Chris Schluep spent more than a dozen years editing books in New York before moving west. He takes great pride in reading a wide range of books and connecting interested readers with the books they'll love. Chris lives in Seattle with his wife and son, and he feels like he may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Today he's known simply as WHITEY
-- the Boston gangster whose epic crime story has become the stuff of history.
It's not just he's a stone-cold, hands-on killer (he faces 19 murder charges);
or his longevity (he's now 83, and his underworld reign covered decades). He's
made history because he brought the Boston FBI to its knees, corrupting FBI
agents so they acted as his palace guard and protected him from rivals in the
underworld and from other police agencies seeking to bust him.
Whitey Bulger has become America's
most notorious crime boss because he's at the center of the worst informant
scandal in FBI history -- and now, in June 2013, he finally goes to trial in
federal court in Boston in a racketeering case that has attracted media from
around the world. It's one of those rare legal spectacles -- a proverbial trial
of a century -- where Whitey himself has promised to take the stand to explain
his claim that the U.S. government promised him immunity against prosecution
for his reign of terror in Boston and beyond, a brutal, blood-splattered legacy
of extortion, loan sharking, drug trafficking, torture and murder. The trial, expected to last throughout the
summer, will take viewers into the heart of darkness, featuring Whitey's secret
control of a band of Boston FBI agents.
Whitey's life story is told in our
new biography WHITEY: The Life of
America's Most Notorious Mob Boss the most comprehensive study of Whitey
to date, covering his formative years as a boy on the streets of South Boston
during the Depression; his bank-robbing years, which resulted in his only stint
in prison, including Alcatraz; his role in the infamous LSD experiments in
prison, backed secretly by the CIA; his rise to power in the 1970s with the
help of the FBI; his sixteen years on the lam as a fugitive from justice and,
finally, his capture in Santa Monica in 2011. It's all there, a biography that
gives readers insight into the making of the monster and reveals the origins of
Whitey's sense of invincibility and entitlement above the law.
And there's more. By chance,
Whitey's saga will unfold this summer on a second stage besides the courtroom.
It's the streets of Boston, where film star Johnny Depp will portray Whitey in
BLACK MASS, the motion picture adaptation of our previous book about Whitey
that incorporates material from our new biography. Barry Levinson, the
Academy-award winning director, will be shifting his cast and crew around the
city to capture Whitey's rise and fall for the big screen while federal
prosecutors and Whitey's lawyers tangle in the courtroom over the mountain of
evidence showing Whitey as calculating psychopath and cold-blooded killer.
--Dick Lehr, co-author of WHITEY: The Life of
America's Most Notorious Mob Boss
This weekend in San Jose,
California, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced the
winners of the Nebula Award, given for excellence in SF/F. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312
won for best novel, confirming Omni’s prediction that Robinson was among the
favorites. The full list of winners is:
Novel: 2312, Kim Stanley
Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book: Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Robinson has often been considered a master of world-building, plot, and inspired
exposition. In 2312 he created flawed, compelling characters and an intriguing vision of the future. Nancy Kress and Andy Duncan are perennial Nebula favorites, while the win for rising star Aliette de Bodard is her first—and a rare Nebula win for any writer not from the U.S. or U.K. Bodard was also up for best novella for On a Red Station, Drifting, available in book form.
Kim Stanley Robinson viewed through his Nebula Award
Gregory Bossert, whose fiction has appeared in Asimov’s SF Magazine, among others, attended the awards ceremony as a guest of Asimov’s editor-in-chief Sheila Williams at the Dell Magazine table. He reported back to Omnivoracious that the
highlights included “Outgoing SFWA president John Scalzi's warm introduction of the Solstice Award posthumously to Carl Sagan, and Nick Sagan's gracious and inspiring speech accepting on his father's behalf,” with Ginjer Buchanan also winning a Soltice Award. Michael H. Payne, meanwhile, was given the Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award.
Bossert thought toastmaster Robert Silverberg was “wry and sharp-witted throughout,
never more so than in his introduction of the Damon Knight Grand Master Award for
lifetime achievement to Gene Wolfe. Wolfe’s acceptance speech was both funny and moving; he concluded by saying that as nice as the awards are, and as wonderful and strange the people in attendance, in the end there was no place like home, and for him, home was the books.”
addition, Bossert found Aliette de Bodard's “shock and near-tearful joy at
winning short story Nebula a delightful break from the banter of the Nebula
Kim Stanley Robinson's acceptance speech for 2312 “deftly wrapped up the ceremony by returning to the respect and appreciation he and the assembled SFWA members have for newly anointed Grand Master Gene Wolfe and his works. This led to an un-staged and riotous standing ovation for Wolfe, and then a long evening of celebration.”
Gene Wolfe, David G. Hartwell, and Kim Stanley Robinson
The newest novel by Dan Brown (have you heard of him?) went on sale today. Here's a Q&A with the author of Inferno, a book that USA Today calls "as close as a book can come to a summertime cinematic blockbuster."
refers to Dante Alighieri´s The Divine Comedy. What is Dante’s significance?
