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Exclusive excerpt: chapter 3 of Mur Lafferty's "Ghost Train to New Orleans" [Urban fantasy]


[Ed: Mur Lafferty's 2013 debut novel Shambling Guide to New York City was an outstanding work of urban fantasy and contributed to Mur's winning a much-deserved John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2013 Hugo Awards. Now, Mur's back with a sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans, and she and her publishers, Orbit, were kind enough to give us an exclusive excerpt from the novel, along with Mur's introduction, below. -Cory]

Chapter 3 of Ghost Train to New Orleans has our hero, Zoë, and her writers aboard a ghost bullet train to write a travel book for monsters. Zoë and another human have just discovered the train is about to experience an old fashioned train robbery with cowboys and horses and everything. 

I love these cowboys. This is an example of the "iceberg" of fiction - you will see one scene with these cowboys and learn only a little about them. But I had to come up with why these cowboys wore business attire underneath their cowboy clothes, why they are so bad at their jobs, and how they died to become ghosts anyway. Their whole story doesn't appear in the book, but I know these people. I really want to tell their backstory in an upcoming short.

Ghosts are an interesting creature to use in urban fantasy. They always seem to have their own creation myth; if everyone who died turned into a ghost, there would be billions of ghosts wandering around the world, which would make them not so much scary, but an annoyance. If only some people turned into ghosts, who and why? And if vampire and zombie undead existed, why did the person's spirit leave the body instead of turning the proper undead? 

I got my inspiration from Gail Carriger's Soulless, where vampires sometimes fail in their attempts to turn humans. In Gail's world, the human dies. In mine, I decided, if a vampire os zombie fails, a ghost is created instead. Since vampires seem to have more fun than ghosts, and ghosts are failed vampires (or, in some cases, zombies) this makes the ghosts decidedly bitter as a whole. In the world of the Shambling Guides, ghosts are insubstantial all the time, and can do little with the physical world unless they possess a human, which is very difficult to do unless the human is weakened or willing. Ghosts love the ghost train, though, since that's where they can take physical form. The job market for work aboard the ghost train is highly competitive. 

As for New Orleans, I'd wanted to return there since I got my initial inspiration for the book in 2005 when I wrote an RPG supplement for a charity gaming book to benefit the Red Cross after Katrina. In my supplement, a zombie continued her job as a tour guide even after she had died because she loved her home so much. I took my first expansion of this idea to New York, but I'm excited to return this idea to New Orleans and her jazz and parties and beignets. 

Ghost Train to New Orleans

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Afterlife with Archie: Archie comics go zombie


Afterlife with Archie is exactly what it sounds like: a series of comics in which Archie Andrews, Jughead, and the lovable gang are trapped in a horrific zombie apocalypse. It's more than a gag, too: it's got tight, tense storylines, genuine horror and real pathos. I just read issue four and was surprised by how moving and scary it is, and I also appreciated the EC-style horror mini-story at the end.

The singles are already selling at a frustrating markup on Amazon, so I think you're better off pre-ordering the $13 collection that comes out on May 13.

Exclusive: Chapter 1 of Hugh AD Spencer's "Extreme Dentistry"


I'm extremely pleased to present an exclusive excerpt from Hugh AD Spencer's debut novel Extreme Dentistry. I've known Hugh for more than 20 years now, and he's always been one of the most consistently funny and snappy writers of my acquaintance. Hugh's novel comes from the indie press Brain Lag, and we're grateful to them for permission to publish chapter one, after the jump. Here's a little more about the book:

The solution to your shape-shifting vampire problem is obvious: Dentists with faith. Aurora Award nominated author Hugh A.D. Spencer weaves a bizarre tale of sarcasm, Mormonism, death and oral hygiene that spans from Singapore to Germany to Missouri and Toronto. Extreme Dentistry explores love and loss, terrible bosses, difficulties in getting good babysitters, and those seedy centers of monstrous human and inactivity both human and inhuman -- shopping malls.

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Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam, out in the USA today


Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam, the 40th Discworld novel, comes out in the US today. I reviewed it back in November for the UK release; here's what I had to say then: it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.

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Carved crayons -- now with color!


Both Mark and I have sung the praises of Hoang Tran's hand-carved pop-culture crayons (I have one in my office!).

But Tran has really gone to a new level, adding detail and sparing color not seen in the earlier works. These new pieces are on display in a Tumblr called Wax Nostalgic, and they're magnificent.

