Do Men or Women Write Better?

It’s a ridiculous question, right? When you love a book, who cares if a man or woman wrote it? Although to be fair, I reviewed the list I keep of my all-time favorite books, the ones I read over and over and over, and 80% of them were written by men. I certainly don’t consider the gender of the author when I’m deciding what to read, but it’s entirely possible that I have an unconscious bias.

Grammarly commissioned a study to see if there’s a bias among readers at large, and the results are interesting. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents believe that women are better writers than men, a result I find both surprising and encouraging. Surprising because books written by men get far more coverage in literary journals. Encouraging because, hey, maybe the public at large doesn’t share the literary world’s apparent bias, or is actually biased toward female writers. The survey appears to be reasonably scientific, with a sample size of 3,000, 54% of whom were men. It was conducted by Google Consumer Surveys. Here’s the infographic:


Many thanks to the folks at Grammarly for doing the study, providing the infographic, and donating $50 to Reading is Fundamental in my name in return for this post. Somebody over there knows exactly how to offer me an appealing bribe. Grammarly is an automated grammar checker. I’ve never used it, but I probably should.


Kirby Heyborne Will Narrate ASHFALL Audiobook

I’m frequently asked about an ASHFALL audiobook–Why doesn’t one exist? When will ASHFALL be recorded? Lots of people–including me–rely on audiobooks for entertainment on car trips. But the appeals that hit me the hardest are the folks who want to share their love of my work with friends who can’t consume normal print due to visual impairment or dyslexia.

Tanglewood Press has been working on a possible audiobook for more than two years now. They’ve auditioned narrators–some of whom were very good–but none of whom seemed perfect for ASHFALL. I agreed to read my own work, but my voice is closer to James Earl Jones’s than a typical teenager’s voice, and my editor wisely nixed that idea.


So I’m thrilled to announce that Tanglewood Press has hired one of the best narrators in the business, Kirby Heyborne, to record ASHFALL. If you’ve listened to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Cohn and Levithan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, or any of dozens of other amazing novels, you’ve heard Kirby’s work.  He recently won The Odyssey Award–The American Library Association’s version of the Newbery for audiobook narration–for reading Scowler by Daniel Kraus.

I’m excited to hear what Kirby does for my work, and want to once again thank Tanglewood Press for their dedication to presenting ASHFALL so well in all formats, and to thank my fans who have been waiting only somewhat patiently for this for years now.


How Many Times Do I Have to Say This? Reviews Are for Readers, Not Authors

A Facebook friend shared this article from The Guardian tonight, and I was absolutely appalled. An author, Kathleen Hale, stalked the author of a one-star review of her book, and The Guardian printed an account of said stalking in her own words. What’s next, will The Guardian start printing fawning accounts of burglar’s exploits without any discussion of the cost to their victims?

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a quote from the article authored by Ms. Hale, “A few nights later I called my friend Sarah, to talk while I got drunk and sort of watched TV. Opening a new internet window, I absent-mindedly returned to stalking Blythe Harris [the blogger who had written a one-star review of her book].”

I have a couple of things to say to Ms. Hale and any other authors who might consider behaving in a similarly execrable manner. It is not okay to visit a blogger’s house uninvited, even if s/he wrote a one-star review of your book. It is not okay to peer into a blogger’s car, even if s/he tweeted mean things at you. It is not okay to call a blogger unasked at work even if s/he blogs under a pseudonym. If I were Ms. Harris (or Donofrio, it really doesn’t matter), I’d be angry and terrified at Ms. Hale’s behavior.

This stuff matters. If we (authors) persist in ridiculous vilification of bloggers, fewer readers will blog. And that will make the whole book ecosystem poorer. Bloggers are doing authors a huge favor–they generally work for absolutely nothing but the love of books. This also means that yes, authors are and should be held to a higher standards than bloggers–we’re getting paid for what we do, and are therefore professionals, whereas bloggers are generally amateurs and private citizens.

Ms. Hale has failed to grasp two critically important facts. First, her work is separate and different from herself. Look, I cry, sweat, and even bleed over my books, but I am more than my work. I will never, no matter how much I toil, capture the totality of my experience in my books, nor even a dim shadow thereof. Neither will Ms. Hale. Yet she obviously misses this point, writing, “My book had not even been published yet and already it felt like everybody hated it, and me.”

Second, Ms. Harris was doing Hale a favor. Every person who gave Ms. Hale’s book a one-star review was also doing her a favor. Why? Bad reviews sell books, at least for authors who haven’t built strong name recognition yet. For more detail about that assertion and the research supporting it, see my two previous posts on this subject.

I have a simple suggestion for authors, like Ms. Hale, who are too thin-skinned to read their own reviews. Don’t. Add Goodreads to the porn blocker on your browser. Then you can’t visit the site even if you’re tempted by something you see elsewhere. If nothing else works, stay off the internet. Sure, your publisher will whinge about how you need a social media presence–just ask to see the data on how many extra books social media sells. They won’t be able to tell you. Why? Because nobody has that data, as best I can tell. And plenty of authors have built fabulously successful careers with virtually no presence on social media (Suzanne Collins, Cormac McCarthy, and Thomas Pynchon spring to mind.) You don’t need to do this stuff. And if you can’t handle it professionally–that is, without stalking bloggers who post negative reviews–then you’re screwing things up for the rest of us. Please quit.



A List of Indiana Authors

A school librarian in Goshen, Deena Albietz, asked me if I knew other young adult or children’s authors who live in Indiana. (I do!) The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) maintains a list, but not all authors are members of the SCBWI. (They should be, though; membership is totally worth it.) Rather than typing everyone I can think of into an email to her, I figured I’d type it here so that others can benefit from the list. If I’ve forgotten anyone (I’m certain that I have), leave a comment or email me and I’ll add her/his name to the list. I’m limiting the list to authors or illustrators of young adult and children’s books who currently live in Indiana. I’m also limiting it to authors published traditionally or whose self-published work I’m familiar with. (There’s a lot of great self-published work out there, but there’s also some that never should have been published at all. I’m only comfortable promoting the former.) I’ve placed authors into three categories somewhat arbitrarily; many of them write for multiple ages. There’s a far more comprehensive list here:, although it includes some authors who are no longer writing or speaking, have moved away from the state, or have passed away.

Young Adult Authors

Shannon Lee Alexander
Skila Brown
Helen Frost
Laurie Gray
John Green
Christine Johnson
Julia Karr
Rob Kent
Alina Kline
Saundra Mitchell
Mike Mullin
Annette Oppenlander
Tracy Richardson
Sarah J. Schmitt
Barbara Shoup
Francesca Zappia

Middle Grade Authors

John David Anderson
Troy Cummings
Mandy Davis
Sara K. Joiner
Laura Martin
Jeff Stone

Picture Book Authors and/or Illustrators

Nathan Clement
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Claire Ewart
Valiska Gregory
Donna Griffin
Angie Karcher
Janna Matthies
Holly Niner
April Pulley Sayre
Kristi Valiant


The Benefits of Reading

I’ve been collecting research for an article I proposed on the value of reading. I found some fascinating stuff that might be of benefit to many of my readers, so I’m sharing it here:

Reading for pleasure has immense benefits to your brain, including improved creativity, improved ability to retain information, better critical thinking, increased ability to concentrate, and a lower incidence of mental disorders. There’s an article with links to the research here: “Your Brain on Books: 20 Proven Benefits of Being an Avid Reader.”

Low levels of literacy in children and teens are correlated with aggressive antisocial behavior, juvenile delinquency, and gang membership in teenagers.

Reading difficulties are found in 50% of youth with a history of substance abuse:

Sixteen-year-olds who read for pleasure do better in math (yes, math!), have larger vocabularies, and spell better than their non-pleasure-reading counterparts.

Girls with below average reading levels are two and a half times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

Edit 5/20/14: Here’s another useful article on what reading does for your brain, pointed out to me by Janet Spaulding (Thanks, Janet!)

Edit 9/13/14: Interesting infographic on the health benefits of reading.