What features of his work or life inspired you?
The Divine Comedy—like The
Mona Lisa—is one of those rare artistic achievements that transcends its
moment in history and becomes an enduring cultural touchstone. Like Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony, The Divine Comedy speaks
to us centuries after its creation and is considered an example of one of the
finest works ever produced in its artistic field. For me, the most captivating
quality of Dante Alighieri is his staggering influence on culture, religion,
history, and the arts. In addition to codifying the early Christian vision of
Hell, Dante’s work has inspired some of history’s greatest
luminaries—Longfellow, Chaucer, Borges, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Monteverdi,
Michelangelo, Blake, Dalí—and even a few modern video game designers. Despite Dante’s enduring influence on the
arts, however, most of us today have only a vague notion of what his work
actually says—both literally and symbolically (which, of course, is of great
interest to Robert Langdon). A few years ago, I became very excited about the
prospect of writing a contemporary thriller that incorporated the philosophy,
history, and text of Dante’s timeless descent into The Inferno.
you start on a new book, do you begin with the writing or the research? Do you
enjoy doing one more than the other?
Research definitely drives everything I do. Before beginning the writing
process, I spend a lot of time exploring worlds in which I intend to set the
book. In Angels & Demons, those
worlds included Vatican City, particle physics, and the ongoing battle between
science and religion. In Inferno, the
worlds include Florence, Venice, the writings of Dante Alighieri, as well as a
frightening new science that I believe has the potential either to save
humankind or to destroy it.
did do your research for Inferno? How long did you spend on it?
Researching Inferno began with six months of
reading, including several translations of The
Divine Comedy, various annotations by Dante scholars, historical texts
about Dante’s life and philosophies, as well as a lot of background reading on
Florence itself. At the same time, I was poring over all the new scientific
information that I could find on a cutting edge technology that I had decided
to incorporate into the novel. Once I had enough understanding of these topics
to proceed, I traveled to Florence and Venice, where I was fortunate to meet
with some wonderful art historians, librarians, and other scholars who helped
initial phase of research was complete, I began outlining and writing the
novel. As is always the case, when a book begins to take shape, I am drawn in unexpected
directions that require additional research. This was also the case with Inferno, which took about 3 years from
conception to publication.
With respect to
the process, the success of these novels has been a bit of a Catch-22. On one
hand, I now have wonderful access to specialists, authorities, and even secret archives
from which to draw information and inspiration. On the other hand, because there
is increased speculation about my works in progress, I need to be increasingly
discreet about the places I go and the specialists with whom I speak. Even so,
there is one aspect of my research that will never change—making personal
visits to the locations about which I’m writing. When it comes to capturing the
feel of a novel’s setting, I find there is no substitute for being there in the
flesh...even if sometimes I need to do it incognito.
kind of adventure will Robert Langdon face this time? Can you give us any sneak
peek at the new novel?
Inferno is very much a Robert Langdon thriller. It’s filled with codes, symbols,
art, and the exotic locations that my readers love to explore. In this novel,
Dante Alighieri’s ancient literary masterpiece—The Divine Comedy—becomes a catalyst that inspires a macabre genius
to unleash a scientific creation of enormous destructive potential. Robert
Langdon must battle this dark adversary by deciphering a Dante-related riddle,
which leads him to Florence, where he finds himself in a desperate race through
a landscape of classical art, secret passageways, and futuristic technology.
was the most exciting idea or story that you found in your research?
For me, one of
the most exciting themes of Dante’s Inferno is the portrayal of pride as the most serious of the seven
deadly sins—a transgression punished in the deepest ring of hell. The notion of
pride as the ultimate sin dovetails perfectly with Greek mythology, in which
hubris is responsible for the downfall of the archetypal hero. In mythology, no man was more prideful than the
man who considers himself above the problems of the world…for example, he who
ignores injustice because it does not affect him directly. This notion is reflected in a famous paraphrasing of
Dante’s text: The darkest places in hell are reserved for
those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. This is a recurring
theme of the novel.
made Florence the ideal location for Inferno?
No city on earth is more closely tied to Dante Alighieri. Dante grew up in
Florence, fell in love in Florence, and began writing in Florence. Later in
life, when he was exiled for political reasons, the longing he felt for his
beloved Florence became a catalyst for The Divine Comedy. Through his enduring
poem, Dante enjoyed the “last word” over his political enemies, banishing them
to various rings of Inferno where they suffered terrible tortures.
you have a favorite place to visit in Florence, like a library or a
Every visit to Florence should include a trip to the popular highlights—The
David, The Uffizi Gallery, The Boboli Gardens, and Il Duomo. In addition, there
are a number of other locations that I find particularly inspiring. The Laurentian
Library contains a breathtaking staircase by Michelangelo as well as archives
of ancient manuscripts that are literally chained to their shelves. Palazzo
Vecchio’s spectacular Salone dei
Cinquecento is home to one of the great unsolved mysteries in art history,
which remains an enigma to this day. And the Battistero di San Giovanni boasts a dazzling mosaic cieling that is
said to have terrified the young Dante Alighieri and later inspired his
enduring vision of hell. All of these locations make an appearence in the new
great detective in your novels, Robert Langdon, shares your birth date as well
as your place of birth. What else do the two of you have in common?
