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Cover Reveal: HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE by Jeff Strand

Have you read any Jeff Strand? That’s one of my go to questions for anyone – teen or YA reader – who lament that there are not enough funny books in YA. And I get it, the funny is definitely outnumbered in YA, it truly is. But Jeff Strand is a pretty dependable author when it comes to the funny. He writes with wit, sarcasm and snark, all qualities that I can appreciate. And horror. That’s right, Jeff Strand often combines horror and humor for a winning combination. A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO by Jeff Strand is one of the funniest books I have ever read.

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

So I was honored when Sourcebooks Fire reached out to me and asked if I wanted to host a cover reveal for his most recent book, HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE. Yes! Yes, I do. But first, what is this book about?

Rod’s life doesn’t suck.

If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can crank the volume as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: a different cousin.

When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with his good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

And now . . . The Great Cover Reveal (insert drum roll here please)

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HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE — EXCERPT

“Thanks for coming out tonight! Are you ready to rock?”

A couple of people in the audience indicate that yes, they are indeed ready to begin the process of rocking. A few others don’t look up from their cell phones, but I’m confident that they’ll discover their readiness to rock as soon as we start playing. The rest of the eleven or so people in the club haven’t bothered to walk over to the dance floor. Presumably, they’re waiting for the headline act before committing to whether or not they’re mentally and physically prepared to rock.

“We’re Fanged Grapefruit,” I say into the microphone. “This first song is an original called, ‘You Can’t Train a Goldfish to Catch Popcorn in Its Mouth, So Don’t Even Try.’ One, two, three, go!”

I can’t remember which of us came up with the name Fanged Grapefruit. I think it was Clarissa, our drummer. I consider myself the creative driving force of the band, but if you see Clarissa, you’ll understand why she doesn’t lose many arguments. She’s at least six foot three (though I’ve never measured her), and you wouldn’t want to arm wrestle her unless you were willing to lose an arm. When she really gets going, her drumsticks become a blur. And when she’s done with a set, the sticks look like they’ve been gnawed on by beavers.

Mel, short for Melvin, is lead guitar and background vocals. I’m lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Ironically, Mel is a worse guitar player and a better singer than me. Not everything we do in Fanged Grapefruit makes sense.

Mel doesn’t look like he should be in a punk rock band. He looks like he should be president of the Chess Club. Which he is, but I assure you, the guy plays chess with attitude. He also gets straight A’s and is likely to be our class valedictorian, and if so, I hope he’ll pause his inspiring commencement speech for a wicked guitar solo.

I’m Rod, short for Rodney. Nice to meet you. I’m pretty much average, I guess.

Other band names we’d brainstormed included Untidy Reptiles, Autocorrected Text Fail, Rod & the Whacknuts, Carnivorous Vegans, Impolite Music for Unruly People, The RMC Experiment, Say Goodbye to Your Ears, Pawn Takes Rook, Crunchy Noise, Crispy Noise, Chicken Fried Noise, (The Parentheticals), Fake News Echo Chamber, Hairnets Gloriously Aflame, Dog Eat Dog Eat Munchkin, The Self- Diagnosing Hypochondriacs, Sequel II, and Sushi Gun.

We play at this club, the Lane, every Monday, which is the only day you can get in if you’re under eighteen. We go onstage around eight, and we’re home by nine fifteen, so all our parents are cool with us being out on a school night. It also helps that they’ve never actually been inside the Lane, which is a bubbling pit of health code violations. If you have to go to the bathroom, hold it. Trust me.

I’m sure we’d have a much bigger audience if we could play on a Friday or Saturday night, but Clarissa, Mel, and I are only sixteen, so we’ve got a couple of years to go. (Sorry if it was insulting that I did the math for you.) We hope that by the time we’re old enough to play there on a weekend, we’ll have upgraded to venues where your feet don’t stick to the floor as often.

Anyway, we begin to rock out on our guitars and drums, and select members of the audience begin to move to the music. Well, okay, only two of them. And one is my girlfriend, Audrey. You might say that she doesn’t count, but we got together because I was in a band, so I think she does count, thank you very much.

Audrey runs our merch table. We never sell anything, though she gives away free stickers to people who look like they might be band managers. She’s as tiny as Clarissa is non- tiny. You won’t believe me if I say she’s the most gorgeous girl at our school, so all I’ll say is that if you look at her and look at me, you’d say, “Wow, how did that happen? He must be in a band.”

By the end of our set, three people in the audience are bopping their heads to the music. That’s a fifty percent increase from when we started. Fanged Grapefruit rules!

***

After dropping off Clarissa, Mel, and then Audrey (because I always pick her up first and drop her off last, even though she lives the furthest away), I go home, take a shower, and start packing my lunch for the next day.

“How was your gig?” Mom asks, walking into the kitchen.

“Great! Every show gets a little better.”

“I was going to do that for you,” she says, pointing to the sandwich I’m making.

