Saturday, June 29, 2013

YA Guy Says... Let the Giveaway Begin!

Well, YA Guy promised, and you delivered!

We're now up to 1300 page views on YA Guy (actually 1301 last time I checked), so the giveaway is about to commence.

Just to remind you, I'm giving away a signed copy of my book FRAMING MONSTERS, which discusses all kinds of monster movies, from the classics (like King Kong) to the contemporary (like X-Men). It's also got a chapter on monstrous women in fantasy film, so it's right up YA Guy's alley.

I've set the giveaway to start tomorrow to provide people time to get all excited.  It'll run for two weeks from that starting date.

So join, tweet, visit, have fun, go crazy.

YA Guy loves ya!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, June 27, 2013

YA Guy Interviews... Erin Bowman!

The thing YA Guy loves about Erin Bowman is....

Well, there's really nothing I don't love about Erin Bowman.

She wrote a killer debut, Taken. She's incredibly generous with her time even under a grueling schedule. She writes fun and funny tweets. When I had a chance to meet her, at the Young Authors tour attended by my aspiring-writer daughter, I found Erin as delightful IRL as she is online. My daughter's two-word review: "Erin rocks!"

So I'm absolutely thrilled to have her on YA Guy for an interview. Here we go....

YA Guy: Taken has such an amazingly cool concept--a town where all the males disappear at the age of eighteen.  How’d you come up with the concept for this book?

Erin Bowman: Taken’s protagonist actually came to me before the full concept did. I was working on another manuscript when Gray started walking around in my head. He was fearing his eighteenth birthday, which I thought was very odd; turning eighteen is a great milestone in our world! I started asking why--why was he so afraid, what happened at eighteen?--and the greater story formed.

YAG: And a great(er) story it is!  Taken is science fiction, and so we’d expect it to extrapolate from current technology, events, or issues.  Was there any particular aspect of today’s world that inspired or fed into Taken?

EB: I’ve always been fascinated by technological advancement--specifically how exponential its growth rate seems, and how its goal is always to make our lives easier. I love my iPhone, I do. It has certainly made it easier to check in on the go, answer emails while traveling, etc. But I don’t know if that’s necessarily made my life easier. If anything, it’s complicated things; I’m now accessible 24-7 and feel like I should respond to everything immediately.

I wanted to play with this concept a bit in Taken--how advancements may originally have our best interests at heart but perhaps tailspin into something more detrimental. Furthermore, I really wanted to look at an advanced world through naive eyes. We take so much for granted.

YAG: That brings us to the narrator of Taken: Gray Weathersby, a young male.  How did you make the decision to adopt a male voice?  Did you face any special challenges as a female author with a young male narrator?

EB: Simply put, it was Gray’s tale and it had to be told through his eyes. I was subconsciously writing in first-person--with a few chapters already captured--before I even paused to reflect on my narrative lens. By then, I couldn’t imagine the story being told any other way.

As a female, I didn’t have too much trouble writing Gray because his voice was so darn clear for me. (This, of course, is not always the case. I have a WIP with a female MC and it took me forever to find her voice. Sometimes you just get lucky.)

YAG: Along the same lines, were you trying to tap into a male YA audience when you were working on Taken?  Do you think Taken is a “guy book”?  Do you think there’s any such thing in YA as “guy” or “girl” books?

EB: I think boys will enjoy Taken, but I think girls will too. In fact, I hate the idea that a book is a “boy book” or a “girl book.” Books are books, populated with many characters, themes, subject matter, and so on. A contemporary YA about soccer set in a small town will likely be boring to a boy if he hates soccer and loves high fantasy and action and new worlds. But a girl who digs realistic fiction and just scored her first goal at her very first soccer game? She might love that book. Regardless of whether the MC is male or female.

I think we need to spend less time labeling things boy or girl books, and more time asking WHAT and WHO the reader likes to read. For example, if a reader flew through Dashner’s The Maze Runner series and loves fast-paced action and adventure, I think he or she will love Taken.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I need to take a moment and point everyone to Marie Lu’s “Writing a Book for Boys” piece (Huffington Post). Her points are spot-on, and she covers this topic far more eloquently than I did here.

YAG: Final question: I know the sequel to Taken is coming out soon, and I know many readers would like to hear about the experience of writing the second book in a planned trilogy.  What were the challenges, the joys, and the discoveries for you, a debut author, as you worked on the sequel to Taken?

EB: I loved being back with my characters. They never cease to surprise me, and one of my favorite parts of writing Frozen was discovering new things about them simply by listening. (I’ve learned to not ignore them when they want to deviate from my outline.) Challenges? Tuning out external voices. I wrote Taken in a vacuum, but with Frozen, I heard my editor, fans, reviewers, you name it rattling off advice and critiques. Once I figured out how to block those voices out and just draft, everything came easier.

YAG: Thanks, Erin! We're all looking forward to Frozen and wish you continued success in your writing career!

Twitter: @erin_bowman

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


When YA Guy was a YA Guy....

That doesn't sound right.

What I mean is, when YA Guy was a young guy reading YA and dreaming about writing it, instead of a somewhat older guy reading it and living the dream, my favorite book was Don Robertson's 1970 The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened.

I think it was the first true YA I'd ever read.

Sure, I'd read a lot of Judy Blume books. But they'd be classified more as MG these days: their protagonists were middle school students whose family lives were their main concern and whose romantic entanglements were mostly day-dreamed, not experienced.

Robertson's book was a family drama, sure. It was about a kid growing up in 1950s Cleveland, Morris Bird III, who was diagnosed with leukemia and had a very short time to patch things up with his distant father.

But it was also a book about high school. About romantic love. About the absurdity of life (and death). And about sex.

And it was written in a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek third person that felt perfect to me as the voice of a teenage boy. Here's how the novel begins:

The boy's name was, ahem, Morris Bird III, which was ridiculous, and you didn't have to tell him it was ridiculous. He was seventeen, and his complexion was awful. He was a Democrat, and so he did not like Richard M. Nixon's dog, the sainted Checkers. For that matter, he did not care a hell of a lot about Richard M. Nixon either. He was very skillful at galloping up the DOWN escalator in the Higbee department store on the Public Square, located smack in the heart of gorgeous Cleveland. He also was very skilled at galloping down the UP escalator. This all embarrassed Julie Sutton a great deal. Julie Sutton was his girl, and she thought her feet were too big, and in December of 1952 she had a Christmas job at Higbee's. She wrapped presents. She was as skillful at wrapping presents as he was at defeating the escalators.

Through my teen years, I read this book over and over and over. It's in tatters now, but I still have it on my bookshelf. Every so often I'll open it again and read a few pages, just to rediscover what spoke so strongly to me when I was a teen.

I don't know if anyone is still reading Robertson's book. It was made into a TV movie with Jimmy (J. J.) Walker at the height of his popularity (hence the cover image you see above), and that probably was not a good thing, since the Good Times star was utterly incapable of conveying either the gravity or the hilarity of Robertson's fictional creation. For all I know, that made-for-TV movie might have killed its far superior inspiration.

I do find on Amazon, however, that a 2009 reprint is available.

So here's what YA Guy would advise: run, don't walk, to your nearest indie bookstore and/or mega-chain and/or computer terminal and get yourself a copy.

Me, I'll keep my original on the bookshelf.

And I'll open it again and again and again, and rediscover each time what my younger self already knew.

Friday, June 21, 2013

YA Guy Announces... His First Giveaway!

YA Guy loves giveaways. And YA Guy would love to give away copies of my own futuristic YA novel, Survival Colony Nine.

But there's a problem: it doesn't come out until fall 2014.

That's too long for you good people to wait. So in the meantime, we must develop an alternative plan.

Happily, YA Guy has on hand another book, written by yours truly, and dealing with one of my favorite subjects: MONSTER MOVIES!

That's right, I'm going to be running a giveaway of my book Framing Monsters, which discusses movies like King Kong (my all-time fave), Jurassic Park, The Seventh Voyage of SinbadEdward Scissorhands, X-Men, and more!  It's an academic book, true, but it is, in my humble opinion, also a great read.  And don't take my word for it--find some reviews online (very easy to do if you Google the title), or check out this interview on John W. Morehead's awesome website Theofantastique.

Did you check it out? Sounds pretty cool, huh?

So here's the deal. I'm calling this my '13 Giveaway, and this is how it works. Once this blog reaches 1300 page views or 13 followers (whichever comes first), the giveaway will begin. I'm close to both targets, so it shouldn't be long before we can start--if, that is, you folks get busy, join the site, read the posts, invite others to do the same, tweet about it, and all that good stuff. Before you know it, you'll have a chance to get your hands on a free, signed copy of the book that (I speak without false modestly here) revolutionized how we talk about monster movies today!

So what are you waiting for? I can't do this myself.

YA Guy says: let the pre-giveaway begin!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Eric Price!

Totally awesome happenings on YA Guy today: a guest post by Eric Price, author of the forthcoming fantasy novel Unveiling the Wizards' Shroud, plus an excerpt from the same!  Read on....

Hi Josh. Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’ll start by telling your readers a little about myself and how I got my “break” into publishing. I’ll include some of my thoughts on writing and publishing, with tips for aspiring writers. And I’ll wrap things up with a bit about my YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, with an excerpt.

I’d like to say I’ve loved books my whole life, and I’ve wanted to be an author just as long. But I’m a terrible liar, and it’d be obvious, even in print, that a falsity had been issued. I hated reading as a small child. I read slowly and I didn’t read aloud well, so I didn’t like to read. In junior high (do people still know the term, I think it’s middle school just about everywhere now), two important things happened: a friend introduced me to Stephen King, and one of my two favorite literature teachers introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. Nothing changed overnight. I didn’t get up the next morning and read Moby Dick or War and Peace before sunset. But I did start reading for fun. And soon I started entertaining the idea of writing a story.

Over the next several years I wrote some plot ideas, but I never sat down and started writing a story. The closest I came was writing and drawing a comic book in high school, but I have no artistic ability. Do you want to know how far from an artist I am? Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger doing ballet and you’d be close. Now I don’t know, maybe the former Governator is an understudy for the Sugar Plum Fairy every fall, but I doubt it.

