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March 2008

Jim C. Hines Brings the Fantasy Funny

Goblinquest  Goblinhero  Goblinwar_2 

Jim C. Hines is the comic mastermind responsible for the Snort-Fest Trilogy--my name for it--consisting of Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, and, now, Goblin War (DAW). In these hilarious novels, Hines pokes fun at anything and everything while still maintaining a tight plot arc and creating believable characters. The result, to an old fantasy buff like me, is both entertaining and oddly nostalgic. I interviewed Mr. Hines via email recently to see what makes him tick, and to ask that all important question, "Ogres or goblins." How hard is it to do humorous heroic fantasy that also spoofs or satirizes serious heroic fantasy? There’s Shrek, there’s bad serious heroic fantasy, there’s all kind of competition.
Jim C. Hines: Actually, this is the kind of writing that's always come naturally to me. My first big sale was a story called "Blade of the Bunny." I whipped that story out in a week, and it won first place at Writers of the Future. Then my insecurities took over, and I spent years trying to write deep, serious, award-winning literature. One of my proudest moments was the first time I made someone in my writer's group cry with one of my stories. (On purpose, I mean.) I still do serious stories sometimes, but I've finally gotten comfortable with the lighter side of the genre. Heck, if a Campbell award winner like John Scalzi can write chapter-long fart jokes, I can certainly get away with a nose-picking injury...As for the competition, I've found that there's a pretty wide range of silly. I don't want to do outright parody, because I like keeping my own characters and stories at the core of the books. And to be honest, I'm not smart enough to do the kind of wickedly sharp satire you get from someone like Pratchett. Mostly, I just try to have fun with the story. If I'm making myself laugh, I figure most of my readers will be amused as well.

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Trust no one over 14: The Children's Choice Book Awards

I know. I know. Another set of book awards. But this one is actually different, I promise. This time the kids get to decide who wins.

Finalists have been posted for the first-ever Children's Choice Book Awards (sponsored by the Children's Book Council). Finalists in the following categories were determined through the CBC's Children's Choices program, which means that they were chosen by kids from all over the country:

Favorite Book, Grades K to 2


Dino Dinners by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping by Eileen Christelow
Frankie Stein written by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry
Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark written by Ken Geist, illustrated by Julia Gorton
Tucker's Spooky Halloween by Leslie McGuirk

Favorite Book, Grades 3 to 4

Babymouse #6: Camp Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Big Cats: Hunters of the Night by Elaine Landau
Magic Treehouse #38: Monday With a Mad Genius written by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca
The Richest Poor Kid (Another Sommer Time Story) written by Carl Sommer, illustrated by Jorge Martinez
Wolves  by Duncan Searl (Smart Animals series)

Favorite Book, Grades 5 to 6


Beowulf: Monster Slayer written by Paul D. Storrie, illustrated by Ron Randall
Encyclopedia Horrifica:The Terrifying TRUTH! About Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, and More by Joshua Gee
Ghosts by Stephen Krensky (Monster Chronicles series)
The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Amy Lissiat and Colin Thompson
When the Shadbush Blooms written by Carla Messinger with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden

Kids can also vote on finalists in these categories, which were essentially the top-selling books of 2007:

Author of the Year

Anthony Horowitz for Snakehead (Alex Rider Adventure Series) (ages 9 to 12)
Erin Hunter for The Sight (Warrior: Power of Three, Book 1) (ages 9 to 12)
Jeff Kinney for Diary of Wimpy Kid (ages 9 to 12)
Rick Riordan for The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Book Three, grades 6 to 9)
J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (YA)

Illustrator of the Year  51zqcwelb7l_aa240__3

Jan Brett for The Three Snow Bears (ages 4 to 8)
Ian Falconer for Olivia Helps with Christmas (ages 4 to 8)
Robin Preiss Glasser for Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy (ages 4 to 8)
Brian Selznick for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (ages 9 to 12)
Mo Willems for Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (ages 4 to 8)

