Tag Archives: YA

Local Eugene author interview with James Aaron

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.

I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.

I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.

And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.

James Aaron

Eugene author James AaronLast March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.

Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.

Emerald EmergentOne of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.

I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.

Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on Amazon.com. I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.

So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.

I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).

The Voices in the WoodsHere’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.

Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.

An interview with James Aaron

Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.

How long have you been writing books?

I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.

It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.

Why did you start writing?

I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.

Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.

What was the reception to it?

Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.

I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.

What have you learned from the process so far?

Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.

I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:

  • Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
  • Finish everything you start
  • Don’t self-critique while writing
  • Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)

I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.

I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.

Anything else you want to share?

I love to hear from readers. You can email me at james@jamesaaron.net or join my newsletter list at jamesaaron.net/list.

Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.

2015 books reads: Mostly fiction

I had a plan that I’d keep regularly sharing the books I’ve been reading. I also have a plan to earn a decent income by working regularly. And also to exercise at least 3 times a week. And to write 500+ words a day. I have lots of plans.

I’m more successful at executing some of them than others.

So, let’s play quick catch up. Since the last time I blogged about it in June, I’ve read 28 books. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really only a little more than 1 book a week. And I often combine reading with other things: exercise + reading, reading + eating, reading + putting kids to bed, reading + walking around the house aimlessly, reading + making kids’ lunches, etc.

I was going to do a quick write up of all 28 books, but I got through about half of them and ran out of steam. So, here’s memoir and fiction and I swear I’ll get to YA fiction soon (unlike my plan to write about all the books I read in 2014).

Memoir:

I continued on my memoir, specifically YA memoir reading trend for a while. Then I veered off into fiction land (more on that later).

Teen AngstTeen Angst? Naaah… by Ned Vizzini

I’ve been hunting for good YA memoir and found a series of funny essays about a New York teen in this book by Ned Vizzini. I liked it so much I was going to send him fan mail and was sad to learn he died by suicide not that long ago.

this star wont go outThis Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl

This book is a collection of essays by the late Esther Earl and reflections from her parents. It’s moving, and completely non-commercially written. I wanted to keep reading it because I cared about Esther and wanted to know her story.

 Wild WithinWild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family by Melissa Hart

Melissa Hart is a fellow Eugene writer who I met at a memoir workshop. She’s fabulously generous with her advice and insight on writing memoir and I’d previously read her first memoir, Gringa. I like Melissa and her writing so much I bought the hardback book (the only version available) and read an actual, physical book. And I enjoyed it — and learned so much about raptor rescue and rehabilitation at our own Cascade Raptor Center. Now I need to pass this book onto someone else to enjoy.

laughing at my nightmareLaughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

I dipped back into humorous YA memoir with Shane’s book. He’s a great and funny guy and you should read his book and follow him on Twitter @shaner528.

foundFound: A Memoir by Jennifer Lauck

Jennifer Lauck taught several workshops at the Willamette Writer’s conference this year, most of which I attended. I’m sure I’ve read her first memoir, Blackbird, at some point, so I decided to keep on reading her work. Found made me think about adoption in a new light.

boys in the boatThe Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

This is non-fiction, not memoir, I know, but I’m apparently too lazy to make another category. I read this book because I participated in an book trivia competition. Billed at OBOB for adults (this is an article I wrote about it), it involved 8 books, lots of questions and some good wine. My team came in 2nd place after losing in the lightning round. This is one of the 8 books I read (yes, I read all of them, I couldn’t help myself), that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. And I’m glad I did. It was so well written I enjoyed reading about crew, a sport I otherwise couldn’t care less about. It may be obvious, but I’m not very sporty (hello, my exercise routine consists of either yoga or reading a book while on a treadmill/elliptical/torture device).

Fiction:

martini of destinyThe Martini of Destiny: A Rucksack Universe Fantasy Novella by Anthony St. Clair

I bought this book from the author at a lunch-n-learn writer/author event for my bonus son. Then I bought the kindle version for myself so I could read it, too. It’s a delightful novella with compelling characters and action. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

the residue yearsThe Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson

I read this book for the Bookish Trivia Event mentioned above and honestly wouldn’t have read it otherwise. It was a heartbreaking read, one where I kept hoping the characters would make better choices for themselves. And yet, I knew what was going to happen from the start.

imperfect birdsImperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

I’d previously only read Anne Lamott’s non-fiction (and her Facebook posts), so I thought I’d give her fiction a try. I can only hope my teenage daughters are less manipulative and I’m not in denial as we traverse through those years. It had a lot of true to life characters and interactions, but I wanted to smack her parents a lot.

the brief wondrous lifeThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This was another Bookish Trivia pick and, if I’m going to be honest, I had such a hard time getting into the book that if I wasn’t reading it for a COMPETITION, I wouldn’t have finished it. But, I forged ahead, buoyed by a review that said it got the wind in its sails by the 50% mark, and ended up enjoying it.

What was most interesting to me was the cultural depictions in the book — and how, in many ways, they were similar to what I experienced as a teen in Barbados.

all the light we cannot seeAll the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

Suzi Steffen (@SuziSteffen) told me to read this book, so I got on the library’s wait list and was #667 in line. Two months later, it was available, at the same time as about 3 other books I had on hold, but I managed to read them all in my allotted 21-days borrowing period.

My mum’s parents fought in WWII — one in the resistance movement, one in the army in some capacity. My Grandpa was captured at one point, escaped (by dressing as a woman) and then somehow met up with Nany. I don’t tend to read too much about WWII because it evokes some kind of ancestral memory passed down through my DNA (that sounds kooky, I know, but I swear I feel the echoes). This was an incredible book.

the ocean at the end of the laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This was another Bookish Trivia book, but one I was glad to read as I love Neil Gaiman. It was enchanting. There were certain elements of the boy’s character and the narrator’s voice that moved me. It was weird and wonderful and ultimately hopeful.

oryx and crackeOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another Bookish pick, and another one I enjoyed. Even though it was quite disturbing. I wanted better for the main character and often confused by his choices, the motivations for some of which never seemed entirely clear to me. But I suppose if I thought I was the lone survivor of a terrible plague I’d make some questionable decisions as well.

the storied life of aj fikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A Bookish choice again and one I enjoyed, but probably wouldn’t have picked for myself (as I don’t tend to read a lot of regular adult fiction as that’s not what I’m writing at the moment). As a book lover, it’s hard not to love books about bookstores that refers to other books. There’s lot of that. Some of the characters are funny and it was a generally enjoyable, easy read, although it didn’t rock my world.

landlineLandline: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell

I love Rainbow Rowell. My sister-in-law turned me onto her and, for some reason, I thought she’d only written Fangirl and Eleanor and Park (I must have forgotten how to Google). I decided to buy this book rather than her latest because I liked the idea of a magic phone and how you might use it to change the outcome of y our life. Several reviewers had difficulty with the ending of the book — feeling that the main character giving up her chance of a lifetime dream to save her marriage — was the wrong message to send to women. I think life, and relationships, are a bit more complicated than that (and, as a woman who chooses to work part-time from home so I can pick kids up from school every day, I’m in the midst of that balance between family and career). I loved it.

 

The rest of the books I’ve read this summer/early fall are YA fiction which I’ll have to write about in another post.  In general, I should write these more frequently. Or read less — and I know that’s not going to happen.

Note: The links for each book go to Amazon.com. They are affiliate links. That said, if you want to buy a physical book, please shop at your local bookstore.

2015 book reads: Young adult memoir

2015 is the year of the young adult memoir. At least for me. Mine is finally finished and being shopped to agents and publishers as we speak. Which means I have to keep writing, and it turns out I have more to say in the YA memoir genre.

Because of the experiences I’ve had (sexual abuse, neglect, fun stuff like that), I tend to be drawn to books that tales similar to mine. I started off the year with A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back  by Claire and Mia Fontaine and It Happened to Nancy: By an Anonymous Teenager, A True Story from Her Diary by Anonymous (AKA Beatrice Sparks). You can read about what I thought of them here.

Then I moved on to some slightly lighter fare (or at least less sex and drugs) with King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher and The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi. Those are detailed in this post.

Finishing up the first 5 months of 2015, these books made their way through my reading lists (from want to read, to reading, to read):

the lost boyThe Lost Boy by David Pelzer

This book is the second installment of Dave’s incredible journey from an abusive childhood into adulthood. Some of it seems a bit overdone but, then, I didn’t live this experience. After I finished the book, I read some interviews about the author that made me wonder–not about the veracity of the book–but about his ability to truly move beyond it. Telling these stories–and selling his books–seems to have become his way of life. But perhaps if it shines the spotlight on child abuse and the need for good foster families that’s OK. I’m not in a place to judge.

because i remember terrorBecause I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman

I was afraid of reading this book (which I read hard copy, as I couldn’t borrow a digital version–I don’t like to buy physical books as then I have to find a place to put them. Ebooks/kindle books I can keep a huge library of easily). I worried I wouldn’t be able to make it through it, or that it’d scar me. It didn’t.

What it did was help me realize the truth about some of my own experiences. I had an ah-ha lightbulb moment during the course reading of one passage that shed light on a memory that’s still half-buried. Plus, it helped me realize that writing about the trauma and abuse I experienced is OK–even if other people don’t want you to. It’s part of the healing, for me and for others.

the road from corrainThe Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

I looked forward to reading this book to learn about how she described her culture and country in ways that make it come alive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. It was dense with description and I’ve never had a head for reading description. I confess, I’m a skimmer until it gets to the action and the dialogue and there wasn’t much of that. So I put it down and returned it to the library.

look me in the eye Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson

Why are we often so crappy to kids who are, for whatever reason, different and outside of the social norms and expectations? I like to think we’re getting better overall.

This is a fascinating book about the author’s experiences growing up with Asperger’s (although he didn’t have a diagnosis at the time). Parts were heartbreaking, others were truly funny. I saw aspects of my own personality in how he described his outlook and nodded along. Other descriptions of his interactions with people, especially how he viewed his own son at times, were possibly unintentionally hysterical. It gave me good insight into his mind and was a great read.

Not young adult memoir, but…

These books aren’t young adult memoir. I’m not sure some are even memoir, but I don’t think of them as strictly non-fiction, either.

let the tornado comeLet the Tornado Come: A Memoir by Rita Zoey Chin

Cheryl Strayed recommended this book and linked to an interview with Rita Zoey Chin on her Facebook page. So I bought it.

I’m not sure it quite fits into the YA category, but it’s definitely memoir. She tells her tale of growing up as a runaway, full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, alongside her current experiences of debilitating panic attacks that threaten to destroy the quiet, solid life she’s built for herself. It’s a well-crafted book full of beautiful language and intense experiences.

 

that bear ate my pantsThat Bear Ate My Pants! by Tony James Slater

This is an adventure travel non-fiction book more than a memoir, but it was funny and I heard my brother’s voice in my head the entire time I read it. The author reminds me a lot of him with his gypsy ways and love of travel to exotic places. I did that as a kid and am now happy with a settled, mundane life.

smell the blue skySmell the Blue Sky: young, pregnant and widowed by Valerie Willman

I know Valerie, she’s a local author and heads up the local chapter of Willamette Writers. So I was admittedly excited, yet trepidatious (apparently a new word)  to read it. What if I didn’t like it? What would I say to Valerie the next time I saw her (I told her I bought her book and was going to read it next the last time I saw her at an author lunch.)

Fortunately, I can email her and tell her I loved it. I loved getting to know her more and learn about her journey to where she is now. There were so many things that resonated with me throughout the book that I didn’t expect to. And the surprises were great.

on writingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Is this a memoir or a book about writing? Both. There are a few Stephen King books I’ve really gotten into–mostly the The Dark Tower series as a teenager. There are a couple of Stephen King books I’ve read that I wish I hadn’t, as the imagery has stayed with me (I’m impressionable. I should probably only ever read or watch things about puppies, unicorns and rainbows). Even if I don’t want to live inside Stephen King’s brain, I respect his ethic as a writer and ability to produce readable books that sell well.

This book was no exception. I enjoyed it, it was useful, easy to read, and I got something deeper from it than I expected.

small victoriesSmall Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

Oh, Anne. Sometimes I worry that Anne Lamott will come across as being too preachy (or maybe that’s really a worry I have for myself). But she doesn’t. She’s warm, earthy, loving, flawed. Like most of us. She takes humanity and our shared experiences and turns them into stories, finding the essence of what moves us. Maybe one day I’ll have that talent. And an agent.

Books I read in 2014: YA Fiction

It’s the middle of 2015 and I’m still working on telling you about the books I read last year… so let’s get on with it.

I love Young Adult fiction and non-fiction and clearly don’t read nearly enough YA fiction as I could. I’ve been in the throes of writing a YA memoir, so I’ve been reading as much memoir as I can. (That post will come soon — update: it probably never will — but here’s what I’ve been reading in 2015 as far as memoirs and young adult memoirs.)

YA Fiction

relativityRelativity by Cristin Bishara

I happened upon this book early last year and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s about multiple parallel world’s and a teenage girl’s quest for her mother.

ruins of gorlanThe Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) by John A. Flanagan

I read this book last summer as part of my Camp Mummy Oregon Battle of the Books reading project with my step-daughter. Essentially, we read the book together, competing to get through more chapters than the other each day. That lasted about half-way through the book for her and I had to nudge her to keep going and catch up with me so I could read more. I enjoyed it.

blackout desertedBlackout  and Deserted by Deena Lipomi

Blackout was recommended to me by a writer friend, who’s a friend of the author. I enjoyed it (minus one plot hole that bugged me) and decided to read her follow-up novel, Deserted.

the fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Who hasn’t read this book yet? I read this before seeing the movie and both made me cry. I liked the book better (no surprise) and read it within weeks of watching the movie, so I had vivid memories of the things they didn’t include in the move (which is always my book-to-movie gripe, even though I completely understand why not everything makes it. It’s all about telling a compelling story.

Still reading: Young Adult memoirs

In my continuing quest for knowledge on how to write a fantastic memoir, I keep reading other memoirs, particularly ones aimed at an young adult audience. Since my last post about what I’ve been reading, I’ve finished two books: King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher and The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi.

Both are good, and yet very different from each other in terms of writing style and content.

king of the mild frontierKing of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

I haven’t read any of Chris Crutcher’s other books, but they’re now on my reading list once I get back into fiction again. I’m not sure if this book was suggested as a YA memoir to read because he’s a YA author, but I suspect I wouldn’t have appreciated this book as much as a teenager as I did reading it as a (somehow) fully-fledged adult.

It covers his growing-up years in Cascade, Idaho — a time and place I can barely relate to and am incredibly glad I didn’t grow up in — told through stories that are hilarious and heart-breaking. It’s open, honest and extremely well-written. I can only hope to someday be this funny and poignant.

the other side of the skyThe Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by Farah Ahmedi

It took me a while to get into this book — partly because I read it in paperback (as opposed to on my kindle) and partly because of the writing style. It’s written as if Farah is telling you the story in person, as it is essentially the transcription of her conversations with Tanim Ansary, who was hired to help her write the book. Once I got further into the book, either the story picked up or I got used to the writing style and I zipped through the last half.

Overall, it’s a moving, eye-opening story about a young Afghani girl who loses most of one leg in a land-mine explosion and eventually emigrates to America with her mother, after losing the rest of her family in war. She is amazingly resilient and refreshingly innocent, even after everything she experiences.

As an immigrant to the U.S. I related to her experiences moving here: the overwhelment of everything moving so fast, the bright lights, the cars, all of the foreign Americanness (I’m making up words now) as well as the feelings of isolation and outsiderness.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any satisfying updates about her life today. She graduated from North Central College in 2010 (the book was published in 2006 when she was about 19), by which time she’d married and had a child. And in 2014, she spoke to a group of high school students about the book and her experiences, so she’s still alive and well, just without much of a public profile. It looks like I got emotionally involved enough to want to know what happened next, after the book’s conclusion.

Next on my reading list:

  • The Lost Boy by David Pelzer — the 2nd installment of his incredible journey (I clearly get sucked into these author’s lives and want to know more).
  • Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman — because apparently I’ve become obsessed with memoirs about the horrible things parents do to their children and I don’t want to sleep at night
  • The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway — I love reading about other places and cultures and am curious how others describe their countries in ways that make it come alive (so hopefully I can do the same with Barbados)