative analysis, I estimated a completed novel (whether published or unpublished) at 300 manuscript pages (except for my earliest novels, written in the years 1981-1987, which tended to be shorter, so I averaged those at 250 pages per novel). An unfinished novel--either one that I've discarded permanently or that I'm still working on--I assigned an average of 100 pages. With those estimates, here's what I came up with:

In total from the years 1981 (when I completed my first novel at age 16) to the present, I've written roughly 4,750 manuscript pages of novel-length works. This breaks down as follows:

  • On average, I've written 125 pages worth of novels per year over a period of 38 years, or about a page every three days.
  • Narrowed down to the years of my greatest productivity, from 2010 to the present, I've written about 3,900 pages, for an average of 433 pages per year. That's over a page a day for almost 10 years.
  • Limited to completed novels, it works out to approximately 3,300 pages or 366 pages per year.
  • Confined further to completed and published novels, it drops to about 2,100 pages or 233 pages per year. However, that number is unacceptably low--because, of the seven novels I've started but not finished, only three of them have been completely abandoned, so the other four might be considered "on their way" to completion and, hopefully, publication. Ditto with the four novels from 2010-2019 that are completed but unpublished; two of them will never see the light of day, but one is currently being shopped by my agent and the other I plan to self-publish.

The point is, any way you slice it, I've been pretty productive as a writer of novels throughout my life, and especially in the past decade.

Dare I say I've been successful?

Maybe yes, maybe no. If the almost 5,000 pages of novel-material I've produced in my lifetime have been complete and utter garbage, then maybe I'm less successful than delusional. But on the other hand, even if those pages have been junk, I've written them, and writing counts for something in and of itself. I like to think my success as a writer has been like my career as a writer: somewhere in the middle. No, I'm not one of the great writers of my own or any time, but I'm not a hack either. I'm a writer like most writers, producing as much work as I can that's as good as I can make it.

I hope this exercise doesn't seem merely a pep talk to myself. My purpose in conducting it was to offer words of encouragement to the many writers who are in the same place that I am: people who've been writing for years without the obvious signs of "success" that some writers have achieved. I'm thinking it would be a good idea for those writers to take the time, now and again, to redefine "success." You can do it quantitatively as I've done, or you can find some other qualitative measure: satisfaction, personal growth, positive reviews, the stranger on the street who recognized you. All of those measures (and many more) are valid, and validating.

So be a successful writer. Your own kind of successful writer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

YA Guy Hosts... Erica George, author of WORDS COMPOSED OF SEA AND SKY!

YA Guy is delighted to introduce my friend and agency sibling, Erica George, whose debut YA novel, WORDS COMPOSED OF SEA AND SKY, will be published in 2021. That seems like a long way away--but as Erica so eloquently narrates in the following post, her writing journey, like so many others', has been long and unpredictable. (I can relate: though I've wanted to be a writer since age eight, I didn't publish my first novel until age forty-nine.) For all of us who dream of publishing novels, Erica's story is a true inspiration.

So enjoy the post, and make sure to follow Erica on Instagram and Twitter so you can keep track of her as she continues her journey!

Benjamin Churchill first appeared to me when I was thirteen years old. It was a rainy December night, and my family and I were driving home from having seen a production of A Christmas Carol put on in Princeton. I was consumed by the concept of change, whether we were all capable of change, or if, for some of us, it was too late.

I think that’s why he materialized that night, riding a horse, keeping pace with the car—to help me explore this question.

When I got home, I crawled into bed, pulled out my trusty notebook from the nightstand (I still keep one there, by the way), and wrote down everything I knew about Benjamin Churchill, a character that would stay with me for twenty years.

He’s changed a lot since then. He’s been British, he’s been American, he’s been in the Navy, the Army, and then finally I decided he was going to be a whaler. He’s been surrounded by multiple casts of characters, he’s been the main character, and now he’s a supporting character. He’s also been shelved for most of this time.

