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October 2011

Media Monday - Happy Halloween

It's Halloween today, but surprisingly that doesn't have much bearing on Media Monday. Yes, there are lots of vampires and monsters in literature. And if those books last long enough, they can become classics. Frankenstein and Dracula. Beowulf. Tolkien. It's foolish to begin listing them, because the list goes on and on and on....

But when it comes to Halloween-esque writers in Media Monday, the cupboard is pretty bare. Here you'll find a review of Stephen King's new book, although there isn't much horror in it. And toward the very bottom is a short bit about Anne Rice, but that's about as far as it goes.

So here's a treat (or tweet, as it were): I noticed that Colson Whitehead's zombie book Zone One has hit the bestseller list-- in honor of that, I'm going to suggest to all the Twitterers out there that you do yourself a favor and check out: @colsonwhitehead on Twitter. He's bright, funny, articulate, and already has about 95,000 followers. Let's see if we can put him over 100,000. That would be a neat trick.

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NaNoWriMo Special: The Shotgun Approach to Writing

WritersdontcryBy which I don’t mean take a shotgun to your computer or anything so dire. I’m talking about doing some rapid-fire brainstorming to quickly move through a lot of different ideas--from a variety of different approaches--until you find one that suits your fancy. Because you need a good idea if you’re going to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo is not about taking it slow.Brainstorm

NaNoWriMo is about getting hooked on writing. You kind of have to be if you’re going to hit 50k in just one month! Of course, to get to even 1k, you first need to do one very important thing: start. Starting is for many the hardest part. And the hardest part of starting is coming up with an idea you're crazy enough about to spend all your Friday nights cuddling up to your computer.

So, listed below are five of my favorite ways to get an idea. Try all of them! Who knows? You might just hit on something good. After all, legend has it Erin Morgenstern’s acclaimed The Night Circus started in a story she wrote for NaNoWriMo . . .

1. Picture Yourself Legend Tripping 

There's a reason legends stick around for so long: something about them grips the human imagination. Which means they make damn good stories. You can tackle the big ones--like the fall of the mythical city of Atlantis, or the smaller ones, like the lost colony or Roanoke, in which 128 people disappeared, leaving only the word "Croatoan" carved on a solitary post of the fort. Either way, trying to explain the unexplainable is always a fun way to spend some words. Here are some of my favorites (inspired by Jeff Belanger's excellent Picture Yourself Legend Tripping):

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"Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor Wins the 2011 World Fantasy Award

Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death has just won the prestigious World Fantasy Award for best novel, announced in San Diego at the World Fantasy Convention. Who Fears Death made Amazon’s Top 10 SF/Fantasy list for 2010. A professor of English at Chicago State University, Okorafor is a past winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature, the CBS Parallax Award, and the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa.

The other winners are:

Novella: Elizabeth Hand, "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon" (Stories: All-New Tales)

Short Story: Joyce Carol Oates, "Fossil-Figures" (Stories: All-New Tales)

Anthology: "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me" (Penguin), edited by Kate Bernheimer & Carmen Gimenez Smith

Collection: "What I Didn't See and Other Stories" by Karen Joy Fowler (Small Beer Press)

Artist: Kinuko Y. Craft

Special Award-Professional: Marc Gascoigne, for Angry Robot

Special Award-Non-professional: Alisa Krasnostein, for Twelfth Planet Press

Continue reading ""Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor Wins the 2011 World Fantasy Award" »

It's Sunday and Author/Chef Stéphane Reynaud Says: Make a Roast

French chef Reynaud, a butcher's son, grew up eating lots of meat, including innards and scraps, which the New York Times describes as "a kind of ratatouille of the flesh." His new book, Rotis: Roasts for Every Day of the Week is an ode to the roast, which in this video he describes as “a very good meal for people who have friends.”

Reynaud also declares his devotion to swine: "Pork is my good friend."


Deranged Millionaire John Hodgman's Book Trailer

18 Days to Wimpy Kid 6: An Exclusive Q&A with Jeff Kinney

In less than a month--November 15th to be exact--we will finally have a chance to read the sixth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Cabin Fever, and find out what happens when Greg Heffley is trapped indoors with his family during the holidays.

Though I haven't actually met the man behind the Heffley high jinks, I was able to send author Jeff Kinney some questions and he was kind enough to answer them. I'm particularly fond of his final words in our exclusive Q&A: “Books should be fun.”  Well said, Mr. Kinney.  --Seira

Question: Given all the jobs that you have—game designer, fatherhood, Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie work, etc.,--do you have a certain time that you set aside to write?

Kinney: I still treat writing like a hobby, working mostly at night and sometimes on weekends. But when a deadline looms my hobby time gets extended into the wee hours of the night. It's not uncommon for me to work until 4:00 a.m., and I'm usually back at work by 9:00 a.m.

Q: Did you get to choose which character you would play in the Wimpy Kid films (Mr. Hills)? What do you enjoy most about working on the movies?

Kinney: I never any real desire to appear in the Wimpy Kid films, but one day my wife encouraged me to be an extra in one of the crowd scenes. So I walked onto the set, ready to ask the assistant director to put me somewhere in the back. It happened that right at that moment the director was looking for someone to play the role of Mr. Hills, Holly Hills's father. What I didn't realize was that I'd be front and center in the church scene, and in the new movie, I'm even more prominent. I'm incredibly self-conscious so appearing on-camera was a real stretch for me.

Q: In 2009 Time magazine named you as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World—what’s the first thing you did after you found out?

Kinney: I thought it was a practical joke, so I tried to track down the source of the joke. I eventually reached a voicemail of a reporter who said they worked for Time, and at that point I thought it was just a well-planned practical joke. It took me a while to realize it was for real. It was a big honor, but I don't take it very seriously. I'm the fourth most influential person in my own house.

Q: Would you ever consider making Wimpy Kid into a newspaper comic strip or creating another one? Do you have any favorite comic strips that you currently read?

Kinney: I've considered it. I set out to become a newspaper cartoonist but failed to break in. But I like the freedom books give me, so it would be tough to cram my ideas into three or four panels.

Q: What is (or could be) you motto in life?

Kinney: I was inspired to write by a Benjamin Franklin quote: "Well done is better than well said." But I always encourage kids to "create something great," because the tools to create something original and find an audience are available to them like never before.

Q: What was your favorite year in school, and why?

Kinney: Fifth grade was my favorite year. I had a great teacher, Mrs. Norton, who encouraged me to be funny and challenged me to be a better artist and joke-teller than I was. I liked it that she didn't coddle me.

Q: Kids now ask for a book that is “like Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and with this series you’ve created a whole new subset of books for young readers —how does it feel to be the person behind such massive book enjoyment, reaching reluctant readers, and spawning any number of titles that aspire to be “the next Wimpy Kid?”

Kinney: I'm happy that kids are reading. I think graphical books reach kids who might otherwise see books as work. Books should be fun!

Graphic Novel Friday: Must Read! Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Readers looking for a comics epic after Craig Thompson’s Habibi will be happy to know that another hefty tome exists this fall: Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions. The page counts of both books top the 600-plus mark, but due to publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s choice in thick paper stock, Big Questions outsizes Habibi, not that it’s the weight that counts--but with Big Questions, Nilsen delivers a feast for even the most voracious of appetites.

Whereas Habibi rewards its readers with delicate intricacies and unfathomable details, Big Questions sprawls, stretching in wide open, full-page panels often populated by tiny birds and fields of grass and empty plains (or in pages full of white space, broken up by uneven, small panels). It’s with such birds that Nilsen opens the book, having them quip and peck over crumbs: “Sh_t. Seeds again,” one bird says, only to be met by another dropping in: “Oh great! Seeds. I love these.” Similar understated exchanges occur during the book’s first section--birds meeting over a meal to discuss a grand topic (“To what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?”), pausing (“munch, munch”), only to finish the scene with a deadpan response (“Uh…”). Such exchanges sustain for its first 20 or so pages, but then Nilsen’s ambitions expand along with his scope.

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A Conversation with Editor Judith Jones: on 50 Years of Working with Julia Child

Judith Jones, who retired just last week from Knopf after a long and distinguished career of editing and writing books, has recorded many a literary milestone. She is famously know as the editor who rescued The Diary of Anne Frank from a rejection pile in Paris, urging Ken McCormick to publish it at Doubleday. She was also the person who brought Julia Child to Knopf. That was fifty years ago, and we were recently lucky enough to talk to Judith Jones about the 50th anniversary of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, about a life spent working with cookbooks, and where cookbooks might be headed in the future.


Why has this book gained such a sacred place in the pantheon of cooking?

I think that Mastering the Art of French Cooking has earned a unique position among cookbooks because it is a one-of-a-kind achievement. It is a genuine teaching book that instructs American home cooks to understand the basic techniques of good cooking, that explains the whys and wherefores: what are the right ingredients (and possible substitutes)--the cut of meat, the secrets of browning, the process of glazing, the reduction of a sauce, what part of a recipe could be done ahead, etc. Julia treated cooking as an art, and that meant that you had to learn these basics in order to have confidence to make judgments and subtle adjustments until the taste was just right. In other words, she empowered us to become good cooks. No book has come close to teaching the basics in the 50 years since Mastering was first published.

This is a milestone in cooking, but it is a milestone in your career as well. What does the publication of the 50th anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking mean to you?

Mastering the Art of French Cooking certainly changed my life both as a home cook and as an editor. As a result of its success I made it a mission to explore new culinary worlds, to seek out good writers who could explain lesser known cuisines that we were beginning to enjoy but flying blind when we attempted them at home. Recently I have felt particularly grateful that a new generation of Americans is experiencing the pleasures of good cooking.

Continue reading "A Conversation with Editor Judith Jones: on 50 Years of Working with Julia Child" »

Exclusive Interview: Jeopardy Champ & Author Ken Jennings

MapheadIn a match-up of Jeopardy! winners, former Amazon editor Tom Nissley (who won $235,000 over an eight-episode streak last year, and wrote about it here), talks with Ken Jennings (the all-time Jeopardy! champion) about Ken's recent book, Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, which I previously wrote about here. Maphead was a September Best Books of the Month pick. 

Ken, who won an astounding 74 episodes straight in 2004, tells Tom that the best thing about his Jeopardy! winnings was that they bought him a second chance at a writing career - "and more time with my kids." He's now working on a book about all the lies our parents told us - Don't crack your knuckles, you'll get arthritis! Don't stand next to the microwave!    

Watch more Amazon interviews at

p.s. - Tom Nissley is returning to Jeopardy! competing in the Tournament of Champions, starting Nov. 2. 

YA Wednesday: Exclusive Interview with Laini Taylor

 “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”  This is the delicious opening line of Laini Taylor’s novel, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and sets the tone for the captivating story to follow.  A young woman straddling two worlds, star-crossed love, magic, and twisted mythology, spring to life in the masterful hands of Taylor, a 2009 National Book Award finalist for Lips Touch: Three Times.  

While published as a young adult novel, every adult I know who has read Daughter of Smoke & Bone has loved it--in fact, it made both our teen AND adult Best Books of the Month lists for September.  It’s a flat-out amazing read and during her recent visit to Amazon I had the chance to ask Laini Taylor about her (fabulous) blog, angels, chimera, and a place called Poison Kitchen.  You can watch the video of our interview below or check it out along with more about Daughter of Smoke & Bone here. --Seira