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February 2012

YA Wednesday: An Exclusive First Look at "Bitterblue"

It's an exciting time to be a YA fan. Bitterblue The Hunger Games movie is just around the corner, Amanda Hocking's Trylle series is being re-released for our reading pleasure, and now news that Kristin Cashore's last installment in the Graceling series is almost here is sure to have fans swooning. Bitterblue--the companion book to the fabulous Graceling and Fire--is available May 1st, and features the popular (you guessed it) Bitterblue, the Mysore princess-made-queen from Graceling.

The book takes place eight years after the overthrow of the evil King Leck, as the teenaged Bitterblue struggles to rule her kingdom. Cashore has promised some flashbacks to King Leck's reign of terror, as well as guest appearances from our favorite Graceling characters Katsa and Po. Excited to read Bitterblue? Make sure to check out this exclusive sneak peek.

Amazon Exclusive Interview: Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman

Author Daniel Handler (who sometimes goes by Lemony Snicket) and illustrator Maira Kalman visited Amazon to chat about their new book Why We Broke Up, chosen by editors as one of January's Best Books of the Month. If we gave awards for most delightfully entertaining interviewees, these two would be shoo-ins.


A Conversation with author Alex George: "We All Came Here from Somewhere"


I recently had the opportunity to talk to Alex George, author of A Good American, which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for February. Alex is an Englishman living in Missouri, so naturally I led with a question about how he got there.

Chris Schluep: How does an Englishman wind up in Missouri?

Alex George: My ex-wife is from a small town in the middle of Missouri. We met in Paris, got married in New York, and lived in London for the first five years of our marriage. We moved to Missouri when my father-in-law was very sick. (Fortunately, he has made a full recovery.) The experience of moving 4,000 miles from my home, my family, and my friends, with no expectation that I would ever return, was the genesis of A Good American. It’s been clear from readers’ responses to the novel that the theme of immigration has struck a chord with many people. Almost every family in America has a story similar to this one somewhere in its past. As James, the narrator, says, “We all came here from somewhere.”

CS: This is a sweeping, multigenerational story, a big undertaking for a first novel. Did you always plan to write such an expansive book?

AG: Actually, I did. This is my first novel published in the States, but I have published four books in the UK. They were rather limited in range, and my publisher was reluctant to have me attempt more ambitious projects. So once my contract ended, I resolved to write the kind of book I had always wanted to write, free of editorial diktats—and no deadlines, either. That freedom was both enriching and terrifying, but I knew I had to make the most of it. I challenged myself to raise my ambitions, and aimed for an ambitious, big, complex tale, the kind of story a reader could disappear into. I hope I’ve managed that.

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Media Tuesday: Special Edition - The Oscar Hangover


Well, I stayed up to watch the Oscars, and before I knew it I didn't have time for Media Monday. Hence, Media Tuesday: Special Edition.

Despite a significant numerical advantage, the Oscar for Best Picture did not go to a movie that started out as a book. Still, there were some book winners and, all in all, it was a good night for the French everyone. Maybe The Hunger Games will sweep the awards next year. (Feel free to add your 2013 predictions in the comments below or on Facebook.)


The Washington Post

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    Suki Casanave has a review of Eric Klinenberg's Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, which opens by citing "a dramatic demographic trend: the startling increase in adults living alone." She understatedly notes that "Exile once ranked as the severest form of punishment — a fate worse than death," before continuing that "many people interviewed for Klinenberg’s study, however — from young professionals to divorced middle agers to independent seniors — attest to the benefits of solo living. They describe feelings of complete freedom, the joy of being able to follow your own schedule, indulge your own habits and focus on your own growth and development instead of always considering or caring for someone else. No compromises. No sacrifices. No attachments. These upbeat singles typically find themselves more socially active, not less." Sounds great to me. I am seriously considering reading this book over the weekend, after my wife and son go to sleep.

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    Justin Moyer, in his review of Evelyn Toynton's "trim biography" Jackson Pollock, points to her line from the book, "There is something particularly thrilling about watching an artist destroy himself." And Pollock was good at it. Moyer writes, "There was no shortage of aggression and nihilism in Pollock’s short life, captured by Toynton, who has also published a novel based on the painter’s doomed marriage to fellow artist Lee Krassner." In summary, this book "ably chronicles Pollock’s gambol over the edge."

  • Here's one of those think pieces that winds up in book review sections sometimes. Susan Okie starts the article by asking, "What makes human beings unique? What accounts for our species’ planetary dominance, for our self-consciousness and awareness of our mortality, for our impulses to create art, to help others, to cling to our memories of childhood, to believe in a deity, to seek riches or fame?" She then goes on to talk about two books that provide different answers. They are Mark Pagel's Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind and Sebastian Seung's Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are.

    Speaking of Mark Pagel, at John Brockman's, you can listen to Pagel talk evolutionary biology. Personally, I really enjoyed this, even if he was kind of insulting my entire species.

Continue reading "Media Tuesday: Special Edition - The Oscar Hangover" »

Academy Award Winner, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

Here's the Academy Award winner for animated short film. It's a good one, and it's even got books in it.

Amazon Exclusive Guest Post: "Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site"

Last year author Sherri Duskey Rinker published her first picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and it has become a slush pile success story, including a spot on our Top 10 Best Picture Books of 2011 list and topping the New York Times' bestsellers list for Children's Picture Books in January of this year.  With 5-star reviews from Amazon's customers and raves from the media, Goodnight has become the little engine that could.

Sherri graciously agreed to write something special for our Omni readers, sharing her inspiration behind the book (calling all Virginia Lee Burton fans!) and her story of getting it published with an illustrator she'd never heard of.  I have a feeling Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is going to be a staple on kids' bookshelves for many years to come. --Seira

From the Slush Pile to #1: Realizing my vision. Or not.

I grew up loving picture books.

I can still hear my grandmother's voice over the sound of the pages turning, the old wind-up Westclox alarm clock ticking away and the sound of traffic rolling down Howard Street. I remember the smell of books mingling with the smell of freshly laundered sheets.

Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House was my favorite, and I obsessed over the whimsically sweet illustrations of that little pink house happily sitting upon a hill covered in daisies.

Inspired, I wanted to be an artist. I also wanted to be a poet, an art teacher, and a journalist. The ping-pong ball of art vs. words ended with a career as a graphic designer. It was a perfect fit: I took pictures and words and put them together in a pretty way.

I met an artist, a photographer. He also had grown up with Virginia Burton: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. It was a sign. So I married him. We had two boys and two good excuses for buying dozens (and dozens) of picture books.

Inspired by my youngest son's tireless (literally!) obsession with trucks, I wrote Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site in stolen moments during the workday and late at night, after the boys were tucked in. And with the words emerged a vision (dare I say "obsession") for how the book and my trucks would look.

I could see it so clearly: realistic illustrations of trucks superimposed with facial expressions to convey the mood and create the characters. Strong, yet simple graphic elements to create the setting. A bit of realism. A bit of collage. A bit of a grunge to compliment the dirty work of the trucks.  I included the concept illustration with my manuscript and sent it, unsolicited, to Chronicle Books.

When my editor contacted me, three months after I'd sent the manuscript, she was friendly, but also to-the-point: They loved the manuscript (!), and hated (though she used a nicer word) the illustration concept.


One of the reasons that Chronicle was the first (and ultimately only) publisher on my list was that I LOVE their picture books. I appreciate their beauty and high production values. So, I had a choice here: trust, or walk away. I chose trust--with a big dash of fear.

My editor asked if I had any ideas for illustrators. I sent her a dozen names and online portfolios. I'm pretty certain she ignored me. And, they chose Tom Lichtenheld. (Who?)

When I told my editor that I'd never heard of Tom, she quickly emailed a few examples. The first was from Tom's NYT best-selling book, Duck! Rabbit! I was stunned to see bold, simple shapes and thickly-outlined illustrations. I stared blankly at the screen, feeling my heart sink.

Could this guy even draw a truck?

I spent the next couple of months intently focused on the process of editing and developing the final manuscript. But it was always there, in the back of my mind: What would the book look like? What had I given up?

One evening I received an excited email from my editor with Tom's first pencil sketch attached.

I wrote back: "I’m scared. I'll pour a glass of wine and then look at it."

I held my breath and double-clicked. And there it was: classic, timeless and tender, with just a touch of whimsy. My crane truck, a distant, younger cousin to Mike Mulligan, perhaps? My heart melted. I was won over.

So there it was: nothing like I imagined. But it was better. I've come to learn that some of the best things in life--like marriage and motherhood--are like that.

And I could almost feel Mrs. Burton smiling down.

