Saturday, November 24, 2018

YA Guy Lists... His 2018 Top Ten!

Here's the bad news: YA Guy didn't read much this year. As discussed in a previous post, I took a bit of a hiatus from reading in 2018, my hope being that this would free up time for my own writing.

Here's the good news: it worked. I produced two novels in 2018 (both of them already published), plus a collection of short stories (also published). Two additional novels are in the final stages of revision, and should be published next year. So that's all very exciting for me personally.

And here's the even better news: I didn't stop reading entirely during 2018. I read what I needed to for the classes I taught, as well as reading a few novels that were recommended to me (including Nabokov's truly bizarre Pale Fire, recommended by, of all people, my fifteen-year-old son). I also read some YA novels--nowhere near the fifty or so I've been reading each of the past few years, but enough to produce a Top 10 List.

And so, without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

S. A. Bodeen, THE TOMB. If you've read any of Bodeen's previous novels--including her acclaimed THE COMPOUND--you know she likes to play with your mind. THE TOMB does that in a big way, and in the service of a gripping sci-fi narrative.

Parker Peevyhouse, THE ECHO ROOM. Peevyhouse impressed me a couple of years ago with her debut WHERE FUTURES END, a collection of linked short stories that fused magic with dystopian science fiction. THE ECHO ROOM is even better, a literary Escape Room with a twist you'll never see coming, even when you're sure you see it coming.

Fonda Lee, CROSS FIRE. This sequel to EXO, about an alien colonization of Earth and the human factions that develop to contest (as well as support) it, is my favorite novel so far by my favorite YA science fiction writer. If you don't read this two-part series, you're missing something truly exceptional.

Lisa Maxwell, THE DEVIL'S THIEF. Every bit as good as its predecessor THE LAST MAGICIAN, this complexly plotted, densely peopled, mind-bending historical fantasy proves beyond a doubt that Maxwell is one of the most talented and inventive YA writers of this or any time.

Eliot Schrefer, ORPHANED. The concluding book in Schrefer's "Ape Quartet," each of which focuses on a young person's relationship with one of the four great apes--bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas--this book imagines the meeting of prehistoric gorillas and humans due to a changing volcanic landscape. It's told from the gorilla MC's point of view, and it's a satisfying conclusion to one of the best YA series I've ever read.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, OBSIDIO. I'll admit that the graphic pyrotechnics of this third book in the Illuminae series are nowhere near as excitingly radical as they were in the first book, and the endless teen-snarky emails are a bit wearying. But this is still a solid ending to a revolutionary series that suggested all kinds of new directions for YA science fiction.

Erica Cameron, WAR OF STORMS. The third installment in Cameron's epic fantasy The Ryogan Chronicles, this book wraps up a story and a world so immersive, so fully realized, you'll believe you're actually there. Read the books in order to get the full experience, starting with ISLAND OF EXILES and then SEA OF STRANGERS.

Thomas Sweterlitsch, THE GONE WORLD. This is the one book on the list that isn't YA, but I couldn't resist, because any book by Pittsburgh author Sweterlitsch is a major event. His first novel, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, is set in large part in a virtual Pittsburgh that's all that remains after the real city is destroyed in a terrorist nuclear attack; THE GONE WORLD takes place in a variety of (possible) futures where a military investigator travels to try to unravel a shocking crime from the present. Both books are wildly imaginative, beautifully written, and mind-bendingly original works of science fiction.

Joshua David Bellin, ECOSYSTEM and THE DEVOURING LAND. My own books, the first two in a three-part series, tell the story of a future Earth in which the physical environment has developed into a sentient, and predatory, being. I decided to self-publish the series so I could realize a vision I've had for many years, and I couldn't be happier with the results. Look for the final book in the trilogy, titled HOUSE OF EARTH, HOUSE OF STONE, in early 2019.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

YA Guy Hosts... Natasha Garrett, author of MOTHERLANDS!

YA Guy is super excited to introduce my friend and colleague--and fellow writer--Natasha Garrett, whose debut collection of essays, MOTHERLANDS, is available now! A book that explores the modern migrant experience, MOTHERLANDS is particularly timely in today's social and political climate. Natasha talks openly about her experience as a writer in the guest post below, and then you can find out more about (and order a copy of) MOTHERLANDS! 


I am curious about other authors’ writing spaces and habits the way some people are interested in celebrity homes. Some writers, like Hemingway and Dickens, wrote while standing; in contrast, Truman Capote wrote while lying on his couch. Mark Twain’s office was painted mauvish-pink and contained a pool table. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the morning, after waking up and stripping naked. I enjoy learning these tidbits and browsing through photos of writers’ offices, because I am being reminded of the behind-the-scenes work that happens before a book is finished, and the various routines and locations that support one’s writing life. I am also a bit envious of the writers, famous and not-so-famous, who allow themselves the time and space to write with regularity.

In my recent collection of personal essays, Motherlands, I write about my discomfort with calling myself a writer, because in many ways, I feel like an outsider to writing. I have a full-time job that doesn’t require literary skills, a busy family life and a great social circle. My approach to writing lacks the routine and the structure of many of my favorite writers: I don’t set aside a time to write. I don’t have a designated workspace in my house for writing—no pretty desk with a view; actually, no desk at all. I don’t belong to a writer’s group. I have never attended a writing workshop. I write in English, my second language. Perhaps not labeling myself a writer is a defense mechanism: I am free of all the pressure, expectations, anticipation, and disappointment that real writers seem to experience. It may be a way of creatively avoiding the responsibility of regular writing while claiming all the pleasure from it.

Desk or no desk, writing and publishing essays, poetry, and translations inevitably makes me a writer. I don’t have a writing schedule, but I do have a method; otherwise, nothing will ever be done. I am not a freewriting-type of person, though I swear I have tried to be. Once I get an idea for an essay, I let it live in my head for a while. I work on it in my mind as I am doing something else, like driving or taking a walk. Once I know what the opening paragraph or two will look like, I start writing. The act of writing typically generates more ideas, and I slowly but steadily unspool the essay. Since the piece lives in me for quite some time before it sees the light of day, my first draft is not that removed from my final draft. I let it sit for a few days, and I go back to it for revisions. I often ask a trusted friend (a “real” writer) to read it before I deem it finished and ready for submission.

Not being “only” a writer gives me a wider field of inspiration to draw from. As a Macedonian living in the US, an international student advisor, a mother to a bilingual child, a wife, a translator, a traveler, an avid reader, and an occasional and somewhat hesitant writer, I draw from a range of personal and professional experiences--which are often in conversation with one another—when I write personal essays like the ones in Motherlands. This collection in particular benefits from the weaving of the professional, personal and literary, because it tackles topics that are naturally multidisciplinary, such as cross-cultural living (cooking, gardening), language, identity, and education.

I have two writing projects percolating at the moment—an idea for a novel (part travelogue, part love story) and a poetry collection. I’ll let them live in my head for a bit longer, but eventually, I will have to sit down and start writing, perhaps at my own desk this time.

About MOTHERLANDS: In this collection of personal essays, Natasha Garrett explores various facets of the modern migration experience. Weaving academic and literary sources, as well as personal and professional experiences, Garrett uses transnationalism as a springboard for discussing topics such as home, motherhood, identity, bilingualism, family, education, and travel. The essays in Motherlands offer a well-researched, witty and heartfelt look into migration both as a global phenomenon and as a deeply intimate experience.


About Natasha: Natasha was born and raised in Macedonia and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she serves as a Director of International Student Services at La Roche College. Her poetry, personal essays, and translations have appeared in Transnational Literature, Gravel, Allegro Poetry Magazine, Arts and Letters, and other publications. She is the editor of Macedonia 2013: 100 Years After the Treaty of Bucharest. She obtained her PhD in Education at the University of Pittsburgh, and her Master’s in English Literature from Duquesne University.

To find out more about Natasha's books and the events where you can meet her in person, visit her website:

And if you're in Pittsburgh, you can come see Natasha speak at the Squirrel Hill Library next week: