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Photo Essay: How Did the Statue of Liberty Get Built?

LibertyElizabeth Mitchell's myth-busting Liberty’s Torch--a Best Book of the Month for July--is a hoot of a story packed with entertaining cameos by Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Edison and more. At center stage is the maddeningly egotistical artiste, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a snobbish boor who disliked America and her "subpar" people, yet, through persistence and will, found a home for his statue in New York Harbor.

In advance of Independence Day, we asked Mitchell to share a few photos and anecdotes from her rigorously researched tale of how a sculptor’s obsession became a nation's icon.

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We take it for granted that the Statue of Liberty belongs in the New York harbor. But if it were not for one driven man, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, this globally recognizable symbol would never have seen sunrise over the city.

Bartholdi dreamed up the idea of the colossus, he pitched, pleaded, sweated, and schemed to get her built. My new book, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty, tells this tale of one man battling obstacles and accidents to make his unusual vision a reality.

It helped that Bartholdi birthed this creation during an era when artist, inventors and engineers constantly tried to one-up each other. He had seen the colossal statuary in Egypt, the sphinxes and pyramids, and he wanted to also create something that would last for eternity. All he had to do was solve the mechanical feats, clear the fundraising hurdles, and keep everyone alive in the process.

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1) Here is Bartholdi, looking like Dave Grohl. He was spunky, funny, emotional, and a huge egotist. He alone came up with the idea of the Statue of Liberty and set out to convince France and America to build it. He wasn’t so much in love with America as he was entranced by the idea of crafting a massive statue. He did appreciate that America had successfully created a democracy while his France struggled violently for the ideal.

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2) He originally designed the piece for Egypt, for the mouth of the Suez Canal, but the deal fell through so he went looking for other locations. At the time, America was showing new growth after the Civil War, taking on constructions like Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The cross continental railroad had just been completed. The nation seemed a likely candidate to absorb the plan that had failed elsewhere.

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3) Short on funds and public enthusiasm, Bartholdi built Liberty in pieces, exhibiting a bit at a time to raise money to create more. Here is the torch being shown at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. At the bottom, Bartholdi set up a kiosk to sell souvenirs and tickets to the top.

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4) Bartholdi showed the head at the Paris Exposition of 1878. It arrived on a wagon from the workshop where she was created, having wended her way through the streets of Paris. People waved and sang the Marseillaise as the massive head passed.

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5) To test the design, the statue was first put together in a neighborhood in Paris near the Parc Monceau. People could pay a ticket to climb up and look over the rooftops.

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6) Liberty was inaugurated on October 28, 1886 in a heavy fog. Bartholdi himself tugged an enormous French flag from her face to reveal her to the world. A few weeks later, he ventured out in a nighttime rain to say goodbye to his creation. He told a reporter that he could no longer sense the immensity of her as he had when he was working on her in Paris. He said, “She is going away from me. She is going away from me.” She now belonged to America.

--Elizabeth Mitchell

What to Read in Litchfield Prison: Dana Reinhardt on "We Are the Goldens"

WeAreTheGoldensI'm a big fan of the show Orange is the New Black, and it's been interesting to see the commentary on binge-watching since the long-awaited second season released.  Many readers can relate to this experience, it's basically the same thing as when you "just-one-more-chapter" yourself into finishing a book that's sucked you in, even if it's 4 a.m. and you have to work the next day. 

I recently had the unique experience of binge-reading Dana Reinhardt's book, We Are the Goldens (one of our Best Young Adult Books of June), and also binge-watching Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, where I was very pleasantly surprised to see the same book I'd just burned through, being read on the show by no less than the maven of Litchfield prison herself (that would be Red). 

I wanted to find out if Reinhardt was already a fan of Orange is the New Black, and what it was like to see her book on the T.V. show everyone's talking about.  Here's what I found out about these questions and more:

Q: For a reader just learning about your book, tell me about We Are the Goldens

Dana Reinhardt: We Are The Goldens is about two sisters, Nell and Layla, who are extraordinarily close, and it’s about what happens when that sort of closeness is threatened, as it inevitably will be, by individual choices. It’s written in the form of a confessional from Nell directly to Layla as she struggles with whether to keep her sister’s secrets. It’s about kids of privilege growing up with overly trusting and distracted parents. It’s about inchoate morality. It’s about the blurry lines between love and friendship. And it’s one big (slightly twisted) love letter to the city of San Francisco.

