Wednesday, March 26, 2014

YA Guy Presents... YA for Nature! With Chris Struyk-Bonn, author of WHISPER

In case you didn't figure it out, YA Guy is a huge fan of Nature, and a huge believer in humanity's responsibility to care for and protect it. My writing isn't "political," strictly speaking, but it definitely reflects those beliefs.

But of course, there are lots of YA books that address issues having to do with Nature. So I decided, why not feature some of those books here? Thus was born an occasional series: YA for Nature!

We begin today with Chris Struyk-Bonn, debut author of WHISPER, which releases on the first of April. I've asked Chris some questions about her book and its environmental themes, and she's provided some great answers.

So, without further ado, here's Chris and YA for Nature!

Welcome to the blog, Chris! Can you tell us about yourself and your debut, Whisper?

Thanks so much for including me on your blog! Who am I? Hmm…well, my titles are as follows: mom, wife, teacher, writer, runner, arachnophobe, glossophobe, inadvertent houseplant killer, and Breaking Bad Addict. When I look at myself outside of the titles, I realize that I am a lover of stories. I love to read them, have them read to me, watch them, tell them, write them, and become completely lost within them. I do this as much as possible in my life because going to those make-believe places helps me look through a window into someone else’s life, and look in a mirror, better understanding my own life.

My young adult novel, Whisper, gives readers a glimpse through the window into a life very different from most of ours, but a life that many do live in reality. Whisper has a medical condition that could easily be remedied, but hasn’t been. She looks different from everyone else and is treated differently because of it. We get a small idea of what that might look like by taking a glimpse at Whisper’s life and circumstances.

One of the things I love about Whisper is how vividly you describe the natural world. Why was it important to you to surround your characters with Nature?

Whisper’s medical condition, a bi-lateral cleft palate, may be caused by contaminants in the environment. This is a question raised in the book, so because the environment plays such a critical role in her own development, the readers need to know what that natural world looks like, smells like, and sounds like. Also, we see this world through Whisper and she is a very observant person. She examines her world closely and paints pictures for the reader as she does so.

As you just mentioned, there are hints in Whisper about environmental damage and its effect on individuals and society. What played into your decision to explore this aspect of people’s relationship to the environment?

As I watch my two children grow up and see how aware of issues in the environment they have become, I realize how important our understanding of the environment is. Every day we are bombarded by changes in weather patterns, increases in global warming, and threats to current plants and animals. It has become such a pervasive concern, that it became a very real and very important element in Whisper. We can’t ignore these issues and as we are affected more and more by contaminants around us, we need to face them head-on to really understand how they are at work in our world.

Whisper has a lot to say about how we define beauty. What’s the most beautiful natural place you’ve ever visited? Did it have any impact on Whisper?

I love the woods. When I first moved to Oregon, I went to a place called Silver Falls State Park and it felt like walking into a fairytale. Moss hung from the trees like green lace and the colors were so vibrantly alive, it felt like an unreal setting. I had moved to Oregon from Iowa, and the trees in Iowa are not covered in moss, and winters can be very grey. Winters in Oregon can be just as green as the spring.

Did this have an impact on Whisper? Absolutely. When Whisper is ostracized from her family and hometown, she grows up in the woods, in an idyllic setting surrounded by trees, flowers, streams, and animals. Nature does not care that Whisper’s face is imperfect. Nature accepts Whisper as she is and in return, Whisper is a great observer of nature and feels accepted by it. This becomes a relevant part of the story because once she leaves the natural setting, her place in the world becomes unstable and she begins a journey into the unknown.

You and I are fiction writers, not politicians or pundits. What’s the role, if any, of fiction in calling attention to environmental issues and problems?

Such a good question. Again, I believe that fiction writers offer windows and mirrors. Specifically in science fiction, I believe that as writers, we can pose those troublesome “what if” questions. What if the environment affected gestation and how children emerge from the womb? Where do those children fit into the world and what would make for a “normal” child, then, if all children came out “damaged”? Would our definition of beauty be redefined? Also, what if we knew that some of our current practices were greatly affecting children? Would we change our ways?

