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October 2011

An Interview with Best-selling Fantasy Author R.A. Salvatore: Finding the Personal in the Epic, the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Salvatore headshot

On the occasion of the recent publication of R.A. Salvatore’s latest novel, Omnivoracious invited Jeremy L. C. Jones to share his thoughts about the book—and to interview the author. Jones, an expert on Salvatore’s fiction, is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Along with Jeff VanderMeer, he co-directs Shared Worlds, a SF/Fantasy creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers partially funded by an grant.

Even though Neverwinter by R. A. Salvatore falls late in his heroic fantasy Forgotten Realms series about the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, it is an ideal place to start reading—or re-reading—Salvatore’s fiction. Neverwinter finds the veteran fantasist pushing himself (and his characters) harder than ever before—asking bigger questions, meeting bigger challenges, and conquering bigger personal demons.

Though known for writing vivid combat scenes, Salvatore is very much a character writer. His Forgotten Realms novels are "buddy fantasy" in the mode of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories and heroic fantasy in the mode David Gemmell's Legend. Iconic characters like Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, Wulfgar, Regis, and Cattie-brie are, as Salvatore says, “friends to walk down the road of adventure beside.”

Continue reading "An Interview with Best-selling Fantasy Author R.A. Salvatore: Finding the Personal in the Epic, the Extraordinary in the Ordinary" »

Already Gone: A Q&A with Suspense Writer John Rector

John Rector, the best-selling author of The Grove and The Cold Kiss (optioned for a feature film), has a new thriller out today: Already Gone. In this pulse-racer of a book, writing teacher Jake Reese is attacked in a parking lot one night by two men who cut off his ring finger. Bewildered by the incident, Jake tries chalking it up to bad luck—until his wife disappears, and he realizes that his dark past has finally come to track him down.

Amazon: Already Gone opens with an dramatic attack that eventually drives a wedge between Jake and his wife. Then you pull back and carefully build an emotional situation between these newlyweds. Was opening with that kind of contrast always your plan?

John Rector: The contrast wasn't as much a plan as a necessity. Already Gone takes off at full speed, so I had to introduce the reader to the characters right away. The trick was building the characters as the story developed, so the reader wouldn't get bored and close the book. Writing action and plot twists isn't the hard part—the hard part is creating characters the reader will care about. To do that, I had to show who they were before the main conflict tore through their lives and changed everything.

A: Are you ever surprised by how your writing unfolds?

JR: Yes, I'm often surprised by how things unfold as I'm writing. I usually have an idea where things are heading, but in each book, there has come a point where the different elements all come together in an unexpected way and form a bigger picture. That revelation is one of my favorite things about writing.

Continue reading "Already Gone: A Q&A with Suspense Writer John Rector" »

Media Monday

We're starting off with the Los Angeles Times today. Call it West Coast bias, but I thought they had the most interesting selection of book reviews this weekend, so why not?

Los Angeles Times

  • David L. Ulin just might be my favorite book critic. In his review of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, he suggests that readers try to take in the 926 page novel in as close to one sitting as possible. This may sound silly (and impossible), but Ulin insists that "there's something about the book that requires the deep immersion, the otherworldly sense of connection/disconnection, that only an extended plunge allows." He explains that the book draws readers "into a landscape where the boundary between reality and imagination has been rendered moot." So what's the plot? You can read the full review here. But suffice it to say that "this is a major development in Murakami's writing."

  • Carolyn Kellogg writes a review about A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown, in which Julia Scheeres, who chronicled her own experience as a troubled teen sent to a tropical religious camp in the best-selling Jesus Land, uses published reports and recently released FBI files to portray the members of the Jonestown massacre "as victims, not fools." In Kellogg's words, "It's hard to imagine how people might be so browbeaten, afraid and misled that they would bring about their own deaths — but Scheeres has made that terrifying story believable and human."

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John Grant: Affirming Science with the Smart, Darkly Humorous “Denying Science”

Denying Science

For the past few years, John Grant has been intrepidly documenting instances of bogus, corrupted, and discarded science. Now he's back with perhaps the best of the lot: Denying Science. As topical and as cutting as past volumes have been, Denying Science gets to the heart of the problem in today's world—and does so with fascinating, brilliantly written accounts that may curl your toes but that also contain elements of humor and absurdity. In doing so, he tackles such question as “Is global warming just scaremongering?”, “Is evolution ‘just a theory’?”, and “Is autism caused by vaccinations?” Grant provides compelling evidence that the answer in all three cases is a resounding “no.”

But his larger point in these instances and more is to comment on the role of popular media in presenting the interpretation of scientific data as having equally compelling and factual “sides,” blurring the lines between critical thinking/scientific literacy and approaches more common to presenting opposing political pundits on morning talk shows.

Continue reading "John Grant: Affirming Science with the Smart, Darkly Humorous “Denying Science”" »

"Steve Jobs"


It is difficult to read the opening pages of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs without feeling melancholic. Jobs retired at the end of August and died about six weeks later. Now, less than three weeks after his death, you can open the book that bears his name and read about his youth, his promise, and his relentless press to succeed.

How the book came to be is practically lore already: Walter Isaacson, who has written about Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, was asked by Jobs in 2004 to take a walk in Aspen so that they could talk. During the walk Jobs asked him to write his biography, but Isaacson declined. By 2009, aware that Jobs was suffering from the cancer that would eventually take his life, he finally accepted.

The initial sense of sadness in starting the book is soon replaced by something else, which is the intensity of the read—mirroring the intensity of Jobs’s focus and vision for his products—and the end result is something that is satisfying, complete, and gives insight into a man whose contradictions were in many ways his greatest strength.

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Halloween Special: How to Scare Your Reader (Tricks from the Movies)

WritersdontcryIn honor of Halloween, I’d like to focus on what writers can take away from Halloween’s most sacred and time-honored tradition: the horror movie. I know, I know: books and movies are natural enemies. Books have long-lasting, deep affairs with their readers, and movies have quick, memorable flings. Books resent the popularity of movies, and movies are turned off by book’s need for commitment. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tricks books can learn from movies—after all, there’s a reason they’re so popular!—and movies have always had particularly effective scare tactics.Howtoscareyourreader

Even if you’re not writing a horror story, knowing how to scare your reader is an important skill to have. We like our villains frightening, our monsters terrifying, and our unknown horrors to reduce us to a quivering goo. Otherwise, we can’t appreciate the heroism of your hero—or their abject fear—when they face whatever horrors you have in store for them. Being able to effectively communicate how scary something is for your hero is key to reader immersion and empathy.

So what makes things scary? Sure shock, gore, and the exploitation of common phobias have something going for them, but to make something really scary? That’s the art of the psychological thriller. It’s also the easiest to translate to a book. There are two basic principles of scaring your reader that we can learn from the movies: the power of everyday objects to evoke horror, and the implications of a single, perfect detail.

Everyday Horror

You are at your most vulnerable with those you trust. You let your guard down. You begin to relax. So something that makes you question the things you took for granted as safe is naturally terrifying. Doctors should heal you. Showers cleanse and refresh you. Wooden blocks are for children to play with. Cheese graters are for cooking. After you read a scene from a book that twists something you trust, you will never look at those objects quite the same way again. And it’s that ability of the everyday turned horrific to haunt you that makes them so powerful.

Continue reading "Halloween Special: How to Scare Your Reader (Tricks from the Movies)" »

Not Drinking With Man Booker Prize Winner Anne Enright

51fTDntAJhL._BO2,204,203,200_AA300_SH20_OU01_People will say of the Irish, "Now that's someone I'd like to share a pint with." But I have to admit, drinking beer with Irish author Anne Enright crossed my mind more than once during Amazon's recent pint-free chat with her. Anne was funny and charming and real. Someone you'd want to spend time with. Over a pint. Or two.

We talked about her new book, The Forgotten Waltz. This was days before the Man Booker Prize was to be announced (it went to Julian Barnes, for The Sense of An Ending). So we had to ask Anne about winning the prestigious Booker Prize in 2007, for The Gathering, and what it meant to her. "It made me a bit grumpy, actually," she said.

"Because it was a full-time job winning the Booker. I mean, it was very hard work, and I'm a conscientious sort of chick, and I was doing the job of winning the Booker... But, as it is, I already have two full-time jobs. I have kids, and I have books to write. So it kept me from the desk. I was very happy to meet readers. That was an extremely nurturing experience. But I really, really wanted to get back to work."

Watch this space for our full interview. Meanwhile, here's a preview: Anne reading a selection from The Forgotten Waltz, including a stumble and a curse or two...


Craig Thompson signs my copy of Haibibi

Craig Thompson, creator of Blankets and the extraordinary Haibibi, stopped by our offices a while back. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Haibibi signed by him, which I belatedly thought to catch on video. Please excuse the shoddy camera work. I thought this was kind of cool and worth sharing. (As well as autographing, he drew the face on the title page-- it's amazing to see how a true artist's hand moves when it's at work. Almost like it's its own entity.)


Helen Oyeyemi’s New Novel Mr. Fox”: Unruly Disguises, Amiable Silliness, and a Love Story

Mr Fox

Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox is one of the more delightful, and delightfully complex, selections on Amazon's October Best Books of the Month. It’s the fourth novel for Oyeyemi, who was born in Nigeria and raised in London, and it’s garnered a great deal of praise from national media, including NPR and the Boston Globe.

What’s it about? Many intricate, tangled-together things. As Amazon’s Heather Delieepan wrote, “[The novel] uses a series of interconnected vignettes to capture the love triangle between wry, self-absorbed writer St. John Fox, his wife, Daphne, and his imagined muse, Mary Foxe. As his muse Mary takes form on the page, St. John struggles to maintain his already tenuous marriage. Through different time periods and characters, he writes and rewrites Mary Foxe as an embodiment of unrequited love…Through them all is the shared and often feverish complexity that comes with sustained relationships….With clever, tender, and often poignant prose, she captures the magic and heartbreak of the love story.”

The novel mixes folktales and a certain meta-element, but those elements are really just a jumping off point for the novel’s main conflict. As Oyeyemi replied when I asked her about the idea of focus in the novel, “Yes, there're lots of disguises going on, appearances and disappearances and reappearances; I took care not to abandon my interest in the central dispute between Mary and Mr. Fox—the one about love and stories; Mary's very serious about both, and Mr. Fox claims not to be serious about either. With a few of the stories I had to rewrite bits over and over until I felt both sides had been addressed.”

Continue reading "Helen Oyeyemi’s New Novel Mr. Fox”: Unruly Disguises, Amiable Silliness, and a Love Story" »

Chip Kidd to Pen Original Batman Graphic Novel

Batman_dbdDream jobs do come true. At New York Comic Con last weekend, DC announced that award-winning author, book jacket designer, and unabashed Batman fan Chip Kidd would write an original Batman graphic novel. Previously, Kidd showed off his personal collection of Batman memorabilia in Batman: Collected and he recently chronicled long unsung Batman-manga comics and Japanese Batman toys in Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. This is in addition to having a hand in the design of numerous high profile comics projects like Final Crisis, Watching the Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Rough Justice: the DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross, Absolute All-Star Superman, and many more.

With a wink to such comics ties, Kidd revealed in an interview with Comic Book Resources that the title of his graphic novel will be Batman: Death by Design, and that he will be collaborating with artist Dave Taylor.

"I actually came up with the title first. I thought, 'If it's me and you know who I am and what I do, then I'm going to come at this whole thing from a design standpoint.' I've said for many years that Batman himself and especially the way he's evolved is brilliant design. It's problem solving. And we get into that in the story. Beyond that, it became about me going 'What if?' What do I want that I haven't seen? And really, the overall Art Direction for the book is 'What if Fritz Land made a Batman movie in the late 1930s and had a huge budget? Go!' There's the visual platform."

While he’s written stories for comics before in Bizarro Comics and a strip in Mythology, this marks Kidd’s first full-scale comics work. Early word from DC is that the publication date is June 2012, but a detail page doesn’t even exist yet. If readers are looking for a taste of the designer’s prose, Kidd wrote The Cheese Monkeys, a novel about--you guessed it!--graphic design students, and its sequel, The Learners. Both are witty, involving works and signal a high standard for this Batman project.

For much more on Death by Design, be sure to read the full interview at CBR.