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January 2012

Photo Gallery: Recent Author Visits to Amazon

Not to gloat, but Seattle is fortunate to have a steady procession of top authors coming through town to read from their books at local book stores, at the Seattle Public Library, or at other venues. We're always grateful when they squeeze in a visit to our Amazon headquarters, as these authors did over the past few days (each of them a January Best Books of the Month selection).

The John Green National Bus Tour van and entourage.

The Green brothers: Hank and John, before their event.

During a pre-event interview with Amazon's Neal Thompson.

Continue reading "Photo Gallery: Recent Author Visits to Amazon" »

"A Wrinkle in Time" 50th Anniversary

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a children's book classic, A Wrinkle in Time. To celebrate this milestone Farrar, Straus and Giroux (who published the book 50 years ago) have released gorgeous commemorative editions with the original hardcover and paperback jackets and new extras that include an introduction by Katherine Paterson and an afterword by author Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter.

A Wrinkle in Time is as relevant and captivating in 2012 as it was in 1962, and it's incredible to me that such an iconic story began with a random thought during a cross-country vacation, "...the names Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which popped into my grandmother’s head, and she told her three children—twelve, ten, and seven—that she would have to write a book about them..."--from the afterword [PDF].

Many prominent authors have been influenced by Madeleine L'Engle, including Judy Blume.  Blume was interviewed for a book about L'Engle (titled Listening for Madeleine) coming out in the fall, and we have an exclusive excerpt, a sample of which is below. You can find the rest of the excerpt here (under More to Explore).

"Madeleine and I really bonded over the issue of book banning. Her books were being
challenged all over the country. They were being challenged—and I love this and have used it in
every speech about book banning that I’ve ever given—for teaching “New Ageism” to children. I
always say that I can guarantee you that when Madeleine wrote her books she had never heard of
New Ageism. The attacks on her books made her absolutely furious. She was beside herself, not
just because her books were being attacked, but because any books were being targeted in that
way. We would go out and do TV shows together in defense of banned books. An evening news
show might have a segment on the censorship of children’s books. This was during the 1980s.
She was so elegant and so down-to-earth, and some of her answers were so funny, as much as to
say: Why are you guys so stupid? Why would you be asking questions like this? She never
actually said those things, but it was absolutely clear what she meant. I just loved her."--Judy Blume in an excerpt from Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices.

A Wrinkle in Time has been read, loved, and shared, by countless readers over the last 50 years, and I'm certain that trend will continue.  This anniversary inspired me to re-read the book for the first time in decades and I fell in love with the words and characters all over again.  Those of you who adore this book as I do will understand when I say that I got a little bit giddy when I saw the photo posted below, and if A Wrinkle in Time is one of the unread classics on your list--treat yourself to an amazing read. --Seira

A photograph of page one from the original manuscript of A Wrinkle in Time (click on it to see a larger image). 



Media Monday

We now bring you another edition of Media Monday. There are lots of good books to talk about, so I won't tarry.

New York Times


  • Jeanette Winterson reviews Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of "Tropic of Cancer" by Frederick Turner. Turner is in good company, as none other than George Orwell, Norman Mailer, Kate Millet, and Erica Jong have taken on the subject of Henry Miller and his seminal book (a book that reviewer Winterson calls "so great that it takes the world nearly 30 years to face up to it"). Reporting on such a controversial and brilliant novel almost assures that the key messages will change over time. Winterson notes that "Turner cleverly places Miller in a line of American folklore heroes, real and invented, like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Like Huck Finn, Miller the man wants to avoid growing up. Like Mark Twain, Miller the writer wants the flavor and feel of 'brawlers, outlaws, gamblers . . . whores.'” But she feels Turner has ignored the more unsavory parts of Miller and his novel in an effort to create this mythos, particularly the frequent misogyny of Miller's prose and of the time in which he was writing it.

  • As reviewer, Sarah Wheeler points out in her review of Alec Wilkinson's The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration, "The history of 19th-century Arctic exploration is gruesome. Ice floes throttle creaky ships, men vanish into the white silence, and the North Pole remains elusive." In other words, people died, and they died grisly deaths. "Then a Swedish aeronaut had a new idea. Approaches by sledge and ship had failed, so why not fly to the pole?" Thus, follows the story of Salomon August Andrée, told by Wilkinson (a New Yorker staffwriter), in a "prose style (that) suits the spare polar landscape, making his occasional poetic touches even more effective. (He describes, for example, the men rowing over the icy sea 'as if already in the afterlife.')"

    You can read more about author Alec Wilkinson in this recent interview conducted by our own Neal Thompson.

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Curse Like an Orc, Woo Like an Elf: The Secret to Fantasy Languages

WritersdontcryFantasy languages hold undeniable appeal. They are transportive, offering you a treasured glimpse into the secret minds and daily livesCursefantasy of elves, Klingons, wizards, and dragons. They are evocative, lending elves their otherworldliness, Klingons their intimidating nature, and the Sims their emotiveness. And they create an almost instant kinship between those devoted to these magical languages that cross fantasy worlds.

I remember the thrill of discovery when I picked up Magician: Apprentice and realized that Raymond E. Feist had used one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages as the basis for his Elvish—as did countless other fantasy works. It made the mystery and the magic of the elves somehow that much more tangible. I cherished each decoded word, for by studying the language I felt closer than ever to the mystical elves I had read about. And I’m not alone.

Something about fantasy languages captures the imagination. It can be the final touch that sets your creations apart—that spark that gives them a feeling entirely their own. But regardless as to whether you’re featuring full conversations, or using a couple words here and there for flavor, or even just need a few names of characters and kingdoms that fit together, making up words is a tricky business. Here are a few quick-and-dirty tips to get you started:

A Pretty Language for a Pretty Elf

Most people create fantasy languages to enrich their fantasy worlds. Tolkien created a fantasy world to enrich his fantasy languages. Assuming you’re not a linguist and fantasy languages aren’t the point of your whole creation, it’s important to think about the purpose your fantasy language will serve in your book.

Continue reading "Curse Like an Orc, Woo Like an Elf: The Secret to Fantasy Languages" »

Paulo Coelho on Writing

Author Paulo Coelho has made a series of videos on writing. Here's the first one:


How I Wrote It: Alec Wilkinson, "The Ice Balloon"

Alecwilkinson“Before the twentieth century, more than a thousand people tried to reach the (north) pole,” Alec Wilkinson writes in his wiry new book, The Ice Balloon, selected as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Month for January. The odds of actually reaching the pole were terrible. About three-fourths of those explorers died. But a one-in-four chance of success didn’t deter Swedish explorer S.A. Andree, who in 1897 attempted the most unlikely means of reaching the North Pole: by hydrogen balloon.

What makes this more than another adventure story is Wilkinson’s exploration of mankind’s compulsion to reach the extreme points of the Earth, despite all the absurd and obvious risks. Wilkinson, a writer for The New Yorker, chronicles other horrifically failed efforts to reach the North Pole--some of which devolved into cannibalism.

We asked Wilkinson what drew him to Andree, a dreamy and enthusiastic explorer, who, when his balloon began to lose gas and bounce past polar bears along the Arctic ice, wrote in his diary that he and his two companions remained “dominated by a feeling of pride.”

“We think we can face death well having done what we have done.”

You’ve previously written about a man who crossed the Atlantic in a raft made of trash and, over the years, have profiled other eccentric and/or quixotic characters. Are you drawn to subjects who seem compelled to risk their lives for seemingly idiosyncratic goals, or at least pursue an uncommon lifestyle?

The most interesting people for me are the outcasts and the visionaries and the ones who have the resources of mind and character to challenge failure.  I don’t want to emulate them necessarily---I’m not sure I have the nerve---but I admire their vitality and their lives are often thrilling and instructing, even if, sometimes, in a cautionary way.  

Continue reading "How I Wrote It: Alec Wilkinson, "The Ice Balloon"" »

Guest Post: Lev A.C. Rosen on Steampunk, the Importance of Being Earnest, and “Men of Genius”

All Men of Genius cover

An intriguing Steampunk release from earlier in the year was first-time novelist Lev A.C. Rosen’s All Men of Genius, which seems to have absorbed the lessons of classic Steampunk but also be fully aware of the modern variety. It’s aware of a need to be entertaining and of using the subgenre as social commentary, but also of creating compelling characters and situations. In the book, the budding genius-level inventor Violet Adams wants to attend the prestigious but all-male Illyria College, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. So what does Violet Adams do? She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry. What follows is part farce, part adventure, and fun on a lot of different levels—including killer automata, deadly legacies, and a lot of plot twists and complications.

