Tuesday, May 30, 2017

YA Guy Gives Away... FREEFALL ARCs!

Just a very brief post to let you know that YA Guy (i.e., me) is giving away three signed ARCs of my forthcoming YA science fiction novel FREEFALL! Head on over to Goodreads to enter. The giveaway runs from now until June 30, so don't miss it!

Wow, I think that's my first post ever where the picture is bigger than the text.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

YA Guy Answers Questions... from Students!

One of YA Guy's favorite things about writing for young people is that I get to visit schools. The energy and enthusiasm students show are truly amazing--and the questions they ask about my novels and the writing process are great. To give you a sample of what I mean, here are some questions that I received from eighth grade students at a recent school visit, along with my answers.

Michael: Did you ever test your writing on your own children?

Me: As a matter of fact, yes! My daughter was my first reader for SURVIVAL COLONY 9 when she was twelve years old (she's now eighteen and about to go to college). I'd written a single chapter and wanted to see if it was any good, so I asked her to look it over. Fortunately, she gave it the thumbs up!

Conner: What were some of the main changes you made in the draft of SURVIVAL COLONY 9?

Me: One of the biggest changes was that I removed a chapter that included a lot of backstory about the world, the wars, the coming of the Skaldi, and so on. It was too much information all at once, and it slowed down the story. So I took tiny parts of it and included them in the chapter where Querry and Korah talk by the pool, and I sprinkled some other parts throughout the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS. If, as I'm currently planning, I publish a prequel, some of the information will find its way in there too!

Brittany: Were any of the characters inspired by real people?

Me: Most of them were, in one way or another. But in particular, I think the character of Laman was inspired by my own father, who's a great guy but (as is sometimes the case with fathers and sons) who sometimes rubs me the wrong way. The scene in which Querry and Laman play catch was definitely modeled on my own life--because the one thing my dad and I can always talk about without risking an argument is baseball.

Alex: Is writing your full-time job?

Me: I wish! Like many writers--maybe most writers--I have a full-time job that pays the bills, and then I write whenever I can. Balancing the two can be difficult, because writing takes so much time. But luckily, I'm a teacher, so I do get summers off!

Abbey: What's the favorite book that you've written?

Me: I'm tempted to say "all of them," but the reality is, one of the books I really, really love is also one that will probably never be published. It's a strange, quirky, satirical science fiction novel that is so personal, I can't see it finding a mass audience. It's what writers sometimes call "the book of my heart," the book I really wanted to write. But as a writer, one has to accept that a book like that won't always be published.

Gaven: Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic movies?

Me: How could you tell? Yes, I love the Terminator series, the X-Men movie Days of Future Past, and a number of other similar stories. Someone told me when SURVIVAL COLONY 9 came out that it was somewhat similar to The Walking Dead, so I watched the first episode of that series. But alas, I've never been a fan of zombie movies.

Austin: How did it feel to create a novel?

Me: This is a sort of dorky answer, but in all honesty, it felt similar to creating a child. I remember how it felt to hold my daughter for the first time, and it was similar to holding my own novel for the first time. (Holding my daughter was better, though. I have to say that or she'll kill me, but it's really true!)

Rocco: Did you ever try to publish any of your novels from the past?

Me: That's an interesting question. Like most writers, I've written more books than I've published, including a fantasy novel I wrote when I was sixteen. These days, with self-publishing, I could easily put those novels out there. But I feel as if that would be a mistake, because there's a reason most of them aren't published: they're not very good. They were the novels that helped me develop my skills to the point where I could write publishable novels, so it's probably better they remain in my closet or on my hard drive!

Lindsey: Is there a particular character you relate to?

Me: I definitely relate to my narrator, because he's the most me: a guy who tries to do the right thing but sometimes fails and sometimes doubts himself. But I also relate to Aleka, the character I'd most like to be. I find her really admirable, because she has a very strong sense of justice that I wish I could live up to in my own life.

Christian: How did you handle criticism from your editor?

Me: Another great question. Like all people, I feel bad when I get criticized, when someone doesn't like my book, when I get a negative review, and so on. But as a writer, you have to learn to deal with criticism--which doesn't mean ignoring it, but putting it to productive use. My editor always has critical comments to make about my manuscripts, and at first they sting a little. But then I take a step back, think about what she's saying, and do my best to learn from her criticism and make the manuscript as good as I can.

Hannah: With all the disappointments in a writer's life, what gives you the strength to go on?

Me: I think the answer to that is simply that I've wanted to be a writer almost as long as I can remember. If I'd given up, if I'd let disappointment stand in my way, I wouldn't have achieved my dream. So every time the going gets tough, I remind myself of why I'm doing this, and that helps me find my way.

Nadia: If you were living under the circumstances Querry lives under, what would you do?

Me: The reality is, I'd probably die. I'm not saying that facetiously; in order to make this book work, I had to take certain liberties with reality (such as the scarcity of water in Querry's world) that probably aren't actually survivable. But if it were possible to live under these conditions, I like to believe that, like Querry, I'd fight for the future, not only my own but that of others.

Jared: Did the ending of SURVIVAL COLONY 9 stay the same from draft to draft?

Me: Yes--but the middle changed a lot! That's usually how it is with me as a writer: I know where I want to go, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. I do a certain amount of planning, but for the most part, I enjoy being surprised by the twists and turns that occur during the act of writing.

Mike: Are there any of your characters that you dislike?

Me: I've definitely written unlikable characters, but that doesn't mean that I, the author, don't like them. Or maybe it would be better to say that I identify with them--I know what makes them tick, I get where they're coming from. I believe it's important for authors to know all their characters through and through, which often means recognizing qualities in them, even negative qualities, that are part of one's own make-up.

Madison: What's the most important struggle in SURVIVAL COLONY 9--the internal one or the external one?

Me: Wow, fascinating question. I tried to make Querry's internal struggle--to accept himself and grow into a confident leader--connect with his external struggle--to defeat the Skaldi. That's not to say he needed to defeat them to prove himself. It's to say he needed to learn to take risks, to get outside himself and act for the good of others, and to overcome his own insecurities and doubts. The Skaldi, as creatures that steal identity, became important antagonists in Querry's quest to discover who he is.

Santiago: Is there anything you'd tell your younger writing self?

Me: I'd tell him to calm down, to take his time, to not worry so much about the future. When I was a teenage writer, I was so desperate to be published I don't think I enjoyed the journey as much as I should have. I know it's relatively easy for me to give this advice now, since the journey did end in publication. But even if it hadn't, I would have wanted the younger me to be less hard on himself and to feel better about who he was, without worrying so much about who he wanted to be.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

YA Guy Interviews... Sabrina Fedel, author of LEAVING KENT STATE!

It's a little known fact that one of YA Guy's first novels was written when I was a college student back in the 80s. The tale of a college campus that's taken over by a revolutionary cabal, it was going nowhere until I decided to do some research into an actual college campus that was subjected to military rule. My research naturally led me to the shootings that took place on the Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, forty-seven years ago today.

In my book, the historical research formed only the lightest thread in an otherwise boisterously absurd comic novel. But I've been fascinated by the history of Kent State ever since. And that's why I was so excited to discover Sabrina Fedel's debut LEAVING KENT STATE, a YA historical novel set in Kent, Ohio in the days before and during the on-campus massacre. I've reviewed this amazing novel here, and I was fortunate enough to have Sabrina visit the blog to talk about her book, her research, and her current works-in-progress.

YA Guy: Hi, Sabrina, and welcome to the blog! As someone who's intrigued by the history of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, I was wondering how you came up with the idea for LEAVING KENT STATE?

SF: The idea for LEAVING KENT STATE came to me while watching television (we can’t always be reading!) and ironing. There was a documentary-style program on about the shooting, and it struck me that it was really a story about young people clashing against their world order. I knew I wanted to write about it. I researched and found that there were almost no books that even mentioned the incident, and no YA stories. Because many YA editors don’t want to see a protagonist over 18, I made my protagonist a high school senior. It wasn’t difficult for me to imagine the rest of Rachel's story, as I was a girl who had to go to the university where my dad taught, even though I didn’t want to, just like her.

YAG: What was your research process for this novel? Did you uncover any unusual or out-of-the-way sources? What was the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered?

SF: To research this story, I started with non-fiction books about the shootings. When I felt like I had a beginning, I made trips to Kent. I studied maps and drove around looking for the neighborhood (and house!) that Rachel would have lived in. I saw where she went to school, where the Twin Lakes were, Main Street, and the campus of KSU. I dove into the archives there, reading the local paper for every day between October 1969, when my story starts, until the end of May, 1970. Every year on May 4th, KSU hosts a memorial commemoration, and I attended a number of those where I spoke to people who worked in the archives or who had been there that day. I went to the local historical society and talked with people there, as well.

One of the neatest things, to me, is that KSU has an online oral history project about that day. Anyone who wanted to come forward and describe what happened to them that day could participate. I found these stories really fascinating and got a lot of contextual information that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience. I also went online to research speeches by President Nixon, and I read autobiographies and nonfiction books about Vietnam. Finally, I interviewed a Vietnam veteran who very generously helped me understand what it was like for him during his service and then coming home.

The thing that surprised me the most was that many people felt that the students deserved what happened to them. The vitriol against the students, even sometimes by their own parents, was horrific. One woman told me that her father was among those who said that the Guard should have shot them all. When she pointed out that she would have been killed if they had, her father told her it was what she deserved. That was really shocking to me. Another thing that surprised me was that during law school, I had lived VERY near to the grave of shooting victim Allison Krause. I learned that from the Vietnam veteran whom I interviewed, who had been a history teacher and had studied the shootings. When he took me to her grave, I thought it was very ironic that I had lived practically across the street from her little Jewish cemetery for a year and never knew it was even there.

YAG: That's an impressive amount of research, and it really shows in your book. At the same time, one of the things I love about LEAVING KENT STATE is that you never let the historical detail overwhelm the story. How did you make sure that didn't happen?

SF: Thanks! I tried to make sure that every detail had a purpose to the story so that it would feel organic. There were things Rachel had to explain, and sometimes I relied on the fact that her family was a bunch of avid newspaper readers to make that happen, or other times I would have it happen in conversations. I tried to keep to a minimum the times that Rachel explained things to the reader. I also tried to pick details that were special to that era, that spoke of it. I did a LOT of research into guitar and car models, the Billboard top forty lists, and double-checked when things that I believed were iconic to the 1970s happened. Sometimes I was surprised to find that things I associated with the period were actually popular later (like the cartoon character Ziggy, who didn’t materialize until after my story ended).

YAG: You mentioned earlier that when you first formulated the idea for LEAVING KENT STATE, you had to develop a high school-age protagonist so it would fit into the YA genre. What do you like most about writing for young people?

SF: I love writing for young people because teens who are readers want to know about other people and cultures. They are eagerly looking to find out both what separates them from others and what is similar. They want to know what it would be like “if.” I’m always fascinated by the way people live and the choices they make, so I think in that way I am a perpetual teen. I want to know the "why" behind things, and so do teenagers.

YAG: Based on that description, I think YA Guy's a perpetual teen, too! So what's the next project you're working on?

SF: I recently completed a contemporary realism novel about a hockey playing girl who loses her mother and runs away to Venice. It’s all about grieving and the meaning of family. I am shopping that now while I work on my next project, which is also a contemporary realism novel that is kind of The Breakfast Club at a psychiatric hospital. This one is in verse, so we’ll see. I haven’t written in verse before. But so far, I am happy with it.

YAG: I can't wait to read those books when they come out. Thanks again for visiting, and best of luck with your new projects!

SF: Thanks so much for having me visit!

Readers, if you want to learn more about Sabrina and her books, here's where to go!

About the author: Sabrina Fedel’s novel, Leaving Kent State, released in 2016 from Harvard Square Editions. Her young adult short story, "Honor’s Justice," has been nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize, a 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award, and a Sundress Publications Best of the Net '16 award. Sabrina teaches English Literature at Robert Morris University as an adjunct faculty member, and is a 2014 graduate of Lesley University's MFA in Creative Writing program, with a concentration in Writing for Young People. Her poetry and essays have been published in various print and online journals. You can find out more about Sabrina at www.sabrinafedel.com, or follow her on twitter @writeawhile. She also can be found hanging out on Instagram, Facebook, and occasionally tumblr.

To buy LEAVING KENT STATE: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941861245

Sabrina's Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15403413.Sabrina_Fedel