I’ve always been a writer, a teller of stories, but I didn’t think I was capable of being published until after college. I had just completed my teaching degree and was working with a group of fifth graders. We were reading a fairy tale retelling (that no one was particularly fond of), and one of the students said, “You know, I think you could write a better version of this.”

It was a challenge, but I did it. Having no idea what to do with a completed manuscript (well, at least I thought it was completed), I sought the advice of my neighbor who I knew was a writer as well. She invited me to join her writer’s group, and that’s where everything really started coming together for me.

Writing is a fairly solitary occupation, and it’s easy to be intimidated and keep your work to yourself. This was the first time I was sharing my writing with a group of like-minded people. I received feedback (some positive, some constructive—mostly constructive), and I kept working. Finally, when I felt like I had polished my fairy tale retelling, I decided to attend the New Jersey conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Something must have possessed me, because I also signed up to pitch my book to an agent.

As I waited in line for my turn, I kept rereading my pitch, trying to memorize every word. I was shaking. I was sweating. I could just picture myself trying to describe my book, something so personal and close to me, to someone who just wouldn’t be interested or see my vision. Finally, I sat down in front of Liza Fleissig, took a deep breath, and got halfway through my pitch before she stopped me and said, “I want you to send me the whole thing.”

You’d think the shaking would stop there, but no. Cue more incessant nerves.

Liza signed me as an author at the Liza Royce Agency in 2014, and I was positive, absolutely certain, that it would be smooth sailing from that point forward.

Only no one can truly prepare you for your personal voyage to publication. I figured that because it had been so easy to secure an agent, my book would obviously be snapped up in a second by an editor. That book ultimately didn’t go anywhere. My next two made it farther than that, but ultimately went nowhere as well.

Writing is hard, and giving up is so much easier. But I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little, since I sat in the children’s section of my local library, piling up books to bring home and devour. Books were my constant, and I knew that simply reading stories wouldn’t satisfy me forever. I had to write them. I had to hold my own book in my hands.

It was only this past year that Benjamin Churchill resurfaced for me, and this time, he took the form of a Yankee whaler. He was always tied to the sea, but I finally realized where he belonged, what his story actually was.

My Young Adult novel, Words Composed of Sea and Sky, debuts in Summer 2021 from Running Press Kids/Hachette. It’s told in two alternating points of view, one of Michaela, a girl living on present-day Cape Cod, writing poems in an effort to escape her home life, and the other of Leta, a girl living in the same town but during the height of Yankee whaling, who also uses poetry to escape the social conformities of her time.

You’ll find Benjamin Churchill among the pages, too.

About Erica: Erica George is a writer of Young Adult fiction and a graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in both English and education. She resides in scenic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but spends her summers soaking up the salty sea air of Cape Cod. Many themes of Erica's writing rotate around environmental activism and helping young people discover their voices. You can find her writing, whale watching, or engrossed in quality British drama with her dog at her side.

Twitter/Instagram: @theericageorge

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Jamie Beth Cohen, author of WASTED PRETTY!

As you can tell from my past several months' posts, YA Guy loves hosting debut authors, especially when they live in my hometown of Pittsburgh. But it gives me particular joy to host Jamie Beth Cohen, whose debut novel WASTED PRETTY comes out in April, 2019. I first met Jamie years and years ago when I was a counselor at a day camp in Pittsburgh and she was (no kidding) one of my campers, so to see her succeed as a writer is the next best thing to watching one of my own children grow. Now, before I embarrass myself (or Jamie) even more, let's hear from her on the artistic and commercial sides of being a debut author!

Have you seen this image floating around the interwebz? I love it!

Writer Erin Dorney made these suggestions, and I think they really speak to the fact that although publishing is a business, there are still ways we can engage with it that don’t involve money. 

As a debut author, with a young adult novel coming from a small press in April 2019, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to engage with the commercial side of my art. 

