Thursday, December 12, 2013

SUNRISE Blog Tour!

The inimitable Savy from Books with Bite is once again organizing a blog tour on my behalf. Thanks, Savy! Here's the graphic--pretty, no?

If you'd like to participate, please fill out Savy's Google Docs form. Thanks!

Monday, November 4, 2013

ASHFALL Book Discussions in NW Indiana

Check out the events Books to Bridge the Region and Ivy Tech are sponsoring in northwest Indiana. If you're in the area, get involved!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Magma Chamber at Yellowstone Is Bigger Than Previously Thought

Check out this fascinating article in Nature. Robert Smith of the University of Utah has shown that the magma chamber under Yellowstone is bigger than previously thought--about 50 miles long and 12 miles long.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
What does it mean? Not much. The size of the magma chamber doesn't change what we already knew about the likelihood of an eruption or its potential size. In fact, Smith believes earthquakes are a much greater threat than volcanic eruptions. (H/T Rodger Nichols).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award

Well, I had a busy Saturday night. I'd known for some time that I was one of the three nominees for the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award in the emerging author category. (I was really hoping I'd get to punch my way out of a giant egg to dramatize my emerging status, but no.)

Anyway, I was sure I would not win. I didn't prepare any remarks. I didn't put the champagne in the fridge. I almost wore a bathrobe to the event. (See, they said to wear business attire. Well, for a writer, business attire = bathrobe and giant mug of coffee. I would have done it, too, but my wife, Margaret, said I'd be sleeping in the guest room until New Year's Day if I did.)

But somehow I wound up lugging this giant glass book-shaped trophy home. My name is on the spine in gold leaf. Pretty, huh?

I'm not going to lie, the best part about this award is the check that's attached. Five years ago when I was writing ASHFALL, Margaret and I were so poor that we thought we might lose our house. Things are immensely better now, but $5,000 is still enough to make a big difference for us. The second best part of winning is the opportunity to make a $2,500 gift to a library of my choice. I woke up in the middle of the night last night with an insanely awesome idea for using that gift. Now I just have to see if the library will go for it.

The third best part of winning the award was, without question, the other emerging author finalists, Tricia Fields and Kelsey Timmerman. You can see their pictures to either side of mine in this photo:

Photo by Peggy Tierney

One of the first things I did after learning that we were all finalists was to rush down to Central Library and check out their books. Here's Tricia's debut:

It's a crime novel set in a remote town on the Mexican border. Tricia's prose is spare and lovely, and the novel moves along at an electric pace. Tricia is married to an Indiana State Police investigator, and every detail of the book rings true--at least in my admittedly inexpert ears. If you enjoy crime fiction, police procedurals--heck, if you've ever seen CSI--buy a copy today. Margaret tells me that the sequel, Scratchgravel Road, is every bit as good. I haven't read it yet, but the copy we bought on Saturday is perched atop my teetering to-be-read pile.

I'm insanely jealous of Kelsey Timmerman. He has traveled all over the world to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about the people who make the stuff we wear and eat. Take this book, his second:

He wrote this book in less than a year while traveling to four continents to research it. It took me two years to write SUNRISE and I traveled to . . . Iowa. I have no idea how he managed to write such a lucid and empathetic account of how the other 95% of the world lives while spending much of his life on the road. I certainly couldn't do it. If you enjoy travel books, want to know more about the food we eat, or more about how those who produce it live, buy a copy of Kelsey's book.

I was also thrilled to spend some time with family I see too infrequently, so I'll leave you with this picture of my sister-in-law Caroline, her daughter Anna, and her son, Max. As you can see, it was a memorable Saturday night for all of us.

Photo by Peggy Tierney

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Seventh Grade Teacher Forces Me to Write Bad Poetry

So, I got this email a few hours ago:
Hello Mike, 
My name is Uma* and my son enjoys reading your books and has chosen you for an author study for his English class. He's in 7th grade.  The assignment is to pick three books written by an author (but only one from a series). For the assignment Omo* has read Ashfall and the novelette, Darla's Story.  This is how I'm hoping and praying you can help? By any small chance do you have a short story, poem, or any other piece of writing you'd be willing to share with my son so we can complete his reading assignment?

I know I'm probably asking too much but I though I'd give it a try as the assignment is due this Tuesday and if we can't find a short writing by you we have only a few days to restart the assignment which isn't possible.

Thank so much in advance for even reading this email and hopefully considering helping my son with this dilemma.

All my best,


Here's what I wrote back:
Hi Uma*,

Good lord, that's an annoying assignment. Let the poor kid read what he wants to!

Sure, here's some haiku for your son. I'm sorry, I'm a terrible poet, but hopefully this will do:

Reading is more fun
when students are allowed
to choose their own books

This is fun! Let me try another:

There's nothing wrong with
reading a series, one book
after the other.

Hey, maybe I'm not as bad as haiku as I thought! I'm going to write a non-haiku now. Ooh, poetry level-up! I'm even going to do a title like real poets. Here we go:

Children Who Read

Are less likely to use illegal drugs,
Are more likely to delay sexual activity,
Score better on standardized tests (not that it should matter),
Are less likely to wind up in juvie or prison,
And are more pleasant to talk with.

Yet some teachers
Squeeze the joy from reading
Turning passion into peels
Dry and lifeless.

Yet some teachers
Try to quantify the unquantifiable
"Its Lexile is too low."
"You can't read it."
"Its Lexile is too high."
"You can't read it."

Yet some teachers
Give rewards for reading
AR points or chemical candies
Though reading is its own reward.

Other teachers nurture readers.
Guide their book choices
instead of forcing them.
Some teachers collect books like gems,
but share them like love.

To teachers who sow books
in the furrows of young minds,
And to readers who persevere
despite their teachers,
I give

Hmm, hope that helps. If my poetry is too political, you could use this:



And she wrote:

Hey Mike-

You're amazing! Thank you so much for your concern! I'm sure this will fulfill the assignment requirement!

Omo* says thank you and he hopes you have plans for future novels!

We'll never forget your help!

All wishes for your successful future,

Uma* and Omo*

*I have changed the names of the mother and her son for privacy. I've also edited their emails in trivial ways. I edited the poems I sent them for this post, too, because my first efforts were far too embarrassing to share on my blog.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I'm No Longer a Democrat (And Why You Should Give Up Your Party, Too)

Lately my social media feeds have resembled raw sausage links that have been left out in the sun for eight days. They're packed with rancidness, their casings so swollen that they're threatening to burst. Since the U.S. government shutdown began, social media appears to me to be more vituperative than at any time since the 2012 presidential election.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Now 99% of the people I meet in person are lovely--friendly, nice, and kind. By the law of averages, about 31% of those people are Democrats, and about 22% are Republicans (Gallup, September 5-8, 2013). It therefore follows that at least 30% of the people I meet in person or online are lovely Democrats and at least 21% of them are lovely Republicans.

So why can't we just all get along? Why is the internet such a cesspool of political animosity? And why can't we agree on basic premises, such as: 1) the U.S. government ought to stay open, and 2) the U.S. government ought to pay its bills?

Part of the problem with internet discourse is the internet itself. It was designed to share information among groups of scientists who already knew each other. It has long since outgrown that purpose, and it's not particularly well designed for the way we use it today. For more on the fundamental defects in the internet, see this post.

But there's another, even larger problem. Psychologists have been studying political partisanship for some time, and it turns out that rational thought and partisan affiliation generally don't co-exist in our brains. When self-identified partisans of either party are faced with a  question that touches on their political beliefs, the parts of their brains associated with emotion light up under an fMRI scan. The parts of their brain associated with reason are relatively quiet (summary, study). Partisan thought "is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected." Source. Note the second part of that quote--the brain will reward a partisan with a shot of dopamine when s/he rejects unwelcome information, regardless of whether that information is true or not.

More recent research shows the problem to be even worse. Political partisanship is so damaging to the rational parts of our brains that it even impairs our ability to do math (summary, study). And the better you are at math, the more impaired partisanship will make you.

This research has profound implications for our media. If you're consuming partisan media, you're paying attention to people who literally can't think straight. Would you listen to a bunch of newscasters who regularly went on the air so drunk that they couldn't engage the rational part of their brains? No? Then you should ignore Fox News and MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, The Blaze and The Daily Kos, and pretty much all talk radio.

If you cite or link partisan sources on social media, I'm going to assume that--like the "journalists" you're citing--you've lost part of your capability for rational thought, at least where politics is concerned. And I'll probably hide your posts. It's nothing personal--I also hide the posts of drunk people. Well, unless they're really funny. Then they're okay.

I know that journalists are people and that all people have biases. That's why it's so important to get your news from people who are actively trying to overcome their personal biases. Who are banned by their organizations from partisan political activity. Who are committed to facts, not opinion, whose goal is to inform, not to seek political advantage. I get most of my news from NPR, Reuters, and PBS. I used to visit The Huffington Post occasionally, but I gave that up last year, even before I was aware of the partisanship research, because I noticed a long string of articles with "facts" that, well, weren't factual (and Huffpo ignored my emails pointing out their errors).

The other change I'm making? I no longer consider myself a Democrat. I've always voted split tickets, but 2012 was the first time that I can recall voting for more non-Democrats than Democrats, so this is not a radical change for me. I'm making the change because I value the quality of my thought more than any possible party affiliation. Henceforth, I'm going to identify myself as an Independent. One of the things that gives me hope for the U.S. despite our current mess is that Independents are the largest political affiliation and appear to be growing. If you're still a Democrat or Republican, I hope that--for the sake of your rationality and your country--you'll consider joining us.

Monday, October 7, 2013

An Argument With My Editor

One question I occasionally get asked: "If you and your editor disagree about something, what happens?" Well, here's a play-by-play of one such disagreement for your edification and (hopefully) amusement.

I'm a fanatic about words. I always strive to find the perfect word, the one that communicates the exact sense of a scene or feeling. My editor at Tanglewood Press, Peggy Tierney, is a fanatic about voice. She's always trying to keep the prose in my books in the protagonist's voice, Alex's voice. In that sense we complement each other, but it also leads to an occasional argument.

I turned in my third rewrite of Chapter 48 of SUNRISE yesterday--well, the third rewrite since the manuscript went to Tanglewood. I have no idea how many times I rewrote it before I sent it in. Anyway, I got this note back from Peggy today (you may have to click on each email snippet to see the whole thing):

 I responded:

 Then, after two minutes of deep contemplation, I realized I was wrong and sent this:

 Forty-five minutes later, I get a reply:

Obviously she hasn't read my second email--here's what she sends one minute later when she gets to it:

And my reply:

And hers:

So there you have it--a tell-all expose of a knock-down, drag-out word nerd argument!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New Zombie Novel!

One of my critique partners just released his first indie book: All Together Now: A Zombie Story. I've read it twice in manuscript form. It's by turns disgusting, terrifying, funny, and heartbreaking.

All Together Now is the story of Ricky, a fifteen year old who's a fairly average kid other than being a great baseball player. When his six-year-old brother, Chuck, is bitten and infected by the zombie virus, all of Ricky's bat-swinging skills are put to the test as he tries to survive the zombie epidemic and find a cure for Chuck.

I don't love the cover. It looked awesome in sketch form, but the colorized version says middle grade to me. Ignore it if you can. This is a book adults, young adults, horror fans, and fans of apocalyptic fiction will love.

Full Disclosure: Rob is a good friend, and his critiques significantly improved my novels ASHEN WINTER, SUNRISE, and my novelette DARLA'S STORY. I'm hoping that hordes of my readers will shuffle zombie-like to their computers and buy a copy of All Together Now. Hey, at $2.99, it's cheaper than a bottle of Kirkman's Chrome Lightning! (That will make sense after you read the book.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bid for a Complete Set of ASHFALL Books

I just agreed to donate the first-ever complete set of ASHFALL books to the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation for their fundraiser this fall. This will include:

1) Either a signed advance reading copy (ARC) or signed manuscript of SUNRISE, the last book in the ASHFALL trilogy. It won't be available commercially until 3/17/2014.

2) A printed and signed manuscript of DARLA'S STORY, which won't be available commercially until November.

3) A rare, signed copy of ASHFALL from the first printing. These are not available any more, and go for $45 or more through rare book dealers.

4) A signed hardback of ASHEN WINTER from the first printing. You can't buy first printings of ASHEN WINTER in stores anymore either, but my publisher printed a lot more copies of ASHEN WINTER, so the first printing isn't as valuable as ASHFALL's first printing. Still, it's a cool thing to have!

The auction will go live sometime in October. Watch this space for info about how to bid.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Say Thank You to a Teacher for Me Today, Please

One of my best friends is a teacher. Let's call her Lynn. She's easily the toughest, smartest, most determined person I know. Every day I strive to be a little bit more like her, knowing that I'll never succeed.

When Lynn was in high school, she told her guidance counselor that she planned to be a teacher. The guidance counselor responded, "Why would you want to waste your time like that?" Lynn took the comment to heart and enrolled in a molecular genetics program at one of the top universities in the country.

She was bored. She had an itch, a feeling that she was doing the wrong thing. She transferred to a different university and enrolled in an elementary education program. She graduated with near-perfect grades. Her university's student teaching program was absurdly short. (Think about it, would we let doctors work on their own after 140 hours of supervised work with patients? That's less than four weeks! Some schools today have student teaching programs that require up to 900 hours of work with kids, but others don't require any student teaching at all.) She was woefully under-prepared. But she took her brains and her determination to a job at an inner-city public school.

Her first year was miserable, of course. Nobody gets good at any job with 140 hours of practice, let alone one as difficult as teaching. It takes something on the order of ten thousand hours, or five years of full-time effort to achieve true expertise in anything that requires significant cognitive effort. If we were serious about education, we'd require all teachers to complete a master's degree plus a two-year residency. That wouldn't deter people like Lynn, and if it did deter others, so much the better. We hire fewer than 100,000 recent graduates as teachers each year in the U.S., yet we award roughly 280,000 teaching degrees each year (bachelor's, master's). To look at the data another way, at least 7.7 million Americans have earned teaching degrees, yet we employ only 3.7 million teachers.

Lynn was moved from sixth grade to first mid-year, given virtually no support, and regularly thought about quitting. In fact, 46% of new teachers do quit within the first five years. But like I wrote, Lynn is the toughest person I've ever met--she stuck it out.

A few years later, she went back to school for a master's degree, working on it at night and on weekends, investing tens of thousands of dollars of her own money in improving her teaching skill. When she finished, her school district gave her a $300 per year raise. She'll complete her PhD this year. But her school district won't give her a raise for that, because the Indiana General Assembly recently outlawed raises for additional education degrees. (Only content-area degrees may be considered, and then only as 33% of an evaluation.) Lynn doesn't care--she was doing it to learn to be an even better teacher, not because it would be financially remunerative.

Lynn now has more than a quarter-century of teaching experience. She's taught children in poverty for all but two of those years. She's turned down opportunities to teach in suburban schools, private schools, and charter schools because she believes she can make the biggest difference working with children who live in poverty. At her current school more than 90% of the students qualify for a free lunch.

She has parents who work two or three jobs and are still in poverty. Others that don't speak English. She's had to deal with parents who stole their kid's ADHD medicine to sell on the black market. And deal with their kids. One memorable episode involved an off-his-meds upper elementary student crawling uncontrollably around the classroom barking like a dog. She's seen five-year-olds arrive at school with pot in their backpacks, because that's where their parents decided to stash it. Some of her parents are wonderfully supportive. Some are barely present in their children's lives. A few send their kids to school broken and battered. Lynn knows her way around the Child Protective Services referral process.

Public schools in the United States are the best in the world. Yes, you read that right. I'll repeat: we have the best public education system in the world. The "school failure" narrative you hear from politicians and the media is categorically false. The best test for cross-country comparisons is known as PISA, which is administered every three years. The 2012 data won't be released until December, so this discussion relates to the 2009 test.

U.S. schools that had a poverty rate of 10% or less beat every country in the world on the PISA test. They even beat Finland's schools, that have a poverty rate of just 3%. (Shanghai edged out the U.S. low-poverty schools, but Shanghai isn't even a country anyway, and only the top 35% of their students attend high school. And even so, they only beat U.S. students by 5 points out of more than 500.)

In fact, if you compare any particular bracket of poverty, U.S. public schools perform as well as or better than comparable-poverty overseas schools. Schools like Lynn's, with more than 75% poverty, are best compared to Mexican schools (the only country that administers the PISA test and has a poverty rate that astronomical). And high-poverty U.S. schools trounce their Mexican counterparts, 446 to 425.

Poverty is like a playing field on which schools compete. If you organized a football game between the Denver Broncos and the Jacksonville Jaguars (arguably the best and worst teams in American football at the moment), but inflicted a 19 yard penalty on the Broncos at the start of every drive, the Jaguars would dominate. The difference between child poverty rates in the U.S. (22%) and Finland (3%) is 19 points. Given an equal playing field, U.S. teachers and U.S. public schools are the best in the world.

The advocates of the school-privatization movement cry foul at numbers like these. They'll give example after example of teachers or schools that made an incredible difference to kids in poverty. They'll say that since some schools and some teachers are able to achieve results with kids in poverty similar to those wealthy kids achieve, that proves all schools and all teachers can do it.

I call bullshit. Not because they're wrong--they're absolutely right. Some teachers can get amazing results. Let me tell you about one--she's one of my very best friends in the world. Let's call her Lynn. She asks for the tough kids, the English as a New Language (ENL) students, and lets the "high ability" kids go to another classroom. Yet her students routinely score at or near the top of all students in her school on their state achievement test. In two of the last three years her classroom has been the top scoring room in the entire school on either math or reading. And this is not a small school--it's nearly twice the optimum size for an elementary school. (We want research-based education--except when it requires building new schools.)

How does Lynn get these results? She's continued to educate herself. She owns and has read more than 660 books about teaching. She subscribes to and reads a half-dozen scholarly journals. In her 25-year career, she's spent in excess of $110,000 of her own money on teaching materials and school supplies. She has amassed a classroom library that fills 66 copy-paper boxes. (I know, because somehow I let myself get wrangled into helping last time the administration bounced her to a new room. Which is another interesting point--would a doctor or lawyer be forced to move his own office?) What's the reward she gets for amassing this huge and interesting classroom library? When the school district found some money to purchase a few books for the other, largely bookless, classrooms in her building, she was left out, because she, "already had enough books."

Lynn works 70-hour weeks during the school year. During the week, she sleeps about five hours a night and catches up on her sleep on the weekend. She often beats the custodians into the building, and routinely waves goodbye to her administration at four-thirty and settles in for another two hours of work. She used to attend three or four education conferences a year--which she paid for herself--but her administration no longer supports the out-of-school time, so now she only attends conferences in the summer.

Lynn has no children, instead, she pours her love, passion, and dedication into "her kids" at school. She's a demanding teacher. She teaches difficult material and insists that every child will master it. High expectations create stress, and some of her students have never experienced academic rigor. Some students enter her room barely able to read first-grade material, unable to do one-digit addition. Education is not important to many of her students. Their parents rarely hold high school diplomas, let alone any college degrees. Like many of us, her students would often rather be watching a movie or playing football than struggling to master difficult new math concepts. And when they melt down, as a few inevitably do, she gets little support. Instead, the administration exhorts her to be less demanding and create an "easier" classroom environment.

Many parents are supportive. Some are unreachable. A few have called to curse her out in the crudest terms imaginable--they blame her when their child gets a poor behavior report, or they don't like seeing their child struggle with difficult material. When parents harass her--or even threaten her--the school's administrators do little if anything.

Interestingly, Lynn gets her results without assigning much homework. Every child is expected to read on his/her own or with a parent for half an hour every night, and sometimes they have one page of math practice to do as well.

The kinds of phenomenal results Lynn gets are not replicable broadly. They're not even replicable in her own building--her administration seems to be actively discouraging her. The other 3.7 million American teachers do not, and should not, all see teaching the same way Lynn does, as a life-consuming mission. If it were possible to overcome poverty solely through eduction, one of the dozens of new programs we've tried during my lifetime would have worked. Education is not a silver bullet for eliminating poverty--it's just one part of the answer. And despite the platitudes of politicians and media figures, we have no national stomach for tackling the problem of childhood poverty in this country.

We do a terrible job as a society supporting our teachers. The deluge of criticism is nonstop, much of it generated by people who have a financial interest--directly or indirectly--in the school privatization movement. Politicians work to undermine teachers' unions, which makes sense only from a fiscal standpoint. If quality of education were politicians' primary concern, they would work to strengthen teachers' unions, perhaps using Finland's 100% unionized teaching force as an example. Without unions, salaries would go down, just as they have in every other sector that's gone from unionized to non-unionized. And if salaries go down, the quality of people willing to teach will go down as well.

Unfortunately, even some school administrators have bought into the false "school failure" narrative. The administrators at Lynn's school are constantly throwing up new roadblocks and headaches. Teachers are asked to do menial tasks, like inventorying textbooks, that any secretary could do. Their prep times are routinely consumed with useless and often demoralizing meetings. When they ask for help with unruly kids, they're called on the carpet instead of given support. Even more unfortunately, Lynn's school is not unique. Teacher morale is at its lowest point in 25 years. Only 39% of teachers are satisfied, and more than half experience "great stress" several days per week.

Lynn will be okay. Maybe I wrote it before, but she's the most determined person I've ever met. However, millions of great teachers are thinking about leaving the profession. Lynn's family has been urging her to quit for years. Luckily for her students, she has no intention of quitting.

What can we do? I'll ask only one, easy thing of you. Do it right now, please. Contact a teacher you respect--via phone, social media, or face to face--and say thank you. Lynn and I appreciate it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cover News for ASHFALL

The hardback edition of ASHFALL is almost sold out, and I've heard that it's going back to press! But there's a twist: The new edition will have the same cover as the paperback. So if you've always wanted the original cover, you'd better buy it now. Here it is:

If, on the other hand, you've always wanted a matched set of hardbacks, you'll be able to get that in month or two. They'll look something like this:

Full disclosure: This is an evil plan to get you to buy more books. Hey, we could be trying for world domination! Selling books is much better.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More Goodreads Drama

Here we go again with the Goodreads drama. This time it's ex-literary agent and author Nathan Bransford wading into the swamp with a defense of September Girls by Bennett Madison and a plea that we "acknowledge each other's humanity." Which makes me wonder if he's ever read the comments on an obscure little video sharing site called YouTube. Doesn't Bransford make a living doing something internet-y now?

One more time: Reviews are for readers, not for authors. Reviews of my books are for readers, not for me. Reviews of Madison's books are for readers, not for him. There's nothing wrong with a snarky or even a totally mean-spirited review so long as it focuses on the book.

When a novel leaves my computer, it's not mine anymore. It's yours, the reader's. You have the absolute right to react to that novel in any way you darn well please. And to share that reaction in any way you darn well please.

An author who freaks out over a negative review of his work has not sufficiently separated himself from that work. I am not my novels. Yes, I sweat over them, bleed and cry over them, but I am more than the content of any of my novels. And, at a fundamental level, none of them are my books anyway. They're yours now, to treat as gently or harshly as you please.

I read all 39 one-star reviews of September Girls on Goodreads tonight. They are remarkably--admirably, even--focused on the book. Even the spiteful, gif-filled reviews quote extensively from the book, building arguments to support the reviewers' points of view.

None of the reviews I read cross the line into personal attacks. And there is a bright line that reviewers should not cross: My books belong to readers now, but I do not. If you're reviewing the author's weight, clothing, or hairstyle, you're way out of line. If you're threatening murder, rape, or sodomy, you're so far out of line that the local authorities should get involved. None of that is happening in the case of Madison's book as best I can tell.

Bransford characterizes these reviews as bullying, which 1) is just plain wrong--you can't bully a book--it's an inanimate object, and 2) seems to me to devalue the suffering of true victims of bullying. Goodreads is not for authors, it's for readers. We don't need to be there. I know of one author who's added the site to her browser's porn blocker, so she literally can't go there.

I'm not on Goodreads anymore, although that has nothing to do with reviews. I signed off for the last time a few months ago when Amazon bought the site. Amazon's biggest business isn't even books anymore--it's consumer electronics. Do we really want all our book recommendation sites under the control of the online equivalent of Best Buy? I don't. (Amazon owns Goodreads, Shelfari, and 40% of LibraryThing.) If you're as concerned about the future of the literary ecosystem as I am, please join me on BookLikes.

Bransford wrings his hands over the "great books that won't be published as a result of this culture if it continues." Puh-leaze. Does anyone think Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, or J.K. Rowling are whiling away the hours reading reviews on Goodreads? Sure, I used to read mine, but even I can't keep up with the volume of reviews of my work anymore, and my books are only a pimple on the back of the YA mammoth. A cursory look at the data shows the idea that Goodreads is scaring off authors is pure hyperbole, despite Bransford's protestations. The number of books published in the U.S. has increased from 274,000 in 2006 (the year Goodreads was founded) to 347,000 in 2011.

Here's the other important thing Bransford fails to acknowledge: those reviews that "demean and dehumanize authors" are helping the authors sell more books. For authors who are relatively unknown (who have published ten or fewer books), bad reviews increase sales. For a full discussion of the data supporting that assertion, see my post Why Bad Reviews Rock.

The bad reviews of September Girls sold at least one copy--I'd never heard of it a few hours ago, and now I've ordered it. The stuff the 39 one-star reviewers didn't like sounded interesting to me. There are precious few YA novels that take an utterly fearless and unflinching look at adolescent male sexuality--if September Girls is one, I suspect I'll enjoy it.

The reviewers did their job. They reacted to the book with enough specific detail that I could tell I might like it. Reviewers work for pure love of the literature--most of them get paid exactly nothing. They deserve our thanks, not our opprobrium, no matter how far into snark they slip. So here's mine: Thank you!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wordle of SUNRISE

I've been corresponding with a fan, Brian Alvarez, and he's expressed some annoyance that I keep teasing him with hints about SUNRISE. Being the kind of guy I am, I didn't think, "Oh, how can I make it up to Brian?" No, I thought, "How can I make it even worse? And share the pain with you, my blog readers?" So here you have it, a Wordle of SUNRISE:

Wordle is an awesome, free online toy that lets you create a histogram of any chunk of text you want. The bigger the words are, the more often they appear in the text. Try it for yourself.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review of The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria

Not long after ASHFALL came out, I did a panel presentation at the Indianapolis Youth Literature Conference. Elsa Marston was there and brought her copy of ASHFALL along for me to sign. She asked me a question--I can't remember her exact wording--about why I wrote such a violent book for young adults. I remember thinking yes, that's exactly the right question. I'd already gotten tired of defending the very mild fade-to-black sex scenes in ASHFALL. Sex is a natural part of being human that can both enrich and perpetuate life. The violence in my work, however, still makes me uncomfortable at some level.

The answer, of course, is that I never write down to my audience. In times of resource scarcity, humans are capable of absolutely horrific violence. The real reaction to a disaster of the scope I portray in ASHFALL is likely to be much, much worse than in my books. I suppose I could gloss over the violent scenes the way I do with the sex in my books, allow them to fade-to-black. But that feels dishonest. To take an extreme example, consider which makes a more powerful statement against violence: Saving Private Ryan or the cartoon antics of The Roadrunner? This is part of the reason I'm deeply ambivalent about ASHFALL being made as a movie. To earn a PG-13 rating, a movie would have to be far less graphic than the book. The anti-war message conveyed so powerfully in The Hunger Games is completely lost in the movie version amid the gorgeous--and bloodless--cinematography.

Anyway, Elsa has been a wonderful supporter and perceptive critic of my work right from the beginning. And so I was thrilled to get a copy of her latest book, The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria, in the mail a few weeks ago.

Elsa's book, though written for the middle grade and young adult market, is a thorough and scholarly biography. Elsa holds a master's degree in international affairs from Harvard University and has written more than twenty books for children and teenagers. I knew next to nothing about Abd el-Kader before opening Elsa's book. Here's how the back of the book describes him:
Emir Abd el-Kader (1807 - 1883) . . . led the resistance to the French conquest of Algeria. He was a brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, and renowned Muslim leader. Known for his kindness toward his enemies, he became an international celebrity in his own time. Today he is recognized as a pioneer in interfaith dialogue.
. . . in 1860 in Syria, he saved thousands of innocent Christians from mob violence, earning praise from leaders as diverse as Abraham Lincoln, Pope Pius IX, and Napoleon III.
I particularly appreciate the complexity of Elsa's treatment of el-Kader. She doesn't shy away from the controversial aspects of his life, such as the massacre of two hundred French prisoners of war at a camp in Morocco. While el-Kader did not order the massacre--in fact, he reviled it--it did occur at a camp under his command. Later, while in exile in Syria, el-Kader rescued thousands of Christians from Muslim rioters. The contradictions in el-Kader's life--warrior and scholar, humanitarian and jihadist, Algerian nationalist and Francophile--are part of what makes him so fascinating.

My one criticism of The Compassionate Warrior is that at times it feels almost too scholarly. The book opens with a table of contents, list of illustrations, forward, preface, and prologue. That's twelve pages of material before the reader reaches the meat of the story. And while Elsa does an admirable job covering the breadth of el-Kader's extraordinary life, I wonder if the book might have been even more engaging with less breadth and more depth. For example, several years are summarized in one paragraph on page 51:
For a few years Abd el-Kader held lines of defense--major towns and fortifications--running roughly east and west. All were lost to the French army, however, by the end of 1841. In most cases the inhabitants had been warned to leave in time, so the French found only empty streets and buildings.
As a reader, I'm left imagining the battles and heartbreak glossed over in this bit of narrative summary. That's the sort of thing I would have absolutely loved to read as a fourth grader and still enjoy today. When I opened The Compassionate Warrior, I was hoping for an experience more along the lines of Steve Sheinkin's The Bomb: a solid history written with the immediacy of fiction, with more show and less tell.

I worry that because of its somewhat academic bent, The Compassionate Warrior won't reach as broadly into its target market as it should. It's an important work--one that begs to be read widely. There are 2.6 million Muslims in the U.S.--they need to see themselves in our literature, to find heroes like themselves. And el-Kader is a fabulous hero--a revolutionary warrior in the mold of George Washington, an intellectual champion of liberty like Thomas Paine, and a Gandhiesque defender of human rights.

Non-Muslims, too, need to read this book. The bedrock upon which compassion is built is understanding, and after reading Elsa's book, I have a much better understanding of el-Kader, Algeria, and Islam in general. The Compassionate Warrior is a worthy addition to your library, classroom, or bookshelf. I'll be sending my copy to my wife's classroom to share with her students.

Buy The Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria:

Barnes & Noble
The Book Depository

Full disclosure: I received this book from Elsa Marston for free, and I'm proud to consider her a friend and mentor.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Book That Helped Inspire SUNRISE: Prepper's Home Defense

I’ve been working like crazy over the past six months to finish SUNRISE, the final book in the ASHFALL trilogy, while keeping up with my travel schedule. (I’ve done more than 350 presentations in 21 states over the last 20 months.) And so I’ve put off lots of stuff on my to-do list.

One of those things, unfortunately, was a review of this book:

The author, Jim Cobb, came to one of my events in Madison, Wisconsin last year, and we had a lovely hour-long chat about prepping, the Yellowstone supervolcano, and what Chicago might be like after the apocalypse. I’m not a real prepper—I keep enough supplies onhand to survive for about three weeks, which is what I figure I’d need to get through a regional disaster like Hurricane Sandy or Katrina. If the end of the world as we know it comes (what preppers affectionately refer to as TEOTWAWKI), I have a simple plan: I’ll die. I have no desire to live through the kind of events I depict in ASHFALL. Unlike me, Jim is a stone cold expert on disaster survival. He’s worked in related fields for more than twenty years, and maintains one of the best websites on prepping. I rely on people like him and their books in order to write my own.

For ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER, I used When Technology Fails as my go-to book for inspiration. In SUNRISE, you may notice the influence of Prepper’s Home Defense throughout.

When Alex and Darla prepare the approaches to his uncle’s farm, trying to funnel potential attackers away from spots they can’t see from their lookout post, that’s an idea from page 52 of Jim’s book. Go-bags and scouting? Page 202. Lone wolf syndrome? Page 165. My depiction of Rockford, Illinois is in part based on the conversation Jim and I shared in the aisles of the Madison Barnes & Noble. (We talked about Chicago, but when I drove the route Alex and Darla would take to get to Chicago, I realized that they’d hit Rockford first and be able to get everything they needed there.)

What I particularly like about Jim’s book is its practicality. Reading it, I don’t get a sense that he has any ideological axe to grind. He’s intensely focused on what works. He points out, quite correctly, that semiautomatic rifles don’t offer particularly good “bang for the buck” when it comes to home defense. His section on martial arts is spot-on. I completely agree with his funny take on the uselessness of nunchuku as self-defense weapons. I recently started training with the Korean version, ssahng jeol bahngs, and I would NEVER try to use them in a real fight. (They are, however, a great workout for your wrists and shoulders.) He emphasizes practice—no one becomes competent with any tool, let alone a firearm, without thousands of hours of practice. (And I’ll add that competence is a perishable commodity—the moment you quit training, you start to lose your edge.)  This extends to practicing disaster evacuation, as Jim points out in a section titled “Drill, Drill, and Drill Again.”

If, unlike me, you’re serious about prepping, you should seek out serious advice. That means seeking out the experts who have no particular political or religious dogma to sell, experts who are laser-focused on what works. Jim Cobb is one such expert.

Buy Prepper’s Home Defense:

Full disclosure: I received this book from Jim for free, and I'm proud to call him a friend.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why I Write

Gratuitous Picture of a Cat
Here's an email I received yesterday (shared by kind permission of Heather and her son, Sam):
Hi Mike!
I have to tell you that I have a sixteen year old that has been on house arrest this entire summer. So, I, too have been on house arrest. However, I LOVE to read and I'm Buried in Books, (blog name and literally) so I am an avid reader. 

My son, Sam, used to love to read and read well above his grade level. He won spelling bees and had excellent test scores. Then, the expectations got so high that he wasn't able to meet them and so he was punished. While all the average and below average kids were rewarded for making their goals with a pizza party or ice cream sundaes, he had to do laps around the classroom. Needless to say, his desire to read was crushed. That was fourth grade. He's going into 11th grade. I combed my shelves looking for books for him to read this summer. He's not big on fantasy or romance, I have tons of MG and YA but most of my contemporaries are big on romance. So I remembered I'd picked up ASHFALL wanting to read it. I gave it to Sam to read it. He LOVED it! It might have taken him a week to read it. I promised to get him ASHEN WINTER so he read a few other things in between until I ordered it. One month later, he actually turned off the t.v. and the video game so he could finish ASHEN WINTER, which he finished in three days. 

Since fourth grade, he has chosen his books to read based on how few pages are in the book. I'm sure you're aware of how large your books are. We are anxiously awaiting SUNRISE and March! He's finally into reading again! He told me he learned a lot of new words from your novels, (Yay, SAT's coming up)! But more importantly, he's gotten his love of reading back. He's actually asking for a book. He is MAKING time to read. That is the sign of a good book. I don't think you could ask for a better review than that! You won't get any other kind from him. But know that you've made me very happy to see his love of reading given back to him!

Thank you for your incredible novels!


Two things:

1) This is why I write. Yes, I like winning awards. I've won my share. And yes, I like getting royalty checks. I'm making more money this year that I ever dreamed would be possible in year two of a writing career. But next time I doubt myself, believe I can't do it, I won't look at my last royalty statement or read the list of awards on my website. I'll pull out this email and reread it. (By the way, all writers struggle with self-doubt; it's just the nature of the beast.)

2) If you're the type of teacher who punishes kids who are struggling readers, please quit now. Seriously. I will raise funds online to pay your way through truck-driving school. You'll make more money as a truck driver, and you'll never, ever be around kids. Some a****** teacher cost this kid SEVEN M*****F****** YEARS OF HIS LITERARY LIFE. Yes, I'm yelling. And cussing. Sorry about that.

Don't get me wrong, I love teachers. I'm married to one, I love them so much. But not everyone has the talent, determination, temperament, or work ethic to be a teacher. If you can't hack it, hey, that's cool. I know I couldn't do it, so you're in good (maybe?) company. But switch careers before you mess up any more kids, please.

Let me close with Sam's own comments (also via email, and shared by kind permission from Sam, with minor edits by me):
Dear Mr. Mullin,
I really enjoyed reading your books. My mother originally got me the books a while ago but I wasn't really reading at the time. Well I read a lot of books this summer and I read Ashfall in about  day in a half. It was excellent. I read Ashen Winter even quicker even though it was a larger book. I have really enjoyed your books because they are truly brilliant. Please keep writing them. Make as many in this series as you can because Ashen Winter was even crazier than Ashfall. So I expect the next book to be very, very good. Thanks for writing back.
And that's why I write.

p.s. If you haven't already, be sure to enter the contest to win a signed manuscript of DARLA'S STORY, book #0.5 of the ASHFALL trilogy. The contest ends 9/4/13. Good luck!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Announcing DARLA'S STORY (And a One-of-a-kind Giveaway!)

My debut novel, ASHFALL, is an adventure story, but also a love story about Alex and a tough young woman he meets on page 127 named Darla. As you read ASHFALL you learn a lot about how Alex survives the first two weeks after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, but not much about Darla's experience with the eruption.

About a year ago, I sat down to fix that. I wrote a novelette--60 pages about everything that happens to Darla from the time Yellowstone erupts to when she meets Alex. About every four months since then I've gotten it out and rewritten it. This fall, it will finally be published in an ebook format. It'll be available for all e-reader platforms for $0.99 or less.

But if you want to read it early, here's your chance. I'm giving away a one-of-a-kind signed paper manuscript with editorial markings from the inimitable Peggy Tierney of Tanglewood Press (thanks for letting me do this, Peggy!) Here it is:

I'll ship it anywhere in the world at my expense. (The books pictured above are not included, just the manuscript.) Want to win? Enter the Rafflecopter below. You can earn extra points every day by tweeting about the giveaway. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Drawing Outside the Lines

It was an interesting day today. This afternoon, David Lubar posted the puzzle below on his Facebook page.
by David Lubar

Now I've met Mr. Lubar, heard him speak (he talks way too fast), and I've blown snot while reading three or four of his books. I might be wrong, but he seems to be more of a word guy than a number guy. So I started thinking about what the the words that go with all these numbers are. Well, they all start with a "T." The next number that starts with a "T" is 21. That was one right answer. (The other right answer is 22, of course, based on the pattern in the second number). The point is, if you look a little outside the obvious pattern--draw outside the lines, if you will--you can arrive at a more interesting answer.

by Kate Annex Terrasochi
Later this afternoon I paid way too much for two tickets to a Pacers game. My wife, Margaret, is gaga over the Pacers, and one of the nice things about royalty checks is that I can occasionally treat her to something we never could have afforded just two years ago.

There were a couple of Miami Heat fans in the section next to ours, and the large and obnoxious Pacers fan directly in front of them decided to stand the whole time to block their view.

First nearly everyone nearby tried to convince the guy to sit down--he wouldn't. Then one of the Heat fans spoke to a police officer, the officer called an usher, and there was a long conference during which they decided that there was nothing they could do--the obnoxious fan was allowed to stand for the whole game if he wished. This took all of the first quarter and most of the second.

Finally, it hit me--there was a simple solution to this problem. I asked Margaret if she was okay with it, she agreed, and we got up to go talk to the Heat fans.

The solution? We traded seats with them. The big obnoxious fan took one look at our vintage Pacers shirts (we've been fans for far longer than I care to admit), and he sat down. And the Heat fans got to sit with a group of non-obnoxious Hoosiers. We're like Canadians, for the most part--way too nice for our own good.

Anyway, the point here is to look beyond the obvious solution. Particularly if you're a writer. The first and the second ideas you think of are usually mundane: boring. Sure, they might be perfectly serviceable ideas, but to really thrill your readers, think deeper--try something unexpected or just plain weird. Color outside the lines.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do School Library Visits Benefit Authors?

Well, duh, you might be saying. Most of us get paid to do school visits. But beyond that, do author visits create new readers? Do they sell books?

Me (Mike Mullin) at a school in Columbus, OH.
Below I've listed the top titles in circulation at a few school libraries I visited this year. Note that if you made a list like this nationally, none of my books would show up in the top ten. (They've sold very well, but not THAT well.)

Northwestern Middle and Senior High School:

1. Ashfall by Mike Mullin
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
3. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
4. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
5. (tie) Matched by Ally Condie

Rossville Consolidated (serves 6th through 12th grade):

1. Maximum Ride, the manga by NaRae Lee
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
3. Cabin Fever: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
4. A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
5. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
6. Ashfall by Mike Mullin
7. Matched by Allie Condie
8. Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
9. The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan
10. The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Adams Central:

1.  Ashfall by Mike Mullin
2.  Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
3.  Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
4.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
5.  Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
6.  Maze Runner by James Dashner

Lakeland Leading Edge High School:

1.    Ashfall by Mike Mullin
2.       Amy & Rober’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
3.       Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride
4.       The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
5.       Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi
6.       The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
7.       Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
8.       Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees
9.       The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan
10.   Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

So, yes, you can create new readers and fans with school visits. These are circulation lists, not sales, but higher circulation numbers lead to higher sales. Books wear out, libraries order more so their hold lists won't be so long, and new fans often buy the books they love and convince others to buy as well. This is one reason I've intentionally kept my fee for school visits very low--they're probably the best marketing I do. If you'd like more information, click here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Code Red at Franklin Community Middle School

This morning I was about fifteen minutes into my first presentation at the library in Franklin Community Middle School when the principal came on the intercom: "Code Red. Code Red."
Unfortunately, he wasn't talking about Mountain Dew. I looked to the librarian, Trish Grady, for guidance. I figured it was a lockdown drill. I've been in those before--you crouch in a dark, locked room for five minutes until the principal calls all clear. Then I saw a policewoman sprinting past the windows outside. That's not normally part of the drill.

I'd just finished challenging the students to break a training board with a taekwondo move called hammerfist, so one of them piped up, "Hey, we're fine, we've got the taekwondo dude with us!" I decided it wasn't the best time to explain exactly how useless my mad taekwondo skillz would be against stray bullets.

Trish told me to keep going, and I entertained my rather nervous audience while the rest of the adults locked all the doors, turned off the lights, and pulled all the blinds. Then we got word that we should move to a computer lab deeper in the building and wait for the all clear. So I wound up sitting with a roomful of middle school students in a dark room for nearly two hours. And it was wonderful!

We talked about my books, about their favorite books, about the books they were writing, about how authors get inspiration, about how I build my characters and my plots, and about a hundred other topics. I had a great time.

Finally we got a "Code Yellow," which the marketers at Mountain Dew wisely do not use on soda cans. That meant we could move around inside the building but not leave. Not even for the planned lunchtime cook-out. So, the intrepid library and kitchen staff moved the cookout into the library (with pre-cooked hamburgers, which were actually pretty good). Then my final presentation had to be cut short, but that was no problem--I have a short version ready for just this sort of thing.

It turned out that the "Code Red" was caused by an armed robbery and shoot-out at a nearby drugstore. You can read more about it here if you wish.

I was amazed anew at the yeoman's work our schools do in educating and protecting our students despite a society that sometimes seems stacked against them. Trish knew exactly where the flip-chart was with every conceivable disaster procedure. (Seriously, they have dozens of scenarios planned--including what to do if there's a nearby radiation leak.) Everyone was calm, cool, and professional even though the event played havoc with what was already a bit of an abnormal day.

Thank you to all the librarians, teachers, and administrators who prepare so diligently for all kinds of crazy events that we all hope will never happen. And a special thank you to Trish Grady, whose flexibility and resourcefulness made my day at FCMS a lot of fun despite the "Code Red." Maybe next time I visit we'll have a Code Read and bring flashlights to read in the dark.

(If you're interested in hosting me at your school, library, bookstore, or taekwondo dojang, there's more information about my author visits here.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

I Feel Like a Rockstar!

Check out what was sitting on my bed when I checked in at the Fairfield Inn in Burlington, Iowa this evening:

Someone from the library hosting me made a special trip to my hotel to leave a welcome gift! But that wasn't even the best part. Here's a close-up of the tag:

Iowa, in my books, is part of the Red Zone that the government basically abandons. And there were more ASHFALL-related goodies in the bag!

This is a cloth packet of what look to be kale seeds in envelopes made from the pages (photocopied, it looks like) of a Dan Brown novel. Exactly what I described in ASHEN WINTER! Here's a pic of the packets:

Then I pulled out the Guaranteed Human-Free Jerky. (Not packaged by the Peckerwoods.)

And Sterzings Potato Chips, a Burlington delicacy (they are really good!)

The obligatory mug:

But inside there was a box of matches. (If the Fairfield burns down, it wasn't me.)

And a plastic bottle of water, handy if I need to refill it from the toilet tank:

And cookies!

And here's the last thing I found--the best gift of all:

They gave me a library card! I kid you not! Why am I giggling like a little girl in all the other pictures, and in this one my eyes are closed and I'm not smiling? Because I'm struggling not to cry--that's how much that gift means to me. I've had a library card for the Indianapolis Public Library for 38 years now. My library card means nothing less than freedom to me. The freedom to enter thousands of imaginary worlds, to live other lives, to know how the world around me works. To be given one? I don't even know to adequately express the magnanimity of that gesture. I may never use it, but nonetheless, I'll forever feel I'm one of the proud patrons of the Burlington Public Library.

How am I ever going to live up to this welcome? I'll do my very best at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night (5/7) at the Burlington, Iowa Public Library. Don't miss it if you're in the area!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Query Hell

Two of my friends and critique partners, Shannon Alexander and Jason Beineke, are going through query hell right now. For those of you not familiar with the publishing process, that's where you boil down your whole book into three or four paragraphs designed to make a literary agent slather and chomp at the bit to represent your work. It's quite possibly more difficult than writing the whole book. In fact, this is how querying made me feel:

Photo by reubens
I struggled and struggled with the query for my debut novel, ASHFALL. After almost two weeks of work, it still sucked. Here's how I finally wrote an ASHFALL query that generated requests, and what I suggest you try if you're mired in query hell:

1) Go to the library (this is a good start to nearly any list of things to do, by the way).
2) Sit down in whatever section includes your kind of book (young adult fiction, for example).
3) Pull a random book off the shelf and read the flap copy.
4) Write a query in the style of that flap copy.
5) Repeat until your brain starts to leak out your ears (I wrote about 40 of them).
6) Write a new query that mashes up all the best words, phrases, and ideas from your imitation flap copy.

That's it. Hope it helps. One word of caution: I'm not the best person to take query advice from. EVERY agent who saw ASHFALL turned it down at some stage: query, partial, or full. I wound up getting an editor to read it through a personal connection, and I'm still not represented by a literary agent. So I hope your mileage varies from mine for the better.

Any other great advice for queriers? Let me know in the comments, please.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Travel Plans!

I have trips upcoming trips planned to Oregon, Kansas, and Arkansas. In each case, someone is paying my airfare: Tanglewood Press to Oregon, the 20th Annual Literature Festival to Kansas, and the Arkansas Curriculum Conference to Arkansas. Why am I over-sharing here? Well, if you're with a school, library, bookstore, or taekwondo dojang, in any of those areas, you can book an author visit without paying ANYTHING for airfare if you're willing to choose a date that I'm in your area anyway. Please help me spread the word--pass a link to this post on to any librarians you know.

Part of one of my author talks
Here's what a couple of librarians have had to say about my author talks:

"Mr. Mullin is as dynamic and energetic as his volcanic subject. He thrilled Pierce students with a breathtaking summary of what his novel’s reluctant hero had to face in order to be reunited with his family during the worst natural disaster in American history. To keep the pace of his visit at high intensity, Mr. Mullin donned his taekwondo clothing and proceeded to chop several heavy construction bricks in half." --Ted Zagar, Media Specialist at Pierce Middle School.

"Thanks again so much for the fantastic writing workshops you offered to the students at Frankfort High School.  I have your broken cement blocks on display in the library and the students love them, they can't get enough of your book, and are so excited about the next one. Lunch with the author was a huge success and the students have thanked me over and over for including them in that experience.  You have a dynamic personality that really connected so positively with our students." --Jane Holden, Media Specialist at Frankfort High School.

For more information, testimonials, and details click here.

Anyway, here are the days and locations I'd like to fill:


I'll be in the Dalles/Portland area from 6/1 through 6/6. I have plenty of extra time to schedule more events during my stay in Portland. I also have family near Seattle and the Twin Falls, Idaho area. If you'd like to schedule a presentation before or after this period in Seattle, Boise, or Twin Falls, please email me ASAP.


I'm a featured author at the 20th Annual Literature Festival in Lawrence on 10/15. I'd like to extend my stay with extra events before or after the festival in that area or Kansas City, MO. Heck, I'd even drive to Omaha for Jason Beineke.


I'm currently scheduled to fly into Memphis for an event on 10/29 and out of Little Rock on 10/31. I'd love to extend that trip with more events in either city or points between.

Interested? Email me ASAP at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com. Thanks!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Reviews and "Haters"

I read this post from author Jennifer Rush this morning and felt compelled to respond. So much so that I'm rewarding myself for finishing my first 500 words this morning by writing this blog post. Yes, I'm rewarding myself for writing with more writing. This may well be pathological.

Anyway, Rush discusses the four types of "haters" who write negative book reviews (and accompanies her post with some very funny illustrations). I've got to say that this does not fit my experience of the book reviewing community. Reviewers--even those who didn't care for my books--have been almost universally friendly, generous, and gracious. They're anything but haters. Book reviewers do what they do for love of the literature. Most of them get paid exactly nothing. Reviewers don't owe authors anything; we owe them a huge thank you for promoting our books--whether they reviewed those books positively or negatively.

I'll be honest: As a reader, I don't trust reviewers who don't write negative reviews. If you won't tell me when you dislike something, how can I judge if your taste fits mine? And I'm far more likely to buy a book based on a negative review than a positive one. If the stuff a reviewer disliked sounds cool to me, I'm firing up Indiebound to order. Criticizing something in public is risky, and so I tend to assume, rightly or wrongly, that a critical reviewer is being honest. (This is one of the many reasons that I'm a terrible book reviewer. I've been steadily deleting almost all the negative book reviews and ratings from my Goodreads account. I'm not willing to take the risks associated with being honest about my reaction to others' work in public.)

And here's another one of the facts Rush neglects in her piece. The "haters" are helping her. Negative reviews sell books. For a complete discussion of the research backing that statement, read my blog post Why Bad Reviews Rock.

Let me be clear, there are real haters out there. There are reviewers who choose to comment on the author's weight instead of her work. Or her clothing. Or who write personally threatening things. I have author friends who've been victims of this kind of "review". And I used female pronouns for a reason; women seem far more likely to face this kind of internet hatred than men. I recognize that I've been fortunate not to have to face this sort of "review," and I have one message for anyone writing them: Seek psychiatric help.

But to the rest of the book reviewers out there, the 99.9% who do a real service to the world of literature, and even to those of you who disliked ASHFALL or ASHEN WINTER: Thank you!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Thank You to Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania (Edit: and Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee!)

School librarians all over the country volunteer their time to create state award lists. They work like this--students who read the books on the list vote to select each state's winner. As such, they're probably purest measure of teen appeal. I'm extraordinarily grateful that eight states (so far) have chosen to honor my debut novel, ASHFALL by including it on their award list. Whether I win or not, being included on the lists is a big deal because librarians all over the state order extra books, and, more importantly, more students read the books on the lists. So a huge thank you to:

Edit (5-26-13): Three new states have added ASHFALL to their ballots!

My heartfelt thanks again to all the school librarians in those four states and everywhere who work so hard to connect students with books. I deeply appreciate your efforts on behalf of students, books, and authors.

p.s. I offer free Skype visits and relatively inexpensive in-person school visits. If you'd like to schedule one at your library, school, or book club, see this page.