Science fiction is about social commentary. We take a look at a current problem, provide a new spin on it, and show readers what life could look like if we continue down our current path. The beauty in not being politicians or pundits is that we’re not trying to garner votes or establish a platform; we’re simply providing readers with a new way to look at the world, and a new way of looking at how we live now. This opens up a dialogue and self-evaluation. We don’t have answers, but we also don’t claim to have answers.

Thanks for being on the blog, Chris! Readers, here's where you can connect with Chris and Whisper:

Twitter: @ChrisStruykBonn
Order through Orca:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

YA Guy Reviews... GILDED by Christina Farley (plus a giveaway!)

YA Guy is beyond thrilled to participate in the blog tour for Christina Farley's YA fantasy debut, GILDED, which released March 1! Here's my review:

A black belt in Tae Kwon Do and an accomplished archer, sixteen-year-old Jae Hwa seems to have it all together. But she desperately misses her mom, who died of cancer just before she and her father moved from Los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea. She’s enrolled in a high-pressure International Baccalaureate program in Seoul full of brainy, Harvard-bound classmates. And her traditional grandfather disapproves deeply of her presence in Korea, insisting that she return to the States.

Then Jae starts to see things that can’t be real: the shimmering apparition of a man who calls her “princess,” a fearsome dragon-lion that claims to be her protector, a mural that pulls her into a perilous world unlike any she’s ever imagined. Could it be true, as her grandfather tells her, that she’s pursued by a powerful Korean supernatural who has kidnapped the oldest unmarried female in her family for generations? And can she figure out how the people who enter her life--the martial arts master who claims to be her aunt, the boy at school who seems to know more about her than she does herself--fit into the mystery of her past, her family, and her identity?

Fans of YA fantasy will adore Gilded, Christina Farley’s thrilling debut. It’s got so much to recommend it: a strong yet convincingly vulnerable main character, vivid fantasy elements and well-rendered fight scenes, and--to me most appealing--a rare glimpse into the mythological traditions of Korea. Those of us in the West are familiar with the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian immortals that populate Rick Riordan’s books; but the gods and monsters of Korea are pretty much a total blank to most of us. Farley makes those beings come alive on the page, drawing readers into the fantastic events along with Jae Hwa.

But that’s not all she does. At the same time, the author--who spent nearly a decade teaching in Seoul--does an excellent job of portraying the everyday aspects of Korean life. Here’s just one of many examples where, through Jae Hwa’s eyes, Farley carefully and lovingly shows us that world:

I’m in the middle of a daydream in which I’ve secretly stowed myself on a plane when I realize we’re already driving off the ferry onto a tiny, two-lane road on Muui Island, where Grandfather lives. Metal-framed shacks line the curb with vendors selling crab and tangerines, an odd combination. We curve inland and climb a hill, passing an old man spreading his peppers out on blankets to redden them in the sun.

Reading passages like this, it becomes evident that there’s more to the fantasy story than just thrills and escapism. Rather, Jae’s entrance into the world of Korean mythology symbolizes her attempt to find her place within her cultural heritage, with all the promise and risk that entails. As she says when her familiar existence starts to shift into realms of the unknown:

My world stands off-kilter. It’s as if someone has twisted each part of my life a little to the left and now nothing from my past looks the same, while my future is a gaping hole of uncertainty. I don’t even understand who I am anymore. Or what I’m supposed to do.

I love how Gilded connects Korean mythology to Jae Hwa’s quest for identity, how Jae goes from feeling that she has “thousands of years of tradition and ancestors hanging over [her],” limiting her life, to accepting that heritage as the very thing that shapes who she is: “this is my chance to use my training to defeat something powerful and bring meaning to my life. This is an adventure I’ve always dreamed of.” Viewed this way, Gilded becomes not only a fantasy-adventure but a heartfelt journey into a teen’s hopes, fears, and dreams. And isn’t that what YA is supposed to be?