Omnivoracious asked Rosen if he’d give us his take on Steampunk and how it relates to All Men of Genius. This is what he came up with…

Steampunk: Lev A.C. Rosen’s View

What is Steampunk? The question gets asked a lot by people just coming to the genre. Those familiar with steampunk tend to take a “I know it when I see it” approach, and that’s because like many developing genres (although the term has been around since the 80s at least, I think of it as a genre still in flux), it’s still drawing inspiration from and blending with other genres. Many books, films, and video games have steampunk elements. Does that make them steampunk? I think it depends on what steampunk means to the viewer.

Continue reading "Guest Post: Lev A.C. Rosen on Steampunk, the Importance of Being Earnest, and “Men of Genius”" »

Graphic Novel Friday: X-Man vs. X-Man

As if the title weren’t enough of a clue, X-Men: Schism spotlights a pivotal moment in X-Men history: a rift in ideology between its two biggest guns--Cyclops and Wolverine. In the wake of a mutant extinction-level event, perennial team leader and wet blanket, Cyclops, rallies the X-Men to an island dubbed “Utopia” in order to establish a sense of community. His plan, however, doesn’t account for any villain who might want to wipe out mutantkind in one fell swoop and who possesses enough skill to hit a target the size of a giant island. And that’s exactly what happens in Schism.

As danger looms, Cyclops sends the usual heavy-hitters across the globe to stop various enemies, leaving the island’s defense up to him, Wolverine, and the latest batch of young mutants who came to Uptopia to train to be X-Men. Therein lies the issue: Cyclops declares the new recruits fit for battle, while Wolverine declares the very idea to be ludicrous. Writer Jason Aaron presents both sides of the argument with equal footing, but it’s still difficult to take Wolverine’s position seriously. This is Wolverine, after all--the hot-tempered Canuck with the beserker rage and fangs; he’s the runt who’s always spoiling for a scuffle. Yet, here he tells Cyclops that maybe the better idea is to evacuate the island, because someone needs to think of the children. Really, it’s all an excuse to get Cyclops and Wolverine to clash, and Schism definitely delivers. This isn’t a shoving match or a harsh exchange of words soon mended by standing against a common enemy (although there are plenty of verbal barbs, especially on the subject of Jean Grey). No, here are two classic X-Men at each other’s throats. It’s an extended, bloody fight that ends a friendship and divides an entire race.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: X-Man vs. X-Man" »

"Control Point" by Myke Cole: Black Hawk Down Meets the X-Men


Ever wondered what “Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men” might look like? According to bestselling author Peter V. Brett, that’s exactly what readers get in Myke Cole’s debut novel Control Point the first in his Shadow Ops series from Ace. The praise doesn’t end there, with another bestseller, Ann Aguirre, calling Control Point “hands down the best military fantasy I’ve ever read.”

In Cole’s novel, people are waking up with magical talents—- storm-summoning, raising the dead, and fire-starting—- and creating chaos because of it. Army officer Oscar Britton, a member of the military’s Supernatural Operations Corps, is tasked with bringing order “to a world gone mad.” But when he suddenly manifests a rare magical power, Britton must go on the run from his former bosses. As Britton evades capture and learns more about the world of magic, the stakes rise exponentially. Cole’s career seems almost as exciting (and perilous) as the events in Control Point. As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Cole has been involved in everything from counterterrorism efforts to cyber warfare and federal law enforcement. After three tours in Iraq, Cole was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

With that career background, readers may be surprised to learn that Cole, as he told Omni in an exclusive interview, “grew up with solid nerd roots: from Dungeons & Dragons to comic books to mass-market fantasy. You should be seeing the Terry Brooks, Tolkien and D&D in Control Point every bit as much as you see the Black Hawk Down.”

Cole started writing as a kid, with fantasy a big influence: “My first ‘book’ consisted of transcribing the vinyl recording of Ralph Bakshi's old Lord of the Rings animated film when I had just learned to write competently. I never stopped writing from that point on. I got serious about writing for publication in roughly 1998.”

Continue reading ""Control Point" by Myke Cole: Black Hawk Down Meets the X-Men" »

What Question Would You Ask John Green?


On Monday, January 30th, John Green is coming to Amazon for an interview. Needless to say, we're excited to talk to him-- but we've been talking amongst ourselves, and he's got such a vibrant and involved fan base, we thought we'd ask our readers a question first: what question would you like to ask John Green?


Leave a question (or two, or three) in the comments below. We'll collect them and ask as many as we can. Then we'll put the video up on Omnivoracious a week or so later. Please, don't be shy. How many chances do you get to interact with a bestselling, beloved author?

(Be sure to sign your first name, so we can credit you on the video.)