Edit 8/5/16: A newly published study shows an association between reading and longer life. Yep, readers live longer.

Any other interesting reading facts you’ve found? Let me know in the comments, please.



Help Me Support Karla Fernandez’s American Dream

This is eighteen-year-old Karla Fernandez:

She’s a senior at Ben Davis High School. She’s in the top 5% of her class academically, with a GPA in the A+ range. She’s also the the president of her class, a volunteer for numerous organizations, and holds down a part-time job. She’s been accepted to Ball State University to major in telecommunications.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

In 2011 the Indiana General Assembly passed a vicious and punitive law that prohibits the children of illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition rates. Karla was brought to the United States by her mother when she was three years old. Her parents wanted a better life for their daughter. In Mexico, they lived in a partly roofless shack. They came to the United States pursuing the same American Dream that nearly all our ancestors did: to build a better life for themselves and their children through hard work. Isn’t that what every decent parent wants, a better life for their children? Karla has lived that dream, putting in the hours, days, years of hard work to put herself in position to achieve her dream of becoming a broadcast journalist. She’s exactly the kind of person we need more of in Indiana and the United States.

But instead of a barely manageable $17,000 per year, Karla is faced with a bill of $40,000 per year to attend Ball State. Most federal assistance is closed to her as well. We’ve told her that she can’t be considered a resident of Indiana or the United States, despite the fact that this is where she’s lived for nearly all her life, and the fact that she had nothing to do with her parents’ decision to bring her across the border from Mexico. You can read more about her here.

This is not the America I believe in. The America I believe in rewards hard work and sacrifice. The America I believe in is big enough to welcome, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The America I believe in doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents.

What can you do? Two things:

1) Donate to Karla’s Go Fund Me campaign. I’ll even sweeten the pot for you. If you give any amount of money at all to her campaign, and forward your receipt to me at with your physical address (Go Fund Me will send you a receipt without any personal info on it), then I’ll send you a signed ASHFALL trilogy bookmark:


If you donate at least $50, I’ll throw in a signed manuscript of DARLA’S STORY (plus a bookmark).

Darla's Story signed ms photo

If you donate at least $100, you’ll also get a rare, signed ASHFALL poster (I only have eight or nine of these left, so the offer is good only until they’re gone).

Ashfall Poster

If you donate at least $250, you’ll also get a complete set of signed and personalized (if desired) first printings of the ASHFALL trilogy in hardback. These are not available anymore except through rare book dealers. I have about 20 sets stashed, offer good until they’re gone.

First Printings

If you donate at least $500, you’ll also get the name of your choice (within reason) included in my next published book. There’s more information about what I’m working on here. I reserve the right to limit this to the first five or so donations.

2) Contact the Indiana General Assembly and tell them to repeal the anti-American law that hampers Karla and 1.4 million others like her from achieving their American Dreams.

Here’s the Speaker of the Indiana House, Brian Bosma:

He was born in the United States due to no fault or virtue of his own, just as Karla Fernandez was born in Mexico due to no fault or virtue of her own. His ancestors probably emigrated from the Netherlands, just as Karla’s emigrated from Mexico. He’s worked hard to achieve his American Dream, just as Karla has. You can contact him here. Tell him to stop stomping on the dreams of people like Karla. It’s fundamentally un-American.

Here’s the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate, David Long:

He was born in the United States due to no fault or virtue of his own, just as Karla Fernandez was born in Mexico due to no fault or virtue of her own. His ancestors probably emigrated from England, just as Karla’s emigrated from Mexico. He’s worked hard to achieve his American Dream, just as Karla has. His contact information is in the left-hand sidebar here. Tell him to stop stomping on the dreams of people like Karla. It’s fundamentally un-American.

Thank you for your support!



Sucker Literary Magazine Blog Hop: The Writing Process

So, I got talked into doing this by the talented and hardworking author Shannon Lee Alexander, who you’ll all be hearing lots about this fall, when her debut novel Love and Other Unknown Variables takes the young adult world by storm. Here’s her post in the blog hop.

I’m supposed to answer these four questions:

1) What am I working on?

I’ve started drafting what I think will be a stand-alone young adult thriller. The working title is SURFACE TENSION. It’s about a teenager who sees a group of terrorists causing a plane crash from the ground. He’s the only one who knows how they’re crashing planes, and they want him dead.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My ASHFALL three-and-a-half-ology is different from much apocalyptic fiction in that it could really happen–in fact, it will happen someday. I meticulously research nearly every detail in my novels–from the geology of the volcano to survival strategies and the sociology of disaster communities–to lend my work verisimilitude that isn’t always present in other apocalyptic books.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write young adult fiction because that’s what I read. I started when I was ten, reading Peck, Cormier, and Blume, and never quit.

4) How does my writing process work?

I sit down in the morning and try to write 500 words. If I get 500 words, I give myself a reward. I’m such a nerd that my reward is usually a walk to the library. Then I sit down at the library and try to write another 500 words. If I get my second 500 words, I get to eat lunch. Yum, lunch.

I was also supposed to invite three authors to follow the week after this post. And I did, I really did. But one of the authors I invited doesn’t even have a blog (doh!) and the other two had already been invited to do the blog hop by someone else. And I’m flying to Arkansas tonight for three full days of school visits, so I’m throwing in the towel. Sorry about that.

I do happen to know that Yvonne Ventresca will be posting about her writing process next week on her blog. You should check out her forthcoming novel, Pandemic. It’s awesome! Some dude said something like this about it:

“The best novels are multi-layered, presenting the reader with new questions at every turn of the page. Pandemic is truly exceptional in that regard–its teen protagonist, Lily, is struggling with a dark secret from her past, her first tentative romances, and a horrifying pandemic that throws her town into utter chaos. Ventresca’s debut novel will appeal to those who love realistic coming of age stories, romances, or disaster fiction. Bravo!”

Pandemic will be available in May 2014. Shannon’s book, Love and Other Unknown Variables, will be available in October 2014. Enjoy them both!

EDIT: I’m not as big a slacker as I thought, because now Jesi Lea Ryan is joining the blog hop, too! Here’s her blog.

If you’d like to read Jesi’s work, I suggest starting with Arcadia’s Gift. Here’s what some dude said about it, “Cady–short for Arcadia–is an appealing heroine, and I enjoyed cheering for her as she confronted the tragic death of her twin sister, the collapse of her family, the vicissitudes of teenage romance, and the amazing discovery of her gift.”




Why It’s Immoral for High School to Start Before 8:30 AM

Tomorrow morning I’m speaking at a high school that starts classes at 7:15 a.m. I’m not going to mention the school’s name, because the librarians organizing the visit are two of my all-time favorite people in the world, and the ridiculous start time isn’t their fault. In fact, they offered to let me start my presentations during second period instead of first, and I chose to accept the early start. There’s nothing wrong with an adult (me, purportedly) beginning his work day at 7:15 a.m. But there is something wrong–tragic, even–about requiring teens to start that early.

Teens are different from adults. Duh, you say, but it extends even to their physiology and sleep cycles. Adult and preteen brains begin releasing melatonin (triggering sleepiness) when it gets dark outside and quit when it gets light. Teenage brains delay the release and shut-off of melatonin for about 90 minutes versus adult brains.  Which means that teenagers are naturally wired to go to bed late at night and rise late in the morning.

What happens when schools interfere with this natural cycle of late to bed and late to rise? Teens get insufficient sleep. And lack of sleep has been demonstrated to contribute to higher rates of clinical depression and suicide in teenagers. Did you catch that? Early school start times are literally killing our kids. And early start times aren’t just deadly due to increased suicide rates, they’re also part of the reason why “young adults are responsible for more than half of the 100,000 ‘fall asleep’ [auto] crashes annually.

You really don’t need any more reasons why having an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for high schools is a good idea, do you? But just in case there are a few sick puppies out there for whom saving kids’ lives isn’t a good enough argument, here’s one more: high schools that have moved start times later have scored dramatic gains in standardized testing.

What should you do? Well, if you’re a school administrator whose high school starts at 8:30 a.m. or later, pat yourself on the back. Good job! If your high school starts before 8:30 a.m., what are you waiting for? Fix that shit.

If you’re a parent, move your student to a school that starts after 8:30 a.m. If someone told you that your kid’s car was defective and had a very small chance of killing him or her, you’d get it fixed, wouldn’t you? High schools that start before 8:30 a.m. are defective. If you can’t move your teen to a non-defective school, demand that he or she be excused from classes that start before 8:30 a.m. If enough parents complain, things may change.

If you’re a student, refuse to go to classes that start before 8:30 a.m. Offer to make up the work at a reasonable hour, otherwise some administrators are just going to assume you’re trying to put one over on them. If enough of you organize and do this together, your school’s schedule will change. You could also try pointing out that teens who are sleep deprived are more likely to become drug addicts. Parents and school administrators are generally terrified of drugs. Good luck!


Is Yellowstone About to Erupt? No.

Eighty two gazillion people have shared articles with me over the last couple of days that suggest Yellowstone is about to erupt. One of the worst of them comes with an absolutely ridiculous “threat map.” I have no idea where they got this thing, but I suspect squatting was involved:

Threat Map Corrected

If you want to know what’s going on at Yellowstone, check with the experts. The foremost among them is Robert Smith at the University of Utah. He’s been one of the lead scientists on nearly every breakthrough in research on the Yellowstone volcano in recent years. Here’s what he had to say about the recent earthquake: “…the earthquakes are in a system that’s dominated by faults as opposed to a system that’s dominated by magmatic activity.” In other words, the quakes aren’t even in the same area as the volcano’s caldera. Plus,the recent level of earthquake activity is completely within historical norms for Yellowstone.

And the running bison? That happens every winter. The footage of running bison predates the recent quake by at least several weeks.

Why are you seeing all these scary articles? It’s simple. People can make money by scaring you into clicking on their article or YouTube video and viewing their ads. Heck, you could argue that I’m guilty of the same thing, profiting from a scary (but clearly labelled as fictional) book series imagining a super-eruption at Yellowstone.


Look, if you hear Robert Smith saying he’s worried–then it might be reasonable to worry, too. Or if you see the USGS’s alert level change from its current status of normal and green, then it would definitely be reasonable to worry. But the recent flurry of poorly researched internet articles are nothing but fear-mongering click-bait, and certainly not worth worrying about.


What Am I Writing Now?

The most common question I get is what’s next? What am I writing  now that the ASHFALL trilogy is done?  I’m going to answer it here so that I can just refer people to this post instead of typing out a long response every time someone asks.


First, yes, the ASHFALL trilogy is complete. I’m not planning to write any more  books or short stories set in that universe. I like where I left Alex and Darla. Yes, they still have some things to work out, but if you want to explore that, let me suggest that you try writing or reading fan fiction. I’m completely pro-fanfic as long as it’s free.

I’ve started drafting what I think will be a stand-alone young adult thriller. The working title is SURFACE TENSION. It’s about a teenager who sees a group of terrorists causing a plane crash from the ground. He’s the only one who knows how they’re crashing planes, and they want him dead.

Edit 5/11/14: A few weeks ago I was asked about a fourth ASHFALL book during one of my school presentations. I gave my usual answer–that I liked where I left Alex and Darla and that a series should steadily expand in scope as it progresses. The quintessential example is Lord of the Rings. The first book opens with Bilbo and Gandalf at a birthday party–the scope is tiny. By the time the trilogy ends, there are dozens of characters involved in a world-spanning struggle–the scope is immense. And then it struck me–an idea for expanding  the scope in a fourth ASHFALL book. So it’s possible that I might revisit Alex and Darla’s story. I”m going to finish SURFACE TENSION and then, if the sales of the ASHFALL books continue to be good and my publisher is interested, I might–MIGHT–write a fourth ASHFALL book.

Edit 4/16/15: There will be a fourth ASHFALL book! I signed the contract a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, there will be a long wait since I’ve only written four chapters and an outline so far.