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Patience Bloom's 10 Favorite Romances

Romance is My Day JobOne of our selections in the True Love category of our Valentine's feature 150 Love Stories, Romance is My Day Job is the sweet story of a romance book fan who lands a dream job as an editor of romance novels, only to stumble upon a reality that lives up to the fiction she's surrounded herself with--ten years later, that is. Harlequin editor Patience Bloom's memoir begins in 1984 with all the drama of a Sadie Hawkins dance and ends with a wedding picture from her ultimate happily-ever-after.

She shared her thoughts about True Love with us, as well as a few of her own favorite romance novels.


My 10 Favorite Romances by Patience Bloom

Patience BloomWhether you love it or wear black in protest, Valentine's Day is almost here. If you're a die-hard romantic, it can be the best or the worst day of the year. Maybe it just depends on how much chocolate you have?

As a long-time editor of romance novels, I experience most days as a sort of Valentine's Day. When I'm at work, all I need is a good story, juicy characters and a mind open to love. But believe it or not, until a few years ago, I would have said real-life true love was just a fantasy, that it only existed in the romance novels I edited. Then one day my Prince Charming appeared out of nowhere, wooing me with laughter, talking into the wee hours, and offering the promise of a future --a future that came true in a story that ended with my own fairy-tale wedding.

It seemed so crazy--me, married--that I had to write our story.

I hope your Valentine's Day is extra special this year and filled with hearts, admirers, and chocolate. And if you're looking to add a romantic book to the mix, here are some of my favorite novels about love.

Something Blue

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

There are mean girls you might consider unredeemable, but Darcy Rhone will win you over (even though she steals boyfriends and mooches). I'd campaign for Darcy in a heartbeat and, by the end of this book, I felt desperate for her to find love.
The Fall of Shane MacKade

The Fall of Shane MacKade by Nora Roberts

A playboy hero falls for a bookish heroine--and has no clue how it happens. It's an absolutely adorable premise with Roberts's trademark humor. Shane is unforgettable.
The Sheikh's Arranged Marriage

The Sheikh's Arranged Marriage by Susan Mallery

I tend to enjoy reading about unbelievable situations and this was my first Susan Mallery romance. The heroine, Heidi, is a joy: curious, scholarly, and noble. To honor her adoptive family, she marries a son, who of course, winds up being her dream come true. I sobbed at the end, and I don't cry easily when reading….
When She Was Bad

Something Blue by Cindy Kirk

It's hard to keep me away from a good-girl-who-finally-lets-loose romp. Here, the heroine decides to live a different life with new name and skimpy wardrobe, and boy, does she ever enjoy herself. It's sexy, fun, and emotional—all in one page-turning read.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

The romance in this amazing story shows how age doesn't have to matter. Plus, who doesn't want to see how a woman “finds” herself again? We all need help. I read this in my twenties and adored Stella, how she learns to enjoy life/love again.
Bombshell

Bombshell by Terry McMillan

Don't hate me, but I enjoy reading about the trials of beautiful women. In Bombshell, Grace is a too-gorgeous heroine who's been through all kinds of man-torture. She wants a baby and winds up with her own unforeseen happily ever after. Curnyn's stories are great fun.
Bring Me Back

Bring Me Back by Karen Booth

My first attraction to this story was that the author loved Duran Duran, just like me. But this romance grabbed me to the point where I was angry that it had to end. The rock star romance is quite tantalizing and I think many of us have dreamed this story. Am I right?
A Husband of Her Own

A Husband of Her Own by Brenda Novak

A captivating enemies-become-lovers story. Even though I read this story ten years ago, the romance is so vivid in my mind. Novak builds a heartwarming community and makes you want to live in Dundee, Idaho.
Bridget Jones's Diary

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

"Bridge" is instant validation for those of us with healthy—and sometimes unhealthy neuroses. Bridget is so good-hearted, nuts (in the best way) and loveable. Of course, Mark Darcy would love her. And of course, I started tracking my weight and daily vices thanks to her.
Confessions of a Shopaholic

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I fell in love with Becky Bloomwood instantly. She can't control herself, gets in over her head, then has to learn harsh lessons to get back on a saner path. And she does this is such an enjoyable way. This book compelled me to start shopping.