And let me just stop myself right here, because I actually don’t consider myself an artist. I tell stories in order to connect with other people and -- if I’m doing it right -- the stories will help them in some way. A reader might feel less alone after reading something I’ve written or might feel better about a tough choice they’ve made after seeing how tough choices are handled in my work. Whatever it is, language and craft are not my top priority. It’s the connection to others that is most important to me.

Art is amazing. Art is important. I love art! And maybe some people consider what I do art, but if they do, I hope they’re talking about the kind that is accessible to everyone and integral to life, not the kind that is set apart from it (hung on walls in expensive museums or unintelligible without an advanced degree).

But I digress…

The truth is, I want my book to be widely read, not because of any monetary goal, but because I did that thing people tell young adult authors to do: I wrote the book I needed when I was a teen, and I believe there are teens out there today who still need it. 

To get the book into the hands of people who don’t know me, I have to engage with the commercial side of publishing. To that end, I have to spend money -- money I don’t really have -- to promote my book in various ways. I will throw parties, I might do giveaways, I may pay for ads, and to make up that money, I will need to sell books.

This is the vicious cycle of capitalism that many writers don’t want anything to do with. They feel it corrupts their art or takes time away from writing, but, as I said, I don’t consider myself an artist. I feel this story is important and to get it out there, I’m going to jump in with both feet and try to figure out this balancing act.

Side Note: Here’s another paradox that people have been asking me about lately: I will make about five times as much money per book if you buy it directly from me, but sales I do “out of my trunk” don’t count in the measure of “how well” my book is doing. My book will be available online directly through my publisher, on Amazon and through other outlets, but in order to quickly make up the money I spend to promote my book, I’m going to have to sell a fair number of copies “out of my trunk.” 

And to be clear, it’s not just small press authors who have to spend their own money on these things. Check out Josh’s great post about what he spent promoting his debut (which came out with a big house) and his other great post about what worked and what didn't.

So, all of Erin’s suggestions above on ways you can help an author are great, but there are some things my writer-heart and my writer-brain are struggling with right now. Taking the lead from Josh, I’m letting you in with the hope that transparency is the way to go. Because people ask all the time how they can support my debut, but I’m never sure if they really want the truth…

My writer-heart wants you to love this story.
My writer-brain wants you to buy this book for yourself, your family, and your friends!

My writer-heart wants you to buy enough books through your local indie bookstore that the next time I want to sell a story, people think I’m a safe bet.
My writer-brain wants you to place an order with me so I can recoup my marketing costs and maybe see a movie with my family.

My writer-heart wants to sit over coffee and talk to you about this story.
My writer-brain wants you to tell everyone you know to buy this book!

My writer-heart wants you to write honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
My writer-brain wants you to keep your criticisms just between us. Tell me what you think so I can be a better writer, but please don’t put me on blast.

My writer-heart wants to travel the world visiting my friends and coming to book clubs they set up with their friends.
My writer-brain knows I don’t have the kind of time or cash to make this happen, but I hope I can video-chat with lots of fun book clubs.

My writer-heart wants you to buy my book and love it without me ever having to mention it again.
My writer-brain knows it takes roughly seven mentions to influence behavior... apologies in advance…

About Jamie: Jamie Beth Cohen is a writer, storyteller, and community organizer whose writing has appeared in TeenVogue.com, The Washington Post/On Parenting, Salon, and many other outlets. WASTED PRETTY, her debut YA novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who faces wanted and unwanted attention when she accidentally goes from blending in to standing out, will be published by Black Rose Writing in April 2019.

Stalk Jamie here:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

YA Guy Lists... His 2018 Top Ten!

Here's the bad news: YA Guy didn't read much this year. As discussed in a previous post, I took a bit of a hiatus from reading in 2018, my hope being that this would free up time for my own writing.