Q: The book is shown on the new season of Orange is the New Black – were you already a fan of the show?  What did that feel like, to see your new book in that context?

Dana Reinhardt: I’m a huge fan of the show. I think it’s some of the smartest writing on television. The characters are so complex and I love the way as a viewer you get to know them before you really know them, that is, before you know who they are outside of the microcosm of the prison system and what set of circumstances led them there. Seeing Red, the grand dame of Litchfield, reading my book was an absolute thrill, particularly as that moment arrived on our screens just as the debate blew up about whether adults should be embarrassed to read YA literature. Clearly Red is not embarrassed. Nor are the many other OITNB characters shown with YA novels in their hands.

Q: What do you think makes We Are the Goldens such a good crossover adult read?

Dana Reinhardt: I see most young adult fiction, especially realistic young adult fiction simply as coming of age literature, and who doesn’t love a good coming of age story? I know I do. But this book in particular works for the adult reader because it raises some questions about parents and teachers and the environments we trust our children to that maybe aren’t simple to answer. I didn’t want to write a black and white story, and though I know some young readers will see it that way, I don’t think adult readers will.

Q: You’ve said that To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book – were you a teenager when you read it, and was it assigned reading?

Dana Reinhardt: I don’t remember what grade I was in when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe 9th? I know I didn’t come to it on my own, because left to my own devices I’d have just re-read a Judy Blume book for the thousandth time. But whenever it was that I was assigned that book, my sense of the world forever shifted. It moved me on every level and I remember thinking: this is a perfect book. I go back to it every 10 years or so, often with a sense of trepidation. What if it isn’t as good as I remember? What if it isn’t perfect? It is. And it is.

Q: What are you reading now and how do you decide what to read next?

Dana Reinhardt: I often read several books at once. Usually I’m listening to something on audio while I take my daily walk in Golden Gate Park with the dog. Sometimes I choose silence, if I need to work out a plot point in whatever I’m currently writing, but most often I listen to YA. I find that most YA lends itself well to audio and it’s where I do the vast majority of my YA “reading”. Right now I’m listening to Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which is wonderfully complex. As far as books that I hold in my hands, I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just recently discovered Tana French. I’m not generally a reader of mysteries or detective novels so I resisted her for a long time, but finally enough people I know and trust pushed hard enough and all I can say is… Whoa. She is a gorgeous writer. I’m also currently re-reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, her companion books on grief and loss and aging. They are the sorts of books to which you will want to return as, inescapably, their themes will impact your life in some way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

 

Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy on the Rise of Craft Beer

Craft-BeerIn the tumultuous early ‘80s, Steve Hindy was an AP correspondent in the Middle East--in the heart of the action when the Iraqi army when they invaded Iran, abducted in Lebanon (and lucky to escape with his life, while the people with him were tortured and killed), and sitting behind Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he and 11 others were assassinated at a parade. During his time in Cairo, Hindy met American diplomats who had learned to brew beer while they were posted in Saudi Arabia. When his wife insisted they move back to Brooklyn, he talked their downstairs neighbor, Tom Potter, into leaving his banking career and starting the Brooklyn Brewery.

After 50 years of post-Prohibition industrialization of American beer, a few microbreweries had started popping up again the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it really got underway. Even then, Americans used to swilling Budweiser, Miller, and Coors had yet to develop a taste for craft beer--Hindy remembers early customers spitting out their Brooklyn Lager, saying it was too bitter. Since then, the craft brewery industry has exploded, with more than 2,700 capturing 10 percent of the dollar share of the U.S. market.

At Seattle’s Brave Horse Tavern, I talked with Hindy and George Hancock (cofounder and owner of the Phoenix Ale Brewery) about the story Hindy tells in The Craft Beer Revolution—the pioneers and mavericks who brewed the new craft beer movement, their David-and-Goliath fights against industrial brewers, and pleasures of putting your heart into beer. 

 

Graphic Novel Friday: New Reads from Old Boxes

The best part of moving is unpacking all the new books you had to regrettably box up before you could read them. I spent several weeks unboxing (see also: avoiding), organizing, and then reading a few spectacular comics that published as I changed homes. Here are three that I packed at the top of my stacks:

 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second):  Be still my nostalgic heart. This dreamily crafted tale is one to treasure for all seasons. Rose and Windy meet every summer at their respective families’ vacation homes, but in this snapshot the summer threatens to wilt under a long shade. Rose’s parents show signs of strain; Windy’s usual playful nature now grates; and the local teens have graduated from young adult to very adult. Along with perfect dialogue and strong character designs, the narrative is complemented by multiple ready-to-frame double-page spreads. Reading This One Summer is just as rewarding as looking at it. Watch for this on Best of the Year lists.

 

 

 

 

I Kill Giants: Fifth Anniversary Edition by Joe Kelley and JN Ken Niimura (Image Comics):  I was unprepared for my emotional response when I reached the end of this incredible story. Joe Kelley introduces Barbara, a young girl who lives in a fantasy world where she is a giant slayer who wields a mythical hammer. Of course, this fantasy belies a troubled real world from which she seeks escape; one where something dark lurks upstairs in her home. Once the truth is revealed (and after an admittedly clunky first chapter), beware the tugging of heartstrings.

 

 

 

Afterlife with Archie Book One by Roberto Aguirre-Sagasa and Francesco Francavilla (Archie Comics):  This is no joke, folks! I initially expected a goofy Archie + zombies comic—one to read, chuckle, and then forget. What this does, however, is retool the Archie universe into a nail-biting, horror tale for adults. Much of this is thanks to Francavilla’s Halloween-tinged colors and artwork that discards any previous “house style” regarding character designs. The gang’s all here, but they’ve never looked this good, contemporary, or bloody and bloody scared. See also our Top Ten Reasons to Read Afterlife with Archie feature over at Kindle Daily.

 

 

What’s on your to-read comics list, Omni readers?

--Alex

 

Michael Koryta, on his "Warped and Twisted Mind"

KorytaHe might seem like a nice enough guy. A clean-cut young college professor type or the guy who coaches your kid’s t-ball team. But Michael Koryta possesses a self-proclaimed "warped and twisted mind" that's capable of creating some very creepy characters and some very brutal scenes, which help make his new novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, his best yet.

The story of a boy on the run from two assassins--and a wildfire--this is Koryta's tenth novel, which seems impossible for a guy who probably still gets carded buying beer. In this interview, taped at last month’s Book Expo America in New York, Koryta and I discussed his mentors and idols (names like Connelly, Lehane, and Koontz), his next book (it starts with a corpse in a cave) and, of course, his deceptively twisted mind. Despite the boy scout looks, Koryta seems to keep getting darker, more curious about the nature of menace in the world, and, therefore, better.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is an Amazon Editors’ Summer Reading pick and a Best Book of the Month in mystery, thriller and suspense.

 

YA Wednesday: Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski Talk Heroines and Books They Can't Live Without

RuinRising300 WinnersCurse300Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski are two of my recent favorites authors of YA fiction.  Rutkoski's first book of her new trilogy, The Winner's Curse was a Best Book of the Month in March, and I'm trying to be patient waiting for the next one...  On Tuesday (6/17), Bardugo wrapped up her Grisha trilogy (I loved the first two books, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm) with the finale Ruin and Rising.  And, just so you know, it's fantastic. 

Both authors have written brilliant heroines and created big, satisfying worlds for their readers.  Below, you'll see what they have to say about both, and the soundtrack they would pair with their books.  We also find out the book they couldn't live without (both hedge their bets, which I can totally relate to...).

Q: What qualities in your heroines do you most admire? What do you most relate to?

Leigh Bardugo: That's a tough question. I guess I admire Alina's courage and resilience a great deal, but I think I respect her honesty the most. She is very much herself even when she doesn't think that's the person people want to see. I suppose I relate most to her sense of humor. Even when things are at their worst, Alina can still laugh at herself. Marie, I loved Kestrel's intelligence, but also that it wasn't a kind of singular intelligence—it was only part of who she was and what she valued. 

Marie Rutkoski: For my part, Leigh, I loved that Alina never forgot where she came from. She’s presented with some very seductive things—power, luxury, attractive young men—but to me she’s always the girl who rubs a scar on her hand and knows exactly where she got it, and how.