Langdon and I both share a fascination with history, symbols, and
codes, but this is where the similarities end. Langdon is far more daring and
exciting than I am. He is, in many ways, the hero I wish I could be.
Dan Brown's Inferno goes on sale today, and the author was kind enough to send Omnivoracious some exclusive content related to what will undoubtedly be another mega-best seller.
The first part of this post is a series of photographs selected by the author, accompanied by book excerpts related to the photos. Together they reveal locations in the book, along with classic Dan Brown-esque details, the kind of details that make his books so readable.
At the bottom of this post is Dan Brown's suggested list of additional reading materials. Maybe this is the year you'll read both Infernos-- Dante's and Dan Brown's. Enjoy.
"As Langdon continued on toward the elbow of the square, he could
see, directly ahead in the distance, the shimmering blue glass dial of the
St. Mark’s Clock Tower— the same astronomical clock through which
James Bond had thrown a villain in the film Moonraker."
"The Tetrarchs statue was well known for its missing foot, broken
off while it was being plundered from Constantinople in the thirteenth
century. Miraculously, in the 1960s, the foot was unearthed in Istanbul.
Venice petitioned for the missing piece of statue, but the Turkish authorities
replied with a simple message: You stole the statue— we’re keeping our
"Amid a contour of spires and domes, a single illuminated facade dominated
Langdon’s field of view. The building was an imposing stone fortress
with a notched parapet and a three-hundred-foot tower that swelled
near the top, bulging outward into a massive machicolated battlement."
"Langdon found himself standing before a familiar face—that of Dante Alighieri.
Depicted in the legendary fresco by Michelino, the great poet stood before
Mount Purgatory and held forth in his hands, as if in humble offering,
his masterpiece The Divine Comedy."
There’s a debut novel just out that’s been getting
a lot of buzz. It’s called A
Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and the book has already garnered starred
reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Anne Patchett and recent Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson
have given it raves, with more sure to come. And we picked it as one of May's Best Books of the Month. The story covers five days
in rebel Chechnya, in December 2004, and is told primarily through the eyes of an
orphaned eight-year-old girl and her neighbor, a physician.
We recently linked up with the author, Anthony Marra,
to talk about his book.
Where did you study in Russia? How did that
pique your interest?
As a junior in college I studied in St. Petersburg.
War journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya had recently been
assassinated; wounded veterans of the Chechen Wars trawled the metro cars for
alms; street gangs routinely attacked people from the Northern Caucasus. Yet as
an American I knew little about Chechnya. As soon as I began researching its incredible
history, I never looked back.
The setting of your book takes place during the
Chechen Wars. Why did you choose this period of history as the backdrop of your
Chechnya is a corner of the world largely mysterious
to most Americans, yet it’s a remarkable place populated with remarkable people
who have become accustomed to repeatedly rebuilding their lives. To quote
Tobias Wolff, “We are made to persist…that’s how we find out who we are.” These
characters commit acts of courage, betrayal, and forgiveness as they persist in
saving what means most to them—be it their families, their honor, or
themselves—from the destruction of war.
The title of the book has a story. Can you
please explain its meaning?
One day I looked up the definition of life in a medical dictionary and found a
surprisingly poetic entry: “A
constellation of vital phenomena—organization, irritability, movement, growth,
reproduction, adaptation.” As biological life is structured as a constellation
of six phenomena, the narrative life of this novel is structured as a
constellation of six point-of-view characters.
Your writing style is unique in that you move
back and forth between the present and the past. Was that a conscious choice?
Very much so. I wanted to write a novel expansive
enough to cover the decade of the two Chechen Wars without losing the drama and
suspense inherent in a more tightly coiled plot. By weaving the five-day story
of a hunted girl through a larger backdrop, I hoped to combine the tension of a
character-driven thriller with the richness of a historical epic. Also, moving
through time shines a light on the seemingly trivial moments, relationships,
and allegiances that affect characters in profound ways years down the line.
What has been the greatest influence your
My mom has six siblings and my dad has four sisters
and between them all there are more cousins than I count, which means that
family events have always been filled with voices, stories, and laughter. From
an early age I learned from them that stories are how we understand one
another, how we preserve the past, and how we make meaning from the chaos of
A practical guide to
understanding men and finding love.
What's on your nightstand/bedside
The Great Gatsby –
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Favorite books of all time?
A Christmas Carol, Peter
Pan, How to Win Friends and Influence People – I discovered them all when I was
a teenager and have all had a huge impact on my life ever since.
Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?
Hundreds, but probably The
Great Gatsby. In little over 100 pages it tells you everything about life,
America, striving for something better, dreams and expectations, and the
tragedy that can come with getting exactly what you want (or think you want).
Book that made you want to become a writer?
The Road Less Travelled –
It’s one of the most honest and down-to-earth books about life and love ever
written, and it bravely dispels a lot of the bad myths about romantic love and
relationships that people hold onto for years.
Most memorable author moment?
Feeling and smelling my own
book in a bookstore! I think for anyone who loves books you fall in love with
the object itself. Especially when it’s your own.
What are you obsessed with now?
Boxing – It’s my escape and
outlet. It’s where I get to leave all the talking and words behind and just
What are you stressed about now?
My speaking tour of the US.
I’m constantly hopping between states over the next month, and I finally
understand how comedians feel when they take a show on the road and all the
madness that comes with that. It’s mainly the instability of it all that
becomes stressful, but having moved to LA from London over the last year I’ve
had to get used to change quickly.
are you psyched about now?
In the next couple of months
I’m releasing a programme to turn people into masters of human dynamics in both
their personal and professional lives. It’s exciting because it’s about your
entire lifestyle and people skills in work, health, friendship, family, and
What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or
Damn, you stole my two
favourites! Top of the list after that has to be the ability to stop time – you
could have an unbelievable amount of fun. If not, then breathing underwater or
being omnilingual (the ability to speak any language).
What's your most prized/treasured possession?
A watch my Dad gave me just
before I left for Los Angeles. My Dad has always loved watches and him giving
his to me at a key moment in my life was a touching moment.
What's next for you?
I’m on Eva Longoria’s NBC TV
show Ready for Love as one of the expert
matchmakers. I’m also touring the US giving my ‘Get the Guy’ seminars, and plan
to release a lifestyle course called ‘IMPACT’, which is something I’m really
I love the
line: “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around”
the movie Vanilla Sky, and the sentiment reflects my absolute core belief in
the power individuals have in every tiny moment. It’s the same with dating. It
only takes one tiny decision to take that risk, to be sexy in a way you’ve
never tried before, to flash a cheeky smile that puts you on someone’s radar,
or to speak to that person who can’t take their eyes off you, and suddenly the
world opens up. People’s lives can change in a single minute in those precious
everyday moments, which is something I’ve always strived to demonstrate with
Get the Guy.
method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
I’m not a big TV viewer, but
I am one of those people who can burn through an HBO boxset in about three
days. But I’ve somehow convinced myself that ‘Mad Men’ is a form of research so
I’ve reached a comfortable place with it now.
Movie soundtracks – I’m addicted to great
music from films and love collecting my favourite composers – Hans Zimmer, John
Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard to name a few.
piece of fan mail you ever got?
It’s one I mention in the book.
It’s an email from my oldest client, who simply sent me this:
“I want you to pass on a
message to everyone you coach. I’m 83 years old and I’m retired. Through your
coaching I’ve met the man of my dreams. We’re spending our days right now
building a boat, and when it’s done, we’re going to sail away in it together.
If it can happen to me at my age, with everything I’ve been through in my life,
it can happen to anyone.”
My heart swells every time I
read that. And her message that it can happen at any age, no matter what you
think is holding you back, is the most important lesson I’ve ever learnt about
Between Man and Beast author Monte Reel, stirred by some recent sad news about a beloved New York City gorilla, reflects on how our relationship with the great ape has evolved.
Pattycake, the first gorilla born in
captivity in New York City, died this week at the age of 40, and the adjectives
that popped up in her obituaries included: beloved, charming, gentle, adored.
This got me thinking about the words
that were thrown around New York City about a century-and-a-half before. In
those days, the gorilla inspired terror, thanks in part to Paul Du Chaillu’s
descriptions of them in the wild. When the young and untrained explorer first
encountered the animal in the forests of Gabon in 1856, he’d been hearing
stories about this quasi-mythical beast for years. Native hunters had told him
gorillas were savage, blood-thirsty, and possessed of supernatural powers. So
when enormous silverbacks first charged Du Chaillu, that’s what they looked
like to him – the ultimate monsters.
Later when Du Chaillu brought the
specimens to the city and displayed the stuffed gorillas in a showroom on
Broadway, the press described them as hideous, uncouth and repellent.
P.T. Barnum, the master showman who
operated his own museum just down the street, upstaged Du Chaillu’s initial
exhibit by displaying what he claimed was a living, breathing “man-monkey” (it
was a cruel hoax, of course – a disabled man in a monkey suit). Du Chaillu’s
animals eventually captured the public imagination, sparking an international
case of “Gorilla Fever.” Never one to give up easily, Barnum tried to outshine
Du Chaillu again a few years later, advertising that he had acquired the first living
gorilla and was ready to unveil the animal to the city. Du Chaillu, at Barnum’s
invitation, inspected the caged animal and had a good laugh – Barnum had a
bought a baboon and was trying to hide its tail.
After that second hoax was exposed, Harper’s
Weekly magazine tried to imagine what might have happened if Barnum’s
gorilla had been genuine. The magazine suggested that the “sensitive reader of
Du Chaillu” might be plagued with a very modern sort of nightmare: “If he had
escaped! Merciful powers! If the celebrated Gorilla of the African forest had
rushed up Broadway bellowing and beating his horrible bass drum! The
imagination droops before the scene….”
