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September 2012

2012 British Fantasy Award Winners Include Jo Walton, Lavie Tidhar, Joe Hill, and The Weird

The British Fantasy Award winners for excellence in horror and fantasy have just been announced as part of the British Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England:

BSF award--2012
  • Robert Holstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel: Among Others by Jo Walton
  • August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel: The Ritual by Adam Nevill
  • Short Story: “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” by Angela Slatter
  • Anthology: The Weird, editors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer
  • Movie: Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
  • Comic/Graphic Novel: Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  • Artist: Daniele Serra

Among Others--WaltonWalton’s Among Others goes from strength to strength, having won the Hugo Award earlier this month. This tale of the power of reading, with its strong central character and fey depiction of fairies could pick up a third award at the World Fantasy Convention in November. Lavie Tidhard, author of Osama, continues to earn the description of “rising star” with a win for his Gorel novella. Another winner who has been getting a lot of attention the past few years is Angela Slatter, a superlative short fiction writer; her winning “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” can be found in the original anthology A Book of Horrors, edited by horror stalwart Stephen Jones.

Weird-1_B2The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories edited by yours truly and Ann VanderMeer took the anthology category despite strong competition. The Weird collects over 850,000 words of weird fiction from 20 countries and the last 100 years. As we said in our prerecorded acceptance speech, since we could not attend, David Hartwell’s Dark Descent and Alberto Manguel’s Black Water were touchstones for us. The process of collecting and getting permissions for over 110 stories “nearly killed us,” but receiving the award “helps heal the scar tissue.”

The PS Publishing Independent Press Award went to Chomu Press and the Karl Edward Wagner Award went to Nicky and Peter Crowther of PS Publishing. Kameron Hurley won an award for best newcomer. Finalists were chosen by the members of the British Fantasy Society and the winners chosen by a judging panel that consisted of James Barclay, Hal Duncan, Maura McHugh, Esther Sherman, and Damien G. Walter.

--The photo of the award, taken at the ceremony, is by Joe Berlyne.--

How I Wrote It: Tom Reiss, on "The Black Count"

One of our Best Books of the Month for September, The Black Count is the remarkable true story of novelist Alexandre Dumas' father, the son of a Haitian slave who rose to become one of the most feared and revered soldiers in the French army--the inspiration for the Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Muskateers. We spoke with Tom about the origins of the book and his writing habits. 


I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s got a personal family history with me: my French-born mother was given the book in an orphanage after WWII and brought it to the United States in her suitcase. When I was about 10 years old I found that tattered copy along with the novelist’s memoirs in our basement, and reading the memoir I learned that the Count was not just a fictional creation but an homage to the novelist’s father. This was the great mixed-race hero of the French Revolution, Gen. Alex Dumas, who had faced down all enemies but was betrayed by his own side. Alexandre Dumas succeeded in infusing his father’s spirit into some of his greatest fictional heroes, but the real life and legacy of this soldier was completely forgotten. I wanted to bring him back into the light of history, at the center of the French Revolution, where he belongs.  


On my wall: An advertising poster showing Napoleon at Waterloo, put out by the maker of Lithobid, a brand of Lithium (my mother is a retired psychiatrist). The caption reads, “Napoleon Bonaparte was eventually defeated by manic-depressive disorder.” There are also French lobby cards for Woody Allen’s “Guerre et Amour” (Love and Death), Mexican lobby cards from Louis Malle’s movie Viva Maria! showing Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau shouldering rifles in the Mexican Revolution. Also, the iconic poster of Steve McQueen on his motorcycle from The Great Escape, which I’ve had since I was 17. The famous image of Cary Grant being chased by the crop duster (from North by Northwest)--the way I feel when the writing is not going well. Yes, I love old movies. And of course, there are images of my subject, too, on his white horse--General Dumas. I write facing a window and this one looks out on a pretty typical Manhattan residential street, but what I always focus on is this tiny Carnegie library in the middle of the block--I have a weak spot for those, there was one in Springfield, Mass, when I was growing up there. I see that next to my window, I’ve taped a photo of another desk where I wrote a different book, nearly 20 years ago--it’s a view of a lake in Sweden and the desk is in this little cabin, a kind of safe house, where I was interviewing a neo-Nazi leader on the run. When I don’t feeling like writing at my desk, I write in cafés. One thing, though: I write standing up, so I always go for a spot at the counter or bar. 


