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September 2011

Tall, Dark, and Heroic: Paul S. Kemp on How to Write Antiheroes

Writersdontcry Like that tall, dark, and handsome someone in the back of the bar, antiheroes command our attention and demand we try to understand them. They're deep, man, and though they have more baggage than a circus, their inner battles are riveting--fierce enough to rival their battles on the outside. Antihero_big

The antihero is the answer to today's complicated world. When good and evil are not so easy to separate, and every protagonist has their share of damning secrets, the golden hero of yesterday--in his innocence and good will--is unrelatable. The modern audience demands moral complexity--heroes who face the same challenges, temptations, and questions we do. Writing antiheroes is as complex and challenging as the antiheroes themselves--and so I knew I was going to need an expert. Someone who has delved into the heart of the antihero and shown, time after time, that they can capture an audience with their antiheroes, and not drive us away with the hero's darker tendencies. Someone like Paul S. Kemp.

PaulSKemp Best-known as The New York Times best-selling author and creator of Erevis Cale, who transformed from a cold-hearted killer into an antihero who would die for his friends, Paul S. Kemp has captivated readers with his dark but relatable characters for over a decade. And there's a reason he boasts such a fiercely loyal readership: his characters have a depth and a darkness to them that hooks right into your soul and pulls you under, into a story you'll be hard-pressed to put down.


1. What draws you to antiheroes?

I’m drawn to the anti-hero’s constant flirtation with redemption, the possibility that this horribly flawed person might, in the end, find meaning, and maybe even peace, despite the tribulations of the world and the questionable choices (s)he’s made. I love that. It’s symbolic of the tension between temptation and grace, the world and the afterlife (if you believe in that sort of thing), between surrendering to regret or finding inner peace. In that sense, the anti-hero embodies the kind of struggle and questions we all sometimes lay awake at night and ask ourselves.

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It seems fairly certain that Neal Stephenson’s new thriller, Reamde, released in late September, will be a big hit, but what else looks like a sure bet to make a splash in the next few weeks? Let’s take a look at some likely candidates…

Those Across the River by Christopher Buelman (Ace). If you like supernatural fiction, this highly touted debut novel by a talented poet may be just what you’re looking for. A failed college professor and veteran of World War I moves into an ancestral house after the Great Depression, with terrifying results. It’s blurbed by Charlaine Harris, compared to the work of Stephen King, and described as “equal parts historical fiction, horror story, and fantasy novel.”

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (Algonquin). Described as a modern re-telling of The Scarlet Letter “set in a not-too-distant future when the separation between church and state has been dissolved,” the hype surrounding this new novel from the bestselling author of Mudbound couldn’t be more intense. Main character Hannah Payne’s skin color has been altered to red, to reflect her crime of murder, the victim her unborn child. Comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Hand-Maid’s Tale are perhaps inevitable.


For comparison: the Swedish movie trailer

On Thursday, we posted the trailer for David Fincher's U.S. version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. For comparison, here's what the 2009 trailer for the Swedish movie looked and sounded like.

Rick Riordan Exclusive

Best-selling author Rick Riordan talks about his new book, The Son of Neptune (available October 4th), and responds to a question many readers are surely dying to know: what inspired him to write about Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology?


Amitav Ghosh Returns to the Opium Trade in "River of Smoke"

SmokeIt's been three years since Amitav Ghosh last visited the 19th-century opium trade--and what a visit it was. His novel Sea of Poppies followed the crew and passengers of the trade schooner Ibis as they found themselves increasingly in thrall to opium--whether they took, traded, or helped manufacture it. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2008.
Now, Ghosh returns with the second book in the trilogy, River of Smoke. He talked with us about how the story develops, the challenges of writing a trilogy, and how his studies in anthropology informed the writing of his novels. 

Q: River of Smoke is the second book in a trilogy. What are the challenges to writing the middle book, and what are the rewards? Why write a trilogy?

A: Soon after I started writing Sea of Poppies I realised that the characters and their stories would take more  than one book. I felt then that this would take at least three books (but it may well take more). This is what makes the enterprise so peculiarly rewarding and also so very challenging: I know I will live with these characters for a long time - yet, at the end of each book I have no idea what will happen to them next. Each book is a new enterprise.

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Graphic Novel Friday - Alan Moore in Autumn

Alan Moore fans are rarely left wanting. The lauded comics super-genius frequently has a reissue or new work in the pipeline, but this fall sees an unprecedented amount of deluxe editions, new collections, and original works across multiple publishers’ catalogues. Now is a great time to be a fan of Moore’s--but maybe not the best time to be a collector’s wallet.

Publisher Top Shelf recently released the second installment in Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century series, entitled 1969. It’s a trippy, confounding adventure, full of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll and plenty of text in a backmatter essay that’s sure to please die-hards. For readers looking to catch up on LoEG stories before embarking on the brand-new Century quests, DC Comics will let loose an omnibus of previously released Gentlemen material in November.

Fans of Alan Moore’s creator-owned ABC Universe will be thrilled at the announcement that Absolute Promethea Book Three will release in December after being slightly delayed. It’s the final Absolute edition in Moore and artist J.H. Williams III’s apocalyptic epic. No word yet on how the oversized, slip-cased edition will collect the fold-out, poster-forming final issue, but early word is that it will also collect Tom Strong issue #36, which is a direct tie-in to Promethea’s finale (and will be the first Absolute-sized presentation of Chris Sprouse’s artwork). Speaking of Tom Strong, the second volume of the spin-off series, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, will finally have a paperback release in October.

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Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trailer




With its tale of humanity’s battle against the aliens known as the Covenant, the discovery of the artifacts of the Forerunners, and the truly terrifying Flood, the Halo videogame is one of the most popular in the world. Recently, Halo released one of their more ambitious projects: a 63-minute motion comic film of my collaborative novella (with Tessa Kum), “The Mona Lisa,” originally published in the anthology Halo: Evolutions. The film is raw, violent, suspenseful, and a powerful visual reminder of what fans love about the Halo universe: it’s got a little bit of everything, from the SF element to mystery, horror, and intrigue.

For “The Mona Lisa,” we wanted to be both traditional and change things up a bit. We explore the horror angle, since that is something I explore in my own fiction--a derelict prison ship investigated by the human military after a garbled tale of terror relayed by a dying man in an escape pod, the suggestion of experiments, and much more. Our two main characters are Lopez and Benti, two strong women from diverse cultural backgrounds. We also wanted to think a bit about the Covenant, the aliens that humans are in conflict with--Tessa in particular had a great idea for a character named “Henry”--a Covenant who’s a little different from the norm.


Continue reading "HALO: MORE THAN A VIDEO GAME" »

Amazon Exclusive: Kristine Gasbarre Talks About the Grandparent Bond

Kristine Gasbarre is the author of How to Love an American Man, a memoir about her return to Pennsylvania after years away in New York City and Italy. As Krissy gets her bearings and starts to pursue writing full time, she learns about love from her grandmother, who tells the story of her own relationship with Krissy's grandfather, and dabbles in a few romances of her own. In this exclusive Amazon essay, Krissy talks about how readers have (to her surprise) connected more with her grandmother than her own love story--and why the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is so special.

As I was writing How to Love an American Man, I thought for sure that readers would connect instantly with the love story in the memoir. The debonair, mysterious doctor who kept me, the young female lead, in his life with whatever it took; combined with the heated twists and turns our relationships took.

But no. Turns out women want more than romance.

Americanman So as the story traces the yearlong journey that I took with my grandmother after my incredible, inspiring grandfather died, it amazes me and touches me that readers care most about Grandma Gloria. Even now that How to Love an American Man is out, I keep reflecting on how unlikely a love guru she was given what a private person she's always been... but as Grandma Glo's been signing autographs beside me at recent events, I realize how incredibly proud she is.

A reader asked me recently: why hasn't anyone else talked much about the grandparent-grandchild relationship in books? A friend in book publishing has mentioned Vicki Austin's grandfather in Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle, and when I wracked my brain I remembered Claudia Kishi's grandma Mimi in The Baby-sitters Club books from my childhood. Claudia's grandma coached her teen granddaughter through struggles with family and identity, and late in the series Claudia has to tell her grandma goodbye when Mimi dies. It was a crushing moment not just for Claudia, but for readers. Reading about someone else's grandparent brings the presence of our own even closer.

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YA Wednesday: Jenny Downham on Writing Great Characters

In Jenny Downham's latest novel, You Against Me, there are two sides to a violent event. On one side stands Mikey, who is willing to defend his sister, Karyn, at any cost. On the other side is Tom, the accused, and his sister Ellie. When Mikey meets Ellie he is drawn to her in an unexpected way and as their relationship unfolds so do the details of Tom and Karyn's time together. You Against Me, one of our Young Adult Best of the Month picks for September, is a powerful, gritty novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

So how does Downham create characters that are not only complex themselves, but that evoke such strong emotions from readers? She lets them guide the way.

Read Jenny Downham's essay, "How to Write a Novel When Your Characters Would Rather do Something Else" below:

Open a poetry book at random and land a finger on a word. Write or type this word at the top of a blank page. Let it resonate. Set a timer for twenty minutes. 


Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation. Don’t edit. Be alive in the present moment. Write for several twenty-minute blocks, with different stimuli each time (that piece of coloured paper scrumpled on the floor, the man heaving pallets of fish from his van across the road). Get rid of the critic. Write with energy. When your hands ache too much to carry on--go make some coffee and try not to eat too many biscuits.

Downham This is how I began, You Against Me. I spent weeks generating material, reminding myself that I wrote the foundation of my debut novel, Before I Die, this way and that it really would be all right. Hopefully, I’d get some wonderful phrases and some surprising characters and action. Ultimately, I’d familiarise myself with my own story and get some insight into the way forward. 

There are three rather alarming side-effects to this process however: firstly, it is very slow. Secondly, it can be heart breaking to throw material away day after day. Thirdly, the characters have a mind of their own and are usually very inconsiderate of the fact that there’s a book to be written.

Karyn was the first character to appear. She was unreliable, often unwilling, mostly silent. I stuck with her (I didn’t have anyone else) and eventually she confessed that she’d been assaulted by a boy at a party, although she wouldn’t tell me any details. Instead, she led me to a flat in a seaside town and introduced me to her older brother, Mikey. Then she sat on the sofa, covered herself with a duvet and refused to tell me anything else. 

Mikey took over the narrative. In fact he ran with it. He was determined to avenge his sister and all I had to do was follow him.

I loved writing Mikey because he was a mass of contradictions--he’d left school with limited prospects, yet was hugely ambitious. The main carer for his family, he also managed to juggle a complicated love life.  Bright, but often inarticulate, he had an innate distrust of authority, yet his family were dependent on police and social workers for support.

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: Jenny Downham on Writing Great Characters" »