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May 2012

Summer Reading Author Exclusive: Judy Moody's Megan McDonald

Megan McDonald's Judy Moody series is the perfect was to keep early readers busy this summer, and so are her other  popular series: Stink and The Sisters Club.  McDonald is our featured summer reading author this week, and we wanted to know what books she recommends for budding sleuths over the school break.  Check out her exclusive summer reading list and author video below:

If you like Judy Moody Girl Detective, try these: 

Judy Moody’s Mini-Mysteries and Other Sneaky Stuff for Super Sleuths
Judy Drewdy is on the case!

Case of the Cryptic Crynoline (Enola Holmes mysteries)
Mystery and mayhem aplenty for this younger sister of Sherlock Holmes!

 Utterly Me, Clarice Bean
Clarice takes on a mystery ala Girl Detective heroine, Ruby Redfort.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Our Lady of Sorrows girls’ school is haunted… by a ghost.

Harriet the Spy
The original super spy. A classic!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Mystery awaits after hours at the Metropolitan Museum.

Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception
Smart, spunky 7th grade sleuth series.

Mini Mysteries: 20 Tricky Tales to Untangle (American Girl)
Read them out loud.  Try to stump your friends!

Red Blazer Girls
It all began with The Scream.


How I Wrote It: Ben Fountain on "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

Ben_FountainBen Fountain summarizes his near perfect (in our opinion) debut novel in less than 25 words: "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - I think it's about football, cheerleaders, the Iraq war, the movie business, capitalism, sex, death, love, family, and the general insanity of American life."


My writing place is kind of new. For years and years it was our garage, which the previous owners had converted into this very raw living space. It didn't have heat or air conditioning, it had just a thin sheet of linoleum laid down over the concrete and cheap wood paneling over the exposed cinder blocks. So it was a pretty rough space.

And I kind of liked having that rough, crappy space, because there was no pressure. If you had this gorgeous office in the British Museum you'd feel you have to write something truly excellent and wonderful. But if it's just me out there sweating in the garage or freezing in the winter, it was like, well, it's not like we invested any money in this office. So anything I do out here is going to be a bonus.

But finally after 22 years in this house my wife basically said it's time to remodel. And so my office now has beautiful hardwood floors … One wall is bookshelves, and I've got a bunch of Haitian art up in there. I have to say, she was right - it's better to have a nice office. Maybe after 23 years of writing I've sort of paid my dues and now I can have an office with air conditioning and heat.


BillyI write first drafts out by longhand, with black ink pens on yellow legal pads. After the first draft is done I'll put it on the computer, and do some editing while I'm putting it on the computer, then print out a hard copy and mark that up, again with pens. Then feed those revisions into the computer, print it out the next hard copy, and go from there.

I don't like to have the computer sitting there waiting on me, with that cursor blinking at me. And I just like the tactile aspect of the paper and the pens. And the pace seems right. That seems to be the pace where my head works.

I have a MacBook Air, a beautiful little piece of gadgetry. But I don't know anything about how to use it aside from basic word processing and email.  I'm a complete idiot with the technology.

Continue reading "How I Wrote It: Ben Fountain on "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"" »

Ask Augusten Burroughs: On Optimism, Irony, and Anorexia

Augusten-Head-LargeIn this installment of Ask Augusten, the self-help sage waxes philosophical on the perils of attempting to plan your life, the pleasures of moving beyond the protective filter of irony to true experience, and the mysteries of anorexia.

Do you think that if someone chooses to be a realistic, that precludes them from being an Optimist? Does "planning to fail" - or having a Plan B - mean you're a realistic, or is looking at the glass half empty or planning just in case a way of being a pessimist?

I see it is as protecting oneself... be real and look at the "what ifs" instead of thinking that everything will be fine. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. – Susan

Dear Susan,

Being a realist is in no way incompatible with optimism: the reality of most peoples’ lives is that something quite wonderful or interesting, positive or exciting could absolutely happen tomorrow or the next day or even in an hour. Though it is also just exactly as true to say that something painful or difficult or disappointing or infuriating could happen next. To be a proper realist, you must accept that both the positive and the negative outcomes are a possibility.

One must have respect for both the light and the dark. If you live your life expecting the worst, the day-to-day actions you take will be wearing bio-hazard suits and this will weigh you down, which will limit the speed, fluidity and agility with which you move through life, thus rendering an outcome that favors those already dressed for failure.

This-Is-HowLikewise, if you refuse to acknowledge that even the most fortunate and blessed life does come factory-equipped with eventual periods of loss, grief, failure, etc., then one can end up entirely unprepared for the fall, when and if it happens.

The cliché “when you fail to plan you plan to fail” is one of those dangerous pieces of free-floating wisdom that we have all heard at one time or another and it sounds so much like something true, we never actually think it through to see if it is.