In college my writing picked up--a little. I had a professor who hated me, and I reciprocated. Of course, our relationship could have been worse. I won’t get too detailed; you can read more about it here. He told me I was a horrible writer, so I intended to have something published to prove him wrong. Unfortunately I no longer think being published and being a horrible writer are mutually exclusive, but at the time I did, and that’s what counts.

I wrote the first few chapters of a book about a family hiding some deep, dark secrets. But I lost the notebook (yes, I wrote it by hand with a ballpoint pen--still one of my favorite ways to write). If anyone finds the notebook, I’d be happy to pay $2 or $3 to have it back. I think it was green. I also wrote a detailed scene of a carnival. No dialogue, just two characters. It still pops into my head every few months. I’d like to insert it into a larger work, but I haven’t found the right fit for it yet. I wrote a few more items, some chapters, characters, settings, and plots I’ll probably never use because most of them are garbage.

After college I met and married my wife. I still didn’t write a lot, but I started carrying a small notebook in my pocket and I’d write short poems as they’d come to me. I don’t even remember why I started doing this. I never liked the poetry units in school. I didn’t write mushy love poems for my new bride, either. I’ve always been more comfortable with apocalyptic doomsday than heartfelt emotion. I really didn’t know much about poetry, so I got some books on writing poetry. The books taught me I REALY didn’t know much about poetry. I have no musical ability (see above about artistic ability), and I think metered poetry and music are related. I do have one published poem, but it’s free verse. I still struggle to “get” poetry, but I’m working on it, and I’m improving. Every once in a while when I read a poem it hits me like an eight pound sledgehammer. Usually it’s a classic like Whitman, Dickinson, Poe, Lawrence. When it happens I think there’s still hope for me.

When I saw a flyer for the Institute of Children’s Literature, I took their test, got accepted, and completed the course. One of my assignments ended up being my first published work of fiction, “Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast,” a spooky tale aimed at older children about a haunted bed and breakfast. I had heard to expect rejection letter after rejection letter before finally getting an acceptance letter. I was also told most of these rejection letters would be generic form letters: “Sorry Chump. It’s not that you’re not good. You’re just not good enough for us. Better luck next time. Sincerely, the editorial department.” I have gotten some of these, and I collect them for motivation. Yet my first rejection letter was nothing of the sort. It addressed me and said, “I really like ‘Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast,’ but the ending doesn’t have enough punch to it. If you’d like to rework the ending, I’d be happy to take another look at it.”--or something like that. I did, she did, sold.

Just before I sold the story, I was selected to write a quarterly column for my local newspaper. I had always heard it’s easier to publish nonfiction than fiction. I’ve certainly found it to be true. The problem is, after writing over 30 columns and articles, I’ve realized I don’t enjoy writing nonfiction the way I like the escape into fiction. I’m a firm believer if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it will show. So I quit writing articles to focus on a project which I had moved to at least three computers, but I lacked the confidence to submit it. A short manuscript for a novel once titled “The Stargazer’s Son” and “Dispelling the Wizards’ Shroud.”

I wrote it for the second course I took with the Institute of Children’s Literature: Writing and Selling Books. I gave it a quick revision, changed the name to Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, and started searching for a publisher. I sent it to Muse It Up. They said they liked it, but it needed work. I reworked it and they gave me a contract--much like my first published story.

So here we are. I’m working with my content editor at Muse It Up to make Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud even better. I’ll tell you about the novel, but first I promised some writing tips for aspiring authors.

1.     Read. If you don’t read, you can’t write well. I once read, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” I cannot stress enough this truth. And to take it one step farther, read what you want to write. If you want to write a historical romance, read historical romances.
2.     Don’t revise, rewrite. An editor told me this after noticing some mistakes I had made cutting and pasting. She told me when she started writing, in the days of typewriters (younger readers can enter “typewriter” in Google or Wikipedia or something), authors had to retype the entire page or manuscript. Oh, the HORROR! It’s a lot of work, but I do notice a difference. On the second go round I use more concise wording and the careless mistakes are gone. Since then, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up, many of them bestsellers, where cutting and pasting has led to noticeable mistakes.
3.     Don’t be afraid to let your characters lead the way. I believe strong characters make for a better story than strong plot. So I spend a lot of time drafting my characters, then I spend a little time jotting down key elements of the plot. As I start writing, and the characters take on their own “lives,” they often behave in ways I did not foresee, do things I didn’t know they’d do, and go places I didn’t intend for them to go. I have a piece on creating characters on my website, you can find it here. Check back often as I intend to have more writing tips soon.

Now, let’s unveil the shroud, shall we?


Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud--Coming November 2013!

Owen is the illegitimate son of Kendrick, king of the Central Domain of Wittatun. It isn’t that his father fooled around, he couldn’t marry Beatrix for political reasons. You’ll have to read the book for more details. The king has a big surprise planned for Owen at his fifteenth birthday dinner--the year Owen becomes an adult by law. Owen has no doubt his father intends to name him heir to the throne. But there is nothing Owen would like to be less than king, except perhaps a magician.

Just before King Kendrick can make his surprise announcement, he collapses. Owen and the king’s sorcerer, Cedric, rush to his side, but they are unable to revive him. Cedric insists he and Owen need to leave the castle immediately in search of the cure for Kendrick. Owen hates the idea of traveling with a magician, especially the one he holds responsible for the death of his mother, but he eventually agrees to accompany him.

The party of two becomes three when Owen’s best friend, Yara, catches up to them just in time to get them out of a tight spot. As the three seek the aid of a much older and more powerful sorcerer than Cedric, they battle strange beasts and harsh climates to reach their destination. Along the way, Owen learns more about the Wizard Rebellion--a band of renegade magicians, and the attack which led to the murder of his mother. He will have to put his own prejudices against magic and magic users to the test if he intends to save his father.

And did I mention the story has dragons?

Here’s a brief excerpt.

Chapter One
The Festival

The setting sun glared in the young warrior’s eyes. Squinting, he could just make out his opponent’s outline. His ever tightening leg muscles cried for a reprieve with each step; yet he continued to circle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. After a long day of sword dueling, with little downtime between rounds, Owen's whole body needed a rest. But he wanted nothing more in the world, at this precise moment, than to win the championship bout.

Owen knew Edward must also be tired. They had each fought four previous matches, and every contestant entered in the tournament presented a worthy challenge. Edward, Shield of the King--the commander of the King's Sentry, the strongest army in all of Wittatun--received continual praise for his skill with a blade. Owen, already defeating two Sentrymen earlier in the day, hoped to beat one more. But to overcome the King’s Shield would require more skill than besting a Sentryman.

The fighters continued to circle one another. Sunlight gleamed off Edward's brilliant metal chest plate and helm. Now facing the westering sun, Edward squinted; Owen saw his opportunity and sprung. He feinted a slash attack toward the commander's shield hand. When Edward raised his shield and braced for impact, Owen redoubled his attack.

He spun and sliced his blade at his opponent’s neck. The loud clang of steel on steel resonated throughout the courtyard as Edward raised his sword to parry. The vibration transmitted up Owen’s arm, but he finished his compound attack by kicking the Sentryman in the chest plate. The judge blew a whistle to signify the landing of the first blow in the best-of-three veney.

Edward wasted no time mounting his counterattack by gaining the measure and reestablishing just distance. He made several quick jabs at Owen’s head and chest, which the defender parried away with ease. Owen countered with a testing jab. Edward sidestepped, moved back in line, and raised his sword to the en garde position. Owen noticed Edward’s shield drop ever so slightly. The tiny gap in defense may have provided the opening needed to finish him.

Owen lunged. But his forward motion could not be stopped when he recognized the move as a mistake. The tip of the sword slid between the hinge where the chest plate met the shoulder guard and dug into the muscle. Sharp pain shot through Owen’s left shoulder, and he barely heard the judge blow the whistle through the anguish. Edward lowered his shield as an invitation for Owen's attack. When the younger fighter took the offering, the elder’s stop-thrust found the only week point of the armor.

Owen, large for his age, still stood six inches shorter than Edward. The Shield’s muscular forearms resembled Owen’s thighs. The chainmail armor on his forearm, formfitting on most solders, clung tight to Edward. His muscles rippled as he pushed the sword tip a little deeper into the meat. A thin stream of blood trickled down the blade and dripped to the ground.

Edward sneered as red drops splattered the trampled grass. “I wish we fought to first-blood. I hope the king doesn't put me to death for injuring his son.” 


Thanks again, Josh, for having me on your blog.

To keep up to date on Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud as well as Eric’s other writing, and find links to purchase his available published works, subscribe to

Follow Eric on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is, simply, a beautiful book. It’s also a beautifully simple book. YA Guy admires the heck out of writers who can express so much in such straightforward, clean prose; I tend toward the baroque and the extravagant, and I sometimes feel I say less with more.  But not Sáenz.

The story he tells is classic coming-of-age material: two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle (the brooding narrator) and Dante (his chatty best friend), learn about life and love during several momentous summers, both together and apart. Aristotle is dealing with lots of demons: a father who won’t talk about his traumatic experience in Vietnam, an older brother who’s imprisoned and whom the family never mentions, a near-deadly accident that turns him into a reluctant hero. Dante seems to have things much easier: openly loving parents, artistic talent, an easy manner of being around others. But Dante has his own painful secret, and it’s one only Aristotle knows.

He’s gay.

I won’t tell you all the twists and turns in the book; you’ll love discovering them for yourself. And you’ll also love Sáenz’s prose, which offers pearls like this on practically every page:

The problem with my life was it was someone else’s idea.

Words were different when they lived inside of you.

I sometimes think that I don’t let myself know what I’m really thinking about.

Do you know what dead skin looks like when they take off a cast? That was my life, all that dead skin.

For a few minutes I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of the universe of almost-men.

I decided that maybe we left each other alone too much.  Leaving each other alone was killing us.

I think my mother and father had decided that there were too many secrets in the world.

If I have any reservation about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, it has to do with the book’s conclusion, which I felt moved too fast and provided too pat a resolution to Aristotle’s crisis. But overall, if you’re looking for a book that explores the painful process of growing to manhood, Aristotle and Dante is one of the finest I’ve read in a long time.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

YA Guy Goes Way Back... For Father's Day!