If I have any reservation about Gilded, it’s that the fantasy elements sometimes enter the real world rather abruptly, without adequate preparation. Though that might be intentional, showing how thin the line is dividing Jae’s everyday life from her ancestral traditions, I still found a few of these moments jarring. But that’s nothing compared to the overall pleasure of reading Farley’s wonderfully realized tale.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that Gilded will have a sequel, and I can’t wait to see where this talented debut author takes Jae’s story next!

Read on for more about GILDED and its author, and for a great giveaway!

Hardcover: 978-1477847015
Paperback: 978-1477810972
Ebook: ASIN: B00FN2KR3K
Audio: 978-1480589278

“An amazing contemporary fantasy that explores the vast legends of Korea, this richly detailed novel kept me turning the pages well into the night. Jae Hwa starts off as a strong character and ends as a noble one, using both her brains and her brawn to win the day–she’s exactly the kind of girl YA literature needs.”
~from Beth Revis, NY Times Bestselling author of Across the Universe series
"Farley brings South Korea's fascinating culture and mythology into vivid detail in this shining debut, and Jae is a compelling heroine. An exotic, thrilling read, GILDED had me utterly entranced!" 
                        ~from Jessica Khoury, author of ORIGIN and VITRO

Online Presence
Twitter: @ChristinaFarley

CHRISTINA FARLEY, author of Gilded, was born and raised in upstate New York. As a child, she loved to explore, which later inspired her to jump on a plane and travel the world. She taught at international schools in Asia for ten years, eight of which were in the mysterious and beautiful city of Seoul, Korea that became the setting of Gilded. Currently she lives in Clermont, FL with her husband and two sons—that is until the travel itch whisks her off to a new unknown. Gilded is her first novel. For more details, check out her website at Christina holds a master’s degree in education and has taught for eighteen years. She is represented by Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

YA Guy Writes... Cli-Fi!

Back in 1973, when YA Guy was … well, considerably younger, I read a book titled Dar Tellum: Stranger From a Distant Planet, by James R. Berry. It tells the story of a boy who communicates telepathically with an alien (Dar Tellum), and it’s got lots of appealing sci-fi elements for younger readers. From the perspective of today, however, what’s most striking about it is the central conflict:

“It seems that the planet Earth was right in the middle of a big crisis. Dozens of cities were in danger of becoming flooded. Already one city in some eastern country was almost covered with water. And the reason for this flooding was that the oceans were getting higher.

From what I understood, and I’m sure there are gaps here and there, the smoke from cars and factories goes into the air. A part of this smoke called carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere of Earth. It lets the sun’s heat in, but it won’t let much heat out. This carbon dioxide makes a kind of one-way lid on Earth. Heat in, but not much out.

And this extra heat was warming up the north and south poles. So the ice was melting and the oceans were getting higher.”

Yes, folks, there it is, in a children’s book from the early seventies: global warming.

Dar Tellum, in other words, is an early example of what’s come to be known as “cli-fi”: fiction having to do with climate change. Some (though not all) cli-fi is also sci-fi, and (as a science fiction writer myself) that’s the kind I prefer.

A gentleman by the name of Danny Bloom (@polarcityman on Twitter) introduced me to the genre of cli-fi. I hadn’t known it was a genre beforehand.

Which is odd, since my own debut novel is cli-fi.

Survival Colony 9 is set in a future where war and environmental catastrophe have turned the world into a desert. Though I didn’t set out to write a book about climate change--and though the book is certainly no polemic--it’s impossible for me to imagine the story without that desert setting, which possesses not only visual but thematic significance. In fact, the setting was the first thing that came to mind when I started the story way back when, and everything else grew from it.

There are lots of great YA sci-fi cli-fi novels out there. Here’s a sampling of new and forthcoming titles (listed alphabetically):

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis (@MindyMcGinnis)

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (@Sherri_L_Smith)

Rootless by Chris Howard (@chrisH0WARD)

SeaBEAN by Sarah Holding (@SeaHolding)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (@paolobacigalupi)

Some Fine Day by Kat Ross (@katrossauthor)

Starvation Ridge by Risa Stephanie Bear (@risa_s_bear)

Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan (@KimKlavan)

It's great to know there are so many others exploring climate change in their writing. It's great to be part of a movement.