A Macbook Pro. No special software for writing, just Word. But I’m a fanatical devotee of Dropbox--thousands of jpg photographs of 18th century documents are up there, the entire archive of The Black Count is up there in the cloud, and it has been since 2008. 


I have this strange rule I try to impose on myself that, while writing a book, I will listen to no music composed after the time period of my story. In the case of General Dumas, I couldn't keep to this religiously--I couldn’t give up blues and jazz, and in fact I got a lot of inspiration from Herbie Hancock and, as always, Miles Davis--but I did surround myself with all the music that was popular in the 18th century. Lots of Boccherini and Mozart--and the Chevalier de Saint Georges!--but also French military music, a bunch of which I was given by these Napoleonic military reenactors who I met in Northern Italy.  Also, when I have trouble writing, my standby is Ennio Morricone. You can face down anything listening to his music.  


Insanely spicy Szechuan food. Spicy food of all kinds. Lots of dark chocolate.  Enough coffee to send a man to the moon--prepared in every possible way, at every possible hour.

What’s the first line and what does it say about the book?

“It was nearly midnight on the night of February 26, 1806, and Alexandre Dumas, the future author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, was asleep at his uncle’s house.” That was the night that the future novelist, still a small child, would lose his father. I began the book that way because I wanted to frame the story in terms of that tremendous loss--and because it was the memory of reading about that night, which always brings a tear to my eye, that caused me to take on this project.

>See all of Tom Reiss' books.

A Never-Before-Seen Olivia Illustration


I'm a huge fan of Ian Falconer and his spunky picture book pig, Olivia, so when I heard there would be a new book this year I couldn't wait to see what he would come up with.  In Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, Olivia is over the whole pink princess thing and she's flying her independence flag like never before--illustrated beautifully (of course!) in her sense of style (I particularly love the Hepburn-inspired ensemble) and career considerations--of both the princess and non-princess variety. We chose Olivia and the Fairy Princesses as a Best Picture Book of September and learned some interesting tidbits in our exclusive Five Questions with Ian Falconer below. As an added bonus he created the illustration you see here especially for this post.  As if I didn't love him enough already...


1.Olivia gives some serious thought to what she’d like to be instead of a princess--what did you want to be when you were a kid?

I'm not sure that I had any career in mind ( as in " I want to be queen."). I always wanted to make things; to draw pictures, build forts and tree houses, make rafts and boats ( I was fascinated by Kon-Tiki), make costumes. My father was an architect--he could build anything--and had a wood shop at home with huge power saws etc. which he, insanely, let me use, and my mother taught me how to use a sewing machine--really use a sewing machine--homemade Halloween costumes were a huge part of the calendar.  I could make all kinds of things with my hands and that's basically what I do now. I can cook too.

2. What’s the best piece of fan mail you’ve ever gotten?

I don't even know where to start with that one, I've had so many letters. I did get one suggestion for an Olivia plot--from a boy--that had her playing football, with her making " touchdown after touchdown." It was also illustrated, with yardlines, ball trajectories, goalposts, stadium... Ha.

3. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? (Flight and invisibility are off the table)

Apart from the ability to eliminate new, generic, glass walled, high rise condominium developments (and the developers) in Manhattan by simply glaring at them, I would like to be able to draw like Rembrandt or Picasso. Not a lot to ask is it?

4. Did you create the illustrations for Olivia and the Fairy Princesses one at a time or work on multiple spreads at once?

A children's picture book has a set number of pages, so the whole book must be planned out-- which drawings and which words go on which page--before you can start finishing drawings. I start by getting all the drawings and the text on the right pages--usually with simple sketches and post-its (so they can be moved about)--and then start to do more detailed pencil drawings on good paper that will then be the basis for the finished drawings. So it goes in stages, the whole book being done to each level of finish at the same time, together. The first stage is the hardest. Because of the page limits, if you decide to move a page, or make a single page into a double page, it disrupts all the other pages in the book. Very tricky.

5. Which is your favorite spread from the book, and why?

Oh, I'd have to say the Martha Graham spread. It is, I think, graphically very elegant and it is utterly absurd and funny as well. I like the international princesses spread as well. Well, really, of course I like them all. They wouldn't be in the book otherwise!

Amazon Studios Unveils Its First-Ever Book Trailer Contest Winners

61nXMAbS-yL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Amazon Studios has announced the winners of its first-ever book trailer contest, for the horror novel Seed, by Ania Ahlborn. Seed is the story of a man who miraculously survives a violent car crash only to face a profound evil from his past—a dark force hungry for his angelic youngest daughter.

