Monday, January 30, 2012

The Super Bowl, The Hunger Games, and Me

(Originally Posted at The League for Extraordinary Writers)

On Friday, my wife and I walked from our house near downtown Indianapolis to the Super Bowl village. The game was more than a week away, but the whole area was already crowded. It appeared that every pavilion and tent within 500 miles was either already set up or currently being assembled in the streets and parking lots of downtown Indianapolis.

There are giant Super Bowl sculptures, at least three stages, dozens of outdoor bars, a zip line down the middle of Capitol Avenue, and half a dozen buildings wrapped in enormous Microsoft Kinect ads. Here’s a shot of Monument Circle:

 As I walked around this temporary amusement park, I got more and more depressed. Why? For every scene like this:

There’s also one like this:

Now, I know that only a minority of the people holding signs are actually homeless or hungry. And giving money to panhandlers only exacerbates the problem. But the dichotomy between the glittering temporary bars and stages for Super Bowl XLVI and the panhandlers points up a real problem in our society—one that calls The Hunger Games to my mind.

Are the fashionable spectacles of the Super Bowl Village really that different from the glitz and glamor of the Capitol District? And while we don’t have any place labeled District 12, you could easily form one among the population of Indianapolis. Consider this:

167,000 residents of Indianapolis live below the federal poverty line
63,000 of them are children
34,000 residents will go hungry at some point this year.
3,000 will be homeless at some point this year.
About 50 homeless people in Indianapolis will die of exposure this winter.

And consider these stats:

Lucas Oil Stadium cost $750,000,000, of which $650,000,000 was public tax money.
The Super Bowl will cost at least $29,000,000 ($25,000,000 from private donors and $4,000,000 from the Capitol Improvement Board, which is publicly funded.)

No, we don’t kill 23 kids per year for our entertainment. Football only kills about four people each year, making it a relatively safe sport (gymnastics, cheerleading, and downhill skiing are far more dangerous.) But as I walked through the Super Bowl Village on Friday, I had the feeling that I was bearing witness to an inevitable slide—America becoming Panem.

What do you think? Please convince me I’m wrong in the comments. I’m getting depressed all over again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Celebrating Bad Reviews

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

I come from a line of men who worked with their hands. My grandfather rebuilt boat motors; my dad builds and repairs furniture.  For almost ten years, I made a living as a carpenter/handyman/remodeling company owner.

When you do this sort of work, you inevitably accumulate coffee cans filled with random nuts, bolts, and screws. And this gives rise to what I’m modestly calling Mullin’s Law: In any can of random nuts, 2% of them will be wingnuts.

The rest of this post is not for the wingnuts out there. If you’re an author who trolls threads on Goodreads, you’re a wingnut. If you’re a blogger who continues to review YA, despite professing a disdain for the whole literature, you’re a wingnut. If you’re a blogger who reviews the author’s weight instead of her book,
or uses hateful and misogynistic language in your reviews, not only are you a wingnut, but your threads are stripped. Seek professional help retooling.

Now, to the rest of you, the 98% who are just plain nuts: bad reviews rock. One-star reviews rock. Two-star reviews rock. Authors, celebrate your bad reviews (you’re allowed 5-10 minutes of cringing self-pity first). Bloggers, don’t feel badly when you negatively review an author’s work. Unless that author has published ten or more books, you’re helping her with your negative review. 

Want evidence?  Check out this study of New York Times book reviews conducted using Nielsen Bookscan data and reported in Marketing Science. The upshot is that negative reviews of works by authors who had previously published fewer than two books boosted their sales by 45% on average. Negative reviews of well-known authors (i.e. those who had published 10 or more books previously) hurt their sales by 15%. So the advice about celebrating your one-star reviews doesn’t apply after you’ve published your tenth book.

I first posted on this topic on my blog last July. If you're interested in a more thorough discussion of the benefits of bad reviews, click through. To sum up, the worst thing that can happen to an author isn't bad reviews; it's being ignored.

What do you think? Do the other authors out there help spread the word about negative reviews of your work? Do those of you who blog feel hesitant to post a negative review? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments, please.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Not All Authors Are Trolls

Have you been following the Goodreads negative review kerfluffle? The Guardian has a nice round-up. There are two things I want to say in response:

1) Not all authors are trolls. We're a diverse group of people with diverse, mostly sane, reactions to reviews.

2) If you wrote a negative review of ASHFALL, thank you. Thank you for the one-star reviews. Thank you for the two-star reviews. Those of you who stuck the book out even though you didn't enjoy it and took the time to write a review did me a huge favor, and I'm grateful. I know reviews are for the reader, and you didn't write the one-star review for me, but still, thank you. All reviews help sales, even one-star reviews. For a full discussion of why, see this blog post.

Yes, this. (Image via Zazzle)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Truth by Julia Karr

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Sequels have been on my mind lately as I do battle with the edits for ASHEN WINTER, the sequel to my debut novel, ASHFALL. My latest plan for learning to write a sequel? I’m going to drive to Bloomington for the Truth launch party (Friday night from 7 to 10, be there!), corner Julia, and generally make an annoyance of myself until she agrees to give me a three hour seminar on writing the perfect sequel.

Because here’s the thing, Julia’s accomplished the nigh-impossible—writing a sequel that’s even better than her excellent debut. Movie directors can’t do it (I’ll give you The Empire Strikes Back, but outside of that? Watchable sequels are thin on the ground). Most authors—even the very best—can’t live up to their original work (Little Men, anyone? Prince Caspian?).

Julia achieves this feat by deepening and complicating Nina’s story. In XVI, sex is a threat that looms with Nina’s sixteenth birthday—when her dystopian society will literally brand her a sex-teen.  In Truth, sex is something to be both feared and enjoyed, making Nina’s inner struggle more complex and relatable. Similarly, the world-building deepens in Truth—we learn how the Governing Council formed—and as a consequence the book feels even more plausible than XVI.

What I’m trying to say is this—read these books. For one thing, they’re enjoyable: XVI is something of a dystopian mystery, Truth more of a thriller. But they’re also important. Like all great dystopian fiction, their real subject matter is present day society, our tragically waxing rape culture. Something is wrong when the word “rape” is used casually in many quarters, while the word “feminist” is unutterable except as a perverse portmanteau, “feminazi.”  Julia Karr’s fine work is, I hope, part of the antidote.

Where to Buy:
Indiebound: Truth/XVI
B&N: Truth/XVI
Amazon: Truth/XVI

Connect with Julia:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

East Coast Tour

I'll be on the east coast from March 12th through 30th this spring. There are still a few dates available! If you know a school, library, or bookstore that would like to host me in this general area, please contact Rebecca Grose at Socal Public Relations (socalpublicrelations at Events on this tour are FREE thanks to Tanglewood's generous sponsorship. Descriptions of the various presentations I do are on my website. When I have specific tour dates & times, I'll post them here. I look forward to meeting some of you in person!

Here's the tentative tour locations:

Vermont/New Hampshire
Upstate New York
New York City

Just for kicks, here's a video of part of the ASHFALL launch party. I do a martial arts demo similar to this at most of my events: