Tuesday, July 29, 2014

YA Guy Presents... This Month's "9 on 9" Feature!

I’m a bit late on this month’s “9 on 9” feature, largely because I just returned from a family vacation in Florida. (Swam with dolphins, fed gators, got sunburned, the whole nine yards.) But it got me thinking about how important place is to Survival Colony 9: the novel’s desert setting was one of the first things that came to me when I was drafting, and the physical world the characters inhabit plays a huge role in the events that unfold.

And so, I thought I’d lead you around 9 of the key places in Survival Colony 9!

  1. Desert. The world’s a wasteland due to wars and catastrophic climate change. Fourteen-year-old Querry Genn describes the landscape as “a dead reddish-brown, the color of dried blood under fingernails.” Not a place to live, just a place to survive.
  2. Hollow. A Skaldi attack forces Survival Colony 9 to flee the hollow where they’ve camped and strike out into unknown territory.
  3. River. The colony’s lifeline, a sluggish brown stream that yields barely drinkable water. But they can’t camp right by its shore, because the Skaldi have figured out humans’ need for water and have waylaid colonies there in the past.
  4. Compound. An abandoned community that Querry’s colony discovers in the desert. A place to rest and recuperate, a place to hide—or, as some members of the colony fear, a perfect place for a Skaldi ambush.
  5. Pool. Empty of water and half-filled with dust, it’s a spot where Querry and the girl he secretly loves, Korah, have a nighttime talk. It’s also the spot where Korah’s jealous boyfriend catches the two of them.
  6. Headquarters. The commander of Survival Colony 9, Laman Genn, sets up his headquarters in a bombed-out building more intact than most. It only lacks doors or windows—and its top floor’s been sheared clean off. It's the site of an interrogation that changes everything Querry believed about his colony and its leader.
  7. Tree. There aren’t many trees left in this world, but there’s one where the colony, lacking a jail cell, holds an important prisoner—a man some believe is trying to destroy the colony from within.
  8. Valley. The desert landscape is mostly flat, but Querry discovers a hidden valley where he meets someone he never expected to.
  9. Shelter. Where Querry and Korah share a secret kiss—and a much darker secret as well.

To be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Survival Colony 9, just leave a comment below or contact me via my website, telling me which of these places you’d like to find out more about. If you leave me your address, I’ll also send you some signed SC9 swag!

Monday, July 21, 2014

YA Guy Hosts... The CHALLENGING DESTINY Book Blitz! (Plus a Giveaway!)

Challenging Destiny
Release Date: 03/27/14

Summary from Goodreads:

Logan Ragsdale and his younger sister, Ariana, have been marked, chosen to be unwilling participants in a war between angels and demons.

Logan can sense something's not quite right. Like an unexpected chill on a summer's day, he can feel the unseen closing in. He's had these feelings before and, each time, someone close to him died. He's afraid this time it might just be Ariana.

Logan's fears are soon confirmed when he discovers their new friends aren't human, but rather representatives from Heaven and Hell sent to Earth to ensure he and Ariana accept their roles in an ancient prophecy. Demons want Logan to open the gates of Hell. Ariana has the power to stop them, but if she chooses to side with Heaven to spare the lives of thousands of innocent people, she'll damn her brother for eternity.

Together, they must derail the biblical event if they hope to save themselves and the future of mankind...but what price are they willing to pay to keep the other safe?

Available from:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo Books

Here's an excerpt from Challenging Destiny, narrated from Logan’s point-of-view: 

That night I awoke to a noise in our apartment. Soundlessly, I got out of bed, grabbed the metal baseball bat I kept near my door—a habit I’d picked up from my uncle—and went to look around. I pushed Ariana’s bedroom door open a crack. Her room was dark. It smelled like the autumn-spice candles she always burned. She was fast asleep, curled up on her side under her thick cream comforter. A search of the family room and kitchen turned up empty. Relieved, I decided that I had to have been dreaming or had heard one of our neighbors out in the hall. I stumbled back to my room, cursing under my breath when I jammed my little toe on the edge of the doorframe. 

My head had barely hit the pillow when a raspy, male voice barked, “Trap!