Ahlborn said the “dirty magic” of the rural south inspired her story, and it clearly inspired the winning trailer—"Grinning Demons" by Vikas Wadhwa—as well. The winner, selected by Ahlborn, becomes the official trailer for the book, published by Amazon imprint 47North, and receives $3,000. The fan favorite—"Broken Bindings" by Samuel Scott—will receive a $500 Gift Card. Learn more about the contest here.

“The winning trailer is a phenomenal take on the book, from the actors portraying the characters to the creepy vibe the director was able to capture,” Ahlborn said. “It was hard to pick a winner because there were so many wonderful entries, but this one outshined (or perhaps out-spooked) the rest.”

Ahlborn says there’s something raw and unforgiving about horror stories, something that “taps into our deepest, most primal fears.” Read her guest post on the inspiration that big-screen scares can provide.

Learn more about Amazon Studios and the opportunities there for writers, filmmakers and fans.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s “2312”: Interplanetary Intrigue, an Epic Love Story, and an Opportunity to Build an Asteroid

51XnpqO9LmL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_This summer I had the pleasure of reviewing science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel 2312 for the Los Angeles Times. As I wrote there, the novel is often profoundly moving while also being very clever about extrapolating the future: “By the year of the book's title, humankind has (just barely) survived global warming, in part because of terra-forming technologies that have made possible the colonization of Mars, Mercury and Venus. Asteroids and moons have been transformed into a bewildering variety of biospheres…Against this backdrop, Robinson introduces readers to the remarkable Swan Er Hong, a creator of biospheres who…is attending the funeral of Alex, her grandmother…When Swan discovers secret messages from Alex in a wall mirror, she is quickly caught up in a deadly conflict against unknown forces.”

These forces seek to destabilize the solar system by destroying cities and whole colonies. As compelling as the plot is, however, the characters are even better, featuring “one of the greatest odd couples in the history of science fiction.” Robinson finds the foil for Swan in the person of diplomat Fitz Wahram, also at the funeral. He’s ponderous (although sharply intelligent) and toad-like to Swan’s…well, swan-ness. They’re an unlikely duo, especially as a romantic couple, but Robinson does an amazing job of bringing them, and their relationship, to life.

As they together seek answers to the mystery of who is behind a series of devastating attacks, they’re drawn ever closer to each other. Some scenes, like a long sequence with the two escaping down an underground tunnel, can easily be described as “classic” in the best sense. Another, with the two alone in deep space, has a grandeur, loneliness, and warmth most authors would kill to achieve in just one scene.

Although the novel lingers with readers long after it’s put down because of the chemistry between these two misfits, the decision to balance intrigue with a love story seems to have split Amazon readers down the middle. Some even seem not to notice the romantic element at all. The complexity of the novel---the way it successfully does several things at once—is mirrored in its opening. Rather than start with either the love story or the interplanetary adventure, Robinson instead begins with Swan by herself, followed by the funeral of her grandmother. Some novelists might have started with one of the disastrous attacks that fuels the mystery, or foregrounded Swan and Wahram. But he’s wise enough to know that for everything to be in balance he has to more or less not commit to any one kind of story. Instead, his approach allows the reader to become acclimated to his future setting rather than become confused by it—and to adapt to a more nuanced but no less entertaining story.

Most reviewers seem to agree that it’s a great book as a result. Personally, as I wrote in my review, I found the novel to be “a treasured gift to fans of passionate storytelling” and one of Robinson’s best. It doesn’t hurt that the author’s plot includes at least two jaw-dropping moments of utter audacity.

Meanwhile, Robinson’s publisher, Orbit, has backed up 2312 with an ingenious PR campaign that includes a webpage where you can build your own biosphere on an asteroid. You not only get a cool science lesson—it’s fun too!


YA Wednesday: Marie Lu and Jessica Khoury on Dystopian Fiction and Pet Peeves

One of the books I'm most looking forward to in the new year is Prodigy (available January 29, 2013), the second book in Marie Lu's knockout dystopian trilogy that started last year with Legend . A great "what to read next" for Hunger Games and Divergent fans, Lu is definitely one to watch with this next installment. 

Where Legend takes off in dystopian Los Angeles, Jessica Khoury's debut, Origin, looks at dystopian society from a "how did they get there" perspective set in the far reaches of the Amazon jungle.  Both novels are emotionally charged and sharply plotted with edge-of-your-seat danger and romance.   The authors recently got together to talk about their books, author influences, and pet peeves.  You can also check out the book trailers for Legend and Origin after the jump.


Q: Both of your books have some dystopian elements – do you think that your fiction could become reality?

JESSICA: Parts of Origin already are reality. The Amazon rainforest, for example, and the fact there are hidden tribes there. And Little Cam itself, and the philosophy of the scientists, are rooted in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s. So even though I doubt we will ever discover a flower that bestows immortality, the ideologies and methods of the scientists who created Pia could one day manifest in things like forced euthanasia, eugenics or forced sterilization of people who don’t fit the government’s “ideal” (this has actually happened in some countries!) These practices are natural consequences of relying too heavily on scientific objectivity without any kind of moral/emotional check. In dystopian society’s like Marie’s, or Ally Condie’s or Lois Lowry’s, we see worlds where this kind of thinking reigns over entire societies. In Origin, I look at the beginnings of a dystopia and explore the ideas that ultimately give rise to dystopian societies. So it’s kind of like a pre-dystopia in some ways.

MARIE: I actually think a lot of the dystopian elements in Legend have either already come to pass or are happening right now. The Trials were inspired partly by ancient Sparta’s law that infants considered too physically weak were thrown into a chasm. As Jessica mentioned with regards to Little Cam in Origin, the Trials in Legend were also inspired by the U.S.’s eugenics movement in the early 20th century, when people with ‘undesirable’ traits were sent off to insane asylums or sterilized. Totally a real-life dystopian situation, right? Modern-day North Korea, as well as China during the Cultural Revolution, also heavily influenced me. I was living in Beijing when I was five years old, and can still remember the Tiananmen Square protests. I ended up putting a very similar scene into Legend.

Q: Pia [Origin heroine] and June [Legend heroine] are forced to take on situations and behave with maturity beyond their years. But sometimes, they make us realize that they are still teens. Do you use any of your teen experiences or memories as you write?

JESSICA: Definitely! Not that I’m immortal, was raised in a lab, or have a pet jaguar—but I can totally relate to Pia’s journey of discovery. I grew up in a small town and though I wasn’t completely isolated from the world, I still had to go through the same feelings of “Oh, the world is much bigger than I’d thought!” And I also had a few shocks when I encountered people who thought very differently than me, and who shook my ideas of what is right and what is normal.

MARIE: Mine was memories of taking the SAT! Oh man, how I feared that test. At the time, I really did feel like the SAT had a life-or-death quality to it, that if I didn’t score well, I’d be doomed for all eternity. It totally helped me get in the mindset to write about the Trials in Legend. As for June in particular, her reverence for her older brother wasn’t based on my personal experiences (I’m an only child), but I did draw on the way I would admire people older than me, and aspire to become like them.

Q: Pia and June both experience central turning points where their previous views of the world are shaken. Have you had such an experience?

JESSICA: I’ve never had a stunning revelation such as Pia’s near the end of Origin, but I have experienced gradual growth and chance in my perspectives. Growing up in a small, Southern town, you don’t get a huge variety of worldviews, and as I’ve seen and done more outside my hometown, I’ve had to examine and revise some of my own views.

MARIE: In college, I definitely had a turning-point experience (although perhaps not to the same level as June!). When we’re young, we tend to be so accepting of everything around us, and when something suddenly comes along to tell us that either someone we loved can’t be trusted, or something we always believed in is actually false . . . it really defines us for the rest of our lives. If I went through as extreme of an experience as June, though, I’m sure I would’ve had a panic attack!

Q: What books have influenced you most in the writing of this book, or in your writing in general?

JESSICA: Origin is inspired by an array of books: Nation by Terry Pratchett, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Lost Horizon by James Hilton. But my writing in general has been most influenced by Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy. It was at the age of thirteen, after I finished reading the third book, that—with tears still in my eyes—I knew I wanted nothing more than to write, and I began working that very day on my first novel.

MARIE: In general, I’d say Brian Jacques’s Mattimeo introduced me to the fantasy/sci-fi genres and forever solidified my love for it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever venture outside of writing fantasy/sci-fi! For Legend in particular, I was most influenced by Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, as well as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (albeit the movie version) and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Q: Do you have any writing pet peeves? (Someone reading over your shoulder, or you can’t think of a synonym for ‘mind-blowing’, etc?)

