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May 2012

Kids' Author Exclusive: Oliver Jeffers' Latest Picture Book

Oliver Jeffers has created several beloved picture books, including Stuck and Lost and Found--each has it's own special flavor but all are in his distinct illustrative style that I have come to look for, and love.  Today Jeffers'  new picture book, The Hueys: The New Sweater, was released, introducing a new cast of characters and the first of a new picture book series.

The story reminds me a bit of Mo Willems' Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, and the Hueys and bright orange knitted sweaters come together in a fun read aloud.  Check out this exclusive author Q&A, created while he was finishing The Hueys, for some fact facts about Oliver Jeffers:

Do you have a favorite character from your books?
I couldn't possible pick. I love them all equally.

How do you come up with new stories? Does the character or the message come to you first?
I keep a sketchbook with me everywhere I go, as you never know when an idea will give itself up, and everything in my brain stands an equal chance of being forgotten if I don't write it down.
When making the book I think about the words and the pictures at the same time, as I don't like to have them repeat each other. If I can show how the story unfolds visually, I'll do that as much as possible and use words sparingly to tie it together.

You’ve used watercolor, acrylic, collage and probably more in your illustrations. Do you have a favorite method? Are you moving into anything more digital?
My favourite method changes all the time, depending on my mood and the style of image I'm trying to create. Some illustrations are better suited to watercolour, and others to collage. I mostly go with either instinct, or whatever is closest. I have already been using digital for a few of the books. In The Heart and the Bottle and The Great Paper Caper, which were both mostly collage, I used Photoshop as a post production tool to neaten things up. Stuck was created almost entirely using Photoshop, where I would scan in pencil lines and splashes of paint and layer them altogether.

Your author photo is always you as a little boy. Why? Is that because a lot of these stories are inspired by childhood experiences?
Perhaps a little subconsciously. It started as a joke, because I couldn't find any decent photographs of myself for the first book, and wasn't all that thrilled about the idea that my face would be out there on tens of thousands of books. I didn't really like the idea of being recognized. Ever since then various family members have produced all sorts of photos of me growing up, and its taken on a life of its own.

What was your favorite picture book as a child?
The Bad Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle, because of the spread toward the back where the ladybird picks a fight with a whale. It fascinated me and I stared at it for hours. I couldn't figure out why the whale seemed so big when the book was the same size as all the other books I had, and one day I realized it was because the ladybird was beside it to provide scale.

Of all the awards you’ve won for your children’s books, which were you most honored by?
Probably The Blue Peter Award as it was voted for by children.

What made you want to write children’s books?
I sort of fell into it by accident. I was starting out my practice as a painter and what started out as some sketches for a series of paintings, turned into the beginning stages of my first book. Once I made the mental jump, the transition seemed very natural.

Do you keep adults in mind when writing or just children?
I actually only keep myself in mind. I want to satisfy my own sense of curiosity, with as an adult in today’s world, and what I would have enjoyed when I was small.

The Heart and the Bottle is a fantastic and touching story. What made you pick such a mature topic for a children’s book and why did you make the main character a little girl?
The idea for this book was an old one. I was approached years later by a production company who were making a film about a girl who aspired to be a children’s book writer, and they wanted me to create the book. After reading the manuscript it reminded me of this old idea and I changed the sex of the character and made a few other edits. The idea was that it would always be a stand alone book, which I'm now very glad of as the film folded under the recession that hit the following year.

What books are you working on now?
I just finished working on the first of a series of books with a group of characters called the Hueys. The Hueys revel in the small and the pointless and through this they can explore some of the deeper questions of the universe.

What’s your favorite color?
Sometimes orange. Sometimes mint blue.

What’s your favorite food?
Sometimes pizza. Sometimes sushi.

If you had to be an animal, what would you be?
A sea turtle. They live a really long time.

What’s your favorite place in the world?
New York City.

What’s your favorite movie?
That changes all the time. Right now its Harold and Maude.

What’s the last book you read?
I usually have a fiction and a non fiction book on the go. The last non fiction was Through the Language Glass, about how various languages affect the way we think. The last (good) fiction I read was East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Summer Reading: Blockbusters From Best-selling Authors

KeyholeWith Memorial Day a few days away, we thought we'd remind you about our Summer Reading store, packed with popular new novels from your favorite authors, from Clive Cussler to Cassandra Clare to Catherine Coulter.

In The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King returns to Mid-World, the landscape he created in the epic Dark Tower fantasy saga, and Sookie Stackhouse is back in Deadlocked, the twelfth book in Charlaine Harris's beloved series.

