Friday, September 27, 2013

YA Guy Interviews... Scott Blagden (plus a giveaway!)

Well, as promised, YA Guy's back with an interview of Scott Blagden, author of DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK. And there's a giveaway after the interview! So stick around, find out about Scott and his great debut, and enter for a chance to win some goodies (including the shirt pictured below)!

YA GUY: I loved Dear Life, You Suck, and I’d like to know some more about how you came to write it.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your history, and your decision to write a novel?

SCOTT BLAGDEN: I've always wanted to write, ever since high school, and I always knew that one day I’d write a novel. But in my twenties I got wrapped up in the business world, got married, had kids, and didn't write at all during that time. It wasn't until I got divorced in my forties that I realized if I was ever going to attain this dream, I’d better get started, so I did. Dear Life, You Suck is actually my fourth completed novel, but my first published one.

YAG: What was your path to publication? Any special surprises, disappointments, or delights?

SB: My path to publication was similar to most authors. Lots of previously unpublished novels, lots of rejection letters. One unusual thing did occur though on my path to publication. After literally hundreds of rejection letters for Dear Life, You Suck, I had the brilliant idea of writing a query letter in my main character’s voice and sending it to the editorial director at Candlewick in Boston. [Blogger's note: I'll be featuring Cricket's query letter in a future post!] Candlewick is a closed house, and at that time I didn't have an agent. The letter was pure Cricket--crass, sarcastic, funny, angry, profane. Fortunately, Liz Bicknell at Candlewick had a sense of humor, and she passed the letter along to an editorial assistant, Carter Hasegawa. They didn't offer me a contract with that version of the manuscript, but Carter liked the story and the character enough to offer me revision suggestions, which I made and which ultimately led to the version of the manuscript that got contracted with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Another interesting fact is that Dear Life, You Suck got picked up out of the slush pile by my editor, Adah Nuchi, at HMH. It was a completely cold, unsolicited, unagented submission, so unpublished authors should not give up hope about slush pile submissions.

YAG: The narrator of Dear Life, You Suck, Cricket Cherpin, is a fascinating but prickly character, to say the least. Who or what was your inspiration for Cricket? What were the challenges of writing a character readers might not instantly like?

SB: I've done quite a few interviews about Dear Life, You Suck, but you’re the first person to ask me about opening the story with an unlikeable character. I'm glad you asked because this was a deliberate, albeit risky, decision. I wanted to present Cricket to the reader in the same way that we meet prickly, unlikable characters in real life --with no backstory. Personally, I know that I have a tendency to pass judgment on people within the first three minutes of meeting them, and this is something I know I shouldn’t do. Sometimes people just rub me the wrong way. They say things and do things that are rude and obnoxious, and I immediately think, “Wow, what a rude and obnoxious person.” Sometimes I don’t take the time to look at them deeper and consider what may be beneath the surface that is making them act and talk and think the way they do, and that's what I wanted to do with Cricket. I wanted to present the rough exterior of Cricket without any pitiable backstory and see if I could get readers invested enough in him as a person to hang in there and discover what’s beneath the scars. That’s why I intentionally mention his facial scar at the very beginning. One of those “metafornical” type things. It would have been much safer and easier to present’s Cricket’s backstory at the outset so that readers would pity him and cut him some slack when he acted like a jerk, but that's not how meeting people in real life happens, and I felt that would have been a lazy copout. I liked the challenge of creating an unlikable character from page one and hoping I could pique the interest of the reader enough to get him or her to hang in there long enough to discover what he’s really about. I'm sure I’ve lost readers by presenting Cricket this way, but I think for the readers who hang in there and look beneath the surface, beneath the scars, and are willing to take the time to get to know the why of Cricket, the experience is much richer and deeper. But it is risky.

In response to the first part of your question, my inspiration for Cricket came from my own childhood experiences, which were fortunately nothing compared to Cricket’s, but traumatic enough for me to gain insight into his emotions and voice.