Kestrel is very smart, even cunning. Sometimes she’s capable of manipulation. But what I admire most is her kindness. She means well. She senses other people’s limits and respects them. And she’s kind in a very old sense of the word (“kind” means “alike”; it has the same origin as the word “kin”—i.e., “family”). She tries to understand other people’s perspective. In other words, Kestrel is empathetic. I try to be, too.

Q: World-building is a huge part of what makes both of your books so great. What would you like/dislike about living in the worlds you created?

Leigh Bardugo: Dislike? The looming threat of imminent death comes to mind. I'm also not sure how I'd feel about eating roasted lynx or cuckoo. Ravka is a tough place to live if you're not of a particular class, but even if you are, it's a country in the midst of tremendous upheaval. So it's hard for me to imagine sleeping well at night. But I would love to attend the Winter Fete at the Grand Palace, or see the Grisha in their workshops, or spend an afternoon aboard one of Sturmhond's ships.

Marie Rutkoski: Um, can I spend an evening aboard Sturmhond’s ship? I would like that very much, thanks.

I wouldn’t mind living in Herran well before the invasion. It was a place that revered the arts. I confess: I’m kind of arty.

But living in Kestrel’s time and place would be very difficult. Her people are constantly at war, are very good at it, and enslave the populations they conquer. Living in a society that practices slavery would be abhorrent. And even if I weren’t a soldier, I would find it hard to live in such a militaristic society.

Q: If your book/series had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

Leigh Bardugo: Placebo's cover of "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush is basically the Darkling's theme song as far as I'm concerned. "Cosmic Love" by Florence + the Machine, "I Will Come" by Alpha Rev, "Mountain Sound" by Of Monsters and Men, "Stubborn Love" by the Lumineers, "Sorcerer" by Stevie Nicks, and "Polegnala e Todora (Love Song)" from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.  Also, nothing would ever get written without Ludovico Einaudi.

Marie Rutkoski: “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” by Arcade Fire, “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn, “A+E” by Goldfrapp, “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake, “If It’s True” by Anaïs Mitchell featuring Justin Vernon and Greg Brown, “Green” by Brendan James (but a live, acoustic version a friend gave me that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. I suspect it’s bootlegged. I don’t care for the original recorded version).

The song I listened to a lot while writing the sequel to The Winner’s Curse is Florence + the Machine’s cover of “Take Care.”

Q: What book do you own that you couldn’t live without, and why?

Marie Rutkoski: This question makes me wish I had a precious first edition or a book passed down through generations of my family. The book I most enjoy rereading is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; I tend to read it when I’m sick. Makes me feel lots better. But if we’re talking about one book that I’m going to be reading over and over again for the rest of my life, I’d have to go with the collected works of Shakespeare, since he’s a big reason why I’m a writer, and because I know I can reread anything of his and never get bored. But that’s a cheating sort of answer.

Leigh Bardugo: It's a strategic sort of answer. Pride and Prejudice is a big comfort read for me too. (Weirdly, when I was a kid, my comfort read was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Maybe because high school was basically prison.) I think I'm going to waffle and go with either Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles (in which case I also need a great dictionary and maybe an OED) or the complete Harry Potter.

Q:  What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  And from whom?

Marie Rutkoski: A friend of mine, Jeremiah, who died much too young, said that it’s best to accept people at face value. Believe what they say. A former adviser in graduate school, James Shapiro, when I was working on my dissertation, said, “People just want to hear a good story. What’s your story?” That’s true for writing--even academic stuff, which I sometimes do--but also for life. If you listen and look, you’ll see that people are telling stories all the time: through gossip, memories, images, songs. And Matthew Arnold, in a poem, said, “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” That might be the best advice.

Leigh Bardugo: That answer makes me so sad that we're not touring again together. (Anyone reading this should know that Marie Rutkoski is a lovely person to be stuck in an airport with.) The best life advice I ever got was probably from Frank Herbert's Dune. That book is all about adapting and preparation. Also, vengeance. But the words that come to me most often, particularly with respect to writing, is by Yeats: "Be secret and exult, / Because of all things known / That is most difficult."

Author-Lawyer Alafair Burke's Favorite "Lawyers are People Too" Books

Our thanks to Alafair Burke for sharing her thoughts on the best and worst ("hearsay!") of legal thrillers and courtroom drama. Burke's latest novel is All Day and a Night, which again features her NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher. Megan Abbott (The Fever) called it “A masterfully plotted, psychologically complex thriller."