Or get lost in the world of Thomas Cromwell, Anne Bolyn, Henry VIII, and the court of Tudor, in Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to her wildly popular Wolf Hall. (To whet your appetite, we've included a taste - scroll down for an audio sample.)

Summer blockbusters:

Listen to this excerpt from the audiobook of Bring Up the Bodies, read by Simon Vance.


Audio excerpt: Bring Up The Bodies

(Courtesy of Macmillan Audio)

>Visit Amazon's Summer Reading store for other summer blockbusters from Emily Giffin, Dean Koonz, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, and more. Also browse our Editors' top picks, beach reads, gardening and travel books, and scores of selections in your favorite categories.



YA Wednesday: Alyson Noël Exclusive for Summer Reading


This week's featured summer reading author is Alyson Noël, whose young adult paranormal series, The Immortals, had readers on the edge of their seats last summer for the conclusion of the epic love story between Damen and Ever.  Now, there is a new YA series from Noël to get excited about--The Soul Seekers.  The highly anticipated first book, Fated (released yesterday), introduces readers to Daire Santos, a girl whose strange visions are a hint of her ability to travel the worlds of the living and the dead, and Dace, the blue-eyed boy who has materialized from her dreams. 

Sounds like the perfect book to start the summer, right?

We asked Noël to share a little something about summer reading and she sent us the exclusive essay below.  You can also read an excerpt from Fated  under More to Explore, here, and check out an exclusive video from the author about the book below. 

Amazon Exclusive from Alyson Noël :

If I had to choose a favorite childhood memory, it would easily be the last day of school.

Any last day of school—they all held equal appeal.

Though I should probably explain that the choice is less about my not liking school (loved the early years—later, school and I came to the understanding that while we may not like each other, we were indeed good for each other) and more about the onset of summer. The heady anticipation of three deliciously long months sprawled before me like a lazy cat.

As a native Southern Californian, the lure of summer was less about a spike in the temperature, and more about daily trips to the beach, a friend’s pool, the couch in my den, or a blanket on the lawn in my own backyard—always with a book (or two) in hand.

Early childhood reading was defined by The Little House on the Prairie series, and anything featuring a horse on the cover—Misty of Chincoteague a particular stand out. The early teen years were when Judy Blume’s Deenie and Forever, and SE Hinton’s The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and That was Then This is Now, rocked my world.

While required high school reading lists introduced me to some of my favorite authors, particularly F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, and the Brontë sisters, choosing a book for the pure pleasure of immersing myself in the journey (as opposed to analyzing and dissecting it for class discussion) held far more appeal. And because I came of age at a time when teen books were not nearly the phenomenon they are now, my high school summers were spent picking from my mom’s extensive collection of Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, and Stephen King paperbacks.

Since books have played such a prominent role in my life, it comes as no surprise that I made Daire Santos, the protagonist in my new young adult series, The Soul Seekers, an avid reader as well.

When we first meet Daire in Fated, she makes mention of a “water-warped paperback” she’s been “lugging around.” Although the title goes unmentioned, I imagine that book to be Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale—assigned reading for her English class. Though, that’s not to say she’s not enjoying it. If asked, Daire would tell you it’s taught her to be less complacent in her life and her thinking. A lesson that comes in handy when she moves to the mystical town of Enchantment, New Mexico and her whole world is flipped upside down.

Adjusting to a new town, getting acquainted with the grandmother she’s never met, undergoing a brutal initiation in her training as a Seeker, fighting soul-stealing demons, journeying to mystical worlds, and falling in love for the very first time, don’t allow for much downtime. But if I had to assign Daire a summer reading list, it would definitely include all of the books I read and loved as a teen.

As worldly and experienced as Daire is, as exciting as her life has become, I have a pretty good feeling she’d fall for S.E. Hinton’s Pony Boy just as hard as I did. -- Alyson Noël

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest: Announcing the Finalists

We're excited to share the news that six finalists were announced yesterday for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Three General Fiction finalists and three Young Adult Fiction finalists were selected by editors at Penguin, but the winners are chosen by you, the readers. Want to take part in picking the winners?

Help us out by visiting the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest page to read excerpts from the finalists, check out reviews from our expert panelists--including remarkable reviews from bestselling authors Linda Fairstein and Andrea Cremer--and then vote for your favorite in General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction. But hurry, voting ends May 30.

The General Fiction finalists are:

And the Young Adult Fiction finalists are:

Contest winners will each receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. Stay tuned, winners will be announced on June 16.

China Miéville’s “Railsea”: Giant Moles, Strange Trains, and Blood Rabbits

RailseaFresh off the linguistic pyrotechnics and mind-bending concepts in his critically acclaimed Embassytown, China Miéville returns with a novel for readers of all ages, “a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick” that I’m personally finding an absorbing, exciting, and also very fun read. Even though there’s much that’s serious about Railsea, it’s been written with a kind of exuberance that comes through on the page.

What’s it about? Giant moles and blood rabbits! Yes, I said it: blood rabbits, although perhaps they’re better described as an interesting detail. But mostly it’s about some very fascinating characters on an epic journey. For once the press release does a nice job of giving a good sense of the novel: “On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory….When they come across a wrecked train, Sham a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible...Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.”

In asking Miéville about the novel, I knew I should start out with a standard question, but alas my delight at discovering that Miéville had deployed not just giant moles but giant naked mole rats in Railsea overrode any more mundane concerns...

Continue reading "China Miéville’s “Railsea”: Giant Moles, Strange Trains, and Blood Rabbits" »

Trend Stetting 16: The Namesake

CiuraruIn the age of celebrity autobiography and memoirs penned by twentysomethings, ghostwriting has become de rigueur in a dishy way (though I'd guess most practitioners don't look like Ewan McGregor). But what about the other side of the coin: Why would any lucky soul capable of writing a book with her own two hands hide behind a fake name?

Well, for lots of reasons, reports Carmela Ciuraru in Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. Out in paperback next week, Ciuraru's light but intriguing history takes a fascinating look behind the scenes at some of fiction's most celebrated fake names, from O. Henry to Isak Dinesen to Victoria Lucas. (Victoria who? That's Sylvia Plath to you. The brilliant, depressed young woman originally published The Bell Jar under a pseudonym to mask her dark novel's autobiographical elements.)

Sexism was a popular motivation for 19th-century greats to take on new identities, including the Brontë sisters, Aurore Dupin (George Sand), and Marian Evans (George Eliot). Unable to break into Europe's male-dominated literary circles in their petticoats, these talented ladies assumed men's names to capture the attention of publishers. Once their extraordinary gifts were revealed, their identities became public knowledge—but to a woman, they continued to use male pseudonyms throughout their careers. Ciuraru notes that this allowed a level of freedom they may not have enjoyed otherwise: Sand, "magnanimous and brave," also cross-dressed, rolled her own cigars, and had lovers of both genders; Eliot, "a politically progressive atheist" and "formidable intellectual," lived openly with a married man for years.

The Brontës, for their part, were painfully shy, and privacy also played a key role in the nom de pluming of another mainstay of the modern canon. Charles Dodgson, a clergyman with a penchant for young girls, refused all letters addressed to Lewis Carroll after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland made him famous. Then, of course, we have the class divide: George Orwell's blueblood lineage disdained its native son's preferred subjects—hookers, beggars, and "common" working men—so the sickly Eric Blair took to the streets and lived among them. His metamorphosis into Orwell accompanied the publication of Down and Out in Paris and London, a semiautobiographical chronicle of the experience.

As for Samuel Clemens, owner of the most famous pen name in American letters, he claimed nautical origins for his nom de plume. But he also got a big kick out of tricking his legions of fans, among them Darwin, Faulkner, and Edison, the latter of whom proclaimed: "An American loves his family. If he has any love left for some other person, he generally selects Mark Twain."

I really can't write a better closing line than that. Maybe my ghostwriter has a few ideas.

Summer Time And The Eating Is (Or Should Be) Healthy

41ZviFlM8xL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Food writer Peter Kaminsky, whose long list of achievements includes being New York Magazine's "Underground Gourmet" and co-writing cookbooks with some of the best chefs in the world, has written a book called Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well). I recently picked up the book and started reading... and a few hours later I realized I'd just spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon with Mr. Kaminsky's thoughts on food and eating. So I asked if he would write something for Omnivoracious and he graciously agreed. Read on for a taste of the book. As you'll see, there are good, simple ideas that won't starve you or upset your lifestyle. (You might even call it a diet book for people who love food and don't like diet books.)

Yep, the world is going to nutritional hell and we all know it. And we all know that fast food is often a fast track to obesity and worse. Likewise, most of us probably suspect that the game of agriculture is probably rigged in favor of the biggest and wealthiest players. Problem is, knowledge alone is not going to take any inches off your waistline.

Applying that knowledge---in other words, using your inborn Culinary Intelligence is the best way I know to trim down and stay that way. It helped me take off thirty five pounds and keep them off. Right now, in the sweet spot of the year with summer just about to burst out, there is no better time to get on track. Why? Because Culinary Intelligence is really about two things: using the best most full flavored ingredients you can afford and preparing them well. My shorthand for this is maximizing Flavor Per Calorie. So, yes, do like all the diet books say and cut way back on processed ingredients like white flour, soft drinks and sugar. But that’s not enough -- you still have to find foods that will both nourish and satisfy you.

Continue reading "Summer Time And The Eating Is (Or Should Be) Healthy" »

Discover Your Word Crushes: What Word Clouds Tell You About Your Writing

WritersdontcryWDC4One of the best tools for analyzing writing is a concordance—and one of the best concordances out there is Wordle. The picture at the top of this article is, in fact, a Wordle word cloud using all the text from the Writers Don’t Cry columns. Beautiful, isn’t it? The perfect representation of the language I use in this column, with the bigger words being the ones I use most frequently. And I think it evokes exactly what I want it to! Aside from the overuse of the word “one.” And maybe I could cut down on the use of “just,” too. And also, while we’re at it, do I really use “like” that much? I mean seriously: you’d think I use it, like, every sentence or something!

But, back to the topic, aside from being pretty, world clouds are also super useful for writers interested in analyzing their writing. Particularly for those who want to analyze a novel. By looking at the relative size of character names and words you can learn all kinds of things about both your book and your writing style. 

Getting Started: Wordify Your Book

Ready to discover your own language habits? Take your work-in-progress or a recently finished project—or even just your blog--and run it through the Wordle machine. Click randomize and fiddle with the controls until it’s in a format you find attractive and readable. Leave this window open for the analysis portion. Later, you can save it to the public gallery, or just use screen capture to save a picture of it, like I did. 

How to Analyze Your Word Cloud

Congratulations! You now are the proud owner of a word cloud of your very own. Now, let’s start breaking that beautiful beast down to see what we can learn about your writing.

Continue reading "Discover Your Word Crushes: What Word Clouds Tell You About Your Writing" »

Lost Everything’s Brian Francis Slattery on Why He Wouldn’t Do His Omni Homework


Brian Francis Slattery’s new novel is described as an “incandescent and thrilling post-apocalyptic tale in the vein of 1984 or The Road. In the not-distant-enough future, a man takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River with his most trusted friend, intent on reuniting with his son. But the man is pursued by an army, and his own harrowing past; and the familiar American landscape has been savaged by war and climate change until it is nearly unrecognizable.” This description gave me what I thought was a brilliant idea: why not ask Slattery to write a list of reasons why the novel was actually upbeat, a chance to focus on small victories, perhaps. But Slattery had other ideas, being a bit of an iconoclast… - Jeff VanderMeer


Three Reasons Why I Didn’t Complete the Assignment by Brian Francis Slattery


Lost Everything, as the title implies, has a pretty sad premise. In it, the America we know is visited first by climate change, and then the political and social fallout that follows—the massive instability that, I think, could happen when the land, sea, and air change dramatically. When cities that used to be there aren’t any more. When things don’t work any more, at all. When plants don’t grow where they used to grow, and new plants and animals move in. When, as George Carlin said would happen at some point, the world decides to shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

Continue reading "Lost Everything’s Brian Francis Slattery on Why He Wouldn’t Do His Omni Homework" »

Michael Scott: The Secrets Behind (the Immortal) Codex

The-EnchantressOn May 22, 2007, the first book in Michael Scott's series for young adults, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, made its first appearance. Exactly five years later--this Tuesday--fans will learn more of (the rest of?) Nicholas Flamel's secrets in the sixth and final book, The Enchantress. We chose The Enchantress as an editors' pick for summer reading and in the Amazon exclusive below author Michael Scott sets straight a few historical details about The Codex--the book at the core of the series.

At the heart of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is the ancient book, The Codex, the Book of Abraham. The story begins with the theft of the pages from the book and, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that not only have the Flamels and Doctor John Dee fought over the book for centuries, but that the entire adventure really began centuries ago, when Nicholas bought the book from a mysterious one-handed stranger.

Fantasy fiction is filled with magical books and scrolls, most famously, The Necronomicon in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The extraordinary and shamefully neglected Clark Ashton Smith created The Book of Eibon, while Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, used the Unaussprechlichen Kulten when he wrote about the Cthulhu Mythos. These are all fictional books--but the Book of Abraham is different. It really existed.

Continue reading "Michael Scott: The Secrets Behind (the Immortal) Codex" »