Friday, May 18, 2018

Guest Post with Justin Joschko

Photo Content from Justin Joschko

Justin Joschko is an author from Niagara Falls, Ontario. His writing has appeared in newspapers and literary journals across Canada. Yellow Locust is his first novel. He currently lives in Ottawa with his wife and two children.


Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 - 9
Series: Yellow Locust
Paperback: 305 pages
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC (May 8, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1946700630
ISBN-13: 978-1946700636


"In a dystopian future North America, Selena, a young white woman who is an adept street fighter, is sent across the country on a critical mission to save the world with her younger brother in tow. Born into the elite, Selena's parents—as part of their underground fight against a tyrannical regime—have gained access to insider information about yellow locust, an extremely toxic weed infesting the country. This weapon of biological warfare has choked out crops and fouled the water supply. Selena's mission is to carry information about plans for a new, terrifying weapon west across the continent on a data stick to the one governing body, the Republic of California, that could possibly combat this evil. The plot may have a familiar ring and feel not-so-original, but fans of female brawlers will find ample thrills in the gritty recounting of numerous fights: Selena is a tough scrapper. She also meets serape-draped knife fighter Marcus Ramirez from Juarez, raising the possibility of a romance. Cursing abounds, but the occasionally challenging vocabulary doesn't always sit comfortably with the depiction of prairie wastelands. Secondary characters from lands akin to Mexico and Japan add diversity to the cast. The complex plot and vivid sense of place are strengths; will appeal to those who like kick-ass heroines. (Science fiction. 14-18)" —Kirkus Reviews

Yellow Locust changed a lot between its first and final drafts. In the final version of Yellow Locust, the protagonists, Selena and Simon Flood, are fleeing from the tyrannical state of New Canaan, where their parents were executed as dissidents. They stumble across Fallowfield, the bucolic village where much of the novel is set, on their long journey west. In its initial form, Selena and Simon were actually from Fallowfield, and the action centered less around their efforts to get to the coast than the longstanding mind games between them and the town’s leader, a strange man known only as The Mayor.

Few characters outside of these three appear in all iterations of the story, with one notable exception: Marcus Ramirez. A talented knife fighter from the mysterious south who drifts through Fallowfield and the far-flung communities of the Middle Wastes, Marcus was, in his initial form, a villain. An opportunist who used Selena to his own ends, he runs afoul of her and gets what’s coming to him. He was a menacing figure, but also a slightly bathetic one—significantly, I took his surname from Tuco Ramirez, the eponymous “ugly” from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

But as the story evolved, so too did Marcus. While still conniving and dishonorable at times, he began to accrue a certain integrity, alongside a genuine paternal affection for Selena. Instead of dying at her hands, he becomes an unexpected ally, his peerless speed and knife-work harnessed for good in much the way a mill harnesses a river’s fierce current. He also gains unexpected depth. In a scene I hadn’t planned, he confesses to Selena the reason for his endless drifting. And while doubtlessly filigreed to reflect him in the best possible light, his admission stands in the novel as ultimately true, and absolves him, in Selena’s eyes, of some of his worst traits.

I’m a sucker for slick prose, and I try to pay attention to the cadence and imagery of my writing. My style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea—one man’s poetry is another’s purple prose—but I’ve worked at it for a while and like to think I’ve grown better at using these elements in my fiction. Below are ten examples I’m particularly proud of.

1. Selena and Simon trudged west. Cracks snaked across crumbling asphalt, hemorrhaging weeds singed crisp by the sun. Neck-high stalks of yellow grass choked the once wide road into a claustrophobic pathway, its overgrown edges ragged and swaying in the frugal breeze.

2. The grass followed the siblings into town, looming silently along the highway shoulders, lancing up through broken sidewalk slabs, squatting in the cavernous lobbies of derelict skyscrapers. It stalked them all the way to the city center, where a square kilometer of turf and asphalt had been pared away to uncover the silty soil beneath.

3. Frank’s mouth shrank to a thin black line. His nostrils flared. He raised one hand and swished it forward, aiming to backhand this impertinent little bitch across the temple. His knuckles found only air. He raised his hand for another strike when a red geyser erupted from his nostrils and the ground rose to meet his back. He stared up at the sky, as if unsure what had happened. The girl stood above him, observing her bloody knuckles with distaste.

4. The manor stood on the crest of a grassy hill. It was a building on a grand scale, three stories tall with clapboard siding and a steeply gabled roof. Giant windows gazed northward toward the town square. Columns of ivy wriggled up wrought iron trellises, giving the building a semi-herbaceous cast, as if it and the hill had merged into one entity. Still, it seemed somehow wrong amongst its bucolic surroundings, a stoic sojourner standing mutely outside of time.

5. The paper grew heavy and slick with graphite. Soon the whole thing would be one mass of black lines, and he’d be reduced to scribbling on the stained wooden board he used as a makeshift drafting table. For Simon, drawing had always been an act of almost sublime tranquility. It was the only time that the nerves in his belly ceased their constant sizzling, the only place where tremors never troubled his hands. He could do one thing truly well, and that was make pictures. At everything else, he faltered

6. The air in the Salters’ circle was fetid and heavy. The stink of a hundred soiled bodies dribbled from the concrete ceiling and soaked into the dirt floor, a mingled stench of piss and sweat and blood and bile. Selena forced it down by the lungful, inoculating herself. She would not reveal her disgust to the leering eyes that surrounded her, that named her rich girl, Seraphim spawn, pampered and soft-skinned. The first two might have been true, but her skin was anything but soft.

7. Lanterns suffused the bar with greasy light. They hung from the walls and the pillars bisecting the long, low-ceilinged room, and squatted in the centers of wooden tables around which shaggy men grumbled and played cards and drank. Their dim glow draped a flattering veil of shadows over the stained floors and scarred faces and nicked furniture. The bar smelled of beer, whiskey, and tobacco. Sawdust covered the floor, soaking up the pools of spilled liquor and masking scabs of old vomit.

8. The ring grew still. The air pressure seemed to drop, sucking the crowd closer to the action. Only the thin man seemed calm. He paused to nibble on the cuticle of his middle finger, checked his fingernail, and took a single step forward, bringing him within range of the giant’s maul. The giant struck. It was a backhanded swing, the fastest strike the giant had thrown, delivered beautifully and without any warning. By the time most of the onlookers even saw it coming it had already failed.

9. The big man moved with studied efficiency, a smile playing on his lips. Crawley floundered like a drowning man, limbs flailing fruitlessly, his face a patchwork of bruised and ruptured flesh. At one point, he tried to claw his way through the crowd, but the merchants shoved him back, hooting laughter. The farmers clenched their fists at the spectacle. Some turned away, others watched with grim determination, their presence a kind of vigil.

10. The world was a vista of featureless grey. It permeated everything, saturating her until she couldn’t distinguish herself from the nothingness around her. She was a space so vast she was meaningless, a size so large she was invisible, a signal so intense and all-encompassing, she may as well not exist, for she drowned out the universe.

Selena Flood is a fighter of preternatural talent. But not even her quick fists and nimble feet could save her parents from the forces of New Canaan, the most ruthless and powerful of the despotic kingdoms populating America-that-was.

Forced to flee the tyrannical state with her younger brother Simon in tow, Selena is now the last chance for peace in a continent on the verge of complete destruction.

In her pocket is a data stick, the contents of which cost her parents their lives. Selena must now ensure it reaches the Republic of California—a lone beacon of liberty shining across a vast and barren wasteland—before it’s too late.

Between New Canaan and California stretch the Middle Wastes: thousands of desolate miles home to murderers, thieves, and a virulent strain of grass called yellow locust that has made growing food all but impossible. So when Selena and Simon stagger into Fallowfield, an oasis of prosperity amidst the poisoned plains, everything seems too good to be true—including the warm welcome they receive from the town’s leader, a peculiar man known only as The Mayor.

As Selena delves deeper into the sinister secrets of this seemingly harmless refuge, she soon learns there is a much darker side to Fallowfield and the man who runs it. Before long, she must call upon the skills she honed in the fighting pits of New Canaan to ensure not only her own survival, but that of her brother, in whom the Mayor has taken far too keen an interest.

And she’d better act fast, for an all-out war inches ever closer, and New Canaan is never as far away as it seems.

You can purchase Yellow Locust at the following Retailers:


  1. The cover is very eye-catching. I love the bold contrast of the black against the yellow background.