YA Guy’s a dad. And YA Guy’s a son too.

My dad turns 84 this year. He’s in very poor shape physically: failing eyesight and hearing, limited mobility (he uses a walker), frail bones, chronic arthritis and other pains. He’s still 100% there mentally--or, okay, maybe 99%. In some ways that makes it harder, since his mind is fully aware of his body’s betrayal.

I wrote about him in an essay I published last year, “Body Parts.” If you’re interested, you can order a copy here.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today, on Father’s Day. Instead, I wanted to talk about a book he used to read to me when I was a kid.

It’s called The Man of the House, by Joan Fassler. It’s a picture book--not YA--but you’ll forgive me if I bend the boundaries of genre for a single day.

The Man of the House tells the story of a young boy named David, whose father leaves town for a few days. While he’s gone, David takes over the responsibility of being “the man of the house”--which, to his six-or-seven-year-old mind, means fighting off dragons with his magic sword, stomping white wolves with his magic boots, shrinking monsters with his magic ray-gun, and generally taking care of things with machismo and magic. All goes well while Dad’s away, and when he returns, he assures David that he’ll take over where David left off. Though David is relieved to hear this, the book ends on a bittersweet note:

But somehow, deep down inside himself, David felt just a tiny little bit of sadness. Then David climbed back into his bed and clutched his furry brown teddy bear tightly. And, after a while, David fell fast asleep.

I’m aware that The Man of the House is hopelessly out of date these days. (It’s out of print, too.) The gender roles are so traditional--father/son as protectors of the house, mother as timid housewife, complete with nightgown and nightcap--they’re practically Victorian. The book came out in 1969, when I was four years old; now that I’m forty-eight, I hope I’ve grown beyond its stereotypes about boys and girls, men and women. I wish I could say our society has grown beyond those stereotypes too, but as Erin Albert's guest post pointed out, we're not there yet.

I will say this, though: as a child, it was my favorite book.

Maybe that was because the main character’s name was David (my middle name), or because he looked a bit like I did as a child. Maybe it was because the book was filled with beautiful illustrations of the kinds of fairy-tale creatures I loved in those days, and still love now.

Or maybe it was because I foresaw a time when I’d be a father, and I was grateful to my own father for helping me to imagine myself that way.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.



On Wednesday, a review of ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz!

On Thursday, a guest post by author ERIC PRICE!

And on a date yet to be determined, my first GIVEAWAY! Stay tuned for details!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Erin Albert!

Hi folks!  I'm fortunate today to have a guest post by the amazing Erin Albert, who's been following the blog from day one and whose own YA fantasy novel THE PROPHECY comes out this fall.  Erin's going to talk about her own experience with YA "guy books," past and present.  And so, without further ado, here's Erin!

Thank you so much for having me here, Josh!  I can officially vouch for this blog.  It’s not a He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, though I would gladly accept the title She-ra, Princess of Power!  J

I’ve been curious about the presentation of gender roles in books and movies for quite some time.  My college senior thesis related to this very topic.  For my final “exam,” I presented a paper tracking the evolving role of women in Disney movies.  Think about it…the earlier Disney films featured helpless damsels in distress saved by dashing, strong princes (usually by his kiss--for example, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White).  Fast forward a few decades to find Mulan kicking butt and taking names while saving the male lead or Merida in Brave without a male counterpart at all.  I personally prefer the ones where the male and female help one another like Beauty and the Beast or Rapunzel

Interestingly, I think the role of boys in books has gone the opposite direction--from main characters to supports for the main female characters.  When I think back on the MG and YA classics I read, most had male leads (sometimes male animal leads).  I enjoyed Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Super Fudge (and all the related Fudge books), Charlotte’s Web, Ralph S. Mouse, The Outsiders, The Hobbit, How To Eat Fried Worms, Shiloh, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches… I could go on, but you get the picture.  Side note:  Many of these books were written by women though they contained male main characters.

I wonder if people freaked out because girls appeared underrepresented and sought to create more female main characters.  In trying to create a balance, the pendulum swung back the whole other way.  For a while, female main characters dominated MG and YA and, for the most part, still do.  Boys went from being the heroes of the tale to the love interests helping to facilitate the story.

I applaud the efforts of writers like Rick Riordan who are bringing back the strong male lead while including an equally strong female lead as his complement.  Like Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel, the Percy Jackson series seeks to strike a delicate balance, engaging and uplifting both males and females. 

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.  What books do you think strike a good male/female balance?  Do you prefer male main characters to be written by males, or do you think females can write from a male perspective just as convincingly?

For those interested in knowing more about me and my upcoming novel, The Prophecy, please like me on FB (Erin Albert Books), follow me on Twitter (@ErinAlbertBooks), and/or subscribe to my website ( 

Thank you again, Josh! 

Until next time,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... OPENLY STRAIGHT by Bill Konigsberg

High school junior Seamus Rafael Goldberg (call him Rafe) is openly gay and lives in relatively tolerant Boulder, Colorado.  Until, that is, he decides to move across the country and enroll in an all-male boarding school in Natick, Massachusetts, where everyone assumes he’s straight.

And that’s exactly the way Rafe wants it.

That’s the premise of Bill Konigsberg’s poignant, funny, and smart YA novel Openly Straight.  Feeling constricted by the label “openly gay,” Rafe sees his move to Massachusetts as a way to reinvent himself: “As of tomorrow, I was going to have new skin, and that skin could look like anything, would feel different than anything I knew yet.  And that made me feel a little bit like I was about to be born.  Again.”  His plan seems to be working when he makes new friends with the Natick jocks, fabricates a girlfriend out of his (platonic) best friend back home, and convinces his parents to go along with his deception.

But then he meets Ben, a classmate who knows nothing of Rafe’s past.  And when Rafe finds himself falling in love with Ben, his plan to “be this new, uncomplicated Rafe” starts to seem a lot more complicated.

YA Guy has a confession to make: I’ve not read much YA with gay protagonists.  That’s not a reflection of the genre but of me: I’ve not sought such books out.  A lot of the YA I read is fantasy and sci-fi, where--as in Rafe’s Natick--heterosexuality tends to be assumed; I’d love for someone to point me toward some  good speculative YA with queer characters.  But in any event, what this means is that Openly Straight was something of a revelation for me, and a good one at that.

I liked Konigsberg’s novel for a number of reasons: its marvelous portrait of Rafe, who learns to his surprise that “being able to pass for something you’re not is a kind of curse”; its representation of young male camaraderie, where allegiances can sour in an instant and physical play can turn to desire; its refusal to sentimentalize or resort to easy stereotypes (misunderstood youth versus repressive parents, etc.).  In that respect, the only slightly false note for me was Rafe’s kindly writing instructor at Natick, whose suggestion that Rafe keep a journal expressing privately what he can’t admit publicly seemed not only a bit of a stretch--would Rafe really jump at this chance to reveal himself to someone he barely knew?--but a too-convenient means of communicating Rafe’s internal struggles to the reader.  (Not only that, but the teacher’s unfailingly supportive comments made me, a not-always-kindly English teacher, feel like a real jerk.)

This blog, as you know, focuses on guy books--though as I’ve pointed out, that ends up being a much broader category than it might appear.  So is it fair to call Openly Straight a “gay book”?  Well, on the one hand, Rafe’s journey to understand and embrace his sexuality is what the book’s about.  But on the other, Openly Straight belongs to a long tradition of coming-of-age novels, be the protagonist’s sexuality what it may.  As Konigsberg reminds us, labels are perilous, and I’d be reluctant to place undue restrictions on his wonderful book.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

YA Guy Interviews... Chris Howard!

YA Guy is thrilled to introduce a new feature, “YA Guy Interviews. . . .”

And YA Guy is beyond thrilled that the first in this series is an interview with Chris Howard, author of one of my all-time favorite YA sci-fi/dystopian novels, ROOTLESS. Chris’s debut tells the tale of a future world without trees, and of Banyan, a young builder who fabricates trees from metal, wire, and whatever junk he can salvage from the ruins of the old world. For a complete review, see this post. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s into futuristic YA with a driving plot and a literary sensibility.

So, without further ado, here's Chris!

YA Guy: Chris, thanks for joining us at YA Guy!

Chris Howard: Thanks for getting in touch! I’m really glad you enjoyed the book.

YAG: I’ll start with the mundane stuff: how did you become a writer?

CH: Well, I’ve always written a lot and daydreamed a lot, and about six or seven years ago I started to combine the two when I came up with a story I wanted to tell. It wasn’t ROOTLESS, but it got me hooked on storytelling. When I have the spark for a story, there’s nothing more rewarding to me than trying to tell it the best way I can.

YAG: What inspired you to write ROOTLESS, and what was your path to publication?

CH: I was initially inspired while hiking through a stand of trees decimated by beetle-kill here in the mountains of Colorado. I had the whole “what if?” moment, and the character and world and the voice all popped into my head really quickly... so I was running to get back to my car and start writing things down. It was one of those times when the predicament created the protagonist, which then set me off in a really wild way. I wrote the first draft pretty quickly, and about six months after that hike when I’d first come up with the idea, my agent had publishers interested, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. I then worked on the book for a year with my agent and my editor at Scholastic, who were both brilliant.

YAG: What’s been the best moment in your writing career so far? And if you feel like sharing, what’s been your worst?

CH: The best times have all been writing--first draft stuff. That burst of creation when you can’t type fast enough. That’s why I do it. The worst? Ha. I don’t want to put off any would-be authors who might read this, but it’s certainly not all fun and games!

YAG: You got that right!  Now let’s talk a bit about the book itself.  ROOTLESS is a great book, but it’s also a grim book: your portrait of a world without trees is pretty bleak. Was it hard to write such a dark vision of the future?

CH: A lot of people ask me this, especially as I come across as a pretty upbeat dude. But I think exploring the darkness is a big part of writing for me. And the book is about people fighting to make their world a better place--which I think is the ultimate goal in life. Even at the start of the book, Banyan’s trying to give people a sense of hope and beauty through his tree building. And I think that’s sort of why I write, too. Of course, right now as I answer your question, there are people living a way worse life in way harsher conditions than I can imagine, all over the world. So I don’t think my book is any bleaker than reality, unfortunately.

