Goodreads Choice Awards

Yesterday the opening round for the Goodreads Choice Awards began. Now you can vote for the nominees or write in your favorite books or authors in 20 categories.
There'll be three rounds:
The opening round from October 30th - November 10th
Semifinals: November 12th - November 17th
Final round: November 19th - November 27th
And at the end of the three voting rounds the winners will be announced. Winners that only the reader will determine. No jury, no committee.
I've been wondering how much value other people, especially readers of course, put into awards.
What's more important for you: An award like the Printz that's awarded by a committee, or a reader's choice award like the Goodreads Choice Awards?
Do you pay attention to awards? Would you buy a book just because it won the Goodreads Choice Awards or the Printz?
At first glance, I'd say that an award like the Printz says something about the literary merit of a book, while the Goodreads Choice Awards are purely based on the enjoyability - the fun factor of a book.
Did I get it wrong?
I'm personally not paying much attention to awards, though I love the Goodreads Choice Awards because every time I log into goodreads I can see what my friends have voted, I discover new books and I find myself browsing the nominees. But does that mean I'll buy a book just because it's nominated, or even wins the awards? The answer is no, but it'll definitely make me curious.
Let me know your thoughts on the matter!

Btw, I revealed my cover for my YA thriller IMPOSTOR (Silence of the Lambs meets X-men) a few days ago on the YA highway blog!

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10 Things that Scare Me (Thanks to Books + Movies)

In honor of Halloween tomorrow, I feel like I have to do the obligatory fear post. So here goes: a list of the ways books and movies have made me afraid of things.

1. Ebola. Specially, a genetically-enhanced super-strain that turns into a worldwide epidemic and leads to one of the most painful deaths imaginable. Thanks, EXECUTIVE ORDERS by Tom Clancy.  Honorable mention: the movie OUTBREAK.

2. Clowns. I should never have read Stephen King's IT when I was 13 years old.

3. People who pick up hitchhikers. Thanks to UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber, I know that these seemingly helpful souls have nefarious intentions.

4. Being locked in the attic with my siblings.  Thanks, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by VC Andrews.

5. Room 101. This is the place, according to 1984 by George Orwell, that all your worst fears come to haunt you. No thanks.

6. Being buried alive. In KILL BILL PART 2, The Bride gets out of her 6 ft deep coffin using her special skills. In the Alfred Hitchcock episode "Final Escape", the woman prisoner is not so lucky.

7. Dark subway tunnels.  If ENCLAVE by Ann Aguirre and the film 28 WEEKS LATER have taught me anything, it's that nothing good lurks in dark subway tunnels. Do not enter.

8. Being trapped in darkness for all eternity. Thanks WES CRAVEN'S THEY for making me have to sleep with a nightlight again.

9. Having a kid who turns out to be a killer. There are quite a few of these, but most chilling are Lionel Shriver's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and the film THE GOOD SON. (Note: I have no children.)

10. Every other scary thing in horror books and movies. This is why I avoid them whenever possible.

What fears have books and movies cultivated in you?

The Value of Author Visits

Author visits can take a lot of time to schedule and prepare for. Teachers, school administration, and parents aren't always supportive. Some argue they aren't "curricular." (This isn't true. Unless writing isn't part of your curriculum. In which case your school has bigger problems than the lack of author visits.) They can be expensive.

On the author's side of things, they're exhausting. They take time away from writing. They can be a nice source of extra income, but for a new author like me, the income isn't very significant.

So why do we bother? Why do some librarians spend dozens of hours of their own time scheduling and preparing for author visits? Why do some English teachers take the lead in those sad schools that lack a librarian? Why have I done more than 200 author visits for free over the last year? (I charge now, although I'm very cheap.)

A student recently answered all those questions for me via email. I've asked for, and received, his permission to share the email with you. I've changed his name to protect his confidentiality. Otherwise the email is exactly as he wrote it:
My name is Fred. About a year ago you visited Cedar Rapids Iowa. You made a stop at the Linn County Juvenille Detention Center and i was a resident there. ever since you visited i have been big on writing. but just not stories. i have written alot of poems and different raps about my life. i was wondering maybe if i could get some expert advice on how they look. or what are some areas i need to improve. if at all possible i would like to send them to you in the mail and hopefully get some good advice. it was really nice meeting you. if you want to know how my life is going right now i am on my way to completeing an independent living program. i just celebrated my 17th birthday today and im on the road to success. writing has been a big inspiration in my life and with out the visit from you i know for a fact i wouldnt have started to write. i would really like to hear back from you soon. it was great meeting you.

Does anyone believe another high-stakes test would have had this kind of impact on Fred's life? Another reading program? Another teacher evaluation system? The things many policy makers and administrators focus on truly don't matter. What matters are the connections that librarians, teachers, coaches--even visiting authors, make with students and the impact we have on those student's lives. If you're involved in education, do your school and students a service: contact an author--any author--today and schedule what may be a life-changing experience for some of your students.

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I saw a screening of CLOUD ATLAS. I wanted to read the book first but when I tried to get it at one of my bookstore signings, it was sold out.  Funny, there were all those Arnold books left on the shelf.  I could have gotten it somewhere else, but before I knew it the screening date came and I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to hear the three writer-directors speak about this unusual project.

The Wachowski brothers wrote and directed The Matrix together, one of my favorite films. Along the way, one of the brothers became a sister and changed her name to Lana. She’s attractive and funny and actually the most interesting and articulate one of the bunch. The evolution of this major project started because the Wachowskis admired the work of Run, Lola, Run director Tom Tykwer and tried to meet him in Germany. After a few misses, they connected and felt like kindred spirits. So they went in search of a film they could shoot together. The book came their way and they felt the unusual structure would allow for multiple directors. They planned to shoot with two units, the Wachowskis directing scenes together, as they typically do, while Tykwer was also filming other scenes.

They worked on the screenplay adaptation for FOUR years. That is an incredibly long time, but the unusual structure of the book was a challenge. They got top actors on board like Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry and Susan Sarandon, as well as Hugo Weaving, James Broadbent and others. Even with this package, they could not get a studio to sign off on it so they had to get a large number of investors (I think 30). Then Warners picked up the North American distribution. They had snags with foreign sales, and could not sell it to England or France.

The budget was one hundred million dollars, huge for what is essentially an independent film. The production values look it look even higher. Since the actors play multiple roles in different centuries, the makeup and period settings added to the budget.

Like the book, there are six storylines set in various times from the past to the future and the film-makers wisely chose not to follow the structure of the book which has 60 pages of one story, then another, etc. because it would mean introducing new characters 100 minutes into the film (the running time is roughly 3 hours). Instead, there is extensive editing and jumping around.  Your mind has to work overtime to make the connections just to follow each storyline. The language used in the future is hard to understand at times, and that adds another layer of difficulty. I am one of those viewers who loves a challenge, but I can see where some of the general public may not feel the same way.

The enthusiasm that the directors have for this project does make you want to forgive any elements of the film that don’t quite work. For a three-hour film, you are not bored, and that is saying a lot. You may not believe all of the stories, and some stories may feel more fresh than others, but it is easy to find elements to love. I particularly liked the two future stories (a fabricant and Zachry after the fall, both mainly directed by the Wachowskis), as well as the deeply emotional composer’s story (directed by Tykwer).

One of the devices that tie together the book is that each story is revealed to be read or seen by the main character in the next segment. This element is tossed into the stories in ways that are not particularly clear or satisfying. My overall disappointment in this film is that there is no major revelation for the audience, an aha moment where you feel all that you’ve witnessed adds up to a greater whole. Words that worked on the page to unify disparate elements have less weight when heard in this context. The project is ambitious, and the passion of the filmmakers commands admiration, but it could have been so much more.

The filmmakers stated they wanted this film to be viewed as a piece of art rather than a product. They are aware that the tone changes are an issue (they worked to smooth those out). They also make no apologies for any prosthetics that weren’t believable. The three want the viewer to accept juxtapositions that may not make sense in a traditional film. In that regard, they succeeded. Your mind will be exercised and challenged to find the connections they’ve set up by casting the same actors as different characters in different time periods, set in entwining stories of contrasting tones. Go into the film with this mindset, and enjoy what you see.

Beautiful quotes from Cloud Atlas the novel here.
The author, David Mitchell, on the film here.

Cover Talk

As an author waiting to see your cover is scary. I think every author would agree. Many authors probably have a certain image in mind and maybe even told their publisher about their certain vision for their book.

But that doesn't mean you get your wish. Because the process of creating a cover is more complicated than just finding a pretty image. It has to be right for the target audience, it has to reflect the inside of the book somehow (ideally, though that isn't always the case), it has to stand out on shelves while still following trends. Because many people judge a book by its cover.

And that's a very scary thing for an author. Because while we have power over what's inside the book, many readers might never get that far because they don't like what's outside.

So you can imagine how nervous I was before I was shown the cover of The Other Life. And though I knew Usborne, my Uk pub had done an awesome job with the cover for the first book, I was again nervous before I got to see the cover for its sequel The Life Beyond. But then I was relieved and so happy.
Two days ago I was allowed to reveal the cover to THE LIFE BEYOND and here it is:

As you can see it's quite similar to the first book THE OTHER LIFE. That way people will know that they belong together and as an added bonus the two books will look gorgeous on the shelf together! If you take a closer look, you'll notice that the butterfly changed a bit. It's still bleeding but what's happening inside has changed and the butterfly looks scarier, more like a hornet. That reflects the book, because it's getting more dangerous for Sherry and Joshua, and for a few other survivors as you might guess from the scene in the butterfly. And the skyline in the background has changed slightly too. Again to reflect a certain scene in the book. But I won't tell you more!
What do you think?

Lexile and (Lack of) Subtext

Yesterday, Mike posted about the Lexile system being used in schools to guide students towards reading that is challenging enough for their reading comprehension levels. It was the first I had heard of it. After reading Mike's post, I checked out the Lexile site to see what Lexile measures, and now I am even more sure that solely using Lexile scores to determine what students should read is doing them a grave disservice.

What does Lexile measure?
Lexile measures the quantitative aspects of text complexity, such as word length or frequency, sentence length, and text cohesion.

What doesn't Lexile measure?
Lexile can't measure the qualitative aspects of text complexity such as subtext, symbolism, and figurative language. It also can't measure the complexity of story aspects such as multiple plotlines, settings that require background knowledge to fully appreciate, and non-linear structure.

Some very challenging books are written in a deceptively simple way.  Let me offer up my experience with HOMO FABER by Max Frisch as an example.  HOMO FABER was the first novel I read entirely in German (the language it was originally written in). At the time, my German skill was on the advanced side of intermediate, and I could easily understand the vocabulary used in the novel.  What I didn't understand, however, was the subtext - and consequently, I missed the entire point of the story.

Witness this reconstructed conversation between my husband Daniel (who is a native German speaker) and me.

ME: So, HOMO FABER was pretty boring. The main character just travels around and has these romantic affairs with women. Big deal. 
DANIEL: Actually, HOMO FABER is a powerful treatise on fate versus coincidence. I thought you'd love it considering your interest in coincidence. Also, it alludes to the Oedipus myth. 
ME: Really? What were the coincidences? I didn't notice any. And Oedipus? Really? 
DANIEL: Uhhhh... did you not get that the woman he proposed to on the cruise to Europe was actually his daughter, but he didn't even know he had a daughter? It's a modern twist on the Oedipal archetype.  
ME: !!!!!!!! 
DANIEL: Yeah ... maybe you need to read it again.

HOMO FABER doesn't have a Lexile score, but I can imagine that if it did, it would be low - and summarily dismissed as too easy to waste precious reading time on. (This, of course, is entirely avoiding the topic of age-appropriateness of content). 

There is so much more to reading than a quantitative score based on word choice and sentence length. And students who are forced to adhere to such a strict system are sadly losing out on the qualitative experience a book can provide. 

How the Lexile System Harms Students

About a month ago, a woman approached me at a conference. She picked up a copy of ASHFALL and asked me, "What's the Lexile on this?"

This question threw me for a bit of a loop. I'm used to being asked what ASHFALL's about, how much it is, or where I got the idea for it. "What's a Lexile?" I asked.

"They use it at my daughter's school," she replied. "To match students with books at the right level for them."

"Oh, like the Guided Reading level." I happen to know about those because my wife's school district uses them. They always seemed a bit idiotic--what reader chooses a book based solely on its reading level? But since at her school they're used as suggestions, not mandates, and take the content of the books into account, they've never really bothered me. "ASHFALL is a Z+ on the Guided Reading level scale," I said.

Here's where the rabbit hole started to get twisty. "We don't use Guided Reading," she said. "We use Lexiles. And my daughter isn't allowed to read anything below 1,000." The italics are mine. You'll have to imagine my angry shouting at a school that won't allow their students to read--no matter what the excuse.

"I'm sure it's fine, then. ASHFALL is a Z+. It's got to be at least a thousand on your school's scale. What does she like to read?"

"She loved The Hunger Games, but the school wouldn't count it. It's too easy for her." (I later looked up The Hunger Games--its Lexile level is 810.)

"A lot of teens who liked The Hunger Games enjoy ASHFALL. How old is your daughter?"

"She's in sixth grade."

"You should read ASHFALL first, then--it depicts an apocalypse realistically. It's very violent. Definitely not appropriate for all sixth-graders."

"That's okay. I just need to know what the Lexile level is. Can you look it up?"

I obliged and found ASHFALL listed at Its level? 750.

"It's too easy for her, then." The woman walked away as my lower jaw hit the table with an audible slap.

For kicks, I looked up Ernest Hemingway's masterpiece, A Farewell to Arms. Its Lexile? 730.

Is my work more difficult, more sophisticated, or more appropriate for older readers than that of Mr. Hemingway, a Nobel Laureate in literature? Of course not! Think about it: If this poor student stays in her school system, she'll NEVER be allowed to read A Farewell to Arms. It's allegedly too easy for her.

Since this conversation, I've heard of a high school that boxed up all its copies of Night, Elie Wiesel's classic account of surviving the holocaust, and sent them to the elementary school, because it's "too easy" for high school students. It's Lexile is 570.

Shocking as that example is, there's a bigger problem: the Lexile system punishes good writing and rewards bad writing. I'll illustrate this point with an example. Here's the first sentence of a book that sixth-grader would have been allowed to read, a book with a Lexile of 1650:
"ON the theory that our genuine impulses may be connected with our childish experiences, that one's bent may be tracked back to that "No-Man's Land" where character is formless but nevertheless settling into definite lines of future development, I begin this record with some impressions of my childhood."
Forty-eight words that can be replaced by three with no loss of  meaning: 'My childhood was.' This is a truly awful opening, whatever your opinion of the overall work.

Here's a novel millions of sixth-graders have enjoyed. A novel with a Lexile of only 820. A novel this woman's daughter would not be allowed to read:
“They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash.”
It's clear and concise. It introduces the main character and opens irresistible story questions in the reader's mind. If it were rewritten as one sentence, it would lose the flavor of gossip that makes it intriguing--and have a much higher Lexile score.

Good writing is simple. The best writers never use two words where one will do, and they choose their words with precision. But the Lexile system rewards complexity and obscurity by assigning higher Lexile scores for works with longer sentences and longer words. In short, students forced to use the Lexile system in their reading are being taught to be bad writers. And some are likely being forced into books that will turn them off to reading.

What should you do? If you're a school administrator, teacher, or librarian, quit using Lexiles. I realize your motto isn't, "First, do no harm," but is that such a bad precept to follow? The Lexile system is actively harmful to your students.

If you're a parent, let your child pick books the way you do--based on interest and need. Ask your school to dump the Lexile system. The last thing we need is an expensive program that makes the great work parents, teachers and librarians do--educating our children--more difficult.
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Crewel is Amazing

I absolutely loved Gennifer Albin's debut novel, Crewel. Let me try to explain why, but since I'm a writer, I'll make it hard on myself and use pictures. Here goes.

To get this:

You combine this:

With this (the three fates of Greek mythology):

But replace this guy:

With someone more like this:

Now do you want to read it? Buy a copy at Indiebound, B&N, Amazon or The Book Depository. Or, enter to win a copy below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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The Crewel Sentence

You can read my thoughts about the marvelous world-building in CREWEL at my Dystopian August review, but today I want to talk about Gennifer Albin's gorgeous sentences.

Gennifer led a workshop on line-editing during Write On Con back in September, and she rocked it. Her sentences are deceptively simple - clear yet so evocative.  I wanted to include some of my favorites here from the first two chapters as to not get too spoilery.  (NOTE: These sentences are taken from the advance reader edition of CREWEL, so they may vary slightly from the final published version.)

From Chapter 1:

"That's why I don't tell them the truth. I want love - not excitement or worry - to be the lingering imprint they leave on me."

"The only constant - the one real thing in this moment - is Amie's fragile hand clutching my own. I hold onto it for life, hers and mine. It anchors me, and when my mother wrenches her away, I shriek, sure I'll vanish into nothing."

From Chapter 2:

"A group of women scurry down behind the official and begin wiping my face and combing my hair. It feels so nice I want to fall asleep. The only thing keeping me awake is the cold, gritty concrete under my bare feet."

"I think of the dining room table and white cake sitting on it, the black blood under its legs, and shake my head. The only thing I'm hungry for is answers."

"Somewhere a girl sits, replacing the weave of the rebound chamber with that of a chamber in the Coventry, effectively moving me from one location to the other. I'm traveling hundreds of miles without moving a muscle."

I hope you enjoyed this teaser! Check out this post to enter to win a signed hardcover of CREWEL!

CREWEL: The Real World in a Fantasy Dystopian Fiction

CREWEL is about weaving magic, replacing time with threads, and discovering what true power is. One of the things I found most fascinating about Genn's brilliant writing is the clever twists of words and double-meaning to much of her world.

The most obvious is the twist of the word "spinster." In our society, we tend to refer to unmarried women as spinsters, and it's a phrase often used in a negative way. But Genn uses spinsters not only to remind readers that her girls must remain single in their service, but also to play on the magic-system of her world--a world where fate and time is literally spun and woven.

This isn't the only story that uses the idea of women spinning fate. In Ancient Greece, the Moirai were three sisters who spun, measured, and cut the threads of life.  In many of the legends, the Moirai is outside the gods' powers, capable of doing as they pleased and unable to be influenced (or threatened or bribed) by the other gods to change what fates they've doled out. In many ways, the Moirai were stronger even than Zeus. They were the ultimate controllers, and the pattern they wove could be altered by no one but them.

Of course, weaving and sewing also play a role in CREWEL, but one of the  things I found most fascinating was the source of the title itself. Crewel embroidery is a special type of embroidery that literally paints a picture with thread. It's probably most famous for being the type of embroidery used for the Bayeux Tapestry.

But at the same time, I can't help but think that Genn picked this title not just because of the link to embroidery, threads, and spinning, but also because of the way it sounds: like "cruel." Because main character Adelice certainly does live in a cruel world...

But I don't want you to think that CREWEL is all about threads and sewing--far be it from that! CREWEL is an exciting dystopian blending science fiction and fantasy, and it is only through clever wordplay and plot twists that you start to see how much detail Genn put into her world. 

But you don't have to just listen to me. Here's Karen Jensen, Teen Services Librarian, and her take on CREWEL:
“This year’s masterpiece…teeming with rich discussions about things like responsibility to society, free will, the role of women, revolution, and more…Crewel could be this generation’s The Handmaid’s Tale."  - Karen Jensen, Teen Services Librarian
What are you waiting for? Discover the world of CREWEL today!

Introducing CREWEL!! A Debut You Simply Can't Miss!

Oh my heck, you guys. I'll admit to a shady reading of this ARC. I've been wanting to get my hands on CREWEL pretty much since the moment Genn announced her deal.

And I happened to get a review copy I needed to give away as part of WriteOnCon. So during all the craziness, I stayed up late and devoured CREWEL. Now I get to introduce it to you!

Trust me when I say you're going to love it. LOVE IT.

Pre-order it. You won't be sorry -- and you won't have to wait long, because it's out tomorrow! Or, download the first five chapters for free, get hooked, and run down to your local bookstore tomorrow and buy the book!

You can find the description of the book all over the Internet. Basically it's about a girl named Adelice who can see the weave of the world. Time, matter, all of it. This is rare and dangerous if known by the wrong people.

Genn is an amazing author who takes you on a journey you won't soon forget. There's danger. Death. And boys. Cute ones, even when you don't want to think they're cute.

She weaves (oh my heck! See what I did there?) a brilliantly crafted plot with an extremely likable and sympathetic character that I would go anywhere with. And quite literally, I did as I read CREWEL.

She's going to be all over the web for the next few weeks! Be sure to follow along in all the CREWEL fun.

Not only that, but Genn might be coming to a city near you as part of the Fierce Reads tour:
  • October 16: Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee, IL
  • October 17: Politics & Prose at the Bethesda Library outside of Washington D.C.
  • October 18: Cover to Cover Bookstore in Columbus, OH
  • October 19: Square Books in Oxford, MS
  • October 20: Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA
  • October 21: New York City (Exact location TBD!)
And we're giving away a signed hardcover of CREWEL as part of launch week here at The League! Enter in the rafflecopter below. a Rafflecopter giveaway Have you read CREWEL? Got it pre-ordered? Ready for the awesomeness? Get ready!

Interview with Mike Mullin by Lissa Price

Mike, your first book, ASHFALL, had tremendous awards and honors. You were one of NPR’s top 5 YA novels, and Kirkus had you on a Best Teen Book List as well as a starred review.  There were many more honors. How did any of this affect you as you wrote the sequel, ASHEN WINTER?

It has certainly increased my writerly anxiety. The question is always hovering just out of sight behind my left shoulder: Can I write anything as good as the first book? Answering that question will be up to my readers, of course.

You also had many amazing blurbs from wonderful authors. How did the Richard Peck one come about?

One of the disadvantages of being published by a small press is that they don’t have a stable of famous authors to solicit blurbs from. Tanglewood Press’s most famous author is Audrey Penn, who wrote the perennially best-selling picture book, The Kissing Hand. Not exactly the same target audience as ASHFALL. So I took it upon myself to solicit blurbs. I wrote to 18 famous authors, most of whom I’d met while working at Kids Ink Children’s Bookstore in Indianapolis. Richard Peck was gracious enough to reply, read ASHFALL, and offer a few kind words about it. He’s an amazing writer and true class act.

Definitely. So does ASHEN WINTER close the series?  Or will there be more books?

There will be one more novel, tentatively titled SUNRISE. I’m working on drafting it now. I’m also putting the finishing touches on a novelette called DARLA’S STORY. It covers everything that happens to Darla between the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano and the afternoon when Alex falls into her barn.

I noticed your website mentions that you are working without a literary agent. Has that changed? 

Nope. I recently got a rejection from a literary agent who I queried MORE THAN TWO YEARS AGO!

Another literary agent called me earlier this year and requested a copy of ASHFALL. I sent it, waited a couple of months, and got a rejection. Next time that happens, I’m sending the dang agent to their local bookstore. That way at least I’d get a sale out of it.

The world of literary agents is baffling to me. Most authors I’ve talked to tell me I should keep trying to find an agent willing to represent me. Michael Grant, on the other hand, has built a career I very much admire without an agent, and tells me not to bother.  Anyway, it’s irrelevant for at least another year—I sold SUNRISE to Tanglewood Press with a proposal back in March, and finishing that and promoting ASHEN WINTER will consume all my time for a while yet.

Well, you’re saving 15% this way, that’s a plus. So I’m guessing you sold ASHFALL directly to Tanglewood.

Yes, and ASHEN WINTER, and SUNRISE. Tanglewood is one of the few publishers that still accepts unagented submissions.

What would you most like your readers to take away from ASHEN WINTER?

The most important thing in Alex’s life at the beginning of ASHEN WINTER is his relationship with Darla. So, being a sadistic writer, I test that relationship in numerous ways over the course of the book. While none of us have to face tests quite as severe as Alex does (supervolcano, eternal winter, cannibal gangs, etc.), all our relationships are tested in smaller ways nearly every day. I would hope that the way Alex faces his tests and what he learns from that experience might inspire some of my readers.

You are doing an enormous number of signings! What’s your worst/funniest/most surprising event story?

I had an event scheduled at the Cedar Rapids Juvenile Detention Center last year. On my calendar, it was two forty minute presentations with a twenty minute break in between. Easy.

So I get buzzed in through the airlock-style double doors and meet the staff. They say something like, “Our inmate population is fairly light, so we’re putting them all together for you in one presentation.” I think, great, I’ll be out of here in forty minutes. But no—it quickly became clear that they needed me to fill the entire two hours that was originally scheduled.

Now, I’m a very entertaining speaker. I have no problem holding the attention of almost any crowd for forty minutes. But two hours? No way. So I quickly changed what I’d planned to a writing workshop, in which I speak for part of the time, the students write for part of the time, and we hold a discussion on writing for part of the time. And it was absolutely freaking amazing. You would not believe the incredible stories these juvenile delinquents had to tell. I still remember it as one of the best events I’ve done yet.

I love that story. What looks like it’s going to be the worst thing, turns out to be the best. You gave them a chance to tell their stories. What about short stories for you, do you ever write them?

I wrote a short story for Halloween last year. You can read it here. I tried to write a short story about what happens to Darla between when the volcano erupts and Alex shows up, but that turned into a novelette. In general, I prefer long-form fiction both as a reader and a writer.

Is there one piece of advice you’d like to give unpublished writers?

Read. A lot. Both in the genre you write in and in other genres. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to become a writer.

What’s next for Mike?

I’m finishing up SUNRISE, and then I’ll probably write this strange near-future science fiction yarn that’s simmering at the back of my overheated brain.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to the League readers?

Umm, I hope you’ve found my posts interesting?  I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s worst blogger, so thanks for putting up with me for the last 9 months!

I always enjoy your blog posts, Mike. So keep doing what you're doing. Thank you for this interview during your busy launch week!


Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. 

For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Ashen Winter is his second novel.  His debut, Ashfall, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.


It's been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex's relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this trilogy. It's also been six months of waiting for Alex's parents to return from Iowa. 

Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex's parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.

The first two chapters are available on my website: You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them.

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And maybe it's not for the reason you think. But because it's so, so real. If you haven't read ASHFALL yet, you should. I read it on the way home from Denver, and the first thing I did when I made my shopping list was add vitamins to it.

And not just Flintstones for my kids. But bottles of vitamin C for my food storage. Because ASHFALL had that much of an impact on me.

See, I live along an earthquake fault, and we're counseled to be prepared for an emergency. I've seen dozens of supply lists, attended emergency preparedness fairs, the works. Never once have I had someone tell me I need to have vitamins. I hadn't even thought of it.

So it was with great trepidation that I picked up ASHEN WINTER. What was I going to find lacking this time? Bandages? Check. Warm clothing? Check (sort of). Fuel? Shoot.

ASHEN WINTER takes place several months after the close of ASHFALL, and while Alex's situation hasn't really gotten worse, it certainly hasn't gotten better.

Note to self: emergencies could last a long time. Surviving the initial catastrophe might only be the beginning.

Things definitely go bad in the first chapter when Alex discovers a bandit with something that used to belong to his parents. And off he and Darla go, back into the wilderness -- full of uncertainties and bad guys -- to find his family.

Note to self: not knowing what happened is worse than knowing.

I'm not going to go through every point of discovery I had as I read the book, but know this. It's scary. And the reason ASHEN WINTER is so perfectly fearsome is because it could actually happen.

And I like that in books. I like a healthy dose of contemporary realism mixed in with my fantasy.

If you haven't read ASHFALL yet, get your copy today! And be sure to pick up ASHEN WINTER too -- because you won't be able to stop after one book. Oh, and we're giving stuff away! A signed copy of both ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER!! Be sure to fill out the Rafflecopter to win! a Rafflecopter giveaway

ASHEN WINTER by Mike Mullin

As ASHEN WINTER opens, it’s six months after volcano day. As you’ll recall, the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted in ASHFALL, and Alex set off on an arduous journey alone to his uncle’s farm in Illinois. He met (and fell in love with) Darla along the way. Now Alex and Darla get a clue that his father is still alive—and they set off back toward Iowa to find his parents. And things have gotten a lot worse this time. Think frozen wasteland filled with cannibal gangs and military contractors. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot. Sorry no spoilers!

But that brings me to one of my favorite review lines about ASHEN WINTER (from Voya): “Mullin has outdone himself with nonstop action and injury.” And they’re right. AW clocks in at nearly 600 pages, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. (And Alex is pretty battle-scarred by the end of the book.) The pace is quick, and Alex (and Darla) are continually acting and/or figuring out things. Alex grows up even more in this book as he has to make some tough choices, but his actions are grounded in his love for Darla and his desire to protect all of his family.

All of that makes AW an excellent book “boy book” that should also appeal to us girls. I don’t like putting labels on books—like “boy book” or “girl book”—but the truth is that boys do like certain things in stories. And it’s important to direct them to good books they might like in order to get them to read. Author Andy Sherrod talks about what makes a good “boy book” on his blog (and he gives presentations on the topic). Boys are more likely to like a book where the protagonist (boy or girl):

  1. Acts alone
  2. Heads “out there” (as opposed to staying home)
  3. And overcomes a physical challenge

And that’s ASHEN WINTER. Okay, Alex isn’t totally alone. He acts by himself in key parts of the book (minor spoiler), but he does have traveling companions on and off. He sets off with Darla, and he picks up two other kids along the way. All are strong characters. No damsels in distress anywhere in sight. (That makes it a good girl book, BTW.)

Before we get to the giveaway, here are a few other semi-random things I love about AW:

  • Darla is the one who can fix anything.
  • Ben is delightful—a high functioning autistic kid who is also a tactical savant.
  • Despite the odds, Alex believes in himself and doesn’t give up—even when the adults do.
  • The story is heartbreakingly believable but not without hope.
  • The word flenser just gives me the creeps.

Oh, and I have a new appreciation for kale. ;)

And now for the WINNING OF STUFF. You can enter to win signed copies of both books by filling out the Rafflecopter thingie below.

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All this week we're celebrating the launch of Mike Mullin's ASHEN WINTER! This is the sequel to his debut, ASHFALL, and is just as gripping--if not moreso :)

Here's a little bit about ASHEN WINTER:

It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.

ASHEN WINTER has an amazing cover that illustrates the desperation of the situation perfectly, in my opinion. And let's not forget the new matching cover for ASHFALL! Don't you just love how well those covers go together?!

I think the thing I find most fascinating about these books is the possibility of it truly happening. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. Charles Benoit, author of YOU, says:

"ASHFALL is smokin' hot. The story races like a wildfire with enough plot twists and action for two books. Mullin puts his hero through hell--and we get a front row seat. The scariest part? It could really happen."
Don't believe us? You can start reading the series right here for free!

All this week we're going to be talking about these two science-based near-future dystopias. Stick around for exclusive interviews with Mike, reviews, and more. Oh! And you can also WIN signed copies of both books right here! Just fill out the Rafflecopter below and you'll be entered to win!

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Should books be rated for mature content?

As I was perusing the ALA Banned Books Week site—and their nifty 30-year timeline -- I stumbled upon the 2009 entry. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky had been challenged by one of my local school systems that year. Yikes! Happily, the resolution was that the school board would NOT ban the book. (Whew. You can read the story here. ) However, the Roanoke County Schools did something interesting (good interesting or bad interesting, I’ll let you decide). They didn’t take the books out of the library, but they required students’ to have their parents’ permission to check out Perks. Essentially, the school board decided to give the book an R-rating. (The movie version that’s out now is PG-13, by the way.)

I’m not saying I necessarily agree with the school board, but it got me thinking. What if we gave books ratings? Video games, music, and movies all come with a parental rating or at least guidance as to content. Actually, in a US News article earlier this year, a BYU researcher proposed a rating system on book jackets. She states, "I thought long and hard about whether to do the study in the first place—I think banning books is a terrible idea, but a content warning on the back I think would empower parents."

If I were a parent, maybe I’d agree. But, I think I buy YALSA director Beth Yoke’s argument. In the same US News article, Yoke gives a very cogent rebuttal, which I won’t restate here. I agree with her that kids should have a safe place to explore issues like sexuality, violence, drugs, etc. Bottom line: ALA’s position is that “any rating system for books is censorship.”

And it is censorship. Think about the movies. If a movie gets the dreaded NC-17 rating, studios re-edit the hell of it to get it down to an R. The people with the money see NC-17 as the box office kiss of death. So the rating drives content. That’s de facto censorship. No one forces the studios to cut scenes, but the effect is just the same.

Imagine putting publishers in the same position. What if school boards or certain book chains decided only to carry PG-13 children’s books? Would that pressure publishers to change editorial policies? Would works like Perks or Crank get sanitized for kids' so-called protection? Would challenging books get published at all?

Ok, the effect might not be as drastic as that, but, as a writer and reader, the idea of a book rating system gives me the willies.

What do you guys think? Should there be a content rating system for children's books?

Guest Post: World Building

Today it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Lorin Oberweger. Lorin is going to be hosting a YA & MG Workshop soon, and wanted to give you all a sample of some of her knowledge. You can find out more about the workshop in her bio below. Now, without further ado...


You’ve seen them before:

The pseudo-medieval world complete with rustic taverns and sword-wielding thugs; the desolate post-apocalyptic world where rugged survivors fight among the ruins of fallen civilizations; the white and sterile world of the generation spaceship, sailing through blackest space.

You’ve seen them; I’ve seen them; and gate-keeping editors and agents have seen A LOT of them.

As writers, it’s not always the case that we write what we KNOW but that we write what we’ve READ. And seen on television and in movies.

Most lovers of fantasy have spent happy hours in the kind of world originated by Tolkien and others of his ilk: a world of ox-carts and flagons of mead, of battle-axes, horses, and torches to light the hero or heroine’s way. Name the genre, and any of us could rattle off its common world-building tropes. And many of us don’t push ourselves to stray past those familiar—and comfortable—conventions.

My question: why not? Instead of a typical medieval, dystopian, or even a typical contemporary world, why can’t your novel’s physical landscape be something else entirely?

Often, I’ll challenge people to play with the most ridiculous ideas they can imagine: a world made of toast, an upside down world, a world made of ice or one that exists in the spot on a butterfly’s wing. A world where people live underwater or up in trees?

How about a world that exists as a flat disc, balanced on the backs of four elephants, which stand atop a giant turtle? Or a world that exists within the threads of an heirloom rug?

Crazy, right? But two authors--Terry Pratchett (Discworld) and Clive Barker (Weaveworld)--might argue otherwise. They pushed themselves to dream deeper, to create something singular and idiosyncratic and then to create plausible worlds and social orders within these fantastic realms.

The best writers challenge their assumptions—about genre, about setting, about “typical” human behavior or stereotypes. They challenge themselves to create rich and powerful language that is at least a little different from the language employed by other writers. They unleash their specific and powerful perspectives upon the page. So why not do this for the world of your stories?

It’s easier, of course, to do what’s been done. A pseudo-medieval fantasy world works for so many reasons. It makes it more plausible that journeys can take a very long time, that people need to wield knives and swords rather than just blasting each other with guns. A spaceship is probably going to look a certain way to maximize its efficiency. A contemporary high school in California is probably going to reflect what we know of contemporary high schools.

Creating something truly different on the page requires a much deeper plan for the novel as a whole. The physics of an ice world are different from the physics of a typical medieval earth. Traveling, eating, social relationships—all will be very different in a world that takes place in the trees than in a slightly futuristic version of our own. The conflicts that will emerge from these settings are different from the conflicts that will emerge from worlds more like our own.

Of course, to quote Tom Hanks in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, “It’s the hard that makes it great!” Pushing yourself to dig in deeper, to let your imagination really soar, to examine the expectations of a world—fantasy or realistic—and find ways to subvert those expectations, is difficult and time-consuming, but it can also pay off by setting your story and your world apart from the thousands of submissions plopping into an agent’s inbox on a daily basis.

And more importantly, it can give readers something absolutely new and fresh, if only an unexpected twist on the overly familiar.  It can light them up inside, give them a fresh way of looking at their own lives and their own hearts, and isn’t that what the best novels do?

So, I’ll leave you with these questions (and would love to see your answers in comments if you’d like to chime in!):

What authors’ worlds really live in your imagination, and why?

What’s different about the world YOU’RE creating?

How does your world impact your protagonist’s journey in the story?

How does it contribute to your story’s conflicts?

What three things can you do to take your world from the expected to the unexpected, to surprise or delight the reader in some small—or large way?

Are you willing to do it?

 LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, including the upcoming Your Best Book workshop for YA and MG writers.

Her students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.

Lorin is represented by Tracey Adams at Adams Literary.

Extraordinary News from the League

Lots of news has happened this month in the world of the League! 

First, excellent news from Elana, who revealed the beautiful cover of her third book, ABANDON! You can find out more information about it here (and add it to your GoodReads). Additionally, in the month of October, Elana's holding a Review Drive. You can find out more information here.

As we gear up for two (two!) launches of League books this month, there's lots of exciting news for both Mike and Genn. Make sure you don't miss any of Mike's stops for his blog tour celebrating ASHEN WINTER. And if you'd like to see Mike in person, a full list of his upcoming appearances can be found here.

Genn will also be touring blogs throughout October, as well as touring in real life with the Fierce Reads book tour from October 16-22. A full list of all the stops can be found here. And lots of people are loving on CREWEL--not only have the Italian rights sold to Rizzoli in auction, but CREWEL was chosen as an Amazon Editor's Fall Pick for Teens!

CREWEL's not the only molto bene title in our group--Lissa's STARTERS was just released in Italy! Additionally, it is now in a second printing and also made a surprise re-appearance on the Southern California Independent Booksellers Assoc Bestseller list at #8! If you'd like to meet Lissa in person, she has several upcoming appearances:

  • Orange County Childrens' Bookfair on 10/30 at 11 am
  • Portland's Wordstock 10/13 at 12 and 2pm 
  • 10/13 7pm Jan's in Beaverton
  • 10/15 Beach Books in Seaside, OR 
  • 10/18 7pm Burbank Library Buena Vista 
  • 10/20 2pm B&N Grove with Melissa de la Cruz and David Levithan. 
And Lanore has been able to reveal a full list of awesome blurbs for her debut, LEVEL TWO! Look at what's being said--and who's raving about her book!

“A gripping debut! This utterly unique take on the afterlife poses fascinating questions . . . I can't wait to read the rest of the series to find out the answers!”—Megan McCafferty, New York Times bestselling author of Bumped and Thumped 
“Appelhans brings the afterlife to a whole new level. . . . A high-voltage thrill ride through love, death, and memory that will leave you breathless.”—Jess Rothenberg, author ofThe Catastrophic History of You and Me
“Absolutely gripping. My heart pounded on nearly every page. You won't be able to put it down.”—Mary E. Pearson, award-winning author of the Jenna Fox Chronicles

And finally, I've got some news of my own...I'll be at NY ComicCon this year! Not only will I be on several panels, but I'm also going to signing (free!) copies of SHADES OF EARTH during the con. I'll also have an event at Books of Wonder. For more information on these and all my stops, just check here.

I also have a little bit more news, including an upcoming giveaway, but all I can say now is that you should probably check out my blog around October 15...

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