I’m touring the Midwest this fall, visiting schools, libraries, and booksellers to promote my debut novel, ASHFALL. Normally, libraries and schools pay for author visits, but since ASHFALL is my first novel and Tanglewood Press is helping with my travel expenses, I’m offering free author visits to schools within driving distance. I’ve got reading, writing, and geology themed talks ready to fit whatever curriculum each school wants to emphasize.
So I was a bit surprised when a request came from one of the high schools I planned to visit–the principal wanted a list of all the “questionable” parts of ASHFALL, so he could “evaluate” the book without having to read it. Right then I knew I was in trouble. Here’s what I wrote back (it’s third-person because this whole exchange was happening via my publicist):
“Ashfall is a serious apocalyptic novel in which debut author Mike Mullin forthrightly portrays the results of a cataclysmic supervolcano. Considerable effort went into making it realistic—Mullin modeled the reactions of the society and characters on past natural disasters, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. Research into other societies in collapse, such as the Mayans and Easter Islanders, informed the sections dealing with the general breakdown of law and order in the wake of the disaster.
“As a realistic disaster novel, Ashfall depicts humanity at its sublime best and craven worst. Tanglewood Press recommends it for teens ages 14 and up, although younger children have read and enjoyed the novel with guidance from their parents. Any teen who is allowed to watch prime-time television or play video games will have no problem with Ashfall. There is absolutely no content in the novel that is not routinely presented on television shows such as CSI or games such as Call of Duty in far more graphic and disturbing form.
“Reading portions of the novel out of context will present a distorted picture of the work. Unlike in television or video games, the violence in Ashfall has a purpose, context, and result with realistic lingering physical and psychological effects that a reader won’t perceive in excerpts.”
The result: I’ll be visiting another school in that time slot. The only people affected negatively are the students, and neither they nor their parents will ever know about the opportunity they missed. So if there is a lesson from this, I guess it’s to know the administrators at your schools. Are they readers? Do you know what content they’re comfortable with, and do you agree? If not, you may never even know what opportunities you’ve missed.