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April 2012

YA Wednesday: Guest Blogger Scott Speer

Scott Speer is a director already well known for his music videos and films, including this summer's Step Up Revolution (hitting theaters in July).  Speer is also the author of Immortal City, the first book in an action-packed new young adult series that brings together Guardian Angels (for those who can afford them), star-crossed romance, and a serial killer--check out the cool book trailer below.

For today's YA Wednesday feature, Scott Speer joins us as our guest blogger with a special Top 10 list you'll only see here.--Seira

 Hi all, this is Scott Speer, author of Immortal City and director of the upcoming Step Up Revolution.  Being a director as well as an author, I’m particularly interested in books that go on to become movies. Here are ten of my all-time favorites. 

Jaws: I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan, and this is one of his earliest – and still best.  It’s also a great example of streamlining a subplot-heavy novel for the screen. 

Twilight: Catherine Hardwicke’s hip, well-cast, indie-film-in-sheep’s-clothing gave Stephenie Meyer’s novel the edginess it needed to explode into a worldwide phenomenon. 

Forrest Gump:  Robert Zemeckis is another all-time favorite of mine, and this has to be one of the all-time best adaptations

The Notebook: It’s rare to see a film so perfectly capture the essence of a book, but I think Nick Cassavetes did that here. 

The Color Purple: Yes, yes, I’m a huge Spielberg fan.  The Color Purple for me is a wonderful example of a film that ultimately is a different tone and vision than the book, but is just as valid. 

To Kill a Mockingbird: I saw this movie in freshman English and never forgot it.  Years later I revisited it and realized what a fantastic piece of storytelling it is.  Thanks Mr. Pachilio!

The Shawshank Redemption: Stephen King is my favorite author and this film has gone on to become one of the greatest examples of modern cinema.  I just love the characters. 

Gone with the Wind: I can’t resist old movies and this is one of my favorites.  Gorgeous photography and lush, old school storytelling.  They don’t make them like this anymore. 

The Shining: Is there a movie that better captures Stephen King’s mastery of slow-burning dread?  The Shining stands the test of time not only as great movie but a truly scary one.  One of Kubrick’s best. 

Jurassic Park: Jurassic Park?  Yes.  JP holds a very special place in my heart.  Like many directors who grew up in the 90s, I saw this at a  young age, and this was one of the key movies that inspired me to start making movies.  It’s a landmark film in every aspect, and it would not have been possible without the vision of Michael Crichton.  Authors and directors really do make a great team!

Book Trailer for Immortal City:

10 Top-Secret Personal Facts About Junie B. Jones

Twenty years ago, a feisty kindergartner named Junie B. Jones stepped onto the book scene via a smelly school bus.  Since that day, Junie B.'s funny, tell-it-like-it-is style hasn't changed, nor has her popularity with young readers (maybe you were one of them?).  With kindergarten in the rearview mirror, there are now 27 books in the series (a brand new book, Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten, comes out in August) and Junie B. has gone on to adventures with tropical birds, missing teeth, and everything in between. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, there is a new full-color edition of Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus that includes special features like an interview with author Barbara Park (conducted by guess who?).  Lucky for us, Junie B. found time in her busy schedule to tell us a few unknown facts about herself in this Amazon exclusive:

10 Top-Secret Personal Facts about Me, Junie B.

By Junie B. Jones

 1. My birthday is Junie the 1st!

2. My mother's name is Susan, Susie, Suz, Mommy, and Mother. Plus sometimes Daddy calls her Buttercup. That is ridiculous I think.

3. My favorite food is yummy, delicious lemon pie. Plus also I like 'pasketti and meatballs and whipped cream in a can, and sugar cookies! I do not like peas. Or Tuna Noodle Stinkle  (that dish does not smell delightful). 

4.  When I grow up I would like to be the janitor of my school. The janitor saves people from danger. And paints litter cans. And carry keys that unlock the bathroom. Without the janitor we couldn't even go to the toilet. I would also  enjoy being Beauty Shop guy, I think.  

5. My grandma, Helen Miller has a pet bird named Twitter. (Only I hate that dumb bird).

6.  I am not actually a fan of roosters either. One time, a boy named meanie Jim said that roosters can peck your head into a nub. And that is not pleasant, I tell you.

7. The name of my school is Clarence somebody or other Elementary School. 

8. I usually take the stupid smelly bus to school.  Only some mornings I accidentally spill cereal down the front of me at breakfast. And then I accidentally dance with Teddy instead of changing clothes. And so I accidentally miss the bus. Then Mother has to drive me. She is not pleasant when that happens.

9. When I am scared in the dark, I grab my bestest stuffed animal named Philip Johnny Bob. And then both of us sing, "The sun will come out tomorrow" from the hit musical ANNIE.

10.  My favorite fruits are fruit loops, cherry jello, grape Kool-aid, orange popsicles, strawberry shortcake, blueberry pancakes and chocolate covered raisins.

Things to Consider When Plotting World Domination: Play to your Strengths

WritersdontcryYou there! Stop! Whatever you do: don’t touch that pen. Before youRachel E. Morris write even one word of that outline, there’s something you need to think about long and hard. It’s a very important question. It will determine whether your first draft is filled with tears of rage and despair or with joy, rainbows, and mechanical unicorns. It is the most important of important questions, and I ask it with all seriousness: Have you sat down and thought about what kind of a writer you are recently? And no, I don’t mean what overworked, underappreciated, underpaid writers whose creativity’s constantly under assault by the mundane demands of everyday life we all are. I mean what you do well, what you suck at, and what you hope one day to not suck at. Believe me, this is a far more important question than picking out your hero’s name (though that is also a process rife with peril).

See, the success of a book isn’t just the quality of the idea—it’s also how well the idea fits your skill set and interests. I know designing your book around things you do well and avoiding things you do badly sounds like a total no brainer—but it’s actually not very intuitive. Most people are so wrapped up in the agonies of the harrowing that is outlines that they don’t think about how they made that thing they hate integral to the plot until it’s far too late—or worse, they don’t even have an outline, and they wrote themselves into a literary corner filled with all their least favorite writing techniques. Not to mention, giving your talents a place to shine can be hard when you happened to design a plot that doesn’t give you a place to show them off.

So take a little time and think about yourself.  You’re far more likely to finish a book you’re jazzed writing than one that fills you with dread. And who knows? You may even come up with an idea or two for a new book while you’re at it! Here are a few questions to get you started.

Brag to Me, Baby

Humbleness is well and good. But pre-book time is no time to be humble. I want you to brag to me, baby. Toot your own horn. Sing your own praises from the rooftops. Because I want you to think about what you do really well—and I don’t mean about how you really know your way around a comma, or how you hardly ever misplace quotation marks. I mean the kinds of scenes you delight in—and that equally delight your readers. Those blessed writing moments that are so “easy” you don’t spare them a second thought—may we all have more of them.

Continue reading "Things to Consider When Plotting World Domination: Play to your Strengths" »

Dick Clark (1929-2012): "I don't make culture, I sell it."

Clark3If you're reading this on a Saturday, and you're roughly the same age as me (over 40, fearing 50) you may have fond memories of those 1970s pajama-and-pancake mornings of cartoons, Soul Train, and, in the early afternoon, Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Clark, who died last week at the age of 82, had been called "America's oldest teenager." In his book American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire, John A. Jackson describes Clark's humble beginnings and how the mild-mannered radio DJ from Philadelphia became an unlikely champion for rock music and teen dance crazes, legitimizing "what was then viewed by most adults as vulgar, low-class music."

"It was very simple," Clark once said. "We played a record, and the kids danced."

Long before becoming the patron saint of New Year's Eve, Clark was the nation's mainstream musical tastemaker. As Jackson writes: "Given today’s multicultural, one hundred-plus TV channel culture it is almost impossible to appreciate the impact American Bandstand had on popular music, the business of music, and on American society itself." (Download an excerpt from American Bandstand below.)

Check out some classic footage in this report by ABC News:

>Read an exerpt (or download a PDF) from American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire

>See photos at Oxford University Press blog and at ABC News

Graphic Novel Friday: Hawk & Dove, Guilty Pleasures Revisited

In the late 1960s, Steve Ditko and Steve Skeates created the original pairing of Hawk and Dove—two brothers, Hank and Don Hall, who were entrusted with superpowers and represented diametric ideologies (Hawk: a hot-tempered conservative; Dove: a passive liberal). Together, they fought crime and often one another. It was a fun, unique concept--plus, it had Ditko's art to support even Dove's ridiculous outfit. The two would later join a Teen Titans farm league, Titans West, and they remained in just about every hero’s shadow until Don’s death in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.

To re-establish the character balance, in stepped writers Karl and Barabara Kesel to revitalize the Hawk and Dove heroes in a five-issue miniseries in 1988. The Kesels introduced Dawn Granger, a bookish college student and the latest incarnation of Dove. Her addition would prove to be a winning one, given that Dove's costume tended to lean a bit feminine anyway. Dawn wasn't plagued by the same self-doubts that struck Don, and she didn't serve as simply a foil to Hawk; rather, she guided him and focused his aggression. 

The Kesels were joined by a very young artist named Rob Liefeld, who would later establish himself as one of the most successful and later derided comic artists of the 1990s. What’s interesting about his work in this series is that it displays very little of what would later be known as his trademarks: a disregard for anatomy, an over-reliance on cross-hatching, and splashy page layouts. Instead, his work here is very restrained and pleasantly traditional. Liefeld’s expressions are clever, his characters’ faces are full of nuance, and he shows no fear in drawing feet (which would later prove to be an infamous avoidance). Much of this restraint--and possibly the bulk of the backgrounds--must be attributed to Karl Kesel, who inked Liefeld’s pencils in this series. Kesel has a deft hand for keeping figures tight on a page, and he possesses an economical sense of action. Much like Dawn to Hank, Karl could channel Liefeld's budding talent in the right directions. The pairing proves to be a sustainable one, as the pages hold up almost 25 years later.

Those five issues were such a hit with fans that DC gave Karl and Barabara Kesel a regular Hawk & Dove series (Liefeld departed after the mini), which lasted almost 30 issues before cancellation and remains uncollected. What made the mini and regular series so special was the Kesels’ ability to tell creative, genuinely humorous done-in-one stories that featured not only Hank and Dawn as heroes but also as members of a tight-knit group of college friends. They had lives outside of their costumes. Both series feature a sense of self not unlike the "Bwah ha ha!" days of Justice League International, where dialogue balloons brim with quips and plenty of wink-winking. The focus lies in the characters, not the exceptional circumstances with which they always find themselves.  

Hawk and Dove were then dormant for over a decade until the big DC reboot, when it was announced that they would once again receive their very own series. To prep newcomers, DC released a fancy hardcover, The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume Two, highlighting the first appearance and early adventures of Hank and Don, as well as the long out of print miniseries (re-titled Hawk & Dove: Ghosts and Demons) by Barbara and Karl Kesel and Rob Liefeld. The Ditko omnibus is a great look back at their origins and the reproduction is fantastically crisp (plus there are about 350 more pages of quality Ditko zaniness). The recent miniseries collection, unfortunately, does not fare as well. The reproduction is a mess of bleeding colors and coloring errors. Karl Kesel is credited as “Karl Kese” on inks, and DC somehow chose the worst front cover image--where Hawk and Dove appear to be impaling themselves on the Washington Monument. Nevertheless, the story is what’s most important, and it’s nice to finally have such a deserving, rewarding one back in print.

Despite the latter’s production flaws, both books are worthwhile reads for fans who don’t mind a little goofiness in their superheroism. Revisiting the Kesels’ whip-smart wit was a treat, especially when considering their bold re-imagining of the two heroes. They added depth to their origins (replacing the politics with Chaos and Order), and infused a breezy nonchalance to crime-fighting in what was an otherwise grim and gritty period for comics. Who knows if we’ll ever see an omnibus of the Kesels’ regular series that followed the mini, as the recent reboot was mercifully cancelled after eight issues (and let us never speak of it again). Far better to spend time hunting for the former’s backissues and poring over these two welcome collections.



Author Jim Lynch, on Seattle's Space Needle. Literally.

TruthAfter 18 years as a newspaper reporter, Jim Lynch made the leap from truth telling to fiction writing. His first two books, The Highest Tide and Border Songs, established him as an agile and fresh-voiced novelist, capable of taut prose and appealingly imperfect characters. Lynch's new book, also set in the Pacific Northwest, revisits the moment when Seattle, in unveiling its iconic Space needle, stepped onto the world stage. Set in both 1962 and 2001, Truth Like The Sun--one of our Best Books of the Month for April--is Lynch's compelling take on ambition, the story of an enterprising reporter colliding with an impassioned mayoral candidate. It's also the story of a city's coming of age.

We're grateful to Jim for indulging our request to ride to the top of the Needle and talk about journalism, politicians, Seattle's skyline, and the research and writing of Truth Like the Sun.


>See all of Jim Lynch's books, or visit his website.

>Read an excerpt in Seattle Met magazine.

George RR Martin Answers Facebook Questions

A while back, George R.R. Martin came to Amazon to talk to a large crowd of worshipful Amazonians (yes, we call ourselves "Amazonians"). Afterwards, we went to a quieter place so that he could answer some Facebook questions. Here's the video:

YA Wednesday: Best of the Month Pick "The False Prince"

When we first heard about The False Prince, which went on to become one of our Best Young Adult Books of April, it was explained as "The Game of Thrones for teens."  As it turns out, that was a very apt description--The False Prince is packed with fast-paced action and political intrigue. The premise is that four orphans are recruited by a member of the king's court to compete for the chance to play the part of the king's long-lost son. A pretty good deal, compared to starvation and brutality in the orphanage or in case of the protagonist, Sage, a budding life of crime. 

From the very first chapter I was pulled into the story, and while it doesn't have the same level of violence as The Game of Thrones, there is a death early on that foreshadows the mortal peril and suspense that continues throughout the book.  Secret identities, betrayal, and startling revelations, make for edge-of-your-seat reading--The False Prince is the first book in the Ascendance trilogy and I can't wait for the next book to arrive (please hurry, Jennifer Nielsen). Author Jennifer Nielsen gave us some insight into The False Prince and her life as a writer in the exclusive Q&A below. -- Seira

Amazon Exclusive: Q&A with Jennifer A. Nielsen (read the rest after the jump)

Question: What inspired you to write The False Prince?

Nielsen: I’d had the general idea for The False Prince for some time, but could never find the right protagonist to carry the weight of the story I wanted to tell. The central character, Sage, was found in the words of a song called Guaranteed, by the great Eddie Vedder. It said, “I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me, guaranteed.” From that line, I had the instant image of a defiant but charismatic boy who always stays a step ahead of the game, and where other players have no clue that all the rules are very quietly being rewritten.

Q: Where did Sage’s voice come from?

Nielsen: Sage came to me as a complete character, as fully developed as if he had been a real person. So writing The False Prince wasn’t really about creating him, but instead, it was the experience of discovering him as the story unfolded. There were several moments when I knew what was waiting for Sage if he didn’t back down, and yet, he never would. So I gritted my teeth and let things unfold the only way they could with him. As I work on the sequels, he continues to surprise, amuse, and shock me. He’s the most complex character I’ve ever written, and I’m always thrilled to get feedback from readers who are as fascinated by him as I am.

Q: Was the setting or any of the other characters inspired by real people or places?

Nielsen: Sage is very much his own person, and as a whole, is completely unique. However, there is one trait of his that I borrowed from a student I had when I was a high school debate teacher years ago. He was popular, brilliant, charming, and an amazingly talented thief. At the start of every ride to a tournament, he would steal the watch off of the bus driver’s wrist, then keep it for the entire trip. As he left the bus at the end, he would hand the watch back to the driver, explaining it must have fallen to the floor. Then the driver always thanked him for being such a great and honest kid. I should’ve been angry, but I never was – he just pulled off his scams that well

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: Best of the Month Pick "The False Prince"" »

Guest Post: "Presidents Club" Authors on the Oval Office experience

DuffyMichaelOur thanks to Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, authors of The Presidents Club--selected as one of the top 10 Best Books of the Month for April--for this exclusive look at other books exploring the public and private sides of the "Oval Office experience."

Because there is no Oval Office owner’s manual, and because, as John F. Kennedy observed, “there is no experience that can possibly prepare you adequately for the presidency,” presidents study one another. They read the diaries, devour the biographies; Herbert Hoover even wrote an entire book about Woodrow Wilson, and Eisenhower painted portraits of Lincoln and gave them as Christmas presents. “This is my presidential library, from Washington through Bush,” Bill Clinton told us, gesturing to a wall of shelves in his private office. He was just finishing Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, which he considered “brilliant,” and as we talked about the rules and rituals of this very small fraternity, he retold stories not just of heroes like Lincoln and Roosevelt but the distinctive trials of Franklin Pierce and Rutherford B. Hayes.

PrezAs we set out to tell the story of The Presidents Club--a history of the private relationships among modern American presidents, their backroom deals, rescue missions, secret alliances and enduring rivalries--we followed their lead, reading the work of presidential scholars and journalists who have explored the private sides of public men. It is one thing to watch how they wield their power; another to reckon with what it costs them. That is the bond that brings them together: no one else knows what it is like to sit in the chair.

The story of the club starts with the most unlikely of all presidential alliances: the one between Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman. For those wanting to understand the extraordinary rise of a man called “the accidental President,” David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Truman remains the skeleton key: rich, gripping, graceful and fair. As for Hoover, Richard Norton Smith’s An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover offers a complex portrait of a compelling character who was too often reduced to a caricature.

Continue reading "Guest Post: "Presidents Club" Authors on the Oval Office experience" »

Sixty Years of "Charlotte's Web"

This fall it will be exactly 60 years since Charlotte's Web was first published--more on that below--and E.B. White's story of friendship, love, and life is as as important in 2012 as it was in 1952.  As a kid, Charlotte's Web was my first real introduction to the cycle of life and death and while it broke my heart in some places, I would read it again and again.  As an adult, this is a book I think everyone should read, and I always feel good about giving or recommending it to young readers.  To celebrate Charlotte's sixtieth year, Newbery-medalist Kate DiCamillo has written a beautiful foreword that is included in the anniversary editions. DiCamillo also talks about her love for Charlotte's Web in a wonderful new video about the book and author that you can see below or on this page.

Now, about that original publication--books are ordered for store shelves (virtual and otherwise) many months in advance of when they actually go to print, and the previewing is done through catalogs. The catalog page for each book gives a description/summary and basic information like author and price.  HarperCollins still has those old catalogs, and below is a scanned image of the pages that first introduced E.B. White's Charlotte's Web to book store buyers. What do you think? Would you have bought Charlotte's Web for your book store? --Seira

Click the image to see larger view and check out the 60th anniversary video below