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September 2011

Kitty's Greatest Hits: The Confessions of New York Times Best Seller Carrie Vaughn

Kittys Greatest Hits-cover

Carrie Vaughn is the author of the popular urban fantasy Kitty Norville series. A Hugo Award nominee, Vaughn has published over fifty short stories in various magazines such as Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Asimov’s, as well as in several anthologies.

Now Vaughn has a Kitty Norville story collection out, entitled Kitty’s Greatest Hits. The book showcases Vaughn’s storytelling skills and provided a good opportunity for Omnivoracious to catch up with this talented and extremely knowledgeable writer… Your body of work is much wider than “urban fantasy” but you are best-known for the urban fantasy Kitty Norville series. Do you like the label and do you ever see it as a constraint?

Carrie Vaughn: I have to admit, I’m a bit ambivalent about the label. On the one hand, it’s a great identifying mark, and the audience who loves these books has really embraced it and celebrated it, and it’s nice being part of such an energetic community. On the other hand, I get frustrated because the label means so many things to so many people, and I spend a lot of time answering questions about where books that used to be known as “urban fantasy”—those by Emma Bull and Charles de Lint, for example—fit into all this. (I think they’ve been relabeled “mythic fantasy,” but that just goes to show you how mutable labels ultimately are.) And I do think authors run the risk of being constrained by the label, from a couple of sides. Some readers won’t read anything that even resembles urban fantasy, no matter what (and their comments about it online are downright hateful). From the creative side, I’ve talked to authors who think that in order for their books to be considered urban fantasy, there has to be a love triangle, or epic fight scenes, or a tortured heroine, etc. Really, though, I think “urban fantasy” ought to mean “fantastical elements in a modern world” and that’s it. The more broadly we can define the label, the better for all of us.

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Graphic Novel Friday: Green River Detective

How’s this for an endorsement: “Terrific. It’s got the scariest opening sequence I’ve read in years…Great, creepy stuff”? Blurbed by none other than Stephen King, Green River Killer: A True Detective Story had me from the get-go, although I admit I was a little apprehensive about the subject matter. Yet, when I spoke with Dark Horse Comics Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie about the project, he made sure to note that the book’s tone was not exploitative or sensational. Here, the frank truth is dark enough. 

Detective Tom Jensen devoted twenty years of his life to bringing closure to the families of the Green River Killer’s many victims, leading up to an intense, emotional, and--as portrayed here--powerful 180 days of interrogation with Gary Leon Ridgway, the man who would be convicted as the Green River Killer. Jensen’s son, Jeff, a journalist for Entertainment Weekly, portrays his father as a man driven by justice and responsibility in a case with an unfathomable body count. In Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, Ridgway is believed to have murdered over 70 women, and Jensen chronicles his father’s stalwart mission to find these women using the best radar he could find: the killer himself.

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How I Wrote It: Susan Orlean, Rin Tin Tin

Orlean New Yorker writer Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief and The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup) has focused her journalistic talents on the overlooked story of Hollywood's first four-legged star. In Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend, Susan shows how a puppy rescued from a World War I battlefield became a hero of the big screen and a symbol of the bond between humans and dogs. She agreed to answer a few questions about the process of writing Rin Tin Tin.

Amazon: Was there a scene or passage that was particularly memorable or emotional or difficult to write?

Susan: Writing the lead was incredibly difficult–-much more difficult than any lead I’ve ever written. I wanted somehow to convey in those first few sentences the scope of the book and the sweep of history that would follow, but still give life to the characters. I rewrote the lead repeatedly, and thought I’d gotten it right – and then rewrote it again with an entirely different structure. 

Amazon: Describe how you wrote that passage--where you were, what else was happening around you--and describe how it felt to complete it?

Susan: I had written my false starts just at the beginning of my writing process, when I was living in Boston, working at home in my loft downtown. I would write, then read aloud, then would delete it because I knew it wasn’t right. I finally put it aside and decided I would come back to it when I had a fresher approach. A year later, I was working in my writing studio in the Hudson Valley of New York, surrounded by fields and woods, and one day it simply dawned on me that I had to begin with the idea of what endures. I was so excited that I wrote the first two sentences, turned off my computer, and ran up to the house to announce to my family that I had finally gotten the lead right. I took the rest of the day off to celebrate. Rintintin

Amazon: When and where do you write? Do you eat, drink, or listen to anything in particular while writing? Any routines or rituals?

Susan: For the last five years I’ve been writing in a small studio a few hundred feet from my house, which is the countryside north of New York City. I’ve just moved to Los Angeles and am in the process of building a writing space in my house here. I am an avid drinker of Diet Coke while I write, for better or worse. I used to listen to the radio while working but found it too distracting, so now I just listen to my fingers clicking on the keyboard.

Learn more about RIN TIN TIN

Julianne Moore on Nicknames, Friendship, and What She's Reading

Julianne Moore is one of those people who is so multi-talented, beautiful, and seemingly perfect, that if I were a mean girl I would probably hate her.  Only, she's also funny, completely down-to-earth, AND writes an utterly delightful series of picture books--it's virtually impossible to do anything but adore her.  Julianne’s career as an author began with the introduction of Freckleface Strawberry in 2007 and she just released the third book in the series, Freckleface Strawberry Best Friends Forever, this month.  The main character, Helen, bears a distinct resemblance to the author, and I read that she is, in fact, modeled after Julianne--known on her childhood playground as “Freckleface Strawberry.”   In each book obstacles and fears that are familiar to children (and lurk in the memories of adults) are faced and overcome, solved by the children themselves, as kids are wont to do.  In Freckleface Strawberry Best Friends Forever, Helen and her best friend Patrick (who is saddled with the nickname “Windy Pants”) must deal with peer pressure regarding their friendship.   I recently had the opportunity to talk to Julianne Moore (by phone) about her new book, her take on nicknames, and what she's reading these days--you can listen to the podcast below, or on Amazon’s Julianne Moore Page.  --Seira


Whoopi Goldberg on Banned Books

The National Coalition Against Censorship is an alliance of fifty-two participating organizations dedicated to protecting free expression and access to information. The NCAC is a strong voice during Banned Books week, and we thank them for this video.

Kindle Fire

Alton Brown on "Good Eats 3: The Later Years"

ABwatermelonDonChambersstudio250 If you've ever watched the Food Network after dinnertime, you probably know Alton Brown. He can be seen traveling around the country on bike and boat to explore "road food," officiating the action in Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America, and exploring exactly how food and cooking works on Good Eats.  Each week, he tackles a different ingredient, cooking method, or topic, from constructing a DIY smoker with a terra cotta pot, a pie tin, and a grill grate to finding better uses for raw broccoli to discussing why it's important to brine your turkey. (I'll personally vouch for all three methods, by the way). 

In May, Alton announced that this will be the last season of Good Eats. But never fear: not only are there over 200 shows to catch up on, there's also his new book Good Eats 3: The Later Years, a combination cookbook and behind-the-scenes look at the production of the show (as well as a guide for how to make your own sock puppets, in case you're planning, say, a Good Eats valedictory tribute on YouTube). We asked Alton how he felt about his new book and the conclusion of his series.

(And, by the way: in case you want to know what else is going on in the cookbook world this year, check out Fall into Cooking on, where you can find the latest recipes, cookbooks, and yes, even a guide to making your own cheese at home).

Here's Alton on Good Eats 3: The Later Years:

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Trend Stetting 4: Typecasting Call

Garfield-MRL When I took my first job in book publishing, as an editorial assistant at University of California Press in 2000, I left behind the frenetic pace of the dot-com boom and entered the quiet, thoughtful, tortoiselike world of traditional print production. At the Press, my boss kept her files in three-ring binders that had more than a few years on me. We filled out forms for the Library of Congress on a typewriter. And the designers talked about fonts with the kind of devotion that people usually reserve for their grandchildren.

British journalist Simon Garfield shares that devotion, laced with humor and backed by extensive research, in his book Just My Type, out in a handsome new edition that we selected as a September Book of the Month. He skillfully takes a niche subject mainstream by offering examples of how we interact with fonts in both our mundane habits—riding the bus, shopping for groceries—and our creative ones, with a particular focus on album and book covers. If you have even a passing interest in the relationship between words and design, you’ll be entertained by Garfield’s lyrical descriptions of typefaces (“Cooper Black is the sort of font the oils in a lava lamp would form if smashed to the floor”) and the clever way he displays them as he analyzes their origins and impact.

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In MAPHEAD, Ken Jennings Asks, "Where Are We?"

This summer a friend and I took our sons and their friends--five teenaged skateboarders in all--on a zig-zagged, cross-country road trip. Our mission was to explore America’s skate parks, which we did in a giant S-shaped east-to-west route. To navigate the many miles of our overly-ambitious journey, we relied on GPS-enabled smartphones, a wi-fi hotspot, an iPad, a laptop, and Google Maps.

Maphead Across three weeks and 5,000 miles, we never got lost.

At one point, my eldest son wanted to find a concrete plaza in a housing complex in Cleveland, a so-called “skate spot” he had seen on You Tube. All he knew was the name of the complex: King Kennedy. With just those two words, he was able to search Google Maps, zoom in with the "satellite view", find the spot, then ask Google and our iPad to show us how to get there off Interstate 90. I thought it was an impressive bit of on-the-fly navigating for a 14-year-old, and in similar fashion we found off-the-interstate spots in and around Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities. Not once did we unfold a paper map. Techno-geography all the way.

I was thrilled, then, to return home and find an advance copy of the perfect post-road trip book waiting for me: Maphead, by Ken Jennings, which was chosen as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month last month.

Jennings is the all-time Jeopardy! champ and the author of Brainiac, about the strange world of trivia. (He returned to Jeopardy! earlier this year to face IBM's Watson computer. He lost). In Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird, World of Geography Wonks--a whip-smart and entertaining book--he writes about his obsession with maps, the history of cartography, and, of particular interest to me, a fellow geography geek, the story behind Google Earth and Google Maps, which in my view has made geography cool again.

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Media Monday - The On-Time Version


This week's Media Monday starts off with some good news. And admittedly this is a pretty long Media Monday. I apologize. I'll try to engage my internal editor more next week.


The National Endowment for the Arts

  • We interrupt our normal practice of diving straight into reviews to bring you some good news, courtesy of the NEA. For the first time in more than 25 years more people are reading literature. Here are some details:

    • Literature reading by adults (novels and short stories, plays, or poems) rose by seven percent.

    • The absolute number of literary readers has increased significantly (growing by 16.6 million readers).

    • The increases followed significant declines in reading rates for the two most recent ten-year survey periods (1982-1992 and 1992-2002).

  • That is some encouraging news, but it doesn't end there. Last week, a story broke that IKEA was redesigning its popular Billy bookshelf, ostensibly because fewer and fewer people were reading books. Many of us were very upset by this news. No more books on bookshelves? Say it ain't so, we cried. Well, it turns out it ain't so. According to the London Review of Books: "A correction came three days later from the Reluctant Habits blog, the writer of which had taken the trouble to call IKEA (my emphasis) and ask a question, unlike the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Week, Time, the Daily Mail and the Consumerist. In fact, it’s an additional Billy: the open-fronted, book-sized original will still be available, the IKEA public relations manager explained." IKEA is still making bookshelves, people are reading more and more books, and you still can't trust everything you read.

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