Post-Apocalyptic Jello and Caviar Delight

Today we have a guest post from Peggy Eddleman, author of Through the Bomb's Breath, a MG post-apocalyptic adventure coming in September 2013.  Learn more about Peggy below.

Let's say that you're a chef instead of a writer. (Just go with me on this one for a minute.) And you come up with the BEST recipe EVER. One that you love. You may have some different tastes in foods, but you know plenty of other people with different tastes in foods, and you know they will LOVE what you made, too. So you work hard and perfect your creation, which you've named Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar. And it's truly incredible. You know not many people eat something like it every day, but if you could just get a major chain restaurant to put it on their menu, Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar-loving people everywhere will cheer.

Permission granted by Mark Fickett, and by [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, and by Maks D. (My dinner) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So you present your perfected creation to Olive Garden, P.F. Changs, Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster, Applebees, and The Cheesecake Factory.

Every single one of them turns you down.

And they all give you the same reason-- they don't think there's a big enough market for Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar to justify carrying all the ingredients in all their restaurants, training all their chefs on how to make it, advertising, and reprinting all the menus.
And really, can you blame them? They are, after all, a business. If they put things on their menu that would lose them money, how are they supposed to stay afloat? So... does that mean Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar is awful? Not necessarily. Should you just give up on your dream of people eating it?

Well, that depends on what, exactly, your dream is.

If your dream is to get people to eat Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar, then no-- don't give up on it! There's not a lot of Cheeto Peanut Butter Rainbow Jello Delight, Topped with Pineapple and Caviar out there, and you'd be filling a niche that not many others are.You just need to find the right way to sell it. A food truck. A roadside stand. Your own restaurant. By mail order. 
If your dream is to get one of your creations in a major restaurant chain, then yes. Maybe it's time to re-evaluate the kinds of things you're submitting.
(You do get the analogy here, right?)

So what? You're telling me to give up on writing what I'm passionate
about and only write things that are commercial?!

Pshaw. Heck no. Let's take HUNGER GAMES / GREGOR THE OVERLANDER author Suzanne Collins for example. She is the daughter of a military officer, so hearing about wars and strategies and the harsh realities of what happens to children in a war-ridden country were common dinner table discussions. It fascinated her. She could've very easily taken that knowledge and fascination and written a Vietnam War narrative. Or went non-fiction, and wrote about the history behind war. She probably would've really enjoyed writing them, and some people would've really enjoyed reading them. They probably wouldn't have sold a ton of copies. Would that have been bad? ABSOLUTELY NOT. She would've been writing what she was passionate about and getting it out there for people to read. Instead, she chose to take that same knowledge and fascination and wrote something that would appeal to a much broader audience. She really enjoyed writing them, and people really enjoy reading them. Does that mean she sold out? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Because she was still writing what she was passionate about and getting it out there for people to read.

Everyone has different writing / publishing dreams and goals. Yours are more than likely exactly perfect for you. If your dream is about a specific creation, (a.k.a. a specific manuscript), no matter how outside of mainstream it is, then follow that dream! If it's about getting yours to a major publishing house, then take that fascination and passion burning inside of you, and look at what is also going to appeal to the broadest range of people.

Because like it or not, publishing is a business.

Peggy Eddleman is the author of THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH, a post-apocalyptic adventure for middle grade readers about a girl who can't invent, in a town where it's the most important thing. When bandits invade, inventing won't help, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets her into trouble just might. THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH releases from Random House in September 2013. You can find out more about Peggy and her book at:

Too Many Curators in the Kitchen

Today’s guest author, Lana Krumwiede, is a self-proclaimed board game queen who has an interesting look at the similarities between writing a novel and curating.  Lana debuts next month with her MG novel, FREAKLING. Peek below to see the wonderful cover.

I feel sorry for buzz words. They're like actors who have the misfortune of being typecast for the rest of their lives. So sad. The latest victim is a perfectly good word: curate. These days, people are curating everything from spice racks to retail inventory. Even so, at a recent conference, the word caught my attention when someone commented that authors should think of themselves as story curators.

I've been thinking about the concept of story curating, and I decided it's not a bad term for the past five years of laboring to bring my story into the world. After all, "show, don't tell" is the writer's watch cry, and I love thinking of the scenes of my story as a series of displays, selected and arranged in thoughtful order by me, the story curator. I can testify that a lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into getting those displays set up just so.

First comes research. The story curator has to become a subject specialist on everything related to the story. My research included various theories of psychokinesis. Some people think that moving things with mental exertion might be possible if we could figure out how to make better use of our brain and tap into certain cosmic connections. Even though this is the fantasy element of Freakling, I needed it to sound perfectly logical and even mundane in Taemon's world. Research was key. It became grist for the world-building mill. That is, I was able to use this information to create a setting that felt rich and layered and real. But a story curator's expertise doesn't end with setting. She must know everything about the character, the character's family, and the events leading up to the story. That's a mountain of information--too much, in fact. Which leads nicely to the story curator's next task.

A story curator carefully chooses items for the exhibit. The curator knows he can't possibly fit all the items he's collected into the space available. So he sorts through everything and selects only those pieces that will best portray the emotion, communicate the story, and help patrons connect with the characters. Every author has to do this, whether it's during an outlining process or after the first draft. Tough choices have to be made, or the story suffers.

A story curator makes decisions about the arrangement and presentation of the exhibit.  For this part of the job, the curator needs a strong sense of story. What is the most logical sequence of events? What is the best beginning? How will the tension build? How will I create the context that the patron needs to make sense of the exhibit? How will I set up the climax? These decisions will affect the emotional impact and the satisfaction that the patron feels at the end of the exhibit.

The story curator is responsible for the care of the objects in the exhibit. This comes into play as a writer seeks out an agent and a publisher for the story. You are assembling a team to care for and nurture your story, so find people you can trust. You are your story's best advocate.

After all that work, to see the exhibit finally open to the public is an incredible feeling. It's the story curator's finest moment. And curator, may I point out, is still a perfectly good word.

Lana Krumwiede began her writing career by writing stories and poetry for magazines such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, Babybug, The Friend, and Chicken Soup for the Child’s Soul. Her first novel, Freakling, will be released October 9th from Candlewick Press. Freakling is the story of Taemon, a boy who lives in a city where everyone has telekinetic powers called psi. Everyone, that is, but Taemon. Lana had tried has tried psi many times, especially in association with household chores, but could never make it work. A sequel to Freakling is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release. You can learn more about Freakling at Lana’s website:

Blogger Perks: Epic Meet-ups

One of my favorite parts of blogging has always been the community of authors and book bloggers. I've had the opportunity to meet many of my favorite authors and bloggers over the years, even some of my fellow League authors. I met Genn Albin for the first time last September and Mike Mullin at BEA this year - but I wasn't slick enough to get our photos taken together.  So today, when Susanne Winnacker came to Frankfurt and we went to my favorite sushi restaurant at Eschenheimer Tor (yes - the very one that makes a cameo appearance in LEVEL 2), I made sure we secured pictoral evidence:

Lenore and Susanne after devouring sushi

Next up I get to meet Lissa Price in November! So watch out Beth, Angie and Elana - I'm coming for you ;)


The ASHEN WINTER blog tour has begun. Mundie Moms kicked it off yesterday with a giveaway--it's super easy to enter, and you could win both ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER, autographed by Stephanie Meyer! (Well, I really mean that I'll do an extraordinarily bad job of forging Stephanie Meyer's signature if you want, although I'm actually better at signing my own name.)

Today I'm at Book Love 101 with an interview. Book Love 101 is totally the wrong title for this blog, by the way. Amanda Marie has AT LEAST a master's degree in loving books, so it should be Book Love 501, amIright? Anyway, you can go there to learn which book I think everyone should read (well, everyone who was born into a Western culture, anyway).

If you want to follow along for the rest of the blog tour, here are the stops. I'll update these with links to the actual posts as they go live:

Sept 23 - Mundie Moms
Sept 24 - Book Love 101
Sept 24 - Crossroad Reviews
Sept 26 - Good Choice Reading
Sept 27 - Page Turners
Sept 27 - Alluring Reads
Sept 28 - Book and Things
Sept 28 - Bookpics
Sept 30- Bea Book Nook
Oct 2- Unabridged Book Shelf 
There will be at least six giveaways of signed first-edition hardcovers of ASHEN WINTER and paperbacks of ASHFALL--some open internationally. I also wrote about a dozen brand new guest posts--if you're interested in survival tips or taekwondo, you're in for a treat. There will also be some amazing interviews, so stay tuned! Many, many thanks to Savannah Valdez at Books with Bite for organizing the tour.

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What makes YA YA?

Here is a guest blog from my friend Jay Kristoff, whose debut just came out yesterday! It is a Japanese Steampunk...YA? Or not? Read and let us what you think in the comments!

I’ve come to something of a terrible realization over the past twelve months: I don’t know what YA is.

I have a vague understanding what it looks like. I have a vague impression of what a poster-child YA book might read like. But that’s the problem – everything is vague. I have a book coming out this week called STORMDANCER (plug, plug, plug) and opinion seems somewhat divided about whether it’s a YA book or not. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know myself.

The term “YA literature” seems to lack a concrete definition, or at least one that I can find. I’ve discovered some common themes suggested by learned folks in the blogosphere, but many of them don’t seem to ring true. Observe:

a. YA novels are books read by a Young Adult audience (someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen according to the American Library Association). Now this one is demonstrably wrong – the legion of adult YA fans out there are testament to that. After all, I’ve been known to read YA, and while I might look like a fifteen year old when I shave off my facial hair, my days asking dad if I can borrow the car are well and truly over. YA seems to be read by anyone with eyes.

b. YA novels have teenage protagonists. This is pretty much true. But, are all novels with teenage protagonists YA? Take The Lovely Bones for example. This is a story told through the eyes of a 14 year old girl, and while some of the marketing for tLB was aimed at teenagers, it definitely wasn’t pushed solely on a YA platform, nor received as such by critics or the media. So while a YA novel needs a teenaged MC, not all books with teenaged MCs are YA. So insofar as nailing down our definition, I’m not sure how much this helps us.

c. YA novels feature the notion of ‘becoming an adult’ as a central theme. Is this really true? Let’s take a look at the goliath of current YA properties – the Hunger Games. Is “growing up” in any way part of Katniss’s story in tHG? She seems to already be an adult in her mindset and worldview - she’s pragmatic, capable, possessed of empathy for her friends and family, yet perfectly capable of being apathetic to others. At the beginning of the novel, she hates the Capitol, by the end, she still hates them. She doesn’t appear to come to any dramatic conclusions about herself as a person – the only real change she undergoes is in regards to her feelings for Peeta (sort of), and her increased ability to ‘game the game’. Does this really constitute “coming of age”? Can it be truly said that Katniss begins the tHG as a girl, and ends it a woman?

d. YA novels deal with issues that are important to a YA audience – defining moral/ethical beliefs, acquiring social understanding/developing behaviour, finding emotional independence, sex, drugs, marriage, impending parenthood, claiming responsibility for oneself and one’s actions. This one is similar to “becoming an adult”. And again, I hold up tHG. Does Katniss do any of these things? She’s already responsible, mature, defined in her opinions. She already knows how she feels about most of the pressing issues in her life. Maybe she fails as a typical YA heroine? Take a look at another YA novel (soon to be movie) – Ender’s Game. The only teen issue Ender deals with through the book is peer acceptance, and this doesn’t seem to be a theme throughout the novel, more a source of conflict than anything else. It would also seem logical that, if a book stars a teenage MC, that MC is going to be dealing with issues relating to teen life at some point. If you’ve fulfilled point b. then point d. is logically going to follow. Its almost like saying if you write a vampire novel, you’re going to mention drinking blood. True, yes, but stating the obvious a little maybe? And it definitely doesn’t seem to be a rule.

e. YA novels are typically fast paced and deal with powerful emotions – Fast paced? One skim through Twilight will tell you that not all YA is running a mile a minute. Powerful emotions? Sure, but isn’t this true of any novel? Stories are built around points of conflict – I can’t recall many novels I’ve read recently where the MCs weren’t experiencing powerful emotions at some point. Jealousy, rage, lust, joy, greed, hubris these are the tools that most narratives are constructed around. So yes, while it’s true that YA books contain them, I’m not sure they contain them in greater abundance than adult fiction. Certainly not genre fiction, anyway.

f. Parents are usually not in the picture in YA books. This seems a logical outcome from point b. You’re writing a story about a teenager saving the world – it might be a short book if said teenager gets grounded in chapter 3 for coming home with demon blood on their jeans. This doesn’t seem so much a defining trait of YA as a necessary construct within the narrative to allow the teenage MC to do whatever it is they have to do without Mother/Father getting all up in their grille. Besides which, I’m certain there are YA books with the parents still in the picture. So what are we left with? There are no real taboos (Virginia Andrews was writing teen books with incest as a theme back in the 80s) that YA won’t deal with, so it can’t be something like ‘subject matter’. And in terms of complexity of plot or language, YA might be deemed “simple” by some, but certainly no more simple than the average mass market adult bestseller. It’s not like the plot for The DaVinci Code was complex?

So what is it?

What makes YA YA?
Jay Kristoff is a Perth-born, Melbourne-based author. His first trilogy, THE LOTUS WAR, was purchased in the three-way auction by US publishing houses in 2011. He is as surprised about it as you are. The first instalment, STORMDANCER, is set to be published in September 2012 in the US, UK and Australia.


Edinburgh Book Festival

I know I'm a bit late with my account of my experiences at Edinburgh Book Festival which took place from August 11th until August 27th in (as you might have guessed...) Edinburgh. But I have a good explanation: editing two books (IMPOSTOR and THE LIFE BEYOND) and starting a new book while spending half of your time in hotels and not at home is a bit stressful...

I was in Edinburgh from August 18th - 25th with a friend. But I didn't spend all my time at the book festival since the city is just too pretty to miss.

If you haven't been to the festival before, let me tell you how awesome it is! It's a small town of tents on Charlotte Square in the "new town" of Edinburgh.  A small tent town full of readers, writers and other book peeps. You walk on wooden boards from tent to tent, since the lawn can get pretty soggy from all the rain...
Here's a pic that shows you what I'm talking about:

Here you can see me walking from the Author's Yurt toward one of the event tents. That day I had an event with Alexander Gordon Smith whose THE FURY is an amazing and scary YA dystopian!

In this picture you can see me and Gordon (Alexander Gordon Smith) at our event. Maybe you can see the bloody limbs lying on stage? Isn't that awesome? And absolutely fitting, since both Gordon's and my book have zombie-like creatures. This was a school event, by the way.

Here you can see me and Alexander Gordon Smith signing our books after our event. 

Here you can see Teri Terry, Anne Cassidy and me after our event, signing our books. 

I didn't only attend my own events though. I saw Dave Cousins (Fifteen Days Without a Head) and Sara Grant (Dark Parties), Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), Kim Newman (Anno Dracula), and Sophie McKenzie (The Medusa Project, Sister Missing). There are just so many fantastic events to choose from (adult, non-fiction, picture book, young adult...)! And the atmosphere is wonderful, especially in the author's yurt where all the authors gather before and after their events. The yurt isn't open to the public but there are enough other tents to spend your time in if you aren't an author. There are two book shop tents - one only for children's book, several event tents and even two café tents where you can eat sandwiches, cookies, cake, and drink coffee and, of course, tea. You can also sit on chairs in the middle of the square between the tents, enjoying the few hours of sunshine. It was wonderful!

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Four Chapter Excerpt of Level 2 online!

I'm in Kyrgyzstan this week, so no huge post from me, but I did want to alert you to the fact that you can now read the first 50 pages of LEVEL 2 on the new Facebook page for the Memory Chronicles series!  You can also grab a countdown widget and just generally get excited for its January 15, 2013 release date.

Run for your afterlife!!

Why ASHFALL Has a New Cover

Three weeks ago I posted about receiving my author copies of ASHEN WINTER in hardback--it's the sequel to my debut novel, ASHFALL. (To summarize the post: squee!) I also got author copies of the paperback edition of ASHFALL with its new cover. Fellow blogger and author Lissa Price (I just called Lissa a fellow. Snicker. Sorry, Lissa!), asked a great question in the comments: why'd the cover change?

To answer the question, let me refresh your memory on what the hardback ASHFALL cover looks like:

I love this cover like Santa Claus loves reindeer. The artwork is a composite of photographs taken and digitally manipulated by Ana Correal--see more of her amazing artwork here. It's perfect for my book--tough, dark, and a little bit foreboding.

So why did it change?

In the world of book sales, there's one retailer that wields a huge influence over covers. Not the biggest retailer, that'd be Amazon. But Amazon carries everything--you can have the worst book cover ever, and Amazon will still sell your book. The most influential retailer of physical books is this one:

As I understand it, there was a rumor that someone at B&N didn't like the hardback ASHFALL cover. That they thought it was too dark and grey--a fair criticism, although life after a supervolcano would be pretty darn grey for a while. I have no idea if the rumor was even true. But here's the thing, B&N is so important to physical book sales, that even the rumor that someone there didn't love the cover was enough to spur a change.

Does this bother me? Not in the least. Because I got new covers out of the deal:

They're also by Ana Correal. See, more color! I love these even more than Santa Claus loves his reindeer. Even more than he loves reindeer even if he loved them in highly inappropriate ways, which he doesn't, but I'm just . . . oh, never mind.

And that's why the cover of ASHFALL changed. Look for the shiny new covers in a bookstore near you on October 8th!

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Using the Present to Inspire Your Dystopian

Today I'm hosting Amy Christine Parker, whose debut The Silo will be released in 2013.  Learn more about Amy and her book below.

Creating societies that might exist in the future and making them seem realistic is a challenge. You have to do extensive world building—figuring out your government and how it works, developing a fresh culture with its own set of beliefs and norms, deciding on the chain of events that led to the development of this new world—and much, much more. It’s enough to make any writer’s head spin. And it isn’t as if you can research this new world you’re creating or follow some sort of template because we’re talking about the future, right? A blank page, uncharted territory and all of that. Well, actually, I don’t think that we are. I think that templates for future societies, in particular dystopian ones, exist right now. Let me show you what I mean.

Let’s start with a list of characteristics that Elana Johnson compiled on this blog in a post she did a little while ago. (you can read the whole post here)

A dystopian society is:

  • A society that includes "bad" things.
  • A society in a post-apocalyptic world.
  • A "closed" society--one that exists without any outside influence.
  • A society that includes an overbearing government.
  • A novel that includes social commentary.
If you take out the post-apocalyptic part, there are lots of societies surrounding us today that meet the other requirements listed.

Let’s look at one example: the Amish. Now granted, they don’t make up most of our current society and are probably considered more of a subculture, but I’d argue that their world is good inspiration for any fictional dystopian society. They’re closed in that they refuse to be a part of the rest of modern society. They have their own system of leadership, specifically a deacon who decides how and when to enforce the set of rules that their society lives by. Their entire way of life is controlled, from what they wear to who they can talk to, to how they prepare meals and support their families. And many of their members are disillusioned by their way of life, but terrified to leave it because of how the rest of the society will react. Sounds very dystopian, right? And right now there’s even a television show, Breaking Amish, which follows several young people as they leave this society and explore ours.
Their stories are so similar to a dystopian novel that it’s eerie. This show and the Amish society itself are perfect inspiration for a dystopian novel.

And what about certain countries? Iraq under Saddam Hussein is a great example of a dystopian-like society, and even more currently, North Korea. Also, many cults fit most of this definition as well. My first novel, THE SILO, is based on a cult and I absolutely played up the dystopian elements to the society I created even though the story takes place in the present. There are a whole host of cultures and societies that look dystopian once you examine them a little. So really, when you think about it, all you need to inspire your own dystopian society is just a mouse click away.

Amy Christine Parker is the author of the upcoming novel, THE SILO, about a girl who's grown up in an apocalyptic cult. She begins to question what she's been taught as the "end times" approach, causing the cult’s leader, Pioneer, to alter his plans, which accelerate and grow ever more dangerous for all involved, debuting with Random House in Fall 2013. You can find out more about Amy and her book on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter.

ChiCon Report

How many of you have attended one of the larger cons like the World Science Fiction Convention known as WorldCon? I recently returned from my first one as a published author. John Scalzi was the terrific toastmaster who kept the Hugo Awards both funny and classy, we had a surprise visit by Neil Gaiman himself to accept his well-deserved award for Best Dramatic Presentation short form with the wonderful “The Doctor’s Wife” for Dr. Who, and George RR Martin was genuinely thrilled and surprised to win for long form, even though the audience knew he would win.

I was on two panels on the peak day, Saturday, which was fun because of the new fans and authors you get to meet. One panel I had requested -- "How You Get Your Ideas" -- and the other one I was assigned to. That one was called -- "Moral Ambiguity in Your Characters" -- and I was honored to be there with Jay Lake, Nancy Kress and Charles Stross, all multi-published authors. Our moderator was Bryan Thomas Schmidt, who kept the panel lively and even funny, especially for such a heavy topic. The room was packed, people sitting on the floor, and was well-received.

My first panel was opposite George RR Martin on the conference grid, so I didn’t expect anyone would show up. But we did have a nice turnout and a great group of authors. Former CIA member Tom King moderated for us, with the esteemed Harry Turtledove really showing us all how to be a consummate professional in all circumstances. He always has the best stories. 

Much of the fun took place after dark. On Friday my publisher put on a special invitational cruise down the river. I had no idea how gorgeous the Chicago architecture would be from the water, all lit up, with movie soundtrack music making you feel like this is the best cruise of your life (the alcohol and appetizers didn’t hurt). George RR Martin was there, along with GoT actor Ron Donachie, and many of the convention’s biggest authors. I was able to catch up with 2010 Hugo winner Paolo Bacigalupi and meet a writer I’ve admired for a long time for her “Kitty” series, Carrie Vaughn, as well as the lovely Liza Groen Trombi who won the Hugo this year.

Click to see George wearing his signature cap.

The other thing to do at night is party hop. You take the elevator to the top floor and work your way down. You never know who you’re going to meet from the whole range of people from fans who like to dress in costume to some of the best authors and editors working in science fiction and fantasy. A surprising amount of business takes place then. And then there are also those seeking the android of their dreams.

So many people volunteer their time all year to make the con a success. One group that came across my radar this year is the dealers. They work so hard, packing their cars and driving across the country, getting little sleep, to bring us the books and jewelry and treasures. They are the first ones there building their booths, and the last ones to leave, carefully packing up each book to carry home.

One of my treasures!

So tell us – have you gone to one of these large cons? How was it? Did you meet anyone? Fall in love?

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

This week marks the 5th year of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, a yearly event to celebrate book bloggers that started my first year of book blogging back in 2008. After only four months of book blogging, my blog Presenting Lenore had already made enough impact to be nominated for Best YA blog that first year (an honor I won in 2010).

It's hard to believe how far I've come in five years, and I'll never tire of saying just how much book blogging was instrumental to my success as an author. In my acknowledgements for LEVEL 2 I say thank you to book bloggers for challenging me and enabling me.  What do I mean by that?  Let's break it down:

Challenging me
Book bloggers love creating and joining reading challenges, and though I've never been terribly successful at completing them, they have been my impetus for expanding my reading horizons (i.e. trying out an adult category romance book and reading more POC novels and more overlooked gems in general).  And book bloggers challenged me to read MORE books.  Before book blogging, I read maybe 50 books a year - which I considered a lot. After book blogging? More than 150 a year.  All this reading fed into my idea kitchen and gave me an excellent basis to start writing.

Enabling me
Ask a book blogger if you should buy/read a certain book always leads to the inevitable answer of YES.  So thanks to book bloggers for expanding my book buying habit about 30 fold.  Book bloggers have also been incredibly supportive of my writing habit - forgiving me when I go days at a time without posting on my once incredibly active blog.

But it's not just that. Coming from a book blogger background I am intimately aware of how much commitment it is to review one single book. Let's say an average time needed to read a book is 4 hours.  Then you have writing a review which may take around 1 hour.  Then there is the time spent formatting it and finding links and extra content as well as linking the review on twitter, facebook and other social media - not to mention uploading it to amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and NetGalley which can also take up to an hour.  So the average book review you see on a blog? Takes that blogger 6 hours. And they do it for free. Because they love books.  And that's why I'm always amazed and incredibly grateful when book bloggers review LEVEL 2. It's a remarkable gift that I will never stop appreciating.



Courage, Passion, and Determination

This weekend was a trifecta of writerly inspiration. On Friday night my wife, Margaret, and I went to a dinner sponsored by the Indiana Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I sat next to Alina Klein, whose debut young adult novel, Rape Girl, came out last year. So of course I dragged my copy along and bugged Alina for her autograph.

Rape Girl is an amazing book, one that belongs on your shelves alongside books like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. But what I find most inspiring about Rape Girl is the fact that it exists. You see, it's loosely based on Alina's own experience as a teenage rape survivor. (A fact she discusses in the author's note at the back of the book.) I can't even imagine the courage it took to write this book.

I've been kicking a blog post around in the back of my brain for more than a year--one that would deal with my middle school experience with child molesters--but I can't summon the courage to write it. Yes, I break concrete blocks with my bare hands, but I'm a wimp compared to Alina. It takes real courage to write.

Saturday night Margaret and I went to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Conner Prairie. I guess you'd call them a swing/jazz band.

What amazed me about BBVD was their passion--they're totally committed to their music and their audience. They break the conventions of their genre: electric guitar in a swing band? Banjo? Sure--they make it work! They play with an infectious abandon--if the Greek god Dionysus returned to earth, these guys would play for his procession.

As I enjoyed the music, I thought: this is how I want to write, with a wild disregard for everything but the words and my audience. I want to write words that unleash an irresistible flood of emotion, words that inspire laughter, dancing, or tears. It takes passion to be a writer.

Sunday was a day for yard work at the Mullin home. I bought two cubic yards of hardwood mulch to spread across the flower beds in our front yard. As the attendant at the garden center cut into the pile of mulch with his front-end loader, I noticed it was smoking. Even an hour later, the mulch in the back of my pickup truck was hot to the touch.

Unloading that much mulch from the truck to the wheelbarrow to the flower beds is a lot of work. My score? Five blisters formed, one popped. As I turned up yet another spadeful of black mulch, a spot of green rose to the top. It was an acorn, still a beautiful light green color despite its sojourn in the smoking mulch pile. I have no idea how long it had been buried there or how it escaped being ground to mulch, holding onto its life while all the neighboring twigs and leaves turned a uniform dark brown.

I felt I had a metaphor rather than an acorn on the end of my spade. All writers spend time buried among the thousands of others querying literary agents or struggling to find their readership via self-publishing. A few of us, like that acorn, hang on long enough to be unearthed. It takes determination to be a writer.

My weekend reminded me of the traits I aspire to as an author: courage, passion, and determination. How was your weekend? Let me know in the comments, please.

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Going All Out

Okay, so this has been one of the best summers for me. I read a lot of books. I met a lot of authors. And there's something I've noticed in the science fiction I've been reading. It goes all out.  Like, the technology is hard-core, or the space travel, or whatever the element is.

And I love it. It's been a good reminder for me as an author to go all out. Sometimes I think we need those reminders, and that's why reading is such an important part of writing.

One example I'm thinking of is INSIGNIA by SJ Kincaid. I haven't finished it yet. In fact, I'm only about 75 pages in. But the main character, Tom, gets recruited to help fight in World War III (no spoilers here!). And the technology that Kincaid uses to do this is awesome.

It's all out.

Do you like your sci fi to go all out? Take you to technological places you hadn't thought of?

Overachievers and Geeks: Two Nonfiction Books for Us YA Writers

In the spirit of Random Acts of Publicity, I want to plug two nonfiction books by Alexandra Robbins that I read recently:
  • The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids (2007)

  • The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School (2011)

In both, Robbins studies real high school kids, and the best parts of the books read like good YA fiction. That’s hard to do—making real life (and some theoretical stuff) as interesting as well written characters.

The titles of the books really do tell you what they’re about. Book one is about those overachievers trying to get into Harvard and Stanford and the like—and about how really ultracompetitive it is these days. (Who knew there were professional coaches you could hire to make sure you got into these universities?)

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is about how the outsiders (the so called freaks and geeks) really are better equipped to take on the world post high school. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

In a smart, entertaining, reassuring book that reads like fiction, Alexandra Robbins manages to cross Gossip Girl with Freaks and Geeks and explain the fascinating psychology and science behind popularity and outcasthood. She reveals that the things that set students apart in high school are the things that help them stand out later in life. Robbins follows seven real people grappling with the uncertainties of high school social life, including:
  • The Loner, who has withdrawn from classmates since they persuaded her to unwittingly join her own hate club;
  • The Popular Bitch, a cheerleading captain both seduced by and trapped within her clique's perceived prestige;
  • The Nerd, whose differences cause students to laugh at him and his mother to needle him for not being "normal";
  • The New Girl, determined to stay positive as classmates harass her for her mannerisms and target her because of her race;
  • The Gamer, an underachiever in danger of not graduating, despite his intellect and his yearning to connect with other students;
  • The Weird Girl, who battles discrimination and gossipy politics in school but leads a joyous life outside of it;
  •  The Band Geek, who is alternately branded too serious and too emo, yet annually runs for class president.

In the middle of the year, Robbins surprises her subjects with a secret challenge--experiments that force them to change how classmates see them. ...

If you’re an educator and/or parent, the theoretical and statistical discussion (in both books) might interest you. However, I found myself flipping past some of this to get back to kids. In both books, Robbins lets the students speak for themselves throughout the year or so that she studied them. That’s pure gold for a writer.

What nonfiction books would you recommend for YA/MG writers? Anybody read Robbin's other books?

Extraordinary News From the League!

We've had lots of exciting things happening in the League lately, and wanted to let everyone know. So settle in, grab some popcorn, and learn all about it! :)

Our own Angie Smibert has a lot going on right now. First, check out the sale Amazon has on her books: MEMENTO NORA ($1.99) and THE FORGETTING CURVE ($1.99; free for Prime members). If you've not checked these books out before, now's your chance to snatch them up at a great bargain!

  • THE MEME PLAGUE, the next book of the series, will come out June 25, 2013. Find out more here.
  • MEMENTO NORA will be out in paperback by next spring.
  • Angie's short story, "The Long Glorious Now of Max Madden" is the September issue of Odyssey, a teen/tween science magazine.
And speaking of new books, Elana Johnson has sold the third book in the POSSESSION series to Simon & Schuster! The cover for this book, ABANDON, will be revealed on September 20, and if you'd like to participate in the reveal, then you can find more information here.

Lenore Appelhans has great news about the audiobook version of her debut, LEVEL 2: it's going to be narrated by Jenna Lamia, and will be released from Listening Library in January 2013.

There's a lot going on in the foreign publishing department, too! Lissa Price's book, STARTERS, was a feature at the recent Brazilian Sao Paulo Book Festival, thanks to her publisher Novo Conceito. They made a 12 foot high version of the book for the display! You can see more pictures here.

And finally, CREWEL, the debut of Gennifer Albin has sold Bulgarian rights to Bard Publishing. 

Congratulations to all of our League members! Have any of you got some awesome news to share?

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