Tuesday, January 31, 2017

YA Guy Reveals... The FREEFALL Cover!

YA Guy is ecstatic to let the world see at last what I first saw a couple of months ago: the cover to my forthcoming deep-space adventure/romance FREEFALL! You can check out the reveal on Riveted, but you can also take a look at it right here:

I totally love this cover: the colors, the layout, the representation of the main characters, the outer space backdrop, the everything. I think the folks at Simon & Schuster did a tremendous job, and I hope you agree!

Here's the blurb for the book:

In the Upperworld, the privileged 1% are getting ready to abandon a devastated planet Earth. And Cam can’t wait to leave. After sleeping through a 1,000-year journey, he and his friends will have a pristine new planet to colonize. And no more worries about the Lowerworld and its 99% of rejects.

Then Cam sees a banned video feed of protesters in the Lowerworld who also want a chance at a new life. And he sees a girl with golden eyes who seems to be gazing straight though the feed directly at him. A girl he has to find. Sofie.

When Cam finds Sofie, she opens his eyes to the unfairness of what’s happening in their world, and Cam joins her cause for Lowerworld rights. He also falls hard for Sofie. But Sofie has her own battles to fight, and when it’s time to board the spaceships, Cam is alone.

Waking up 1,000 years in the future, Cam discovers that he and his shipmates are far off-course, trapped on an unknown and hostile planet. Who has sabotaged their ship? And does it have anything to do with Sofie, and the choices—and the enemies—he made in the past?

FREEFALL is due out on August 29, 2017. It's not yet available for pre-order, but you can add it to your Goodreads TBR list.

I'd love to hear what you think about the cover, so feel free to drop me a comment!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

YA Guy is... Done with Dystopian!

Industry insiders have been saying for years that dystopian is dead. From what YA Guy can tell, that's not really true.

But it should be.

It took me a while, but I've finally gotten tired of dystopian YA. There's just too darn much of it. And too darn much of it is too darn much alike.

It goes like this. There's a City. (And yes, everything in dystopian YA is Capitalized to make it seem more Portentous than it really Is.) This City is surrounded by a Wall. People are either trying to get Out of it (because it's oppressive) or get Into it (because it's oppressive, but it has Really Good Cake). A Teenager who's a Rebel in some fashion--s/he Hunts, or Reads, or is Not Like Other People--goes Over or Under or Through the Wall and Discovers the Horrific Truth about Reality. Then s/he does two things: s/he engages in a Love Triangle, and s/he starts a Revolution. Both of which will probably take Three Books to be resolved so the Publisher can make Lots of Money.

You know you've read this story before. It's The Hunger Games (or, if you want to go farther back, The Giver, which has the advantage of being a stand-alone). It's not a bad story at all: it's got action, romance, excitement, death, redemption. It's a story that's found its way, in whole or in part, into many other books that aren't strictly dystopian. It's simultaneously simple and powerful, and that's why it's so appealing. If you're a writer in any speculative genre, I bet you've used elements of it. I know I have.

But oh, gosh, in its pure form, I think it's time to call it quits.

Dystopian YA--unless I'm reading the wrong dystopian YA--has become too formulaic to carry on. It's become nothing but formula, with the only changeable parts being the characters' and the City's names. For me, at least, it doesn't interest anymore, and that's because, while I'm reading it, I can't help reading through it to the formula beneath. Formulas--or, if you want to be literary about it, tropes--aren't a bad thing in themselves. They're one of the major building blocks of literature, not to mention one of the major ways readers identify with particular stories. But when they ossify, when they become greater than the story they're supposed to serve, they're done.

There are many ways to overcome stale formulas, and as literature for adults demonstrates, these don't necessarily involve eliminating dystopian altogether. One could, for example, create dystopian parodies, works that use the formulas in order to poke fun at them. One could reinvent dystopian storylines by generating unique hybrids: dystopian comedy, or dystopian picaresque, or dystopian metafiction, or dystopian backstage drama. One could play against the dystopian formulas in unexpected ways, such that the City, for example, turns out to be genuinely, and not just apparently, utopian. There are plenty of approaches to reinvigorating dead or dying tropes. If you know of any YA books that do any of the above (or that revitalize dystopian in some other way), please let me know.

But if you want me to read the latest straight-up YA dystopian, I think I'll pass. I've climbed that Wall one too many times.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

YA Guy Celebrates... QUEEN OF CHAOS by Kat Ross!

One of YA Guy's favorite recent YA fantasy series, the Fourth Element trilogy by Kat Ross, wraps up today with the release of QUEEN OF CHAOS! If you've read the first two books--or even if you haven't--you should definitely check out this wildly imaginative, richly detailed historical fantasy. (And to make it easy on you to start reading the series, the first book, THE MIDNIGHT SEA, is available on Amazon for free.) Read below for more information about Kat and her books!

Persepolae has fallen.
Karnopolis has burned.

As the dark forces of the Undead sweep across what remains of the empire, Nazafareen must obey the summons of a demon queen to save Darius's father, Victor. Burdened with a power she doesn't understand and can barely control, Nazafareen embarks on a perilous journey through the shadowlands to the House-Behind-the-Veil. But what awaits her there is worse than she ever imagined…

A thousand leagues away, Tijah leads a group of children on a desperate mission to rescue the prisoners at Gorgon-e Gaz, the stronghold where the oldest daevas are kept. To get there, they must cross the Great Salt Plain, a parched ruin occupied by the armies of the night. A chance encounter adds a ghost from the past to their number. But will they arrive in time to avert a massacre?

And in the House-Behind-the-Veil, Balthazar and the Prophet Zarathustra discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. But is it enough to salvage the necromancer's bloodstained soul and thwart his mistress's plans?

As a final showdown looms between Alexander the Great and Queen Neblis, the truth of the daevas' origins is revealed and three worlds collide in this thrilling conclusion to the Fourth Element series.

Book #2, Blood of the Prophet: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H0CP910
Book #3, Queen of Chaos: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXSOQUX

About the author:

Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She's the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day, the Fourth Element fantasy series (The Midnight Sea, Blood of the Prophet, and Queen of Chaos), and the new Dominion Mysteries. She loves myths, monsters, and doomsday scenarios. For more information about Kat's books, come visit her at katrossbooks.com or check out her Amazon author page. You can also find her hanging around in these places:

To celebrate her launch, Kat’s giving away 10 ebooks of The Daemoniac!

It's the summer of 1888 and a bizarre killer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. But are the murders a case of black magic--or simple blackmail? From the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin to the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell follows a twisted trail of lies, treachery and madness that might end much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

YA Guy Talks about... Diversity in YA Literature!

YA Guy originally planned this post for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but then I decided to celebrate the holiday with my family instead of blogging. So….

The movement for diversity in YA literature is going strong, with readers, authors, and publishers searching for stories that feature characters representing various racial and ethnic groups, sexual identities, physical and mental abilities, and more. That’s great, and YA Guy hopes the movement continues to grow.

Lots of questions remain contested, however. Can writers from one racial/ethnic/other group write about (or from the perspective of) characters from another group? Should books that play into stereotypes (about Muslims, for example) be published—and when they are, should they be protested? What about when reviewers, as in the recent scandal involving VOYA magazine, reinforce stereotypes about non-dominant groups? Must all YA books strive for diversity?

I was thinking about this when I read a Kirkus review of S. L. Duncan’s latest book in the Gabriel Adam series, a YA fantasy trilogy about teens who discover they’re reincarnated angels, just in time to save the world from demonic forces. The reviewer, clearly missing the fact that one of the teen archangels is Iranian and another African, sniped that the cast consists solely of characters who are “apparently white.” I found a similar misconception in a Kirkus review of my most recent novel, Scavenger of Souls; writing of the biracial character Mercy, the reviewer opined that Mercy is “notable for her dark skin in an otherwise predominantly white cast.” Clearly, this reviewer missed the fact that Mercy’s mother is African, and her brother and sister biracial; that the character Wali is described as bronze-skinned and curly-haired; that the character Soon has an Asian name; that the character Nekane has a Hispanic name; and so on. I was striving for a multiracial, multiethnic cast in this novel, my reasoning being that, after the wars that decimated much of the human population, the few who survived would likely represent a spectrum of races, ethnicities, and nationalities. I had hoped that readers would pick up on this, but this reviewer, at least, did not.

The issue here, clearly, goes beyond careless reviewing (which, to be fair, is a function of how many YA books industry reviewers have to keep up with). Readers schooled in dominant traditions and aesthetics often assume that all characters are white, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc. unless these characters are overtly “marked” otherwise. But if a character's "difference" isn't essential to the story, should such characters be so marked? If the writer doesn’t call attention to the skin color of white characters, should the writer invariably do so in the case of nonwhite characters? I wrestled with this question in the case of Scavenger of Souls, and eventually I decided that in Mercy’s case, I needed to “flag” her racial ancestry so that readers wouldn’t miss the fact that she and my protagonist, the blond-haired and blue-eyed Querry Genn, form an interracial team. In other instances, though, I left it to readers to draw their own conclusions. In my forthcoming novel Freefall, a science fiction story with a multinational cast including a central relationship between a white teen from the industrial West and an Asian teen from the developing world, I’m reasonably confident that no one will mistake the characters’ racial or cultural backgrounds. But readers were confounded—and in some cases outraged—to discover that Rue from The Hunger Games is black, so you never know.

I personally believe that writers have a responsibility to present the world in its actual diversity. But I also believe there’s an equal responsibility on the side of readers, who have to be willing to read against preconceptions and discover the diversity in the author’s invented world. Working together, authors and readers can help move us toward an acceptance of difference. I get the feeling we’re going to need this more and more in the coming years.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

YA Guy Reviews... The Revelation Saga by S. L. Duncan!

You’d think that, as YA Guy, I could predict which YA books are going to be big hits and which aren’t.

You’d be wrong.

Other than the obvious (books by well-known authors and/or those with enormous marketing budgets behind them), I’m often as puzzled as anyone by the fate of a particular YA book. Some that I think are mediocre or downright bad become bestsellers, while others that I think are fantastic gain only a modest readership. It’s just the nature of the game, I guess; different readers react differently to different books, and even the marketing folks in the publishing world don’t always know what’s going to take off and what isn’t.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the Revelation Saga by S. L. Duncan, a contemporary fantasy trilogy about teens who discover that they’re reincarnated archangels, returned to the mortal realm just in time to battle the forces of darkness for the fate of the cosmos. I’ve read the first two books—The Revelation of Gabriel Adam (2014), in which the title character discovers his ancestry and joins the fight against the demonic hordes, and The Salvation of Gabriel Adam (2015), in which the teen archangels face an even more serious threat in the form of the demon Lilith—and I thought they were both terrific. But they’re not gaining the wide readership I believe they deserve.

There are lots of books out there about teen angels, most of them in the paranormal romance or urban fantasy subgenres, and maybe the Revelation Saga got lost in the shuffle. But in my view, Duncan’s books are superior to most of their competitors for at least two reasons:

First, Duncan is well versed in a variety of topics—biblical and apocryphal texts, early Church history, contemporary Vatican politics, the geography of the Holy Lands—that enable him to develop a convincing cosmology. There’s nothing preachy or pedantic about the presentation of this material—it’s all done in the service of story, so, for example, there are no long-winded history lessons dropped into the middle of the action—but the background of authenticity makes the Gabriel Adams books seem less like pure fantasy than like a plausible history of the End Times.

Second, Duncan isn’t afraid to delve into material that’s disturbing or, in some cases, truly horrifying. In the second book, for example, Gabe is traumatized by the violence he witnessed (and inflicted) in the first book, and he's also suffering a slow, painful physical decline. In this respect, Duncan's books remind me of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, which similarly refuses to shrink from the hideous realities of war, even if the war itself is fantasized.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I advise you to run out and grab the first book in the Revelation Saga. (I recently ordered the concluding book, The Evolution of Gabriel Adam.) Together, maybe we can give Duncan's compelling books the recognition they deserve.