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About Robin A. Rothman

Robin "Don't forget the A." Rothman spent more than a decade as a rock critic before dabbling in TV & Radio journalism and eventually dropping the byline altogether to be an entertainment & features editor. Now turning her full attention to books, she's drawn to quirky fiction, funny Sci-Fi, big fantasy, cult classics, pop culture nonfiction, and anything that will help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

Posts by Robin

From the A-List: Getting to Know Celebrities Better through Books

From the A-ListEntertainment is an easy target. I mean, c'mon, in the scope of things how important is it really?

As a lifelong devotee of pop culture, I submit that it's among the defining aspects of who we are, as much a part of our collective identity as politics and technology are, at least.

Does everyone in entertainment make history the way, say, the Beatles did? Of course not. But whatever we're a fan of, whatever movie or sitcom or album or book has brought us to tears or helped us through a tough time or made us laugh out loud, we've got to admit that the people behind the art often become such a point of reference, such a regular part of our lives, that they can start to feel like distant friends. Yet there's often much more to them than the romanticized lives we imagine they have. And that just makes us fortunate that so many have chosen to share their stories with us.

It is in that spirit that we've gathered together the biographies and memoirs from some of the biggest names in entertainment--legends and cult icons, male and female, young and young at heart -- for our From the A-List feature. Check out our ten "must-read" books and see ten more on the horizon that we're really looking forward to. Then explore our genre lists for film, television, music, comedy, and culture.

Did we miss your favorite book by or about a celebrity? Let us know in the comments below!

Poet Laureate and Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou, celebrated author of more than 30 books spanning poetry, essays, plays, novels, and a series of autobiographies, died Wednesday night, May 27, at the age of 86.

Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928, Angelou experienced life fully and uniquely, working as a young woman in strip clubs, on a cable car, as an actress, and as a journalist. She wrote a series of seven autobiographies, beginning with perhaps her best known work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).

Though she never went to college, she held more than 30 honorary doctral degrees. She was a nominee for the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize; she was a winner of the Grammy Award and the National Medal of the Arts, among many other honors.

President Bill Clinton, who felt a connection with Angelou having also grown up poor in Arkansas, asked her to read at his 1993 inauguration, where she recited "On the Pulse of the Morning." A life-long civil rights activist and icon, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2011.

How I Wrote It: Sarah Lotz on "The Three"

The Three I was sleep deprived because every time I finished a chapter and saw which character's perspective the next was in, I'd simply have to keep reading. I was half-listening to people talking to me because my inner dialogue was busy arguing about which theory would ultimately be the right one. I was wearing extra layers of clothes because I thought I was cold when it was the creepy undertones of the book that were giving me the chills.

Almost needles to say, The Three -- one of our picks for Best of the Month in May -- really got to me. If that's not the mark of a great horror story, I don't know what is.

The title refers to the children who, against the odds, survived nearly simultaneous plane crashes in different parts of the world. How they lived is a mystery -- the source of intense speculation and incredible conspiracy theories. The conceit is a book within a book; Lotz's primary narrator is an author who -- through interviews, letters, and transcripts -- explored these strange events, but we generally hear her voice only as an introduction to each chapter, in which the other players in this drama speak.

We asked Lotz to tell us more about writing The Three: the concept, the research, the format, and more. Here's what she had to say:

Origins
I've always wanted to write a novel about plane crashes and the media's fascination with these tragedies. I'm flight phobic, which is probably why I'm obsessed with air travel.

Audience
I generally start by coming up with an idea that I know I'll enjoy writing, rather than considering a particular type of market or readership. As THE THREE is a horror/thriller novel written in an unconventional style, I guess I'm hoping it will appeal to anyone who likes something a little different. That said, it's probably not ideal reading for anyone who has pteromerhanophobia (you know who you are).

Research
As the novel is set in multiple locations, such as the Aokigahara suicide forest in Japan and Khayelitsha, Cape Town, and is focalised through multiple characters, I knew early on that the research would be daunting. And it was! A lot of the locations, characters and issues I chose to deal with were way out of my comfort zone, so months of dedicated reading and researching were essential if I had any hope of pulling the whole thing off.

Among other things, I interrogated commercial pilots and investigators, travelled to Tokyo to visit the Aokigahara forest, studied NTSB reports, rode along with South African paramedics, hung out with Japanese Otaku, re-read the Old Testament, delved into eschatology, looked into Japanese economic history, read up on the influence of religion on American politics, and wallowed in the murky depths of the internet with conspiracy theorists who truly believe that The Aliens Are Here. A lot of it was pretty upsetting, especially reading the accounts of people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances.

Format
I initially attempted to write the novel using a more traditional narrative, but it just wasn't coming together. I needed to find a way to explore the global scope of the tragedies and the ensuing fallout without resorting to reams of exposition. I really admire the oral history approach Max Brooks took in World War Z, and I love the notion of the unreliable narrator, so I decided to go this route. As it was, about 80 000 words ended up on the cutting room floor! I will be forever grateful to my editor for reeling me in.

Surprises?
Constantly! That's the problem with research -- the more you read, the more you want to include. When I started writing, I'd had the vague notion that someone could possibly believe that the three child crash survivors were three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but it was only when I started looking into prophecy theory that it hit me that this actually had a real-world application tied to those who believe that the rapture is imminent.

Space
Most of my writing is done in a rickety attic space above my bedroom in my tiny tumbledown Cape Town cottage. It's full of junk, half-finished paintings and page proofs. The wall is scrawled with notes and reminders, including a detailed sketch of a cruise ship deck plan that I'm using for my current novel. There's usually a cat and at least two dogs up there with me (one or more on my lap). I can write anywhere, though. I'm usually on a deadline, which is brilliant for eradicating any high-falutin notions about only being able to write under ideal conditions.

Fuel
I have a Nespresso machine called George that's in constant action. I love it, although I do feel guilty about its lack of environmental friendliness. I'm old school, so nicotine and caffeine are my fuel of choice. Their benefits (or lack thereof) are self-explanatory. Appalling, I know.

Temptation
I've recently gone on Twitter, which is far more addictive than I thought it would be, mainly because the people on my timeline are so witty. One-liners zinging at you all day can be distracting. If @ChuckWendig, @sarahpinborough, @dbbovey and @TomeatonSA could stop being so goddamned funny, that would help.

Annabelle Gurwitch and Barbara Ehrenreich in Conversation

Wild GodI See You Made an Effort "I feel so fortunate to have first crossed paths with Barbara Ehrenreich when I was researching my book and documentary, Fired!," actress and author Annabelle Gurwitch tells us. "She's so brilliant, funny, and irreverent in the best way possible."

Gurwitch, whose latest book I See You Made an Effort humorously confronts middle-age, spoke with Ehrenreich, who recently published her memoir Living With a Wild God. Naturally the topics of conversation spanned silly and serious, including sci-fi fandom, heaven, and tacos.

We'll leave it to you to decide where those subjects fall on the spectrum.


Annabelle Gurwitch: Barbara, in your book you mention unearthing a box of love letters you had saved in a box. I have those, too; however, we appear to be heading toward a paperless society. I wondered about the gains and losses of this. I mean, has anyone ever saved a Love Text or Love Tweet?

Barbara Ehrenreich: I don't think I could be profoundly moved by something written in a text or tweet. I wouldn't get on a plane because of a text.

AG: I'm sure someone at Google has this data, but I bet there are fewer impulse-plane-tickets purchased to Paris these days. I also drove across the country once on the strength of great penmanship. Now I get "I luv u" texts from my husband on a good day, but that barely makes me remember to schedule our Date Night.

BE: A few years ago, I broke up with someone by email. That was craven. But there's impermanence with paper. It can burn or can be wrecked by floods…

GurwitchAG: Right. Every important message should be carved into stone or painted onto a cave wall. Those have lasted. I really should carve "I'm running 10 minutes late" into stone because it's the text I send all the time. No wait, I should invent an app that automatically sends a text to every person you've scheduled meetings with -- can you imagine how many times those words are typed into phones every day? If I only knew what an app was.

BE: I did once write an insulting email, menacing really; it was about an editor and I hit send and CC'ed her by mistake.

AG: Who hasn't done that?! What was the fallout?

BE: It probably ruined my life in ways that I have no idea.

AG: Is it better to be ruined in ways you so know about, or in ways you don't?

EhrenreichBE: In ways you don't know.

AG: Yes, then you can conveniently chalk it up to God, luck, or Mercury being in retrograde. But should the next generation become completely untethered to material objects... what will happen to all of those Waterford crystal vases we got as wedding gifts?

BE: Well, I had a justice of the peace wedding, so I never got those things.

AG: I have extras, I'd be happy to send them to you.

BE: Don't! I've always had a difficult and tenuous relationship to things. Objects just refuse to cooperate with me. I look at the pile of books on my floor and think, why are you so passive? Why are you waiting for me to put you on the shelf? Then I try to un-see them.

AG: If you can get that to work you could get a whole new book out of it.

BE: Well, I think books just sitting there going unread is sad. It's like money and wealth -- they should always be in motion. In the aggregate they are useless. I always give books away.

AG: Please tell me we're never going to read about you needing to be dug out of your living room.

BE: There's usually a path at least.

AG: I wondered about the title of your book, and whether you considered what the addition of the word God would do to the book's reception in the world?

BE: I did think if we put God in the title it might be the first time I could have a base in the Christian Right.

AG: Has that happened?

BE: Not that I'm aware of, but I do seem to have attracted new kinds of readers -- I was asked how many tacos I could eat in a sitting on a Reddit AMA.

AG: And I admired you for taking the question seriously. Perhaps the question has implications we can't begin to understand. Speaking of large mysteries: by the end of your new book, I sensed your ambivalence about the idea of a palpable Other or Others. What did you mean by that?

BE: I meant that not in a religious, but science fiction context.

AG: Oh, of course! We share a love of the sci-fi genre. A highlight of my acting career was guest-starring as a scientist on the TV series "Alien Nation." I had hoped to portray an alien, but no dice. Do you think there is something transgressive about saying you are a sci-fi fan, and can you avoid being marginalized into the wacko category if you do?

BE: Definitely for a girl it was when I was younger. In the '50s and '60s science fiction was also amazingly sexist. I tried to turn a blind eye to that.

AG: Yes, me too. In the '70s, when I was growing up, I'd play out scenes from "Star Trek." I was always The Kirk, never The Uhura. I also thought kale would never catch on, because I have a deep suspicion of green food, no doubt brought on from repeated viewings of Soylent Green. So, what's a sci-fi movie you've liked recently?

BE: I loved Prometheus.

AG: Barbara, how can you say that? Wasn't it ridiculous when the sleeping Engineer was woken up, and the movie turned into a Western slug-fest?

BE: Well, I liked the idea of a bad God and also that we were given no glimpse of the God's agenda.

AG: Oh, yes, that's true. It was a good twist.

BE: I'd begun to wonder if I could find any entertainment without zombies where the last human on Earth wasn't eating the second-to-last human, so I was moved when the crew blew themselves up to prevent Earth from being destroyed. It was a selfless act. When the lead scientist goes off into space to find where it all started, I teared up.

AG: Well, I do love a good zombie movie. Try Shaun of the Dead -- there's a lot of humanity in that one. You know, I included the story of how I belonged to an alien cult the 1980s in my book. I was worried about the embarrassment of including that story, but what I hadn't anticipated was that people would want to recount their own experiences in cults to me. Do people come up to you now tell you their stories of mystical experiences?

BE: Yes, I should probably issue a public statement: I don't deal in clairvoyance, telepathy, or hallucinations. The other day someone came up and began telling me the details of how he witnessed a dog having an out-of-body experience. He saw the soul of the dog appear in the corner of a room.

AG: So that story assumes that not only is there a soul separate from the body, but that dogs have them as well.

BE: I was reading in a science journal about reality and quantum physics--it was an article making the argument that are no "things," just patterns and relationships between other patterns. So, the mind is a just pattern. Now does it continue on? I hope not.

AG: Well, I find that line of thinking fascinating, but then I remember that I still need to get the pattern that is caffeine into the pattern that is my blood stream every morning in order to wake up, that I've had to develop a working relationship with mom jeans, and that my cheeks have a much closer relationship with my shoulders than they used to.

BE: Yes, we are still subject to limitations in the physical world. I've lost some height.

AG: Well, my grandmother was the size of a ladybug, so I can see where things are heading for me.

AG: If there was an afterlife, Barbara, set the scene for your ideal Heaven.

BE: Well, to make eternity tolerable there would have to be lots to explore. Vistas, hills to climb, and some skydiving would be nice. I could probably get a good 50,000 years out of that.

AG: My version would probably involve having Glenn Gould playing "The Goldberg Variations" over and over. I have an unhealthy OCD-like obsession with that piece of music. But would Glenn Gould have to agree to be in my heaven or would that just be a construct of my imagination? Also, in this life, I've had to give up bread, so the idea of strolling through fields of brioches for at least a portion of eternity is beginning to hold some appeal for me. You know, I was just thinking that the closest thing to God we might ever experience in a tangible way is Google.

BE: Yes, it's omniscient and its workings are unknowable.

AG: It sees us when we're sleeping and knows when we're awake. No wait, that's Santa Claus not God. I often get them confused.

BE: There's got to be an essay in that.

AG: Maybe. I'll try to work in something about tacos.

Amanda Vaill on Ernest Hemingway

Hotel FloridaReading a book by Amanda Vaill practically guarantees that you'll learn a lot -- about places, about history and especially about people you already thought you knew. Her Everybody Was So Young introduced us to Sara and Gerald Murphy, patrons of such then-bold-faced names as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker.

Now, in her new book, Hotel Florida, she explores the lives of six people whose paths crossed on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Doesn't sound exciting? How about if one of those people was that other bold-faced name of the era, Ernest Hemingway?

Here, Vaill tells us what she learned about that other famous writer of the era, Ernest Hemingway.


Five Things I Learned About Hemingway While Writing Hotel Florida

Vaillby Amanda Vaill

1) He was a classical music maven.

Although I knew his mother had been an aspiring opera singer and had taught piano and voice in the Hemingways' Oak Park, Illinois home, I didn't realize that classical music was Hemingway's go-to soundtrack for relaxation and distraction. But when shells were whistling over the Hotel Florida in Madrid, where he and Martha Gellhorn were staying during the Spanish Civil War, what did Hemingway put on the Victrola to drown out the bombardment? Chopin's Opus 33 mazurka, number 4, and the ballade in A-flat minor, opus 47.

2) He was an agent of the KGB.

In public Hemingway had always strenuously resisted the idea of writing anything from "a Marxian viewpoint" – something he derided as "so much horseshit." But in 1937, when he was in Spain covering the Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance and writing the script for Joris Ivens's documentary film, The Spanish Earth, Ivens had tried to enlist him as a propagandist, and possibly more, for the Communist Party, which had been supporting the Spanish government against Franco's rebels. And according to internal KGB files studied by a former Soviet agent, Alexander Vassiliev, Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in 1941 and given the code-name "Argo." It was hoped he could report on Nazi activity in Cuba and the Caribbean during World War II, but he never generated any useful intelligence and his cover was terminated in 1950.

Hemingway

3) He couldn't cook paella.

In April of 1937, at a Rioja-fueled lunch party at the Madrid restaurant Botin, a spot Hemingway loved (and had celebrated in The Sun Also Rises), the writer insisted on leaving the table – where the company included the photographer Robert Capa and Capa's beautiful girlfriend and professional partner Gerda Taro –- and going into the kitchen to help prepare paella. "Less skillful in the kitchen than at the typewriter," was the tactful verdict of the restaurant's owner, Emilio Gonzales.

4) His affair with Martha Gellhorn was less than a great romance.

He might have run off with Gellhorn to Spain, beginning an affair that culminated in marriage three years later, after he divorced his second wife, Pauline; but apparently the Gellhorn-Hemingway romance could have used some couples therapy. Gellhorn later claimed her "whole memory of sex with Ernest [was] the invention of excuses and failing that, the hope that it would soon be over." Which it was, by 1944, when Gellhorn scooped her husband by getting a ride on a hospital ship to the D-Day beaches while he gazed at the coast through binoculars from the deck of an attack transport.

5) He originally began the manuscript of his most successful novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which draws on his experience in the Spanish Civil War, in the first person.

He changed his mind, choosing the detachment of a narrative in which the protagonist is "he," not "I." It was the best and most truthful decision he could have made. To understand why, of course, you have to read the book. Or books. His, and mine.

Mystery Solved: Sophie Hannah Suggests Five Great Entry Points for Reading Agatha Christie and Why

Agatha Christie's last novel, published in 1976, was Sleeping Murder. Miss Marple's Last Case, as it was subtitled, saw her return to her small village home, hanging up her detective's hat for good. She certainly fared better than Hercule Poirot, whom Christie killed off when Curtain was published the year before (though she had written it decades earlier).

But it seems even death, neither real nor fictional, can keep the great Poirot down. Agatha Christie's estate, for the first time since she passed on in 1976, has authorized a new Poirot novel to be written by British author Sophie Hannah. We'll have more about that closer to the book's publication in September. For now, to celebrate our list of 100 Mysteries and Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime -- where Agatha Christie is the only author to appear more than once -- we asked Hannah to share her own list dedicated to Agatha Christie's work. Here's what she had to say.


Murder on the Orient Express

GENIUS SOLUTION AWARD: Murder on the Orient Express

This book has the best solution-to-a-mystery of all time. It cannot be beaten, has never been beaten, and will never be beaten. It is perfect, elegant and --best of all -- its brilliant concept can be summarised in five words. I spent years pointlessly wishing I'd thought of it, then more years equally pointlessly wishing I'd thought of something else that was anywhere near as good. The train stuck in the snow is a wonderfully atmospheric setting, and Poirot is at his best in this book.
Sleeping Murder

IMPOSSIBLE PREMISE AWARD: Sleeping Murder

This is the best of Agatha's "It can't be happening and yet it is" books. It begins with the unlikely scenario of a woman finding herself in a house that she knows very well, and recognizes right down to its old, peeling wallpaper -- but she also knows that she has never been there before and so the house cannot possibly be familiar to her. At the beginning of this novel, the reader thinks, "It's a great premise, but it simply cannot be made to work without resorting to ghosts or aliens with special powers" -- and then Agatha makes it work stunningly well, while playing fair with the reader throughout.
Lord Edgeware Dies

MOST SINISTER MURDERER AWARD: Lord Edgeware Dies

Agatha's murderer characters are not always so psychologically developed, but the killer in this novel is so vividly realized, and so horribly plausible, that I would, on balance, prefer to be murdered by any or all of Agatha's other murderers rather than this one. There's a section of the book in the killer's voice at the end, and it is utterly chilling and convincing. I suspect Agatha knew someone with this kind of personality, and based the killer in this book on him or her.
After The Funeral

BEST ALL-ROUNDER: After The Funeral

Everything about this novel is wonderful. The characters are brilliantly drawn, the balance between plot and character is exactly as it should be, and the structure of the story is perfectly sculpted. The clues are where they should be -- visible but not too obvious -- and the motive is one of the most memorable in Agatha's fiction. I wouldn't commit murder for this reason personally, but it's such a unique, persuasive and idiosyncratic motive that, once the solution is revealed, the whole book comes alive in a new way. It's also a double-layered motive, which makes it more interesting. There is an obvious reason why the killing takes place, but beneath that there is another reason -- the true motive 0-- which is so poignant and plausible, it takes the book to a whole other level of excellence.
Three-Act Tragedy

INNOVATIVE IDEAS AWARD: Three-Act Tragedy

In this novel, there are three murders. One is ordinary enough, but the other two are committed for reasons that are conceptually so daring and inspired that you can actually feel the possibilities of the genre expanding as you read. Both of these -- as with the perfect solution to Murder on the Orient Express -- can be summed up in a sentence. When you read this novel, you realize that Agatha never -- not for a second -- stopped thinking to herself "Why else might someone kill? What other reason could there be, that I haven't thought of yet?" You can feel her enquiring intellect at work in these pages, and it is a joy to behold.

Charlaine Harris on Starting Over— Goodbye Bon Temps, Hello Midnight

Charlaine HarrisTalk about daunting...

Imagine you're a bestselling author. You've spent more than a decade writing a series of 13 novels -- building a vivid town, dynamic characters, complicated relationships, wicked plot twists. You've ignored the boundaries of traditional genres and mixed dark romance with bits of horror, supernatural fantasy with a hint of mystery. Your world took the mainstream by storm when HBO picked it up as a TV series, followed by Emmy nominations, Golden Globe nominations, and more. You saw places you've invented on the page promoted through clever merchandising -- a bar on a t-shirt, a backwater restaurant on a kitchen apron, cookbooks, branded bottled drinks.

And then, voila! It's complete. What now? How do you even begin to follow that up?

If you're Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (and credited writer on 72 episodes during the six-year run of "True Blood"), you just do. You focus on a new town, you concoct a new cast of characters, and you jump in head first.

We asked Harris to tell us a little more about that process of leaving such a successful past behind and building a new future. Here's what she had to say.


Midnight CrossroadStarting a new series is a lot like having your second baby. The basic mechanics are the same as when you had the first one, but the result is completely individual. Though the Sookie Stackhouse books were far from my first, I lived with Sookie and her world for well over a decade. I found it both exciting and terrifying to face the prospect of creating another world, one populated with different people and operating under different rules.

I wanted a challenge (as if writing a book isn't always a challenge), so I decided to forego the first person narrative that was the earmark of the Sookie books. So Midnight Crossroad has multiple points of view. In the first book (there'll be at least two more) I chose to tell the story through the eyes of Fiji Cavanaugh, Bobo Winthrop, and Manfred Bernardo.

Fiji is an entirely new character. Even in a town like Midnight, Texas, where everyone has secrets and some have unusual abilities, Fiji is not taken as seriously as she ought to be by some of the other citizens, maybe because she hosts a new-age women's group, maybe because her cat is named Mr. Snuggly. But it's a mistake to turn your back on Fiji.

Bobo Winthrop and Manfred Bernardo, on the other hand, may be recognizable to my readers, especially Manfred. The psychic was a character in the Harper Connelly books. I got a lot of mail about the tattooed and pierced young man who was smitten with Harper. In Midnight, he's a little older and wiser. He's running several successful businesses, and to keep his momentum going, he needs peace, quiet and good internet connections. In Midnight, renting a cottage from Bobo Winthrop, he finds all that and much, much, more.

Bobo Winthrop is someone I always wanted to work with again. He entered the world in the Lily Bard books as a teenager enrolled in the same martial arts class as Lily, my housecleaner with a horrible past. Bobo did a lot of growing up in the books, passing through his own valley of the shadow to gain a new maturity. I wanted to find out what he was like in his thirties. When I understood what his life had been during those years, I met up with an interesting guy who had definitely been through hard times; but he'd still retained his balance and his enjoyment of the moment.

The real core of Midnight Crossroad is the town itself, founded at a mystical crossroad and anchored by the old pawnshop that has stood for decades. In fact, one of the first owners is still around. He only comes out after dark, when he takes the night shift at the pawnshop. That's when the really strange customers come in.

There are touches of the supernatural in the Midnight books, but they're primarily anchored in the mystery genre. It felt like the right time to revisit my roots, as well as some old friends. I hope you enjoy a roadtrip through my new town.

If you do come to visit Midnight, stop and fill up your tank at the Gas N Go. You might want to go in to buy a Coke and a Slim Jim, meet the proprietor and his son and daughter. Or walk across Witchlight Road to have a meal in the Home Cookin Restaurant: Madonna is a great cook. If you need your nails done or you're in the market for a new sideboard, try Chuy and Joe at the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon.

If you're really anxious to get married, visit Rev. Emilio Sheehan's chapel; and if your pet is dead, the Rev can provide a great burial service.

Whatever you find to do in Midnight, don't forget to look both ways when you cross the road. You never know what's coming.

Reasons the Author is Crying: Greg Pembroke on How He Wrote Reasons My Kid Is Crying

Pembroke OriginsWe've all seen one. From the kitchen floor to a crowded restaurant, subways to back seats, city streets to backyards, there are no boundaries for a child's sudden meltdown, full of blood-curdling screams and floods of tears. Last year, Greg Pembroke decided to share such personal moments of his own son with the world, taking to Tumblr to document the causes along with pictures of the dramatic reactions in a blog he called "Reasons My Son Is Crying." It was an instant hit; every parent who saw it could relate, and did, and shared with Pembroke their own personal moments. The result is a collection from around the world called Reasons My Kid Is Crying, one of our Humor & Entertainment Best of the Month books as well as a Mother's Day pick.

We asked Pembroke to tell us more about the origins of the book, the process of writing it, and other fun stuff. But that's not all. We also asked him to demonstrate a few of his own personal meltdowns.

Origins

I've been a part time stay at home dad with my boys two days per week since my youngest son was born. Having that much father-son(s) time was really great -- but as the boys got older, I started to get double the tantrums, and I was all alone to witness them while my wife was at work! I had no one to share in the insanity. One day while taking a lunch break at a local toy museum, we had one piece of cheese left and both boys wanted it. I'm not a total maniac, so I got each of my sons to agree that we would share the cheese. My oldest was three at the time and he was perfectly fine with this solution,that is until I broke it in half. He immediately started screaming that he "wanted it to be a big piece." Shocked that he could have such an unexpected reaction, I started chuckling to myself and thought my friends would like to see a little bit of the craziness that I experienced on a daily basis, so I snapped a quick picture and uploaded it to my personal Facebook page in a new album called "Reasons My Son Is Crying." My friends loved it -- they loved seeing that they weren't the only ones with a tantrum throwing toddler.

Pembroke Origins

Over the next few days more photos followed but the idea didn't really take off until a friend suggested that I start a Tumblr called "Reasons My Son Is Crying." Within days it had spread around the world, was featured on homepages in more countries than I count -- and my family was even flown to New York for an appearance on Good Morning America. We immediately started receiving hundreds, then thousands of photos of crying children from families around the world, and I decided to start sharing them. With the undeniable appeal and visual nature of the blog, publishers around the world immediately saw that this blog had all the makings of a book -- and they patiently helped me create one.

Audience

I created this book to show parents that despite the glowing happy portraits they see on their friend's Facebook pages, what your friends don't tell is that their kids cry for the silliest and most unexpected reasons -- just like yours. Parents from nearly every place in the world, from Alaska to Tasmania, have visited my site and have shared their photos. There are many parenting books out there, but my book is the only one that will make you feel better about yourself and your family. We put too much pressure on ourselves in 2014, and it's time to take a step back and just laugh at the insanity of it all. There's no way you can prevent these tantrums, so why not try to cherish them instead?

Surprises?

I was surprised to see just how universal this experience was for parents around the world. With so many different cultures and languages, life with toddlers might be the most unifying and humanizing experience there is. No matter what your house looks like or what language you speak in it, it's undeniable that your two year old behaves exactly the same as any other!

Space

The hardest part for a stay at home father making a book is finding a quiet spot to do it! Since I watch the boys most days, I found that the evenings (and into the late late late mornings) was the only time I really had available. I created the book in an unfinished room in my basement on a card table. I set up my printer and laptop and just plugged away. It was my job to sift through thousands of hilarious submissions and reach out to families to see if they would be interested in featuring their photo in my book. Many times it was a bit overwhelming and quite a logistical challenge! I had to find ways to keep their names, email addresses, photos, and captions all stored where I could find them easily. Besides that all I had in the room is about 27 empty Diet Mountain Dew cans, an (unused) elliptical workout machine and a TV hooked up to my Netflix account.

Pembroke MacGyver

Soundtrack

Spending long hours alone in the basement into the late night (on multiple very tight deadlines), I tried to listen to music but it just wasn't engaging enough. I tried watching movies on Netflix, but found I was too engrossed in the plot and not getting anything done on the book. FINALLY after much searching I discovered my muse: MacGyver. I watched episode after episode of the classic 80's show. Richard Dean Anderson was my steadfast companion when everyone else deserted me for bed. It was fun to listen to, gave me something to look at – but also something that I could easily tune out in moments when the book required the greatest concentration. And as an added bonus, I now know how to make an arc welder out of a car battery, jumper cables, and a nickel.

Pembroke Reading

Words

I tried to read the books from other parents (Bunmi Laditan and Jim Gaffigan) but quickly became depressed by how amazingly good they were and at the same time afraid that I would accidentally begin to subconsciously mimic their styles or content. Instead I moved over and rediscovered a couple of favorite authors – Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. I bought a compilation of all the Hitchhiker's Guide books and then re-read Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and "Welcome to the Monkey House" – a compilation of his short stories. I suppose it doesn't have a lot to do with crying children, but maybe that's the point!

Pembroke Inspiration

Inspiration

Since I'm writing about crying children, I have two live-in inspirations. My time with the boys each day gives me a nearly endless amount of hilarious material. The hardest part is getting the time to craft it into a cohesive thought while being pulled in two different directions (usually to the playground or the museum). I've actually started writing drafts of messages to myself with quotes from the boys or short descriptions of what happened. I find that if something makes me laugh, it will make other people laugh too. I swear I have enough unsent draft messages in my phone to create an entire sitcom!

Five Questions with Elaine Lui and the Squawking Chicken

The Squawking Chicken's opinions are not for the thin skinned or weak willed. Canadian gossip blogger and TV talk show host Elaine Lui has spent her life getting to know the woman who raised her. She makes no apologies for her mother's aggressive personality; rather, she celebrates it with Listen to the Squawking Chicken, one of our Best of the Month books in April and a Mother's Day recommendation. In addition to acting as a personal memoir, Lui's book serves also as her mother's biography, detailing the life of a young girl growing up in Hong Kong to a young woman raising a child in a new country to a mature woman facing health issues. As such, we see her toughened by negotiating with members of the Chinese Triads, supporting her own parents in financial crisis, and other intense, personal experiences.

In the follow she said/she said, we asked Lui and her mother to answer five questions. The answers, like the book, say so much about the special relationship these two share.

Elaine Lui

How would you describe your mother/daughter relationship?

Elaine: My ma, the Squawking Chicken, was asked this question recently. Her answer: "I think we are more like sisters because I look so young". Everyone laughed. And while ma certainly doesn't lack for self-confidence about her appearance, she was definitely joking. Ma has always been my Mother. And our relationship as mother daughter is at once fulfilling, infuriating, and forever honest. Ma is my first and worst critic. She is also my most ardent supporter and my loudest cheerleader. In return, I would like to think that I am her fiercest soldier.

Squawking Chicken: I cannot do anything for Elaine anymore. She is mature. So I make her the soup. That's how I can help her to do her job. I worry if she don't drink the soup she will be sick. Healthy is important. I will always worry about her. Even though she is 40, she is still my baby. But she is 40, not 20. So she must take care of her skin.

What does "success" mean to you?

Elaine: Success to me means that I've been able to make my own choices and that I've worked hard in pursuit of the opportunities that those choices have made possible. Success is always having options. When you have options, when there are alternatives, you will never be stuck.

Squawking Chicken: I did not have success. I had nothing – no school, no business. We are immigrants. Our family did not have much. Elaine is successful now. I think I did a good job.

What is one thing you're scared of and why?

Elaine: I am afraid that my ma will stop squawking. I'm afraid that one day I won't be able to hear her. I'm afraid that if I ever stop being able to hear her, I won't know myself.

Squawking Chicken: I don't want to die! I say to my doctors, don't let me die! My daughter is on TV and an author, I want to show off!

Squawking Chicken

What is the perfect Mother's Day gift and why?

Elaine: For my ma, the perfect Mother's Day gift is straight up cash money. So that she can take it to the casino, her happy place, and play slots for as long as she wants.

Squawking Chicken: Money, of course.

If readers take just one lesson away from "Listen to the Squawking Chicken", what do you hope it will be?

Elaine: That love isn't homogenous. It doesn't look the same from mother to mother, daughter to daughter. That my mother loved me as much as any mother loved a child, even if her way was unconventional.

Squawking Chicken: I want to help people. My family life was hard. But even if you have hard times, you can still be OK. Maybe this story will help the people to know that.

Photo of Elaine and her mother courtesy of Dexter Chew.

Amazon Asks: Daryl Gregory on "Afterparty," Comic Book Geekery, and Plagiarizing His First "Novel"

AfterpartyMy excitement for Afterparty has been growing since the moment I read the book's synopsis back in December. It was a lock for my most anticipated Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2014. Then, I started reading... and I just couldn't stop. Daryl Gregory has combined addictive elements of multiple genres -- the adrenaline rush of a race against time and enemies, the challenge to distinguish between good and bad guys, the inventiveness of a near future world -- to tell a story that's at once frightening and funny. Some chapters are so well-imagined I've gone back and reread them out of context, just to be there again. Ultimately, I chose Afterparty to lead the Science Fiction & Fantasy list for April, and it earned its place on our Best of the Month list, as well.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

Numinous is a smart drug that puts you in direct contact with God, giving you that feeling of oneness that you only get once or twice in your life. The drug was suppressed a decade ago, but now it's back on the street, and the woman who helped create it is trying to track it down--with the help of her own permanent hallucination, the angelic Dr. Gloria. I was trying to write a thriller that was one part Philip K. Dick, one part Elmore Leonard, and one part a TED talk by Oliver Sacks.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

If the stack of books on my bedside table falls onto me, I'm a dead man. I keep buying books on neuroscience to steal ideas from, so near the top of the pile is Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations (which came out, frustratingly, too late to help me write Afterparty), as well as Inside Jokes by Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennet, and Reginald B. Adams, Jr., which tries to explain the evolutionary and neurological basis for humor. I wanted to make sure to mention those because they make me sound smart. Lower down is The Best of Cordwainer Smith, Francine Prose's non-fiction book Reading Like a Writer, and Iain Banks' Stonemouth. But there are many more instruments of death teetering next to me. One good thing about the dozens of ebooks on my tablet, it's nearly impossible for them to crush my skull.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

The list changes every day, but three that are touchstones for me are Little, Big by John Crowley, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, and Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart.

Important book you never read?

I've taken three runs at The Brothers Karamazov. I will conquer you some day, Brothers.

Book that made you want to become a writer?

I can't separate reading from wanting to become a writer. As soon I read a great book, I wanted to write that book. My first "novel" was eight handwritten pages that I only later realized was a direct steal from The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I was 32. Just kidding. Eight. Pretty sure I was eight.

What's your most memorable author moment?

The afternoon I opened the acceptance letter to my first short story sale. "Letter" is too strong. It was a check and a piece of paper with one sentence from Ed Ferman, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But that sentence was a phase change.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I still prefer print, but like the rest of the world, I'm reading more and more in digital. Now if only they can get that new book smell into my tablet.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I'm a comic book geek, and I spent way too much time as a kid thinking over this question. Teleportation, definitely. I was a Nightcrawler fan.

What are you obsessed with now?

Thanks to that last question, all I can think about now is teleporting. Bamf!

What are you stressed about now?

I have to go online and schedule a bunch of flights. This drives me crazy. The Internet says, Here are 300 flights, in all combinations of price and date and time and carriers, now please imagine Future Daryl not hating one of these. It's one of those computational tasks that we need quantum computers for. Or a Downton Abbey butler.

What are you psyched about now?

I just want the Ant-Man movie to come as soon as possible.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Speaking of comics… I most treasure the statuette of Captain America that sits on our mantle. (It's golden age Cap, before he had the round shield, for you geeks in the audience.) It was given to me by a friend when I was moving out of town. Then I moved back, but kept it. Because, Captain America.

Author crush -- who's your current author crush?

Emily Dickinson, DM me back, 'kay? 'Cause I totally get you.

Pen Envy -- Book you wish you'd written?

Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. God, I love that book.

Daryl Gregory What's the last dream you remember?

This isn't exactly a dream, but I was recently at the Rainforest Writer's Retreat with 38 other writers. I was sleeping in my cabin when something woke me. I opened my eyes and saw a woman dressed in black standing beside my bed. I may have screamed like a 12-year-old girl in a Korean horror movie. It was then I realized (a) I wasn't quite awake, (b) there was no one there, and (c) it was a really good thing I was in a cabin by myself. Any roommate would have been really annoyed.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

I have to write in coffee shops, because if I'm home and the writing's not going well, I EAT ALL THE THINGS. Then I take a nap.

What do you collect?

Doubts, fears, the usual.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

In my short story "Second Person, Present Tense," the main character wakes up in the hospital after a drug overdose and knows that even though she has the same memories as the girl who previously inhabited her body, she's a new person, not the "owner" of those memories. I was proud of myself for inventing this disorder. Then I got an email from a professor in Tennessee who'd experienced the same thing, though his change was caused by a head injury after a motorcycle accident. For my next trick, I will invent some space aliens, and wait for them to call.

Favorite line in a book?

I live in a town that in the winter is grayer than Seattle, and whenever the sun does come out, I think to myself, "T'was Brillig!" It makes me feel better. Then I go outside and slay a jabberwock.

What's next for you?

I'm really looking forward to lunch. Then in August I have a short novel about horror and small group therapy called We Are All Completely Fine coming out from Tachyon Publications. Sometime after that Tor will be publishing my Lovecraftian young adult novel. And then dinner.

Amazon Asks: Bob Saget Gives a PG-13 Glimpse of the Man Behind "Dirty Daddy"

Dirty DaddyYou've likely seen actor/comedian Bob Saget on TV. Question is, which Bob Saget did you see? The family-friendly Saget of "Full House" and "America's Funniest Home Videos" fame is oh-so-different from the potty-mouthed button pusher who cameo-ed as a misogynist neighbor on "Entourage" and a drug-addicted actor on"Huff," appeared in the blue comedy documentary The Aristocrats, and starred in his own HBO stand-up special "That Ain't Right."

Now, as an author, Saget has written a bridge between his two extreme personas with Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, one of our April Best of the Month selections in Humor & Entertainment.

Characteristically tangential, in Dirty Daddy Saget jumps from endearingly genuine to sophomorically silly to jarringly vulgar without warning. Somehow, between the exasperated "Oh, Bob"s, the heartwarming "Awwww"s, the head-nodding "Right on..."s, and the cringe-worthy "Ew, really!??"s, we get to know him from his own tainted perspective. He shares a behind-the-scenes look at "Full House," name-drops comedians who influenced him (Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor) and random celebrities he's encountered (Quentin Tarrantino, Jimmy Stewart), remembers career milestones like his first time on The Tonight Show. He also drags his family into it, discussing relationships with his mother, grandmother, sisters, and kids.

But we wanted to know Bob Saget, Debut Author a bit better. So, we presented him with our favorite questions and begged him to keep the answers "printable." What we got back was (with a couple of exceptions), surprisingly sweet.


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

It doesn't take long to explain, but before I'd go into an elevator to pitch it, I'm basically the kid who'd push the button on every floor to make sure they're a captive audience.

Dirty Daddy is about how the different aspects of my life have intersected. How I became what some people consider a "dirty" comedian, when all I've ever done is try to entertain my way through a life that often has a huge amount of heaviness in it. The book is about loss, survival, the love of comedy, and my testicles.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

A stack of several books I've yet to read, a few DVDs I've yet to watch, and a tiny cheesy alarm clock that's had the same miniature battery in it for ten years. It's outlived my last three relationships.

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Jitterbug Perfume

Important book you never read?

Pride and Prejudice

Book that changed your life?

Charlotte's Web

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Dirty Daddy

What's your most memorable author moment?

Writing for 48 hours straight with no sleep to meet a deadline. Most Adaptation-like moment I'd prefer never to repeat in my life if possible.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

I will always prefer a hardback book, but I'm drawn to digital because it's so easy to acquire them when I'm having a need-to-read moment.

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

I'd be really happy to be able to stretch myself to be as wide or narrow as I felt like being at the moment. Take up the whole doorway, or be able to slide myself under it. You asked.

What are you obsessed with now?

At the moment, the fantasy of being able to stretch myself as wide as a doorway, or be able to slide myself under it.

What are you stressed about now?

The state of the world. How desensitized we have become as people. How much we have to do to help this planet and its population. I am also stressed because once I am flattened out so thin to be able to slide under a doorway, I may never be able to ever be unflattened so I could be regular sized again.

What are you psyched about now?

The future. I have no plan except to take care of the people I love. I have no agenda, nothing to control. I'm psyched about what I can contribute that can be meaningful to myself and to others. I'm also looking forward to one day meeting a person has that same non-agenda. In the creative sense, I'm looking forward to collaborating with people I have mutual respect for to create some really good work. In the immediate sense, I'd like a nice piece of salmon that's not too pink inside and yet isn't too dry or crisp either. Nothing worse than a piece of dried out fish.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

A pair of leather lace-less high-top All Stars my daughters gave me two birthdays ago. They're always coming apart at the sole, but I will keep repairing them until the end of time because they mean so much to me.

Author crush - who's your current author crush?

Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club and Lit. I love her unabashed honesty and conviction to everything she believes in.

Pen Envy - Book you wish you'd written?

The World According to Garp. I was influenced by its fascinating and funny characters along with what could be deemed absurd with stream of conscious story lines that somehow made its whole world seem entirely possible.

What's the last dream you remember?

My mom, who we lost a few months back, came to me and the basic info imparted was-- everything was going to be alright; she was so proud of me; that the book was going to be received well by a lot of people. She told me how much she loved me seemed to infer I was going to find some new healthy romance--that she would not be involved with from the other side in any meddling fashion. Finally, some Freudian Relief.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

My favorite procrastination is to make the choice to have valuable times with human beings that I care about instead of holing myself up alone to get my work done. The conflict is the temptation to get the omnipresent assignment completed. The selfish and usually pointless approach is to try to get both done simultaneously--accomplish your work at hand while begging forgiveness of those close to you while you're basically working in front of them during what could've been specifically 'quality time.' The favorite method of vice is to diss all responsibility be work or social, go off by myself, and enjoy a good steak and a great glass of wine. Oh yeah, and my kids are there too.

What do you collect?

Sweet desk items my daughters buy me. Could be a plastic necklace, or a felt pen with a face dressed in a Christmas hat. Also enjoy a good glass pyramid to store my deepest wishes and dreams in. My favorite collections are gifts from my daughters that come from them knowing me, and knowing what items give me focus and meaning, There's a ceramic tiny ant eater or similar creature sitting my desk named "Pushkin." He's not named after the Russian Poet. If anything he is a mockery of anyone else ever named "Pushkin." I like him very much.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

The one (and there were several) from a young girl who thanked me for being part of "Full House" because her childhood was similar to the one depicted in that sitcom I was the father in. She said it was the only show she could watch with her dad, since she'd lost her mom, that they could sit and talk about their feelings after. She credits a show made for exactly her, a teenage girl audience--helping her get through how hard it was to live without her mother in her life.

Favorite line in a book?

Part of Tom Joad's speech from The Grapes of Wrath. It's lengthy but I think of it often:

Tom: "Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark--I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build --I'll be there, too."

What's next for you?

I don't know, but I'll be there.

Amazon Asks: Christopher Priest, author of "The Adjacent"

The AdjacentOne does not simply read a book by Christopher Priest (The Prestige, The Glamour, etc.). It is not a casual, relaxing, kick back and enjoy type of experience. His books are often intentionally confusing, reality-mangling, complex adventures in which the reader must be a vigilant participant, attentive to hidden details and willing to dig deep into the layers. Priest's latest, The Adjacent is no different. The story shifts across time and space, between similar yet different characters. Sometimes it provides real links between them, and sometimes it provides red herrings... and rarely is there solid evidence as to which is which. Oh, and if you expect him to tie it all up in a pretty package by the last page, you've simply come to the wrong author. It's just part of his frustrating charm.

And so, anticipating that any questions we ask about The Adjacent will only result in our having more questions than we did to begin with (not to mention ruining the experience of reading for anyone who hasn't yet), let's focus on Priest himself. We asked him to answer a few of our favorite questions, and, true to form, we received answers that beg further illumination (which, of course, we know we'll never fully get).


What's the elevator pitch for your book?

He was a 21st century photojournalist with a camera that changed reality, she flew a Spitfire in World War 2, they were supposed never to meet.

What's on your nightstand/bedside table/Kindle?

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolano, The Red Line by John Nichol, the latest edition of "Fortean Times".

Top 3-5 favorite books of all time?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie, The Magus by John Fowles, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, A Sort of Life by Graham Greene

Important book you never read?

Almost everything else. I never got past the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace.

Book that changed your life?

Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie

Book that made you want to become a writer?

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

What's your most memorable author moment?

Finishing a book.

Preferred reading format: print? digital?

Print

What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

Perfect pitch.

What are you obsessed with now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you stressed about now?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour.

What are you psyched about now?

The forthcoming -- no, scrub that. The advent of spring and my cats are bringing in half-dead small animals.

What's your most prized/treasured possession?

Property is theft.

Author crush -- who's your current author crush?

Self-love is a sin.

Pen Envy -- Book you wish you'd written?

2666 by Roberto Bolano, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

What's the last dream you remember?

Never can remember them.

What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

Questionnaires.

What do you collect?

I never collect anything ... I accumulate stuff. Mostly books and cameras.

Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

"Dear Chris -- I loved your new novel. Brought back all those sexy memories. My lawyer will be in touch."

Favorite line in a book?

"This is the saddest story I have ever heard." (The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.)

What's next for you?

The forthcoming film of The Glamour. The forthcoming stage play of The Prestige. My new novel in progress. A non-fiction work about aviation.

Eve Harris and Deborah Feldman in Conversation

ExodusThe Marrying of Chani Kaufman In the last two months, authors Eve Harris and Deborah Feldman have each published books that focus on Orthodox Jewish communities. Exodus, one of our Best of the Month selections in Biography & Memoir in March, is a follow-up to Feldman's bestselling first memoir, Unorthodox. In it, she attempts to rediscover herself and her roots after taking her son and leaving the strictly religious Hasidic community she grew up in in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Similarly, Harris' debut novel, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, is set in an Orthodox community in Hendon, North London. It was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and it is one of our Best of the Month selections in Literature & Fiction this month. We brought these two authors together to discuss the writing process, how their books were received, and what's up next.


Deborah Feldman: What was your reaction when you heard that The Marrying of Chani Kaufman was longlisted for the Booker Prize?

Eve Harris: Of course the Booker was a huge shock – I felt like I'd woken up in a parallel universe! And nothing has been the same since.

DF: Had it been a long process writing the book?

EH: I had actually had a hard time writing the book. Having never written a novel before, the structure was the biggest challenge. I ended up with a lot of colored post-it notes stuck to two flattened cardboard boxes donated by my local corner shop. Each note represented a chapter and each color represented a different character. I moved them around until I felt dizzy! Writing is a grueling, lonely slog, but the days when it just felt right and my characters leapt off the page were the best. And then having the book longlisted was just incredible.

Your first book, Unorthodox, also got a lot of attention, and was clearly quite controversial in some circles. Were you surprised by that reaction, and how has the approach you've taken with Exodus differed from the way you set about writing Unorthodox?

DF: I can't honestly say I was surprised by any of the reaction, actually. But the writing process for the second book was certainly a little different.

I decided to write Unorthodox in the present tense, because I was twenty-two years old at the time, and still felt very much entrenched in the story. As a result, it has a strong coming-of-age feel. I actually like that, because many of the books that inspired me when I was an adolescent were written in a similar tone, like Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Anza Yezierska's The Bread Givers. Yet when I started writing Exodus, I immediately reverted to past tense, even though many of the events that take place in the book are relatively recent. Leaving the community allowed me to become a much more reflective person in the past five years.

Otherwise they were both written in a similar time frame, with much of the same processes and rituals, although I've managed to fine-tune my method somewhat through practice, which is nice.

EH: That's so interesting, especially for someone who is just starting to work on their second book. I hope I will be able to fine-tune my method, too. I have an idea for the next book, but right now I am focusing on being a mum to my two-year-old and continuing to promote The Marrying of Chani Kaufman.

What are you working on next?

DF: I'm actually working on two different projects at the moment. One is a collection of narratives that focuses on unique ethnic identities and the role they play in a globalized society, and the other project is an in-depth look at the contrast between several women from very different cultural backgrounds who are exploring their sexuality in a unique and thought-provoking way. Both of these works are very concerned with the intersection between cultural identity and a globalized future, but I don't know which of these books will be completed first at this point, or if they might even end up coming together as one project. I feel like you really can't know what a book is until it's actually done.

EH: That's certainly true. Chani changed a lot throughout the writing process, but the central part of the story was always the same. I had taught at an ultra-Orthodox girls' school, and during that year I also got married by an Orthodox rabbi. So I experienced a lot of what Chani goes through as a bride and afterwards started thinking about how strange the Charedi world is, in a lot of ways. I was in a writing course and actually working on a set of short stories, which my tutor was pretty unimpressed by – not least because everyone else in the class was already working on their novel. But after having my confidence knocked I set to work again, and when I next read to the class, a few weeks later, it was the passage that would become the first chapter of the novel. That's how it all started!

DF:  As I've said, there is an emerging canon of books dealing with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish experience, and I count your book among works by Chaim Potok and Naomi Ragen. I would say that Potok has a strong male perspective, specifically in The Chosen, and Ragen has a powerful female one. What's interesting about The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is that it manages to have a very gender-neutral perspective on the Hasidic community: when you read it you feel that the male and female characters get equal billing in terms of depth and impact. This is one of the reasons I found the book so startling.... I'm so glad you weren't discouraged and went on to write [it].

Page to Screen -- Spring to Summer 2014

With or without warmer weather, summer is on its way. And plenty of book-based stories are about to appear on our TVs and in movie theaters. We've rounded up the trailers for a few of our favorites below and an even bigger list of upcoming book adaptations in our Page to Screen store.


Divergent, the first book in Veronica Roth's Divergent Universe series, is officially an adaptation hit! The movie, starring Shailene Woodley (The Descendents) opened March 21, and two more are already planned to follow Roth's trilogy. Here's a glimpse of what you can now see on the big screen.

While everyone's trying to predict what will happen if George R.R. Martin doesn't finish A Song of Ice and Fire fast enough, "Game of Thrones" returns to HBO for its fourth season on April 6. This season draws from the second half of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. HBO has released four trailers for the season, but this one's my fave (maybe because Arya is my favorite character and that cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees "Cities in Dust" is wickedly perfect!)


 

The news recently broke that another of author John Green's books (Paper Towns) will be getting the Hollywood treatment soon, but right now, let's enjoy The Fault in Our Stars, starring... oh look, it's Shailene Woodley again! You'll also see Willem Dafoe and Laura Dern. It opens June 6.


 

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are starring in an action movie called The Edge of Tomorrow, opening on June 6. But if you're looking for the book it's based on, check out Hiroshi Skaurazaka's breakthrough sci-fi novel All You Need is Kill.


 

The How to Train Your Dragon movies don't correspond directly with the book series by Cressida Cowell. Guess you'll just have to read them all before seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2, opening June 13.


 

The Giver, Lois Lowry's children's novel about a utopia that's not what it seems, was published way back in 1993, but it's hitting the big screen this summer on August 15. Australian actor Brenton Thwaites takes on the lead role of Jonas, with Alexander Skarsgård as his father. Other faces you'll recognize: Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Swift...


George R.R. Martin Drops By Before Advance Screening

George R.R. MartinAuthor George R.R. Martin is in New York City this week to promote season 4 of Game of Thrones. The festivities began Tuesday with an official premiere at Lincoln Center.

Last night, he dropped by HBO for a private publishers' advance screening where he introduced the first episode of the season, "The Swords," before heading out to Brooklyn, where 7,000 fans were gathered to watch the same episode at Barclays Center.

"Some have paid $5,000 to be there," he noted with some awe. "Think of how many books they could have bought."

Martin, who typically writes once per season, identified the second episode, "The Lion and the Rose," as his. "But you won't be seeing that tonight," he teased.

Season 4, which draws from the second half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, begins April 6 on HBO.

People, he said, often ask him, "Did you expect all of this," he told the crowd. "No, I didn't expect it," he answered with mock indignation. "But I like it."

 

Guest Essay: Rene Denfeld on Translating Life into Fiction for "The Enchanted"

The Enchanted"Write about what you know," they say. Author Rene Denfeld, who has several nonfiction books to her name, took that advice to heart when writing her powerful debut novel, The Enchanted. Told from the perspective of a death row inmate, the story, in large part, is about the inmate in the next cell and the work of "the Lady," an investigator who is trying to help him avoid execution. Drawing upon her own experiences investigating death penalty cases, Denfeld brings us inside the prison walls, deep into death row, and beyond.

We asked her to tell us about how her own experience influenced her writing, particularly with "the Lady." Here's what she had to say.


The EnchantedNot long ago, I was interviewing a man on death row.

He appeared angry with me, and I asked why. He turned haunted eyes towards me and said, "You brought the outside in."

For decades, he said, he had been trying to forget there was an outside. It was the only way to cope with being locked in a fetid prison cell. Now here I was, smelling of fresh air, with the bloom of winter sun on my cheeks, and he was furious.

I had reminded him of the greatest thing he had lost: hope.

In my job as a death penalty investigator, I spend a lot of time talking to men like this: men in prison cells, waiting for death.

My work is very much like that of the character of the lady in my first novel, The Enchanted. Attorneys hire me to investigate the lives of their clients--men and women facing execution.

Like the lady, I track down long-ago family members, and childhood friends. I find teachers based on pictures in ancient yearbooks. I dig up forgotten records in mildewed file rooms, and often locate witnesses starting with nothing more than a first name.

And most importantly, I spend time with the clients, making a safe place for them to tell me their secrets.

My job is painful and difficult, but I love it, because I get to learn the answers to the most critical question of all --"Why?"

Why are people the way they are? Why do people do such terrible things to each other? Why do some survive bad childhoods, while others succumb to rage and violence?

It fascinates me that for all our focus on crime--the movies, the novels, the television shows--we so seldom dig deep to find out why. We spend a lot of time in our culture telling each other what's wrong with people, but rarely do we stop, and just listen.

Like the lady, I find that most of the people I interview have been waiting a lifetime for someone to listen. Poverty, crime, and abuse have created vast swaths of the population who are silenced. They are our caste of invisibles, unseen and unheard.

Until, sometimes, their actions speak for them--and then it is too late.

For me, listening led to this novel. I listened to the voice of the narrator much as I have learned to listen to the voices of men on death row, their family members, and the families of their victims.

I feel honored to be entrusted with the truths of others, as real and painful and beautiful as they can be. Each secret told is a gift, the chance to truly understand another person.

I have been brought to my knees by the raw courage that can exist in victims and survivors. I've been humbled by the naked humanity of the penitent. Mostly, I've been astounded at the ability to find joy and hope and celebration even in the most despairing of circumstances.

Writing The Enchanted, there were times when I recognized myself in the lady. I also come from a difficult background. Like her, I've used my hardships to make room in my heart for others. But she made it clear that she was her own person, with her own story. She was not me--none of the characters are.

And yet, we share a comon humanity. We all have pain and sorrow. We all share the unquenchable human need to be heard, to be seen, and hopefully, accepted--to find a reason to let the outside in.

Peter Liney Dissects "The Detainee"—a Big Spring Books Selection

The DetaineeThe book I'm most excited about this spring, and therefore my selection for the Big Spring Books Editors' Picks, is The Detainee, the debut novel by British author Peter Liney. From the moment I read the book's description months ago, I was antsy to get my hands on this one. And once I read the first page, I didn't put it down until I'd turned the last --literally. It's the story of a 60-something man named "Big Guy" Clancy. He used to be a tough guy for the mob, but now he's just another aging prisoner on an island where society ships all of its garbage, including the elderly and the infirm. Kept in line by satellites armed to kill at any sign of attempted escape or violence, Clancy and his neighbors are in constant danger whenever the fog rolls in; that's when the satellites malfunction and island's other residents get their violent kicks.

The island felt so vivid to me, and Clancy was such an unusual choice for a hero. I asked Liney to tell us more about where the idea for the island came from, a little more about this old man through whose eyes we see the story unfold, as well as the socio-political concerns that provided the author's own underlying motivation to write this book. Here's what he had to say.


One day, while on a trip to New York City, I ran across a remarkable exhibition at the Public Library on garbage, more precisely, the massive landfill on Staten Island. Most of the people there weren’t terribly interested; they gave it a quick glance and hurried by in search of more exciting things. I stood there with a big smile on my face. I didn't actually shout "Eureka!", but the sentiment was written across my face for all to see.

I saw this huge island of garbage, where all those who society regards as disposable, who can no longer support themselves—the old, the sick, unwanted children, hardened young criminals who have no one willing to pay for their incarceration, etc. -- are shipped out and told they're taking part in the Island Rehabilitation Program, a new chance at life, when in fact they're to be prisoners, enduring the most squalid and terrifying existence, unable to escape because of the constant threat of immediate death.

Now I had my setting and situation; where was my hero? What manner of person could cope with all this and prevail? Clancy was a professional "big guy" with a lifetime of crime behind him. Just for him to be seen walking the streets was enough to enforce the rule of his master. But as I said, no one useful gets sent out to the Island. No matter how much he hates it, the truth is, Clancy is old: his muscles have started to sag and lose their strength, and as years have passed on the Island, he's become a grouchy and reclusive figure that most people wish to avoid.

Some of the ideas I used for The Detainee have been jangling around in my head for years -- like a set of keys in my pocket whose purpose I had long forgotten. Several of these ideas weren't so much ideas as they were concerns. With the advances in healthcare, greater life expectancy, and a falling birth-rate, populations of the developed nations are getting much older. And suddenly, there are more elderly people than young, causing a strain on social services and healthcare for the aging population.

Another thing that was troubling me was why was I living in one of the most monitored societies on Earth? A place where cameras are constantly spying on me. Big Brother, Big Sister, Big Momma—they're all out there the moment I open my front door. Where am I talking about? North Korea? Russia, perhaps? Somewhere under the rule of some crazed dictator? Actually, it's the United Kingdom. You can spend practically your whole day being spied upon by one camera or another. They tell us they're there to safeguard us. Which is food for thought. What if they aren't there to protect us? What if they are really there to protect a certain status quo in the government's power? Exactly how far would they be prepared to go to maintain this status quo? Possibly as far as the hellish world of The Detainee?

It sounds grim -- it is grim, I know -- but if I had to use only one word to describe the theme of The Detainee it would be hope. More than anything, I wanted to write a book about the fact that we humans thrive on hope; that like those seeds that lie in the desert, year after year, with nothing to sustain them, then with just a drop of rainwater they bloom into the most spectacular of flowers. Clancy's the same. He's living in a desert—a pitiless, God-forsaken, garbage-strewn wasteland; yet one day he happens upon someone who inspires him and gives him hope. He's ready to fight back.

How I Wrote It: Alan Paul on the Allman Brothers Band Bio "One Way Out"

One Way OutThe cast of characters in the new Allman Brothers Band biography One Way Out contains 59 names, including core band members, backstage crew, label execs, wives and many affiliated musicians. That can make for a lot of opinions over a couple of decades, and a lot of material to sift through for an author. Alan Paul is a music journalist who has a long history with the band. Drawing upon hundreds of interviews he's conducted, Paul turns chaos into order and provides the framework -- introductions, segues, sidebars, plus a slew of images (many never-before-seen) -- to guide readers through a complex and compelling story, acting as a moderator for the many powerful voices that make up the storied history of this blues-infused southern rock band.

We asked Paul for a "backstage pass" to his own process for some insight into how One Way Out, one of our selections for February's Humor & Entertainment Best of the Month list in February, came to be. Here's what he had to say:

Origins
I actually interviewed the band hundreds of times before I decided there was a book in it, or at least before I actually started writing a book. I may have been thinking about doing so as far back as eighth grade when I chose Duane Allman as the subject of my Great Americans Social Studies essay. I wrote about the band as a journalist for the first time in 1990, a story that first brought me to the Guitar World, where I became Managing Editor.

One Way Out began as a 2009 Guitar World cover story. I went through 20 years of notes and interviews and conducted a new round of interviews and put together an oral history. It was very long for a magazine article, but still only scratched the surface of the band's extensive history.

Audience
I started writing it for myself and other hardcore fans, seeking to clarify some mysteries. As I researched, I broadened my vision and my grasp of what their story means, beginning to more fully understand how their ups and downs--years of struggle, overcoming death, drugs and dysfunction--told a powerful tale, one which can inspire people who may not know much of anything about the Allman Brothers.

Research
Some of the interviews in this book go back to 1990. So in a sense I've been writing it for 25 years. I started doing new interviews to expand the scope into a full-length book and that's when things got really interesting.

I also made three trips to Macon, Georgia and the band archives housed at the Big House Museum. I spent many hours sorting through papers, ledgers, receipts, legal documents, photos, and letters.

Format: Oral History
It's a format I've always enjoyed writing and reading. It can be lazy, but when executed properly, it takes a tremendous amount of time, craft and dedication. I also quickly realized that many events had different versions from different people. Sometimes the differences were subtle and sometimes they were radical. When something was factually incorrect I did not include it; I did the same sort of fact checking and due diligence you would in any narrative. But many other situations exist in a gray area and I liked the idea of letting each person have their say side by side, letting the reader decide. It mimics life, where answers are rarely black and white.

Soundtrack: Allmans and Beyond
I listened to too many Allman Brothers recordings to list, but a few stayed in heavy rotation: At Fillmore East, which remains the gold standard, Eat A Peach, Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, a fantastic archival release I had somehow overlooked. I also received some great goodies from dedicated fans, including an entire CD consisting of brilliantly edited versions of "You Don't Love" and another with the most epic hour-long "Mountain Jam." Toward the end of writing I got an advance copy of Play all Night: Live at the Beacon, 1992 and it went into very heavy rotation, because I love it and because it helped me remember just why I fell in love with this band so deeply in that era.

Other music includes jazz greats Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Cleanhead Vinson, Cannonball Adderely and Miles Davis; blues giants Son Seals, Albert King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Bobby Bland, B.B. King, Albert Collins and Katie Webster. And African musicans Fela, Tinariwen, and Ali Farka Toure.

Words: Reading Between Writing
I return over and over to my favorite crime fiction writers like George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, and Walter Moseley. They all write with such great momentum and economy of words and create such vibrant characters. I felt like the real life cast of Allman Brothers characters could stand up in any of their books and I needed to honor them by making that clear.

Three friends inspired me with very different books that were filled with humanity and clear-headed thinking: Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, Anand Giridharadas' upcoming The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas and Brad Tolinski's Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, which showed me that this could be done. Stanley Booth's The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones and Robert Palmer's Deep Blues are my gold standards of music writing, to which I often return.

Inspiration
My greatest distractions are also my greatest inspiration: my three kids. Being their father pulls me away from my work plenty but also gives me perspective on life and fulfills me deeply. I got into Cross Fit training early in the writing of this book and it helped me stay sane. So does my little dog MeiMei and my wife Rebecca, who was a tremendous help.

Surprises?
Oh God, yes. The first versions of this story reflected what I knew and had reported. I thought I knew where the holes were and that filling them would be a tidy process. I thought I knew most of what there was to know about the Allman Brothers Band, but that was pure hubris. No piece of writing can have real depth until the writer knows far more than he or she can put down on the paper. Getting there was a long, invigorating, exhausting process.

I had to let go of my preconceptions and see where the interviews took me. Every time I thought I was nearing the end, a new door would open and every time I walked through it, I saw another set of doors. Sometimes I thought I needed one interview to finish a section but that one raised all kinds of new areas of inquiry. It became a much more involved process than I envisioned -- and it made for a much better book.

Sophie Hannah and the Horror of Noisy Neighbors

The Orphan ChoirWhen I have the pleasure of meeting British novelist Sophie Hannah in person, some of the first things I will tell her "about me" are these: Catty-corner to the rear of my apartment lives a man known to blare Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and other "un-ignorable" classic rock as late as 3 a.m. on a weeknight with his windows wide open. On the opposite diagonal corner lives an extended family that spends almost every summer weekend in their back yard blasting salsa music and playing basketball until at least midnight. Downstairs resides a magnificent burlesque dancer who sometimes has to listen to a single song many, many times while she creates new routines; she married a (ridiculously talented) jazz trumpet player whose casual music listening results in the steady thump thump thump of an upright bass carrying through the ceiling to my wooden floor and straight into my brain.

I'll tell her these things because she'll understand that, at times, my haven from the heartless world can feel like a torture chamber from which there is no escape.

Reading her latest novel, The Orphan Choir, almost hit too close to home for me. It's the story of a woman who reaches her emotional and psychological limit as an inconsiderate next-door neighbor ignores her noise complaints. The psychological toll -- feelings of abandonment and self-doubt -- is palpable as her story reaches and then surpasses the boundaries of reason and reality.

In the guest article that follows, Ms. Hannah explores just how bad a fictional neighbor can be.


My new supernatural thriller, The Orphan Choir, starts with a nightmare scenario that is so common that people rarely discuss just how awful it is: the problem of noisy neighbors. Because it's so ordinary and has happened to us, or to somebody we know, it does not seem horrific -- until you have suffered it day after day, that is. The noisy neighbor in The Orphan Choir is called Mr. Fahrenheit (because he plays "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen in the middle of the night!), but, despite his nuisance noise-making, he is probably not the character in fiction that I would least like to live next door to. Here is a list of fictional characters I would hate to have as neighbors:

Jane Eyre Character: Mr. Rochester
Novel: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Rationale: Especially not if my bedroom were in the converted attic. Screaming Bertha in the adjoining attic would not be fun to listen to at night.
Wuthering Heights Character: Heathcliff
Novel: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Brontë
Rationale: Cathy's ghost knocking at the window at all hours would wake me up, especially if the knocking at the window was accompanied by her rendition of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights song (and, let's face it, if it wasn't that would really be a missed opportunity).
Heart of Darkness Character: Colonel Kurtz
Novel: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Rationale: Hearing him moan, 'The horror, the horror' every time his alarm clock went off at 6 am would be a bit of a downer.
Bartleby the Scrivener Character: Bartleby
Novel: Bartleby the Scrivener
Author: Herman Melville
Rationale: I could be doing him an injustice, but I would imagine he would prefer not to turn down the volume when listening to music.

If I could pick my ideal fictional-character neighbor, I would pick Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. She doesn't look as if she'd listen to loud stadium rock all night long, and we could get together and compare notes about our exes, bitchily. That might be fun. Luckily, I'm pretty scruffy, so I wouldn't even mind getting covered in cobwebs!

She and We: Behind "On Such a Full Sea" with Author Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full SeaChang-rae Lee is intrigued by his audience lately. The award-winning author of five novels has attended countless readings and book signings; he's familiar with who his readers are, and vice versa. Or so he thought. On the road promoting his latest book, On Such a Full Sea, he's seen a shift in who's showing up to the bookstores. His fans are skewing much younger than normal, and half of them, he says, are new to his work.

Promotion could be a reason, he proffers -- a review in a newspaper, a spot on NPR, or even a bookseller's recommendation. But of the many theories he has for the shift, he thinks it could simply be that the nature of the book -- a dark, yet hope-filled story about a young girl venturing forth alone into a dystopian America -- is appealing to young readers. In fact, though he is clear that he didn't write On Such a Full Sea specifically for his two teenage daughters (clarifying emphatically that it is "not YA"), he did intentionally try to keep it within their realm of possibility.

"My other books are very psychologically excruciating," he says with an easy-going laugh. "I mean they're really detailed, they go very deep into the consciousness of the characters. My daughters are teens, and I wanted them to be able to read the book, to engage with the character in quite a different way, identify with the character rather than have to 'understand the character.'"

A petite 16-year-old, skilled in her work and seemingly content in her life, Fan is motivated to leave her labor settlement, B-Mor, after her boyfriend suddenly disappears. The decision is unheard of; the wilds of the counties are daunting. And so we hear of her journey beyond the safety of the gates, coming to know her as compelling and complex, mature beyond her years yet innocent to the dangers of the world, an inspiration and a cautionary tale, an example from which to better understand ourselves.

Nevertheless, as orchestrated by the author, trying to actually understand Fan is not the point.

"I don't really go into all of Fan's thoughts, I'm not interested in that. What I am interested in is her as a kind of almost pre-modern elemental hero. You know, with modernism we get all of this psychology, right? I mean, that's what we understood after Flaubert and Joyce," Lee says, the Princeton professor in him shining through. "But I wanted to have a hero who was more, at least in the minds of the people viewing her, an iconic hero who would be and act more than say and lead."

This focus on a single (and singular) character wasn't the book Lee initially planned to write. For him, it was a story about the lives of factory workers in China's Pearl River Delta -- "their lives, their work, the geopolitical and socio-economic forces around them." But he soon realized that a key element was missing, though the reporting appealed to him.

"I think to write a novel you have to feel not just that you know the material, which I did, but also that there's still a mystery about it," he says. "And that can be a character, that can be a formal consideration, that can be a lot of things, but I just didn't quite have whatever it was."

Having come to that conclusion, a train ride past a part of Baltimore prompted a new idea, one about the takeover by foreign countries of American cities suffering urban decay. The thought shed new light on his original concept, and he recognized that his curiosity was less about China itself and more about the dual nature of a cultural domination. "What I was really interested in was the ascendancy of China, but the reciprocal side of that, which is American stagnation and decline."

The realization dictated the setting of his new story: it needed to take place sometime in the future and there had to be some element of a previous decline.

On Such a Full SeaSome futuristic tales rely upon intense world-building and imaginative tech advancement. Some dystopian stories dig into the sources of their world's deterioration or paint a vivid picture of the world, almost treating the setting as a character. Lee turned futurist and dystopian instincts on their heads, reversing the process.

He had no roadmap or outline; he had ideas of things that would happen but no definitive plan for how or when. He simply wrote, and as the characters and the story developed, the details of the world came to life around them.

Incorporating familiar holdovers from our modern lives, each piece was chosen with careful consideration for its meaning to the characters and the reader. Within context, we see the working folks of B-Mor enjoying bubble teas in an underground mall or watching "vids" and playing games on handheld screens, but the counties people using hand-me-down handscreens ("like old Kindles") just to read. We see the well-to-do charters residents on shopping sprees and showing off their wine rooms and saunas.

"My basic interest was 'How does this context shape and reshape the people who are on the ground?'" he explains. "If they're details that are going to tell me about the lives of those characters at that moment…and it seems apt for describing their consciousness and ethos, then yes, I would choose it in writing…I was never interested in set design. I was only interested in how it reflects the people there."

It was the flexibility of his method, eschewing premeditation, that also resulted in one of the most surprising and potentially misunderstood aspects of the book: writing in the first person plural tense, from the perspective of the "we." It's an unusual choice, certainly, and in general can be an awkward way to read. As On Such a Full Sea begins, it's casual enough to pass direct notice: "It is known where we come from, but no one much cares about things like that anymore. We think, Why bother?"

But then things feel a little strange: "Who would tell us we are wrong? Our footings are dug deep. And if they like they can even bring up the tale of Fan, the young woman whose cause has been taken up by a startling number of us."

The reader's reaction mirrors what Lee experienced as a writer.

"When I started writing it I had the first kind of shock of cold water, like 'Oh my God, I'm doing this!' But about four sentences in, I realized ... I didn't plan out everything then, but I could feel instinctively that there was I lot to explore there."

It's soon clear to the reader, as well, that this is much more than a storytelling novelty or structural device. Explaining the thought-process that led him to the decision, Lee says he quickly decided against having Fan narrate the story. "Every time I have her narrate something you'd get more into her actual voice her actual psychology. I didn't want that."

Then he considered a third person approach; however, the more he thought about it, and his extensive research into those factories in China and the essence of the communities there, the more inside that sensibility he felt he wanted to be. "How are individual identities and individual consciousness formed and sometimes misshaped by a community ethos -- a very strong community ethos?"

As a result, the "we" ultimately represents a collective character (one with a shifting perspective) that is as important, if not more so, than Fan herself. The intertwined stories of the "we" and Fan depend upon one another; just as the people of B-Mor have informed who Fan is and the decisions she makes on her journey, Fan, in turn, is informing the development and actions of the "we" that is interpreting her legend.

As that "we" tells us in the book, "A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there is finally no telling exactly where it begins, where it ends, or where it places you now."

With On Such a Full Sea Lee manifests that belief, offering a narrative we, the readers, are likely to revisit and continue to discover in new ways, yet never with any definitive resolution. As readers, we are in one way a part of the collective consciousness in the story, in another we are the "we" to B-Mor as B-Mor is the "we" to Fan.

"Who the real actor is, we're not sure at the end," Lee says. "You know who has the last word, right? It's the 'we.'"

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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