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Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, essays by Michael Chabon

You know a book on fatherhood is going to be interesting when the title includes the word amateurs. The trope of fatherly wisdom, borne of experience and dispensed with measured calm, is a wonderful thing, but how realistic it?

There are some great recent memoirs about fathers. Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland and Will Boast’s Epilogue come to mind, narratives in which fathers run the spectrum, from brave to flawed and back again.

Rarer is the memoir that reflects on what being a father is actually like, and for that matter, how men come to be fathers after being sons and boyfriends and husbands. Chabon’s collection is not a memoir per se, but a series of essays grouped thematically around personal and cultural ideas and behaviors connected to fatherhood, as well as nostalgia for sixties childhood and seventies youth, and the flaws and failures that influence how one fathers his children. There are essays too, on boyhood, and boyfriend-hood, which indirectly, and sometimes directly speak to that same self, to the complex mix of parenting and maleness.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” The book’s epigraph by G.K. Chesterton forefronts the deprecating stance, but Chabon has more to tell us. At the supermarket, he is complemented by a stranger simply for taking care of his kid, a double standard he quickly points out (to the reader, anyway), “The handy thing about being a father is that the historical standard is so pitifully low.” The differing criteria for what makes a good father and a good mother is skewed, to say the least, and pointing it out early in the book lends authority, credibility and likeability. Here’s Chabon on his own father:

My father, born in the gray-and-silver Movietone year of 1938, was part of the generation of Americans who, in their twenties and thirties, approached the concepts of intimacy, of authenticity and open emotion, with a certain tentative abruptness, like people used to automatic transmission learning how to drive a stick shift.

One of my favorite essays, “The Wilderness of Childhood,” is  unabashedly nostalgic, but also serves an a kind of think-piece, an important one, on the detriment of too closely watching our children, not allowing them the historical freedom children have had to explore, to wander, and the cost to their with imaginations and experience of self:

The sandlots and creek beds, the alleys and woodlands have been abandoned in favor of a system of reservations—Chuck E. Cheese, the Jungle, the Discovery Zone; jolly internment centers mapped and planned by adults with no blank spots aside from doors marked STAFF ONLY. When children roller-skate or ride their bikes, they go forth armored as for battle, and their parents typically stand nearby.

There is rumination on the failure of his first marriage (“The Heartbreak Kid”), a sad but inevitable arc that ends in “operatic arguments, all night ransackings of the contents of our souls,” as well as on cooking, (“The Art of Cake”), that nicely braids the book’s larger ideas of contemporary fatherhood and its “dissolving boundaries, shifting economies, loosened definitions of male and female, of parent and child.” Circumcision, Jose Canseco (held up for reflection alongside Roberto Clemente), comic book heroines and Legos, are some of the objects of the author’s contemplation.

Chabon is not a perfect father, but that, the essays help us understand, is a false expectation—one that needs to evolve and change, and that’s an opinion you can trust.

—Lauren Alwan

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Lisa Rodgers grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from California State University, Sacramento, in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a minor in Germanlisa_rodgers literature-in-translation, history, and culture (sadly, she doesn’t speak German, although it’s on her bucket list). She moved to New York City in 2012 to attend NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute and joined the JABberwocky team a few months later. She’s previously worked at San Francisco Book Review and Barnes & Noble, interned at Levine Green Rostan Literary Agency, and was a submissions reader for Lightspeed Magazine.

LS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re honored you’re here. I read in your bio that your education is in English Literature. How did your education prepare you for the business of publishing?

I took a mixture of “classic” literature classes (Hemingway, Austen, etc), as well as genre classes. It was very interesting to see how authors from both ends of spectrum handled characterization, plot development, tropes, and how contemporary events or philosophies affected what was being written at the time. That directly ties in to my job, where I’m evaluating manuscripts for all of those things, and how they can fit into the current marketplace. And, of course, do I connect with the material? That last one just comes down to taste, which is constantly developing.

LS: What in your childhood informed your love of reading and what was your favorite book growing up?

My parents are extremely pro-reading, and they took an active role in encouraging me to read. There were many weekend trips to the bookstore, where they essentially allowed me free rein (within reason, of course) to purchase whatever I wanted.

Choosing a “favorite book” is so tough! There are so many books I loved, and still do. I’m going to cheat a little and pick two. Both were very formative, and I’ve re-read them several times each: BLACK SUN RISING by C.S. Friedman and MAGIC’S PAWN by Mercedes Lackey.

LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, are you ever able to read a book for pleasure without editing it?

Yes, but it can be tough. Sometimes I need to remind myself to just let certain things go, because there isn’t a whole lot of input I can have on a published book, is there? So it’s also a bit freeing, in that regard.

LS: Many writers seem eager to query before their manuscripts are ready. What are the top five elements you believe a manuscript should have before querying?

Internal consistency, organic worldbuilding, plot/character development, an assured writing “voice”, and an understanding of its place in within its genre.

LS:  Traditional publishing models are changing, particularly how books are distributed, (Self-publishing and the e-book). What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?

I love that there are so many options for writers now. If you want to publish traditionally, you can. If you want to self-publish, you can. If you want to write short fiction, there are no shortages of places to submit. If you want to write an experimental piece but don’t think there’s a market for it, you can set up a Kickstarter or a patreon account and see if people are willing to support it. The opportunities are endless! That being said, because there are so many options, sometimes it can be very difficult for new writers to “break in.” Determination and perseverance are two very important traits a writer should cultivate.

LS: What’s the one thing you wish writers knew before they begin the query process?

Read widely and deeply in your genre, more than just the bestsellers. Knowing how your work compares to less popular but still successful authors can help you more accurately describe your manuscript, and help avoid common genre clichés.

LS: What do you look for in a book as a reader that makes you take a second glance? Is this the same for all the genres you represent?

I look for authenticate voices and well-developed characters. The specifics of both can change depending on the genre (for example, an unlikeable protagonist can be fine for SFF, but usually isn’t for romance). In general, though, those qualities are things I look for regardless of genre.

LS: What are you not seeing enough of in terms of genres and what would you love to see in your Inbox?

When I open again to queries, I’d love to see more science fiction set in space. Anything from space opera to military science fiction, from interstellar politics to intraship squabbles. If it’s space, I want to see it!

Find out more about Lisa on JABerwocky.

 

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The Song of David
Amy Harmon
ISBN-10: 1514185016

25361480I won my first fight when I was eleven years old, and I’ve been throwing punches ever since. Fighting is the purest, truest, most elemental thing there is. Some people describe heaven as a sea of unending white. Where choirs sing and loved ones await. But for me, heaven was something else. It sounded like the bell at the beginning of a round, it tasted like adrenaline, it burned like sweat in my eyes and fire in my belly. It looked like the blur of screaming crowds and an opponent who wanted my blood.

For me, heaven was the octagon. Until I met Millie, and heaven became something different. I became something different. I knew I loved her when I watched her stand perfectly still in the middle of a crowded room, people swarming, buzzing, slipping around her, her straight dancer’s posture unyielding, her chin high, her hands loose at her sides. No one seemed to see her at all, except for the few who squeezed past her, tossing exasperated looks at her unsmiling face. When they realized she wasn’t normal, they hurried away. Why was it that no one saw her, yet she was the first thing I saw? If heaven was the octagon, then she was my angel at the center of it all, the girl with the power to take me down and lift me up again. The girl I wanted to fight for, the girl I wanted to claim. The girl who taught me that sometimes the biggest heroes go unsung and the most important battles are the ones we don’t think we can win.

 

This is David ‘Tag’ Taggert’s book, a supporting character introduced in The Law of Moses. This is a stand-alone story, but it is highly recommended that The Law of Moses be read first to avoid spoilers.

Review

Amy Harmon doesn’t tell conventional stories. There is no obvious climax or conflict that is cliche. What she does beautifully is weave stories that are unique. They are about the silent faces that sometimes get overlooked and often, go unheard. The Song of David echoes shades of Making Faces where the unlikely hero isn’t what you’d expect and the true champion of the story is the smallest, unpredictable soul.

The book centers around David “Tag” Taggert, a secondary character in Harmon’s previous release, The Law of Moses. It is both Tag and Moses who tell the story of how Tag fell in love with Millie, a blind, fiercely independent dancer who never lets her limitations stop her from seeing the brightest possibility in the world around her. Millie and Tag loved each other deeply and when Tag disappears and Moses sets out to discover what happened to him, the reader is treated to a unique narrative–the curious discovery of the young couple’s love seen both through Moses’ eyes and in the audio files Tag left for Millie.

This isn’t simply a love story. Told with vivid, poetic language, Harmon excels at painting a picture of a couple in the throes of new love and the desperate attempts they face to overcome the hurdles laid before them meant to derail any hope of that love growing.

“If heaven was the octagon, then she was my angel at the center of it all, the girl with the power to take me down and lift me up again. The girl I wanted to fight for, the girl I wanted to claim. The girl who taught me that sometimes the biggest heroes go unsung and the most important battles are the ones we don’t think we can win.”

 

Yet again, Harmon has set the bar sky high for writers who desire to pen stories that are honest, brutal and a perfect reflection of how life can destroy, abandon and the impossible hope that love is never forgotten.

High, highly recommended.

We are giving away TWO e-book copies of The Song of David to those of you who comment below.

Good luck!

2015 Locus Award Winners Announced

Established in 1971, the Locus Awards are spearheaded by the monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine Locus (Locus Online debuted in 1997 as a semi-autonomous web version of the magazine); award winners are selected by poll of magazine readers. The votes have been tallied, and the winners of the 2015 Locus Awards were announced on […]

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Thanks so much to Amy Harmon, our June Featured Author for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. We hope you LitStackers will check out Amy’s books and look her up on all her social networking spots ath the following:

Website / Facebook Twitter / Amazon / Goodreads  / Instagram

LS: Amy thanks so much for sitting down to chat with us. I’d love to hear about the genesis of your writing career. Have you always written? What were those early AMY HARMONstories like?

AH: I have always written. I have stories with Snoopy as the main character that my mom held onto. Writing for me has been my most comfortable form of self-expression. Some people dance and sing and talk and have sex. I write. Although I’m not opposed to dancing, singing and the rest. 😉

LS: I’m curious about the setting of many of your novels, particularly the connection between many characters and the town of Levan. What about your hometown informed the settings in your novels? Do you think you will always write about small towns?

AH: I think it’s important to write about things you understand, about settings that you truly know. I am a small town girl. It would be much more difficult for me to write about a big city or a European city and get it right. I worry a lot about getting it right. It’s important to me to be honest in my portrayals.

LS: Has there been one stabilizing force that has kept you motivated to publish? Has that changed since your first book?

AH: I wish I’d been more aware of what was going on in the self-publishing world, but I was teaching and pregnant and not as plugged in as I could have been. I had already written Running Barefoot long before I ever published, but it was the financial mess my family was in, along with my oldest son’s health and the fact that I had a new baby and wanted to stay at home. I just jumped off the proverbial cliff and started doggie paddling. I am so glad I wasn’t afraid to go for it.

LS: What variables led you to write Song of David? How did those variables impact the consistent validation of the work moving forward?

AH: When I wrote The Law of Moses, David Taggert was such a compelling character that I really wanted to delve a little deeper into his story, and The Song of David was born. It’s not sold very well, but I think it’s a pretty fantastic story. I am so proud of The Song of David and really believe it is an original, well-written, compelling read. Hopefully, people will pick it up. I’ve been very, very discouraged lately with what sells, what doesn’t, what is lauded, what isn’t. I can’t figure it out. And it is hard to work as hard as I do and not feel like it pays off. I know many authors feel this way. I would like to disappear for a while. Seriously. Just go off the grid and write, with no plans to ever publish again. Chipper today, aren’t I?

LS: Indie publishing has been very generous to you. Do you think there would ever be a circumstance that would have you turning over your work to a traditional publisher?

AH: I feel like I haven’t reached my audience yet. That is the only thing that spurs me toward wanting to possibly do a deal with a traditional publisher. I feel like there is a huge audience out there that would embrace my stories, but I can’t reach them. I’m not cutting through in the Indie world. That is the only thing that would make me want to publish traditionally. The only reason. I love self-publishing. I love the freedom and the readers and the fact that I’m steering my own ship. But I do feel like I haven’t found my home. Maybe I never will.

LS: Talk if you would about the element of strong families and spirituality in your books. How does your personal life and your own spirituality influence your stories?

AH: I am a spiritual person. I’ve said before that books without spirituality are, for me, like cake without icing. I think there is incredible beauty in the world, and the source of that beauty is almost always spiritual in nature. I’m not talking about religion. I’m truly talking about seeing beyond the obvious, embracing goodness, expecting miracles, being open to something larger than ourselves. To me, writing without spirituality would be so limiting.

LS: What is your idea of career fulfillment?

AH: That’s a hard question. But if I’m being honest, I want to be the next Jodi Piccoult. I want that kind of reach. Crazy? Maybe. But I never dreamed I’d hit the New York Times list, and that happened. So I’m choosing to believe this could happen too. I have had many fulfilling moments in this journey. Huge moments. But I can’t rest on them, nor do they register with me, beyond the brief joy in the moment. Because, truthfully? Nobody cares about the accolades. It’s all about the stories. And a writer has to keep writing. So that’s what I’m going to do.

LS: What’s upcoming for you?

I have started on a story, but I’m thinking I’m going to step back from it and spend a quiet summer working on something totally different. Something just for me. And I will most likely let my agent shop it. I haven’t shopped anything seriously, so that’s what’s next for me. We shall see.

Thanks again, Amy!

The Sheltering Sky
Paul Bowles

Bowles is one of my favorite writers, stark yet rich; prose with a darkness so lush it draws you in no matter how unsettling the image. So when Bowles writes a love story, you can expect it’s bound to be a dubious one, not the kind you’d ever want to live out. The husband and wife at the center of Bowles’ novel (number #97 in the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels), are Port and Kit Moresby, who leave the U.S. during wartime in 1939, and arriving in north Africa, take up a peripatetic existence with a third wheel, an American friend, Tunner. Port and Kit have hit a rough spot in their marriage, but the triad never takes hold, since Tunner doesn’t have the power to permeate Kit’s detachment, or Port’s ego. Though with the arrival of the Lyles, a questionable English couple—well, a mother and son—the inciting event occurs, and the group is drawn further into the Sahara. The journey that takes place, to the center of a world and a soul, is as much interior as it is exterior.

If you have yet to read the novel, or any of Bowles’ celebrated stories, you have a discovery to look forward to—in Bowles’ spare and cruelly beautiful prose, his sense of place, his tempered way with terror and delirium—all can be relished in this novel. But if it’s love story you’re after, The Sheltering Sky is about a place far more remote and unfathomable than love.

—Lauren Alwan

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Sunburst Awards Shortlists Announced

The shortlists for the Sunburst Awards, honoring Canada’s finest in “literature of the fantastic” were announced recently.  The finalists in the two categories of Adult speculative fiction and Young Adult speculative fiction written by a Canadian author in the last calendar year, include: Adult Speculative Fiction The Troop by Nick Cutter The Back of the […]

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Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

Toibin’s 2009 novel, which won that year’s Costa Award, is a lovely and haunting story set in 1950s Dublin and New York. It tells of Eilis Lacey, born and raised in Enniscorthy, in Ireland’s County Wexford, and her immigration to the United States as a young woman. Her well-meaning sister, Rose, wants a better life for her, and so arranges for her passage, along with employment and a place to live with the help of a local priest, Father Flood, who oversees a Brooklyn parish in the Irish enclave. Eilis, whose nature is retiring and unassertive, goes along with the plan, to please both Rose and their widowed mother, and any hesitance, or uncertainty is put aside for Eilis’ betterment.we

We see Eilis’ transition to American life, the heady and bewildering discoveries of life in Brooklyn. Toibin portrays her transition between worlds in his ordered, elegant prose. Here he describes one of her first walks to work:

” She liked the morning air and the quietness of these few leafy streets, streets that had shops only on the corners, streets where people lived, where there were three or four apartments in each house and where she passed women accompanying their children to school as she went to work. As she walked along, however, she knew she was getting close to the real world, which had wider streets and more traffic. Once she arrive at Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn began to feel like a strange place to her, with so many gaps between buildings and so many derelict buildings. And then suddenly, when she arrived at Fulton Street, there would be so many people crowding to cross the street, and in such dense clusters, that on the first morning she thought a fight had broken out or someone was injured and they had gathered to get a good view. “

Eilis acclimates, and soon Ireland becomes a distant place, its attachments more tenuous. She meets a boy, Tony, who introduces her to his family. Soon after, Eilis receives news that her sister Rose has died, and she returns Enniscorthy for the funeral. She finds her mother aged and unwell, and feels she must stay on, though she misses the new life she’s made for herself. The novel centers on this tension of place, of a character torn between places, and looks at the immigrant story from a deeply personal viewpoint, giving full importance to the longing for what seem like small things—a street, the look of sky, the sound of voices you know—but for Eilis Lacey, as Toibin shows us, those are things that bind her to place.

Toibin has said that the act of writing is that of giving an event language for the first time, an act that requires patience, focus and persistence in order to make clear. The last pages of the novel are satisfying in a way an open-ended conclusion rarely are, due largely to what Liesl Schilling calls Toibin’s ability as an “expert, patient fisherman of submerged emotions.” In Brooklyn, this elevates a seemingly ordinary account to unforgettable.

In 2014, Brooklyn was adapted for film by John Crowley, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby, and filmed on location in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and Brooklyn. The film premiered at the Sundance Festival in January to great praise, and is due to be released throughout the U.S. this November.

—Lauren Alwan

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LitStack Review: Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Born With Teeth:  A Memoir Kate Mulgrew Little Brown and Company Release Date:  April 14, 2015 ISBN 978-0-316-33431-0 In the summer of 1975, I spent a week in bed suffering from some unnamed ailment that kept me weak and listless.  While I normally never watched television during the day, out of sheer boredom I switched […]

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Law of Moseslaw of moses
Amy Harmon
ISBN-10: 1502830825

If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.

Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.

And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all . . . a love story.

Review

Amy Harmon is a great writer. There is a lyric and gravity to her stories, those that have her readers coming back again and again to read about characters they can relate to, the ones that straddle the line between fiction and reality. What Amy excels at, however, is the exhibition of clarity that her characters and, as a result of her mastery of story telling, her readers garner from the journeys the characters take.

Law of Moses is no exception. Here we have the story of two start-crossed (though I really hate using that sort of trite, over-used phrase), Moses and Georgia who could not be more different or more compelling as a match. Like the summary explains, Moses was left to die as an infant, crack addicted with the world giving him very little shot of making things easy for him. Georgia, by contrast was raised with a loving family, an extended family of foster kids and a willingness to fix things that are broken. Initially, Moses is one of the cracks she’d like to mend.

What happens after their initial dramatic beginning is the slow burn of love and attraction, the defiance found in young lovers so out of their depth yet so compelled by the emotions their relationship invokes in them that reason, responsibility both become an afterthought.

There is only the connection they find in each other and the fight they wage against the odds set before them.

And so Moses and Georgia, like thousands of lovers before them, fight the good fight, quickly coming to understand, with time and age, that love is the most complicated, most irrational battle they’ll likely ever undertake. It’s the price they pay for that lesson, however, that makes this story both bittersweet and breathtakingly satisfying.

Amy Harmon is best when she is telling stories that surprise, when she places a mirror up to her readers and tells them that what they read in her characters is a reflection of what we each feel in life. Improbable paranormal elements in the book notwithstanding, Law of Moses is yet another gem from the clever mind and giant heart of an author well suited and criminally talented enough to craft a fine, engaging story.

Highly Recommended.

 

Juan Felipe Herrera Named Poet Laureate

The Library of Congress announced on Wednesday that Juan Felipe Herrera had been named as the Library’s 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2015-2016.  In making the announcement, the current Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, said: I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original—work that takes the sublimity and largesse […]

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Vote for the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy

Have you ever seen the nominees for a major science fiction or fantasy award, and wished that you could have a say in who won, but weren’t a member of the organization parceling out the votes?  If so, here’s your chance! David Gemmell was a bestselling British fantasy writer who wrote over 30 novels and […]

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BBC Announces “Dickensian”

Collaborations.  Supergroups.  Mash-ups.  Taking individual confections and putting them together to make ooey-gooey magnificence.  Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  The Highwaymen.  The Traveling Wilburys.  Any number of All Star Games.  Cronuts.  Labradoodles.  Batman and Superman.  The Justice League.  The Avengers.  Heck, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. And now:  Dickensian. Set to start broadcasting later this […]

(c) Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Nebula Award Winners Announced

The winners of the 2014 Nebula Awards, as well as the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, were announced Saturday in a ceremony in Chicago, Illinois, hosted by Nick Offerman.  Voted on by the active members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy […]

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The Fictional Places We’d Love to Call Home

Fiction is an amazing tool of escapism. With it, we dive into worlds that exist only in the writer’s mind, breathing air that is clouded by zombie-forming gas or stars that fall from the sky and walk among us. Today we’re discussing those beloved settings that have inspired us, nurtured us, made us jealous for […]

Jacqueline Woodson Named Young People’s Poet Laureate

The Poetry Foundation announced on Wednesday that Jacqueline Woodson had been named its Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2015 – 2016.  According to the Foundation’s website, “The laureate advises the Poetry Foundation on matters relating to young people’s literature and may engage in a variety of projects to help instill a lifelong love of poetry […]

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The Varying Poverties of Now

In the appendix to his brief but radiant 2010 manifesto ‘Reality reality hungerHunger’—a supremely confident and practically pedagogical collage of quotations and personal observations published in order to define a perceived new age of literature—David Shields writes with this kind of over-excited, unnecessarily aggressive tone. He’s explaining why those hundreds of quotes were used throughout his book without any acknowledgement of their sources.

…I’m trying to regain a freedom that writers from Montaigne to Burroughs took for granted and that we have lost. Your uncertainty about whose words you have read is not just a bug but a feature.

A major focus of ‘Reality Hunger’ is approbation and plagiarism and what these terms mean… However, Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations; the list follows…

If you would like to restore this book to the form in which I intended it to be read, simply grab a sharp pair of scissors or a razor blade or box cutter and remove pages 207-221 [the citations, which immediately follow the appendix] by cutting along the dotted line [which Shields actually published on those pages].

Who owns the words? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do—all of us—though not all of us know it yet. Reality cannot be copyrighted.Stop; don’t read any farther.”

 We could wonder why Shields, after constructing a text which he intended to be the ‘Ars Poetica’ for early-21st-century artists, was still concerned enough to remind us that the scissors should be sharp. Or why he spent 200 pages tapping into the wealth of Western wisdom and then felt such an urgent need to, I guess, sum things up—to make a somewhat politically tinged statement like “Reality cannot be copyrighted.” Or why he decided to use that one-size-fits-all Picasso quote, “Art is theft,” both as one of the book’s epigraphs and as one of the introductory lines of the tenth chapter. Why the fuck would you use it twice?

But, I’d rather use Shields’ argument as the backdrop for a brief ramble on the first chapter of Book XII of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel ‘Tom Jones’—a novel that, along with helping to spark a new era of long-form fiction, employed a mixture of criticism, personal essay and narrative similar to what Shields seems now to be calling for in his manifesto (albeit within a very different context, of course, and not in quite the same way). And, funny enough, this particular chapter begins with almost exactly the same leading thought used by Shields to begin his appendix.

 The learned reader must have observed that in the course of this mighty work I have often translated passages out of the best ancient authors, without quoting the original or without taking the least notice of the book from whence they were borrowed.”

In this case, Fielding is really just talking about his use of Greek and Latin passages, either for strictly his own purposes or through the mouths of his variously virtuous, erudite and purely zany characters. But his aim in first employing the uncited quotations and then explaining to the reader his reasoning is really the same as Shields’; it just so happens that he’s doing it within the defining years of different modern age.

I think it’s kind of weird that Shields wrote that whole book without once addressing Fielding’s ideas, or referencing him in any way. Maybe because the ideas weren’t quite hip enough for Shields’ purposes (which is kind of a bullshit reason), maybe he forgot, or maybe he’s just never read him. I think it’s the first—bullshit—reason. So, let’s see what exactly Fielding had to say, and we’ll notice once again how similar his tone can be to someone writing in protest of digital-age copyright laws over 250 years later. Here, he’s justifying his use of Greek and Latin quotes without acknowledging their sources.

 …The ancients may be considered as a rich common, where every person who hath the smallest tenement in Parnassus hath a free right to fatten his Muse. Or, to place it in a clearer light, we moderns are to the ancients what the poor are to the rich…

 In like manner are the ancients, such as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and the rest, to be esteemed among the writers as so many wealthy squires, from whom we, the poor of Parnassus, claim an immemorial custom of taking whatever we come at. This liberty I demand and this I am as ready to allow again to my poor neighbors in their turn…

 Nay, I absolutely claim a property in all such sentiments the moment they are transcribed into my writings, and I expect all readers henceforwards to regard them as purely and entirely my own.”

 One could say that Fielding and Shields are in fact equally aggressive in defense of what they see as their liberty, freedom, property, etc. Except that Fielding, to his credit I think, doesn’t take the slightly more manic route of attempting to directly co-opt the reader—he expects readers to respect his personal authorial boundaries, rather than imploring them to rebel against the current practice of his publisher.

But Shields probably didn’t feel like mentioning any of this because Fielding’s declaration stops far short of aligning with ideals of the totally free sharing, remix, sampling culture the hippest cats are currently trying to push. Which makes sense, because he was writing in fucking 1749.

Fielding draws the line at pulling uncited text from work published by his contemporaries, whom he considers just as “poor” as himself, and unable to afford a petty theft quite as easily as Homer or Horace.

 …all I require of my brethren, is to maintain the same strict honesty among ourselves which the mob show to one another. To steal from one another is indeed highly criminal and indecent; for this may strictly styled defrauding the poor (sometimes perhaps those who are poorer than ourselves) or, to see it under the most opprobrious colours, robbing the spital.”

Basically, Fielding was defining his conception of a strictly literary sense of public domain, right around the same time that copyright law and the general notion of a legal public domain were entering European society. It was definitely fresh stuff to the first readers of ‘Tom Jones,’ especially coming in such a forceful tone from the author—but I guess the truth is that now, to people like Shields, this firmly delineated thinking represents some kind of satanic opposition to the new age 21st-century, all-access sharing, genre mish-mash, fiction/non-fiction supreme, essay remix whatever that we’re all supposed to be clamoring for if we want to call ourselves good critics or writers.

Or maybe Shields just never read the book. Who the fuck knows. Maybe I should ask him someday. He probably wouldn’t want to talk about it. I’d probably have to start talking about something else and then try to weasel it into the conversation. Kind of like sampling, I guess. Who knows.

I do have to say, of course, that it’s nice that we eventually grew out of Fielding’s idea of robbing the rich ancients and protecting the poor contemporaries. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m listening to Roland Kirk play two horns on a 1962 recording of his tribute to Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, which carries the long title of ‘Where Monk and Mingus Live/Let’s Call This’ (the second half of which is a Monk tune). It’s better than electronic sampling—but what the fuck do I know? All I know is that, for all our gripes about 21st-century culture—most of which are probably purposely ironic and disingenuous anyway—it’s nice to live the era of access. Sure, I would’ve rather had the chance to buy Roland Kirk a drink; but at least now I can pretend I once knew him.

That’s the illusion, right? Shields never actually met Montaigne, right?

LitStack Review: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

Europe in Autumn Dave Hutchinson Solaris Release Date:  January 28, 2014 ISBN 978-1-78108-194-5 Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Europe in Autumn is a sharp, zig-zagging espionage thriller set in an alternate near-future where economic instabilities have splintered Europe into a myriad of tiny […]

Dave Hutchinson

FAThis month we return to our Featured Author segment and will spend the month highlighting the backlist of one of our favorite authors. For June, we will be hosting multi-best selling author AMY HARMONAmy Harmon. Harmon is a USA Today, Wall Street Journal and New York Times Bestselling author of seven novels – the USA Today Bestsellers, Making Faces and Running Barefoot, as well as  The Law of Moses, Infinity + One, Slow Dance in Purgatory, Prom Night in Purgatory, and the New York Times Bestseller, A Different Blue.

Her newest novel, The Song of David, will be released on June 15, 2015. Amy knew at an early age that writing was something she wanted to do, and she divided her time between writing songs and stories as she grew. Having grown up in the middle of wheat fields without a television, with only her books and her siblings to  entertain her, she developed a strong sense of what made a good story. Her books are now being published in several countries, a dream come true for a little  country girl from Levan, Utah.

Connect with Amy at the following:

Website / Facebook Twitter / Amazon / Goodreads  / Instagram

We begin our June Featured Author segment with a review of Making Faces. 

Making Faces
Amy Harmon
ISBN-10: 1492976423

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.Making Faces
Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast, where we discover that there is a little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

 

Review

Sometimes I wonder what writers think when they write. Do their bad days, their best days, somehow end up between those long descriptions and dialog? Do they discover who they are, what they believe in the words that appear in bleeding black font across the empty screen? Maybe the very best of who we want to be, perhaps who we never want to be, becomes clearer when it finds its way through conflict and toward the climatic conclusions that neatly finish a story.

Maybe, for some writers, the words are nothing more than bits and pieces of their imagination. Maybe for them, it’s simply a nice way to spend their time. Amy Harmon isn’t one of those filling-the-time authors. There is a synergy to her stories that begins with the succinctly layered characters that struggle eternally, externally to find parts of themselves on the page. They are subtle reflections of human nature and the bitter and beautiful paradigms of who we all are.

In Making Faces, Harmon paints a vivid picture. It isn’t one that is overtly complex. In fact, at its basest level, Making Faces is a contemporary retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale with the once flawlessly handsome Ambrose Young finding his way from high school and the legendary reputation of being the town’s athletic darling, to hearing the gnawing call inside himself for justice brought forward after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Ambrose does not take the road well traveled, the one he is expected to glide along. He instead leads the charge which his friends follow, foregoing college and career for the military life. Yet Ambrose is the only one to return, and what is left of him isn’t the beautiful, charming boy he once was. He is scarred, he is broken and believes that he can only exist in his hometown post-war hidden beneath a hoodie and under the cover of night.

He is comforted only by his guilt and finds no beauty in his life, just the hollow remains of what and who he once was.

Fern Taylor has loved Ambrose since she was too young to understand the concept. She played Cyrano to Ambrose, hiding behind the beautiful face of her best friend when the girl sought Ambrose’s attention. Fern couldn’t, wouldn’t admit what she felt but luxuriated in the words she and Ambrose sent one another. It didn’t matter that her best friend reaped the benefits of how fiercely, intimately Fern stroked Ambrose’s mind. Fern was able to see the true nature of who Ambrose was; she saw what he kept hidden from the world.

And then, their world fractured. Violence, departure, the end of high school, the beginning of a strike against the enemy, and Fern lost Ambrose to time, to pain, only to have him return home more closed off than he had been years before.

So, again, Fern took to the written word, insistently trying to let Ambrose know she remembered who he was, saw a beauty in him that had nothing to do with his past or present face. Ambrose could not accept that he deserved to be loved, despite Fern’s steadfast attention.

‘Could you belong to someone who didn’t want you? Fern decided it was possible because her heart was his, and whether or not he wanted it didn’t seem to make much difference.’

Two young people learning to grow– one away from who he once was, the other toward something she doesn’t fully understand. And in the middle of the two is the voice of reason, passion and the unyielding determination to never, ever give up: Bailey, Fern’s cousin.

These three people are bonded by history, by family, by the love of sport, of hope, of what lies ahead. The future is uncertain, unclear and looming beneath the surface is a heart break that would fracture anyone. But these characters are not carbon copies of angst-ridden stereotypes recycled from romances written over and over. They are real, they are unique and they feel the ache of life with the bitter realism and heartfelt pain we all do.

“Thing about it. There isn’t heartache if there hasn’t been joy. I wouldn’t feel loss if there hadn’t been love.”

It is the depiction of that unwavering love that Harmon excels at. We see the realization of life, all the humor, all the pain in each conflict, in every hurdle (self-inflicted and external) that Fern, Ambrose and Bailey endure. We see them all because Harmon is able to bridge the distance between reality and fiction, beautifully blurring that connection so that we forget these these characters aren’t part of our lives, that they don’t deserve our empathy.

I defy anyone to read Making Faces and not fall instantly in love with the tortured, haunted Ambrose or identify with the awkward, stumbling Fern. I dare you not to want Bailey to get stronger, not want to fight the very big battle life has set before him.

In the end, Making Faces quickly became one of the books I return to when I want to feel the whoosh of emotion felt at first love, the awkward way we’ve all struggled through adolescence. Certainly when I want to remember how precious life is and how important it is to say “I love you” again and again.

Highly recommended.

 

 

gimbling

Today, I did something that was – honestly – repugnant to me.  I returned a slew of books to the library, many of which I had not read.  Books that had either been nominated for a major award, or had been recommended by Bellesomeone I trusted, or had been reviewed well and had piqued my interest or been mentioned by someone I admire as being a really great read.  Books that I had requested but had spent days, weeks, just sitting there on my side chair in silent rebuke at their enforced idleness.  Idleness that my poor planning had caused.

Despite some of these books being new releases and not available until now, despite some of them being very popular with a very long queue so that timing of their availability was impossible to gauge, this mass of latent books was getting to be a huge problem for me, like a weight around my neck, drawing me down into deep and chilly waters.

It’s not “socially correct” for a book person to admit that books and/or reading causes any kind of problem in life.  We’re supposed to put books pretty high up in our list of priorities, and proudly proclaim our dedication to all things literary.  Extra points to those who wear Alice in Wonderland quotes on their scarves or carry Jane Austen book totes, or have cushions printed with the J. L. Borges line “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” nestled on their sofas.

Seriously, that warrants extra points.  (I, myself have a J.R.R. Tolkien book tote.  “Points!”)

But I have to admit that sometimes, books for me do become a problem.  Oh, not the books themselves.  Heavens to betsy, no!  But rather, my sense of obligation in feeling like I have to read all the books, all the time.  That’s when books, which were my lifeline (when I lost my longtime job and suddenly found myself with scads of empty hours in my day), and then my anchor (giving me purpose and challenging my heart and brain again), instead became  deadweights – visual reminders that I had bit off more than I could chew, that I had mismanaged my time and squandered my organizational skills.  That I had failed.

Now, I have to voice a huge disclaimer before I go any further.  I am fully aware that the opportunity to spend hours reading whatever book suits my fancy and then write about it is a tremendous, tremendous gift.  When I look back at all the years I spent only able to read during bus rides to and from work, or while waiting at the airport terminal for my flight, I give thanks for being able to sit on my porch in the summer shade with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Heartfelt, heart-bursting thanks.  That I live in a country where I have access to books, and that I live near a library where virtually any book my heart desires can be available to me – at least eventually – is something for which I will be forever grateful.  I know that I am blessed.

I am also aware – truly, I am – that in harping on this, and obsessing on it, I am making a mountain out of a molehill.  That with a simple shrug and an, “Oh, well!” the problem – if it really can even be called that – is solved.

But I still can’t help but feel a weight of failure, even if it is a weight that only I have fitted over my own shoulders.  I feel like I have failed the authors of the unread books that I actually own, those that I keep pushing aside simply because they do not have a return date attached to them.  A few have come from publishers, or my editor; a couple I have even bought myself because I wanted to read them so badly I simply could not wait for the library.  But yet there they sit, day after day, collecting dust while the library pile waxes and wanes.

I feel like I have failed all those authors who have brought forth marvelous works, for not reading and reviewing them, an action which may give them some tiny boost, some small validation that they so richly deserve.  That I have failed all those librarians who maintain the request system, shuttling books daily to those of us who queue up for them; I made these folks work unnecessarily, their good deeds gone unutilized.  That I have failed all those readers who are behind me in the queue, who have had their desire to read the book sitting idly on my side chair thwarted yet another day, another week, while I gamble on whether or not I’ll have time to “get to” that title before being forced to give it up.  How selfish of me!

And I feel like I have failed all of you, who may come to this site looking for a recommendation, who may be seeking guidance for a good book to read, and instead of helping you I have been watching the finale of Survivor or the final shows of Late Night with David Letterman, or binge watched Netflix’s Daredevil  or finally catching up on House of Cards.  Or instead I have spent endless, floating hours trolling the internet, watching videos of cats jumping in and out of boxes or a of key scene in the movie Aliens being recreated with a photograph and a stapler, or reading articles entitled “I’ll Never Shampoo My Hair Again, EVER! (Seriously!)” or “Top Ten Scandals of the Middle Ages”.

But…. but…. you know what?  I enjoyed those things, too.  I spent time with my family, I laughed, I learned.  And the librarians will get paid to shuffle those books along the queue whether I read them or not, and that’s a good thing.  And the reviews will be written when the books have been read; whether this week or next month or in the months to come doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Validation is validation, regardless, and sometimes it’s best when it’s unbidden, rather than coming all in a clump, eh?  And there are lots and lots and lots of places to get great recommendations on books – to think that someone might be hanging on my review is the most ridiculous of hubris that I have spouted in a heckuva long time!

So maybe it’s time I stopped whining and simply promise to check these books out again, in a more leisurely fashion, in the days and weeks to come.  So I think I will do just that.  Publically.  So here is a list of books I vow to read sometime – when I have the time, when the time is right.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
Depth by Lev AC Rosen
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Infandous by Elana K. Arnold
The Hammer by K. J. Parker
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The Dog: Stories by Jack Livings
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
The Red Knight by Miles Cameron
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Whew!  Thanks for indulging me while I worked through all that.  Now, let me go take this deadweight off my shoulders – there’s absolutely no reason for it being there.  And then once I draft this, I’ll settle in with Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens.  It was one of the four books waiting for me to pick up when I returned the 23 books that had been sitting on my side chair.  And I’d better get to it right away – there are others who have requested it after me.

I wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.

Without
Donald Hall

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what time of day or night it is, when I pick up this collection, it’s the only one I read from first page to last. Published in 1998, Without traces the illness and death from leukemia of Hall’s wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, in an arc of elegiac and starkly beautiful language. Hall, the esteemed poet, writer, critic and 2006 U.S. poet Laureate, first met Kenyon when she was his student at the University of Michigan, and the two were married in 1972. It was a proverbial May-December marriage, lived out nearly twenty years on his grandparents’ Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmont, New Hampshire. Then, in 1989, when Hall was in his early sixties, he discovered he had colon cancer (“I was the one who was supposed to die first,” he wrote). Three years later it metastasized to his liver. Yet after surgery and chemotherapy, Hall’s cancer went into remission, but two years later, in a tragic turn, Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. “Without,” as the book’s cover describes, is both a testament and a lament to the marriage, Kenyon’s illness and Hall’s life after her death.

I read these poems to better understand both life and art: to remember that time is short, that living is important, and that what might seem like fleeting images are often the most enduring, shattering contact we have with life.

This first Advent alone
I feed the small birds of snow
black-oil sunflower seed
as you used to do. Every day
I stand trembling with joy
to watch them: Fat mourning doves
compete with red squirrels
for spill from rampaging nuthatches
with rusty breasts
and black-and-white face masks.
I cherish the gathered nation
of chickadees, flashy
with immaculate white vests,
with tidy dark bibs and feet,
spinning and whirling down
from the old maple, feather
ounces of hunger, muscle, and bliss.

—from “Letter at Christmas,” by Donald Hall

—Lauren Alwan

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Tanith Lee, 1947 – 2015

The science fiction and fantasy community is mourning the loss of another huge personality, writer Tanith Lee, who died on Sunday, May 24, at age 67.  She died in her sleep following a long illness. An incredibly prolific author who wrote in various fantasy and horror genres, Ms. Lee wrote in a very poetic style […]

Tanith_Lee_Lambda

LitStack Review: The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

The Dead Lands Benjamin Percy Grand Central Publishing Release Date:  April 14, 2015 ISBN 978-1-4555-2824-0 When author Stephen King endorses a newly released book with, “Good God, what a tale.  Don’t miss it,” a reader has a pretty good indication that they’re in for a ride. He was right. Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands is […]

The Dead Lands

Spectrum Award Winners Announced

When we think of books, we think of words.  Of course!  Words contain the idea, the grace, the feel, the story.  But in many, many books, artwork is a partner to the story.  Book covers, illustrations, promotions – these can really enhance what we read, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. The Spectrum Awards were established […]

Sung Choi — The Parade

Over at The Millions, LitStack contributor Lauren Alwan looks at the use of colloquial titles in literary fiction. Her “brief history” includes an analysis of titles, including works by Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, and Richard Ford. Here’s a preview:

There is a certain power in hearing phrases we know and may have used ourselves. When a title speaks to us in everyday language, it’s not so different from any voice aiming to get our attention. I read a colloquial title and hear a speaker with an urgent message.

Read the article here.

The Best American Essays, 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed

The Best American series, which in 2014 featured editions of short stories, travel, mystery and sports writing, along with comics, infographics, nonrequired reading and other genres, has become an institution on its own. My introduction to Best American was through the short fiction series, and a now-classic edition edited by Tobias Wolff. The stories chosen that year (1994), such as Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t,” “Things Left Undone,” by Chris Tilghman, and Laura Glen Louis’ “Fur,” made up my introduction to contemporary short fiction, and it’s no accident, I think, that those voice-driven, deeply intimate stories instilled in me a very specific excitement about what a short story could do.

It’s with some embarrassment I confess my introduction to the essay series (which launched in 1986) turned out to be 2013’s, edited by Cheryl Strayed (the series editor is Robert Atwan). And yet, I feel that in a similar way, the essays n that volume will turn out to influence me in a similar way. Strayed has selected a range of voices, each with its intimate, usually confessional tone, and as she notes in the introduction, “made me feel, for the brief time I spent reading them, as if the rest of the world had fallen away.”

Still, the subjects couldn’t be more different. From Walter Kirn’s great “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon,” to Zadie Smith’s meditation on Joni Mitchell, “Some Notes on Attunement,” the investigations run from deep in memory to responses to the cultural moment. And while the term “essay” has become increasingly broad, the selections here encompass a dizzying set of categories—memoir, creative nonfiction, cultural and historical interrogations—it seems to have become an umbrella designation for a range of approaches and sensibilities, and extends to essays that are downright story-like.

From a contemporary standpoint, it would seem that the essay is a kind of literary rock star, and with a charismatic forefather in Montaigne, but according to series editor Robert Atwan, that was not always the case. During his years as a grad student of literature in the 1940s, the essay had a very different standing:

…literary works then were so exclusively identified with poems, novels, and plays that the privileging [of fictive over nonfictive works] barely went noticed. When int eh mid-sixties I took a seminar on Ralph Waldo Emerson with the brilliant critic and quintessential Emersonian Richard Poirier, we concentrated on Emerson as a thinker and a prose stylist, as the central figure of American literature, but I don’t recall a single bit of discussion that regarded Emerson as an essayist, as a writer wholly engaged with a particular literary genre….Essays were a minor genre, at best…

In Strayed’s selections you’ll find remembrances of the counterculture sixties, a memoir of a harrowing car crash, a nostalgic look at an out-of-print encyclopedia, and a heart-rending remembrance of a father unable to love his wife and daughters.

Read more, here.

—Lauren Alwan

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2015 Campbell and Sturgeon Awards Finalists Announced

The finalists for the 2015 John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for the best science fiction novel published in 2014) and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (for the best short science fiction of 2014) were announced earlier this week.  Finalists include: John W. Campbell Memorial Award The Race by Nina Allan A Darkling Sea by James […]

Science fiction 2

I love a good book cover, because the artwork itself tells a story. Lately, I found a few covers that made me want to buy the given title right away, not even a question. The Horror by Randy Shafferwitch presents well with a cover containing elements of simplicity, subtlety, and composition considering the placement and style of the graphics on either end of the traditional “bloody hand-print” feature. The latest collection by Stephen Graham Jones titled After the People Lights Have Gone Off has a close-up of a dilapidated haunted house that well represents that realistic “next door” fear factor so popular lately, and for pure fun, there’s the woman with the look of shock on her face on the cover of Stephen King’s Joyland. Of course, there have been so many classic executions of cover-art through the years it would be impossible to give proper tribute in one little blog entry, but for giggles it might be fun to move past “horror” stuff for a moment, and give a shout-out to E.L. James for the eerie theater mask cover art for Fifty Shades Darker. Maybe it is not the most intricate artistic presentation, but considering the dynamics of the shadows and silvers, it makes one stop and say, “Hmm..what is this?”

On the other hand, book covers and genres can be deceiving, and in saying this I am not making the claim that I do not like the cover art for my latest novel, The Witch of the Wood. On the contrary, I admire the artist Hippocampus brought in to represent my character April Orr, the lovely shape-shifter coming on from our hidden past to execute her sweet revenge. It is colorful, unique, and most of all seems to contain a “wow” factor that makes the work attractive. In terms of genre, I similarly do not mean to deconstruct the horror category. I love horror. It interests me for any number of reasons, including the idea that one can alter timelines as well as put characters into bizarre situations that test their morals and resolve.

It is just that one can look at the cover of The Witch of the Wood, and assume any number of things the book is not, like “Witch-Porn,” or “Splatter-Farce.” I would hope that Witch is an absolute page turner with attractive characters drawing the reader into moment after moment of pleasurable amazement. The book is an exercise in chain reaction, one shock leading to the next, all with beautiful women along the way metaphorically winking at the male readers and pouting and raising their chins at the females. And as for “horror,” I do not quite know what that is at the moment. There are so many sub-genres that I am inclined to say that horror is the spice, the condiment, the accent behind a good story where interesting characters walk on the dark side.

So, what is your favorite cover for a book put out in the last decade? How about your favorite classic cover-art? Is there a cover you recall that advertised one thing, yet wound up yielding “different goods?” And finally, was what you found inside a dud or a pleasant surprise?

*

guest authorMichael Aronovitz published his first collection titled Seven Deadly Pleasures through Hippocampus Press in 2009. His first novel Alice Walks came out in a hardcover edition by Centipede Press in 2013, and Dark Renaissance Books published the paperback version in 2014. Aronovitz’s second collection, The Voices in Our Heads was published by Horrified Press in 2014, and the above featured novel, The Witch of the Wood, came out through Hippocampus Press recently. Aronovitz’s first young adult novel Becky’s Kiss will be appearing through Vinspire Press in the fall of 2015 and his third hard core adult horror novel titled Phantom Effect will be published by Night Shade Books in the fall of 2015. Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English and lives with his wife and son in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. His website is michaelaronovitz.com.

Gimbling in the Wabe – A “Wild” Week in the City

It’s been a pretty “wild” week in the city. No, I’m not talking about civil unrest, political wrangling, professional sporting adulation, haute cultural stimulation or jaded, cynical urban ennui. I’m talking critters. Earlier this week, a bald eagle flew into the dog park that the Mighty Belle and I frequent during the week, and roosted […]

Bald Eagle 2

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Zadie Smith

This collection of essays came about by accident, Zadie Smith tells us in the foreword, but the voice and curiosity behind it makes this read seamless and satisfying. My hope, as a reader of essays, is to learn something, whether the topic is snow camping or religious fanatics or Monarch butterflies, but I also hope to learn something personal, something about the speaker who knows these things. And with Smith, whether the subject is Nabokov or Forster, her person is an intrinsic part of each smart interrogation.

The book is divided into sections: Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, Remembering. Smith dips into culture and modernity, the writing life, personal history, and current and classic literature, including Kafka, Foster Wallace, Zora Neale Hurston. In “Middlemarch and Everybody,” Smith provides a thorough and elegant case for George Eliot’s empathic treatment of her characters by way of Henry James (who thought the novel “too copious a dose of pure fiction”), and Spinoza’s concept of conatus, or self-striving. That quality of doing good for society by doing good for the self, Smith shows us, can be found in the novel’s many characters, more than a few of which James deemed insufficiently complex. Eliot was nothing if not an empathic, an all-inclusive writer, and Smith shows us how how radical a thing it was, in 1873, to take that approach, one that laid the groundwork for twenty-first-century novelists.

Smith excels at effortlessly unpacking complex subjects. From the foreword, we know many of the essays were commissioned: “I replied to the requests that came in now and then. Two thousand words about Christmas? About Katharine Hepburn? Kafka? Liberia? A hundred thousand words piled up that way.” There is the essay on Forster, of whom Smith has a strong and longstanding affinity; a moving personal history in “Smith Family Christmas”; and a trio of essays on film, including a great dispatch from the Academy Awards, “Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend,” an essay so effacing yet razor sharp in its tone, I can’t imagine any other writer narrating the spectacle that is Academy Awards:

Hollywood has many tiers. Sitting by the pool are hot girls in bikinis and their jock guys, ordering twenty-dollar cocktails and lobster maki rolls, watching the dreamy water of the Hockney pool lap at the edges of the terra-cotta tile surround. Nobody swims. A young black couple, dressed in the Versace knockoffs they believe appropriate to this scene, pose in a lounger and get a waitress to photograph then, living the dream. This is repeated several times that afternoon, by Italians, English, Australians. Everybody speaks of the Oscars, loudly. It’s the only conversation in town.

Here too is a version of a lecture given to the students of Columbia University’s writing program in 2010, now a staple of online creative writing links. “That Crafty Feeling” features Smith’s classic perceptive yet personal delivery in which she advises on a range of issues: starting, finishing, influences, routines, writerly devices. It’s all there in wonderfully digestible nuggets of common sense and humor. For example, the term for setting aside a draft for a spell before revision is called, “Step Away From the Vehicle.”

Watch Zadie Smith deliver the lecture, “That Crafty Feeling,” here.

—Lauren Alwan

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Six years ago, deep in the swamps of Louisiana, Delilah’s face was marred forever at the hands of her sisters by the point of her mother’s kitchen knife. Despite her protest, her parents insist she make haste in finding a husband. But finding a husband isn’t an easy feat with a scar running the length of your face.
 
Porter Jeansonne keeps to himself. He lives in his mansion, set apart from the town he’s grown to detest. One night, walking through the town, seeking to collect a debt, he hears a man selling off his daughter in the most deplorable part of the darkened streets. He chooses to take pity on her and set her free from her despicable family. Until he sees her face.
 

 

He then knows that maybe she is the mend for his haunted heart.




 I am a stay at home mom from the South and wife to the most giving and hardworking husband ever.  I love to cook and try out new recipes even if they don’t always turn out like I want them to.  I refer to my kids lovingly as the Three Stooges as they are constantly coming up with new ways to wreak havoc in the house.  Most recently that included putting a rubber-band on the kitchen sink sprayer so it would douse me when I did the dishes.  I love to go to roller derby bouts and read in my spare time.  I write mostly at night when the house is silent and I can sneak cookies without having to share!  If you’re into stalking, try under the Cypress trees in the swamps of Louisiana, but watch out for gators!!

 

2014 Shirley Jackson Awards Nominees Announced

Shirley Jackson wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as the well known short story, “The Lottery.”  To honor the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, the juried Shirley Jackson Awards were established in 2007 to recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, […]

Shirley Jackson Awards logo

Station Eleven Wins the Arthur C. Clarke Award

Emily St. John Mandel has been awarded the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award for her genre-arching novel, Station Eleven. In the novel, the world has come to an end as we know it.  A deadly virus has eradicated over 90 percent of Earth’s population within the space of a few weeks, too quickly and too […]

Station Eleven

Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in That House
Meghan Daum

The moral of this story might run be careful what you wish for, especially if the house you get doesn’t live up to the fantasy you’ve been harboring. For Meghan Daum, novelist, essayist, L.A. Times columnist and extreme home aficiando, the pursuit is ninety percent of the game. Dreaming of houses, looking at houses online, making the rounds of open houses, even property stalking is all part of the condition Daum refers to as “house lust.” And we’ve all been there—I know I certainly have—pining after a place because it embodies the ideal life that might be lived there.

I bought a house because I was thirty-four years old, had been self-employed most of my adult life, had never been married, was childless, had no boyfriend nor any appealing prospects in that department, and was hungry to the point of weakness for something that would root me to this earth.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is a kind of residential coming of age story, in which Daum tells of how she came be a homeowner. She also tracks growing up in places that never quite lived up to the dream and her formidable mother’s influence in seeking and improving the many homes the family occupied, from Texas to New Jersey.

There’s an inherent narrative to be found in the places we’ve lived, the serial addresses are a document of our peripatetic student years (or, in Daum’s terms, “tapestry-covered, grad-student-style impermanence”), to the single years of work and career, and if we’re lucky, to a relatively stable adulthood. It’s all there in the places we’ve lived, though through it all, Daum is plagued by a persistent nagging sense that there’s a better house down the block, or uptown, or on the coast. It’s that hankering for the indescribable transformation arrival to a new place brings, and it drives this memoir of house-yearning.

…this is the story of what happens when, for whatever reason, your identity becomes almost totally wrapped up not in who you are or how you live, but in where you live.

Daum, the author of a novel (The Quality of Life Report) and an essay collection, My Misspent Youth, has a confessional, chatty style that complements her subject. After all, what is a house but details? Post and beam, tongue and groove, flooring, cabinetry, the colors of the walls and the contours of the land it sits on. And though the detail can at times overwhelm, happily this tale of what it’s like to settle for—and settle down—shows us what it’s like when the house-hunting stops and life finally begins.

Meghan Daum’s new collection of essays, The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion, in due to be released in November.

Lauren Alwan

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CR Banner - Catching Serenity

Title: Catching Serenity (Seeking Serenity, #4)
Author: Eden Butler
Genre: NA | Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 14, 2015

Catching Serenity

Cover Designed by Steven Novak of Novak Illustration
NOTE: Catching Serenity will be multi-media with illustrations by R.N. Laing

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Synopsis

It began with a look.

Just one, thrown my way. A mad, dizzying rush of desire cracking across the patio, bouncing around my friends, ignoring everything but the heat bubbling between his eyes and mine.

That’s when Quinn O’Malley came into my life.

We were inevitable.

We were senseless.

He wrecked me.

He saved me.

I still haven’t recovered.

Sayo McIntyre didn’t want the complications that came with Quinn O’Malley.

But life doesn’t care what we want. It gives us what we need.
CATCHING SERENITY is the last full-length novel in the Serenity Series.

 

CS Teaser 1.1

••• Books in the Seeking Serenity Series •••

Seeking Serenity Series

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••• About Eden Butler •••

Eden Butler PicEden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” launched in October 2013 and quickly became an Amazon bestseller.

When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.

She is currently living under teenage rule alongside her husband in southeast Louisiana.

Please send help.

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2015 Locus Awards Shortlist Announced

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the shortlist for its 2015 awards.  The Locus Awards are determined by polling the readers of Locus magazine (subtitled The Magazine of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field).  Locus was founded in 1968 and the awards themselves were first handed out in 1971. The shortlisted nominees for the […]

locus_awards

The Girl at Midnightgirl
Melissa Grey
Random House Children’s Books

 

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All humans but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known. When a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, Echo must help the people who have aided and cared for her.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it. But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they

seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

 

 

To celebrate the Blog Tour for The Girl at Midnight, Random House Children’s Books is offering TWO print copies to US and Canadian residents.
Comment below for your chance to win!

Flash Review: Jacaranda by Cherie Priest

Jacaranda Cherie Priest Subterranean Press Release Date:  January 31, 2015 ISBN 978-1-59606-684-7 When are we going to learn?  You don’t use ancient artifacts as household decorations, you don’t plow over native burial grounds, and, as Cherie Priest so articulately shows us, you don’t cut down a jacaranda tree that honors the dead and has been […]

Jacaranda

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kiddinvention

Viking

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

 

 

We are giving away ONE print copy of THE INVENTION OF WINGS to US residents. Please comment below for your chance to win!

Spring and All, 1923 ed.

 Spring and All,

William Carlos Willams

In the frenzy that was my final term of grad school, I signed up for a seminar on Spring and All, by the classic American poet, William Carlos Williams. It would have been fine had I been studying poetry, but I was on the fiction track, and so began my dizzying encounter with this seminal work. For a good portion of that seminar I was completely lost, but reader, I’m hear to say I love this book, and it’s now among my favorites.

The volume, first published in 1923, is one of the major collections published by Williams (who was born in 1883), who is perhaps the best known of contemporary literary physicians, one that defined him as a major influence of the American Modernist movement. While his peers, like Pound, lived and worked abroad, finding influence in European and Asian forms, Williams intently remained in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, aiming to forge a distinctly American language—raw, vernacular, reflective of the time and place in which he lived. And he achieved it in Spring and All, which is a hybrid form of both poetry and prose.

Even if you don’t know the collection, you likely know it’s most well-known poems, I and XXIII. The first, the title poem begins:

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind.

Or the its most well-known poem, The Red Wheelbarrow:

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickens.

During that grad seminar, I clung to the familiarity of those works, and yet there were other pleasures, less understood by me in my reading, but which all the same stunned with impressions, objects, moments.  “Civitas,” the instructor stated, was the locus from which Williams meant to make his art—a language arising from, and for, the social body. The patient in the ward, the overworked hospital staff, each poem was Williams’ attempt at a new American form, revivifying a desolation of consciousness. Williams rejected the European-influenced, elevated images and tone, and like American realist painters of that post WW1 period, found meaning and relevance in the realistic, in unembellished subject and form that reflected a contemporary consciousness.

Williams famously described his creative method as “No ideas but in things,” and though I struggled with the form his ideas took, his work taught me how life is contained in things, and in voice on the page.

Watch Allen Ginsburg read from Spring and All, here.

—Lauren  Alwan

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The Galaxy GameThe Galaxy Game
Karen Lord
Del Rey
Release Date:  January 6, 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53407-1

Have you ever read a book where you weren’t exactly sure what was going on?  Where you could follow the big picture, but all the little details – and there were a heckuva lot of little details – seemed just beyond your grasp?  I have, and it drives me crazy; nowadays, I don’t even usually finish books like that.

But it happened to me recently while reading Karen Lord’s new novel The Galaxy Game – and I absolutely loved it.

So what is different about The Galaxy Game than all those other meticulous, complicated books?  Pretty simple, really.  The author doesn’t go out of her way to explain the world, because her characters are too busy living in it.  And since it is such a wonderfully realized world, to be constantly reminded that we are outsiders looking in would have been disingenuous.  So, we hold on by our fingertips and enjoy the ride.

It’s hard to even explain the book in other than really broad strokes, but I’ll try.  Set far in the future, there are a handful of inhabited planets (both natural and terraformed) of which Terra is one of the oldest in various states of development and alliance.  We meet Rafi and Ntenman, two boys attending the Lyceum on Cygnus Beta, a school for the psionically gifted.  But undeveloped Rafi – who’s not exactly from a stellar background, although his homestead (extended family) is well known and well connected – is perceived by some to be a potential threat, so he is subjected to controlling techniques that not only are humiliating, but cause him horrendous nightmares.

The only real release Rafi has is Wallrunning – a team game of “speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces that are riddled with variable gravity fields” (I think of it as a kind of group parkour where the vertical playing field moves and flows).  Diminutive Rafi isn’t all the good at it, but on the Wall he feels free.  Beefier Ntenman, from an established merchant Ntshune family, isn’t all the good at it, either, but he’s much more outgoing and confident than Rafi, and can afford better equipment, so his participation on the team is welcome.

Eventually, however, Rafi cannot take the stigma he lives under at the Lyceum – or the tensions he has to navigate at home – and, aided by some sympathetic relatives (who point him in the right direction then look the other way), he leaves his homestead and his estranged mother, and clandestinely flees to Punartam where he can have himself declared an adult and try to make a life for himself.  Ntenman, also bored at the Lyceum, follows Rafi (Ntenman is not big on rules, which with his gregarious and somewhat roguish nature, often does him well), where both young men’s futures turn in ways neither of them could ever have imagined.

Full disclosure:  that synopsis is a cop out.  There’s so much more going on than what I’ve outlined, so many secondary characters that may not have as much page-time but are nevertheless integral to what is occurring, and what is occurring is a swirling stew of political and socioeconomic happenings that incorporate amazements such as mindships (sentient creatures, handled by a rare breed of especially gifted – and fiercely independent – human pilots, which provide interstellar transportation by, in effect, biting passengers and injecting them with a kind of coma-inducing toxin), and strict societal norms that govern everything from honorifics to  “kinship contracts” (of which marriage is only a tiny, almost insignificant part) to what one wears, where one goes and even what pins or ribbons should or should not be added to lapels or belts.  This is a world where not only the physical and the emotional aspects of life need to be taken into account, but also the telepathic and the empathetic aspects, with all their rules and dictums and civilities…. like I said, it’s complicated.

And it’s wonderful.

But to dig a little bit further:  why is such a complex and elaborate narrative so good?  Because it all fits.  It works.  Even without understanding every bit of it, it feels coherently whole without having to manufacture bits to explain other parts, or work really hard to attempt to have it make sense.  It may not be intuitive, but it makes sense.

And whereas other authors would spend an extraordinary amount of time building explication into their story, Karen Lord doesn’t spend time explaining much to us.  If a character is learning something, we learn something along with them, but if it’s something they intrinsically understand, then we are meant to simply learn off their cues.  (Such as when Ntenman makes fun of Rafi when he unknowingly commits what feels like a country bumpkin faux pas in highly structured Punartam society – we learn along with Rafi just why what he’s done is considered embarrassingly naive; without Ntenman’s reaction, we would have no indication the depth of the social relationships that exist.)

So we get the sense that we have actually entered this world in which we are strangers.  It’s not a tale being crafted for our sensibilities, it’s a world – or worlds – into which we have slipped, and we have to learn from observation, not explanation.  Sometimes it’s bewildering, yes, and often we have to hold situations and reactions – even on the part of the main characters – in abeyance before we can make sense of them.  But with the thoroughness of Ms. Lord’s imaginings, it’s an exhilarating experience.

It wasn’t until after I had read the book that I came to realize it actually had a kind of precursor novel in Karen Lord’s 2014 work, The Best of All Possible Worlds.  While The Galaxy Game is not a sequel to this earlier book, it apparently does have some of the same characters and employs the same universe.  According to some reviewers, reading The Best of All Possible Worlds makes The Galaxy Game more… understandable.

Doesn’t matter.  To push a metaphor, reading The Galaxy Game is a journey worth taking, even if you can’t read the roadmap that tells you where you’re going.  Just sit back and enjoy the scenery, and eventually not having a destination won’t matter anymore.  It’s all good.

And with The Galaxy Game, it is indeed all good.

PersonaPersona
Genevieve Valentine
Saga Press
Release Date:  March 10, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4814-2512-4

Oh, my!

I didn’t really know what to expect from Genevieve Valentine’s third novel, after reading and enjoying her 2014 book, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.  That one was a sensitive, somewhat nostalgic retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale of “The 12 Dancing Princesses”, set in New York in the Roaring 20s.

What I got in Persona was a taunt, gripping, amazing read that was a flawless synthesis of politics, glamour, suspense and intrigue.  Oh – and it was unlike anything else I’ve ever read.  I’m still reeling.  And dang, I’d sure like to reel some more.

It’s the near future of our world, and politics has evolved into a game of stylized and cutthroat diplomacy.  Gossip and policy go hand in hand, in a smooth synthesis of the superficial and the deeply entrenched.  Think of “Entertainment Weekly” in the role of “Newsweek”, or if politics were curated by Facebook rather than a more, um, legitimate means.  (Perhaps that not being so hard to imagine is part of what fuels the suspense.)

Suyana Supaki is the Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Coalition (a country made up of the unification of Brazil and Peru), and operates within the realm of the International Assembly (think the United Nations, but with teeth…. fangs).  She’s pretty enough, and charming on camera (which is 90% of diplomacy, she has been told), she appears to be the perfect mouthpiece for the UAFC and yet she’s sharp as a whip underneath her polished veneer, even though she’s still very young.  The UAFC used to be a rising player at the IA until a bombing scandal by an eco-terrorist group had their so-called allies scuttling away like roaches under a bright light.  Suyana lost her handler in the bombing, the only person that she had come close to trusting since she had been recruited to be a Face.

Her new handler, Magnus – she doesn’t trust him at all, but he’s very good at what he does.  He’s even finagled her into a possible physical contract with Ethan, the US Face, which is quite a coup as the US is one of the Big Nine who hold virtually all the power in the IA.  It’s possible that the US is pulling lots of unseen strings behind the scenes with this move, positioning itself for some major PR push, but if the public sees Suyana and Ethan as even a potential couple, it has to bode well for upcoming votes and further liaisons.  Magnus and Suyana head to the hotel where the contract negotiations are to take place – a “first date”, as the rest of the world sees it.

Outside the hotel, a lone photographer lurks in the adjacent alleyway.  He’s a free-lance “snap” in a world of networked competitors, and he’s been following Suyana Supaki on a hunch that the assignation she’s on carries more weight than it appears.  His name is Daniel Park, and he has his own reasons for staying off the grid.  But suddenly, what had been a scheduled and routine afternoon erupts in gunfire, and a wounded Suyana is lurching into the alley where Daniel has been steadily clicking away.  Torn between hope that he’s gotten some lucrative photos of the actual assassination attempt (or is it just a publicity stunt?) and a humanistic need to help the wounded young woman who, due to the continuing gunfire, appears to still be in danger, he ditches the camera (but not before pocketing the memory card) and they run.

Welcome to the first 18 pages.

The writing in Persona is just superb.  It is sparse and concise, conveying much within few words, which is exactly why this novel succeeds on so many levels.  The world in which the book revolves is superficially bland and processed, yet every word spoken, every gesture, heck, every nuance has a meaning that speaks volumes in the pointedly unacknowledged yet highly scrutinized actions that happen behind the scenes.  How Ms. Valentine is able to covey the depth and complexity of such a society without rambling on and muddying the prose is simply inspired.

She’s very stingy in explaining her characters, as well, which really helps to crystallize the focus of the story.  We get to know exactly what we need to know, and not much more – and yet, it is this dearth of explanation that makes what we do see so very rich.  The only characters we learn much about are Suyana and Daniel, and the depth in which we get to know them feels incredibly intimate.  Yet their interactions with the other players in the book – and each other – bristle with intent and personality.

While Daniel is an intriguing character, and a lot of the action hinges on his reactions, it is Suyana who grounds the novel.  She is such an amazing heroine.  Young, idealistic yet realistic, entrenched in the theatrics of her position and yet completely aware that they are necessary theatrics, she is a young woman who grew up in difficult circumstances and has been meticulously groomed to play a role for a few years that is rife with political manipulation – of her, and by her.  Yet she would fall flat if that were all she was.  There is so much more to this character, other aspects of who she is and what she does and why she does it, that opens up the story to so much more intrigue, so much more connivance, so much more spirit and strength – and this, this is another way that Persona excels.

I know that we’re not even halfway through 2015, but I’ve already got Persona pegged as one of my favorite books of the year, and I can guarantee that I’ll be watching Genevieve Valentine to see what she comes up with next.

Traveling Light: Unpacking a Story

So there I am, in a small hotel between the Costa Brava and Sitges, once again unpacking the bag I’ve carried through France and Spain. It’s been five weeks, and by now the contents are painfully familiar: five t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and various smaller items, including an excellent pair of sandals purchased on […]

bag

Giveaway: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Thanks to our friends at Penguin Random House for giving you LitStackers the chance to win one of THREE print copies of Charlaine Harris’ Midnight Crossroad in celebration of the paper back release to US and Canadian residents. To qualify, comment below. Good luck! ABOUT MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many […]

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LitStack Rec: Women in Their Beds & Ilium

Women in Their Beds — Gina Berriault Her admirers include Richard Ford, Grace Paley and Robert Stone, but American fiction writer Gina Berriault may be one of most revered writers you’ve never heard of. Cynthia Ozick described Berriault as the quintessential writer’s writer—the recipient of professional admiration and “dim public recognition.” Though I’d say she’s […]

SIMMONS

LitStack Review: Aces Abroad: Wild Card IV edited by George R. R. Martin

Aces Abroad: Wild Card IV Edited by George R. R. Martin Tor Books Re-release Date:  January 13, 2015 ISBN 978-0-7653-3558-6 In the 1980s, a group of New Mexico residents, many of them writers, were involved in a superhero role-playing game, grand mastered by author George R. R. Martin (of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice […]

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Cover Reveal: Drawn by Chris Ledbetter

We are so excited about this upcoming release from LitStack friend and extraordinary YA debut author Chris Ledbetter. If you love YA, mystery and suspense, then you will devour Drawn from Evernight Teen. Look for Drawn launching in June. Synopsis Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, […]

Drawn-by-Chris-Ledbetter

LitStack Review: California by Edan Lepucki

California Edan Lepucki Little, Brown and Company Release Date:  July 8, 2014 ISBN 978-0-316-25081-8 I’ll admit it – I’m not reticent about jumping on the bandwagon sometimes, even if it’s just because someone says “Jump On!”.  If I wasn’t, I would never have picked up Edan Lepucki’s post-apocalyptic story California, and that would have been […]

Edan-Lepucki-California

To Kill a Mockingbird ‘Sequel’ Set for July Release

The Associated Press is reporting that a second novel written around the same time as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” discovered last fall, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Harper Lee, will be released in July. “Go Set a Watchman” was completed by Lee in 1950, but set aside and is somewhat of a sequel to Lee’s classic […]

HARPER LEE

LitStack Rec: Instructions & Elsewhere

Instructions: Everything You’ll Need to Know on Your Journey Neil Gaiman Illustrated by Charles Vess How do you write a recommendation for a book that probably has less words than this recommendation? That’s the dilemma I had once I decided to recommend Neil Gaiman’s poem-as-book, Instructions: Everything You’ll Need to Know on Your Journey. But […]

Instructions

12/30/14 LitStack’s December Giveaway – Bundle: Pretty Reckless, Falling for Her Soldier & Reunited in Danger

*These three titles will go to ONE winner. Comment below to qualify* Pretty Reckless (Deputy Laney Briggs #1) Jodi Linton Entangled She’s dead-set on giving one bullheaded cowboy the boot. Welcome to Pistol Rock, Texas where everyone knows secrets last about as long as the sporadic west Texas rain showers. Laney Briggs has long been […]

jodi

Release Blitz: Claiming Serenity by Eden Butler

Title: Claiming Serenity (Seeking Serenity, #3) Author: Eden Butler Genre: NA | Contemporary Romance Release Date: December 22, 2014 Synopsis   She left glitter in his AC vents. He put green dye in her conditioner.    She buttered his bathroom floor, and he kidnapped her precious puppy.    Layla Mullens hates Donovan Donley. His crude […]

ClaimingSerenity_CVR_LRG

Blog Tour: My Beloved-A Thin Love Novella by Eden Butler

Title: My Beloved (Thin Love novella, #1.5) Author: Eden Butler Genre: Contemporary Romance Release Date: December 8, 2014 Synopsis   Keira Riley was the girl Kona Hale loved first, the woman he wants to love last. They’ve battled addiction, forgiven betrayal and healed from heartache, coming through it all bruised but hopeful that their future will […]

MY BELOVED FINAL COVER copy

LitStack Rec: Havanas in Camelot & Wayward Saints

Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays, by William Styron Though William Styron is best know for his novels (The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie’s Choice), and a late memoir chronicling his depression (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness), he wrote wonderful essays that draw on his power of insight, intellectual acuity, and deeply felt experience of […]

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LitStack Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Maplecroft – The Borden Dispatches Cherie Priest ROC Release Date:  September 2, 2014 ISBN 978-0-451-46697-6 Cherie Priest is a master at taking familiar historical eras and events, and giving them twists and turns that seem utterly realistic and entirely possible, whether that be the Klondike Gold Rush (with a Seattle destroyed by a gigantic drilling […]

Maplecroft

Our Favorite Fictional Friends

Sometimes the truest friends aren’t those sitting next to you in class or skipping rocks with you down at the river. For many readers, their very best friends have lived in the imagination, on the banks of Prince Edward Island, in the mystical dimensions of time and space and yes, even in the Hundred-Acre Wood. […]

best book friend

Cover Reveal: Claiming Serenity by Eden Butler

Title: Claiming Serenity (Seeking Serenity, #3) Author: Eden Butler Genre: NA Contemporary Romance Expected Release Date: December 22, 2014 Cover Designed by: Steven Novak @ Novak Illustration Synopsis   She left glitter in his AC vents. He put green dye in her conditioner.   She buttered his bathroom floor, and he kidnapped her precious puppy.   […]

Claiming Serenity

Coming to the Stacks: New Deals for August 2014

Fiction Joy Callaway’s THE FIFTH AVENUE ARTISTS SOCIETY, pitched as Edith Wharton meets Little Women, about a family of four artistic sisters on the outskirts of Gilded Age New York high society and narrated by the most headstrong sister, an aspiring writer caught between the boy next door and a mysterious novelist who inducts her […]

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LitStack Recs: Wonder Woman Unbound & Ship Fever

Wonder Woman Unbound The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine Tim Hanley College level English classes are one my daughter’s least favorite scholastic experience, but I love ’em, because I get to play research assistant for her papers.  She learns organization, thesis concepts, citation usage and all sorts of structural skills, and I […]

WW

LitStack Review: Synchronized Breathing by Tara Ellison

Synchronized Breathing Tara Ellison The Writer’s Coffee Shop 978-1-61213-189-4 After discovering nude photos her husband had taken of himself on his computer, Scarlett Spencer realizes her marriage is over. Deciding to divorce is the easy part. Navigating through the lengthy divorce process proves harder, messier, and more expensive than she expected. She and her toddler […]

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Cover Reveal: Thin Love by Eden Butler

Thin Love Eden Butler New Adult/Contemporary Romance crossover Expected Release Date: Mid to Late July 2014 Cover Designed by: Steven Novak @Novak Illustration Add to Goodreads   Love isn’t supposed to be an addiction. It isn’t supposed to leave you bleeding. Kona pushed, Keira pulled, and in their wake, they left behind destruction. She sacrificed […]

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Cover Reveal – ‘Chasing Serenity’ by Eden Butler

Title: Chasing Serenity Series: Seeking Serenity series, Book #1 Eden Butler Genre: NA Contemporary Romance Release Date: October 15, 2013 Cover Designed by: Steven Novak  Cover Reveal Organized by As the Pages Turn   Graduate student Autumn McShane has had her share of heartbreak. She’s been abandoned and betrayed and she lost her beloved mother in a tragic car accident […]

CHASING SERENITY COVER FINAL

File this one under “Way. Too. Cool.”

forged pages

From This is Colossal:

A few days ago Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie. Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out. There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.

Check out the gifs here and prepare thyself! This is really cool!

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LitStaff Picks: Our Favorite Characters Who Never Gave Up

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Gimbling in the Wabe – On Being Average

I have a few Facebook friends who are really into fitness, specifically, into running.  They often share results of their most recent runs and/or competitions, they post pictures of themselves at the start of runs, or crossing the finish line, or at a point where they have reached a personal milestone.  I say, good for […]

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The Artist and Shakespeare: Performing and Understanding Shakespeare

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First Trailer for the Carrie Remake Now Online

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LitStaff Pick: Open Thread

We’ve got a lot of things on our minds this week. From the election of a new Pope to memories of our favorite children’s novels and the power of fan-funded artistic projects, our picks this week run the gamut of thoughts we’d like to share with you, LitStackers. Check out what’s on our minds and […]

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Our Favorite TV Serials Based on Comics

God bless Joss Whedon. While we won’t say that his Avengers film single-handedly made comics as films/tv shows popular again, we can say that perhaps it certainly helped. There have many variations of comics on the big and small screen, but not all have been wonderful. One glimpse at the campiness of 60’s television is […]

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Various Shakespeare Works Forthcoming

The Huffington Post reported on what seems to be a resurgence in Shakespeare’s works. From Young Adult novels, to a rumored film based on Anne Hathaway, (Shakespeare’s wife), it seems the publishing and entertainment industries are seeking to bring The Bard to contemporary audiences. Some of the projects that are scheduled include: Exposure, a modern […]

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Our Favorite Anti-Damsels

If fairytales are to be believed, then every little girl awaits her knight in shining armor. Unless, of course, you live outside of 1952. Fiction, really great fiction, disrupts stereotypes, subverts the models of common acceptance and asks that simple truths be revealed; that is why these types of stories are among our favorites. This […]

be your own hero

Book Trailer: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

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The Best Historical Literary Cameos on Time-Traveling TV Shows

Flavorwire did their research: Time travel inevitably gets a sizable mention during an old-fashioned game of “Name That TV Trope.” There’s seemingly an endless supply — everything from screwed-up timelines that incorporate fictional elements to the unsettling discovery that you’re your own grandfather (see Futurama). But, bibliophiles that we are, one of our favorite silly pseudo-historical plot devices is […]

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The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

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Our Favorite Fan Art

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Declaration of Independence: Justin Hamm on the museum of americana

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Artwork from the museum of americana issue one. Credit: Mary Mazziotti, American Carousel Goat (detail).

Neil Gaiman and Friends Read Coraline…for Free!

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JK Rowling On ‘The Daily Show’

As part of her Casual Vacancy tour, and just prior to her speaking engagement in New York City, JK Rowling stopped by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Huffington Post reported that during the interview, Rowling and Stewart “shared a 15-minute conversation about everything from Star Wars to the British welfare system – and […]

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Six Writers Who Loved Weed

Call it escapism or part of the artistic pursuit for inspiration, regardless of how you reason it, the truth is many writers of the past and present have been known to toke a bit of weed. Here are six that you may be surprised to learn were recreational (and devout) marijuana smokers.

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Review & Giveaway: This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

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Spoilerish Details on Season Two of ‘Once Upon a Time’

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Writing Inspiration Pins

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Author Interview with Hugo Winner Jo Walton

Jo Walton is a Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002 and the World Fantasy award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her novel Ha’penny was a co-winner of the 2008 Prometheus Award. Her novel Lifelode won the 2010 […]

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