“I know.” Mom works two jobs, both of which suck, so I’m always happy to make my own lunch. Plus I’m very specific about the spread of my peanut butter. It should be as close to the edge of the bread as possible without spilling over, and the thickness should be consistent. Generally, I’m a pretty casual guy, but not when it comes to peanut butter application. We all have our quirks.

“I’ve got news,” she says.

“Dad got out of prison?” Dad isn’t really in prison. He left us two years ago. We joke about him being in prison as a coping mechanism.

“No.”

“I’m finally going to get a baby sister?”

“Ha. You wish.”

“You got a raise?”

Mom shakes her head. “I did get a five- dollar tip on an eighteen- dollar meal though. That was nice.”

“Wild panthers have run amok in our neighborhood, gobbling up people left and right?”

“Maybe you should stop guessing.”

“Maybe I should. So is this good news or bad news?” I ask.

“Well…”

I set down the butter knife. “That doesn’t sound like a good ‘well…’”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad news,” Mom says. “It’s definitely not the worst news ever. Nobody died or anything.”

“Tell me.”

“You know your aunt Mary and uncle Clark?”

“Of course.” I don’t think I’ve seen Uncle Clark since I was six. We live in Florida, and they live in California. He and Dad never got along, so every couple of years, Aunt Mary would visit us by herself. With Dad out of the picture, I assumed we’d see more of our extended family, but it never really happened.

“Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark are going on a cruise.”

“That’s cool.” I consider that for a moment and then get very excited. “Are they taking us with them?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“It’s one of those around- the- world cruises. Three whole months. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Did I mention that Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark are rich? You probably picked up on that when Mom said they were going on a three- month- long world cruise.

“Is Blake going with them?” I ask.

“No. He’s not.”

Suddenly, I have an idea where this conversation is headed. It doesn’t make me happy. “Maybe you should spell this out for me,” I say.

“Your cousin Blake is going to live with us for three months. Isn’t that exciting?”

I stare at her for a few hours.

(Possibly, I’m exaggerating.)

“Starting when?” I ask.

“Next week.”

“You mean before the school year ends?”

“Yes. He’s going to transfer to your school.”

“That’s messed up!”

Mom shrugs. “They got a good deal on the cruise.”

“Where’s he going to stay? We don’t have a guest bedroom.”

“Well, I thought…you know…”

“He can’t share my room!” If I wasn’t almost an adult, I would have stomped my foot.

“Honey, it’s only for three months.”

“That’s a quarter of a year! I thought we were broke,” I say. “How are we going to pay for all that extra food?”

“We’re not that broke, and obviously, your aunt and uncle will help pay for groceries.”

“Isn’t he a spoiled brat?”

“You haven’t seen him in ten years,” Mom says.

“Well, ten years ago he was a spoiled brat.” “I’m sure he’s fine now.”

“Doesn’t he have any friends he can stay with in California?”

My mom sighs. “Rodney, he’s family. Family is always welcome in our home.”

I hope I’m not coming off as whiny and selfish. If a hurricane tore the roof off their house and they lost all of their worldly possessions, sure, I’d happily donate half of my room to Cousin Blake while they rebuilt their lives. But asking me to give up my privacy so Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark can go on a luxury cruise seems kind of unreasonable.

However, I’m pretty sure this is a done deal, and my mom has enough stress in her life without me continuing to protest.

“All right,” I say.

“Thank you.” Mom gives me a hug. “I think you’ll enjoy having him here.”

Who knows? Maybe I will. Maybe my cousin is a really cool guy. Maybe he has good taste in music. And maybe he’s witty and entertaining. And maybe he’ll be willing to help with emergency cleanup if we’re having a wild party and Mom calls suddenly to say she’s on her way home early.

We might end up being the best friends that any two cousins could ever be. We’ll giggle and frolic and be inseparable.

But probably not.

I can’t believe I have to share my room.

I return to making my lunch. I’ll try to be optimistic and pretend that these will be the best three months of my life. How bad could it be?

ABOUT Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand has written more than twenty books and is a four-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award. Three of his young adult novels were Junior Library Guild picks. Publishers Weekly called his work “wickedly funny.” He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more at JeffStrand.com.

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The Power of Humor in YA, a guest post by Jeff Strand

By way of introduction, I present to you dear reader Jeff Strand. Jeff Strand writes funny, irreverent, slap your sides humorous YA. It’s the kind of humor I don’t think there is enough of in YA, though if you like Jeff Strand I do recommend Lish McBride,  Sarah Rees Brennan and Lance Rubin as well. I am a huge fan of Jeff Strand’s books and today we are honored to have a guest post by him discussing humor in YA.

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First of all, I do believe that kids should be forced to read the classics in school. I certainly don’t want a new generation to get out of something I had to endure.

“Endure” isn’t always the right word. I loved Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye. But Wuthering Heights? If you genuinely enjoyed Wuthering Heights, I salute you, but for me that book was constant “Gaaaahhhhh!!!” I have scarring memories of lines like ‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.’ And right after that, ‘T’ maister’s down i’ t’ fowld. Go round by th’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake to him.’

For those weeks in English class, reading was a nightmarish activity. Consecutive words on a piece of paper? Ugh. Where’s my Playstation 4? (Playstation 4 did not exist when I was in school, nor did Playstation 3, 2, or 1, but I’m trying not to date myself.)

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

Again, it was right of my teacher to subject the class to that excruciating novel. It was good that he quizzed us on that miserable book. I retroactively admire him for making us write papers about it. This ghastly reading experience was good for our brains. We needed it. But we don’t want students to have post-traumatic stress disorder when they see a book, so there should be a balance of weighty books with fun ones. Humor!

I don’t mean humor as in the comedic works of William Shakespeare, which some say should have you holding your sides as you roll in the aisles with tears of laughter streaming down your face. ROFL!!! The footnote explains why that reference is hilarious! No, I mean books that would make an actual teenaged human being laugh.

I mean, you can’t gorge yourself on candy for every meal (sadly) but you want candy sometimes. Nobody can live on healthy food all the time. Actually, I guess they can. It’s not as if somebody’s going to say, “Since I only have nutritious dining options available, I’m just going to stop eating altogether!” So it’s a bad metaphor. Which is fine, because I’m talking about the kind of books where you don’t have to analyze metaphors.

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As a kid, I always gravitated toward the “funny” books, although they tended to be more “lighthearted” than joke-filled. Judy Blume’s Fudge series and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, which I read over and over and over and over and over and over, were filled with wacky antics but not necessarily “Bwah hah hah hah!” types of reads. I would tell my friends about the crazy trouble these characters got themselves into, but I wasn’t quoting zany one-liners.

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The first laugh-out-loud funny book I read was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My reaction was, “This is allowed? You can be this over-the-top goofy and funny and somebody will actually publish it?” I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to kidnap Douglas Adams, bury him in a shallow grave, assume his identity, and write his books for him. This plan turned out to be impractical, for a number of reasons, and I settled for trying to write like him.

Now, as a kid, I was most definitely not a reluctant reader. My parents were both avid readers and passed that on to me. Though the lighthearted romps were my favorite, I loved tales of adventure, mysteries…pretty much everything, old and new. I didn’t need anybody to dangle a carrot to get me to read. The reading experience itself was my carrot. (Again, I’m not here to do good metaphors. If you want good metaphors, Charlotte Bronte put plenty of them in Wuthering Heights.) (I’m here to do humor, like when you pretend that you thought Charlotte Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights, but of course it was her sister Emily. Charlotte wrote Captain Underpants.) (I apologize for that misinformation. Emily Bronte illustrated Captain Underpants but didn’t write it.)

But not everybody inherited a love of reading. And that’s why “fun” books are important. Sure, “fun” can involve swashbuckling pirates or high-speed cowboy horse chases, but humor is one of the strongest indicators that a book might be enjoyable to kids who aren’t predisposed to pick one up. “Hey, books don’t have to be gloomy! Books can make you laugh so hard that people give you weird looks!”

I don’t specifically write with a reluctant reader audience in mind, but few things are more gratifying than getting an e-mail that basically says, “I didn’t even know I liked to read! Reading to me was punishment! But your book, with all of its stupid jokes, made me realize that not all books exist to suck joy out of my life. What else have you written? What other books are like yours?”

Not all reluctant readers are going to discover nutty comedy novels and go on to develop a deep appreciation for deep complex literature. But at least it can be a step away from “Books! Ugh!”  Though I have not personally created a new generation of lifelong readers, I’ve at least converted a few of ’em, and it’s not through my brilliant character development or unbelievably gripping storylines. It’s ‘cuz they’re funny! There’s not just room for that kind of material in the world of young adult fiction—it’s a crucial part!

Of course, as an author of humorous young adult fiction, I would say that, but still…

To recap: Funny = Good. Impenetrable metaphor = Also Good. We need both.

About STRANGER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

You can’t always believe what you see in this hilarious coming of age novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and I Have a Bad Feeling about This

Harry Houdini. Penn and Teller. David Copperfield. Marcus Millian the Third.

Okay, so Marcus isn’t a famous magician. He may not even be a great magician. But his great-grandfather, the once-legendary and long-retired Zachary the Stupendous, insists Marcus has true talent. And when Grandpa Zachary boasts that he and Marcus are working on an illusion that will shock, stun, and astonish, Marcus wishes he could make himself disappear.

The problem? Marcus also has stage fright—in spades. It’s one thing to perform elaborate card tricks in front of his best friend, Kimberly, but it’s an entirely different feat to perform in front of an audience.

Then Grandpa Zachary dies in his sleep.

To uphold his great-grandfather’s honor, the show must go on. It would take a true sorcerer to pull off the trick Marcus has planned. But maybe he’s the next best thing…

Sourcebooks Fire (April 4, 2017)