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February 2013

Bestselling Author Julianna Baggott Returns with “Fuse”

FuseJulianna Baggott’s mega-deal for book and film rights to her post-apocalyptic YA Pure series paid off when the first novel Pure went on to become a bestseller. The movie version is also going forward, with writer-director James Ponsoldt, the director of Smashed and The Spectacular Now, on board. The books postulate a world that “went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers…to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies.” Survivors are gang-pressed into militia or killed, except for the Pures who escaped the apocalypse and live in domes.

Now that she’s back with Fuse, the second book in the series. Omnivoracious caught up with her to ask about this fascinating if sometimes grim vision of the future—and whether any of the reactions to Pure surprised her.

“When setting out to write Pure,” Baggott told Omni, she knew she “was blurring genre boundaries in ways I didn't understand.” The novel was a “huge departure” for her: “a sixteen-year-old girl with a doll head fused to her fist trapped in this ashen landscape.” She had to “hole up and tear myself loose from my own expectations as well as the expectations of others and try to build this world. It was also my first really intricate thriller-esque plot and my most psychologically twisted novel to date.”

“Still, I was surprised when Publisher's Weekly called it horror (in an appreciative way, thankfully). I had no idea what I'd made really, and since I'd turned my back on critical voices, I was stunned when the New York Times Book Review reviewed it at all, much less generously, much less picking it as one of their 100 Notable Books of the Year. It was such a lonesome process in some ways that it was strange just to lift my head up and find others had read it at all.”

The challenges of returning to the same place for Fuse included wanting to “widen the landscape so I had to find a way to expand the world outside of the Dome while getting more psychologically intimate inside the Dome. In Pure, the world itself was a character that took a lot of time to establish on the page. In Fuse, I was freer to let the established characters really fly.”

Continue reading "Bestselling Author Julianna Baggott Returns with “Fuse”" »

A Dream Come True—and a New Dryer Purchased

There are so many people who want to write a book, but what do you do once that book is written? Romance author Adrianne Wood has some advice for aspiring authors out there.


512XjirGhSL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Dreams do come true…and when they are almost 30 years in the making, they are all the sweeter.

Let me back up. Ten years ago, the book business recognized that ebooks were on the horizon. How popular they would be was anyone’s guess (and people made lots of guesses), but they were coming, sure as sunrise.

But I don’t recall anyone predicting the ebook self-publishing boom. Now an author just needs to write the book (the hardest part, but authors were doing this anyway), put a good cover on it, and upload it to places where readers can find it. Oh, and (the second-hardest part) help readers find their books among the thousands out there.

I’m not the Tom Cruise of successful self-published ebook authors, but I did buy a new washer and dryer with the royalties from two of my ebooks. They are now known in our house as the Badlands Bride dryer and the Mind Tricks washer, and I grin every time I see them. (Every time I see them when I’m not doing laundry, that is. When I’m doing laundry, I’m never smiling.)

Traditionally, publishers were the taste-makers. With ebooks, readers serve that role. The most genuine reader reviews share their enthusiasm without trying to impress you with the brilliance of their own writing. We all have busy lives and maybe 13.4 seconds to write a review of a book we love, and 13.4 seconds doesn’t give you much time to be brilliant but does give you time to be enthusiastic.

UnrulyHearts-homemade coverI also look at covers when choosing ebooks. A quality cover doesn’t reflect the inside of the book any more than a gorgeous face reflects a gracious personality, but it’s still the first thing a reader sees. When I published my first ebook Unruly Hearts, I mistakenly thought that the ebook market was still pretty thin and only a halfway decent cover was needed. I’m not sure my homemade cover even passed that low standard. But hey, I created the cover in Microsoft Word.

I smartened up with Badlands Bride by asking a REAL designer to create the cover. Then, after Pocket Books bought the rights to Badlands Bride, they put their own cover on the book. I quickly gave a new face to Unruly Hearts (again, with a real designer), and then released my third ebook, Mind Tricks (again, cover made by a real designer). An eye-catching cover can make a difference.

Continue reading "A Dream Come True—and a New Dryer Purchased" »

The Lee Bros. on Five Underappreciated Charleston Ingredients

Lee-Bros-CoverIf you're born in Charleston, you absorb the vernacular of its rich local food culture just as you learn to talk. The Lee Bros., who moved from New York to Charleston as kids, found themselves swimming in a whole new language of strange and amazing new food names, flavors, and traditions. As they discovered the pleasure of gorging on mulberries, luring blue crabs with chicken necks on strings, peeling loquats to enjoy their sweet-tart flesh, and so many more food-centered adventures, they developed an abiding sense of wonder about food that's followed them into the kitchen--and eventually fuelled a career as food journalists and writers of award-winning cookbooks.

Their new book, The Lee Bros. Chaleston Kitchen, pays tribute to their adopted hometown's deep and delicious culinary roots. To celebrate its arrival, we asked Matt Lee and Ted Lee to share five unsung, forageable Charleston ingredients--and what they like to do with them. Enjoy, and don't miss the book's beguiling trailer, after the jump! --Mari Malcolm

From Matt Lee & Ted Lee: Charlestonians are no strangers to foraging. We come by it honestly—and early—because as a kid it seems so magical to to climb a loquat tree downtown, and to pick and eat these weird little yellow fruits. (Besides, we learn that it’s also fun to throw them at your friends, and at the occasional carriage tour!) Here, we present five favorite Charleston-foraged foods.

Lee-Chainey-briar-lowCHAINEY BRIAR (Smilax bona-nox) “Chainey briar” is what Charlestonians of a certain age call the tender shoots of the smilax—or cat briar—vine, which can be found growing in the dunes and in sandy disturbed sites and fencelines throughout the area. The distinctive spade-shaped leaves distinguish smilax from other vines growing in the same terrain. Raw, chainey briar has a delicious asparagus- and olive-like flavor that is fresh and green. We typically grill it, then dress it with a vinaigrette or tamari-based sauce. Or we tuck a few tendrils into a baked flounder in parchment.


Lee-Loquats-lowLOQUATS (Eriobotrya japonica) No more flavorful than a Granny Smith apple, and a whole lot harder to eat since they’re smaller than a lime and have three big seeds in them, loquats don’t have leagues of champions, even in Charleston. What the most old-school Charlestonians—and we!—love to do with them is load a quart-size canning jar with washed fruit, top up with neutral spirits like vodka or brandy, and let stand for a week, or as some prefer, one year. The fruit will oxidize and the alcohol will become infused with a beguiling cherry-almond flavor that’s a great shot over ice as an aperitif or nightcap, and a superb substitute for sweet vermouth in your favorite Manhattan cocktail recipe.


Continue reading "The Lee Bros. on Five Underappreciated Charleston Ingredients" »

Looking Forward to the End of Winter... and Big Spring Books


This is my second winter in Seattle and I am looking forward to spring even more this year than I was last year. The funny thing is that Seattle doesn’t suffer through the kind of winters that other parts of the country endure. Nothing like the cold and snow that I knew so well in New York, for example. Seattle winters are gray. And rainy. That’s great reading weather, and not bad if you’re a duck or a sea otter, but otherwise it's slightly depressing. I inserted slightly into that last sentence just to make myself feel better.

So in these last drippy days of winter, it’s been a pleasure to get together with my fellow Amazon editors to pick our Big Spring Books lists. If you’re looking forward to spring half as much as we are, you might be interested in taking a look. If you yourself need some cheering up, check out our Humor & Entertainment picks. There’s also some great literature and fiction, as well as blockbusters, mysteries, thrillers & suspense, and of course our Editors' Top 10 picks.

Go here to see what else the spring holds in books. Happy reading, and here’s to seeing the sun again!

"Oz the Great and Powerful Better be Great and Powerful" by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen

John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, the editors of Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond , which goes on sale tomorrow, have been thinking about an upcoming film that, well, reimagines Oz.

51Lqi3yvQ8L._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_L. Frank Baum’s Oz is probably the most famous American fantasy of all time. So saying that the bar has been set high for Disney’s forthcoming movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, might be the cinematic understatement of 2013.   

Even with its estimated 200 million dollar budget, one would imagine a brand as beloved as Oz will result in Disney easily recouping its money. But since the definitive cinematic version of The Wizard of Oz was released by MGM in 1939, the subsequent Oz movies have been massive failures.  

The Wiz was a successful Broadway musical that fused The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with African-American culture.  The 1978 movie version  brought some star power with it, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson playing the Scarecrow, but it took in just 13 million dollars on a budget of 24 million while getting panned by critics.  Then there was Disney’s first foray into Oz cinema back in 1985 with Return to Oz, an unofficial sequel to MGM’s classic film.  As with The Wiz, it flopped, taking in 11 million dollars on a budget of 28 million.  Reviews to this one were mixed at best.

To be fair, the current Broadway musical Wicked—based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel that tells the classic story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West—has proven a smashing success, becoming the top grossing Broadway show for the past nine years. So perhaps there is reason to hope the cinematic curse that has befallen Oz will be lifted.    

Regardless, reviews and audience reaction will prove every bit as critical as the financials in determining whether Disney’s latest Oz film is a success, because in this case, the movie needs to be great (and powerful) on all levels. Like Harry Potter, Oz is that rare creation where it’s perfectly acceptable for adults to openly like a work of children’s fiction. In fact, when the original novel came out in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the Harry Potter of its time.

2014 will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the release of the 1939 classic Wizard of Oz film, which may very well be the most popular film ever. All these years later, Oz has become more than just a book or a movie or a children’s story. It is part of American culture. 

Hopefully the filmmakers have learned from the mistakes of their forebears. They’ll have cutting edge special effects that put 1985 to shame, a massive budget that cuts no corners, and an audience hungry for another Oz movie …but only if it’s great. Many would argue that no one is better than Disney at spinning children’s stories into gold. But Oz has become the iconic

mother-lode, the Grand Poobah of American childhood and imagination. To do this franchise justice, even the all-powerful Disney is facing a considerable task.  Let’s hope they rise to the occasion.

--John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen



R.A. Salvatore Looks Back Before "The Last Threshold"

At six hundred pounds of black fur and muscle, the panther Guenhwyvar is a fearsome fighter and one of Drizzt Do'Urden's most important allies. At the end of Charon's Claw, the third book in R.A. Salvatore's Neverwinter Saga, readers were left wondering what her future may hold. As we await the final book in the Neverwinter Saga, The Last Threshold, due March 5, R.A. Salvatore muses on the identity -- and unintentional identity crisis -- of Drizzt's beloved sidekick.


Guenhwyvar, ah Guen...

She started out as a dog, a moorhound, actually, named Canthus. When I wrote a sample chapter to audition for the second book ever published in the Forgotten Realms setting, way back in the summer of 1987, I thought the Realms were the tiny Moonshae Isles and that TSR (the original publisher of the Forgotten Realms setting) was looking for someone to write a direct follow-up to Doug Niles's Darkwalker on Moonshae. I didn't want to use Doug's characters in any meaningful way—they're wonderful characters, but I don't like sharing protagonists! -- so I grabbed one, a sly fellow named Daryth and his moorhound named Canthus, to introduce the hero of my story, Wulfgar of Icewind Dale.

Quite a bit changed during that audition period, starting with me discovering the size of the Forgotten Realms, and learning, to my great relief, that my editor didn't want me anywhere near Doug's work, since he was writing sequels to his book. So I set my book, The Crystal Shard, far away in Icewind Dale and added a character named Drizzt Do'Urden who soon took over the book. One thing I did keep from Doug's example, however: the animal sidekick.

Why? Any pet lover already knows the answer to that question. Drizzt was created as the classic, misunderstood outcast, a bit of a loner, and often driven by circumstance to his own devices. Has anyone gone through junior high school or high school who can't relate to this?

I certainly can. And in those times when I found myself confused and feeling very alone, I had a savior, a dog named Cocoa and then a dog named Yuma. They listened, without judgment, and using them as sounding boards often got me through the tough and lonely days.

So Drizzt needed a friend like that, I figured, and Guenhwyvar was born.

Let me clear this up, once and for all: Guenhwyvar is a female panther! I know, I know, don't point out the problem with that argument, please. You see, when you're a professional writer, working on deadlines and working with a team of editors/artists/designers and the like, you come to learn certain things about the process. In the case of Guenhwyvar, for some reason I never figured out, I was told that the panther had to be gender neutral. I argued about this policy, but to no avail. Guenhwyvar was a magic item, so I was told, and so Guen was an "it," not a "she" or a "he."

The cat remained a "she" in my mind, certainly, but I painstakingly went through the manuscript of The Crystal Shard and removed all of the gender-specific pronouns. In some places, the use of "it" sounded quite awkward ; when you name a character, then use "it," well, try to do it and you'll see what I mean. Nevertheless, I had my orders.

Soon after The Crystal Shard hit the shelves, I discovered, to my chagrin, that the copyeditor had apparently spotted the awkwardness of the gender-neutral pronoun, too, and so he/she (it?) had smoothed out the prose ... by replacing "it" with "he" and "him"! But no, Guenhwyvar is a female panther!

I got the name from those magnificent Mary Stewart books about King Arthur, where "Guenhwyvar" is the spelling of Arthur's Queen, and, according to Stewart, the name meant "Shadow." Perfect for Drizzt, I figured, coming from the shadows and needing a shadow. Wherever would Drizzt have been without her? Indeed, where will he be without her going forward?

Read The Last Threshold to know more.



What’s Genre Good For, Anyway?


MixinggenresDo you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to: me "at" susanjmorris "dot" com.

Dear Susan,

Here’s my question: how important is it to write in a genre?




Hi Denise,

Thanks for the question! And what a simple seeming, and yet really complicated topic. You’d think genre would be one of the blander topics out there, when in reality, it’s actually quite the hotbed of animated and emotional debates. So, instead of just answering your question simply, I’m going to turn this into a bit of a broader discussion of what genre is, what it’s good for, and how I’d recommend interacting with it, when it comes to your own writing. I hope this answers your question!

What Is Genre, Exactly?

It can be tempting to think of genre writing as derivative—almost as a kind of fan fiction, all swirling around “the Greats” like Tolkien who first inspire us to turn our thoughts to elves and orcs. But at its heart, “genre” is just a fancy word for a category of fiction—and while, yes, the influence of the heavy hitters is definitely felt in genre fiction, the heavy hitters of life are felt equally strongly, well, pretty damn well everywhere. What can we say? We’re human! When we see something we just love—or even something that makes us shudder with revulsion—it affects us, in ways big and small.

What’s It Good For, Anyway?

So, what, exactly, does genre have to offer? Because, you know, this wouldn’t even be a question if it didn’t have something to offer. I think genre has a lot to offer, but one of the most obvious things is a “consistent reading experience”—in that, if you pick up a fantasy book, you can expect that it will, for the most part, have more similarities to other fantasy books than to, say, science fiction or autobiographical books. That it will have a certain feel, and satisfy certain needs (not so much that it will have magic wands instead of laser guns—the trappings mean far less than the filling).

Continue reading "What’s Genre Good For, Anyway?" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Gray Morrow's Orion

Go ahead and judge this book by its cover: Gray Morrow’s Orion is exactly as enchanting as the image to the right suggests. Originally serialized (in color, at least) in Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970s, Orion follows the swashbuckling titular hero through a fantasy land filled with high adventure. Published late last year, the oversized Orion is a book to behold—with forgiveness for its pulpy prose. For example, the opening narrative box announces:

Orion’s world is not our world but one of which the stuff of fantasies and legends are made. His enemies and conflicts are wrought of demons and sorceries, more palpable here than competitors or tension and frustration. Here powerful dark gods command men’s obeisance and magic their beliefs. The secrets of science are privy to but a few…and everyone knows they are quite mad.

The text could only be more purple if it were colored as such, and the fun part of it all is that it works when coupled with Morrow’s attention to, well, everything. Outfits vary by character—Orion is clad in bandanas, buckles, tassels, and cummerbunds; he is a pirate, after all—and the men sport impeccable facial hair, while the women are shapely and usually topless (in tune with Heavy Metal’s sensibilities). Plus, the hair! Morrow excels at flowing locks, gently tousled by an ever-present wind. The male characters are men’s men—hairy chests and bulk without any sculpted preening. Orion is the antithesis to contemporary superhero comics, and I loved the outlandish settings and ships, including an airborne armada resembling a school of giant minnows.

As for the plot, the eight chapters revolve around Orion’s magical and “terrible” sword, Thorbolt, which is the envy of just about everyone. Orion alternates between keeping it and various women safe from the clutches of arch-nemesis Lamonthos. But again, stay for the visuals and enjoy the compressed narrative for its exclamation points and unabashed chest-beating.

In the bibliographic page, publisher Hermes Press notes that the initial four chapters were scanned from comics, while the last four were sourced from the late Morrow’s original artwork. Sure, there is a noticeable shift in quality between the two, but that’s part of the charm. Orion is an anachronistic artifact, a story out of time that exists thanks to the genuine love of its curators. Plus, there is a bonus story from Gray Morrow, "Edge of Chaos," that features a similarly bearded protagonist in a more science fiction setting. The overall package is a commemorative unsheathing of a lost narrative, where imagination and skill run rampant (that purple prose is infectious), and where a cover is a sure sign of the contents within.


Amazon Asks: George Saunders, on Writing That Doesn't Suck

Picked as one of our Best Books of the Month, George Saunders' brilliant short story collection Tenth of December has become a national bestseller and something of a phenomenon, an example of the lasting power of the short story form. During his visit to Seattle, Saunders spent time with us at the Brave Horse Tavern, where he discussed how the short story format is "beautifully suited to the way we live."

>Read New York Times Magazine's profile, "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year"

>Among the writers Saunders mentioned as influencing his work: Tobias Wolff, Alice Munro, Stuart Dybek, William Trevor, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Isaac Babel, and Lorrie Moore.

>Writers he's reading: Adam Levin and Horatio Moya.

>See all of George Saunders' books.

George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

Broadway, Baby--Tim Federle on "Better Nate Than Ever"

BetterNateYoung fans of Broadway musicals or Glee rejoice--Tim Federle has written your novel.  To be honest, I'm not even a huge fan of musicals (don't tell anyone) but I laughed my way through Better Nate Than Ever, and had the most enjoyable experience reading this middle grade story of a small town boy pursuing his dream of stardom on the Broadway stage.  Nate reminds me of a much younger version of a good friend of mine (who I think will love this book regardless of the intended reading age)--funny, stubborn, a little bit of a diva, and absolutely delightful to be around.

It's an open casting call for E.T. the musical that ultimately draws Nate to New York despite the dust-up he knows will result at home, and if you are scratching your head asking, did they make E.T. into a musical? the answer is not yet.  But maybe they will now. In the guest post below, author Tim Federle shares the story behind Better Nate Than Ever including the answer to the question, why E.T.?

“What’s the one movie they’ll never turn into a Broadway musical?” That’s the question I asked myself when I set out to write my first novel—all about the adventure of auditioning for a Broadway show—for young readers.

 I may be a debut novelist, but I know musicals like the back of my own jazz hand.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was the only kid who had memorized Oklahoma! before I’d memorized its state capital (Oklahoma City). When I moved to New York, I ended up performing in lots of movies-turned-musicals. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I played a dancing candy-maker; in The Little Mermaid, a dancing catfish. In Billy Elliot, I played a different kind of role—associate choreographer—training the child stars and sending the next generation into the spotlight.

 And yet! As inspired as I was by the kids’ talent and ambition, I grew a little restless about my own. A guy can only dance for so long, and I began quietly daring myself to follow my next dream—my understudy dream, we’ll call it—which was to write a novel.

 “But real writers have MFAs and live in Park Slope,” I told myself, and: “I’m not a novelist, I’m a chorus boy.” But then, one day, while coaching one of the Billy-Elliots-to-be on a nearly impossible dance, I heard myself say: “I know it’s scary, but you cannot give into your fear!” And I was right—not just for him, but for me. If I could make these tweens face a Broadway audience, I could make myself face a blank page.

 Better Nate Than Ever is the story of a thirteen-year-old Pittsburgh-area theater dork who does what I’d only dreamed of at that age: He runs away from home to try out for a Broadway musical. But what show should Nate audition for? I needed a hook. Something to make me smile hard enough to propel my way through a first draft. “What’s the one movie,” I asked myself late one night, “they’ll never turn into a Broadway musical?”


Of course, E.T. A classic film so big-hearted and true that the addition of tap shoes would clomp all over its very gentle soul. Plus, there was that one, poetic detail: E.T. is an alien, just like I was; just like a lot of kids are in their little hometowns, and sometimes their own families. I wanted to write a book for all us kids who get chosen last for dodgeball. Who can use a laugh and a voice and an unlikely hero. And I wanted that unlikely hero to audition for an unlikely musical.

Once I settled on E.T., it took one frenzied month to write one frenzied first draft—but Better Nate Than Ever was born.

In thirty-two years as an alien on this planet, I’ve been lucky. Two impossible wishes have come true: I’ve danced on Broadway and written a book. It feels like pushing my luck to wish for more, but I do: to never let my fears get bigger than my dreams. No matter how alien they may be. --Tim Federle