Thursday, December 31, 2015

YA Guy Lists... His 2015 Top 10! (Plus a Giveaway!)

YA Guy read far fewer YA (and MG) books this year than the past several years, for two main reasons. First, I decided to read in other genres, including classic science fiction (THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, A PRINCESS OF MARS, CHILDHOOD'S END), classic novels I've always wanted to read (INVISIBLE MAN, A TALE OF TWO CITIES), contemporary bestsellers (THE MARTIAN, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE), historical fiction (THE GOOD LORD BIRD, THE INVENTION OF WINGS, SARAH'S KEY), and more. I even read, at my mother's suggestion, Wendy Wax's THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER, a contemporary "women's novel." (I liked it.) These books take a lot longer to read than YA and MG, so that slowed me down too. In the end, I read about 25 YA/MG novels, most but not all of them 2015 publications (and many of them debuts).

I enjoyed reading almost all of these books, in all of these genres, but I'm going to limit my year-end Top 10 list to YA and MG. (I am YA Guy, after all.) The following list is in the order I read these books; it's not a ranking. Fuller reviews of most of these books are available on Amazon (I don't do Goodreads anymore). After reading about these great books, you can enter a giveaway to win two of them (plus a third that didn't quite make the cut).

1. PRISONER 88 by Leah Pileggi. A brilliant middle grade historical novel about a young boy incarcerated in the Idaho state penitentiary. Based on archival materials, this novel does an excellent job of portraying the time period, as well as the main character's perspective as he deals with life among hardened adult criminals. And the book is brief, only about 150 pages long, so you can read it almost like a short story in a single sitting.

2. THE PREY by Tom Isbell. A rousing YA adventure story set in a dystopian world where the rich hunt the poor for sport. The details are gruesome, but the characters are appealing and the narrative barrels forward at a great pace. The first in a trilogy, the second installment of which comes out in 2016.

3. UTOPIA, IOWA by Brian Yansky. An oddball YA story about a mythical town in Iowa where people commune with the dead and other bizarre happenings are everyday occurrences, this book deserves a far wider readership than it's gotten so far. There are some problems--in particular, a rushed and confusing ending--but the story as a whole weaves a magical spell unlike anything else I've read.

4. BLUE GOLD by Elizabeth Stewart. The story of three girls in different nations whose lives are connected by the mineral coltan, a key element in electronics such as cell phones, this issue-driven YA is straightforward and unsparing but never heavy-handed or preachy.

5. IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH by Sarah J. Schmitt. A hilarious and poignant romp through the afterlife, as stuck-up cheerleader RJ tries to atone for past sins and gain a second chance at life. Very few books actually make you both laugh and cry (often at the same time); this one will.

6. ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee. An exciting and introspective YA action/science fiction novel about a young champion in the futuristic sport of "zeroboxing," which involves boxing (actually more like mixed martial arts) in zero gravity. Great world-building and storytelling, plus some amazing fight sequences.

7. CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert. A story of losing and finding faith, this YA novel is the debut of one of the most gifted writers I've encountered. YA tends to shy away from serious examinations of religious belief, but Gilbert tackles the subject with sensitivity, insight, and compassion.

8. THE INQUISITOR'S MARK by Dianne Salerni. A wonderful middle grade novel, second in a trilogy (or possible quintology) about a secret eighth day of the week accessible only to certain people. Combining Arthurian legend with quantum science, this super-cool book is one of my favorite MG novels of all time. And yes, that's counting the Harry Potter series.

9. ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I first heard about this book at a regional SCBWI conference, where agents and editors were raving about it as the Next Big Thing. I approached it with some skepticism as a result, but when I read it, I found that they were right: it's the Next Big Thing. A brilliantly conceived and written YA science fiction novel (first in a series) that will be copied endlessly but never equaled.

10. VALLEY OF FIRES by J. Barton Mitchell. I've been telling people about Mitchell's "Conquered Earth" series for years, ever since I happened upon the first book in my local library. I guess I haven't told enough people, because this totally original YA science fiction series about a future Earth that's been invaded by mysterious beings hasn't yet captured the mass audience it so richly deserves. VALLEY OF FIRES is the concluding book in this wildly imaginative trilogy; pick up the first two installments, MIDNIGHT CITY and THE SEVERED TOWER, if you know what's good for you!

When I finish reading books, I typically donate them to my local library. But I still have the final two books on the list, so I thought I'd give them away here (along with a third, mystery book that didn't quite make my top 10 list but is pretty darn cool nonetheless). The giveaway is U.S. only. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Well, that's it for now! I'll see you in 2016, a year that will witness lots of other great books, including the publication of my sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

YA Guy... Self-Publishes!

Back in the day, when YA Guy was a mere stripling of sixteen, I wrote my first complete novel. Titled To Alter the Past, it was a fairly routine swords-and-sorcery epic, with warriors and monsters and all the things my Tolkien-reading and D&D-playing self was into at the time. I still have it on a shelf in my closet, a manuscript typed on my mom's manual typewriter, with all the typos carefully corrected with white-out.

The reason it's on my shelf and not yours is that my options for publishing it at the time were limited. I sent it to a family friend who was in publishing, and he very nicely read the first chapter and provided me with feedback that amounted to: "This isn't publishable; keep working on your craft." Not satisfied with that answer, I flirted with having it published by a subsidy ("vanity") press at the approximate cost of $5000; I was going to owe my parents big-time for that. But when the press sent me a couple of their books and I realized my writing, even at age sixteen, was considerably more polished than these samples, I wisely decided to take the family friend's advice. I honed my craft for over thirty years, and now, of course, I've published one novel and have another due out next year.

The point of this lengthy story is that while publishing options were limited back then, they're ubiquitous now. Anyone with a computer can self-publish a book, typically at minimal cost, and have it available for sale. People choose to self-publish for a variety of reasons, and I personally find no fault with any of them. In my case, though I've chosen to pursue the traditional route, I've kept open the possibility that I might also choose to self-publish some day.

Why, you ask, did I choose to self-publish this title? That's another long story. It's actually the first novel I completed after I'd taken a twenty-year hiatus from writing fiction; I finished it in 2010, just before I started writing what would become my first published novel, SURVIVAL COLONY 9. BOSS KRENKEL was a project I'd dreamed of writing for years, a twisted retelling of the Santa Claus story in which Kris Kringle is a brutal colonizer of the North Pole's indigenous people, the Alephs (later Elves). The idea came to me when my own children were young and my wife and I were still practicing the gentle deception of encouraging their belief in Santa Claus; I asked myself what the logical culmination would be if there were a deeper, more sinister deception to this myth, and BOSS KRENKEL was my answer.

But here's the thing: it wasn't publishable. That's what editors and agents told me (including my own). Though the writing, if I do say so myself, is among the best I've produced; though the story and world-building and mythology are, in my view, as good as they're going to get, the nature of the story I chose to tell just wasn't commercial enough. Maybe, if I'd spent years beating the bushes, trying to find an advocate for this book--or making such substantial revisions to it that it would no longer resemble the book I originally set out to write--I would have been able to publish it the traditional way. But I didn't want to spend my energy as a writer in that possibly fruitless struggle; I wanted to move on to other projects (and I did). BOSS KRENKEL remains what it was when I wrote it: a story I love, and good practice for other stories I've managed to sell. But if it was going to see the light of day, it was going to have to do so via a non-traditional means.

They tell you when you start writing not to worry about market trends or commercial viability but to "write the book of your heart," the book you most want to write. I agree with that. But if you do so, you have to accept the possibility that the book of your heart might not be publishable, and that you'll have to decide what to do with it. BOSS KRENKEL was (and to some extent still is) the book of my heart, and I wanted it to be out there in some form. I don't care if it sells, which is actually incredibly liberating; I just care for the pure creative act that produced it. If anyone wants to give it a try, I'd love to hear what you think of it; but for the most part, I'm just happy it's mine.

So welcome, BOSS KRENKEL! Thanks for everything you've done for me. And now it's time to move on to the next book I long to write.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

YA Guy Gives Away... Free Copies of SURVIVAL COLONY 9!

The title of this post says it all: I'm giving away free signed copies of SURVIVAL COLONY 9!

Why? Two reasons. First, I've been thinking of ways to thank everyone who's supported my book, and this seems like a good way (and a good time of year) to do it. Second, copies of SCAVENGER OF SOULS will be coming in before I know it, and I've got to start clearing my shelves to make room for them.

So here's the deal: if you want a free, signed paperback copy of SC9, just leave your name and mailing address in the comments section--or, if you'd prefer that not everyone on earth had your address, email it to me at (I'm afraid I can ship only to U.S. mailing addresses. I apologize for that, but the costs of international mailing on this scale are simply too high.) If you want your copy inscribed, tell me who I should make it out to. As the orders come in, I'll put them in the mail. If you want your book by Christmas, you should get the order to me soon. But the giveaway will keep running until I'm out of copies. 

So that's it, folks. Free copies, no strings attached. (A review on Goodreads and/or Amazon would be nice, but it's not a condition of getting the book.) Just my way of saying thanks.

Have a great holiday season, and I'll see you in 2016!


YA Guy

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

YA Guy Hosts... L. L. Reynolds, Author of RAFE RYDER AND THE WELL OF WISDOM!

Ever since YA Guy started tweeting, one of my very favorite tweeps has been L. L. Reynolds, an amazing person, great friend, and now, PUBLISHED AUTHOR! I'm so excited to have her on the blog to talk about her journey to publication and her debut novel, RAFE RYDER AND THE WELL OF WISDOM!

YA Guy: Welcome to the blog, L. L.! Can you tell us about your journey to publication?

L. L. Reynolds: My journey to publication began with the traditional publishing dream. I tested the waters by querying twelve agents, three at a time. (I’m not a mass query type of girl.) I took my time stalking the agents … er ... did I say stalk? I meant … studying the agents, following them on twitter, and generally trying to gauge if our personalities might mesh. 

To my delight, most of them requested at least a partial of my manuscript, and, to my dismay, they took three to six months before letting me know “Rafe Ryder wasn’t right for their lists” in a variety of polite ways.

Two years later, after only my sixth rejection, it dawned on me … it was time to explore my options. As fate would dictate, it was then that I met the fabulous indie author, Katie Cross. She generously shared everything she had learned on her publishing journey with me. She didn’t fill my head with wild notions, she simply gave me questions to consider.

Did I want to solely own my rights to the books I wrote? Did I want to exercise complete artistic and creative control of my books, or did I want to face the possibility of rewriting my work based on publishers’ opinions about what was currently selling? Did I want to control my cover designs? Did I want to choose my own editors? Did I want to make a 12.5% royalty for approximately six months while my publisher helped me market my book in that very limited time span, or would I rather have a 70% royalty forever? Did I want to risk my books someday going out of print? (Good questions, huh?)

As I pondered (and researched the dickens) out of these questions, I wrestled with another dilemma. I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, but I wasn’t sure that would be possible if I struck out on my own. Yet, at the same time, I felt aggravated that my book might have to conform to somebody else’s ideas and expectations in order for it to have a chance in the world. *Breaks into a tap dance as Sammy Davis, Jr belts out, I've gotta be me* on my iPod.*

Continuing to question, bristle and research, I noticed more and more traditional authors writing articles saying they were switching from traditional publishing to independent publishing. (Hmmmmm. Interesting.) But starting an independent publishing company is a lot of work. Could I do it? More than that, did I even want to do it?

Ultimately, my decision came down to one thing … I’m a fiercely independent soul, and I wanted to decide with whom I worked. Thus, Ananiah Press was born. Now, I am in control of my own destiny. My success rests solely in my own hands, no one else’s, and that really works for me.

YAG: I think those are important questions for anyone who considers publishing to ask. Now tell us a bit about the end result: RAFE RYDER AND THE WELL OF WISDOM!
LLR: RAFE RYDER AND THE WELL OF WISDOM is a secular middle grade fantasy. The following is a blurby bit to explain the overall story:

Twelve-year-old Rafe Ryder’s year couldn’t get worse. His parents have shipped him off to live with his grandmother and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his sick father again. Arriving in Maine, Rafe plots his return to England, but the possibility of a homecoming slips further from his grasp when an adventure in a corn maze at his new school goes wrong, and he and twelve of his schoolmates are mysteriously transported to Mystfira—a realm of angels, leprechauns, gargoyles and fairies—and home to an elite angelic training school.

Forced to co-exist with student angels and surrounded by more danger than he ever could have imagined, Rafe searches for a way home. But when he discovers unlikely friendships with angels, fairies, and leprechauns, Rafe realizes Mystfira has it charms—even if it rains fire and hosts the universe’s deadliest creatures. Where else could he attend school in a palace, catch a fairy xant, and watch angels prove themselves in Adomis trials?

If only he and his friends hadn’t blundered upon a sinister underworld plot to gain control of the heavens and Earth. Now, like it or not, if Rafe wants to go home, he’ll have to find a way to save it first.

Blurby bit aside, the idea for Rafe Ryder came to me in 2008 when my own son came home for a quick weekend visit and I realized he was extremely ill. I refused to let him return to his home in NYC until we got him checked out at the ER. (Advice for momma bears everywhere: Always follow your maternal intuition!) Long story, short. My son needed two artificial heart valves and a permanent pacemaker inserted at age 24 ... but he was alive! It’s hard not to think about angels when you’re sitting by your sick child’s bed running IV antibiotics round the clock.

Inspired by a gift my son had given me for my birthday a few months earlier—a wooden angel with the words “Believe in Miracles” splashed across its front—and in an effort to remain calm, strong and somewhat sane for him, I began to tell myself a story as I sat next to his bedside… the story of Rafe Ryder.

YAG: That’s an amazing story, and I’m glad it had a happy ending! Now give us some insight into your writing process—walk us through a day in your writing life. Do you write every day? Do you have any particular rituals?

LLR: There has been no such thing as a typical day of writing since last February when we started a kitchen renovation in our house. (HGTV makes these things look so simple and easy! I assure you, they are not!) When the carpenter is here I can’t even think, let alone string words together on the page. After dinner, things begin to quiet down, and I’m able to write.

Yes, I do write every day. I keep notebooks everywhere, even in the car, so I can jot ideas down. (Yes, people! Sometimes how YOU ACT and what YOU SAY incites an author I say incite? I meant inspires an author. Use caution when you befriend us. Muhaahaahaaa!)

Over the last few months, I have taken to writing into the wee hours of the morning. It’s quiet and peaceful before the world wakes up, a perfect time to get some writing accomplished with no interruptions. The closest thing I have to a writing ritual is my habit of listening to classical music for ten minutes before I begin writing. It clears the cobwebs and inspires ideas. (At least, for me. I know it puts some people to sleep. Ha!)

YAG: What’s been the most memorable/amazing/awesome thing that’s happened to you in your writing career? (And if you feel like telling us, what’s been the worst thing?)

LLR: The most amazing thing that has happened in my writing career is having dinner with the author of Charlotte’s Web, the spectacular E. B. White! As a young nurse, he told me not to give up on my writing even though, at that point in my life, I hadn’t made it my career. I won’t bore you with details now, but I did write about it on my blog.

The second best thing is developing friendships with other writers. We’re all in this together. I love the camaraderie and general shenanigans of the writing community! (The YA guy is one of my favorites!)

 Other than the rejections I experienced from the six agents in the traditional publishing world (I’m still waiting for the other six to get back to me, but I’m not holding my breath), I can’t think of a “worst experience,” and for that, I’m grateful!

YAG: Well, that’s a good thing—I was just reading a horror story recently about someone whose publisher lost her manuscript! Anyway, do you have any tips for writers just starting out?

LLR: My advice for writers just starting out is twofold. Read, read, read, read (and read some more!), and when you are done reading, apply the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair and write every day. Write “rough.” It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get your ideas on the paper. You can go back and tweak to your heart’s content when you find yourself in an editing mood.

YAG: Thanks so much for taking the time to visit YA Guy! (And for your very nice comments about YA Guy himself!) Readers, here’s more information about L. L. Reynolds and where to find RAFE RYDER AND THE WELL OF WISDOM!

About the author: L. L. Reynolds is a registered nurse turned middle grade/young adult fantasy writer from Vermont with a husband, three children, two dogs and anything but a dull life!

A labor and delivery nurse for nearly twenty years, L. L. once had dinner with E. B. White, the author of Charlotte's Web, and it remains one of the highlights of her life thus far.

She loves tea, children, books, music, art, animals, and lemon meringue pie.

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