It’s not. The medicinal treatments for several diseases were arrived at by accident; they were the direct result of a failure to plan. The seed of truth the cliché contains is that if you have a firm goal but have never considered the steps required to achieve it, you’ll likely not get there. 

Continue reading "Ask Augusten Burroughs: On Optimism, Irony, and Anorexia" »

YA Wednesday: "Gilt"y Pleasure

One of our picks for the Best Young Adult Books of May is Katherine Longshore's spellbinding historical novel, Gilt, set in the court of notorious King Henry the VIII.  When Catherine Howard catches the King's eye and brings her best friend Kitty along, the girls are drawn into a world of castle intrigue and glamour that is both exhilarating and dangerous.  We wanted to know more about this debut novelist and how she came to write Gilt so we sent her some questions and she was kind enough to answer them in this exclusive Q&A--you can see the rest after the jump.

Q: I was surprised to discover that many of the characters in Gilt were real people who had lived during Henry VIII’s reign. What drew you to this story?

A: I fell in love with the Tudor court many years ago, though I tried to avoid seeing it through a Hollywood lens. It was a time of glamour and courtly romance, but also of dubious hygiene.  Hollywood might have us believe that everything was elegant and precious and clean – a fairy tale.  I wanted to dig a little deeper and find a story about a world in which a real, flawed girl could aspire to be Queen of England – even if it meant marrying a man forty years her elder and of questionable health and character.  Henry was not a Prince Charming.  But by the same token, Catherine was not a Princess and the Pea.  History is not made by perfect people, and it certainly wasn’t inhabited by them.  I wanted to discover – and hopefully portray – something that felt real.

Q: The lives of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard are already very well-documented. How did you go about researching their lives? How did you incorporate the historical records of their lives into this story?

A: I started off my research by reading the popular biographies and histories written by Alison Weir, David Starkey, and Antonia Fraser. These are the books that fed my interest in Tudor history in the first place, that brought the world to life for me. When I decided to write about Catherine in particular, I discovered the fabulous A Tudor Tragedy (now republished as Catherine Howard) by Lacey Baldwin Smith. To dig deeper into specific dates and places, I used the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII that have been transcribed and paraphrased online.  These are the contemporary accounts of the actual events, including the notes written up by Kitty’s interrogators. Because these stories are so full of detail and are already so focused on the salacious minutiae, it was easy to incorporate them into fiction. My job was to place myself into the character's shoes, and try to imagine what might compel a person to do and say these things. What kind of girl would cheat on a husband who had her cousin beheaded for adultery?  How do you get into that mindset?  I needed to create a character who could believably make that choice.

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: "Gilt"y Pleasure" »

The Providence Rider: The Return of Horror Great Robert McCammon, Interviewed by Chuck Wendig

Providence Rider cover--McCammonAt the behest of Omnivoracious, rising star Chuck Wendig (Blackbirds) recently interviewed iconic bestselling author Robert McCammon about his new novel. The Providence Rider is the fourth installment in the extraordinary series of historical thrillers featuring Matthew Corbett, professional problem solver. The narrative begins in the winter of 1703, with Matthew still haunted by his lethal encounter with notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter. When an unexplained series of explosions rocks his Manhattan neighborhood, Matthew finds himself forced to confront a new and unexpected problem. Someone is trying--and trying very hard--to get his attention. That someone is a shadowy figure from out of Matthew's past: the elusive Dr. Fell. There follows a memorable journey during which, Matthew encounters a truly Dickensian assortment of memorable, often grotesque, antagonists.

Chuck Wendig for
Where does Matthew Corbett come from? What inspired you to write him and how is his ongoing tale one that only Robert McCammon could’ve written?

Robert McCammon: Matthew's story began, of course, in Speaks The Nightbird. That was supposed to be a "one-shot" book, not the beginning of a series...but for a long time I'd wanted to do something "different" that I didn't think anyone else was doing. I wanted to move away from horror for a while and see what else I could do, because I'd covered just about all the bases in purely supernatural horror. After I finished Speaks The Nightbird, I thought...well, there could be more to Matthew's story than this. In fact, I could really build a whole world around that's how it became a series.

From the beginning I wanted Matthew to be a "real person," to grow and change throughout the course of the series, and also--very importantly--for people to feel they knew him. And that they wanted to follow his life and adventures and see how he develops. So it's interesting to me now that I do hear from readers who feel they know Matthew and they look forward to his continuing story. There's something appealing about Matthew, I think, because he really does want to "do right." He's learning, and he has a lot to learn, but he wants to be someone's champion. Also, things never go perfectly for him. He messes up sometimes, as he certainly does in The Providence Rider, but I think that helps keep Matthew "real.”

Continue reading "The Providence Rider: The Return of Horror Great Robert McCammon, Interviewed by Chuck Wendig" »

Summer Reading Lists Are Here

Summer has officially arrived, and with it come summer reading lists designed to help us while away our beach (or air conditioned) time with a good read.




So what's the consensus? It seems like everyone's excited about The Age of Miracles and Bring Up the Bodies, and the big thriller right now is Gone Girl.

If you haven't had enough of Summer Reading, you can find Amazon's Summer Reading store here. The Kids Summer Reading store is located here.

One Title to Rule Them All: Naming Your Book

WritersdontcryMagnetic Poetry Kit: ZombiesWhen a reader meets your book for the first time, the cover art is like eye contact, and the title is like the handshake. And the last thing you want is a squishy, awkward, lingering handshake of a title. You want it to be solid but not simplistic; memorable, but not in the way that leaves bruises; and most of all, you don’t want it to go on for too long--that just screams desperation.

This means that even before they start writing, every author is on the hunt for The One. As everyone knows, the legendary One True Title captures the feel and meaning of a book perfectly, draws readers in from across a crowded bookstore, and doesn’t make you sound like a dumbass at all. But with so few words and so many clichés, a good title is hard to come by. And judgment on a bad title can be fierce. So much so that authors fear to even mention their list of titles. What if they’re stupid? Pulpy when you’re going for elegant? Silly when you’re going for sinister? So much rests on so few words . . .

So how does an author come up with a title, anyway? Well, I won’t lie: there’s a lot of voodoo (and by voodoo I mean crying/weeping/venting/screaming) involved, but at the end of the day, when the deadline hits, there are a couple techniques I’ve found effective for helping authors discover their One True Title.

Ditch the Fear

The number one most important thing is to lose the fear. I know—it’s intimidating. But remember: sometimes it takes a hell of a lot of bad titles to get to the good titles. And every bad title could be just one twist away from a good title! The best way I’ve found to ax the fear is this: when the brainstorming starts, don’t just start throwing words and titles out there—start throwing bad words and titles out there. As campy, pulpy, and irreverent as you can. Titles like: The Brainless LemurThe Secret Ambitions of Soggy Toast, and Sympathy for the Poodle.

Continue reading "One Title to Rule Them All: Naming Your Book" »

What Money Can't Buy: Amazon Interviews Michael Sandel

We had the good fortune of chatting with Michael Sandel, the author of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at the University of Harvard and his course on "Justice," the subject of his previous book, is one of the most popular courses at Harvard.  In What Money Can't Buy, Sandel tackles a new question: what are the moral limits of markets?  Should we pay kids to read? Is it okay to pay people to stand in line for us or test new drugs?  He discusses this and more with Amazon's Darryl Campbell.

Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Scott Snyder (Part One)

Writer Scott Snyder had quite a year in 2011: American Vampire, his original take on the vampire mythos, won both the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best New Series; he then penned Batman: Gates of Gotham and the critically acclaimed Batman: The Black Mirror (one of our selections for Best Graphic Novels of 2011). When DC decided to do a little thing like relaunch their entire universe, they picked Scott to helm two of their most important titles, Batman and Swamp Thing, and both have been highlights of the new frontier. Somewhere in between all this, Scott found time to answer quite a few questions about what scares even the Batman, working with artist Greg Capullo, and much more. With all eyes on the bestselling first volume of Batman that released last week, now seemed like the best time to explore the first part of our interview that focused on the Caped Crusader. Before the big DC reboot, you wrote a fine send-off to the old Batman status quo in The Black Mirror. In this story, Dick Grayson, the former Robin, takes over for an absent Bruce Wayne as Batman. How did your approach differ based on who was under the mask?

Scott Snyder: It was a lot of fun because Dick Grayson is so different from Bruce Wayne. He’s emotionally accessible and open and sharing and giving with his feelings. He’s really fun to write, almost as if you or your friend were given the chance to be Batman—you know, enthusiasm and a lack of baggage; a sense of wonder about the world. He’s tough, he’s determined. He’s not some wide-eyed innocent, yet he wears his heart on his sleeve. Meanwhile, writing Bruce is so different. He’ll tell you about the case; he’ll tell you about the facts, but if you want to hear about his feelings, you have to listen to people speculating about them outside of his character.

The way I see Gotham is as a black mirror—a kind of villain generator. The city almost seems to put its heroes through this trial by fire where it knows their greatest fears about themselves and their demons. It creates villains that speak to those demons and those fears directly. That’s why Bruce has such a great rogues gallery, because his villains are direct extensions of his greatest fears about himself. The challenge was to try to do that with Dick Grayson by using character like James Jr.—he was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to write him again at some point. He’s in Batman; he has more cameos, I think, than he probably should [laughs], but I just enjoy writing him tremendously.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Scott Snyder (Part One)" »

The $100 Dollar Startup

Here's a book that's been selling well at Amazon. It's called The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau. In preparing to write this book, Chris identified 1,500 individuals who have built businesses earning $50,000 or more from a modest investment (in many cases, $100 or less), and from that group he’s chosen to focus on the 50 most intriguing case studies.






Click on the book image and scroll down to read a Q&A with the author.