As a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Burke knows a thing or two about the law; she now teaches at Hofstra Law School. (And as the daughter of James Lee Burke, she also knows a thing or two about the written word). Burke's next project is a first-ever collaboration with Mary Higgins Clark. Their co-authored novel, The Cinderella Murder, is coming in November.

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In 2004, a major editor at a major publisher told me, “Legal thrillers are out.” Having just published my first two novels, both featuring Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid, I desperately needed this death announcement to be premature.Alafair

Fast-forward ten years, and books featuring lawyers are thriving. Perhaps not coincidentally, publishers have also found a way to market books about lawyers without pigeonholing them as “legal thrillers” or “courtroom dramas.”

I first started fantasizing about writing a novel because of my frustration at the portrayal of attorneys in fiction, especially crime fiction. I was a huge fan of the genre, but found myself wanting to throw books across the room when attorneys arrived on the page, yelling “hearsay!” and “calls for speculation!” Evidentiary objections, jury selection, and cross-examinations might be real goose bump inducers compared to the average lawyer’s workday, but as ingredients for a page-turner? No, thank you.

In real life, few lawyers go to court. They delve into families, negotiating pre-nups, adoptions, and divorces. They merge and separate corporate entities. Even litigators spend a small percentage of their time in court. The vast majority of cases settle, which only happens after lawyers gather evidence, question witnesses, scour documents, and play chicken with their adversaries.

Michael Connelly understood this when he endorsed my debut novel by saying, “JUDGMENT CALLS expertly shows that the most gripping drama is not found in the courtroom but in the places where choices get made in the shadows cast by politics and corruption and human desires.”

FirmIn other words, when lawyers narrate a story, it’s still just a story, because lawyers are people too.  Here are a few of my favorite books that show the real lives of lawyers, outside the courtroom.

The Firm, John Grisham

Though Grisham’s A Time To Kill is one of the best courtroom novels I’ve read, The Firm captures an altogether different world, expertly portraying the pressures placed upon a junior associate at an elite law firm.

Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow

Turning the genre on its head, Turow tells the story of a career prosecutor charged with murder. He also masters the use of a (possibly?) unreliable narrator. If you’re a fan of crime fiction, read this back-to-back with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and draw the parallels.

TurowThe Alexandra Cooper series, by Linda Fairstein (The most recent installment: Terminal City)

It’s no surprise that Fairstein, who as supervisor for the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office broke new ground in the prosecution of crimes against women, also broke new ground in the depiction of prosecutors in fiction. Through Alex Cooper, she shows that the power of the prosecutor is not in the courtroom, but in the nearly unreviewable discretion they exercise outside of it.

The Mickey Haller series, by Michael Connelly (The most recent installment: The Gods of Guilt)

Much as Fairstein depicts the out-of-court life of Alex Cooper, Connelly delves into the life of defense attorney Mickey Haller. He’s neither true believer nor scoundrel. He’s just a really interesting guy who happens to be a lawyer.

KermitIn the Shadow of the Law, Kermit Roosevelt

In the way that atmospheric novels treat geographic setting as character, Roosevelt treats the law as a character here, both villain and protagonist.

The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen Carter

I’ve got to include a book featuring a law professor at the center of a sprawling thriller. Yale Law Prof Carter provides a searing portrayal of both academic and judicial politicking.

Supreme Ambitions, by David Lat

This forthcoming novel lifts the veil on the prestigious but cryptic role of judicial clerks. The author, founder of the law-blog Above the Law (think: Entertainment Weekly for lawyers), is a rock-star among law-geeks (to wit, he coined the term “bench-slap,” which now appears in Black’s Law Dictionary).

It’s within this context that I situate my tenth novel, All Day and a Night, which tells the story of a wrongful conviction claim from the perspectives of both recurring character NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and a young defense attorney named Carrie Blank. It has been described as a combination of police procedural, courtroom drama, and psychological thriller. To defy easy categorization is the highest praise I can ask for.

    --Alafair Burke

Cheryl Tan Explores Singapore's Dark Side in "Singapore Noir"

NoirWhat I love about the "Noir" series of pulpy short story collections created by Brooklyn-based Akashic publishers is that each volume makes me hunger to visit that locale's underbelly. I've heard of spy tourists who, for example, visit the sites of Le Carre novels. (David Ignatious explores the idea in this recent post.) I could see these books inspiring a niche new travel meme, with literary geeks venturing into the alleys and red light districts of the dozens of cities in the Noir series.

I also love the pairing of geographically appropriate authors who've curated each volume: Laura Lippman for Baltimore Noir; Dennis Lehane for Boston Noir; and Joyce Carol Oates for the my home state in New Jersey Noir.

One of the latest entries in the series is Singapore Noir, comprising stories by some of the best-known writers of that ethically, culturally, linguistically diverse country. A Best Book of the Month in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Singapore Noir was edited by Singapore-born Cheryl Tan (A Tiger in the Kitchen), who answered a few questions about her home country's dark side.

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NT: Noir? What's noir about Singapore? I thought it was sunny, safe, and squeaky clean?

CT: Oh there's definitely a sexy dark side to Singapore! In the 20 years that I've lived in the U.S. I've always been frustrated that people think of one of a few things whenever Singapore comes up: Caning, fines, strict laws. The country is much more colorful and complex than that. For starters, anyone who's ever visited Singapore will know that the best places to eat in the country are in the red-light districts. While you're sitting there having the most amazing plate of beef noodles, you'll find yourself surrounded by prostitutes and suddenly hungry men. And, although it's true that crime rates there are much lower than in much of the rest of the world, bad things do happen there, of course, even if rarely. There's a huge gambling culture--always has been, even before Sands built a multi-million-dollar glitzy casino a few years ago--and Singaporean loan sharks are terrifying! (You don't want them painting threatening notes on your front door in pig's blood, trust me.) There have been saucy sex scandals plastered across the papers there in recent years, horrific stories of maid abuse, clashes between the poor or the ordinary and the super rich (the country actually has a bar that serves up a $26,000 cocktail).

NT: Will you or the other “Singapore Noir” authors get caned for writing about Singapore’s inky pockets? 

CT: I hope not! Although, I suppose we may find out very soon. If you never hear from me again ...

In all seriousness, these stories are dark, yes--but they also show various facets of Singapore, Singaporean life, neighborhoods and quirky characters that haven't been much explored in literature outside of Asia so far. One of my favorite characters in the book is a feng shui master who doubles as a detective, for example--he pops up in Nury Vittachi's fast-paced "Murder on Orchard Road." When this master is called in to cleanse rooms where bad things such as deaths have happened, he looks around and, of course, figures out more than how to make the chi flow well again in the room. British novelist Lawrence Osborne's "Tattoo" pulls the curtain back on the very vivid world of Geylang, Singapore's main red-light district. 

And several of the stories touch on topics that have made headlines in Singapore in recent years--sex scandals, maid abuse, the growing expat population and how that's rapidly changing Singapore, the rise of the very wealthy. Colin Cheong's lovely "Smile, Singapore," follows a "taxi uncle"--what we call cab drivers--in the heartland of Singapore who's faced with a difficult decision. I also love a little detail he brings to the book--an old tradition of keeping the bone of a dead child with you so its ghost will protect you. It's details such as these that make this book uniquely Singaporean--and one that I think may be a little eye-opening.

NT: Why did you choose the “kelongs,” or old fisheries, as the site for your story, “Reel”?

CT: I've long been fascinated with kelongs, which are these fairly large fisheries on stilts that you see in the middle of the sliver of water that cuts a slice between Singapore and Malaysia. This is an old way of fishing that's rapidly disappearing--and I'd grown up Singapore fascinated with kelongs because my girlhood home on the East Coast of Singapore is not far from where most of the remaining kelongs are. It's a very romantic setting to me--this idyllic spot that's worlds away from the glitzy, modern Singapore that most people know. Looking out at them from the shores of Singapore, I always tried to imagine what life might be like when you're living in a kelong house, perched on slats of wood amid a labyrinth of tall, long stilts, out there in the middle of the water, with little else to do but wait for flotillas of fish to swim into your traps, what dangers might lurk--both in the water and out. Well in my story, something certainly does happen ... you'll just have to read the book to find out!

Graphic Novel Friday: Miracleman Returns

Holy hiatus, Batman! The Graphic Novel Friday feature has been MIA for a several weeks, and I apologize. I recently moved, and my comics were all packed away in (too many) boxes, but one new collection stayed with me throughout the process: Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying.

In the early 1980s, well before the gritty deconstruction of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Watchmen, the latter creator took to lesser-known 1950s United Kingdom hero, Marvelman, and did what he does best: utterly dismantle everything fans knew and rebuild the hero from a grim foundation. After decades of legal issues resulting in the name change to “Miracleman”—and even Alan Moore’s own dismissal of the project (he is now only credited as “The Original Writer”), Marvel Comics brings the out-of-print-run, with later contributions by Neil Gaiman, back to the bookshelves everywhere—and in celebratory fashion.

In Moore’s revamp, alter ego Micky Moran (ha!) has forgotten his superhero identity and slumps in middle age, in a lackluster marriage and job. His dreams haunt and hint at a greater calling, but everything is tinged with darkness, until a moment of panic forces Micky to utter the magic word that eluded him for so long: "Kimota!" And with that exclamation, Alan Moore changed comics forever.

This first volume includes a pre-Moore issue that leads directly into the deconstruction, and the overall story features all the sinister narration, disturbed villains, and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-the-hero origins that would later make Moore such a force in the superhero industry. It’s a revelation to read this story for the first time, to see the comics wizardry take form in an origin story of its own. It’s complemented by artwork from Garry Leach, whose classic lines give characters a subtle lurch. Midway through, an early Alan Davis joins the project, and his artwork, while hemming closely to Leach’s, is still his own—smooth and meticulous. The supplemental section is hefty, with a “Warpsmiths” story that will eventually tie into the larger storyline, and plenty of alternate covers—new and old, sketches, and more.

Welcome back, Miracleman. (Book 2: The Red King Syndrome releases this October!)

--Alex

P.S. GNF will now return to its regular bi-weekly schedule. Kimota!

The Paris Wife meets Margaret Mead: Paula McLain and Lily King in Conversation

EuphoriaThe best thing you can say about a novel based, loosely or otherwise, on historical characters is that it sometimes makes you want to go out and read biographies and other nonfictional accounts of the people and places you met in that novel. Euphoria is just such a book, and if I say it will make you think differently about the anthropologist Margaret Mead -- or think about her at all, in fact -- it will have more than done its job. Brainy and romantic all at once, Euphoria, our Spotlight pick for June's Best of the Month, is a special kind of novel, and a bit of a departure for its author, Lily King (Father of the Rain). Here, King sits down for a chat with Paula McLain, author of another little historical you might have heard of: The Paris Wife.

Paula McLain: I've been a fan of your work for years, Lily, but this book is dizzyingly good. It's also a big departure for you creatively. How did the idea come to you?

Lily King: It came so unexpectedly and when I wasn't looking for an idea at all. I was just starting my third novel, Father of the Rain, and a friend of mine took me to a used bookstore that was closing; I picked up a biography of Margaret Mead. I didn't really expect I'd read it, but I started it that night and got to this part when she's 31 years old and in the Territory of New Guinea doing fieldwork with her husband, and they meet another anthropologist, Gregory Bateson. He finds them a tribe to study nearby and they have this five-month fiery love triangle in the jungle with malarial fevers and intellectual breakthroughs.

Lily King
Lily King

It was impossible not to think, "Wow, this would make a great novel!" But my next thought was, of course, "I can't do that. I don't write novels like that." But Father of the Rain was an emotionally draining book and I had to take long breaks from it, so I started reading more about Mead and Bateson and anthropology and the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and started taking notes and getting ideas. Once the other novel was done, I started to think maybe I could take a stab at it.

PM: I have to confess I fell completely in love with Andrew Bankson. Did you? What spurred your decision to tackle his voice as well as Nell's? Any challenges or particular pleasures?

LK: I was massively in love with him, too--his Englishness, his tragic youth, his vulnerability and lack of confidence yet a very clear moral compass, and his complete obliviousness to his own sexiness… My kind of man.

I originally meant the book to be Nell's story, in her voice alone. But after I finished the first chapter I needed to go back in time a few days and write the scene of Bankson's suicide attempt, which she wasn't there to witness. I remember exactly where I was and what I ordered when I wrote that chapter (Walter's in Portland, Maine; tea and tiramisu) because I was so surprised by how close I was able to get to him, much closer than I had gotten to her in that first chapter. I felt I could hear his thoughts so clearly. I knew then that the novel was really his story, and everything I had thought about how I'd tell it and what would happen would have to change.

Paula McLain
Paula McLain

PM: The fictional New Guinean tribes you track in the book are fascinating, and the details so richly layered and convincing. The Sepik River in 1933 isn't a place that essentially exists anymore, if you know what I mean. How did you "get there" imaginatively? Were there any breakthroughs or signposts along the way that helped you feel you really understood this exotic world?

LK: Thank you so much for saying that. It was scary and daunting and most of the time I feared I was failing. But there would be small details I'd find in the research that I could latch onto. I remember reading in one of Mead's letters that she was happy because she had been given a crocodile egg and could make a loaf of bread. And that a big delicacy for one of the tribes was a certain kind of raw bat. I don't think either of these details ever made it into the novel, but I had them in my head and they made the place feel real to me, and allowed me to make up other details that felt compatible.

In the Museum of Natural History in New York I saw a navigation tool made out of sticks and shells that people held up to the night sky to find their way on the water, as well as a few other things that really brought me closer to that world. Also the vocabulary of the time--the kiaps and pinnaces, the awful term blackbirding (for recruiters from western corporations who lured young men away from their villages to work in the mines and on the plantations)--all served to bring me back to that era. Sometimes the power a word or two can have on the imagination is incalculable.

For me the research really stimulated ideas for plot. I'd read a good detail and then a whole scene would unfold.

PM: Nell and Fen's marriage is thorny and complex, and it was sometimes hard for me to glean why such a strong woman would put up with his cruelty. How do you understand their connection? Did you find ways to sympathize with Fen's character?

Father of the Rain

Father of the Rain
by Lily King

Paperback | Kindle


The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain

Paperback | Kindle

LK: I had a lot of sympathy for Fen. Like all angry and abusive people, he was terrified. He was scared he wasn't as smart as Nell, as hard-working as she was, or as committed and inspired and just plain good at it. He was scared he was going to lose her. He feared that the intellectual life that he had gravitated towards was not masculine enough. He was confused by Nell and her modern ideas, and while he wanted to be a part of that conversation and her unconventional world, his upbringing and everything he had known before her was in direct opposition to it.

Nell and Fen met in the most romantic of circumstances, on a ship as they were both returning from their first field trips. They were both wide open emotionally, experiencing similar re-entry feelings, and full of hope about their lives. Nell got to see Fen at his very best, and he saw her at her most relaxed and least compulsive. They spent a year apart, writing letters, then married just before sailing back to the South Pacific for another field trip together. Once there, they are stuck in the jungle together for two years under very difficult and isolated circumstances. It is a lot of pressure on a new marriage. I didn't feel that Nell had any other choice but to stay with him and try not to trigger his rage if she wanted to finish her work, which depended on his research as well as her own.

People aren't always strong in every area of their lives. Margaret Mead was also abused in the field by her husband Reo Fortune. There are several accounts of him hitting her. Latter in her life she admitted to a friend that he caused the miscarriage of a child while they were in Papua New Guinea. The one I find most poignant is from a letter she wrote him from the ship after their fieldwork there: "Oh dear—I wish you hadn't hit me where it would show that night over there. I wouldn't have had to go away from you." The words "where it would show" allows you to see that this brilliant, accomplished woman went away from him because of how she felt others would perceive the situation and not out of her own sense of self-worth or self-preservation.

PM: In many ways, the novel is as much about a brilliant woman's passion for her work as it is about the love and hypnotic connection between Nell and Bankson. Was that your intention?

LK: I was attracted to the idea of someone risking her life for her work, risking her health and safety in so many ways, and denying herself basic comforts for years at a time, all to get this information that could not be gotten any other way. And I wanted her to meet someone who lit her mind on fire, whose intelligence was as attractive to her as his tenderness and his physical presence.

PM: There's a wonderful scene early on in the book where Nell describes to Bankson her favorite part of immersing herself in a new tribe -- the brief and fleeting "euphoria" that comes when everything feels reachable, comprehensible, before the full scope of the work ahead sets in. Did you have such a moment with this book?

LK: Ha! No! Nell has much more confidence in her own abilities than I do.

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