Tuesday, December 30, 2014

YA Guy Looks Back on... His Debut Year!

The seventies rock group Boston wisely tells you, "Don't look back." (And Mark Twain or Satchel Paige or somebody like that says something similar.) But come on, this was YA Guy's debut year, and I can hardly avoid reviewing some of the highlights. No lowlights, though. I'm sure there were some, but they hardly matter next to how wonderful this year was for me as a writer!

Vanity plate!


Introducing James Dashner in Pittsburgh!

Finished books!

Launch party!

Day 1 at Barnes & Noble!

Book signing and display!

In libraries!

Meeting my agent, Liza Fleissig, at New York Comic Con!

On a panel with James Dashner, Scott Westerfeld, Pierce Brown, and others at the Con!

School and library visits!



It's been an amazing year! See you all in 2015!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

YA Guy Lists... His 2014 Top 14!

As we near the end of 2014, YA Guy thought it would be fun to list (in no particular order) the 14 best books I've read this year. All of these books were published in 2014, and many are debuts--which means some really good books I read this year that weren't published in 2014 (Paolo Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities, Lyn Miller-Lachmann's Gringolandia, Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) aren't on the list. Me being YA Guy, most of the books on the list are YA, though a few are middle grade and one is actually (gasp!) adult science fiction. But everything on the list gets my highest, highest recommendation. These books rock!

SURVIVAL COLONY 9. Oh, come on, how could I resist putting my own book on the list? I think it's a pretty darn good book, too--but don't take my word for it. Read it yourself!

PHOENIX ISLAND by John Dixon. Great action, great characters, great plot. Plus the author's a boxer, and he's from Philadelphia--so he's kinda like Rocky!

WHISPER by Chris Struyk-Bonn. A quietly magical novel about deformity and conformity. I haven't read anything else like it, ever.

THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Austin Aslan. The apocalypse hits Hawaii, and a teenager with epilepsy may be the only one who can save the world. This has been on lots of year-end "best of" lists, and it deserves to be.

BEING HENRY DAVID by Cal Armistead. How could you go wrong with a novel that integrates Thoreau into a teen's quest for self-discovery? Actually, I suppose you could, but Armistead definitely doesn't.

NIL by Lynne Matson. This Maze Runner-y story about teens who have to survive being mysteriously transported to an unknown island is scary, intense, smart, and sexy. I hear the sequel will be out soon!

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton. Part historical fiction, part magical realism, and all awesome. A completely strange and beautiful reading experience.

THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer. I would have read this book simply because it's about great apes (chimpanzees, specifically). But add to that the fact that it's lyrical, heartbreaking, and wise, and it makes my "best-of" list.

THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne Salerni. Ordinarily (being YA Guy) I don't read a lot of middle grade fiction, but lately I've been checking out the books my 11-year-old son reads, and this one--about an eighth day of the week accessible only by certain people--really caught my fancy. He and I are both eagerly awaiting the sequel, due out early in 2015.

THE RIFT by Chris Howard. Sequel to Howard's ROOTLESS, about a world without trees. Vivid and imaginative, and told in one of the most distinctive voices you'll find in YA.

IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis. I loved McGinnis's debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, about a future earth with practically no drinkable water. I didn't think she could outdo that book--but in the sequel, she did.

THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier. Another middle grade novel, this one about an Irish brother and sister in the nineteenth century who become entangled in their employers' dark and terrifying secret. A modern-day fairy tale that's also an ode to the power of storytelling, written by an author from my hometown of Pittsburgh.

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O'Malley Cerra. One more middle grade book (I told you I've been reading it lately!), set around the events of September 11. Beautifully written and powerfully told.

TOMORROW AND TOMORROW by Thomas Sweterlitsch. This wild science fiction mystery, set largely in a digital Pittsburgh after the real city has been demolished in a nuclear attack, will keep you up nights reading--then keep you up nights freaking out after you're done. Yet more proof that Pittsburgh is home to many amazing authors!

So there you have it, folks. I wonder what 2015 will bring?

Sunday, December 7, 2014


There is no greater lover of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien than YA Guy. I first read 'em at age twelve, and I re-read 'em every few years (most recently, with my children). I've taught classes on Tolkien, collected innumerable items of LOTR merchandise (including a balrog action figure that's as big as a lion cub). I loved Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings; heck, I even thought the Ralph Bakshi version wasn't half bad. (Okay, I even liked the Rankin & Bass cartoons!) So it pains me to say what I'm about to say next:

I've decided not to see the final chapter of Jackson's three-part Hobbit series, subtitled "The Battle of the Five Armies."

Why? Well, to begin with, I thought the first two films absolutely sucked. I mean, beyond sucked. They were so bad, I was tempted for the first time in my life to charge the projectionist and stop the picture. If you want to know why I hated them so much, check out my reviews here and here. If you care only about the general idea, it's this: the films were loud, stupid, overblown video games with no apparent relation to Tolkien's story in either style or substance.

But even with all that, I might have taken a chance on the final film; heck, it's only ten bucks and three hours of my life. (By contrast, I devoted much of two months to reading A Game of Thrones, which was pretty darn bad too.) No, the final straw was the film's subtitle. That did it for me.

As you may recall, months prior to its release, this film was billed with the subtitle to Tolkien's book: "There and Back Again." That subtitle gave me some hope for the movie, because it calls attention to what the story of The Hobbit is really about: the adventures of one small individual who ventures out into the big world and, through luck and pluck, manages to return changed but intact. A children's story, in other words, comparable to other great children's stories past and present: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Night Gardener (the final title being that of fellow Pittsburgh author Jonathan Auxier's wonderful modern fairy tale). "There and Back Again" captures the essence of The Hobbit, and the use of this subtitle gave me reason to believe Jackson might have come to his senses and decided to return to his source material.

But no. It got changed to "The Battle of the Five Armies." The motivation, no doubt, was that the majority of the previous films' viewers--non-readers of Tolkien--wouldn't catch the literary reference and would be baffled by a title that doesn't promise lots of kick-butt special effects and gory battle sequences. They'd stay away in droves if they thought the film wouldn't contain sufficient computer-generated mayhem.

And sadly, that's probably true.

So in tribute to Tolkien's genius, in honor of the true spirit of children's literature, and in protest of Jackson and Company's perversion of all that's wise and good about The Hobbit, I'm staying home. (And I'm writing this blog post, for what that's worth.) It won't amount to much--the movie will make a zillion dollars, Jackson will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (this has already happened), and we as a culture will choose lucre over art yet again.

But at least, I won't have to be there to see it. And one underpaid and overworked projectionist in Pittsburgh will get a little bit of a break.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YA Guy Hosts... Rachel O'Laughlin's RISE OF ORION Release-Day Blitz!

YA Guy is beyond thrilled to host the release-day blitz for RISE OF ORION, third in the fabulous Rachel O'Laughlin's Serengard series. (Okay, the book and e-book released yesterday, but still.) An amazing writer, tweeter, and friend, Rachel has constructed a totally original historical fantasy in the Serengard series. Read on for an excerpt and info on where to buy her latest and greatest!


Mikel had two rooms. The front room held a small bench; the other, where he was now, had a bed with a full mammoth skin on it. There was no furniture in the two cells next to him, and mammoth skin was rare and expensive, fit for a prince. It bothered him whenever he thought of it.

Trzl’s footsteps came around the corner, and then her face was there—sharp, vivid features accented by heavy eye paint and a new combination of braids that pulled the hair up and away. Severe, if ever she was.

“Avoiding my presence?” Her mouth twitched. The light at her back made her shadow against the wall rather foreboding.

Mikel shook his head, but he hadn’t a decent reply.

“I am not as frightful as all that, am I?”

“The last time I saw you, Colstadt was taken to another building for questioning. It’s been a month, and he hasn’t returned.” He looked up at her through hair that fell into his eyes. “Tell me, are you frightful?”

Trzl took three steps toward him. He leaned back until his head hit the wall above his bed, and she stopped moving. “I only kept him near you because you were worried about him. Once his wound was healed, it was indulgent to spoil you with his company. You should understand the pressure I am under.”

Mikel bit the inside of his mouth, his eyes down.

“No need to be sullen, Mikel. I didn’t hurt him.”

“I’ll believe that when I see him.”

Trzl tossed her head and sat down on his bed. “Your food is here. I’m sorry, but you can’t have a knife today.”

“Why should anything change today?” He smiled slightly, but she made no explanation. “Is it pheasant again?”

She slid her hand across the mammoth fur, and her fingers grazed his elbow. He winced. Trzl was the only person who’d touched him since they came here four months ago. As much as he pretended to hate her company, he looked forward to it as he would a strong cup of arabica. Only she never thought to bring him one.

He stood abruptly, slid out from under her arm. 

Her gaze followed him until he had left the room, then she took a few steps and leaned against the doorway. “Do I make you nervous?”

Mikel shrugged, took the food from the guard without lingering, and walked back to the wall. He perched on the bench with one leg sprawled in front and the other half-bent beside him. “I do find myself wondering what you’re doing here.”

“I came to bring a new prisoner and thought I’d see how you were getting on.” Mikel set his plate of food down. “You should have brought ale if you wanted to reminisce.”

She walked to him, picked up his leg, and moved it out of her way so that she could sit next to him. “My apologies. I did forget the ale.” 

There was a quirk to her mouth, as if she knew a secret that made her laugh. Whatever it was, she certainly should not share it. They were, after all, deep in the belly of the Fourth City—a modern atrocity on the ancient soil of Serengard. He’d been brought here with a mask over his eyes, guarded by twelve men, and kept under sporadic watch.

Trzl was the granddaughter of one of the most powerful men in the world, second only to the Emperor; Mikel was the son of the dead king she’d helped overthrow. They were supposed to be enemies.

“Did you give Colstadt pheasant today as well?”

Trzl let out her breath in a huff. “Must you speak of him? I’m tired of hearing his name.”

“Then free him. He presents no danger to you. Keep Pier if you must.”

“I cannot free political prisoners unless they give me something that warrants it, and nothing Colstadt has told me has meant enough to tempt the Emperor.”

Mikel knew she was playing him. Colstadt wouldn’t tell her anything at all.

“Oh, come now,” she said. “You cannot induce me to move him back here. I won’t have you consorting with my imprisoned Drei, Orion, not since I’ve begun questioning. The three of you might prop up each other’s lies.” 

She leaned a shoulder against his, and he didn’t move away. Her eyes were dreamy, and while that was better than distant, he was never sure what to do with her in this state. She twirled a finger around a strand of hair and looked at him with a slight pout.

“You haven’t touched your bread,” she scolded him.

Mikel stared at the wall. “I’ll eat it later.”

“The mice may claim it if you leave it unguarded.”

He lifted the bread between two fingers. “If I return this to you, will you give a double ration to my knights?”

She let out a half-laugh. “Mikel, they are not your knights anymore. They are my prisoners, the same as you are. I give them favors, and someone may begin to think I am in love with one of them.” She laughed, but he didn’t think it was funny. “Mikel, you… You should eat the bread. I swear they are looked after.”

“I saw fresh bruises on Pier.”

“I never meant for you to pass him in the hall.” Her brow furrowed. “But I am sure the Drei can handle pain far better than you.”

“But I am the one who has been chained in cages before.”

“For true?” Her jaw went slack, and her eyes grew suspicious. “You must tell.”


After the Border Wars, Mikel Orion flees Serengard and seeks haven in the Desert of Aldad. Although he and his sister, Kierstaz, must become slaves in order to set foot inside its borders, the hot sands hold a bitter kind of peace—one he hopes to keep. But he risks destroying their newfound stability when he becomes entangled with an Aldadi girl. Aura has tragic secrets of her own, but she gives Mikel a purpose beyond his birthright, and when he leaves the Desert he carries scars that run deeper than skin.

Twelve years later, trouble brews in Serengard that threatens to pull in the Aldadi and the Drei alike. Trapped in a dungeon as the prize prisoner of Trzl—an orchestrator of the rebellion that killed his parents—Mikel is out of maneuvers. Even while Kierstaz gathers a force to attempt his rescue, Trzl transforms more and more into the hypnotic ruler she claims to loathe…and Mikel becomes convinced that peace has never been within his reach at all. 

Author Bio:

Rachel O’Laughlin grew up writing adventure stories on an archaic laptop that only ran one program, couldn’t connect to the Internet, and died every few days—which provided a nice excuse to use a typewriter in the middle of an epic murder scene. After high school, she pushed novels to the backburner for immersion in the arts, tours with her band, and a hands-on education in sustainable living. At last, she admitted to herself that she missed her first love and returned to fiction full time. She lives in New England with her husband and two kids, listens to The Fray, and drinks too many lattes. Rise of Orion is the third book in her epic fantasy series, Serengard.