YA Wednesday: Ransom Riggs and the Photos That Creeped Him Out

HollowCity_p323_500HHere are a few things I know about Ransom Riggs: he's tall (it's one of the first things you notice). He's very polite. He intended to have a career as a filmmaker. He became a bestselling author.  I met Riggs over lunch about a year ago, when I was still waiting for something--anything--to read from Hollow City.  We talked books, celebrated the great camaraderie of YA authors, and ate pasta. And, like a magician guarding his tricks, he told me nothing about the next novel...

Riggs' first book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is quirky, eerie, and enchanting. Vintage photographs wrap around the story of 16-year-old Jacob, who discovers he shares his grandfather's unusual talent and later--thanks to a trick of time--his grandfather's childhood friends.  Like so many other great young adult books, Miss Peregrine's draws in readers of all ages, and the sequel, Hollow City will do the same.  In fact, we put it on both our overall Top 10 Best Books of the Month AND made it our YA spotlight pick for January.

Hollow City picks up where the first book left off, and the peculiar inhabitants of Miss Peregrine's leave the island in Wales, eventually finding themselves in war-torn 1940's London.  The characters' bonds are strengthened, and Jacob, in particular, grows more complex as he learns to trust himself, takes comfort in belonging to this unusual group of people, and falls in love--something Riggs does with a light touch.  One of the most fascinating things about Hollow City, for me, is Riggs' ability to pull off the dynamic between a new series of vintage photos and the storyline when so much about the characters and plot direction was already set.  The evolution of the sequel is what I most wanted to know about--which came first, the photos or the story, or something in between.  So I asked the question. And here's what he said:

WRITING WITH PICTURES

My “peculiar children” novels are illustrated with vintage found photography, which I find in flea markets and antiques shops and in the collections of photo-hound friends of mine, many of whom have spent years nosing around for old pictures and turning up astounding finds. I originally started collecting photos just for the fun of it. I brought a handful of my favorites to Jason Rekulak, an editor at Quirk Books, and together we hatched the idea for a novel illustrated with old imagery. It then fell to me to develop the characters and plot, to actually write the thing, but all I had were a stack of brittle, yellow snapshots that creeped me out so much I kept them in a drawer most of the time, so they couldn’t stare at me. 

The books came together slowly and messily. People often ask me whether, when I’m writing, the photos I have dictate the story I tell, or vice versa, but it’s not that simple. The answer is, both. The photos will often push me in certain directions, plot-wise--I might think, hey, I have a lot of great shots of kids in a forest; I should write some scenes in a forest so I can use these. So the story will take a certain turn, nudged along by my collection. But then I’ll come up with some bizarre idea about what should happen to my characters while they’re in the forest --they meet a witch wearing a fur coat made of living, talking minks!--but I don’t have any images to support it, so I have to go out hunting for a new photo of a woman in a fur coat. But the picture I find is of a woman who doesn’t look particularly witchy, so the character becomes benevolent rather than a villain. In that way, there’s a constant, organic push and pull between the photos and the story while I’m writing. It’s a peculiar process, but hey, they’re peculiar books. --Ransom Riggs

HollowCity_p283_400H HollowCity_p315_400H

Barbara Kingsolver: Sitting Down with Doris

Doris Lessing

When I learned Doris Lessing had died, I went to my bookcase and stood looking at the four-foot-wide swath of insight she embedded in the story of my life. Then I began pulling out books, starting with her recent volumes -- dystopian fiction, autobiography -- and then moving back through hardcover novels I bought in the '90s, the cheap paperbacks I could afford before that, and finally the Children of Violence novels in a two-volume set that I found in my teens at a yard sale. The provenance of those books, in a place where old Elvis records and Reader's Digest condensed books were the gold standard of yard sales, I believe to have been a miracle. Arguably, it has made me the writer I am.

Why? Because those novels found me. Me, the restless, angry teenager living in a racially segregated southern town where women were born with their life-scripts already written. I was pulled nose-first into the household of a girl in Rhodesia who choked on dread while watching her mother fold laundry, whose skin prickled at the way white men spoke to black men, who was drawn toward proper marriage but ran for her life. The African heat and mealie fields were rendered with a verbal photo-realism that keeps them etched on my brain forty years later. Children of ViolenceDoris Lessing gave me to understand that a big world lay beyond my little town, but that the same laws of heart and blood applied to people everywhere. I felt no less angry knowing this, but more satisfactorily propelled. In college I found The Golden Notebook and once again Lessing made me feel deeply understood, then snapped on the wide angle lens. I thought to myself, a novel can do that!

I followed her words, wherever they went. As I began writing myself, I devoured volumes of her short stories, understanding with awe and despair that economy is the soul of craft. She stretched me across genres and broke down my lifelong resistance to anything with a title like Canopus In Argos. Poetry, nonfiction, biography: all of it was exquisitely crafted, and fearless. This writer did not flout convention, she ignored it, remaking the rules on motherhood, marriage, politics. Her characters might be socialists, or cynics, or philanderers, or mothers who couldn't love their children. Lessing was not advocating, she was revealing truth, as a good novelist will, but gathering material from territories that terrify most writers, lest the very mention be taken for advocacy.

Doris Lessing was called a "political" writer, whatever that means, but she didn't see herself that way. She was devoted to original, unsettling ideas and subversive constructions. Her short stories are models of emotional restraint and thematic extravagance. One of my favorites, "Through the Tunnel," is a seven-page marvel about a boy who nearly kills himself trying to swim through an underwater cave. It's about everything: fear and conquest, child and man, white skin and dark, motherhood, protectiveness, freedom, death, guilt, post-colonial history. I carried that boy with me for decades until he germinated in radically reinvented form as the protagonist of one of my novels, my homage to the greatest writer I know.

Canopus In Argos

At some point in the '90s I collected the nerve to write to Ms. Lessing, and after a brief correspondence we arranged to meet at her flat one afternoon when I was in London. My husband and I urged her not to go to any trouble; she did not. Our chat amounted to my gushing, with a clear understanding that she'd be relieved when we left and let her get back to work. She spent most of our visit discussing her worry over a cat with my husband, who seems to attract confidences of this nature. They peered at the cat, which had hidden under a chair some days ago and refused to come out. I sat on Doris's couch, which was much like my couch at home (only older), and studied the books on her shelves, also a lot like those I had at home. I wondered what I had come here for. But I left with a sense of satisfaction that I understand better now. All I could ever want to learn from Doris Lessing was in her work. It was good to know she was human, with no access to any higher magic than I knew myself, just plank bookshelves and an old couch and a desk where she would rather be thinking about more interesting things than being admired.

In the days since her death, the airwaves keep playing the famous video clip I would call "Doris Herself." Coming home from her grocery shopping, she gets out of the taxi and is startled by a crowd of photographers and journalists on her doorstep.

"You've won the Nobel Prize," they all shout.

Doris replies, "Oh, Christ."

She flops down on her stoop among her shopping bags, her wavy gray hair unraveling from its bun, and gives them their sound bite, which amounts to: "Well, what do you know, now I've won all the prizes."

This is a "get," in journalist speak. They were thrilled, no doubt, to capture Doris in unglamorous countenance. She did not say, "Oh goody, you love me," or "Surely I don't deserve this!" It's about as rare as a talking horse: a woman who truly doesn't give a hoot what she looks like on camera, who feels no compunction to be perky or grateful or ingratiating to the press. I'm unsettled by this image that's gone viral, wondering what intrigues the voyeurs. Are they mocking, admiring, or just astonished by a woman who insists on being herself, no matter who's watching?

Once, years ago, I had the amazing luck of publishing a book just after a Doris Lessing release, so that my book tour followed in her wake. Quite a few journalists were fresh from their audience with Ms. Lessing when they interviewed me, and they looked as if they'd been slapped. Wide-eyed and careful, they asked thoughtful, original questions, and several of them had even read my book. I'm told that Ms. Lessing did not suffer fools gladly; if asked a dumb question, she would identify it as such, period. When it comes to packaging a literary ocean of wisdom into the thimble of a sound bite, let me tell you, they are nearly all dumb questions. In the domain of the author interview, I believe these journalists had just had their first look at full-frontal honesty. If the fairies give me three wishes, I thought, one of them will be to follow Doris Lessing around on every book tour of my life. But now I wonder, why be a camp-follower of truth? Why not pound in my own stakes?

It's harder than it sounds. A crucial task of the modern writer is to know like a catechism the differences between "fame" and "success." In some professions those might be the same; in mine, as I see it, they are opposite. To find success, a writer need not just love solitude, the writer needs to marry it. To become immersed in text, holding hundreds of pages in mind at once, refining and connecting all those sentences in a network as intricate as living capillaries. To abstain from judgment, forgetting oneself completely, entering and embracing the invented life. The personal goal is invisibility. The abstract reward is immortality. By contrast, fame demands a love of crowds and attention, a fluency in snappy one-liners, Doris Lessingtolerance of mind-numbing repetition, a yen for absorbing limelight, and a whole lot of interest in hair and makeup. When I give myself over to reading, what I want to find in that hallowed place is not the trappings of fame, but a writer's success. It was the very soul of Doris Lessing to know the difference.

As I pulled her books from my shelf I was shocked by the cheesy jackets on some of those '70s era paperbacks. The Summer Before the Dark promised "an adult odyssey into the perils of freedom." On The Habit of Loving, a collection of some of the most mature, restrained short stories I've ever read, the jacket art suggested prurient fairy tales: a naked woman with flowers in her hair kneeling in a discreet pin-up pose, reaching into a forest. I can just see Doris pulling that one out of the envelope, muttering "Oh, Christ."

I've reread those stories so many times that the book's binding is broken, and the jacket I've just described literally fell off. I happily threw it in the trash, and found a good chair where I could do what I needed to do right then, and will go on wanting to do. I sat down with Doris.

--Barbara Kingsolver

Memories of the Years of Chaos: An Essay by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Author of "The Sound of Things Falling"

Sound_of_things_falling

For my generation, I’ve noticed, the 1980s don’t have a lot of respect for chronology: our decade began in 1984, when Pablo Escobar assassinated the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, and ended in December 1993, with the symmetrical death of Pablo Escobar. Certain images of that decade have become part of our mythology. One of them shows Lara’s car with its windows destroyed, its back seat smeared with blood and the cover, caught by the cameras almost by chance, of the book the minister was reading at the moment of the crime like a symbol in a bad novel: Dictionary of Colombian History. In another one, Pablo Escobar’s dead body lies on a rooftop surrounded by his triumphant pursuers, his features obliterated by the blood, his pale belly exposed in the morning air. Between those two events are other images. I’ve seen them and I keep seeing them and I saw them every day of 2010, while I was writing The Sound of Things Falling: I saw a presidential candidate greeting voters and then climbing onto a stage and then falling under a hail of bullets; I saw the remains of a passenger plane scattered among trees after exploding in mid-air. In my fallible memory, these images take up several years of that terrible decade; only later, when I started writing the novel, did I realize that they’d all happened in just six short months, and that gave me an idea of the morbid intensity we lived with back then.

There is a police recording of Escobar’s voice that is almost a manifesto. “We have to create chaos so they call us to make peace,” he says. “If we devote ourselves to going after the politicians, to burning their houses down and having a real fucking civil war, then they’ll have to call us to the table for peace talks and our problems will be solved.” The landscape of our memories is made from that chaos. I have compared it to other landscapes, to other memories, and I’ve found several common elements. The ability, for instance, to recognize the sound of a bomb and distinguish it from any other explosion; the crosses of masking tape on windows (and the resignation with which they tried to avoid, in the case of a nearby bomb, the shattering of the glass); the ease with which we spent the night in a stranger’s house if we were caught out by a curfew; the unmistakable atmosphere of the city the day after an attack, that sort of rare slowing down that took over normal routines, the silence that resembled no other silence: the whole city turned into a room where a sick man lay dying.

The Sound of Things Falling was, at least partially, about that silence.

Even if the title seems to suggest otherwise. --Juan Gabriel Vásquez


Boty_rg_cover_thumb This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.

Gifted and Talented: An Essay by Meg Wolitzer, Author of "The Interestings"

Interestings

When I was fifteen, I attended an arty teenage summer camp, where I was cast as Hollow Man #2 in a musical based on the poems of T. S. Eliot. The three of us stumbled out onstage, attached by thick rubber bands, chanting, “Headpiece filled with straw, alas!” It was a thrilling moment for me, one of many in a vivid, indelible summer. That place changed me, making me aware of something I hadn’t thought much about before: talent. Who has it, who doesn’t, and what happens to it over time. Over the years, I followed the story lines of some of the people I met there, as they cast off their oboe-playing or acting selves and tried to find ways to be in the world that felt equally comfortable and compelling.

Whenever I write a novel, I reach a point at which I am reminded, through my characters, that there’s no perfect way to live. If you’re talented when you’re young, you can feel a sense of exuberant grandiosity, but of course this usually diminishes as reality rises up to meet it. The most brilliant actress at that camp was someone we were convinced was going to become a huge success. For a long time—well before the internet—she disappeared from my life, and I didn’t have any idea what had happened to her. But I assumed she hadn’t made it in theater, because I would have heard about it if she had. Then, some time ago, I found out she’d been floating around in various professions for a decade. And then, more recently, I learned she’d gone to medical school in her forties. Another person I knew at camp, a powerful modern dancer, also disappeared from my life, and reappeared many years later when I saw a sign advertising her chiropractic business.

What happened to the original, startling talents of these two girls? Did they simply transform into less showy but also worthwhile talents in the end? Can talent itself simply be transferred, like some glowing liquid, between beakers? When I think of young talent that doesn’t pan out, I tend to feel sad; but the truth, in this case, is that I have no idea how talented any of these people actually were to begin with. I’d never even seen much modern dance at fifteen; could I really say that that young dancer had a Martha Graham future? Or that that actress wasn’t just a combination of earnest, hammy, and beautiful? Perhaps what I saw in these people was, even more than their talent, their passion and possibilities—and sometimes that’s the one-two punch you need in order to have a life that, if not perfect, at least has meaning. —Meg Wolitzer


Boty_rg_cover_thumb This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.

Twelve Literary Hoaxes and Put-ons from "A Reader's Book of Days"

RBD-OmniLongtime readers of Omnivoracious may remember Tom Nissley as the founder of this blog and often its primary contributor, having authored hundreds of pieces over his 10-year run as an editor on the Amazon books team. From his interviews with celebrated and best-selling authors such as China Mieville, Rebecca Skloot, and David Rakoff, to curated round-ups of the week's best reviews in the weekly "Old Media Monday" feature, Tom's smart and engaging words single-handedly kept this occasionally leaky boat afloat (before, that is, it became the literary Larry Ellison carbon catamaran that it is now). Then something wonderful happened: Tom ran off eight consecutive victories on Jeopardy!, becoming the second-winningest Seattle-area resident ever (and the show's third best ever, in regular games), returning later that year to tread the glowing blue boards of the Tournament of Champions, where he finished second only to an unbeatable trivia shark in a Tom Wolfe suit.

Though it's been well over two years since he left Amazon, he hasn't been content to rest upon his piles of cash, or even upon his laurels*. This week marks the publication of A Reader's Book of Days, a collection of almost 2,000 bits of literary minutiae and anecdotes spread across each of the 366 days of the year (accounting for February 29, natch), including author births and deaths, tales from the lives of writers and their works, reading recommendations for every month, and much more--punctuated with 100 cosmopolitan illustrations by Joanna Neborsky. To give readers a taste of the new book (and as a favor to his old pals here at Omni, maybe) Tom has selected a dozen stories of literary scams and authorial deception, all lifted from the pages of ABD. The Prodigal Son has returned, and he brought a lot of fun. Book nerd fun.

 * I'm giving him a hard time. Congratulations, Jet. We miss you.

Twelve Literary Hoaxes and Put-ons from A Reader's Book of Days

February 6, 1853 According to his first biographer, February 1853 was a momentous time for Horatio Alger Jr. Living in Paris, the timid Harvard grad was introduced to the sinful pleasures of the body by a plump café chanteuse named Elise. "I was a fool to have waited so long," he told his diary on the 4th, and on this day he added, "She says she knows I wanted to." But in truth there was no diary, no Elise, and no trip to Paris: his French initiation, like nearly everything else in Alger: A Biography Without a Hero, was concocted by its author, Herbert R. Mayes, in 1927. Mayes planned the book as a spoof, but he kept quiet as it was taken seriously by reviewers and became the authoritative source on the life of the once-popular master of juvenile uplift stories. Only fifty years later did he confess, as Gary Scharnhorst and Jack Bales detailed in their own Alger biography, that he had invented almost everything in what he called a "miserable, maudlin piece of claptrap."

February 14, 1971 In Oaxaca, Mexico, Clifford Irving got the call he had flown there to receive, from a “friend of Octavio’s,” the code name for Howard Hughes, the pathologically reclusive billionaire who soon agreed, without shaking hands of course, to collaborate with Irving on an authorized biography. Or at least that’s the story Irving told his editors at McGraw-Hill a few days later, leading them to eagerly advance $500,000 for “the most fantastic project of the decade.” In reality, as would be scandalously revealed a year later, his Oaxaca trip was just one element in an elaborate hoax: rather than meeting with Hughes, he spent Valentine’s Day there trysting with his mistress, the Danish pop star Nina van Pallandt.

March 15, 1958 Best known in later years as an uncompromising historian of the horrors of Soviet Communism, Robert Conquest in the ’50s was a poet and, with his friends Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, a tireless prankster. Conquest took the fun furthest of all, most memorably with Larkin, to whom, knowing the shy poet’s extracurricular reading interests, he sent a warning, claiming to be from the Scotland Yard Vice Squad, that Larkin might be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. After a nervous day at his solicitor’s, Larkin angrily sent the £10 legal bill to Conquest on this day, with the suggestion “Why can’t you play your japes on David Wright or Christopher Logue or some bastard who wd benefit from a cold sweat or two? Instead of plaguing your old pals.” Even the louche Amis recalled the episode with a slight horror.

RBD-Shakespeare-300April 2, 1796 Of the “authentic” documents from the life of William Shakespeare—original manuscripts of Lear and Hamlet, a love letter and poem to Anne Hathaway, an awkwardly scrawled note from Queen Elizabeth—that poured forth from a mysterious old chest William Henry Ireland claimed to have found, the most audacious forgery was Vortigern, an unknown play said to be in the Bard’s hand whose sole performance at Drury Lane on this evening quickly turned into farce. Even the play’s performers smelled a fraud by then, and when the star, John Kemble, repeated the line “And when this solemn mockery is ended,” with a leer at the audience, a bedlam of derision ensured the humiliation of Ireland, the play’s discoverer and its true author.

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Read for the Record Day

Today's the day to join millions of others reading to or with kids to show our support for children's literacy.  Every year there is one book that leads the challenge and for 2013, it's Otis.  Since Otis came out, this little tractor with the big heart has had a handful of new adventures, but nothing beats the book where we meet him for the first time.  Author and illustrator Loren Long is one of my favorites and besides his own work he's also illustrated other folks' books, including the most beautiful edition of Wally Piper's The Little Engine That Could (a book that he holds dear for reasons you'll see below).  In his guest post below, Loren Long shares his thoughts on reading to children and some of his own best book memories.  Long also let us in on a sneak peek of some of the illustrations going into Otis' first Christmas adventure this fall.

In my mind the picture book is a coveted institution. Something that can't be replaced easily by any medium in life. We can all see the educational, behavioral and creative benefits of reading to children at early ages.

But what I embrace about reading to children the most is a less tangible benefit. Those tender moments reading, the security of those stories that never change, the time spent with them by someone who cares for them and the ultimate love they receive from the repeated experience add up to something  powerful that the child will take with them throughout their entire lives.

I've learned and forgotten many things over and over in my 49 years. But I'll never forget my two favorite books when I was a 4 years old, The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Engine That Could. All these years later I still feel those books inside of me. And I can still feel what it was like to hear my mother's voice reading them to me. It's the kind of stuff that stays with you for life, in the best of ways.

Jumpstart's mission is to work toward the day that every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. By putting books into kid's hands and raising awareness of the benefits of reading, Jumpstart's Read for the Record protects and champions the coveted institution that is the picture book and all that goes with it. That is why I'm so proud to be a part of this year's Read for the Record. -- Loren Long

  OtisChristamsInteriorI250 OtisChristamsInteriorII250

 

YA Wednesday: Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner

Steelheart200 EyeOfMinds200Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner are no strangers to best seller lists, and both have big things happening right now, including the release of their fantastic new books.  We loved them both-- Sanderson's Steelheart  was a September Best of the Month pick and Dashner's The Eye of Minds is on the list for October

Both novels are the first in a new series, and Sanderson's, first foray into writing young adult novels.  Steelheart is an amazing, futuristic, action packed story with comic book style heroes and villains, though it isn't a comic or graphic novel.  I wasn't sure this was a book for me, but I was totally wrong, and loved it.  I'm already a huge fan of Dashner's Maze Runner series so was super excited to read The Eye of Minds, the first book of his new Mortality Doctrine series.  Once again Dashner has created a world that you can't help but get immersed in--this time the hyper-techno world of a virtual reality game that has a very real killer.   

YA authors tend to be a close knit bunch, so it did not surprise me to learn that Sanderson and Dashner are not only colleagues but friends.  The photo here is a shot of them at this year's Comic-con where they sat down for us to have a chat about their new books:

Sanderson_Dashner_ComiconJames Dashner: Brandon, you’re perhaps best known for your adult books—Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and particularly for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. However, recently you’ve undertaken several projects for younger readers. Why is that? How does it feel to be entering into the world of YA fiction? How does it differ from writing for an adult audience? How do you possibly think you can compete with your friend, James Dashner?

Brandon Sanderson: I've known this guy James Dashner for so long, and he was such an inspiration to me, and I thought, if this joker can do it, then I can too! The sci-fi/fantasy genre is what made a reader out of me, and it has a long history of crossing the line between YA and adult fiction. For example, you mentioned The Wheel of Time. In the early books, the main protagonists are all teenagers. Are these books YA? The publishers don't classify them that way. They’re shelved with the adult fantasy books. Books like that have influenced me in that some of the stories I tell fit into the mold that society says will package well as YA books. Other stories I tell—that are a thousand pages long—don’t seem to fit that mold. But I don’t sit down and say, “I’m writing for a teen audience now. I need to change my entire style.” Instead, I say, “This project and the way I’m writing it feels like it would work well for a teen audience.”

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Remembering "Birmingham-1963": Guest Author Christopher Paul Curtis

WatsonsGoToBirmingham A few weeks ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ground-breaking I Have a Dream speech.  Today is a more somber civil rights anniversary, the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.  The event that outraged a nation 50 years ago had a profound effect on Christopher Paul Curtis and led to his award-winning career as a children's book author.  In the guest post below, Curtis shares his story and that of The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, now a beloved classic of children's literature and airing as a television movie on September 20th.

September 15, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the event that inspired The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963. I was ten years old at the time of the bombing, and I was stunned to see my parents cry when they heard the news. Not only did my mother’s and father’s reactions terrify me, their pain also showed me how momentous this act of terrorism was.  As I write this, I’m preparing to go to Birmingham this September to be part of the city’s observance of the anniversary. I am deeply honored by this invitation.

I’m also looking forward to the release of the Hallmark Channel Original Movie on September 20, 2013 of TWGTB.  As any author would, I initially had doubts and worries about how my novel would be treated in the transition from the page to the screen.  After seeing some of the filming and meeting the producers, the director,  the amazing cast, and the production crew my doubts are gone.  The team has done a wonderful job of making the novel come alive on the screen.  I am proud of the fact that I am a member of that team.

Christopher-Paul-Curtis_credit-University-of-Michigan-Flint_200The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963  came at the right time in my life, a time when I was deeply unhappy in every job I’d held, (working in an automobile factory for thirteen years, unloading trucks in a warehouse) and felt there was more that I could be doing.  When my editor Wendy Lamb accepted The Watsons for publication I don’t think either of us had any idea of the impact the book would have.  We never dreamed Kenny Watson’s voice would be heard by millions of children and used for city wide reads and as a tool to help communities address racism.  Wendy and I would like to give our sincerest thanks to the many booksellers, teachers, parents and librarians everywhere who have been a crucial part of making this happen.  Without their care and understanding the voice of Kenny Watson would still be locked in the head of an unhappy Flint autoworker.

Finally, as we look back on the fiftieth anniversary of the summer of ’63 I am hopeful that Kenny’s story will help children understand the power that comes from committed people acting together to bring about change.  I hope my readers will be inclined to use this occasion to celebrate the courage of those who fought for Civil Rights.  As I say in the epilogue of TWGTB, “These are the people who believe as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are. These are our true American heroes and they still walk among us today.  One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.

One of them may be you.

Christopher Paul Curtis

YA Wednesday: Nancy Farmer on "The Lord of Opium"

LordOfOpiumIt's been 11 years since Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion was released, a book so well loved and admired that it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was both a Printz Honor and Newbery Honor title.  After all this time, I was amazed when I heard that this year she would publish the sequel and I crossed my fingers that it would live up to the high bar of the first book. The Lord of Opium was worth the wait, and this Best Teen & YA book of September delivers a gripping read with contemporary themes, twists, and fully realized characters.  I think now I'm going to go back to The House of the Scorpion, just to do it all over again.  

I was reading some of Nancy Farmer's blog posts about The Lord of Opium and one thing that struck me was that this was not the original title, and in fact the title she wanted got shot down.  I think it's always fascinating to hear the backstory when the final title is not what the author originally intended, so we asked Farmer to tell us a little more about the evolution of this one.  Coincidentally, there is a connection to the Burning Man festival, which happened just a couple weeks ago.

One of the first things authors do when writing a book is to name it. This is called “the working title,” and it often doesn’t survive to publication. The House of the Scorpion was originally called Mi Vida, the Life of a Clone. My editor, Richard Jackson, sent it to Ursula K. Le Guin, and the first thing she said was, “That’s an AWFUL title. Get rid of it.” So I did. I think she was right. I believe she has been credited with the new name, but, in fact, I came up with it.

The working title for The Lord of Opium was God’s Ashtray. I was writing about ecological disaster, and the image of a giant ashtray with a monster cigarette butt sticking out of it appealed to me. It was as though God had finally gotten tired of His troublesome people and was in the process of stubbing them out. Alas, Richard Jackson didn’t like the name. He thought it was too provocative, and he suggested The Lord of Opium.  I said that was a wimpy idea.

I put the title up on my blog, and an argument erupted. Some readers said their parents would never let them have a book called God’s Ashtray. Others swore they would read the novel because it would annoy their parents.

Now, God’s Ashtray is a real place. It is the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. Once a year, about seventy thousand artists, hippies, and marijuana smokers descend upon it and create the Burning Man festival. They build art objects, blast the peaceful desert air with loud speakers, and run around naked. I have never been to it because I don’t like living with naked people who haven’t bathed for a week. At the end of the festival, most of the art objects are burned down. The organizers of the event pick up every bit of trash and restore Black Rock to its original state.

The Black Rock Desert is called God’s Ashtray because nothing grows there. It’s completely barren. When it rains, nothing sprouts and the whole place turns into a giant pot of glue. I find this desolation attractive. Unfortunately, the editor and the publisher agreed that religious people would object to the idea of God smoking a giant cigarette and stubbed out my brilliant title. Or perhaps they looked up the original place called God’s Ashtray and discovered what went on there. --Nancy Farmer

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