We now know that gorillas aren’t
really aggressive; they just sometimes appear that way. When they charge, it’s
a display meant to scare away threats, not hurt them. But that first impression
– a frightened animal that uses the appearance of menace as protection –
stuck for a long time. In 1933, decades after he first read about Du Chaillu’s
adventures in Africa, Merian C. Cooper invented the story of King Kong – and
the nightmare that the Harper’s editors imagined years earlier was
In the 1960s and 1970s, field
biologists like George Schaller and Dian Fossey gave the gorilla’s reputation a
much-needed makeover, and Pattycake grew up in a city that had been taught, at
least when it comes to gorillas, to see beyond first-impressions. The public
image of the animal that did so much to excite and inflame the early Darwinian
debate has, it seems, evolved considerably.
Publishing today is Ted Kosmatka's new novel, Prophet of Bones,
which received positive reads from the Amazon editors and made our Best
of the Month Literature & Fiction list. Omni received a review of
Kosmatka's book from Daniel H. Wilson (author of the New York Times bestselling Robopocalypse as well as seven other books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising and Amped). We are happy to share his review with you.
Prophet of Bones is a well-written, utterly convincing thriller
that left my mind reeling for days. It latched on after the first chapter and
didn’t let go until the last word.
Ted Kosmatka’s novel is a bloody, yet profoundly
introspective, thriller that’s not set so much in a near-future world as in a
near-alternate world. This is a place where science has proven evolution wrong
and radio carbon dating shows the earth is about 6000 years old. The seamless blending
of science and theology is fascinating, moreso when scientist Paul Carlsson discovers
a set of ancient human bones that shouldn’t exist. His quest to requite the two
worlds – to seek the truth at all costs – will destroy his life and take the
reader on a trip that is half detective work and half old-fashioned
butt-kicking (with a side of biology, genetics, and paleoanthropology).
Despite the sheer fun of reading Prophet of Bones, the underlying themes are
what elevate the material. You are left wondering about the shared origin of
humanity, the lost branches of human sub-species, and whether knowing more really
helps us understand ourselves. Is it more tempting to play God in a world where
science and religion are the same thing?
Kosmatka is a full-time writer at Valve Software, the company behind the
massively popular video games Half-Life
and Portal. Maybe it’s my
imagination, but I occasionally caught beautiful facets of those games lurking under
the surface of Prophet of Bones. In
the novel as in the games, our heroes are scientists, our villains are
scientists, and their creations... well, just wait until you meet their
What else can I say? Prophet of Bones is as thoughtful as it
is thrilling. It kept me up way, way past my bedtime.
When we placed Edward Kelsey Moore's debut novel on March's Best Books of the Month list, Amazon Editor Mari Malcolm described the book as having many of the same "winning qualities" as The Help and Steel Magnolias, calling it "an utterly charming, often hilarious tribute to friendships." Readers seem to agree, as the book debuted on the New York Times best seller list this week.
What has the debut experience been like for the author? He tells us below.
The first time I held a copy of my novel THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT in my hands I couldn’t bring myself to set it
down. The morning that the book arrived by
overnight mail, I walked through the house, placing it on different surfaces. I had to see it in every room to prove to
myself that it really existed. Even
though the book had lived in my mind for years by then, actually seeing my
first novel out in the world was a shock.
My mother doesn’t feel any such sense of wonder. Mom says, “I’m not surprised at all. It’s just an extension of your talking. You know how you are. Since you were a baby,
you never wanted to shut up.” My mother is
also one of the few people in my life who wasn’t surprised when, after decades
as a musician, I became a writer. She
says, “I knew you’d get to it eventually.
It’s always about the words with you.”
Preacher’s wife that she is, my mother also takes the time to remind me that
divine intervention is at work with all things at all times. “You know where all these blessings come
from, don’t you?” she often asks me.
I’ve spoken often about how much THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S
ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT owes to the all-female after-dinner chats I eavesdropped on
when I was a child. Mom was a central participant in those
conversations and the novel’s publication has meant an opportunity to talk with
her about those women, many of whom have passed away.
My mother says, “Auntie would be so proud,” speaking about
my great-aunt Oleytha, the best storyteller I’ve ever known. Family lore states that when I was six months
old, Auntie astonished my mother and amused herself by getting me to repeat
simple words at her prompting, beginning a back and forth between us that would
go on for decades. A highlight of my
youth was hearing my great-aunt Oleytha recap the funerals she attended as a
Christian duty and for entertainment value.
Anyone fortunate enough to hear Auntie offer a review of a funeral that
didn’t live up to her rigorous standards would feel inspired to produce at
least a short story in her honor. My
mother also insists that her sister Nanny would have loved the book. That’s a safe bet because Aunt Nanny, one of
the funniest people I’ve ever known, found a way to squeeze joy out of any
situation. Talking to my mother, I am
reminded of Aunt Nanny’s early passing, but also of how she spent her final
days being so incredibly funny that doctors and nurses came to see her, a dying
woman, in order to be cheered up.
In the short time since THE SUPREMES was released, I’ve
heard from some of the others who sit around the table after Moore family
meals. They are all less surprised than
I am that I’ve become a published author.
They remind me that I was a kid who always had something to say, and
then they offer stories to back that up.
Sam Lipsyte is a writer who has been called "a literary rock star" and "a mordant jokester with a madman's imagination." And that was just in one sentence.
If you are unfamiliar with Lipsyte's work, Janet Maslin's recent New York Timesreview of his short story collection The Fun Parts would be a good place to start. She summarizes the humor, wisdom, empathy, and strangeness that defines his work; and she ends her review with the above-mentioned effusive sentence.
The Amazon editors fall decidedly in the Maslin camp. We'd already picked The Fun Parts as a March Best Book of the Month in Literature & Fiction when we learned that Sam Lipsyte was coming to Seattle, and we jumped on the chance to have lunch with him. We found him to be laid back and friendly (see accompanying post-lunch photo--Sam is wearing his Seattle plaid), the kind of guy who drops knowledge and jokes the way the Easter bunny drops colored eggs.
When you're talking to an author whose work has appeared in The Paris Review and The New Yorker, and when that author also teaches Creative Writing at Columbia, the tendency is to ask him a lot of questions about writing. One of the questions we asked was how Lipsyte's approach to writing has changed over the years. In response, he described a scene that might be familiar to some of you writers out there: in the beginning, he said, before he had kids and a teaching gig, he would wake up and drink a lot of coffee in order to get fired up to write; but then he would drink too much coffee and enter what a friend of his calls "the jo-hole," after which he'd have to take a nap to calm down, followed by waking up again, drinking more coffee, and getting four or five hours of writing done in the late afternoon or early evening.
A follow-up question was asked about how he approached writing now that his life was significantly more complicated. "I write when I can find time," Lipsyte said. Then he explained that a teacher of his had once stressed the importance of "checking in" with one's work every day, even if it was only for twenty minutes.
Editor's Note: I recently read Bruce Feiler's The Secrets of Happy Families and asked him to write a post for Omni, because it's the kind of book that at least one member of every family should read. There were times when I would read a chapter and say to myself, "I know that"—but when I asked myself, honestly, if I actually followed the rule or guideline that Feiler had set out, I often had to admit that I didn't. You'll either learn from this book or be reminded of what you once thought you knew. Either way, that's progress.
It’s one of the most famous
lines in world literature. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy
family is unhappy in its own way.” When I first encountered the opening
sentence of Anna Karenina as a teenager, I thought the first half, at
least, was inane. Of course all happy families are not alike.
But recently I began to reconsider. The last few years have seen stunning
advances in our understanding of what makes families work. Cutting-edge
brain research has reshaped our understanding of everything from dinner to
discipline to difficult conversations. Groundbreaking scholarship has
allowed us, for the first time in history, to identify certain building blocks that
help certain families function effectively and recover from setbacks more
Is it possible, all these years later, to say Tolstoy was right?
Three years ago I set out to answer that question—meeting families,
interviewing scholars, talking with experts ranging from elite peace
negotiators to online game designers to the Green Berets. I wanted to
figure out what happy families do right and what I could learn from them to make
my family happier. Specifically, I wanted to gather best practices into a
playbook for contemporary families. Here are a few examples of what I
1. Rethink family dinner. Everyone’s heard that eating
family dinner together is good for kids, but the latest research challenges
that notion in important ways. What really matters is the bonding time
(only ten minutes per meal is spent in real conversation) and that can happen
at any time of day, from breakfast to bedtime snack. It’s what you talk
about during this time that has the greatest impact on children. My wife
and I tested dozens of games with family members of different ages to come up
with the five best. They include teaching your child one new word a day
(and having them do the same with you), having children narrate a past success
in their own lives the night before a big test or sporting event; telling
children about their relatives who overcame hardships to give them confidence
to face their own challenges.
2. Fight smarter. Negotiations studies didn’t exist when Dr.
Spock reigned, but now we have extensive knowledge about how to make fights more
productive. With the help of an environmental psychologist, my wife and I
changed when we fight. (We no longer have tense conversations between 6
and 8 pm, which research shows is the highest stress time in families). We changed where we fight. (We no longer meet in my office, in which I
was seated higher, surrounded by equipment, in the clear power position.)
And we changed where we sit. (We no longer face each other, which
increases conflict, but sit alongside each other, which makes people more
3. Go out and
play. Studies make clear that families should spend less time
worrying about what they do wrong, and more time focusing in what they do
right. All families have conflict; successful families build up positive
memories that outweigh the old. This sounds simple, but it’s not for most
of us. The good news: There are lots of advances
in how to make play more fun. I went to see the folks at Zynga, who
designed a host of new games for me to make everything from long car rides to
afternoons at the beach more enjoyable. I worked with the Pentagon’s
experts on unit cohesion, who adapted their bonding exercises to make a “Green
Berets’ Guide to a Perfect Family Reunion.”