YAG: That’s an important point, and it leads into my next question.  Like all good science fiction, ROOTLESS builds on current technologies to imagine the future. For example, in ROOTLESS there’s a company, GenTech, that has monopolized the world’s food supply through genetic modification of corn. A pretty heated debate exists today about GM foods. Why were you drawn to this issue, and what do you think the place of politics is in YA fiction?

CH: To tie this in to the previous question.... The main issue I was drawn to is that the world is a really terrible, painful place for a lot of people. Usually because of the sick, the cruel, and the greedy parts of humanity, and the darkness people surrender to and force others to suffer inside. The GM crops issue was a spark for the story, but it’s a story, so it’s really meant as a metaphor, and people who take it too literally might be missing something, I think--though it’s the reader’s right to put in and take away what they want, of course. I think fiction should make people think, and hopefully the book achieves that. And I do think the GMO debate is worth people getting heated up about. It’s as complex as it is controversial.

YAG: ROOTLESS certainly made me think! Let me ask you, since this blog focuses on YA fiction by guys and for guys, whether you think ROOTLESS is a “guy book.” For that matter, what do you think about the concept of “guy books”?

CH: I don’t think much about that stuff, to be honest. After I wrote it, my agent told me the book would be a “young adult” book and at the time I didn’t really know everything that meant. She also told me the book would be a “harder sell” because it features a male protagonist... who knew?! But you can’t think about that when you’re writing, or you’re just a slave to the machine!! Ha. I do think because Banyan is a teenage dude, that the book would resonate with dudes, of course. And I didn’t try to make him a girl-friendly-ideal of what a teenage guy should be, but a lot of girls/women seem to connect with him too. An important gender issue to me was that he would be respectful of women, and it seems like a lot of readers pick up on that, which is great.

YAG: I thought his relationship with the female characters was one of the book’s many strengths. So tell me, what were you reading when you were a young dude? Did any of these books play a key role in the development of ROOTLESS?

CH: Oh yeah. I’ve always read loads of really different things, and not a whole lot of sci-fi really, but everything from The Lord of the Rings to 2000AD, Kerouac to Mark Twain, were things that sparked me from a young age, and I think they come through in the book a little. A lot of music too.

YAG: You win the prize for mentioning LOTR, and I agree there’s a definite Kerouac ON THE ROAD vibe to ROOTLESS. I don’t want to keep you, so as my final question, what’s next for you (next book, next project, next life, next whatever)? What should your fans be on the lookout for in the near future?

CH: Well, ROOTLESS is the first part of a three-book story and I’ve worked long and hard on the next two books. My agent’s been a huge help with them, and I’m really excited about where the story goes and who the characters become. I’m not exactly sure when Book 2 will see the light of day. I’ve spent the last eighteen months or so working on the series without a contract to do so.... This was not a “publisher forcing me to make it a trilogy” thing, though some people seem to assume that, which is sort of ironic. Ha! Anyway, this was a “me being true to the story” thing, because I knew very early on the ultimate ending to this particular tale, and I wanted to reach that. So... now my agent and I have to figure out the business of getting the next two books out there, and a lot of people who’ve enjoyed ROOTLESS get in touch to find out when they can read the next part of the story, so I’m eager to share the adventure with them. They are coming! I also have other stories I’ve been working on that I’m really excited about. I pour everything I have into what I write, and then edit it until I’m not doing anything but adding commas and then taking them away again! It’s a long process, but I’ll certainly keep everyone posted as soon as things are ready for them to read.… J

YAG: I’ll be first in line when your next book comes out.  Thanks again, Chris, for joining us on YA Guy!

CH: CHEERS, mate! Thanks for spreading the word about stories.

To find out more about Chris and ROOTLESS, and to stay updated on Chris’s future projects, check out the following links:



17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using salvaged scrap metal, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan’s never seen a real tree--they were destroyed more than a century ago--his missing father used to tell him stories about the Old World.

Everything changes when Banyan meets a mysterious woman with a strange tattoo, a map to the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can’t escape the locusts... the locusts that now feed on human flesh.

But Banyan isn’t the only one looking for the trees, and he’s running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he’s forced to make an alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.

Chris Howard was born not far from London but currently lives in Denver, CO. Before he wrote stories, he wrote songs, studied natural resources management, worked for the National Park Service, and spent eight years leading wilderness adventure trips for teenagers. He was awarded a Publishers Weekly “Flying Start” in Fall 2012, following the release of his debut novel, ROOTLESS (Scholastic Press), and Chris is currently working on the next book in this gritty sci-fi series that’s recommended for both teens and adults. Visit him online for exclusive ROOTLESS content and lots more at


Sunday, June 2, 2013

YA Guy's Top 10 (Movies!)

Following yesterday's post, I began to think about YA-guy movies.

Turns out there are quite a few of them.

So here, for what it's worth, is my provisional Top 10.  I say "provisional" because this list is based entirely on the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs I personally own, so obviously it's not definitive (for example, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which I love but don't own, isn't on the list.)  But it's not wholly random, either; all of these films, which I've listed in rank order (best to least best), are darn good.

