Thursday, June 28, 2012


Book bloggers: If you're interested in participating in the upcoming ASHEN WINTER blog tour, now is the time to let us know. The talented and lovely Savannah from Books With Bite has volunteered to organize a blog tour for ASHEN  WINTER. Thank you, Savannah! Without her, there would be no ASHEN WINTER blog tour, because I certainly am not competent to run it, ha! Here's the banner Savannah designed:

We're looking for a few more bloggers to help fill spots in the tour. If you're interested, email Savannah at bwithbite (at) gmail (dot) com. Specifically, we're interested in book blogs that have either 1) a lot of followers or 2) a ton of enthusiasm and crazy ideas for promoting ASHEN WINTER. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Cost of Cutting School Librarians

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers.)

I'm blogging from the breakfast room at Courtyard by Marriott in Anaheim. I've spent the weekend at the American Library Association conference (ALA). It's a fabulous show, full of people who love books and authors and aren't shy about showing it.

But, being a novelist, I have an ear for conflict. And the dark undercurrent at the show is budget cuts. I can't count the number of librarians I've spoken to who are either 1) losing their jobs completely, 2) narrowly escaped losing their jobs recently, or 3) being forced to take teaching jobs. The problem seems to be equally severe among school and public librarians, but let me focus on the school librarians.

These cuts, frankly, are bat-poop crazy. Eliminating school librarians while trying to increase student performance is like cutting half the foundation while trying to build a skyscraper. There are more than 60 studies conducted in 22 states directly linking student performance on standardized tests with the presence of a qualified librarian in students' schools. If we want to improve student test scores, then we need to more than double the number of librarians employed in public education--to ensure that each and every student is served by a fully qualified school librarian.

Since we're cutting librarians instead of hiring more, I have to question the sincerity of the politicians screaming for "school reform." I hesitate to use the phrase "school reform" even with quotes, because to the extent that we allow the issue to be framed as "reform," we lose the debate. And reform isn't an accurate description of what's happening. If we were serious about reforming our schools, we'd add school days to the calendar, hours to the school day, and librarians to every school lacking one--all things that have a proven, positive effect on student achievement on standardized tests. Merit pay for teachers would be a non-issue, since we know it doesn't work. So the agenda clearly isn't about "school reform"--it's about keeping tax rates for the wealthiest Americans at their historically low levels, or perhaps dropping them even further.

So let's start calling the "school reform" movement what it really is: a school privatization movement. It's already reducing kids' access to books and librarians. We already have a two-tier system--anyone who's visited an inner city school and a wealthy private school knows exactly what I'm talking about. Continued budget cutting is only exacerbating this divide. We have a fundamental choice to make as a country--should America be the land of opportunity, where every student has a chance to work hard and succeed--has access to great teachers, librarians, and libraries; or do we want to be a land of low taxes? I vote for the former.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Computer Games, Copy-Editing, and the Book Publishing Industry

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

My guilty pleasure is computer games. Lately I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Civilization V. And yes, that stuff at the beginning of my debut novel, ASHFALL, about World of Warcraft is from, ahem, personal research. I played a shadow priest to level 80 (pre-Cataclysm), before I realized I was getting far too addicted and put massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) away forever. The advantage single player games have is that I can abandon them anytime without guilt. The people your meet in an MMO are real (even the "bots" are usually real people doing incredibly repetitive tasks for a miniscule amount of money), and I didn't always treat them as well as I'd like when my offline life intervened. I can gleefully be a total feces-head to the computer opponents in Skyrim and Civ 5.

Anyway, playing these games has given me a renewed appreciation of the book publishing industry. I know it's become fashionable to deride book publishers (J.A. Konrath routinely throws the Big Six under a bus, backs it up over them, and lights the mangled corpses on fire), but after spending some time with Skyrim and Civ 5, I'm newly amazed at the quality of the product book publishers put out year after year. If you can't find a grammatical error or typo in the first three screens you see in either of these games, you aren't looking very hard. In the multimillion dollar budget for these games, their developers couldn't find the meager funds required to hire a copy-editor? Seriously? And both games have been out for months and been through numerous patches--the "we didn't have time" excuse doesn't cut it any more.

If my admittedly tenuous grasp on reality ever snaps completely, you'll probably find me at Firaxis Games delivering a lecture on the proper use of the possessive at gunpoint. Or at Bethesda Game Studios teaching basic English.

But the real point I want to make is this: the book publishing industry does an amazing job putting out a quality product, year in and year out. I read a lot--become my friend on Goodreads if you want proof, 171 books last year--and it's rare enough to find an error in a traditionally published book that when you do, it sticks out. Grammatical errors in computer games are so common that only truly anal-retentive types (I'm guilty!) notice.

Yes, errors do creep in, even into well-published books. There were four in the first printing of ASHFALL. Given the 2,500+ errors that the copy-editor caught and the 101,000+ words of text, I think that's pretty good. And if you buy a copy of ASHFALL today, you'll get the fourth printing, which is, as far as I know, completely error free.

The book publishing industry could teach game companies a lot about quality. Maybe they could arrange a trade? Game publishers would learn about copy-editing, and book publishers would learn about marketing. But that's a rant for another day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Favorite Moment at BEA

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

I had a blast last week at Book Expo America. I fanboyed my favorite authors. (Please, please, please don't follow through on your threat to take out a restraining order against me, Kristin Cashore. I swear I was stalking you in a nice way.) I taught a little taekwondo in the show aisles, making attendees earn an ASHEN WINTER advanced reading copy by breaking a board. Don't believe me? Here's author Jennifer Armentrout learning hammerfist:

And I attended a dizzying series of parties, the best of which was easily the Publisher's Group West bash.

But my favorite moment of the show happened after it was over. Twenty minutes before my train was due to leave Penn Station on Friday (I'm in the Boston area today for a school visit), I rushed into the post office to mail a box of books to myself. Unfortunately, I had no tape. Neither, as it turned out, did the post office. They were out--both in their supplies shop and behind the counter. The oh-so-helpful postal clerk told me to go to the drugstore on the corner. Instead, I accosted a group of young women sitting who were sitting on the floor packing boxes, and asked them if I could buy a strip of tape.

"Are you...Mike Mullin?" one of them asked.

"Yes, any chance I could buy a strip of tape?" I replied.

Instead, she whipped out an advance reading copy of ASHEN WINTER, and I traded an autograph for a bit of tape. WIN!

So, a huge thank you to Marie and her tape for making Book Expo America a week I'll never forget.