When Leo Tolstoy was five years old, his brother Nikoloai told him he had
recorded the secret for universal happiness on a little green stick that he
then hid in a ravine on the family’s estate in Russia. Should the stick
ever be found, all humankind would become happy.
Tolstoy became consumed with that stick, but he never found it. In fact,
he asked to be buried in the ravine. He still rests there today, covered
in a mound of green grass.
That story embodies the final lesson I took from my experience. Happiness
is not something we find; it’s something we make. Anyone who’s
looked at successful teams has come to pretty much the same conclusion:
Greatness is not a matter of circumstance, it’s a matter of choice. It’s
not about a grand gesture. It’s about taking small steps, accumulating small
wins. It’s about reaching for the green stick.
This may be the most enduring lesson of all. What’s the secret to a happy
To say that Karen Russell is a favorite of the Amazon editors is like
saying that ice cream tastes “just ok.” Her recent book, a collection of
short stories entitled Vampires in the Lemon Grove, was a February Best Book of the Month. (Our own Jon Foro lovingly described the collection as "eight strange tales that might be described as the descendant of Bradbury's The October Country, if that book had been written in the throes of a fever dream.") Recently, Amazon reached out to her with our "Amazon Asks" questions. We hope you're as delighted to read her answers as we were.
Describe your book in 10 words or less?
Eight tales of monstrous metamorphoses and
violent transformations. Historical-fantastical hybrids. (I cheated with that
What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?
The hilarious, subversive Love Bomb by Lisa Zeidner and the astonishing story collection Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins—both of which I hugely recommend.
You know, I can’t trace that ambition back to a single book. I
honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer—it grew
at-pace with my ability to read books. Maybe A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, or The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle.
Most memorable author moment?
I once got to hug Stephen King onstage.
What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or
I would like to be able to dance. That would be a superpower in my arrhythmic world.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
The 137th Westminster Dog Kennel Club Show started today, bringing thousands of well-coiffed dogs to Madison Square Garden in search of the coveted prize of "Best in Show." In honor of this day, we've put together our own Best in Show collection of recent and upcoming dog books.
We'll admit that most of the dogs in these books don't meet the standards of Westminster (the subject of Uggie and Sorry I Pooped in Your Shoe have probably never seen a blue ribbon), but odds are they don't care about that.
One of our favorite books this month is Aria Beth Sloss's Autobiography of Us, a story of friendship and coming-of-age that, as our own Caley Anderson put it, "reads like real life." We liked this debut novel so much, we picked it as one of our Best Books of the Month.
The book goes on sale today, and so we're happy to offer our readers a conversation between Sloss and Maggie Shipstead, whose ownSeating Arrangements was an Amazon Best of the Month selection in June 2012.
Maggie Shipstead: What
are the origins of Autobiography of Us?
Did you start with setting, characters, story? You’re a lifelong East Coaster,
but the book opens in Pasadena in the 1960s. I’m curious what drew you to that
region and era.
Aria Beth Sloss: Autobiography began as
a series of questions about my mother, who was raised in Pasadena during
roughly the same timeframe. Though I
grew up in Boston, my family flew to California every year to spend time with
my maternal grandparents, so from a very young age I knew Pasadena as the place
where my mother had grown up. It comes
as a shock, that moment when you realize your parents were once young. Suddenly, they’re people. With that peoplehood comes a past. With that past comes questions, which in my
case took on a certain urgency as I entered my twenties. I could say something nobler drove me, but
the truth is that I started this book – a book which explores women coming of
age during the era in which my mother came of age -- out of sheer frustration
with what I saw as the limitations facing young women coming of age in my own
era. In the end, Autobiography sprang from, as I suppose all novels do, an intensely
and Alex in your novel have a powerful, permanent friendship but are barbed,
even hostile sometimes, in the way they communicate with each other. I find
that my friendships with women are rich and important but often also fraught.
Did you think a lot about the nature of female friendship while you were
writing? Did the writing change the way you think about your own life at all?
Aria: One of the astonishing things that kept happening to me while
working on the book was that I kept discovering, and re-discovering, what it
was about. It wasn’t until two to three years after I
started writing Autobiography that I
began to see Alex as a central figure.
Even then, it took another year for me to understand the relationship
between Alex and Rebecca as the book’s core.
Which is all to say that I was surprised, four years in, to discover I’d
written a novel focused on the relationship between two women. It makes sense: I wanted to write about women who came of age
in this particular time and place. But I
think I also just wanted to write about love.
Towards the end of revising, when Rebecca and Alex’s relationship had
surfaced as the novel’s throughline, I found myself nostalgic for the
friendships and loves of my early adolescence.
There’s a fluidity to one’s identity during those teenage years that
makes a relationship as intense and conflicted as Rebecca and Alex’s
possible. Love as a fully-formed adult,
with all the boundaries and definitions adulthood requires, is a very different
animal. I suppose there’s a part of me
that mourns the passing of that ability to lose yourself in another human being. It’s a precious, dangerous, thing.
know you’re an intrepid editor. How would you describe the novel’s evolution
from first draft until now? What do you do when you get stuck?
Aria: I’m glad to hear you think of me that way, because editing
certainly didn’t come naturally. I
didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I was twenty-five, and as someone
who felt the pressure of being a late bloomer, I was fiercely protective of the
words I put down on the page. I
discovered the power of editing at graduate school, where, under the guidance
of a few kind and brilliant teachers, I learned how little those first drafts
mean. Those teachers not only took away
the sting of tossing out sentences, they also showed me that nothing of any
significance happens on the page without time, patience, and perseverance. In writing, as in so much of life, being
stubborn is half the battle.
In the case of Autobiography,
the word “evolution” is too polite a word to apply to the process this book
underwent from start to finish. You’d be
better off asking how it is that I managed to drive a train into the ground a
dozen -- two dozen, three dozen -- times and still manage to salvage something
resembling a train at the end. That’s
more or less how it felt. For me, writing
a novel meant surrendering any sense of control, and then digging up the
courage to assume control. I did this
again, and again, and again.
are some books and writers that influenced Autobiography
of Us? Are these the same books and writers that influence you generally?
Aria: I hadn’t read Mary McCarthy’s The Group when I started Autobiography,
but I knew it existed. Just knowing
there was a book out there that dealt with the question of how women fit into
the framework of American society reassured me there was room in the world for
the story I wanted to tell. Kate
Walbert’s magnificent Our Kind, which
I’d read many times, served a similar purpose.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I spent those years working on Autobiography looking only to books with
similar subject material for inspiration.
What I looked for then is what I always look for -- a voice I can’t shake. Marilynne Robinson is someone I turn to again
and again. But there are so many
contemporary writers whose work I feel privileged to read. Alongside the old favorites -- Charlotte
Bronte, Nabokov, Faulkner, Edith Wharton -- come new heroes: Sarah Shun-Lien
Bynum, Helen Dewitt, Anthony Doerr, Zadie Smith, Andrew Sean Greer, Junot
Diaz...on and on. To those who think
fiction is a dying art, I say: you’re just not paying attention.
George Saunders is the kind of author people describe as a "writer's writer." That's not always meant as a compliment, and it certainly doesn't always translate into book sales. He's also a "genius," having won the MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the "Genius Grant." You can add "gateway drug" to his list of titles, at least for me.
His most recent book Tenth of December has enjoyed remarkable success. It has spent its entire life as a New York Times best seller, and it's still one of the top books on the Amazon best seller list a month after publication. We picked Tenth of December as a January Best Book of the Month, and perhaps most notably, the New York Times daringly called it "the best book you'll read this year." That's remarkable for any book, but it's not what really sets this one apart from the pack.
What's remarkable is that Tenth of December is a short story collection.
When I worked in publishing, short story collections presented devilish temptations to acquiring editors. Being offered a short story collection by an agent was like being offered a pet hermit crab--which is to say they often seemed like good ideas at the time. To continue the pet crab metaphor, no matter how well-written the collection was, these small wonders rarely lived up to expectations, and often became nuisances (and frequently disappeared with hardly a word spoken about them). The reason was not that the collections were bad-- to get short stories published in a book, they generally have to be very, very good-- but it's "common knowledge” among publishers that short story collections don't sell. I guarantee the publisher's cry of "OK it's brilliant but does the author have a novel?" has been heard more times than anyone can count.
But maybe something has changed. Maybe the ice is breaking.
Looking ahead, the Amazon Editors have noticed a number of excellent short story collections on the horizon. I've been gathering theories to try to explain why. Maybe short story collections are an appeal to readers' supposed short attention spans. (I don't believe book readers have short attention spans, otherwise they wouldn't read books.) Maybe it's just a cyclical thing, like cicadas or global warming, and a bunch of really good collections just happened to come out this year. (OK, global warming is a bad comparison.) I've even heard it suggested that George Saunders' success is the reason for the short story upsurge. (Impossible because Saunders' book was acquired long ago by the publisher, as were the other collections in this piece, before anyone knew Tenth of December would be a runaway success).
In the end it doesn't really matter why all these great collections are coming out. What's important is that that they are coming out. After reading Saunders' collection and enjoying it so much, I made a point of getting my hands on as many other collections as I could. I read eight in total, and, I can say I've gained a whole new respect and understanding for short stories. That's saying a lot, because some of my favorite stories-- the ones that got me into reading in the first place-- are short stories.
There's something really special about being able to sit down and finish a story in one sitting-- to set the world aside and enter a different world, and to be able to consider the full arc of what you've just read. The cover copy on one of the collections I read spoke of short stories as "compressed vitality." That's a nice way of putting it.
Here's a list of current and upcoming examples of compressed vitality:
Tenth of December by George Saunders - His weirdness won't be for everyone, but he's a true American genius. (pub date: January 8th)
The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison- Technically, not a collection of short stories, but these two novellas deserve mention. (pub date: January 8th)
Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, continues her run on the New York Times best seller list, and Oprah continues her conversation with Ayana. In this short video, they discuss why readers are drawn to characters in torment.