And my hat's off to writers like James R. Berry, who planted the seed so many years ago.

Monday, March 3, 2014

YA Guy Discusses... My Writing Process!

Today YA Guy is participating in something fun: the “My Writing Process” blog tour!

The way this works is that each blogger on the tour answers four questions (see below) about their writing process. Then, each person invites three others to participate. I was invited by my friend (and fellow Pittsburgher) Stephanie Keyes, who blogs at Her post went up on February 24th, so you should definitely check back and see what she has to say!

And now, without further ado… my writing process!

1)     What am I working on?

At the moment, I’ve just started the third book in a series that begins with my YA science fiction debut, Survival Colony Nine, which releases September 23rd of this year. Now, granted, the second book, Scavenger of Souls, hasn’t yet been accepted for publication, but why let that stop me? I don’t have an official title for this third book, though I’ve got two working titles that are as different as can be: Dark’s Dominion and Skaldi City. Anyone want to help me choose?

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d say there are a couple ways in which my work differs from many (but not all) others in the YA science fiction genre. First, I enjoy playing with genre itself, so you’ll find elements of fantasy, horror, and mystery in Survival Colony Nine and its sequel(s). Second, I’ve been told that my writing has a more “literary” style than many of its kin. That doesn’t surprise me, since I started my career as a literature teacher and my first short stories, before I started writing YA, appeared in journals that publish adult literary fiction.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

This is an easy one. I write speculative fiction because science fiction and fantasy have been my favorite genres since I was a kid. Most of my favorite books are in those two genres, and I’m not the slightest bit embarrassed to admit that I still love action figures, comic books, and movies like King Kong and Real Steel. (My wife hates movies like that, by the way, which makes for all kinds of interesting conversations on date night!) The reason I write speculative fiction specifically for young adults is that I have children of my own, and I’ve found that sci-fi and fantasy are among the best genres for sparking young readers’ imaginations and helping them explore the wonder, mystery, and challenge of life.

4) How does my writing process work?

I’m what people call a “pantser”--that is, I don’t plan out what I’m going to write beforehand. I might have a few tentative ideas before I start writing (the name of my main character, the location of the story, some sense of the villain or central conflict), but for the most part I just sit down at the keyboard and let the story unfold as it will. I make my best discoveries that way: I learn what I want to say in the process of saying it. That means a lot of backtracking once I’m done to plug plot holes, create consistency, and flesh out ideas that occurred to me as I was drafting. But the way I see it, you’re going to end up revising your novel multiple times no matter what (Survival Colony Nine went through seven complete edits), so it makes sense to me to adopt a writing process that maximizes the chance of discovering something cool along the way!

Thanks for stopping by! The three bloggers I’ve invited to participate in the tour, whose posts will appear on March 10th, are:

Jimena Novaro loves reading and writing science fiction, fantasy, and YA. A self-proclaimed geeky sort of nerd, she spends a lot of her time fangirling over her favorite shows, books, and bands. Her first book, Blue Rabbit, a YA urban fantasy, is available now! Jimena blogs at

Kat Ross worked as a journalist and editor covering climate change and environmental issues for more than a decade before writing her dystopian thriller Some Fine Day, which is set at the turn of the next century. It imagines a world eight degrees hotter that's ravaged by hypercanes, massive storms the size of continents. She can be found online at and on Twitter @katrossauthor

Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for Teens at a public library who gleefully takes on the challenge of matching students up with the book that opens them up to the joys of reading. She is an active member of SCBWI, ALA, and the Indiana Library Federation, and is a regular participant at the Midwest Writer's Workshop. Her debut novel, It's a Wonderful Death (Strange Chemistry, Fall 2014), is described as Mean Girls meets A Christmas Carol. To learn more about her, visit and follow her on Twitter @SJSchmitt.

Hope you’ll keep following the tour!