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October 2012

YA Wednesday: The Halloween Edition

IHuntKillers Ten

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays--I love dressing up for a good party and in Seattle you can always count on the perfect cliché of a dark and stormy night on October 31st. 

I've given up my horror movie habit, but a good scary book always has a place on my bedside table (as long as I leave the light on) and, really, what could be better for getting into the Halloween spirit (or just giving oneself a good scare in, say, December)?  This year has been rife with YA thrillers, including one of my recent favorites, Libba Bray's The Diviners, which gave me the serious occult murder chills.  Love it. 

Here are some of my other new faves for the spooky season--what are your best freak-you-out-but-just-can't-stop reads?

  • I Hunt Killers - something totally new from Barry Lyga (with a sequel coming in 2013), Jazz is the son of a serial killer who may have more in common with his dad than meets the eye.  One customer review describes it as "Silence of the Lambs for teens" -- need I say more?
  • The Book of Blood and Shadow - a grisly murder leads to the streets of Prague, secret societies, and a centuries-old secret.
  • Code Name Verity - it's not horror-movie-horror but this fictional account of a captured female spy in the hands of her Nazi interrogators is peppered with bulging-eyeball moments and I chewed my fingernails off anticipating what would happen next.
  • Flesh and Bone - even the cover gives me the willies.  Zombies, a death cult, and being hunted by animals--this one has pure Halloween horror written all over it.
  • Ten - think Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (one of the best mystery/thrillers ever!) crossed with a classic teen horror movie.

Top 10 Comics for Halloween

Happy Halloween, Omni readers! As I type this, the classic horror anthology Creepshow (1982) is on in the background, so let’s please blame any typos on my nerves. Once all the festivities finish today and tonight, the scares do not have to stop. In fact, we’ve compiled a Top 10 list of the most chilling comics published this fall. Full write-ups continue after the jump. Read at your peril.

  1. I, Vampire Vol. 1: Tainted Love by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino
  2. Creepy Presents: Richard Corben by Richard Corben and various
  3. The Hive by Charles Burns
  4. Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette
  5. Fatale Vol. 1: Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  6. B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, and more
  7. "Came the Dawn" and Other Stories by Wallace Wood
  8. Ragemoor by Jan Strnad and Richard Corben
  9. American Vampire Vol. 4 by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque
  10. Creepy Archives Vol. 14 by Various

Continue reading "Top 10 Comics for Halloween" »

"Cloud Atlas" author David Mitchell: Adaptation is Translation

We asked author David Mitchell what it was like to see his best-selling, award-winning novel being made into a movie. As with just about everything he writes, his answer was entertaining and illuminating.


Ten years have passed since I was hacking away on a manuscript that turned into my novel Cloud Atlas, and I can say hand-on-heart that back then my only film-related thought was a regretful "What a pity this novel is going to be the most unfilmable one I’ll ever write." This month, however, the movie version of my impossible-to-film book goes on general release in North America and the rest of the world shortly after. I’ve rarely been so pleased at being so wrong. What makes the film so successful, to my mind at least, is how the three writer/directors – Lana and Andy Wachowski (directors of The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have approached the project not as recorders of a visual audiobook, but more as interpreters, or translators.

Take structure: my book resembles a nest of Russian Dolls. Each of the six novellas that make up the book is "interrupted" by its successor, not unlike The Arabian Nights. After the central story is told in its entirety the novel delivers the "Part Twos" of the interrupted novellas in reverse order, boomeranging back into the past. Novels being baggy, mercurial beasties, Cloud Atlas the book gets away with this structure, but a film that asked its viewers to begin six times – the sixth time over an hour into the story – would implode, and only the hardest core über-viewer could stay for the duration. Structurally, then, the directors have opted for a ‘mosaic’, which splices and intersperses the six narratives, set between the 1850s and the 24th century (roughly). The directors then glue this mosaic together with great ingenuity – for example, a question might be asked at the end of one scene, only to be answered at the start of another, many decades away and thousands of miles distant. Readers of the book will notice some small-to-medium-sized modifications of the plot, too. In the novel, Zachry is a goat-herding teenager on post-apocalyptic Hawaii, whereas the movie-Zachry is about the same age as the actor who plays him – Tom Hanks, as it happens. This age-jump permits a feasible love-interest with the off-island visitor, Meronym, which in turn completes a relationship-arc begun four worlds ago in the 1930s.


Do I mind? Where literal fidelity would result in a dog’s dinner, certainly not. Suppose my Chinese translator comes across this joke in my novel – "A wood termite walks into a pub and says, 'Hey! Where’s the bar-tender?'." Here a faithful translation into Chinese would kill the pun, stink of a clunky translation and pop the bubble of fiction. What my able friend in Shanghai does here is to substitute my joke for a completely different word-joke which works in Chinese, perhaps retaining only the bar-scenario. Function trumps fidelity. Similarly, in no way do I consider the changes made by the directors of Cloud Atlas to be travesties that have resulted in a ‘non-canonical’ version of my book; any more than I consider the Chinese translation of Cloud Atlas to be a rival of the English original. It’s a variation, a translation from prose into film – and to my mind, it’s a beautiful one.

For Those About to Write, I Salute You (with 5 NaNoWriMo Tips)

WritersdontcryBrainstormOnly two days left until the start of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month—the one time of year where hundreds of thousands of writers set out together on a terrifying quest to each finish a complete, 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. It’s perfect for beginners, inspired to write but intimidated by the time and scope of a novel. It’s perfect for advanced writers with overdeveloped critical faculties, looking to fall back in love with the creative side of things. And it’s a perfect excuse for just about anyone to get in some practice—both in writing, and in that good old fashioned butt-in-chair discipline.

So: for those about to write, I salute you. And on top of that, I offer you these tips to being one of the awe-inspiring 14% who walk away 50,000 words and a new story richer.

1. Write Outlines for Your Plot and Characters: I know, I know! Outlines suck. They really do. I have yet to meet a person who, when I suggest an outline, goes “yay, outlines, that’s my favoritest part!” And there’s a reason for that. Outlines force you to work through all the muckiest parts first. It points out conflicts you just really didn’t want to have to think about quite yet, and spotlights holes you’re positive weren’t there when you thought up the idea. It makes you hold the whole book in your head at the same time—like a giant Rubik’s cube, where every piece you fiddle with breaks some other piece, so you have to mess with yet another piece--generally making your head feel like it's going to explode, until the whole thing finally--mercifully--clicks into place. But once you understand your plot and your characters, it’s easier to visualize your story. And once you can visualize it, all you have to do is write down what you see. Easy-peasy, right? But one more thing: since this is NaNoWriMo, do not spend too much time on this stage. Normally, I endorse spending as much time as you need to untangle plot and character elements before moving on—as there’s nothing worse than encountering a novel-breaker three-quarters of the way in—but set yourself a time-limit on this one: no more than three days. That’s 10% of your time, and that’s about right for NaNoWriMo.

Continue reading "For Those About to Write, I Salute You (with 5 NaNoWriMo Tips)" »

Amazon Asks: J.R. Moehringer, Author of "Sutton"

Moehringer is the author of Sutton, an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick, as well as the bestselling memoir, The Tender Bar. We asked about books he's reading (The Prizefighter and the Playwright), books he's looking forward to (Kent Haruf's Benediction), and books that have inspired him (The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby).

We also discussed what inspired him to tell the story of bankrobber Willie Sutton. (Hint: anger)


Willie_sutton Guards-pointing-at-hole Wanted by fbi

 Suttons arrest Willie smoking a bud

Our thanks to J.R. for sharing the above photos, which show Sutton entering Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, after his 1934 armed robbery conviction; guards at Eastern State Penitentiary beside the hole through which Sutton and 11 other prisoners escaped in 1945; one of the first-ever FBI Most Wanted Lists, featuring Sutton; and the police officers who finally caught Sutton, in February 1952, showed him a respect bordering on affection. Finally, Sutton smokes a cigarette shortly after his arrest in 1952.


Graphic Novel Friday: An Anomaly in Science Fiction Storytelling

One thing you can’t accuse Anomaly of is lack of ambition. This oversized, 368-page science fiction/fantasy extravaganza by Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin is billed as the longest full-color graphic novel ever. Coming to readers in November, it also features bleeding-edge tech in the form of an app that allows you to access over 50 extra images and other perks.

But it’s not just the size of Anomaly and the extras—the scope of the story matches the ambition. In a future in which most humans live in floating terrarium space colonies due to Earth’s continuing decay, the Conglomerate is a pseudo-corporation entity that rules ruthlessly. The main character Jon—although the book features a cast of many—is an ex Conglomerate enforcer who once inadvertently sparked the genocide of an alien race and has been living with the guilt ever since. Now, he’s given a second chance on a new mission for the Conglomerate that signals a change in tactics: not going in with a boot on the throat but in a more peaceful way.

The basic objective of the mission is to make contact with the intelligent races on the planet of Anomaly, which is where the fantasy element kicks in. Normal technology doesn’t work here, and thus the mission and Jon are thrust into a world that has much more to do with Middle Earth and similar fantasy settings than with science fiction. There’s even the equivalent of magic to some extent (along with mind-reading). It’s a bold move by the creators of Anomaly, to mix their genres so dramatically, but it works because it gives readers the best of both worlds. Meanwhile, machinations within theConglomerate continue, providing an extra level of tension. Anomaly image 1 Anomaly image 2

Although the Conglomerate as an entity may seem a bit familiar to readers weaned on movies like Alien, Brittenham and Haberlin successfully sell its particular brand of capitalist fascism. In fact, despite welcome bits of humor, the earnestness of Anomaly may be among its greatest strengths. The creators clearly love science fiction and also love riffing off of its archetypal moments.

As for the high-quality artwork, the horizontal format allows for some very cool wide-angle panels, and the use of space and the composition of scenes are skillful. Although the overall use of color seems a bit dark at first, the reader quickly adjusts to it. Anomaly treads a fine line between the commercial and an approach that can convey a lot more nuance and variation (think Halo mixed with Blade Runner). The creators have referenced Heavy Metal in interviews, and readers can see the effect of that influence in a positive way. My one quibble might be that the clothing, armor, and other “props” used by the inhabitants of Anomaly felt a bit over-familiar. (This also corresponds to a kind of weird “CGI” effect during some fantasy sequences in which the background art of the setting isn’t quite as well-thought-out.)

That said, the general execution of Anomaly is rather breathtaking. The interesting storyline and compelling characters lie at the heart of its success, but the clever use of technology and the sheer beauty of the physical book don’t hurt. Anomaly comes highly recommended for any science fiction or fantasy fan. It’ll also be interesting to see what these talented creators do next.

--Jeff VanderMeer


Lemony Snicket. Or Is It?


Yes, it's true, Lemony Snicket of the famed Series of Unfortunate Events books is back and pulling aside the curtain on his most unusual childhood.  His new series, "All the Wrong Questions," introduces us to young Snicket and his chaperone S. Theodora Markson, who's mannerisms you may recognize in her protégé.

Who Could It Be at This Hour? is vintage Snicket--subversive, funny, clever, and addictive.  We picked it as a Best Book of the Month for ages 9 and up in October and much like Daniel Handler stands in for Lemony Snicket in many public appearances, I, too, employed a proxy this year at Book Expo America.  And so it was that Daniel Handler (standing in for Lemony Snicket) and our own Chris Schluep (my proxy) matched wits in the videotaped conversation below that is as weird and funny as Lemony Snicket's books.   One day, when all the parties are beyond caring, we may release the outtakes...

Trend Stetting 23: Playing the Links

Forsyth"If there's one thing that etymology proves conclusively, it's that the world is a wretched place," Mark Forsyth cheerfully informs us in his bestselling language guide The Etymologicon, out in a bright yellow paperback edition this month.

Marrying cheek and melancholy as only the British can (full disclosure for new readers: I'm half-English and addicted to Beyond the Fringe), Forsyth walks us through the workings of his frenetically interesting mind while unpeeling the layers of history behind common words and phrases. He traipses seamlessly from Pantheon to pandemonium, bunkum to bunk beds, pausing along the way to explain how fool's finger and leech finger evolved into their much less colorful modern counterparts, middle finger and ring finger. More's the pity.

I've read more books about words and language than the average bear, and sometimes (spoiler alert for future columns) they turn out dry and impenetrable. The Etymologicon is the opposite in all the best ways—easy to follow, free of jargon and footnotes, and uproariously funny—and I had trouble putting it down, even as Mr. Forsyth overstuffed my brain with obscure knowledge.

When a chapter on heroin follows a chapter on SPAM and the transition seems perfectly logical, you know you're in expert hands. The consequences of both words may be wretched, but you'll keep reading all the same.

Like the sound of The Etymologicon? Here's a treat for you: Forsyth's next book, The Horologicon, lands in the UK on November 1. Feel free to join me for a cuppa as I await the import.

YA Wednesday: 2012 National Book Award Finalist William Alexander and His “Goblin Secrets”

Goblin Secrets--alexander

Include William Alexander among those floored with surprise by the announcement of the National Book Award finalists last week. His novel Goblin Secrets is a nominee in the Young People’s Literature category. When I caught up with him as a fellow participant in the Rain Taxi-sponsored Twin Cities Book Festival in Minneapolis this month, Alexander was still trying to process the fact that his very first book had been tagged for such an honor.

It took lots of convincing for Alexander to believe it was real. “I got the call on my birthday, and had a great conversation with Harold Augenbraum, the Executive Director of the National Book Awards—or at least a very skilled actor pretending to be him. Throughout the entire conversation I had a horrible suspicion that this was all a cruel and elaborate birthday prank. So far it seems to be real, but I don't think I'll fully believe it until I show up for the ceremony and they let me in.”

Alexander gave a spirited and fun reading at the book festival to an audience of children and adults, one that reflected his background as a theater actor. He only switched over from the theater to writing fiction in the last decade, with appearances in such publications as Weird Tales, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Interfictions 2, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008.

His expectations for Goblin Secrets included much more attainable goals than a National Book Award nomination, like reaching “multiple audiences and ages simultaneously, and for the novel to be equally entertaining to adults reading it aloud, small children listening, and older kids reading for themselves.” But since publication, he’s also received recognition from many writers that he considers “personal heroes,” including Ursula K. Le Guin, Peter Beagle, and Susan Cooper. “These are all writers that I loved long before realizing that writers are actual people who walk the earth.”

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: 2012 National Book Award Finalist William Alexander and His “Goblin Secrets”" »

Omnivoracious Makes Time's Best Blog List

Time_blog_collageTime has announced the 2012 edition of their list of the 25 best blogs, and we’re delighted to announce that Omnivoracious has made the list. Time's Matt Peckham calls Omnivoracious "wonderfully agnostic when it comes to genres, covering everything from sci-fi to self-help, the popular to the obscure, prose to pictorial works and beyond. But it’s also a place where book lovers get down in the trenches and talk shop with (or about) some of the very best authors in the business."

Highlighting blogs "that aren’t yet household names," the list runs the gamut from NPR's eclectic All Songs Considered and the inspirational DIY ethos of design*sponge to the good-natured schadenfreude of Awkward Family Photos and the literary festishism of Bookshelf Porn (a favorite of ours, as well). Make sure to check out all 25.

We at Omnivoracious are thrilled and humbled to receive this honor, and we offer our heartfelt thank yous to Matt Peckham, Time, and all the writers who make the blog a smorgasbord for book lovers of all tastes.

--the Omnivoracious contributors