--Sherri Duskey Rinker


Berenstain Bears Co-Creator, Jan Berenstain, Has Died (1923-2012)

BearsKind of furry around the torso

They’re a lot like people, only moreso

Jan and Stan Berenstain were already successful writing/illustrating team when they introduced the beloved Berenstain family - Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear, and Sister Bear - in 1962, with The Big Honey Hunt. The husband-and-wife team went on to write more than 300 picture books, chapter books, and beginning readers. The Berenstain Bears series remains one of the best-selling children's book series of all time.

"Family values is what we're all about," Jan Berenstain told The Associated Press in 2011.

Jan Berenstain died over the weekend at her home in suburban Philadelphia. She was 88. Stan died in 2002 at age 85. See all of Jan Berenstain's books.

Rivi... Rive... Revision (Or, How to Love the Red Pen)

WritersdontcryRevision? You might say, In the romance month? What are you, crazy? But I tell youRevision truly: as an author, editing is the greatest act of love you can perform for your book, your characters, your editor, and your readers. And, of course, I make no secret that I am an editor--and that I LOVE editing. So, think of this as my funny valentine to that most unpopular of tasks--revision.

When editing a book, it helps if you review it three times: once to find the heart of it, once to find the bones that give it structure, and once to smooth the words that clothe it. These three anatomical passes should be done in this order, as each step builds upon and is more detailed than the last, starting with the essence of your book, and diving down into the details of how that essence is expressed on sentence and even word level.

By the time you are done, you will understand your story front to back, inside and out. Your words, scenes, and twists will fit together like puzzle pieces, and your character and plot arcs will sing seamlessly throughout your story, echoing and building until they sweep your readers off their feet. But the path to all that glory is paved in the dark arts of the red pen. So, if you’re not afraid to get a little detailed, let’s dive right in.

The Heart: What Is Your Story About, Anyway?

The first thing you have to do is to find the heart of your story. It may sound silly, but figuring out what your story is actually about is the single most important question you can ask yourself . . . after you finish your book. I mean, I’m sure you had some idea of what you were about when you started to write the whole thing, but books are a funny thing. Like living creatures, they grow of their own accord, twisting and taking in everything that you feed it--consciously or not. And in order to polish and cut your story to best show its brilliance, you have to first identify what makes it sparkle.

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Working at Light Speed: Anthologist John Joseph Adams Goes to Mars and Beyond

John joseph adams headshot

How do you get to be the reigning king of the anthology world? For John Joseph Adams, it’s simple: put out a series of popular, critically acclaimed books that satisfy just about every reader’s taste in speculative fiction. A two-time Hugo Award finalist, Adams had edited a so many anthologies recently that it’s almost hard to keep track. They include Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, and The Way Of The Wizard. Forthcoming anthologies include Epic (Tachyon, Fall 2012) and The Mad Scientist's Guide To World Domination (Tor Books, 2013).

Right now, though, Adams is focused on two very different anthologies: the all-originals Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures of Barsoom and Lightspeed: Year One, composed of reprints from his online magazine.

The Mars anthology is based on the popular Edgar Rice Burroughs series, and because of movie interest in Burroughs, Adams saw an opportunity to create an anthology on a milieu ripe for reinterpretation. “I’d heard that Disney was going to be adapting A Princess of Mars into a movie, and it sounded like--at last--the adaptation was finally going to happen…Being a fan of the original books, I was quite excited, and the idea of doing the ‘new adventures’ of John Carter sprang to mind. It seemed like…that would be a hell of a lot of fun, so I started putting together a proposal and recruiting authors for it. Once I started reaching out to people, the number of folks who were excited about it really reinforced my thought that it would be a great project, and luckily Simon & Schuster agreed.”

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Book Review: "The Misadventures of Orange Whippey"


By Paul Diamond

Swell is a rollicking picaresque novel that follows the misadventures of Orange Whippey, a young man who lives on the salty coastal Maine island of Bismuth. A former whaling port, Bismuth is both an unaccommodating and wondrous place, and it's about to become the center of a new whaling enterprise. The twist is that sea mammals aren't being hunted, but rather domesticated and herded as part of a most bizarre money-making enterprise. When three vying factions clash for control of this whale of a business venture, Orange becomes inadvertently involved.

Like his cat, Orange is "equal parts hubris and curiosity." He's also opinionated, disenfranchised, idle, and content. "There’s no point in trying to hide my laziness, and general dissipation—my supposed moral turpitude and personal lack of accomplishment are qualities that have been described to me at substantial length throughout my life."

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