Here's the good news: it worked. I produced two novels in 2018 (both of them already published), plus a collection of short stories (also published). Two additional novels are in the final stages of revision, and should be published next year. So that's all very exciting for me personally.

And here's the even better news: I didn't stop reading entirely during 2018. I read what I needed to for the classes I taught, as well as reading a few novels that were recommended to me (including Nabokov's truly bizarre Pale Fire, recommended by, of all people, my fifteen-year-old son). I also read some YA novels--nowhere near the fifty or so I've been reading each of the past few years, but enough to produce a Top 10 List.

And so, without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

S. A. Bodeen, THE TOMB. If you've read any of Bodeen's previous novels--including her acclaimed THE COMPOUND--you know she likes to play with your mind. THE TOMB does that in a big way, and in the service of a gripping sci-fi narrative.

Parker Peevyhouse, THE ECHO ROOM. Peevyhouse impressed me a couple of years ago with her debut WHERE FUTURES END, a collection of linked short stories that fused magic with dystopian science fiction. THE ECHO ROOM is even better, a literary Escape Room with a twist you'll never see coming, even when you're sure you see it coming.

Fonda Lee, CROSS FIRE. This sequel to EXO, about an alien colonization of Earth and the human factions that develop to contest (as well as support) it, is my favorite novel so far by my favorite YA science fiction writer. If you don't read this two-part series, you're missing something truly exceptional.

Lisa Maxwell, THE DEVIL'S THIEF. Every bit as good as its predecessor THE LAST MAGICIAN, this complexly plotted, densely peopled, mind-bending historical fantasy proves beyond a doubt that Maxwell is one of the most talented and inventive YA writers of this or any time.

Eliot Schrefer, ORPHANED. The concluding book in Schrefer's "Ape Quartet," each of which focuses on a young person's relationship with one of the four great apes--bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas--this book imagines the meeting of prehistoric gorillas and humans due to a changing volcanic landscape. It's told from the gorilla MC's point of view, and it's a satisfying conclusion to one of the best YA series I've ever read.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, OBSIDIO. I'll admit that the graphic pyrotechnics of this third book in the Illuminae series are nowhere near as excitingly radical as they were in the first book, and the endless teen-snarky emails are a bit wearying. But this is still a solid ending to a revolutionary series that suggested all kinds of new directions for YA science fiction.

Erica Cameron, WAR OF STORMS. The third installment in Cameron's epic fantasy The Ryogan Chronicles, this book wraps up a story and a world so immersive, so fully realized, you'll believe you're actually there. Read the books in order to get the full experience, starting with ISLAND OF EXILES and then SEA OF STRANGERS.

Thomas Sweterlitsch, THE GONE WORLD. This is the one book on the list that isn't YA, but I couldn't resist, because any book by Pittsburgh author Sweterlitsch is a major event. His first novel, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, is set in large part in a virtual Pittsburgh that's all that remains after the real city is destroyed in a terrorist nuclear attack; THE GONE WORLD takes place in a variety of (possible) futures where a military investigator travels to try to unravel a shocking crime from the present. Both books are wildly imaginative, beautifully written, and mind-bendingly original works of science fiction.

Joshua David Bellin, ECOSYSTEM and THE DEVOURING LAND. My own books, the first two in a three-part series, tell the story of a future Earth in which the physical environment has developed into a sentient, and predatory, being. I decided to self-publish the series so I could realize a vision I've had for many years, and I couldn't be happier with the results. Look for the final book in the trilogy, titled HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, in early 2019.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Natasha Garrett, author of MOTHERLANDS!

YA Guy is super excited to introduce my friend and colleague--and fellow writer--Natasha Garrett, whose debut collection of essays, MOTHERLANDS, is available now! A book that explores the modern migrant experience, MOTHERLANDS is particularly timely in today's social and political climate. Natasha talks openly about her experience as a writer in the guest post below, and then you can find out more about (and order a copy of) MOTHERLANDS! 