Children have until May 4 to cast their votes at bookstores, school libraries, or online. (Actually, anyone can vote on the website, but of course we know that you'll all stick to the honor system.) Winners will be announced during Children's Book Week, which runs May 12-18.--Heidi

The Art of Fake Fiction


I am, as I think I have noted in this space before, a geek for the Paris Review interviews. In my college library I procrastinated my way through all of those old Writers at Work collections when I should have been studying up on the Yugoslav economy or some such immediate assignment, and I still keep an eye on the newsstands to see which authors have been brought into the Art of Fiction canon in the latest issue (this issue, by the way, it's Kenzaburo Oe). So when I got an advance copy of Nathaniel Rich's upcoming debut novel, The Mayor's Tongue, with an unexplained photocopy of an interview (The Art of Fiction XXI) with the writer Constance Eakins folded inside, well, I felt that someone had found my alley and parked right there. It's a fun pastiche, down to the spine-shading to make it look like the Xeroxes I've made of my favorite exchanges over the years, and you can see it for yourself on the still-building site for the book .

159448990401_mzzzzzzz__2 Who is Eakins? It appears on first glance that he's not one of the main characters of The Mayor's Tongue, but rather a main character for one of the main characters (who idolizes him). In the interview, he comes across as some sort of a combination of Chuck Norris, Gore Vidal, and Thomas Pynchon:

Did you write this morning?

I did. I wrote twenty-three pages. That's what it's come to. I used to write ten thousand words a day and sometimes even more, in my golden years. But now it's just a paltry seven thousand or so. Things move so slowly sometimes I feel that I am living in reverse. This is the trouble with being in one's thirties, and past one's prime.

Do you write by longhand?

Yes, but I often go back to typewriter when my arm can't keep up with the jet engine that is my image-narrative-thought-machine.

What do you mean by "image-narrative-thought-machine"?


And the book itself? I haven't gone past the first page, but Rich's well-placed use there of the phrase "excessively affricative" does give me hope that it will live up to the promising blurbs from Gary Shteyngart ("Here is a young writer who is not afraid to give literature a kick in the pants") and Stephen King ("a novel brimming with brio"), and makes me, even more than the fake interview, want to keep reading. --Tom

P.S. I just noticed that Nathaniel Rich also happens to be a senior editor at the Paris Review, which explains how he got the layout just right...

Thunderin' Felix Gilman's Thunderer

Felix2bgilman      Thunderer

Felix Gilman's epic urban fantasy Thunderer was published in hardcover by Bantam Spectra earlier this year, to a rousing round of praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and SciFi Weekly. Realms of Fantasy reviewer Paul Witcover wrote in part, "Gilman exuberantly plunders sources literary, historical, and mythological in bringing his protean labyrinth of a city to life, and the mysterious act of creation by which the imaginary is made real, and the real imaginary, becomes one of the novel’s main themes...This masterly first novel is as stunning and unexpected as a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky..." I recently interviewed Gilman via email about being a first-time novelist, our mutual contacts, and much else. Can you describe where you are while answering these questions?
Felix Gilman: In the day-job office, on a weekend. I am somewhere near the top floor of a very tall jet-black building. Through porthole-thick pressure-sealed windows I can see fog, wintry haze, the topmost parts of the Brooklyn Bridge, hundreds of thousands of other, more distant windows. Inside the office things are mostly beige, with some patches of grey or powder blue and highlights of brushed steel and glass. Document heaps flourish in the corners. Computers are hunkered down on every flat surface, whirring, watching. Beetle-like BlackBerrys rustle through the carpety undergrowth, foraging for scraps of unoccupied Time. Beware! There are lawyers here. Is being a published novelist everything you thought it would be? What didn't you expect?
Felix Gilman: I don't know what I expected, particularly. I'm very psychologically self-defensive, so I went into this with cringingly low expectations. I was genuinely surprised to see the book On Shelves! In Stores! Like A Real Book! But of course one’s expectations only ratchet up. I believe social scientists call this the "hedonic treadmill." Before you're published, you think if only I can get this turkey published, that'll be OK, I don't care what happens after that because I will be PUBLISHED and then everything will be OK forever. That lasts about three days, then you get used to being PUBLISHED, and it starts to seem normal, just an unremarkable background fact about yourself, like height or gender.  And then you start thinking screw this, why haven't I got a bestseller? Life is so unfair. What's the most absurd thing that's happened to you since the book came out?
Felix Gilman: All the pressure to join the Scientologists. You know how it is, I'm sure--your name gets out there a bit, you've got a bit of a public profile, you’ve given one or two interviews, next thing you know the bloody Scientologists come calling. "Tom," I keep saying, "I'm sorry, I just don't think it's right for me." He won't take no for an answer, and he's so eager. I always end up letting him leave some literature and saying he can come back next week, just to be polite, you know, but I haven't read any of it yet and it's getting really embarrassing.

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Shooting War Optioned for Possible Mini-Series

As announced on the Shooting War website, the provocative and controversial graphic novel Shooting War, which started out as a web comic, has been optioned by Power for TV mini-series development. Shooting War takes place in the future of the Iraq War and is a powerful commentary on journalism and how the eye of the media affects our perceptions of events.

According to journalist Anthony Lappé, who wrote Shooting War (Dan Goldman did the art), "Power sells a lot of their networks like Discovery and Sci-Fi, which would be an awesome place for it. I'd also love to see it on FX, Showtime, HBO or AMC, which has the killer [show] Breaking Bad. Power is also in a co-production to do a new series for NBC, so they are in a great position to develop Shooting War."

Lappé will write any adaptation and be consulted on every element of production. Although it's too early to discuss who might direct, Lappé had some definite opinions on who might make good choices for the acting roles. "I'd love Woody Harrelson for [the character of] Crash. I think Emile Hersh would make a great Jimmy. Dan Rather would be an awesome Dan Rather."


Although he is a respected journalist and documentary maker, Lappé has never experienced anything like the publicity surrounding Shooting War. The graphic novel was covered by, among others, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, New York Post, Financial Times, Times of London, Globe & Mail (Canada), The Guardian (UK), GQ, British GQ, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, Penthouse, San José Mercury News, and

"The reaction has been incredible...So it's been humbling and exciting at the same time. Since this was my first work of fiction since fifth grade, I've really appreciated the constructive feedback. Writing a semi-science fiction comic that was rooted in the political realities of the day made it very accessible for a lot of different types of readers. While there's a lot of satire in there, there are also a lot of big ideas."

Lappé hopes he has gotten readers to think about media ethics in the age of blogging. Now, with a mini-series in the works, he may be able to do that on a much larger stage. (Shooting War was one of my favorite graphic novels of 2007--check out my review here.)

A conversation with Kristin Hannah

Fflane_5 Reading Firefly Lane will likely be a trip down memory lane for most readers out there. Kristin Hannah weaves great period moments of growing up during the '70s and '80s into the story, and in Kate and Tully she's also created a portrait of a real friends--ones who celebrates the good times but who also takes a hard look at love and loyalty when the chips are down--that will remind you of your own lifelong friendships. It's the kind of book you'll devour in one sitting and immediately want to share with your friends so you can dish about it. And speaking of dishing, that's exactly what we did over lunch last fall with the author here in her native Seattle. The city figures largely in Firefly Lane and it was fun to hear about how her own experiences growing up in the Northwest found expression in the book. She was gracious enough to catch up with me recently over e-mail--and to send us a snapshot of her fantastic book collection, which you'll see pictured above. --Anne Why did you choose Seattle as the backdrop for Firefly Lane? Is there something unique about growing up in the Northwest that helped you to define the kind of women Kate and Tully become?

Kristin Hannah: Quite simply, I chose Seattle as the backdrop for Firefly Lane because it's so much a part of who I am. I've lived in the Northwest for most of my life, and obviously, in all those years, I've seen this part of the country evolve from an undiscovered gem into the Emerald City. So many of the places from my youth are gone, or changed, or moved, and I guess I wanted to remember the physical reminders of those bygone days. And while Kate and Tully are absolutely Northwest girls, I like to think their story will speak to women who grew up in vastly different, more populated areas. After all, it's ultimately about friendship, and those seeds can be planted anywhere. While you were writing, at any point did you find yourself feeling more sympathetic to Kate or to Tully? How did you keep the weight of the plot balanced between them as their stories evolved?

KH: There's no way to avoid the truth that Kate is more than a little like me. Thus, I identified with her from the very beginning--she was the small town girl who had to get up in the pre-dawn hours to feed her horses, and read The Lord of the Rings during every family vacation, and felt lost in the first few months at the sprawling University of Washington. All of that was me, so naturally, the problem was not in feeling sympathetic toward Katie; it was much more about holding her at arm's length, seeing her not as an extension of myself, but as a completely fictional woman. Tully was a different story entirely. While many readers might be surprised by this, I really fell in love with Tully. In the final analysis, she's one of my favorite characters of all time. I know she's bold and selfish and myopic and ambitious to a fault, but she's also terribly broken, wounded by her parents, unable to believe in love, and ultimately very real. I think all of us know a "Tully" in our lives, and they bring a lot of drama...and a lot of fire and sparkle. You have a beautiful way of showing both the tension and tenderness between mothers and daughters. Was it a challenge to write Tully's painful history with her own mother, and later, the conflict that builds between Kate and her own daughter?

KH: Honestly, I believe that the mother-daughter relationship is magical, complex, potentially dangerous, profoundly powerful, and deeply transformative. To put it simply, all of us have this relationship, and in a very real way, "none of us comes out alive." We are all formed first as daughters and then tested as mothers. There's nothing like motherhood to make us reassess how we were as daughters. One of my favorite parts of Firefly Lane was the circle of Kate’s relationship with her mom. First we see her as an angry teen, slamming the door on her mother...and then later her own daughter does the same thing to her. There's a real symmetry in that, a truth that many of us have learned. I have often wished in the past few years that my mom were here to help me as I raised my own teenage son. As a girl, with my own mom, I thought I knew it all; now I know better. Somewhere, I know my mom is smiling.

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5 Young Lions and 20 Oranges

The New York Public Library (and Young Patron Ethan Hawke) announced the shortlist for this year's Young Lions Award ($10,000 to "a promising author under the age of 35"). (Speaking of youth, I'm thinking of creating a new literary award for which any writer younger than me--and suddenly, there are many--will be eligible, to be known as the Logan's Run Prize.) Last year's winner was Olga Grushin for The Dream Life of Sukhanov, and this year's contenders are

By the way, I haven't read The Last Summer of the World (ok, I'll confess: I haven't read any of the five, but the Mengestu is a big favorite around here), but the raves for it from PW and Booklist on our page made me think I'd really like it, and then I noticed in the Customer Reviews this short note from Steve Kettmann:

I wrote the Publishers Weekly review reprinted above, and want to add a follow-up: Few novels I've read in recent years have stayed with me as much as the Last Summer of the World. I find myself often wanting to recommend it to people, so I'll do that here as well. A beautifully written, deeply imagined book that is a pleasure to read.

Now I want to read it even more...

And meanwhile, to continue with awards I'm not eligible for, I'm a little late in catching up with the Orange Prize longlist, which was revealed last week, but a reader requested the links and I'm happy to provide. (The Orange Prize, to refresh your memory, is given to a novel written in English by a woman and published in the UK between the previous April and the current March. This year's gender objections lodged by Tim Lott and A.S. Byatt.) Here's the full longlist (not all are available in the US yet, so I've marked those links that go to our UK site):

The shortlist is announced April 15, the winner on June 15. --Tom

It Must Be Something in the Air: Science Fiction Awards Frenzy!

Wow. You turn your back for one second and SF award announcements pop up like colorful exotic weeds.

First, the Philip K. Dick Award goes to Omnivoracious favorite M.J. Harrison for Nova Swing, then the British SF Association Awards in London announce another favorite Ian McDonald as the winner for best novel with Brasyl. (Those crazy Brits also annointed Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop as Best Novel of 1958, marking a really odd trend in SF of literary time travel.)

And, finally, the Prometheus Awards for "best Libertarian SF" of 2007 announced their finalists. It's a virtual monopoly, with all five novels published by Tor: Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell, The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod, Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner, The Gladiator by Harry S. Turtledove, and Ha'Penny by Jo Walton. Apparently, there's not a single libertarian at Eos, Bantam, and Del Rey, et al.

What this means for Tor isn't clear, but I would expect startling effects. As the libertarian infiltration continues, the publisher will no doubt seek readers without the tyranny of bookstores or printed pages. Editors will declare their desks separate sovereign territories and render them tax-free. The Flat-Iron Building Tor occupies--narrow enough as it is--will become a libertarian stronghold, with the hundred thousand different libertarian flags flying overhead.

Which is another way of saying awards season has me delirious. (But, seriously, what's up with the BSFA awarding a best novel from 1958? Did they forget to do 1958?)

Yes! Verdun!

In his NYT column today, David Brooks makes the following analogy:

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism.

After reading Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 this month, I was able to say "Yes, because it was a long, drawn-out battle of infantry skirmishes punctuated by brutal artillery attacks!" And I said this to myself as if I'd achieved something great, when in actuality I'd only recognized a pretty obvious cultural reference.

Horne's book is a great read for anyone interested in WWI, but as to which candidate is Pétain and which is Falkenhayn: no comment.

Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers


New York Times

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Colm Toibin on Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker: "Slowly, as you read, because of the variety in the tone and the shocking or tragic nature of the quotation, and because of how well chosen they are, 'Human Smoke' becomes riveting and fascinating. It is as though a brilliant film editor, with an urgent argument to make, began to work with gripping newsreels.... He has produced an eloquent and passionate assault on the idea that the deliberate targeting of civilians can ever be justified."
  • Kakutani on The Finder by Colin Harrison: "In 'The Finder,' as in earlier thrillers..., Mr. Harrison combines a Balzacian eye for social detail and a poet’s sense of mood with a sleazily sensationalistic plot — this time, so gory at one point and often so far-fetched that it seems more like a story line borrowed from a straight-to-video production than a high-budget feature film. The result is a grisly page turner of a novel that lacquers its cheap thrills with an upscale literary veneer, even as it leaves the reader with some memorably visceral snapshots of a nervous, profligate New York City, barreling headlong into the new millennium."
  • Maslin on Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult: "Not even the most cultish Picoult fans are likely to think Ms. Picoult broke a sweat while preparing 'Change of Heart.' Despite her grim diligence and earnestly religion-based story line, she seems to have written her latest tear-jerker on authorial autopilot. When writers become this popular..., they can coast in ways not possible for the up-and-coming. The opportunity to be long-winded yet perfunctory, paradoxically daring yet formulaic, is available to only proven hit makers at the top of the heap."

Washington Post:

  • David Chanoff on The Translator by Daoud Hari: "The Translator, by Daoud Hari, a native Darfurian, may be the biggest small book of this year, or any year. In roughly 200 pages of simple, lucid prose, it lays open the Darfur genocide more intimately and powerfully than do a dozen books by journalists or academic experts. Hari and his co-writers achieve this in a voice that is restrained, generous, gentle and -- astonishingly -- humorous."
  • Pico Iyer on Dog Man by Martha Sherrill: "Martha Sherrill [is] one of the most open and responsive writers around, whose special gift is for entering other lives so deeply that we feel their longings, their confinements as our own. ... In her new book, Sherrill tells the spellbindingly beautiful and affecting story of Morie and Kitako Sawataishi as they have gone through their days, raising Akita dogs, for more than 60 years in the dark and unforgiving 'snow country' of northern Japan."

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