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December 2011

Graphic Novel Friday: Happy New Year with Comics, Beer, and the End of Days

So long, 2011, and hello, Apocalypse. Much has been made of our collective demise in the coming twelve months of 2012 (John Cusack starred in a film adaptation, after all), but nothing has been crafted quite like the combined creative and delicious efforts of publisher Fantagraphics, Elysian Brewing Company, and artist Charles Burns. Together, the three forces are ringing in the new year with the “Twelve Beers of the Apocalypse,” celebrating the Mayan calendar’s predictions with thematically grim beers, brewed especially for the occasion and released every month in 2012. Elysian’s bottles will feature Burns’ artwork from his seminal Black Hole (one of our Best Comics of the Decade) in the limited runs of each handcrafted treat. Elysian_1

On the 21st of each month, Elysian will toast the release of that month’s beer at their Seattle locations and Fantagraphics’ storefront in Georgetown. “These limited brews will be available in bottles and draft and at select bars and bottle shops,” Fantagraphics announced, so order ahead—because once they are gone, folks, they are gone.

In January, the end time festivities begin with "Nibiru" (see label at left, click to enlarge), a “Belgian-style Tripel, flavored with an infusion of yerba mate,” followed by "Rapture" in February and "Fallout" in March. Each brew promises decadent flavors and collector appeal.

Fantagraphics published three of Burns’ earlier collections, El Borbah, Big Baby, and Skin Deep—all three in magazine-sized format and full of unsettling stories riddled with anxiety and doom (but every bit must-reads). Black Hole and Burns' latest, X’ed Out, came from Pantheon—the latter was also one of our picks for Best Comics and Graphic Novels in 2010—and present disaffected youths with problems far exceeding their respective suburban abodes. The kids are not all right.

A trifecta of this magnitude only forms once a Ragnorak, and comics and beer aficionados will have much to salute whether or not everything we hold dear collapses in 2012. For more on the individuals releases, ingredients, and brew plans, visit Fantagraphics' FLOG! blog.  

Happy New Year!


Three Movie Deals for SF/Fantasy by Lauren Beukes, Cherie Priest, and Charles Yu

As recently reported by the SF/Fantasy pop culture site (here and here) and others, three great novels are being developed for the big screen: Lauren Beukes’ Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Zoo City, Cherie Priest’s Hugo-nominated Boneshaker, and Charles Yu’s critically acclaimed How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

Boneshaker Cover

This is in part a coincidental series of events, as the three deals have nothing to do with one another. However, it does confirm the general trend of movie-makers acquiring SF/Fantasy properties, given the popularity of franchises such as the Harry Potter films, perhaps fed by advances in CGI technology. Each of these novels while being unique also falls into popular categories of fiction right now. Zoo City is a gritty noir novel that blends science fiction and fantasy in a way that could be described as “urban fantasy” even though it’s not really in that subgenre. Boneshaker is one of the main fictional ambassadors of the Steampunk movement, and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe takes pop culture and the red-hot time travel genre and mixes it with a very personal story.

All of which boils down to this: movie fans have some great stories and visuals to look forward to in theaters at some point in the future. In fact, we asked all three creators what they were most excited about seeing on the big screen from their books. (Note: some spoilers ahead.)

Continue reading "Three Movie Deals for SF/Fantasy by Lauren Beukes, Cherie Priest, and Charles Yu" »

Exclusive Interview with Amor Towles, Author of "Rules of Civility"

Rules ofAmor Towles visited our campuses a while back to discuss his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility, which was one of our Best Books of 2011. He also read an excerpt for us, which you can watch here. (Thanks to our friends at Cuoco restaurant for the cozy lounge space.)


YA Wednesday: Our Exclusive "Why We Broke Up" Video

If you're home this week or at work but doing very little, I highly recommend you check out this video of Daniel Handler asking passersby in New York's Grand Central Station about their experiences with love, and more to the point, breaking up.

Why, you wonder? Because the hilarious Handler (a.k.a. Series of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket), along with the enormously talented illustrator Maira Kalman, have a new book out as of yesterday titled Why We Broke Up. The plot is--you guessed it--about a relationship that ends. But this isn't your average break-up story. Ed and Min's courtship is told (and literally drawn) through the items (a comb, books, etc.) that Min picked up while she and Ed were together--making Why We Broke Up a uniquely-crafted, bittersweet love story.

Okay, enough sad stuff for now. In the spirit of the holiday season have a chuckle, albeit often at someone else's expense.




P.S. If you need more YA ways to fill up your time check out the Why We Broke Up-inspired blog, which chronicles real life break-up stories that have been anonymously submitted. A word to the wise, though. You may want to have a tissue at the ready.

Two Cops Named Harry

The gods of noir recently presented me with an holiday gift: two compelling yet very different detective novels, both featuring haunted, flawed, aging crime-fighters named Harry, each in pursuit of a serial killer.

LeopardJo Nesbo's Inspector Harry Hole is a ravaged mess, which is where Nesbo's previous novel, The Snowman, left him. At the start of The Leopard, we find Hole hiding away from the world, smoking opium in a squalid back-alley Hong Kong flophouse. But we know he won't stay there for long. In Michael Connelly's The Drop, Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch learns he's got three years left before his enforced retirement from the LAPD. (The book's title refers partly to the Deferred Retirement Option Plan.) While investigating open cases with the Open/Unsolved Unit, the apparent suicide of a councilman's son pulls him in a different direction. 

DropIt was a treat reading these two novels side by side (both were among December's Best Books of the Month). I found Nesbo to be the better "writer." His language is visceral and visual, and often eloquent. The Hong Kong scenes are full of gritty poetry; once Hole is back in Norway, the landscape is dark, snowy, vast and empty. Connelly's writing can feel more procedural, but his plot and pacing were more steady and compelling. He doesn't digress like Nesbo, keeping his foot on the gas throughout.   

The storylines differ in tone but share some crime-thriller DNA (serial killers, corrupt cops). In The Leopard, a pretty young police officer drags Hole reluctantly back from Hong Kong to Norway, to pursue another killer, this one more twisted and vicious than the Snowman. The killer has brutally murdered two women with a sadistic (and, thankfully, fictional) torture device. When a female member of parliament is killed, Hole suspects a connection, and pursues the case even after he's warned to stop.

In The Drop, Bosch takes on two seemingly unrelated cases. The first is a botched DNA test from a 1989 rape and murder, which has been pinned on a man who was only eight years old at the time of the crime. Harry's pursuit of that case is interrupted when the councilman--a former police chief and no fan of Harry's--insists that Harry investigate his son's suspicious death. In pursuit of the truth, and an elusive killer, Bosch and his partner uncover secrets and a political conspiracy deep within the police department.

Dirty harry2Connelly's aging hero is a flawed, haunted, and unforgettable character; his creator is a master craftsman. Despite some far-fetched scenes, Hole is damaged, soulful, and believable, and Nesbo is proving to be a major talent.

Spending time with these two Harrys made me wonder if they’re both intended as homage to the original renegade detective, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” Callahan.

Fantastical Fiction: Four Unusual (and Suitably Small) Gifts for the Holidays


Editor's Note: This post missed Christmas, but there's still (barely) time for Hanukkah (or, more likely, just a plain ol' present for yourself or loved one).

Are you searching for the perfect stocking stuffer, that elusive seventh- or eighth-day Hanukkah gift, or just in general need an unusual little book to surprise someone and tickle their fancy this holiday season? One of four recent releases, all slim, smartly designed fictions, might just do the trick….

The Ravickians by Renee Gladman—This account of a novelist’s explorations of an imaginary city continues Gladman’s Ravicka trilogy, with each book standing alone. Allied with the fiction of Italo Calvino, Doris Lessing, and others, The Ravickians is entertaining, thoughtful, and a quick read. As with everything published by the Dorothy Project, it’s also a lovely little book to hold in your hand. Opening lines: “To say you have been born in Ravicka in any other language than Ravic is to say you have been hungry. That is why this story must not be translated.”

Continue reading "Fantastical Fiction: Four Unusual (and Suitably Small) Gifts for the Holidays" »

Books with a Bang: Troy Denning on Writing the Ultimate Climax

WritersdontcryA greatConfrontation book with a bad climax is like a joke with no punch line: it leaves readers with a bad taste in their mouths and a reluctance to indulge you further. An average book with a fantastic climax, on the other hand, can turn even the most reluctant readers into die-hard fans.

Such is the power of the climax: they make or break books. They are, in some ways, the whole point of the book, as every torment you put your hero through, every obstacle they have overcome, every creative horror they’ve faced, leads up to that singular point. And the fulfillment of all that ink, sweat, and tears is left dependent on just one thing: your climax.

DenningFor such an important part of a story, I can think of no one more qualified to speak to it than New York Times best-selling author Troy Denning. Best known as the author of countless Star Wars books, such as the acclaimed Star by Star and Invincible--which in itself is the epic climax of a series--Troy Denning has written in such dark and imaginative worlds as Dark Sun, Planescape, and the Forgotten Realms. His mastery of tension and emotion has kept readers up late into the night for more than twenty years, and there’s a reason for such fierce loyalty: his writing is complex, suspenseful, and builds to a perfect climax, time after time.

1. What are the goals of a climactic scene, and what makes for a memorable climax?

The way to build a powerful literary climax is to build suspense. Suspense creates tension; the release of tension creates pleasure. That’s the key to memorable climaxes--and to holding reader interest.

That being said, I don’t think of climaxes as single scenes, but as major building blocks in a story’s structure. Climaxes are the high points in the story, where the protagonist’s efforts to solve his problem reach a crescendo, and where he learns something from his efforts that will change his approach to solving the problem the next time.

Continue reading "Books with a Bang: Troy Denning on Writing the Ultimate Climax" »

Happy Holidays From Your Book-Obsessed Friends at Amazon


(photo by Greg Rutty)

Feel free to copy and paste, forward and share, post and tweet our book tree.

We're looking forward to sharing more great books with you in the new year.


Exclusive Interview with Christopher Paolini

It’s been a heck of a year for Christopher Paolini. In November he released Inheritance, the fourth and final book in the best-selling fantasy series he started writing at the age of fifteen. Inheritance was an instant hit, and in less than a month became our tenth best-selling book of the year.

In between packed tour stops at schools, bookstores, and libraries, Christopher made time to visit us and chat about the success of his books, his plans for his future, and what it’s like to be a teenage literary superstar. (He regularly receives marriage proposals, he says, but he hasn’t accepted any--yet.)

It was a rare sunny November day in Seattle, and Christopher, a Montana native, gamely agreed to record our chat on our deck overlooking the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountains. Watch the full interview:

Author Interviews @ Amazon, with Christopher Paolini from Neal Thompson on Vimeo.

Romancing the Desk: Connie Brockway's Begin the Book Ritual

Connie-BrockwayNew York Times and USA Today best-selling author Connie Brockway is an eight-time finalist for Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award, which she has won twice. Her new novel, The Other Guy's Bride, comes out in paperback today and has been hailed as "a knockout story by an exquisitely gifted author" by Lisa Kleypas, another RITA award winner and reader favorite. Already hard at work on her next red-hot romance, Connie took a few moments to share her failsafe Begin the Book Ritual with us.

Now that The Other Guy’s Bride has been edited and copyedited, the website revamped, and the bound galleys sent off to reviewers, I have begun my next book. Again. For the fourth time, actually. But this time, it’s going to stick.

How do I know? Because this time, I performed my Begin the Book Ritual, and it's always worked before. And no, contrary to a certain someone’s unkind suggestion, this does not involve throwing my thighs on the altar of Hershey's Kisses by eating a two-pound bag in one sitting. My ritual is far more arcane and a good deal less tasty.

First, I clean my altar, er, desk. I gather together the heaps of paper that I’ve accrued since the last Begin the Book Ritual, intending to deal with each and every one. This gets boring after a while (say 10 to 15 minutes), so I settle for sorting them into piles based on weight and size. (As an aside, I’ve noticed that almost all invoices are printed on flimsy paper while dental cleaning reminders come on high-grade linen. Dentists! What a racket!) Then I move the piles to the floor in an unused corner of the office—generally not easy to find—where they will sit for a few months until a dog or small child starts shredding them. At this point, I will file them all away in a folder labeled “FILE THESE!” I have lots of those labeled folders.

Then I take all the trinkets, photos, tchotchkes, and doodads off my desk and spray everything with some lemon-scented pathogens in an aerosol can. (Yup, I said “aerosol.” That tells you how often my desk gets dusted.) I smear this around with a piece of my husband’s T-shirt, which may have been a whole T-shirt a few minutes before but has now given up the ghost in the service of Connie’s Begin the Book Ritual. There are worse causes.

Next, I carefully dust each trinket, sometimes humming a little ditty as I go, sometimes crooning fondly as I recall the circumstances by which it came into my possession. Mostly I wonder why I have so much junk on my desk.

As soon as the desk is clean, I reorganize said junk and consider ridding myself of the Elvis Graceland plastic snow globe. I never do. We all need our Happy Places, and Graceland under glitter is mine. Not that I’ve ever been to Graceland—and now I can never go, because the real thing can’t live up to the snow-globe rendition. After all, I doubt they’re dumping glitter from the skies (or are they?).

And, finally, I am ready for the last part of the rite: prayers. I don my high-priestess robe (which may, to the uneducated eye, bear a startling resemblance to a cheap acetate robe from Chinatown), plop myself down in my old leather swivel chair, crack my knuckles, and place my fingers on the keyboard as gingerly as a medium does on a Ouija board.

I squeeze my eyes shut, tilt my head heavenward, and murmur the most heartfelt of any writer’s prayer: “Please don’t let this be a piece of crap.”

And thus it begins again.

--Connie Brockway