Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zero Sum: Top 20 in YA Science Fiction & Fantasy!

First off, holy cow:

And the first page of the YA Bestseller List:

So, yea, those are two Perry Jackson books above and below Zero Sum. You know, the series with those movies? That would mean that Zero Sum is on the front page of YA Science Fiction & Fantasy. Zounds!

My thanks go out to everyone that wrote a review, told a friend, or featured the book on their blog. This adventure has been a pure word-of-mouth production.

For me, this is one to savor. The YA SFF page was the one I was shooting for when I sat down to write Zero Sight. Back when experts told me that the writing for the Zero Sight Series was way too "high level" for your average high school fantasy fan. Back when they said that the story line was far too "mature". 

Cow manure. I knew what I wanted to read back when I was that age. Sugar-coatings go great on candies, but bruised knuckles make for better stories.

To Kill A Mockingbird
The Giver
Ender's Game
Starship Troopers
The Old Man and the Sea
Where the Red Fern Grows

Growing up, I loved the hard hitting stuff. I sought them out in the library. I begged my parents to let me read them. The Emails I get every week from avid high school readers confirm that they are still building YA readers like they used to. They too want their characters to struggle every bit as hard as they're struggling. They want stories that feel every bit as real.

But that kind of writing makes plenty of people uncomfortable. I almost broke down and scrapped the first scene in Zero Sum because of it. Jon Steller and I were both worried that it might be over-the-top for some. After all, there's a strongly held belief out there that such abuse shouldn't be talked about in public. But I work in a hospital. I see the results of that sort of abuse every day. And you know what? So have most high schoolers. They've heard all about Tommy or Jim or Susan or Rebecca...the ones that come to school with fingermarks on their shoulders and cigarette brands on their hands...heck, some of them have even been through that sort of brutality. In 1999 alone, 3,244,000 children were reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies for child maltreatment. Who is served by ignoring such violence? And why shouldn't these children's stories be told?

Sure, writing in fantasy makes tackling these topics a bit easier. It gives us a bit more distance from the characters. But hopefully it allows us to talk about it more easily too. More sunlight on this issue can only serve to out the creeps responsible for it.

I also hope that the success Zero Sum is having encourages other writers to be bold in the YA genre. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty—just remember to treat your characters earnestly. Don't spray happy juice all over everything. Remember that serious acts require serious consequences. And give parents a heads-up in your labeling. They deserve to know what their kids are reading. If you do these things, there are scores of young adults (and engaged parents) that are willing to ponder these issues with you.

Be aware that this is the kind of push-back you'll face:

Be aware that this is how to stand tall:

And write like demons. These are the stories I want to read too.



Zero Sight broke into the Amazon Top 1,000 today. For some context, when Zero Sight first released, it never broke 1,300. Thanks for the buzz folks!

1PM PST 12/11/2011: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982 Paid in Kindle Store

  • #19 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Contemporary
  • #19 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Contemporary
  • #35 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror > Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic


Bookblogger said...

Congrats on the high places. They are well deserved. I'll look forward to the Zero Sight movie series.

Andrew S said...

Excellent job on the rankings! I agree that there is a place for darkness such as child abuse in YA fiction. There should not be a taboo against that sort of thing. Authors who are catering toward the YD market, though, should be careful, unless that is their goal, to steer clear of Tragedy. I think the biggest thing is to ask "what do I want my reader to feel when he/she finishes my book?". i.m.o. it is really nice to have hope in the darkness. Even the most vile, evil person has to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. I guess I am just not a fan of stories where not getting executed/committing suicide is considered winning (I'm looking at you Antigone).

Where the Red Fern Grows has a special place in my heart as the only book that made me openly sob (luckily no one was around to see it).

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Shier i just got off amazon and think you should take a look at the reviews. In particular im talking about the only 2 star. He gives ALOT of good points about your book. Im interested in what you think.

B. Justin Shier said...

@AndrewS: Very good points. What I want my readers to feel at the end of the series is that they were happy to meet the characters I created, that they were true to themselves, and that they died well... Just kidding. Only some of your favorite characters are going to perish. ^_^

"Even the most vile, evil person has to believe that tomorrow will be better than today."

Great line. It's true in life, and should be true in ALL stories. IMHO, the story that nails this concept better than any other is Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation. (And, no, I am not joking.) Considering the age group it targets, CBMII takes the heartless villain trope and flips it on its head better than any other story I have ever seen or read.

@anon 5:27: I try to avoid direct comment on reader reviews. I'm certainly happy when people spend the time to write them (they are the reason why we indies can exist), but reader reviews are written by readers for readers.

That doesn't mean I'm not happy to discuss the book with folks. For instance, if someone Emails me or asks a specific question on one of these discussion forums, I'm more than happy to discuss my decisions/reasoning with them. My writing is by no means flawless. I'm not just happy to hear criticism, I need to hear it.

In broad terms, I can tell you that the decisions made in Zero Sum were all very purposeful and deliberate. I tend to spend a lot of time reviewing the choices each character makes—and limiting them to ones the character can make. If one character seems weak or ineffective, maybe there is a reason for it. In Dieter's world, (I think) it has been established that a newbie mage is a fly, and a 200 year-old mage is like Thor, God of Thunder, sent down on a flaming steed to light the sky on fire. Dieter has potential, but he is nothing but a common grunt at the moment. He cannot focus his power. And these limitations go for all my characters. A direct confrontation of Rei versus her sister is probably not going to go very well (no matter what Rei would tell you). And a bullet to the back of the head is gonna kill anyone. Even an uber-mage.

That said, there are still many ways a plot can move. It can be taut and insular, involving one or two characters, or it can be Jordan-esk in scope, with dozens of minor actors (and scarves) appearing on every page. I'm aiming for somewhere in-between. I do not want to write a taut noir (which is where some folks hoped I was going). It's just not what I'm interested in writing. I want to create an epic fantasy set in a modern age, and that decision requires certain concessions. In return, I get to broaden out the scope of my story, mix in bits of history with fantasy, roast marshmallows next to excessively large explosions, engineer some royal tragedies, and perhaps rent out one of Jim's rideable dinosaurs.


Anonymous said...

You know the less said about the Percy movies the better. I still can't believe that they are actually going to make another one after the travesty they made of the first one. I'm a big fan of the books but honestly the first movie almost made walk out.

B. Justin Shier said...

lol. I'm afraid I didn't go see the first, so I can't speak to it. I assume experience was similar to mine watching Starship Troopers.

How the themes went from these:

"Value" has no meaning other than in relationship to living beings. The value of a thing is always relative to a particular person, is completely personal and different in quantity for each living human—"market value" is a fiction, merely a rough guess at the average of personal values, all of which must be quantitatively different or trade would be impossible. [...] This very personal relationship, "value", has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him… and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song which asserts that "the best things in life are free". Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted… and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears." -Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois (Ret.), Page 93

To these:

is one of life's many mysteries.


Andrew S said...

What!?! You didn't like Starship Troopers? :) Its one of my favorite trashy sci-fi action movies. It is so over-the-top to be hilarious and the bug CGI was pretty good for when it came out. I just have to never associate it with the book. Luckily it doesn't really have much to do with the books. I don't think the screenwriter actually finished the book.

B. Justin Shier said...

I went into the movie theater totally blind. I thought it was gonna be super-serious. Then everyone started reciting lines and laughing (most were on their 3rd viewing). I was like...but..but...where did all the fascist-angst and power suits go?!?! And, yea, it's so far from the books that I can get past it now.


Nullibicity said...

Congratulations on the book ranking, I have enjoyed the series so far and cant wait to read the next. :)

Anonymous said...

Just finished the 2nd book.
Dieter x Rei <3

trexd___ said...

Please tell us a least the month the next book will come out I literally punched through my bedroom door when I read the ending

Anonymous said...

Just finished re-reading your two books, Can't wait to see what happens next. Anxiously waiting for the 3rd book...

B. Justin Shier said...

Thanks everyone. I'll keep writing hard for ya'll!


Anonymous said...

Many celebrated authors including the most successful, e.g. JK Rowling, have used darkness as an integral part of the story. There is no darkness level that will satisfy or be acceptable to everyone. I have a friend who was so put off by the initial closet scene in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" that she stopped reading it and the series. In Zero Sum, I thought the opening scene gave further credibility to Dieter's capability to deal with the hard decisions to come later as well being stubborn enough to say "Thank you sir may I have another". It also adds something of a twist to his relationship with Rei. It is the relationship between Rei and Dieter that drives the story and this is a good thing. On my first read of Zero Sight, I recall being disappointed that Rei seemed to disappear from the storyline with arrival at Elliot. However B. managed the storyline deftly and continued on in Zero Sum so well that I went back and re-read Zero Sight (and then Zero Sum also) to pick-up more on the relationship details of Dieter and Rei. Looking forward to the next book.

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