JESSICA: Okay, this is weird, but I can’t have long fingernails when I’m writing. I hate the clacking they make on the keys, and my fingers get clumsy with them. So I keep my nails really, really short all the time.

MARIE: I cannot write without some sort of instrumental music playing. It’s just too…silent!

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: Marie Lu and Jessica Khoury on Dystopian Fiction and Pet Peeves" »

When It Comes to War, Has Nonfiction Made Fiction Obsolete?

"The war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else's college.”–A Farewell to Arms



This July, Scribner issued a new hardcover edition of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, one of the finest pieces of literature ever written about war. Hemingway’s novel, along with Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front, was first published in 1929--more than ten years after the Armistice. When you're writing a novel about something as real as war, it pays to take your time doing it.

Not so with nonfiction. For example, Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest was published in 1972, three years before the Vietnam War even ended. That book's combination of timeliness, along with deep detail and a healthy skepticism, helped change what readers expect in their nonfictional accounts of war. Likewise for Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, both of which followed just a couple short years after the fall of Saigon. These two groundbreaking books helped popularize the intimate, boots-on-the-ground, narrative nonfiction that we’ve since come to expect in personal accounts of battle.

The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have consistently added to the well of great nonfiction, featuring writing that could almost moonlight as literature. Desert Storm brought us Jarhead. Afghanistan brought us Sebastian Junger’s War, as well as Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory. The Iraq War brought us Generation Kill, The Forever War, and Imperial Life in the Emerald City. I could keep going—Ghost Wars and The Looming Tower come to mind—because the list of quality nonfiction seems nearly endless.

But where’s the next Catch-22? Who’s writing the Slaughterhouse 5 or The Things They Carried for our time? (The Kite Runner is probably the best example of literary fiction to emerge from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it’s hardly about the American experience.)

41kmP-ORQTL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Up until this year it was difficult to say. But in early 2012, just a couple months after the Iraq War was declared officially over, I learned about a book called The Apartment, written by a US citizen living in the UK. The novel, about an American man who’d spent some time on the ground in Iraq, got positive attention (even though it appears not to have gotten an American publisher). Around the same time, many of us at Amazon read a novel called The Watch, a thoughtful page turner about an Afghani woman who approaches a US military base in Kandahar Province (we liked it so much, we made it a Best of the Month selection). A month after that came Ben Fountain’s propulsive debut Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, about a squad of soldiers traveling on a “victory tour” in the States (also Best of the Month). In September alone, there have been two standout novels about the Iraq War: Fobbit by David Abrams and perhaps the most literary-leaning of them all, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (also BOTM).

The best fiction somehow takes you deeper than even the best nonfiction. And while fiction may never fully usurp nonfiction’s stature in covering war—the recent tussle around No Easy Day and the excitement over Mark Bowden’s upcoming The Finish come to mind—it remains an important tool in understanding what it means to go to war. And what is truly at stake.   

Nate Silver ("The Signal and the Noise") on Statistics and Forecasting

Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise (our Spotlight pick for September's Best Books of the Month) is "a timely and readable reminder that statistics are only as good as the people who wield them," as our reviewer Darryl Campbell put it. In this exclusive Q&A, Nate explains the success of weather forecasters and gamblers. Scroll down and watch a video of Silver discussing the book.

SignalWhy do you think statistics books continue to capture the popular imagination, from Freakonomics to Moneyball?

We encounter so much information today that people are naturally curious about what in the heck we should do with all of it. And we’re becoming less trusting of institutions that mediate information, like the news media. We have all this data, and we want to learn for ourselves what it all means.

A little bit of math and statistics and probability and logic helps us with our information-processing goals. But what’s great about books like Moneyball and Freakonomics is that they make statistics approachable. Subjects like English and history are taught in very hands-on ways--you read great books, discuss the ideas and characters, and it’s easy to understand their relevance. Whereas math is taught in very abstract and technical ways--even though it’s just as relevant to our everyday lives, and just as intuitive if it’s taught well.

Books like Freakonomics and Moneyball help to bridge that gap. They’re sort of making up for the calculus teacher that had you memorize one too many derivatives and turned you off to the subject as a result. Not that there’s anything wrong with calculus.

Politics and baseball, the two subjects you are best known for, are just part of the book. Why was it important to include so many different fields--economics, earth and life sciences, games, even terrorism?