I am curious about other authors’ writing spaces and habits the way some people are interested in celebrity homes. Some writers, like Hemingway and Dickens, wrote while standing; in contrast, Truman Capote wrote while lying on his couch. Mark Twain’s office was painted mauvish-pink and contained a pool table. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the morning, after waking up and stripping naked. I enjoy learning these tidbits and browsing through photos of writers’ offices, because I am being reminded of the behind-the-scenes work that happens before a book is finished, and the various routines and locations that support one’s writing life. I am also a bit envious of the writers, famous and not-so-famous, who allow themselves the time and space to write with regularity.

In my recent collection of personal essays, Motherlands, I write about my discomfort with calling myself a writer, because in many ways, I feel like an outsider to writing. I have a full-time job that doesn’t require literary skills, a busy family life and a great social circle. My approach to writing lacks the routine and the structure of many of my favorite writers: I don’t set aside a time to write. I don’t have a designated workspace in my house for writing—no pretty desk with a view; actually, no desk at all. I don’t belong to a writer’s group. I have never attended a writing workshop. I write in English, my second language. Perhaps not labeling myself a writer is a defense mechanism: I am free of all the pressure, expectations, anticipation, and disappointment that real writers seem to experience. It may be a way of creatively avoiding the responsibility of regular writing while claiming all the pleasure from it.

Desk or no desk, writing and publishing essays, poetry, and translations inevitably makes me a writer. I don’t have a writing schedule, but I do have a method; otherwise, nothing will ever be done. I am not a freewriting-type of person, though I swear I have tried to be. Once I get an idea for an essay, I let it live in my head for a while. I work on it in my mind as I am doing something else, like driving or taking a walk. Once I know what the opening paragraph or two will look like, I start writing. The act of writing typically generates more ideas, and I slowly but steadily unspool the essay. Since the piece lives in me for quite some time before it sees the light of day, my first draft is not that removed from my final draft. I let it sit for a few days, and I go back to it for revisions. I often ask a trusted friend (a “real” writer) to read it before I deem it finished and ready for submission.

Not being “only” a writer gives me a wider field of inspiration to draw from. As a Macedonian living in the US, an international student advisor, a mother to a bilingual child, a wife, a translator, a traveler, an avid reader, and an occasional and somewhat hesitant writer, I draw from a range of personal and professional experiences--which are often in conversation with one another—when I write personal essays like the ones in Motherlands. This collection in particular benefits from the weaving of the professional, personal and literary, because it tackles topics that are naturally multidisciplinary, such as cross-cultural living (cooking, gardening), language, identity, and education.

I have two writing projects percolating at the moment—an idea for a novel (part travelogue, part love story) and a poetry collection. I’ll let them live in my head for a bit longer, but eventually, I will have to sit down and start writing, perhaps at my own desk this time.

About MOTHERLANDS: In this collection of personal essays, Natasha Garrett explores various facets of the modern migration experience. Weaving academic and literary sources, as well as personal and professional experiences, Garrett uses transnationalism as a springboard for discussing topics such as home, motherhood, identity, bilingualism, family, education, and travel. The essays in Motherlands offer a well-researched, witty and heartfelt look into migration both as a global phenomenon and as a deeply intimate experience.

Buy MOTHERLANDS here: https://www.amazon.com/Motherlands-Natasha-Garrett/dp/1897493665

About Natasha: Natasha was born and raised in Macedonia and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she serves as a Director of International Student Services at La Roche College. Her poetry, personal essays, and translations have appeared in Transnational Literature, Gravel, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Arts and Letters, and other publications. She is the editor of Macedonia 2013: 100 Years After the Treaty of Bucharest. She obtained her PhD in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and her Master’s in English Literature from Duquesne University.

To find out more about Natasha's books and the events where you can meet her in person, visit her website: https://natashagarrett.pittsburgh412.com

And if you're in Pittsburgh, you can come see Natasha speak at the Squirrel Hill Library next week: