As part of The All Male Review Challenge, I'm featuring some of our male book blogger friends in this new interview feature: The Man Behind the (Blog) Mask. Each blogger answered the same 7 questions so that we can all get to know them a bit better. The men of the book blogging community are interesting, charming, funny, witty, and some of the best all around bloggers! If you like what you read here, be sure to check out their blogs - you won't be disappointed.
My guest today is Bryan Sabol from Time Guardian Blog. This interview is a bit different from previous installments, as Bryan runs a blog devoted to encouraging reading among boys and young men, and I asked him to delve into this topic as well as share about his own writing.
1) Tell us a little about your blog - when you started, what your focus is, why you do it, etc.
I started my blog about 2 years ago, shortly after completing a draft of the first novel in my Time Guardian Saga series. At that point, my drive to start blogging was mostly about getting my feet wet in the creative writing world. Like so many aspiring authors out there, I had a completed manuscript but no clue what the next step was. Creating a blog was my way to engage in the online writing community.
Of course, the biggest challenge with launching any blog is to produce meaningful content, to write articles that benefit others by sparking new ideas or directing people to good information. Most of my early posts were essentially in the style of an online journal, discussing my efforts as I developed my writing skills, joining blogfests, and so on. I wanted my blog to go beyond "I wrote x pages today," which frankly doesn’t really grab a reader. I knew I ultimately wanted to morph my blog into a place where other aspiring writers could come to read and share their knowledge of the craft and the business of writing. Problem was, how? To make my blog more relevant, it needed to go beyond my personal efforts, but I wasn’t sure what the next stage would be.
As I became more involved in learning what was "out there," I realized that the MG/YA male voice was rare - both for writers and for protagonists. As a guy who was writing MG works with male main characters, it was a natural extension to use my blog to help spread the word about books for boys. I now blog about up-and-coming releases, and I also add each new entry to my permanent "New Books for Boys" page.
Part of the challenge for me is hearing about all the good books that are coming out. I’m always grateful for folks who point me to something new, so if anyone out there knows of new books for boys that are just about to be released, I’d love to hear about them and I’ll add it to the list.
2) Book blogging seems pretty heavy on the females. Do you think being a male blogger and writer has any advantages or disadvantages?
Hmm, I think I have to approach this from a couple of angles:
- From the writer’s perspective, yes, clearly there is a significant majority of women writers in the YA/MG genres (and most other genres, to boot). Same goes for blogs: I see many more women than men actively blogging about YA/MG. But I don’t think whether you’re a man or woman author/blogger is important. It’s all about what you produce, how your writing captures your audience. In other words, you attract readers because you have something interesting to say, not because you’re a "Mr." or a "Ms."
- I do think there’s one area where male versus female can make an important difference, especially in YA books, and that’s the sex of the protagonist. I’ve read that the market for YA books with a male protagonist is very small. Mary Kole, KidLit.com blogger and agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency wrote an article about this issue a while ago. Many publishing houses only publish one or two boy-centric YA books per season, so if that’s your manuscript, you’re swimming against a very strong current. I should emphasize that this male protagonist issue is much more pronounced in YA than in MG (which is good news for me indeed), but it does bear some thought for those who are trying to maximize their chances at publication.
3) Do you read a lot of books with male protagonists? Why or why not?
Absolutely! I’m a big believer in reading in your genre, so I spend a lot of time looking for male-oriented MG books to see how their story arcs are structured, how the characters develop. Of course, the really good novels make this a huge struggle, as I constantly lose myself in the story. And while that’s a real pleasure, it’s not helping me learn specific writing techniques. I can go for pages at a time before the analytical part of my brain kicks in and I remember I need to focus on how things are being written.
That said, I have eclectic tastes, so in addition to books for boys, I’ll pick up anything that peaks my interest. And why not? You never know what you’ll learn - or experience - in your next story, regardless of its genre.
4) Give us three books you consider "must reads."
Three great recent MG books are:
- Windblowne by Stephen Messer
- Clockwork Dark trilogy by John Claude Bemis
- Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull
5) Do you write primarily for a male audience? Tell us about your projects.
So far my focus has been on male protagonists, but I want to stress that having a boy main character shouldn’t preclude a story from being enjoyed by girls. My intent is to write novels that attract boys and girls alike. And adults, for that matter.
My first novel was Timekey. This is the story of a 14-year-old boy whose mother, a famous archaeologist, vanishes from her Anasazi dig site. The only clue she left behind is a recently uncovered artifact — an iridescent metallic orb with the power to travel through time. The protagonist crosses into the time of the Anasazi and lands smack in the middle of a clandestine struggle for control of the orb. He has to stay one step ahead of the conspirators who covet it, rescue his mother, and return the orb to its rightful owner before his civilization is erased from history. But when you're traveling through time and between cultures, how do you tell the good guys from the bad?
Timekey is finished and I’m currently shopping it around, hoping to land the right agent. I’ve worked out a detailed plot arc for additional books in this series, but until I can get an agent interested in book 1, the remaining stories in the Time Guardian Saga are on hold.
My latest project is an urban fantasy/steampunk work based in the far north. It focuses on a 12-year-old boy who is a "half breed," struggling to find his place between his father’s traditionalist hunter/gatherer clan who lives on the ice, and his mother’s urban world that is dependent on technology. Although I really enjoy the steampunk aspect and am traditionally a plot-driven writer, I’m trying to focus more on the character’s internal struggles and family conflict. I think this should result in a more immersive world when woven into the external plot.
6) Promoting books for boys is a central feature of your blog. Why is this important to you?
Promoting books for boys should be important to everyone. Until recently, I only heard anecdotal comments about how on average, boys in our society have a much lower level of interest in reading than girls. I decided to do some fact-finding, so I spent some time looking up the latest independent studies on children’s reading habits. I posted a summary of my research in an article on my blog. The results are truly alarming: world-wide, we’re at risk of losing an entire generation of male readers.
Some key points to consider:
- Boys don’t read as much or as well as girls. The discrepancy in boys' and girls' respective levels of interest and skill in reading spans multiple countries and cultures. A Progress in International Reading Literacy Study assessment conducted in 2001 revealed that grade 4 girls performed better than boys in all thirty-four countries where the assessment was administered. Moreover, boys increasingly describe themselves as non-readers as they get older. Few of them have this attitude early in their schooling, but, according to some experts, nearly 50% describe themselves as non-readers by the time they enter secondary school.
- Boys frequently view reading as a feminine activity and this can reduce their motivation to read. Seeing reading as a girls’ pastime can diminish motivation for boys, who share social affiliation with one another by rejecting reading.
- Boys tend to prefer stories with male protagonists. Stories with male protagonists can help boy reluctant readers to relate more viscerally. By reflecting themselves as the male protagonist, we might be able to change their view of reading as a feminine activity.
What this all boils down to is pretty simple. We need to get boys engaged in reading early on and keep them at it. If you have a boy who’s a reluctant reader, a good starting place is to find a story that speaks to his interests: boy main character, action-oriented plot, sports, animals, and a combination of drama and humor are good bets.
Finally, when I saw the paucity of information on the Web concerning books for boys, it made me even more determined to help spread the word. We need to make it easier for kids, parents, teachers, and librarians to find the types of stories that can help bridge this reading gap. I figured, what better way to do that than to use my blog to highlight new books that are likely to be enjoyed by these reluctant readers?
7) When you're not reading, writing or blogging, what are you most likely doing?
What, there’s something else to life? :)
My day job takes a huge amount of time - but at least I’m a technical writer, so I can keep my fingers on the keyboard and the writing part of my brain engaged. Aside from that, being daddy to my two young daughters is top priority. Anything left over after that is the rare kayak paddle on Puget Sound.
Thanks for sharing with us! You can follow Bryan at Time Guardian Blog and find out more about his books at the Time Guardian Saga website.