One thing that baseball fans know is to be wary of small sample sizes. If you show up at the ballpark, and the catcher gets three hits that day, that doesn’t really tell you very much about how good he really is. It takes a long time--hundreds of at-bats--for the signal to emerge since there’s so much luck in the game.

MoneyballBut in the same way, I thought, perhaps baseball is an exceptional case. Are there Moneyball-like success stories in other fields in which statistics and analysis and prediction is pertinent?

In fact, I found that there are entire disciplines in which our analysis has failed to produce much progress, at least as measured by our ability to make reliable predictions. Finance and economics are obvious examples of this, for instance. Economists have literally tens of thousands of data series to mine--more statistics than baseball geeks do. But they still aren’t able to predict recessions more than a few months in advance.

Continue reading "Nate Silver ("The Signal and the Noise") on Statistics and Forecasting" »

Turning Inspiration into a Plot

Writersdontcry InspirationWhen inspiration strikes, it is awesome. It is that moment we were waiting for. We quickly drop whatever we're doing, pull over if we're driving, and un-crumple gum wrappers, turn over that important memo, or flatten that Starbucks cup, and scrawl down the idea as quickly as possible, lest we lose it. If we are in the unfortunate position of not having any way to record the idea, we repeat it—sometimes even out loud—so as not to lose a single syllable. And our coworkers think we are crazy. But we know it’s worth it: after all, how often does true inspiration strike?

But the next part—turning it from idea into a plot? That part’s why so many people hate outlines. Inspiration is easy because it’s unlooked for. Plotting and outlining are hard work, even with the best of ideas. But there are some tricks that can make it easier. Here are a few techniques to play with the next time you want to try to wrangle that flash of brilliance and turn it into something storylike.

Determine the Conflict and the Characters

Everything comes back to your initial inspiration. All the events and characters have to make sense in relation to it, and every choice you make, defining those events and characters, closes off some options and opens up others. Why did the world chess champion kidnap a hacker? What made him so sure he would lose his next match against the computer, and why is it so important that he wins? How does he let the hacker do his job without giving him a means to escape and while ensuring he’s working with him—not against him? By following each thread, you will soon arrive at the beginnings of a plot.

Continue reading "Turning Inspiration into a Plot" »

Guest Essay by Beth Orsoff: Why It’s Okay to Like Chick Lit

Beth Orsoff's most recent books include the novels Girl in the Wild, Honeymoon for One, and Disengaged. She lives in Los Angeles.

People love to hate chick lit. I can’t think of another category of fiction that engenders as much derision as chick lit except maybe romance, chick lit’s close cousin. There’s no book out there titled This Is Not Science Fiction or This Is Not a Thriller, but there is a book entitled This Is Not Chick Lit. Why the hate, people?

Let’s dispel some myths. Chick lit as a genre is not new. The phrase "chick lit" may have been coined in the 1990s when Bridget Jones’s Diary took the publishing world by storm, but it’s been around for two hundred years! Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was initially published in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice was initially published in 1813. These novels are the original chick lit--young women dealing with family issues, work issues, and relationship issues.

Beth Orsoff

Second, modern chick lit is more than just twentysomething women shopping for shoes and searching for a man. Yes, most chick lit books have some sort of romantic relationship subplot. But books in many other genres contain romantic relationship subplots, too. Books as disparate as the dystopian YA trilogy The Hunger Games and the thriller phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy contain romantic relationship subplots. Even most of Stephen King’s books contain a romantic subplot. You may not like any of those books, but they don’t engender the same level of scorn as chick lit.

Third, what’s wrong with liking books that deal with people looking to find their place in the world? Because to me, that’s what chick lit is really about. The family issues, work issues, and relationship issues all boil down to characters asking: What are my priorities and how should I live my life? Aren’t those the questions we all ask ourselves--consciously or unconsciously--every day? Is there a reason we should be ashamed of reading books that deal with the same issues we deal with in our everyday lives? Or is the real issue with chick lit (and romance for that matter) the positive ending? If it’s not negative, cynical, or otherwise "realistic" then it can’t be taken seriously?

If you too happen to like books about women dealing with family issues, work issues, and relationship issues, and you too prefer to read books with uplifting endings even if you know in real life it would likely never happen that way, then proclaim your reading independence! You can enjoy chick lit and still be an intelligent, accomplished person.