My racing heart drowned out the rest of its words. I knew that voice, and there was never a person attached to it. My mind went numb with fear, and every muscle in my body tensed. I’d thought I was past hearing voices. I wanted to scream and would have, but I didn’t want to wake Ariana. 

The disembodied voice spoke again in a hurried whisper: “Must protect.” There was a long pause. “Up to you.

And then silence. Outside, a distant horn blared and cars swooshed past the apartment complex. I sat in the shadows created by the moonlight and listened. 

It didn’t speak again.

What trap? Protect who? Why was it up to me? The words had been garbled so badly, I wasn’t even sure I’d heard them correctly. Hearing voices freaked me out—it always had. And now I had more questions that I didn’t know how to find the answers to. 

A moment later, Ariana’s blood-curdling scream had me out of bed and sprinting to her room.

About the Author
A little about myself: I write young adult and middle grade novels. I love finding new stories that keep me up late reading. While my favorite genre is fantasy, if the book is beautifully written with characters that come alive, I’m all over it. My debut novel EMBRACE is now available from Omnific Publishing.

Author Links:
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$20 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Card (INT)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Blitz Organized by:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

YA Guy Presents... YA! for Nature with Austin Aslan, author of THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD!

Today in my "YA! for Nature" series, I interview Austin Aslan, author of THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, which debuts on August 5th! It's a great book--I already reviewed it here--and I'm thrilled to have Austin on the blog!

YA Guy: Welcome to the blog, Austin! Can you tell us about your debut, THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

Austin Aslan: Hi, YA Guy! Thanks for inviting me onto your blog. I’m excited to be here. ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a young adult disaster/survival novel with science-fiction elements. The story involves a catastrophic global blackout, but it takes place entirely on the Hawaiian Islands. It’s about a 16 year-old girl named Leilani who is half white, half Hawaiian. She lives on the Big Island, but she and her father are on the island of Oahu when the global blackout happens. The islands are suddenly thrust into darkness and isolation. No one knows what’s going on. As days without electricity, without airplane travel, and without food/gas shipments turn to weeks, tensions grow, hunger sets in, and the situation on the islands becomes desperate and violent. Lei and her dad set off on their own to get home to the Big Island by any means necessary. A lot of crazy things happen in this book, and there are some cool science-fiction things going on, too, but this novel is really about a strong father/daughter relationship that’s strained to the limits on a dangerous journey to get back home to family.

YAG: Let's explore the science (fiction) elements of the book a bit. Many writers won’t touch science with a ten foot pole, but I read that you’ve got a Masters degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. How does your science background gel with your literary pursuits?

AA: I lived in Hilo (pronounced HEE-lo), on the Big Island, when I was getting my Masters degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. My field sites were high up on the forested slopes of Mauna Loa Volcano. I was coming home from a rainy day of doing pollination experiments with rare Hawaiian flowers and I drove down through the clouds and suddenly had a great, clear view of the ocean surrounding the island. I was struck by how alone and isolated the Hawaiian Islands were (this is something that people in Hawaii think about frequently, and it wasn’t a new thought for me, either). The idea popped into my head that it would be really interesting to set a post-apocalyptic story on the isolated Hawaiian Islands, and the story and characters just started flowing out of me like lava!

My masters program and my background in science helped me immensely in the writing of my book, mostly in terms of identifying the powerful themes of interdependence and sustainability, which undergird the entire story. While my background helped to steer the book in certain thematic directions, I didn’t allow the scientist in me to overpower the story that I was telling. I wanted to keep my training out of the way of the narrative that was unfolding as best I could. The quickest way to kill a good plot and deaden great characters is to start using them as bullhorns for specific agendas. My main character is a 16-year-old girl. It wouldn’t make sense for her to feel and sound like a scientist. I was able to use Leilani’s father (who is a professor of ecology at UH-Hilo) as my nearest proxy for letting my science background show through. However, I was still intentionally careful not to abuse that conduit. I’m lucky, because I think most general “scientist” can’t de-couple their training from their voice, and that’s why there are so few successful scientist-novelists. I hope I can be one.

YAG: That's an interesting note about Lei's father and his relationship to you as author. ISLANDS has been characterized as an “eco-thriller.” Does that work for you?

AA: This is a great question. I honestly wasn’t so sure about the “eco-thriller” label at first, but I quickly embraced it nonetheless. I had never heard this term when I wrote the novel, so I certainly wasn’t writing with this designation in mind. I’m still not 100% sure what the label means, actually, but to the extent that it might entail a plotline that is driven by, or affected by, a problem or crisis involving the natural world, I suppose ISLANDS can loosely be defined this way. The Hawaiian Islands are more of a character than they are a set of places in this book. And the islands are innately imbued with such a great natural presence that any crisis involving them will evoke “eco-thriller” sentiments. In many ways this book channels a “Human vs Nature” dynamic, but I balk just a little bit with the “eco” aspect because this story and the disaster that sets the plot in motion aren’t caused by, or motivated by, nature per se. Geography and poor human planning are the culprits.

When I set out to write ISLANDS, I thought to myself, “Everybody knows what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders?” 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. Ninety-five percent! The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, what would they eat? Where would they flee?

I have an even harder time with co-opting the term “Cli-Fi” for this novel. Climate and weather and global warming and climate change have nothing to do with this story. However, at its heart, ISLANDS is a cautionary tale about human hubris and too much reliance on technology and globalization to make our world work, and it begs for a new vision for a Hawaii that is much more self-sustaining and locally-operated than it currently is.

YAG: You seem to be drawn to unique and challenging physical locations, in both life and art. I know you've left Hawaii and are now living in Arizona. Can we expect a desert book from you in the future?

AA: As a matter of fact, you can! I have just begun a middle grade project that will display the Sonoran Desert as predominantly as the Hawaiian landscape was displayed in ISLANDS. I wonder if this will be one of my “shticks” as an author. Setting is put forth as an important character in all of my novels. I’m even sitting on a high fantasy epic that basically takes place not in medieval Europe, but in varied landscapes of colonial Central America. The places and the cultures and the cuisine and the climate all very much mirror my experiences as a Peace Corp Volunteer living in an isolated, high-elevation Honduran cloud forest from 2001-2004. The natural world really does come alive in all of my projects, and while this pattern was never intentional or deliberate, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that it has become a constant thread in my writing.

YAG: One last question, and it flows naturally from what you just said. 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?

AA: Last question? Dang, YA Guy! You’re like Colombo turning back to his murder suspect at the end of a conversation and saying, “Oh, just one more thing…I know how you killed the victim!” One last question, my tush! This is a HUGE question! I just took a whole graduate-level course this spring on the subject of Science Communication. We barely scratched the surface and we certainly came to no consensus! The brief answer, from my perspective, is that fiction writers have a GINORMOUS role in calling attention to environmental issues.

Here’s the deal: most scientists are actually very uncomfortable taking a stand on any issue. Most scientists want to generate data and conduct experiments and solve mysteries and answer questions—and they want to stop right there. The moment they’re asked to place a value judgment on a finding, or take sides in a political debate, they get very squeamish. Most scientists (too many, in my view) abdicate their responsibility to call for action when their findings demand attention. They’ll leave that work to others, to “boundary organizations” and “advocates” and “non-profits” and “activists.” But many of these groups don’t have loud enough voices or strong enough followings to gain critical momentum on issues. This is where popular entertainers like novelists or movie directors and their ilk can step in and carry weight that would otherwise be very heavy lifting for grassroots advocates.

Stories are POWERFUL. Storytelling is how people listen and learn new things. Data and facts and figures go in one ear and right out the other. These days, we’re all so hardwired to reinforce things we already “know” and to ignore anyone saying something that contradicts our “knowledge” and our personal experiences. But here’s the key: storytelling adds to our personal experiences! Without knowing it, we absorb and assimilate what other people and characters are going through. So, yeah, we novelists have a disproportionate share of the burden in calling attention to issues, whether they be environmental or social or cultural or whatever. The key is for our ideas to infiltrate critical minds in the smoothest possible way. As I mentioned above, I think that’s best done not by proclaiming the facts and the truth as we know them, but by getting out of the way of our own training and allowing our stories to speak for themselves, out of the vast array of experiences that our readers already carry with them when they turn to a story.

YAG: Thanks for being on the blog, Austin! Readers, if you want to learn more about Austin Aslan and his writing, here’s where to go: