But - what happens next?

Occasionally I'll read a book or watch a movie where it's clear the ending is supposed to be this joyous moment where the characters run off into their happily ever after - but I'm left thinking what happens next is where the real story should have been.

Such is the case with the 2005 movie THE ISLAND with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan MacGregor. If you haven't seen that movie, and you still plan to, then skip this post, because there are spoilers from here on out.

Now, I actually really enjoyed THE ISLAND.  In it, Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta think they're survivors of a global apocalypse and long to win the lottery so they can go to The Island - the last unsullied outdoor paradise on Earth.  But then they find out they're clones and going to The Island means dying and donating their organs to their sponsor (original). What ensues is a series of preposterous chase scenes (seriously - how likely is it that the cloning company has no on-site security team to track Lincoln & Jordan down?), an innocent romance and ultimately the freeing of all clones set to dramatic music. Cue the credits.

But - what happens next?  How is society going to deal with this influx of clones? How are the originals going to treat their copies? That's the part of the story that would interest me - far more than just seeing a bunch of things blow up.

How about you? What stories do you think might have worked even better if they started in a different place?

All Dystopian Novels Are Realistic Fiction

It occurred to me on Friday that I've been blogging at the League of Extraordinary Writers for two months now and still haven't covered any topic directly related to the blog's theme: young adult dystopian novels. But the only thing I wanted to write about was library lending of ebooks. That topic is probably more comedy than dystopia, though, so I stuck that post on my own blog and turned to Twitter for help.

Luckily @TristinaWright came to my rescue. (Go follow her. She's an interesting tweep. Which should be a species of bird but, fortunately for her, is not.) She suggested the topic, "all dystopia is sci-fi," which I like because I disagree with that statement, and as a novelist I lurve me some conflict.

Yes, most dystopian novels are wrapped in a shiny veneer of future tech. Or a grungy layer of apocalyptic dirt. But the statement that all dystopian novels are sci-fi is wrong both at the level of text and subtext.

For example, dystopian novels can be historical fiction, like Ruta Sepetys' brilliant Shades of Grey. They can be realistic fiction, like Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People. We even have dystopian non-fiction such as Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Kor. All of these depict societies, real or imagined, in which state power has run amok to the extreme detriment of many citizens.

On a subtextual level, even nominally sci-fi dystopias can be read as realistic fiction. As I've mentioned before in this space, I read The Hunger Games as a commentary on income inequality in the United States (it also pokes at reality television, of course.) Julia Karr's work can be read as a chilling imagining of what will follow if those waging the current war on women succeed. All dystopian science fiction is at a deeper level a commentary on the society in which the writer created the work. The dystopian elements of my debut novel, ASHFALL, are firmly grounded in real post-disaster dystopias. (Read A Paradise Built in Hell and Zeitoun if you're interested in the non-fictional inspiration for ASHFALL's dystopian elements.) Therefore, the title to this blog post: All dystopian novels are realistic fiction. (Look for them in that section of your local Barnes & Noble. The staff will love that, trust me.)

What do you think? Am I nuts? (Wait. Don't answer that question. Just let me know if this blog post is nuts.) Let's chat in the comments.
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We break from our regularly scheduled programming...

for a Wizarding World of Harry Potter vacation.  See you next week!

Photo credit: Cletch (Creative Commons)

Hungry For HUNGER GAMES, the Movie?

Me too. I can't wait. So here are some samples of merchandise that I couldn't resist.

I just got these, so no reviews, just showing off. And alerting you, in case they do run out. Starting with the funniest, there is the Harvard Lampoon parody.


Then we have the Official Illustrated Movie Companion.

Next up, The Tribute Guide.

Then an anthology of authors writing about the Hunger Games.

Finally, an unofficial book, a cookbook!

This is a game that was sold about a year or two ago. I know they are selling another game now. It could be the same in different packaging?

I wasn't kidding about merchandise selling out. I think the single posters are already out of stock of Katniss and the guys. There are also bracelets, watches, pencils, some of which are not available yet. And much more. You all must have heard about the nail polish fiasco?

And it's only the beginning.

So maybe you guys aren't as nerdy as I am. Or maybe you are? Anyone have any favorite movie memorabilia from a film based on a book?

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Science fiction Western

A contradiction? Impossible? You've got no clue what I’m talking about?
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: A science fiction Western occurs in the past, or in a world resembling the past, in which modern or future technology exists. The anachronistic technology of these stories is present because scientific paradigms occurred earlier in history but are implemented via industrial elements present at that time, or because technology is brought from another time or place. The genre often overlaps with Steampunk.

After watching Cowboys & Aliens yesterday, I started to wonder if there were more movies that mix sci-fi elements with a western setting.
 Here are the movies I found:

 Cowboys & Aliens

Aliens attack a Western town!

Ghost Rider

In the American Old West, the Devil, Mephistopheles, sends his bounty hunter of the damned, the Ghost Rider, to retrieve a contract for a thousand corrupt souls from the town of San Venganza. Given that the nature of the contract would give Mephisto the power to bring Hell to Earth, the Rider refuses to give him the contract and goes into hiding. (Wikipedia)

Back to the Future Part 3

On November 12, 1955, Marty McFly discovers that his friend Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown had become trapped in the year 1885. Marty, with Doc's 1955 self, uses the information in Doc’s 1885 letter to locate and repair the DeLorean. While retrieving the car, Marty spots a tombstone with Doc's name, dated six days after the letter. Learning that Doc was killed by Biff Tannen's great-grandfather, Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen, Marty decides to go back to 1885 to save Doc. (Wikipedia)

Wild Wild West

Army Captain James West and U.S. Marshal Artemus Gordon have to stop a gigantic mechanical spider and its owner Dr. Arliss Loveless. This one is steampunk-y.

Except for Ghost Rider, I've seen them all.
I love the idea of mixing a Western setting with aliens or modern technology (not only steam powered machines).

Do you know more films that could be categorized as Sci-fi western? Or maybe even books? I'd love to read sci-fi western books!

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Dystopia or Utopia? Sometimes, It's All in the Point of View

Not long ago, I was watching a documentary featuring Jim Jones and his cult The People’s Temple. In case you don’t know, he’s the guy who convinced over 900 people to commit mass suicide by drinking kool-aid laced with cyanide in Jonestown, Guyana way back in 1978. By that point, the group was mired in controversy with relatives accusing Jones of brainwashing, but no one saw such a violent end coming. In the early days of his ministry, Jones was known for progressive views on racial integration, and his social enlightenment was one of the main selling points for people joining the group.

The documentary showed a propaganda film produced by the people’s temple starring a smiling guy proclaiming that Jonestown was a utopia. And he was not the only one at the isolated Jones compound who thought that. Which got me thinking: in life and in literature, one person’s dystopia is another person’s utopia.

Take Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER for example. The world Jonas lives in seems perfect. There is no war. No fear. No pain. Everyone contributes their share for the greater good. A person's mate and job are chosen for them. And when they are no longer useful, they are peacefully "released". Everyone seems happy. And yet when Jonas becomes a giver, the one person in society who holds memories of the past, he begins to realize that peaceful living comes at a great price. No freedom of choice, no familial bonds, no romantic love and worse than that, euthanasia and infanticide. Still, interview most anyone in the book and they’d tell you they were living in a utopia. (Do keep in mind though that they are all popping emotion suppressant drugs...)

Gemma Malley’s THE DECLARATION presents another type of perfect world. Modern science has found a way to grant mortals immortality via a longevity drug. There is a slight downside: to counter an unsustainable population explosion, anyone who takes the drug must sign a declaration that they won’t have children. But hey, who needs children when you can live forever right? I mean some pesky people are kind of disgruntled about not being allowed to procreate, and surpluses, children of rule breakers lead pretty crappy lives in unfriendly institutions. But yeah, ask the man on the street, and he’s going to smile and call the place a utopia.

In Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND, no one dies waiting for organ donation because high quality organs are readily available thanks to The Bill of Life, a result of the Heartland War between Pro-lifers and Pro-choicers. It declares that a person’s life cannot be legally terminated from conception to age thirteen. However, if someone doesn’t prove their worth by that age, they can be "unwound", allowing them to continue to “live” in a “divided state” and to contribute something more valuable to society than they ever would be able to in their "undivided state". So maybe not a such a great deal for those who prove unworthy, but think about how happy all the organ recipients are. Ask one of them if they are living in a dystopia, and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy.

As you can see, sometimes it’s all a matter of point of view: One person’s dystopia is another person’s utopia.

What other examples can you think of from your own reading?

Mrs. Gick's Library

Last week in this space I wrote about two uncomfortable experiences I had while visiting libraries. But I’ve presented in dozens of school and public libraries over the last six months, and the vast majority of those visits have been wonderful. So this week I’d like to talk about the value of libraries. I’ll illustrate my point with a story about a typical library visit.

On December 9th I spent the day with Sherry Gick at Rossville Middle/High School. The library wasn’t the biggest one I’d seen, or the newest, or the fanciest. If anything, it looked a little tired. Until the students came in, that is. I’ve never seen a group of teens more excited about reading, their library, or their librarian.

The book discussions over lunch were non-stop and so varied as to be dizzying. We didn’t just talk about my book, ASHFALL—we covered Cashore, Collins, Shusterman and a host of paranormal romance authors I haven’t read. I finally wolfed my cold slice of pizza during the passing period after lunch.

This is what a great library does: It develops passionate readers. How does Mrs. Gick achieve this? Even in my brief time there, I noticed a few things. First, the library is laid out like a bookstore. Fiction is separated by genre—science fiction, paranormal romance, realistic fiction, etc. Big, inviting signs hang over each section. The books all have their original covers, and some of them are faced out. There are paperbacks available for those who prefer them. And the first thing you see as you walk in isn’t a row of computers; it’s a book display on the counter of the library desk. (The computers are around the corner to your right.)

But even more important than the physical layout of the library is its emotional tone. The first question students hear isn’t, “Do you have a pass?” it’s something more like, “How are you doing today, Todd?” One girl told me she volunteered to work in the library during 7th period because it helped her wind down after a stressful day of classes. That she loved the library because it felt “safe”—her word, not mine. Another student told me about coming to Mrs. Gick for assistance with a disturbing and thorny issue with another teacher, and how Mrs. Gick had helped her resolve it. These teens have so much trust in their library and librarian that they feel comfortable asking anything. During our discussion of ASHFALL, one student wanted to know about my use of the term “spooning”—did that mean Alex and Darla were having sex? As I listened to the question, I expected raucous laughter and teasing. Instead, her question was met with nods and some embarrassed glances. What followed was a thoughtful discussion about the definition of spooning and the role of sex in ASHFALL—why it wouldn’t have been appropriate for Alex and Darla to have sex in the scene under discussion, and whether it was appropriate at all.

By all measures—books circulated, computers used, and classes taught—Mrs. Gick’s library and thousands like it are excelling. But both school and public libraries across the country are facing devastating budget cuts. Between 2000 and 2008, the per-student funding available for school library materials fell 31% in the U.S. It’s not that we lack money for education. Between 2002 and 2008 we increased spending on standardized testing by 160%. Overall education spending increased 21% between 2000 and 2005. Why do we starve libraries while throwing bushel baskets of money at testing companies like McGraw-Hill? The short answer is that McGraw-Hill has better lobbyists than the American Library Association. (Which industry do you think spent more on lobbying in 2011—defense or education? If you guessed defense, you’re wrong.)

Library funding is being cut despite a long and rich history of studies linking school libraries to student achievement. But the most important way libraries matter isn’t measurable in studies. It’s the things librarians like Mrs. Gick do—creating passionate readers and providing students a safe place to reflect and learn. 

Let’s spend more time and money on what works—reading, libraries, and librarians—and reduce the amount of time and money wasted on standardized tests. Every student deserves a library like Mrs. Gick’s.

p.s. If you’re interested in having a day of presentations at your school or library like the one I did at Mrs. Gick’s school, I’m offering them at no charge in 2012 and for a nominal fee in 2013.  There’s more information here

Mrs. Gick and me

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Tor.com: A sci-fi oasis

After 2 weeks of sick kids, vacation looming, and general publish-y type stuff, my brain is a little fried.  So rather than make you decipher my mushy musings, I'm going to focus on a great resource for sci-fi writers and fans: Tor.com.  I've recently become infatuated with the sight after one of my marketing peeps pointed me in their direction (wink!), and I'm always amazed at the bevy of art, short fiction, and all around sci-fi goodness the site has to offer.

Tor.com is actually its own entity with an entire staff, not just a simple branch of the imprint, and it shows.  Not only does it feature original artwork, but many original short pieces as well.

Copyright: Richard Anderson
 Source: Tor.com

Check out the amazing gallery of original work.  Or find out about submitting your own short fiction.  While you're there read the original novella Glitches.  It gives backstory to the recently-released  bestselling YA novel, Cinder.  But whatever you do, don't miss Tor.com.

The New E-Short Stories tied to Novels

Two days ago my first published piece came out. It’s an e-story called “Portrait of a Starter.” This is part of a new trend where publishers want e-shorts to accompany the novel. It’s the first time my publisher, Random House Children’s Books, has put out a debut author’s e-short before their book. They started last year publishing e-shorts by well-established authors such as Michael Scott, Lauren Kate and others who write YA fantasy.

Part of my contract was to create three short stories, in addition to my two-book series (which is called a duology). There will be three e-shorts this year, one before STARTERS is published, and two after.

I love writing short stories, started writing them as a kid. Back then I probably just wrote off the top of my head, but now I find they can take longer to write, per page, than novels. They are an entirely different beast. And sometimes now, I see my friends slaving away over short stories when I can’t help but feel that they could use that time to write a novel, which would get their careers started faster. So, as a side note to writers, I say do them once in a while to hone your craft, but always keep working on a novel if you want to make a living.

But back to my contractual agreement. My only requirement was to set the story in the world of STARTERS. I could use any character’s point of view. Now this sounds easy, right? Wrong. I have a lot of surprise twists in the novel that I didn’t want to give away in a story people would read before the novel was to be published a month later. And I had a unique setting that takes place in the future. It wasn’t like I was writing about the French Revolution. How much time is there to set up a new world – and especially, the reasons for it – in a short? I wanted to keep the narrative drive, set up just enough of the world, but not too much to give too much away.

Someone in publishing suggested the short be written from an Ender’s point of view. Now that could be an interesting approach, but as a debut author, I didn’t want readers to think my YA series was going to be from the point of view of someone 100 years old.

So I was staring at the cover wondering what I should write and then it hit me. Michael, the best friend of the main character Callie, is an artist. In the book, he’s often drawing the desperate Starters he sees living on the streets. My cover happened to be a drawing of Callie (that’s another story I’ll tell you sometime). So I worked it into the e-short, that Michael starts this sketch of Callie but she takes off on a mystery trip. He’s secretly in love with her, perhaps to the point of obsession, and so he follows her, not having a clue about the strange things he’s about to see.

Lenore’s post about dystopian endings made me think of how I want a hopeful ending – especially to the end of the series – in my YA dystopians. But when it comes to short stories, I’m more willing to accept a darker ending.

So have any authors here been asked to do these shorts by their publishers? Or have any of you written short stories, and how you feel about writing them?

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Prepare for the Apocalypse!

A few days ago I watched a report on German television. It was about people who were stockpiling and taking precautions for the impending crisis a.k.a apocalypse. I was surprised to see how many online shops had specialized on emergency supplies, especially since the start of the Euro crisis.

I have to admit that the report raised a smile on my face. I guess I’m just not someone who worries about the future – which I realize is funny considering I write dystopian fiction. In The Other Life, Sherry and her family have to live in a bunker for years and wouldn’t have survived without their provisions, after all...

 But even though I won’t start stocking our basement with survival equipment, I thought I shouldn’t keep the most important items for the apocalypse (according to the report and survival shops) from you.

1. Get rid of your money

Yes, you read that right. Our money will lose in value. So if you insist on hanging onto your paper money, the only thing it’ll be good for in the near future will be for keeping a fire going. Yep. That’s what I learned on websites and in the report. What you can do? Buy gold. Apparently gold won’t lose its value. So there. But do not hide the gold in your house. Scavengers will find it and kill you for it. Instead bury it in your backyard and don’t forget to bury other metal stuff too, so the scavengers with their metal detectors will have a hard time finding your gold supply. I hope for your sake that your memory is better than that of squirrels. They only find about 25% of the nuts they dig into the ground.

2. Food supply

If you want to survive the apocalypse you need food supplies in your basement. Better yet in your own private bunker. Of course you can’t take fresh vegetables and fruit with you. They won’t last for years. The solution: Dehydrated and dried food. It doesn’t take as much space as fresh products and it’s nonperishable. If you think you’ll have to eat the same thing for the remainder of your existence, you’re wrong. Apparently you can get almost anything in powder or dehydrated form.

Want chocolate mousse while the rest of the population gets wiped out by a snow storm? No problem. Chili con carne, hamburger in the can, tomato soup, spaghetti with meatballs, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, risotto, butter and milk pulver etc. The prepared survivalist won’t have to forgo anything.

3. Equipment

You don’t want to sit in the dark. What you need: a headlamp, batteries, crank light, flashlight, glow sticks and candles (am I the only one who’s worried about open fire in a closed bunker?)

You’ll need a camping stove for your meals and of course a heater to keep you warm. Some device for water storage and purification. Vitamines and minerals. And a first-aid kit in case one of you wants to give birth in the bunker or cuts their fingers off or some other appendage.

 This list could go on and on.
Are you prepared for the apocalypse? Do you think I’m taking this too lightly?

(Btw, the winner of the copy of The Other Life is brookea_2006. You’ll get an email from me soon).
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Adult vs YA dystopias - A Question of Hope

Science fiction asks the “what if” questions, like ‘what if there was life on mars” or “what if little green aliens attacked earth”. Dystopias ask “what if society was really, really frakked up?” – how would people live and what would they do about their situation?” Authors build fictional dystopian societies as a device to criticize some hot button cultural issue of the day and to show us what our future might be like if the human race doesn’t get their act together.

Dystopian novels written for adults tend to have unresolved and/or depressing endings while novels written with a teen audience in mind tend to have more uplifting or inspiring endings. If the teen protagonist doesn’t find a way to overthrow the society completely, he or she at least carves out some measure of freedom within or outside the society.

George Orwell wrote his dystopian classic 1984 in 1948 and publicly asserted that it was written as a response to the oppressive communist and fascist regimes of that time. 1984 ends with the protagonist broken after experiencing the horrors of room 101 - hardly something that inspires hope.

YA dystopias explore issues that are (or should be) on teen's minds and feature societies built on everything from marketers abuse of consumer privacy – such as in MT Anderson’s Feed – to government mandated plastic surgery – such as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games can be seen as a criticism of reality TV, Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island is a criticism of extreme environmentalism and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a criticism of the termination of human rights in the name of national security. None of these end as bleakly as 1984.

Post apocalyptic fiction is a very similar and often interchangeable subgenre which explores the question “what if there would be a complete breakdown of society due to some cataclysmic event?” Books in this category include The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Life as We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

YA post apocalyptic novels tend to be less brutally realistic than their adult counterparts. The Road is unflinchingly dark, putting mankind's most vile acts in full display and ending in a real downer of a way.  In Life As We Knew It, Miranda and her family are holed up at home and trying to survive after a meteor hits the moon and pushes it too close to Earth, causing massive societal disruptions. There are no more food deliveries so people are starving. At one point, Miranda’s cat goes missing. Had this been an adult dystopia like The Road, the cat would have been roasting over a fire and in some starving belly by day’s end. But no. The cat comes back! And he even has enough dry cat food to last him until society can get back on its feet again. I found this unrealistic in the context of a post-apocalyptic landscape, but there is no denying that such a scenario offers up a great deal of hope.

How do you like your dystopias? Hopeful or hopeless? Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day ;)

I Write Dirty Books, and I'm Proud of It.

Here’s one of the questions I’ve been asked frequently about my debut novel, ASHFALL: “Is it clean?” The first time the question came up, I was taken aback—what did he mean? I examined the stack of books on the table beside me—had I spilled my coffee and not noticed? After checking over a couple of the books, I reassured the questioner—yep, they’re clean. 

The librarian standing next to me was shaking her head. “He’s asking about the content,” she whispered. “Oh,” I replied, “it’s about an apocalypse, realistically depicted. It's violent.”

“That’s fine,” said the guy—a pastor—picking up a copy.

The librarian was still shaking her head. “There are, um, sexual situations in the book,” she said. The guy’s eyes widened, he set down the book, and marched away.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought, any kind of violence is okay but the mere mention of sex is not? ASHFALL has a scene in which Alex, the hero, knocks a man’s eye out of his skull. That’s better than two teens exploring their mutual attraction in a responsible, loving way? What exactly does that say about our culture? (None of the sex in ASHFALL is explicit, by the way—it all happens “off-screen,” during the chapter breaks. But if it were explicit, so what? It's not an illustrated book.)

I thought the pastor might be an aberration, but sadly, he wasn’t.  At one school I visited, the librarian prepared the students by reading the eye-popping scene out loud but scolded me for including fade-to-black “sex” scenes in the book.

I maintained my sense of indignation for months. Perversely, every time I was asked if ASHFALL was clean, I’d say no, it’s violent. I held out hope that eventually I’d find someone who would turn away from my work because of the violence, not because of a responsible teenage romance—gasp—realistically depicted. But if those people are out there—those who value love more highly than war—they’re awfully quiet.

But this is the world we live in. A video of a father taking a .45 to his daughter’s laptop goes viral, winning the approbation of millions—but one of him punishing her in a reasonable way, then hugging her and reassuring her of his love, despite her ridiculous outburst, would probably have been met with yawns.

For a while I responded by objecting to the question. If any book that mentions sex is dirty, isn’t the hidden assumption that all sex is dirty? Should we be burdening teens with that idea, rather than sharing the more truthful and sane message that sex is special and worth waiting for? (One wag on Twitter suggested that if I thought sex was clean I was doing it wrong. I’ll admit that possibility—I’ve been married for 19 years and in a committed, monogamous relationship for 25, so my experience is limited.)

Now I’ve decided to embrace the question. I still don’t like the implications of ‘dirty’ versus ‘clean,’ but I doubt I can change the way others use those terms. So yes, I write dirty books. Dirty in the sense of rich, fecund, and fertile. Dirty like this:

 Not clean like this:

And we need more dirty books for teens. More books that provide fertile soil for growth.  Dirty books accomplish two things: First, they can give a lifeline to teens who are experiencing, or might experience, difficult issues. Second, dirty books can help redress the precipitous drop in guys’ reading that occurs between middle and high school.

My book, ASHFALL, is intended to entertain. But some dirty books save lives. Cheryl Rainfield’s brilliantly dirty Scars, for example, provides hope for kids experiencing the kind of sexual abuse she survived. A patch of good dirt in which a life can grow. Can even be saved, perhaps.

Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl asks the question, “What happens after you make a mistake—have sex too early and with the wrong person?” It’s an important story—relevant to something on the order of half of all U.S.teenagers. How could that story even be told, if we limited ourselves to reading and writing “clean” books? If that were all we stocked in our schools and libraries? It’s a story that has to be dirty, and is appropriately dirty, in that it ends in growth, life, and hope.

This is part of the reason I’ve decided to embrace the dirty label, instead of continuing to struggle against it. Dirt makes our children stronger, in a literal as well as a figurative sense. I’m a writer now only because my parents had the foresight to take me out of a sterile, antiseptically clean school in fifth grade and move me to a chaotic, dirty school in sixth where I was—gasp—expected to read and write every day.

The noisy push for “clean” books is not only misguided, it’s actively harmful to kids—particularly teenage guys. 97% of teenagers play video games (shocking, I know). 50% of teenage boys play games rated Mature or Adults Only, while only 14% of girls play games with those ratings. Why? Many guys like violence and sex (again, shocking, I know).  Does anyone seriously believe that reading a book—almost any book—would be worse for a typical teenage guy than playing Grand Theft Auto?

Part of the cause of the dramatic drop-off in reading among teenage guys is because the publishing industry does not, by and large, produce young adult material that’s competitive with other forms of entertainment available to teens. Why doesn’t the publishing industry produce more “dirty” material for the YA market? Because teens are not generally buying the books they read for fun. Adults are—primarily women. The books kids read for fun predominantly come from: 1) a school library, 2) a public library, or 3) a parent’s purchase (Mom's, 70% of the time). And publishers—wisely, from a bottom line perspective—focus on producing books that the gatekeepers will buy.

There are two kinds of censorship. The good type is the noisy, public, Mr. Scroggins-style book challenge. This form of censorship is excellent because it gets people talking about books—often people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with a book. I learned about and read Sarah Ockler’s outstanding Twenty Boy Summer due to this type of challenge. (Thanks, Mr. Scroggins!) By the way, if anyone reading this is interested in starting a loud campaign to ban my novel ASHFALL, please contact me at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com—I’d like to help! I can write scathing press releases, stuff envelopes with protest mail, or even march with a picket sign if you like.

The second type is the bad kind—the censorship arising from selection policies. The quiet censorship of the library that only puts “clean” books on the shelves. Of the school that only chooses to invite authors of “clean” books to visit. If your library has nothing but “clean” books, how are you going to convince the half of your teenage guys who are playing adult games at home to pick up a book occasionally? The answer, of course, is that you aren’t. The themes that guys are interested in as middle graders—heroism, friendship, school stories, etc.—are amply addressed in middle grade literature. But as guys grow up, their literature doesn’t, so teen guys mostly either quit reading altogether or transition directly to adult books. (There are other reasons many teen guys don’t read, of course. For a more thorough discussion of that topic, check out this post.)

We need dirt. We need dirty books. No seedling ever sprouted on a hospital floor. Minds grow when engaged and challenged. And that’s why I’m not going to dodge the question “Are your books clean?” anymore. I’m going to say, no, I write dirty books. And I’m proud of it.

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Looking For Inspiration in the News

Okay, so I've been working on my newest WIP -- a science fiction novel I'm lovingly calling a "techno thriller." I adore all things technological, and I've decided in this futuristic (yet not dystopian) society, that uber-cool tech should exist.

I'm sure you can see the problem this poses. See, I don't live 60 years in the future. I am a simple elementary school teacher (although I am the technology specialist -- it's a glorified typing teacher, people. Don't get excited). I drive my kids to dance and watch basketball games on the weekends.

I'm not out there inventing the newest scientific gadget or trying to separate time.

But there are people who are.

And so I've started subscribing to some science websites, and reading information on the newest cybernetic lenses and how someone created a time cloak, and bullet-proof doors (who would need those? Well... I did say techno THRILLER). (I realize none of these things may be new to you, but they are to me. And they're helping me think beyond my own experience and knowledge.)

I never would've imagined that I'd like research so much. (I am a self-proclaimed research-hater.) But reading and watching these sorts of scientific advancements has really switched my brain on. I'm more able to think of what might happen in 60 years when I'm aware of what's happening now.

I'm finding inspiration in the news. Where do you find your inspiration?

My Sci-fi (ish) Bucket (ish) List for 2012

Ok, it's not so much a bucket list as a things-I'm-looking-forward-to-this-year list. Bucket list just sounds better. ;)  These are the top 10 science fiction / fantasy things I’m personally looking forward to this year. (Not including, of course, the 10 League books coming out this year. Can you believe it?)

1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (May 1)

I loved Divergent. If you haven’t read it, go forth and read.

2. Winds of Winter by George RR Martin (Who knows?)

This is supposedly the last installment in the Songs of Fire and Ice series. I don’t know when it’s scheduled to be published, but the FIRST CHAPTER of Winds of Winter is on Martin's web site. (That page says it's to be published last year; Dance of Dragons didn't come out until last July.)

3. New Neil Gaiman or Scott Westerfeld?

I'm jonesing for another Coraline or Graveyard Book or Leviathan trilogy. Hint, hint.

4. Hunger Games Movie (March 23)

Well, isn’t everyone looking forward to this?

5. The Hobbit Movie (December 14)

6. Dark Shadows movie (Summer)

Three of my favorite things together. Johnny Depp + Tim Burton + Dark Shadows. This could be totally brilliant or completely awful.  For you Dark Shadows virgins, Moviebyte did a quick introduction to the movie / series.

7. Game of Thrones Season 2 (April 1)

HBO's excellent adaptation of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones made me go read the Songs of Fire and Ice series -- only to discover it's not finished (see item 2 above).  Season 2 should be based on book 2, A Clash of Kings.

8. Walking Dead Season 2.5 (February 12)

I'm not usually a zombie fan, but AMC's The Walking Dead is a damn good show. Period.

9. HG Wells spinoff of Warehouse 13

Last spring, Hollywood Reporter and several other places reported that a Warehouse 13 spin-off was in the works, featuring one of my fave characters, HG Wells. The spin-off (possibly called Warehouse 12) is set in Victorian London. (Yes, it is Steampunk-ish.) We saw a backdoor pilot or sorts for it on last season's Warehouse 13 (via I09).

btw, HG is a woman.

10. The Apocalypse (December 21)

As we've all no doubt heard by now, the Maya calendar runs out on 12/21/12.  All the end-of-the-world prophecies are, of course, fiction (knock wood), but I'm secretly glad the Hobbit movie comes out before that date. ;)

The Mayans are probably laughing their asses off.

What are you looking forward to this year in the science fiction / fantasy (and/or young adult) universe?

I'm calm. No really, I'm totally calm.

Hi everyone! Man, it seems like forever since I've blogged. It's good to be back!

What's been up since last I blogged? In a word? Stress!

The last month or so has probably been fairly tumultuous. So much going on. Probably the biggest thing is that my wife and I are getting close to buying our first home and moving to upstate NY. We're super excited (in no small part because this means moving from a crappy apartment in Queens to a house with a wood burning fireplace and enough room where we can finally get a dog!) but like anyone who's bought a house before knows, the process is one of the more stressful you'll go through. Who knew one person could fill out so many forms? Or that so many different people could want money from us. Or that the subway does not go to upstate New York. People drive cars there! Crazy, but true.

On top of that I'm working on the final pre-ARC edits to my next book. (nope, still can't tell you the title or anything about it. Errrg.) One of the things I learned last go round was the huge importance of the ARC. For those who don't know, the ARC is the advance copy that goes out to bloggers, reviewers and other influential folk about 6 months or so before the book is formally released. So you can imagine getting the book ready for this stage is incredibly important. I know I made a few changes to The Eleventh Plague after the ARC went out that I really wish I had made before. Don't want that to happen again.

Oh and I'm also in talks about what happens next bookwise after this fall's release!

Whew! My heart is beating a little faster just writing all of that!  I will admit that I do have a bit of a tendency towards anxiety and am doing my best to keep myself calm in the midst of all of this.

So my question to all of you is…how do you keep an even keel when there's so much going on? Any good relaxation suggestions?

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I Love Robots!

I confess - I am a dyed-in-the-wool robot lover! Imagine how thrilled I was to see this!

Which goes along with this favorite!

Do you love robots? Got any favorites? (Besides R2D2 & C3PO!)

Stories Made Real

One of the cool things about sci fi and dystopian is that the very best ones show our world the way it could possibly be. I've read a few dystopians lately where I question how the world in the story is derived from the world in which we live in. It seems illogical that our world would go to those extremes willingly.

For me, I'd much prefer a dystopian to show a world where I can still see traces of my world. I want to believe that the world in the story is possible--so that I can prevent it from happening in my own, real world.

Which is why, when I was visiting the site of one of the best YouTube vloggers out there (Charlie Is So Cool Like), and I came across this fun video, my first thought was... well, why don't you watch it and tell me what book it's like?

Yup! Doesn't this remind you of our very own Angie Smibert and her debut, MEMENTO NORA?

MacGuffins: Using them effectively

The MacGuffin, often the object or information everyone is after, is one of the most popular elements in modern storytelling. The term popularized by Alfred Hitchock, who knew his shizz, is often the foundation the story is built around. But what is a macguffin? And how can we use them as writers? Here's a few classic MacGuffins: The Maltese Falcon - some will kill for it, but is it a priceless object or just symbolic of the dangers of greed?

The Letters of Transit - first off, if you start to think about these powerful letters of transit (that can not be rescinded), you'll smell something funny. I'm sure a bunch of Nazis would bow to some papers. But that's not the point, is it?

 The suitcase - Is it his soul? Another symbol? One thing's for sure we want to see in that box.

 Also this: The bar at my local theatre (headed there this afternoon)

To really get your mileage with a MacGuffin, it must be plausible, but it should serve as a catalyst. It gets the story going, and it shows up at times to give it a boost, but we don't dwell on it. Characters don't spend whole scenes analyzing it. Cynical Rick doesn't question why the heck Charles De Gaulle would sign those papers or why anyone would care. We don't see into the suitcase. Some of my favorite macguffins come courtesy of J.J. Abrams - various Rimabauldi artifacts. Even why they're stuck on the island is a MacGuffin. It provides a structure to tell a story and build characters, but don't look too closely or you might see the smoke and mirrors. Incidentally, I think this is why some people got so frustrated with Lost.

 For better or worse, building an entire series around a MacGuffin can backfire when people expect a profound revelation at the end. I'd learned my lesson with Alias.

 The show was never about Rimbauldi and his prophecies. It was about Sydney and her relationships. The rest was MacGuffins.

So when my Critique Partner and I were discussing Alcatraz the other day and he said, "I think I'll keep watching to see what the mystery is," I reminded him it was going to be a MacGuffin.  But there you have it, four episodes in and the show has him hooked on the promise of the mystery, on the promise of the MacGuffin.

 So my advice about using MacGuffins:
1. Make it interesting, but don't dwell on it.
2. Use it to enhance your characterization and relationship building.
3. Don't be surprised or offended when someone is upset that your MacGuffin didn't pay off. It's probably going to happen and that's ok.

What other MacGuffins come to mind when you think about movies, television, or books?  Do you like them or do they frustrate you?

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Book Trailers Going Strong in 2012!

If you haven’t noticed, book trailers are getting more sophisticated. Sometimes that’s because the publisher decides the book calls for a big production, complete with actors and sets. Random House made a stunning, magical period piece for Robin Bridges’ The Gathering Storm.

It’s one of my favorites. They also made a creepy, science fictiony one for me, for STARTERS.

And I love this one for Macmillian made for CINDER by Marissa Meyers which really makes you feel like it’s a movie or television trailer.

BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood not only has high production values, but wonderful casting and lots of kissing.

But sometimes these elaborate trailers are made by the authors themselves. And it’s because more people have access to equipment today. As digital continues to explode, I predict we’ll see more of this.

This one was designed by the author, cast with friends and family, and crewed by some talented people. You look at this and it’s hard to imagine that a publisher could beat it. Anne Greenwood Brown’s LIES BENEATH.

Here is another very ambitious trailer, this one with dialogue, made by the author and friends: HARBINGER by Sara Wilson Etienne. Anyone who has ever made a short film knows how much work this is.

Even though I’m focusing on complicated trailers, sometimes a simple one might be the most elegant solution. But I suspect most authors would like to have the option to see their dreams realized, however they visualize them. And we’ve all become so visually sophisticated that using standard images seen too often in the early book trailers will now pass over our eyes, barely noticed and quickly forgotten.

What an author brings to the design of her own trailer is passion and an intimate sense of her own story that no one else can beat. The challenges to the amateur production are obvious – less budget, less access to professional talent, actors and crew. But one thing the author needs to do is learn when to let go. That means keep it on the short rather than long side. When you work so hard, months in prep, and days in production, not to mention what can be weeks of post, the author is often too close to the blood, sweat and tears to be able to make judicious cuts.

If you decide to make your own trailer, be sure you get feedback from friends who are in film school or pros, preferably at the storyboard/script stage, but definitely when it’s time for the final cut. Unless of course, you’re an author like Ransom Riggs, who used to make trailers professionally.

There are lots of cool trailers out there. If you know of one made for a YA science fiction/fantasy 2012 release that you like, tell us about it in the comments.

Celebration + Giveaway!

Today THE OTHER LIFE hits shelves in the UK!
3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since I’d seen daylight. One-fifth of my life. 98,409,602 seconds since the heavy, steel door had fallen shut and sealed us off from the worldSherry has lived with her family in a sealed bunker since things went wrong up above. But when they run out of food, Sherry and her dad must venture outside. There they find a world of devastation, desolation...and the Weepers: savage, mutant killers.

When Sherry's dad is snatched, she joins forces with gorgeous but troubled Joshua - an Avenger, determined to destroy the Weepers.

But can Sherry keep her family and Joshua safe, when his desire for vengeance threatens them all?

I can't believe my little book is out in the world! (Well, in the UK! It'll be out in the US May 1st!). But if you don't want to wait that long, I'm giving away one final signed copy of THE OTHER LIFE to one lucky winner!

Would you like to watch the trailer?

I guess you're wondering what you have to do for a chance to win?
Just comment on this post with your email address and you'll be entered! The giveaway is international! I'll announce the winner February 15th on this blog!

If you would like to stay busy until then, you can read diary entries from Joshua's POV on five blogs. You can find the first diary entry here!

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