2014-04-17

[Author Guest Post] Steven dos Santos on The Torch Keeper series


Yesterday I reviewed The Sowing (the second book in my favorite YA GLBT dystopian series), and today I have a guest post for you from Steven dos Santosauthor of The Torch Keeper series. I hope you enjoy it!

It seems like only yesterday that I was preparing to launch book 1 of The Torch Keeper series, THE CULLING, which chronicles the tale of our hero, 16 year old Lucian “Lucky” Spark. Lucky lives with his 4 year old brother in a post-apocalyptic world where the tyrannical regime known as the Establishment, drafts recruits, and forces them to undergo trials, where the price of failure means they are compelled to choose between the lives of their loved ones, who will suffer brutal/gruesome deaths.

Yeah, I know it sounds twisted. But I was originally going to have the recruits have to choose and even worse, more unimaginable fate: whether or not to room with either Myley Cyrus or Justin Bieber for a year, but that was just too horrific to put on the page.

So what’s been happening in the past year since THE CULLING’s release? Most recently, this past January I received an honor that made the manic, rollercoaster ride toward the goal of publication worth every single second. THE CULLING was named a Top Ten Selection of The American Library Association’s Rainbow List, which presents an annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content that are recommended for people from birth through eighteen years of age.

I can’t express how rewarding this is for me, especially after all the challenges I had trying to get a genre book with gay protagonists published by a mainstream press. (You can read all the gory details of that journey here)

In addition to the Rainbow List honor, it’s been great to receive tweets and social media messages from readers all over the globe telling me how much they enjoyed the book and how they can’t wait for the next one. That’s been a real eye-opening experience for me because you spend so much time by yourself when writing a book (unless you count the other voices in your head which can get quite demanding at times – SHUT UP!) that it’s surreal that other people are actually reading your words and, in some cases, commenting on being moved emotionally to the point of tears. I actually made someone cry, without ever having to open my mouth for a change!

An extension of this feeling was when I discovered that a website called Chaos Reads had actually started a fan forum for the Torch Keeper series where they discuss my characters, plots, hopes for future installments, and the various “ships” (I think we have Spycho and Cassian). It’s been the first time where I discovered that people were talking behind my back that I was actually pleased.

Interacting with the readers has proven to be one of the most rewarding aspects of writing, especially with LGBTQ teens that tell me how much they appreciate seeing themselves represented in Young Adult genre fiction. This message I received from a high school student was particularly touching:
Thanks for writing a great book and I hope it receives all of the attention it deserves. I know some people won't pick up the book because it has gay characters. I try to plead with them because it is a great book. Love is love to me and everyone should be accepted for what they are and that's the great thing about your book. Right now I’m struggling with my own sexuality, not really struggling because I know I am gay but my mother doesn't accept them. You have inspired me though to try to come out. You have relieved some of the pressure. Thank you.

And on those days when I am feeling particularly frustrated or down, that message is a magical reminder of why I do what I do.

So let’s talk about THE SOWING! I had never written a sequel before in my life and when I set about drafting THE SOWING I was faced with a unique set of challenges. After all, the story of THE CULLING was very intense, full of action, betrayal, tension and even a little romance. How was I ever going to equal or top that?

Now we all know sequels are a mixed bag. Not every sequel is a Godfather Part II or an Empire Strikes Back. All too often you get an Exorcist II: The Heretic, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood.

Yep. Number twos are quite often literally Number Twos.

When I started writing THE SOWING, I tried my best to make sure it didn’t fall into the latter category.
Without giving away too many spoilers, THE SOWING picks up a year later, where our hero, Lucian Spark has now been recruited into the ranks of the evil Establishment and has become a vigilante, working to destroy the corrupt government from within through acts of sabotage. Even though his identity is unknown, his acts have been labeled as the works of a terrorist.

The losses Lucian suffered in THE CULLING have made him rough around the edges, a tad cynical, and determined to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him.

When Lucian becomes involved in a plot to assassinate members of The Establishment’s hierarchy, he’s thrust into the war between the resistance and the government, where the lines between friends and enemies are blurred. His only chance for survival lies in facing the secrets of The Sowing, a mystery rooted in the ashes of the apocalyptic past that threatens to destroy Lucian’s last hope for the future.

This time, there are no choices.

In addition to the return of Lucian Spark and his twisted antagonist, the deliciously evil Cassius Thorn, THE SOWING  introduces new characters because, let’s face it, there weren’t too many characters that survived THE CULLING!

Because of this, I was also able to expand the LGBTQ spectrum of characters by including a new bisexual male character, and a couple of lesbian characters. I hope readers enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them.

In addition to new characters, THE SOWING gives readers a deeper glimpse into the society established in THE CULLING, and explores how this post-apocalyptic world came to be, while at the same time ramping up the stakes in the war for control of the remnants of humanity.

And oh yes. The Fleshers are back!
2014-04-16

The Torch Keeper is Back! - The Sowing by Steven dos Santos

The Culling by Steven dos Santos was the most violent as well as the most unputdownable dystopian I have read since Battle Royale (yep, it was even better than The Hunger Games, in my opinion) so you can imagine how eagerly I was waiting for its sequel. (Especially because the point where the first books ends is rather... cliffy).

I've read The Sowing as soon as I got it, and now I'm here to tell y'all that it did not disappoint. It's just as gripping and brutal as the first installment was. Maybe more... If you have read The Culling, you might be wondering how much more brutal and gory things can get? Well, apparently a lot... dos Santos definitely amped up the level of butchery by a few notches. No one is safe in The Sowing, so fair warning, don't get attached to any of the new characters too much.

For some reason (probably because they are morbidly entertaining as well as addicting like crack), I like reading about survival games (and am also a fan of animes like Btooom!, Deadman Wonderland or Mirai Nikki ) so a YA series that is both GLBT and has a plot surrounding a cruel survival game is a real treat for me. Was a bit worried that The Sowing would be a sort of repeat of book one (kinda like how Catching Fire was...) but dos Santos has to have a twisted mind because what he came up with is just. off. the. charts.

The Trials (one especially) this time actually reminded me a bit of the tasks in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (or how they might have turned out if it was written by someone like Stephen King instead of JK Rowling), which I didn't mind, but they also felt somehow rushed. There is almost no down time, the increasingly deadly games are just keep coming, and the speed people are dying takes away almost all of the emotional impact of the deaths. Or I just became immune to the horrors... 

A trope we all hate, or pretend to hate, also rears its head here. For me it depends on how I feel toward the character. This time it was a character I loved, so I was mostly just happy. But while I was right about him, dos Santos almost tricked me... and some parts really pulled on my already overwrought heartstrings.

Lucian "Lucky" Spark. I tend to like male main characters more and Lucian is one of my favorites. He really lives up to the name Torch Keeper and is not just a symbol *cough*Mockingjay*cough* but someone who is actively fighting to bring down the Establishment. And his fight is not as easy one...
It was all so much easier when I shut off my emotions and became Lucian Spark, Imposer trainee, the number one on the Establishment's Most Wanted list. But I was a fool to think I could hide behind that persona for too long. No matter how hard you try, how much you delude yourself, you can never escape who you truly are.
The thing is, I'm not sure just who I'm anymore.

The answer is definitely yes. I know dystopian is not hot anymore, but I'm planning to follow this series until the very (happy?) end.

2014-04-15

[Author Guest Post] No Longer the Last Taboo: Intersex Characters in YA Fiction by Laura Lam


 Today I'd like to welcome Laura Lamauthor of the Pantomime series (my new favorite YA fantasy series), who is here to talk about intersex characters is YA fiction. Enjoy~

No Longer the Last Taboo: Intersex Characters in YA Fiction

When I was writing Pantomime back in 2009-2011, I was terrified it’d never find a home because it had an intersex character. There were a few books with intersex protagonists in adult fiction (Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, Annabel by Kathleen Winters, Ilario by Mary Gentle, the well-known The Left Hand ofDarkness by Ursula K. Le Guin), but I couldn’t find any in young adult at that time. I knew of at least a few GLBT books, but none with intersex characters. It seemed to somehow almost be the last taboo in YA fiction.

But I kept writing and hoped for the best. Now, a few years later, more books are coming out with intersex characters as the stars, and that’s wonderful to see.

Pantomime found a home in Strange Chemistry and came out in February 2013. I still didn’t really know of any other YA books with intersex main characters. A few months later, Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin was released, but as adult with potential crossover appeal as the titular Golden Boy, Max, is a teenager. I’ll be reading this title soon, as I’ve been wanting to for ages. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about it.

Blurb: Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and the perfect crush for the girls in his school. He’s even really nice to his little brother. Karen, Max’s mother, is determined to maintain the façade of effortless excellence she has constructed through the years, but now that the boys are getting older, she worries that the façade might soon begin to crumble. Adding to the tension, her husband Steve has chosen this moment to stand for election to Parliament. The spotlight of the media is about to encircle their lives.
The Walkers are hiding something, you see. Max is special. Max is different. Max is intersex. When an enigmatic childhood friend named Hunter steps out of his past and abuses his trust in the worst possible way, Max is forced to consider the nature of his well-kept secret. Why won’t his parents talk about it? What else are they hiding from Max about his condition and from each other? The deeper Max goes, the more questions emerge about where it all leaves him and what his future holds, especially now that he’s starting to fall head over heels for someone for the first time in his life. Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Will anyone ever want him—desire him—once they know? And the biggest one of all, the question he has to look inside himself to answer: Who is Max Walker, really?
Written by twenty-six-year-old rising star Abigail Tarttelin, Golden Boy is a novel you’ll read in one sitting but will never forget; at once a riveting tale of a family in crisis, a fascinating exploration of identity, and a coming-of-age story like no other.

Now, in 2014, more are appearing. Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman was released in Australia last year, I believe. I remember hearing about it and not being able to grab a copy in the UK. But it’ll be released soon in the UK through Curious Fox Books. I was sent a proof of this recently. And while I enjoyed some aspects of it, I had some reservations as well. Alex has mental conversations with the male and female parts of himself, but to the point where it seems to be split personality. If that’s the case, it’s something separate from his intersex state, in my opinion, and should have been investigated more in the text. At times I also found Alex’s behavior unlikeable, yet at the same time, I did feel for what she was going through – trying to find her own place in the world and lacking a proper support network. I’ll write a longer review of this book on my own blog closer to release, I think.

Blurb: What do you do when everybody says you’re someone you’re not?
Alex wants change. Massive change. More radical than you could imagine.

Her mother is not happy, in fact she’s imploding. Her dad walked out.
Alex has turned vegetarian, ditched one school, enrolled in another, thrown out her clothes. And created a new identity. An identity that changes her world.
And Alex—the other Alex—has a lot to say about it.

Alex As Well is a confronting and heartfelt story of adolescent experience—of questioning identity, discovering sexuality, navigating friendships and finding a place to belong. Alex is a strong, vulnerable, confident, shy and determined character, one you will never forget.
With the same tenderness and insight as YA stars such as John Green and David Levithan, Alyssa Brugman has crafted a knockout story about identity, sexuality and family that speaks effortlessly to a universal teen experience.

There’s also another book coming out next year through Balzer & Bray, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, which is pitched as Middlesex meets Mean Girls, and I’d be very curious to read it.  It looks like the protagonist of this one might have Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. 

Blurb: It's hard enough being a teenage girl without having to deal with a Y-chromosome.
Halfway through her senior year, track start Kristin Lattimer finds out that she’s intersex – neither girl nor boy, but something in between. When her best friend leaks the news to her high school, she’s forced to question the true definitions of loyalty, love, and what it really means to be a woman.

All of these titles are contemporary, however. In science fiction and fantasy, I still can’t find any other YA with intersex main characters. Above by Leah Bobet has a secondary intersex character, I believe, but I’ve not read that one (yet). I’m not sure why it hasn’t spread more to other genres. I’d love to see more intersex characters (protagonists, secondary characters – present somehow!) in all genres: science fiction and fantasy, romance, mystery, thriller. Just because a character is intersex doesn’t mean that the entire book is necessarily only about their intersex experience. They are people just like anyone else, of course, and they deserve to have adventures as well. 

Diversity in young adult is being discussed more than ever before, and publishers and readers alike are taking great strides to promote books that feature characters from all backgrounds, abilities, and sexualities. I’m hoping as more time passes, more intersex characters will appear and wave hello, letting readers get to know them.

 So perhaps pick up a book with an intersex character, and get to know Micah Grey, or Max, Alex, Kristin, and the characters still being written, waiting to come to life.
2014-04-14

[LGBT Month] Week 3: Link-up, giveaways and a poetry challenge

LGBT Month is hosted by Laura @ Laura Plus Books and Cayce @ Fighting Dreamer.  It runs throughout the month of April and it's here to celebrate LGBT+ readers, LGBT+ authors and of course LGBT+ books.

Hello, everyone! We are now (almost) halfway through LGBT Month! Woot! Is it just me or time really flies this month?

First off, Ren, JoBrin and Mariechen (because I'm totally counting your beautiful Ari&Dante fan art) - thank you for participating in last week's arts & crafts challenge. I'll be emailing you later in the week about your... reward ;) Let me know, if I missed an entry!

This time, we (Laura and I) are doing poetry, and we hope you can join us too. Here is my attempt at LGBT+ spine poetry:

If you haven't read the book, Teeth is the name of a character and he is sort of a "loveless freakboy". This poem is basically me telling this freakboy to conquest (conquer) everything life throws at him ~.~ But ahhh, spine poetry with LGBT books is hard! Most of my LGBT books are ebooks or have titles like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe or The Miseducation of Cameron Post (try to work that one into a poem), I think you get where I'm going. But if I did it, you can do it too!

This week we are challenging you to create LGBT-themed poetry! Spine poetry, or a poem out of (LGBT+) book titles, slam poetry (video), blackout poetry, etc. - any kind of poetry is welcome!

Tweet (or post about) your poetry so we can all check it out!

Link-up for week 3: Link up your LGBT+ posts below
Enter your post title and name in the following format: Post Title @ Blog Name 
And don't forget to add your link to the Rafflecopter as well!

Giveaway V. - for signed up LGBT Month participants ONLY!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway VI. - open to EVERYONE (participant, non-participant - everyone!)

2014-04-12

This is Circus, This is Magic - Pantomime & Shadowplay by Laura Lam

I must start off with a confession (or two): circus is not my thing. I know, everyone loves the circus (at least while they are little), but me? Nope, I never once felt the magic. (I guess I was born disillusioned... or something.) Also, fantasy is not really my thing either. So, by all rights, I shouldn't have liked Pantomime but I LOVED it.

I've had Pantomime (as well as its sequel, Shadowplay) on my tbr for quite some time but every time I thought about actually reading it, I somehow always ended up going with another book. But I am SO glad I finally "made" myself  read it. Because really, once I cracked open the pages and read the first lines, I was hooked - I couldn't put it down. So much so that when the first book ended, I had to immediately dive into Shadowplay to see what happens next- and omg, Shadowplay was even better than Pantomime!

- it's pretty from the outside though

Right about now you might be wondering (or not) why I wanted to read these books if I didn't think I'd enjoy them. The answer is simple: LGBT+. I think most people picked Pantomime up because they are into the genre "fantasy" and/or are fascinated by the circus, but I added it to my tbr because it was shelved as LGBT+ on Goodreads and I love LGBT+. 

The story takes place in a fantasy world, but what Lam has created is not just another world, it's a whole UNIVERSE. And I got completely absorbed in its details (and characters) - and drank everything in. Aerialists, clowns, nobles, runaway girls/boys, magicians, alchemists, illusionists - characters come in many names and "forms"... - and you can never tell what's behind the "masks".

There are lots of secrets, mysteries, (sort of) cross-dressing and hidden identities and just aww~. I really loved how these books escape what's common for most ya fantasy (boring main characters in boring love triangles living in worlds that only looked compelling for like a minute or two) and instead give us something truly unique and captivating. Pantomime&Shadowplay is so... unlike any (ya) fantasy I've read/heard of - I'm really glad I gave this series a chance.

I do love me some card tricks ;)

And why was the second book my favorite? Probably because some things were a bit too dark/tragic for me in Pantomime... And also because while I felt the magic of the circus in Pantomime, I have a natural soft spot for old theatres, automatons, (card) tricks, mysterious illusionists and decades-old rivalry (so Shadowplay was pretty much destined to be a 'ME' book.)

And the characters? I loved them so much!! The main character is (and I don't think this is a spoiler)... intersex (and that's why this is an LGBT+ series). Gene/Micah is both a boy and a girl. Sometimes more one than the other... But girl or boy, I just loved him (I use him because I thought of him as a 'him'). I loved the "changes" Micah went through in Shadowplay and was also very happy to learn more about the enigmatic "white clown". So, for me, this second book was just perfection - it gave me all the FEELs and now I'm dying for more...

The Pantomime series is set in a fantasy world but the issues it tackles are real and important and the story is just so fascinating - I highly recommend it to anyone seeking a unique read.

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