YAG: One of the things that makes Cricket so unique is his penchant for wordplay (often of a scandalous or scatological nature). Writing Cricket’s monologues must have been fun--if maybe a little exhausting! How’d you arrive at Cricket’s voice?

SB: Cricket was a fun character to write. There were many days that I was literally sitting in front of my laptop laughing (or weeping) hysterically. I captured Cricket’s voice by just letting go. At first I started writing him just for fun, never considering that I’d be able to use any of his thoughts or dialogue in an actual manuscript I’d send out for publication. But I kept writing him because I was having so much fun. As I said, this was my fourth novel, the previous three being enthusiastically rejected, so I decided to write Cricket’s story for me, not for an editor or agent or publisher, and that attitude is what gave me the freedom and courage to completely let Cricket be himself. It’s was an invaluable learning experience--taking the gatekeepers out of the equation and letting the real Cricket bubble to the surface. When I stopped worrying about what readers might think about Cricket and focused completely on simply writing him as he truly was, I found his voice. I try to remember that for my current writing projects--to let the character be who he truly is and not worry about what the reader might think. I try to write with blinders on so that the real character comes through because I find when I think about what the reader might think, I censor my characters, which is the worst thing possible. All of my main characters have issues that make them somewhat unlikable on the surface, and this definitely creates a challenge. It's always tempting to soften the character up or introduce the pity factor early on, but those are copouts that lead to the reader not genuinely experiencing the real character as he truly is.

YAG: Along those lines, I’m interested in one aspect of Cricket’s personality that might bother some readers. When we first meet Cricket, his view of Christianity is irreverent if not downright blasphemous. Yet it seems that Christian beliefs, stories, and values are important to Cricket’s development and to the book as a whole. What’s your take on the role of religion in YA fiction?

SB: I don't have a specific opinion about the role of religion in YA fiction. I just happen to have characters who like to think about religion and philosophy because it’s something I like to think about. Questions of religion and spirituality are universal even for people who don't consider themselves religious or spiritual. Beneath all of our daily questions are bigger questions like Why are we here? and What’s the point of it all? We keep ourselves busy with mundane questions on a day-to-day basis but at some point we all sit back and wonder about bigger-picture stuff. What fascinates me about readers defining Cricket as atheistic or  blasphemous is that I consider Cricket to be more Christ-like than most of the Christians I know. Jesus was a bad ass. He questioned everything. He questioned his religion, his religious leaders, religion's role in society. When religion becomes organized, superficial things have a tendency to override and overwhelm the more important hidden things, and I think this is what upset Jesus the most and this is what upsets Cricket the most. The hypocrisy of the shiny fruit with the rotten core. People look at Cricket as being irreverent and blasphemous, but compared to Jesus, Cricket’s a softie. Jesus was so irreverent and blasphemous he was put to death for it.

YAG: Final question. The YA Guy blog, as you know, concerns itself with gender issues in Young Adult fiction. As one example, I’m interested in the question of whether there’s any usefulness to the category of “boy book.” Where do you weigh in on this, or on other issues that have to do with gender and reading/writing YA?

SB: It can be useful to categorize a book as a “boy book” if it helps catch the attention of educators or librarians who are always on the lookout for “boy books” to put into the hands of their reluctant boy readers. Where it's not useful is when a book gets pigeonholed as being a “boy book” and then girls don't read it and vice versa. I’ve been contacted by far more girl readers than boy readers and I’ve heard Dear Life, You Suck referred to quite often as a “boy book.” Maybe girl readers are just more inclined to contact an author than boy readers or maybe there are more girls reading my book than boys, I don’t know.

When I do hear from boys, it’s usually along the lines of, “I hate reading, but I loved your book.” Those are my favorite emails.

The reality is, some teen boys are crass, rude, profane, and mean. Emphasis on “some.” Our job as writers is to present characters as they truly are, not as society thinks they should be. Young readers are smart. Then know when a writer is trying to jam some lame message down their throat like hiding a dog’s medicine in a hunk of cheese.

Now, tell me your interest isn't piqued! (Or don't tell me, I don't care.) Just enter the giveaway and then I'll know!

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK by Scott Blagden

It's DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK week on YA Guy! Today, I've got a review of Scott Blagden's great debut novel. On Friday, I'll have an interview with Scott and a great giveaway! So read the review now, keep an eye out for the interview in a couple days, and make sure to enter the giveaway when it comes!

Scott Blagden’s Dear Life, You Suck hit YA Guy like a punch to the gut.

In a good way.

Blagden’s debut novel is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). The title delivers a fair warning. But it’s not until you enter the warped mind of narrator Cricket Cherpin, a sarcastic, pugilistic, foul-mouthed, drug-doing, suicidal seventeen-year-old living in a nun-run orphanage in small-town Maine, that you get the full picture.

Here’s a tiny sample of Cricket’s utterly unique voice, chosen more or less at random:

Cheesecake LaChance is a physiological dichotomy. He’s Beauty and the Beast incarnate. From the neck up, he’s as pretty as a transvestite prom queen. Ice-blue eyes, impeccably groomed butt-bandit beard, and perfect teeth like LEGO pieces. From the neck down, he’s as pretty as an Amazon jungle queen. Tree-trunk thighs, an ass the size of Brazil, and a belly that looks like he swallowed a Galapagos sea turtle. It’s hard to look at him without imagining his Grand Canyon ass-crack bent over a log-clogged toilet, a monkey wrench in his one hand and a plunger in the other.

That’s Cricket: irreverent, tongue-twisting, given to outrageous similes and egregious wordplay.

I won’t lie to you: it takes a few chapters to get accustomed to that voice. And it takes just as long to muster sympathy for the guy, who initially seems like the kind of teenager grownups like me are praying they’ll never have to spend any time with.

But once you’ve made the transition, Blagden’s book is little short of genius. Indeed, the mere fact that he manages to recruit readers to the side of his misanthropic anti-hero is a triumph in itself. But once you understand what makes Cricket tick, once you plumb the depths of his anger at the hand life has dealt him, you find yourself unable to stop reading and rooting for him.

I mean, how could you not root for a character who describes his confusion as follows: “Damn, life sure is carving crop circles in my ass tonight.”

And how could you not be moved by a passage like this, wherein Cricket apostrophizes the eternal:

Me and Art have a problem. The same way me and God have a problem. I mean, this scene is so out of this world, so inhuman and infinite, so boundless, so worthy and eternal. And human life is just so not. Yet I can’t deny a connection. An intermingling. A gravity. A pull. I mean, it sucks at my soul. Probably so it can digest me and shit me out when it’s done. That’s how the infinite makes me feel. Like a hunk of beef it’s gonna process and return to the dirt as fertilizer.

If you think that’s good, wait until you watch Cricket deconstruct the Immaculate Conception.

There’s not enough good I can say about Dear Life, You Suck. It’s hilarious, poignant, wrenching, profound, sad. It’s at once a twisted simulacrum of life and a transcendent celebration of it. It’s like Cricket himself: so surreal it’s all too real.

It’s a book I wish I wrote. About a guy I wish I knew.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS by Evan Roskos

When YA Guy was agent-hunting, it drove me mad when I’d get the form rejection saying something like: “Please understand that this business is very subjective….” Or “I don’t feel strongly enough about your work….” Or sometimes: “This just isn’t for me.”

Though I knew these sentiments were truthful, and kindly meant, they weren’t helpful. Any kind of rejection hurts. As a writer, you want everyone to like your book, and it’s a rude wake-up call when you realize not everyone will.

The same goes for reviews.

The same goes for this review.

Evan Roskos’s debut YA novel, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, has so much going for it. It’s literary. It’s beautifully written. It’s poignant. It’s funny. It’s true to life. It’s hopeful without being schmaltzy or unrealistic. In short, it’s a terrific book.

But I didn’t especially care for it.

Let’s review the book’s positive qualities.

1.)   It’s literary. The narrator, James Whitman, a teenager living with his brutal father and melodramatic mother (but not his older sister, whom his parents threw out of the house before the story starts), quotes his poetic namesake all the time. Plus, he likes to yawp.

2.)   It’s beautifully written. Here’s a small sample: “Beth looks like she wants to tell me more great things about me. Or maybe I’m just projecting. I’m probably projecting. I’m a projector. For example: The world is not terrible. I just keep thinking it is.”

3.)   It’s poignant. James’s deepening depression is sensitively handled.

4.)   It’s funny. As when James runs into the street to save a Tastykake wrapper, thinking it’s a broken-winged bird.

5.)   It’s true to life. See all of the above.

6.)   It’s hopeful without being schmaltzy or unrealistic. Though James finds some closure in his quest to rescue his sister and resolve his own emotional and romantic troubles, there’s no fairy-tale ending to this book.

So, in sum, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is well worth reading. That I didn’t particularly respond to it says only what agents, editors, publishers, writers, and readers have known all along: this business is very subjective.

And this particular book just wasn’t for me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

YA Guy Talks about What He Means by "Boy Books"

In the past several months, there's been a lot of online activity concerning gender issues in YA literature. There have been attacks on "strong female characters," as well as critiques of the concept of "boy books" versus "girl books." Seems like every time I check the Twitter feed, there's a new piece on gender in YA.

If you're YA Guy (which I am), you're cheered by all of this activity. I founded this blog because I believe we need to be talking not only about how and why teenage boys and girls read, but about gender stereotypes in YA, industry pressures to market books as "boy" or "girl" books, and so on. These issues are important for those who read and write YA, and they're important for those trying to construct a more just society.

But I also believe that we need to be careful in our discussion of these issues. It's too easy to react in a knee-jerk fashion, to produce stereotypes of our own in our quest to attack the stereotypes of others. For every essay concluding that "boys don't read 'girl books' because they inherently don't like 'girl stuff'" (i.e., they're hardwired not to), there's an essay arguing that when we talk about "boy books," "what we really mean are books that make women second-class characters: love interests for male MCs or damsels to be rescued or the unattainable object of attraction." The first blogger argues with unabashedly circular logic that "girl books" can't be enjoyed by boys because, well, they're girl books.  The second blogger caricatures "boy books" (and those who read, write, and write about them) as hopeless troglodytes.

In my view, neither of these approaches will get us far.

For the record, when I talk about "boy books"--and when I write them myself--I don't mean any of the above. I don't mean books that appeal to the unique wiring of boy brains, and neither do I mean books that teach boys to demean and brutalize women. I mean, simply, books that can be read and enjoyed by boys. Such books, I believe, can and do have male as well as female protagonists; they can and do involve both hetero- and homosexual love stories (or no love story at all); they can and do have female characters who are as complex, flawed, and capable of growth and empowerment as the male characters.

When I talk about boy books, in other words, I'm asking why books such as I've described above are typically not thought of as boy books.

The question of whether teenage boys lag behind girls in how much they read has been debated and hyped endlessly, and we're probably no closer to answering that question than we ever were.  (A fairly recent study concludes that boys are reading at the same difficulty level as girls, though this says nothing about whether they're reading at the same rates as girls.) But will we break gender stereotypes by producing new stereotypes? Will we encourage boys to read by portraying those who write books with boys in mind as cavemen? Will we truly open the field of YA literature in gender-inclusive ways if we assume that only gender-exclusive books are being written and marketed for boys?

YA Guy doesn't think so, anyway.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... GATED by Amy Christine Parker

Amy Christine Parker’s novel Gated was not at all what YA Guy expected.

But that’s not a bad thing.

From the pre-publication notices, I somehow got the idea that Gated was science fiction, a post-apocalyptic novel about a cult that turned out to be right about the end of the world. I don’t know why I got that idea. Probably just because I like sci-fi.

But boy, was I wrong. And I’m glad I was.

Gated could certainly be classified as a dystopia. But far from being set in some distant time or place, Parker’s novel tells the all-too-real story of a contemporary doomsday cult. Convinced by their leader, a man who calls himself Pioneer, that the world’s rotation will soon reverse and kill all but the faithful, the cult has constructed a gated community and an underground silo where they plan to wait out the world’s destruction. But Parker’s narrator, seventeen-year-old Lyla Hamilton, has doubts about the community she joined as a child: doubts about her ability to kill non-believers as Pioneer instructs, doubts about the boy Pioneer has chosen as her future husband, doubts about giving up on the world and retreating underground. When she meets a boy from outside the community, her doubts escalate and bring her into direct conflict with her family, her community, and its messianic leader.

Reviews I’ve read of Gated tend to focus on the personality of Pioneer, and Parker has indeed drawn a masterful portrait of a modern-day Jim Jones or David Koresh: a man who preys on the vulnerable to fulfill his own need for mastery. But to me, the psychology of Pioneer’s followers was every bit as interesting. In particular, I found myself drawn to the depiction of Lyla’s mother, whose other daughter was snatched as a child and who longs for the safety she believes Pioneer’s community provides. I can understand megalomaniacs like Jones, Koresh, and countless other preachers and politicians, but I sometimes have a hard time understanding those who blindly follow them. By exploring the motivations of Pioneer’s disciples, Parker renders a powerful image of human frailty and despair.

And then there’s Lyla herself, who simultaneously loves and fears Pioneer and his community, who embraces his apocalyptic visions but loathes the sacrifices they entail, who finds herself battling her mother’s desire for security if it comes at the cost of truly living. It’s a complex characterization, and one that could easily have become exaggerated and unbelievable--but Parker makes Lyla’s conflicts utterly convincing. Trapped outside the community’s gates when she and her friends decide to break curfew, Lyla reflects: “it’s this realization--that we are all one panicked moment away from cutting the bonds that tie us--that chills me to the bone.” The power of those bonds--bonds of family, bonds of faith, bonds of fear--to inspire, to protect, and at the same time to cripple is the true subject of Gated, and Parker’s unsparing portrait of her teen heroine’s awakening to this reality makes Gated as chilling as any fantasized dystopia.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... IN THE AFTER by Demitria Lunetta

YA Guy’s reaction to the first five pages of Demitria Lunetta’s In the After: little green men? Really?

YA Guy’s reaction to the remaining four hundred and fifty pages of Demitria Lunetta’s In the After: little green men! Really!

Yeah, I was a bit concerned at the start that this overused sci-fi trope might sink Lunetta’s highly-touted debut novel. But she works such wonders with the idea, creating a taut, gripping novel with an instantly likable main character and an expertly built sense of horror, I was won over in a flash.

The plot of In the After is easily summarized: when alien creatures overrun the planet and decimate the human population in a matter of days, the main character, teenager Amy, is one of the few survivors. She quickly develops the skills to keep herself alive in an utterly changed world: moving silently so the creatures can’t hear her, raiding homes and stores for supplies, trusting no one she meets. But then she finds the orphaned toddler she names Baby, and the two form an instant bond. As Amy puts it: “Baby didn’t just become my family, she became my entire world.” Until, that is, Amy learns that something else has survived the alien assault--something that may be even more deadly than the creatures themselves.

Lunetta writes with confidence, constructing tight, spare sentences that move the reader quickly through the action. Her characters are wonderful singly, and the relationships between them--especially between Amy and Baby, who develop a private sign language so they can communicate without the creatures hearing them--are touchingly rendered. If there’s any misstep in In the After, it’s the revelation of the creatures’ origin, which did seem to me a bit on the overused side. (I also found the ending a touch inconclusive, though I know it sets up a sequel.) But neither of these minor quibbles interfered significantly with my enjoyment of the whole.

So the next time you see a little green man, my advice would be to run and hide. Quietly. If it’s anything like the monsters from In the After, you don’t want it to find you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

YA Guy Reveals... VISION OF SHADOWS by Vincent Morrone

YA Guy's been quiet for a bit, adjusting to the start of the fall semester. But I'm thrilled to be back with a COVER REVEAL of Vincent Morrone's forthcoming YA Paranormal Romance, VISION OF SHADOWS. Check it out!


Is Bristol Blackburn about to meet the love of her life...or her killer?

After the death of her parents, Bristol Blackburn's life is thrown into chaos and she's forced to move to Spirit, a small town where shadows are stirring. As she learns to navigate her new school and figures out how to keep her psychic abilities secret from her family, Bristol comes face to face with the boy who makes a regular appearance in her dreams: the gorgeous, possibly deadly Payne McKnight. Soon she’ll find out if Payne will be the love of her life, or the end of it--and she has no idea which possibility scares her more.

And that's not even the worst of it. Strange shadows are haunting her dreams, and they're up to something that could put Bristol and the lives of everyone she loves in jeopardy.

To add Vision of Shadows to your to-read list on Goodreads:
Information about the book:

Title: Vision of Shadows
Series: Vision series
Author: Vincent Morrone
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal Romance
Length: 210 pages
Release Date: December 30, 2013

About the Author:

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Vincent Morrone now resides in Upstate NY with his wife. (Although he can still speak fluent Brooklynese.) His twin daughters remain not only his biggest fans, but usually are the first to read all of his work. Their home is run and operated for the comfort and convenience of their dogs.

Vincent has been writing fiction, poetry, and song lyrics for as long as he can remember, most of which involve magical misfits, paranormal prodigies and even on occasion superheroes and their sidekicks.


As they say in Brooklyn: Yo, you got something to say to Vincent? You can find and contact him here:


Vincent also participates in a group blog called YA Rush which consists of YA and NA Entranced authors. You can find YA Rush here:


And here's an excerpt from Vision of Shadows:

Journal of Bristol Blackburn

Sunday, March 17th
There are times when being psychic really bites and this is one of them. Here it is, three in the morning and all I can think about is the boy who will eventually have his hands on me.

I have no idea what his name is. We’ve never met, but I feel like we’ve grown up together. I’ve had visions of him since I was six years old. Now, eleven years later, I know we’re getting closer and closer to finally meeting. I think it’s going to happen any day now.
And the thought scares the hell out of me.

I know what Dream Boy will look like. In a word: hot. Dark hair that falls loosely over his deep blue eyes. He has an angel’s face and the devil’s grin.

I know he’s got a bad boy attitude. Half the time, I get flashes of him getting hurt. Sometimes he’s playing the hero. Other times, he’s just being an idiot. Many times, it seems like there’s someone who enjoys hurting him.
What I don’t know is what he’ll be to me.

There are times when he seems to love me. Don’t ask me why. But he’ll look at me with nothing but love and contentment in his eyes. Earlier tonight, I had one of those dreams. One where he couldn’t keep his hands off of me. Weird that I know every inch of his body, yet I have no idea what his name is, huh.
Then there’s the other vision. It was the first one I had of him and the one I have most often. It’s the one I woke from tonight, the feeling of his hands still on my skin.

In that vision, he doesn’t look at me with love, but hatred. He has his hands wrapped around my neck as he slowly squeezes the life out of me.
So any day now, I’m about to meet the boy of my dreams—literally. Then I get to see if he’s going to be the love of my life, or the end of it.

Funny thing is, I’m not sure which idea scares the crap out of me more.