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How I Wrote It: Alan Furst, on the "special vitamins" of wartime Europe

FurstAlan Furst's thrilling and endearing new historical spy novel is once again set in Europe as the shadows of war darken the continent and its people. As with his previous novels, Midnight in Europe portrays the tense unease of a region--in this case France and, in particular, Spain--on the verge of fracture, with allegiances and loyalties in constant and dangerous flux. Heroes and villains are sometimes indistinguishable, mainly, says Furst, because most of Europe was "scared to death."

"I don't quite understand why, but that era had special vitamins. It just did," he told me. "What was it about ther '30s? I don't know, but there was this bursting of creativity that came along."

Speaking at the annual Book Expo America conference in New York, we also discussed the 1984 trip he took through Europe, on assignment for Esquire. "I came back a changed person," he told me. Interestingly, he rarely visits Europe these days, which is far different from the version of Europe he writes about. "I'm used to another Paris," he said.

Proudly "blue collar" in his approach to writing, Furst is already pounding out the next novel, two pages per day, every day. "I can't fool around and wait for inspiration," he said. Like one of his own characters, he still writes on a typewriter, a Lexmark. "Descendant of the mighty IBM selectric," he gushed proudly. "I think I write better on a typewriter." 

Brad Meltzer is Obsessed with "Ordinary People Changing the World"

RosaBrad Meltzer is a shape-shifter and, apparently, the guy doesn't sleep. Known mainly for the bestselling thrillers he's been writing since his twenties--starting with his 1997 debut, The Tenth Justice--he also writes comic books, screenplays, and hosts his own History Channel show, Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

More recently, he's shouldered the laudable task of inspiring kids--his, and ours. Meltzer's first such efforts--Heroes for my Daughter and Heroes for my Son--led to this year's Ordinary People Changing the World series, the latest of which is I Am Rosa Parks, on sale this week.

The "I Am..." books depict heroic Americans during their childhoods, as regular boys and girls. The first two, Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln, will be followed by Albert Einstein (September) and Jackie Robinson (January).

At BookExpo America in New York last month, we spoke with Meltzer about his own childhood heroes, his love of story, his paranoia, and his radical belief that "a reality TV show bimbo is not a hero." (And if you don't like my interview, check out one of the best book trailers I've seen, featuring Meltzer's family and friends trash-talking him.)

Jeff VanderMeer Drops by Amazon to Talk About "Annihilation"

51H2WZitH0L._BO2,204,203,200Jeff VanderMeer, author and Omnivoracious contributor, stopped by Seattle on his recent book tour. Having worked with him extensively on many Omni posts, and having read a few of his books (try City of Saints and Madmen), including his latest novel Annihilation, I was excited to sit down with him.

Annihilation, which was a Best Book of the Month for February, is one of those books that will either draw you in from the start or spit you out confused and reeling. Four women--simply known as the Psychologist, the Surveyor, the Anthropologist, and the Biologist--are sent on the twelfth expedition to a mysterious region simply known as Area X. From there the mysteries multiply, as VanderMeer leads us on an adventure deeper into the unknown. The Los Angeles Times had this to say about the book: "'Annihilation,' in which the educated and analytical similarly meets up with the inhuman, is a clear triumph for Vandermeer, who after numerous works of genre fiction has suddenly transcended genre with a compelling, elegant and existential story of far broader appeal."

There are two more books to follow in the Southern Reach trilogy. And you won't have to wait long--Authority is scheduled to be released in May, and Acceptance will publish in September.

Sylvia Day Whets Our Appetite for "Entwined with You"--and More Crossfire

Entwined-with-YouAfter naming Sylvia Day’s Bared to You a 2012 Best Book of the Year in Romance and devouring Reflected in You, we've been anxiously awaiting the release of the third book in Day's scorching Crossfire series, Entwined with You. To whet our appetites and make waiting for the book's arrival a little easier, Amazon Romance expert Alyssa Morris spoke with Day about what’s next for Gideon and Eva, her upcoming collaboration with Harlequin and Cosmopolitan, her all-time favorite romance novels, and much more.

Alyssa Morris: Now that you’ve had a bit of time to absorb the success of Bared to You, does it feel real? Or are you still surprised?

Sylvia Day: I'm still surprised! I’m glad I’m a veteran and that I’ve been publishing for close to 10 years, so I had some experience under my belt as far as dealing with it. But on the other hand, there’s no way to anticipate writing something that becomes a global phenomenon, you know. I don’t know about other writers--I didn’t even dream about anything like that. I always figured that it just happened to the Stephenie Meyers and J.K. Rowlings of the world. So, yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever get over being surprised that I had a series that struck such a chord.

AM: It just hit such a moment in our culture, where all of a sudden this is what everyone wants to be reading. It’s an interesting confluence.

SD: Right. We always talk about that, about right book, right time. Random House released Fifty Shades on the same day I self-published Bared to You, so talk about the right timing. Just… wow!

AM: Do you have a favorite moment in the Crossfire series so far? 

SD: You know, I really loved the weekend that Gideon and Eva spent in the Outer Banks. These poor guys. When they’re alone, they’re fine. Life is perfect when they’re alone. Unfortunately, they don’t get a lot of time alone. [Laughs] So I just love that. I love seeing them together away from all of the distractions and intrusions and everything else that’s going wrong in their lives.

I can’t talk too much about Entwined with You because it’s not out yet. And that’s so hard, because I so want to talk tabout it! But there’s more alone time with Gideon and Eva as we move forward in the series and they grow stronger, so I’m really enjoying that as a writer. 

AM: Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see next for Gideon and Eva? And is Entwined with You the last book in the series, or it might continue farther?

SD: Yes. It’s definitely continuing, so I can say that for sure. I was not able to wrap up the entirety of the storyline into three books, and I was absolutely adamant that I was not going to try to rush or cram the third book to try to make it fit. And I was fortunate that my agent and my editor they both agree that it would be a big disservice to the series to not let it play out the way it needs to, so there will definitely be future books.

The first book was really the introduction to Gideon and Eva. That’s where we first become familiar with their flaws and their issues, which are of course very prevalent in the first book. The second book they were really apart most of that book. They were mostly broken up through that whole thing. It was very angsty and dark. The third book is very different. Eva’s in a different place. At the end of Reflected in You, Gideon has made a pretty large sacrifice for her. Her big issues had been insecurities, concerns about other people and other women particularly in Gideon’s life. It’s hard to have those sorts of fears and self-doubt after somebody makes a huge sacrifice, like Gideon did for her. So she’s in a much more stable place as far as her comfort level with the relationship and being able to accept the depth of his commitment to her.

Gideon, however--what he’s done, there’s a lot of ramifications. Not just externally, but internally. So as she grows stronger, he’s actually struggling with more. That said, she’s really the anchor for that relationship. She has been from the beginning. So with her being stable, it brings new stability to the whole relationship, and readers will see a lot more moments of calm and connection between the two than we have seen in the previous books.

Continue reading "Sylvia Day Whets Our Appetite for "Entwined with You"--and More Crossfire" »

Summer Reading Author: Judy Blume

This week's featured Summer Reading author is Judy Blume and she is one of my favorites.  As a kid I gobbled up her books one after the other: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Blubber, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret--each was eagerly anticipated and they accompanied me through childhood. 

Blume's young adult novel (though we didn't call it YA back then), Forever..., gave me my first glimpse of a teenage relationship that involved sex and, unlike the Harlequin romances my friends and I had discovered, Forever we read to understand first love and first heartbreak.

Over the years of reading her books, I laughed, I cried, and I felt like Judy Blume understood me.  Decades later, readers are still discovering and enjoying Blume's books and her connection to young minds and hearts is timeless.

Not long ago I had the chance to talk to Blume over the phone for a podcast interview (see below), and believe me when I tell you it was--and is--a highlight of my career in books. In anticipation of the call we asked our Facebook fans if they had any questions for Judy Blume, and I asked her a few of them.  Fellow Blume fans will be excited to learn that she is working on something new, though she's not ready to share much about it other than the time period it's set in--the 1950's.  When I hear more, I'll let you know.  Do you have a favorite Judy Blume book or memory?

 

 

Graphic Novel Friday: Avengers!

"And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest director and actors found themselves united against a common threat: the sagging box office. On that day, the Avengers were born--to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Heed the call, then--for this Friday, the Avengers Assemble!"

Today really is a day unlike any other--it’s practically a nerd holiday: The Avengers, a superhero team comprised of the biggest names in the Marvel universe (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor), hit the silver screen as portrayed by some of the biggest names in the box office (Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johannson, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson), directed and written by geek god Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I say thee yay!

What follows below is a primer for before and after the film, or a refresher for fans who’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s by no means comprehensive, so please suggest your favorite Avengers tales in the comments below.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Avengers!" »

"Animal House" Exclusive Interview: New Book, New Stories and Visions of Broadway

Animal House, one of the most-loved movie comedies of all time, is hotter than ever. There’s a Broadway show in the works and a new, behind-the-scenes book called Fat, Drunk, & Stupid by producer Matty Simmons, who talks to us about what Hollywood first thought of the script (hated it!), what got cut, and why there was never a sequel.

Some highlights from the interview:

FatDrunkStupidBookOn getting the green light: My junior partner at the time was Ivan Reitman [who went on to make comedy classics including Ghostbusters] and we went into [Univeral Studios chief Ned] Tanen’s office and he said, “I hate this movie. Everyone’s drunk or having sex or getting beat up. Do you think you could make it for less than $3 million?" Now I had never made a movie. Ivan had made a couple of movies in Canada for about $8. I said, “Absolutely.” And I didn’t know what I was talking about. We made it for $2.8 million, and overall, everything in to date, it’s grossed about $600 million.

On the unforgettable audience response: We screened that movie in Denver … and at the end of that movie, the audience was standing on chairs and screaming and applauding and yelling. No one had seen anything like it. And then when they brought it back to Hollywood, they did a test screening and it got the highest rating in the then-history of the ratings system.

On getting Animal House to Broadway, with music by Barenaked Ladies: I had the idea about four or five years ago and it took me that long to convince Universal to do it, because they own the rights. They said, “Well, if you bring in the right team.” So I brought in a top Broadway producer, who many years ago was my publicity man and has since won about six Tonys (Jeff Richards), and the director of the Book of Mormon, the hottest show on Broadway (Casey Nicholaw).

Read more on the Amazon Studios Hollywonk blog.

"Mr. CSI" on the Future of Crime Novels and Facing Real-World Death

Anthony Zuiker is best known as “Mr. CSI,” creator of one of TV’s most iconic shows. But he’s also an author who has created a series of crime “digi-novels” that are full-on multimedia experiences — the Level 26 series. Dark Revelations is the newest book in the series, and its finale. Zuiker also has written his own story in Mr. CSI: How a Vegas Dreamer Made a Killing in Hollywood, One Body at a Time, digging into his father’s death, his not-so-overnight success in Hollywood and how his TV show became an empire. He talks exclusively with Amazon about what surprised him most as he wrote his memoir, why he's telling this story now, and what makes the Level 26 series special.

Hear more of our interview with Zuiker on the Amazon Studios blog, where he talks about the Vegas influence, how CSI has grown and changed, and making it in Hollywood. And, on Amazon’s Armchair Commentary blog, Zuiker shares behind-the-scenes stories and his true feelings about David Caruso and those sunglasses.

Writing About Writers: Charles Shields on Kurt Vonnegut

Charles ShieldsCharles Shields is a writer who writes about writers. He previously penned a bestselling biography of Harper Lee (Mockingbird), and now he's written the definitive portrait of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes, which chronicles Vonnegut's slow and often difficult path to the upper ranks of American literature.

It's not always a pretty portrait. "Kurt wanted to be a writer from the time he was a teenager," Shields told me during a recent phone interview. But after serving in the military, getting married and having kids, he faced a dreary life behind a desk "which is not the kind of artistic one that he thought he'd have."

Yet the truth about writers is just that: they don't often live the exciting, public lifestyles of a Hemmingway or a Mailer. Most toil in solitary exclusion. It's a desk job in an office of one. It's sedentary, quiet, and often dull. Still, Shields is fascinated by the process of writing, and by the power and reach of the written word, which he discovered at age 15 upon earning a byline for his first high school newspaper story.  "That was a magical moment for me," he said.

Shields has worked since to grow and change, to learn from others. That desire led him to study the works and habits of other writers, and eventually to become a biographer, joining a group he admiringly refers to as "snoops" and "gossips." (Shields is co-founder of Biographers International Organization.)

His interest in Vonnegut began when he learned Vonnegut was miffed that no one had tried to write his biography. Shields reached out, was rebuffed, persisted, and finally received a postcard on which Vonnegut had sketched a self-portrait, smoking a cigarette. The card contained two letters: "OK."

Continue reading "Writing About Writers: Charles Shields on Kurt Vonnegut" »

Andy Borowitz on Humor, the Pitfalls of Lists and How Twain Would've Rocked Twitter

Bestselling author and humorist Andy Borowitz knows some people may take issue with who made the cut in his new book, The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion. And as far as he’s concerned, that’s part of the fun! (Plus, he’s got an answer for all you Kurt Vonnegut fans.) Borowitz also talks about why lists are so pervasive, how he cut his list from 100 and what Mark Twain would have thought of Twitter (where Borowitz provides a steady stream of fake news and genuine laughs via @BorowitzReport).

For more from Borowitz, including stories about his adventures in Hollywood (with Will Smith and Norman Lear, among others), check out the rest of our interview on the Amazon Studios blog.

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