YA Guy swears on it.

1. Breaking Away.  You want a YA-guy movie that deals thoughtfully and subtly with growing up, with father-son relationships, with male friendship, with choice-making, with the meaning of work and sports, and with a whole lot of other things besides?  Look no further.  Quite simply, one of the finest films ever made.

2. American History X.  This is R-rated, and the graphic violence and sexuality are tough for some to watch.  But it's an absolutely amazing film about the choices young men make--in this case, the negative choices.  Riveting and emotionally devastating.

3. Star Wars: A New Hope.  In other words, the very first Star Wars film in order of theatrical release.  I saw it when I was twelve, and my YA years were indelibly marked by it.  That the series morphed into a father-son story, and then (in the prequels) into the story of a young man's fall, only made it more powerful.

4. Edward Scissorhands.  For every high school boy who's ever felt like a freak....

5. Spider-Man. ... and wished he was a hero.  In other words, every high school boy.

6. The Outsiders.  This movie was critically panned for some reason, maybe because of its faithfulness to the book or because it wasn't the kind of film people were expecting Francis Ford Coppola to direct.  But it's a terrific adaptation of Hinton's novel, and it launched the careers of many fine young actors, male and female.

7. West Side Story.  Yes, it's dated.  Yes, it's ridiculous to have people dancing and singing while they're killing each other.  But if you can get past that and let yourself be immersed in the music and visuals (not to mention the Shakespearean love story), it remains an astonishing achievement.

8. Friday Night Lights.  A bit repetitive--how many scenes do we really need that show how football-crazy the town is?--but still a great high school sports film.

9. The Lightning Thief.  This film suffers from some very questionable adaptation choices--in particular, the decision to make Percy and co. much older than they are in the book, presumably so they can drive lots of really fast sports cars--but the source material is so great, the film couldn't go entirely wrong.

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Confession: I haven't seen this one yet.  But my daughter swears it's amazing.  I'll take her word for it.

I considered a few others for this list--Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, etc.  But the first seemed a bit young for YA, and in the case of the second, does Collins really need any more free publicity?  So I'm sticking with what I've got.

Now it's your turn.  What would you add (or delete)?

Inquiring YA Guys want to know.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... AFTER EARTH

YA Guy doesn't typically review movies.

But YA Guy loves fantasy and sci-fi, both movies and books.  (Just take a look at my Top 10 list if you don't believe me.)

And AFTER EARTH, the new Will and Jaden Smith vehicle from oft-reviled, sometimes-celebrated director M. Night Shyamalan, is so perfect for this blog, I couldn't resist.  It's a totally YA-guy film, with an early-teen male protagonist, a father-son relationship, a host of cool monsters, and a bunch of lessons in courage and responsibility.  So I trust you'll indulge me if I depart somewhat from form.

AFTER EARTH takes place a thousand or so years after human beings have destroyed the earth's environment and effectively driven themselves from the planet.  Setting up shop on another planet, they find to their dismay that it's already inhabited--and that the natives aren't keen on company.  They unleash monstrous beasts called Ursa, which are blind but can smell the human fear response and hunt their prey without eyes.  Only people who can "ghost"--suppress their fear--can escape and fight back against these fearsome predators.

And guess what?  Will Smith is one such guy.

A general and a celebrated hero of the battles against the Ursa, Smith (whose character's name I won't even try to write out) is also an absentee dad, too preoccupied with his military leadership to pay any attention to his son.  That all changes, however, when the two are the sole survivors of a crash landing back on earth--and the son needs to venture into this hostile environment to find the homing beacon that's the last hope for him and his gravely injured father.

The story of AFTER EARTH is pretty simple: a boy has to become a man, and a man has to become a father.  The film hints at other thematic elements--environmental degradation, colonialism, militarism--but these take a definite back seat to the twin quest narratives.  It's not exactly thrilling stuff--you know from the moment the movie starts how both quests are going to end--but it's well-acted (especially by the younger Smith), reasonably well-paced, and mercifully free of the glaring directorial gaffes for which Shyamalan is infamous.  All in all, I'd call it a modest success, neither edge-of-your-seat-gripping nor an epic yawnfest.  It was fun, and maybe that's all it was meant to be.

As a YA-guy film, it was pretty much paint-by-numbers; the arc of the son's development--from tearful mama's boy to Ursa-busting action hero--couldn't have been more predictable.  For me, that was the film's biggest weakness: the boy's growth to manhood held no surprises, and hence no emotional resonance.  When all that's at stake is "will boy become brave?"--and when you know from the get-go how the film's going to answer that question--what's to care about or root for?

I'd love to see more YA-guy films that delve into the complexities of young male adulthood, films like What's Eating Gilbert Grape? or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  And being the fantasy/sci-fi fiend that I am, I'd love it if some of those films (other than the Harry Potter series) were in the speculative genres.

So you tell me: what are your favorite YA guy films?  Are any of them fantasy or sci-fi?  Which YA-guy books would you love to see made into films?

Eagerly awaiting your answers.

Until then, I'll save you the aisle seat.