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Bookshelf masking-tape


Etsy seller Light Life makes this book-spine masking tape for sealing up your boxes and making them look like they're libraries for tiny flatlanders. The Taiwanese seller has lots of other notable designs, too. It's all $6.78/roll, plus shipping from Taiwan. (via Tor Books Tumblr)

Pop culture pencils

Glasgow's Popculturepencils makes custom pencils that come in threesomes which spell out fannish messages, For example: "He's dead Jim," "Beam me up Scotty" and "Live long and prosper." Or: "Sedagive?" "What hump?" and "Put the candle back." Very nice: now, put 'em on rebooted Blackwings. (via Geekymerch)

Werkhaus: flat-pack housewares and accessories skinned with photos of scuffed, worn-in real-world stuff


I was in Berlin for the day yesterday to speak at a World Consumer Rights Day, and before I headed back to the airport, I dropped in at Werkhaus, a retail outlet that sells innovative, made-in-Germany flat-pack housewares that are skinned with beautiful photos of decayed, wabi-sabi surfaces from street furniture, antiques, and industrial apparatus. I bought one of their "Telefonstation" shelving units, designed to hold and charge your phones and mobile devices while disguising the charge-cables; the one I bought is skinned with the exterior of a scuffed and beaten Soviet pay-phone, with stenciled Cyrillic lettering.

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New old-timey Twilight Zone action figures announced


Zack sez, "Submitted for your approval -- Bif Bang Pow! has a new line of action figures inspired by the classic TV series done in the scale and style of such 1980s figure lines as Star Wars. Personal favorites include the Invader from 'The Invaders' and Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in 'Time Enough at Last,' who is getting a permanent space on my bookshelf where he can finally enjoy some good literature without worrying about breaking his glasses."

These are in addition to the existing line of Bif Bam Pow Twilight Zone toys which include some real standouts like the Mystic Seer bobble-head and the Eye of the Beholder Nurse.

Bif Bang Pow! Enters a New Dimension (Thanks, Zack!)

DJs plunder Raymond Scott's archives and remix rarities: Raymond Scott Rewired!


The Raymond Scott estate turned over 50 years' worth of the composer's archives to three DJs -- The Bran Flakes, The Evolution Control Committee, and Go Home Productions. The archives contained "jazz, orchestral, electronic, experimental, studio chatter, never-heard rarities," which the DJs remixed into six tracks each, as well as a collaborative remix of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," perhaps his best known work (and much beloved of classic Warner Brothers' cartoons fans).

The Raymond Scott Rewired CD came out on Feb 18, and there's also an MP3 version.

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Get a signed, inscribed copy of "In Real Life" delivered to your door, courtesy of WORD Books


As previously mentioned, Jen Wang and I have adapted my short story "Anda's Game" as a full-length, young adult graphic novel called "In Real Life," which comes out next October. Brooklyn's excellent WORD bookstore has generously offered to take pre-orders for signed copies; I'll drop by the store during New York Comic-Con and sign and personalize a copy for you and they'll ship it to you straightaway.

Dual-chambered beer-glasses for mixing the perfect black-and-tan


Etsy seller Matthew Cummings of Kentucky's Pretentious Beer Glass Company created a set of four cylindrical, dual-chambered beer glasses, which allows you to mix any two beers without regard to their specific gravities and without a lot of mucking around with jigs. He also takes custom orders. A set of four is $125.

Dual Beer Glass, Set of 4 (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Free to Be...You and Me is 40

It's the fortieth anniversary of the release of Free to Be...You and Me, the groundbreaking movie/record/book that encouraged kids and their grownups to break out of gender stereotypes and shame and be whomever they were. This was hugely influential for me (I registered freetobeyouandme.com to keep it away from squatters and gave it to the nonprofit foundation that continues the project's work), and I'm incredibly pleased to discover that it resonates with my six-year-old daughter, too.

The thing is that Free to Be... is not only right-on in its politics and message -- it's also fabulous: funny, catchy, sweet and smart. It features an all-star cast that includes Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Marlo Thomas, Harry Belafonte, Rosie Greer, Carol Channing, Carl Reiner, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, and more. My daughter can't get enough of Boy Meets Girl and we sing William's Doll at bedtime all the time. Unfortunately, the theme of gender stereotypes is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. But the good news is that Marlo Thomas and her friends gave us parents a tool for helping our kids understand and break through these stereotypes that is just as powerful today as it was then.

CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht celebrates Free to Be...'s anniversary with a look at When We Were Free to Be, a 2012 book that looks at the project's history and impact:

As a kid on Long Island in the 1970s, Miriam Peskowitz was a frustrated "Free to Be" fan. She wrote in "When We Were Free to Be" about her feminist mom's righteous letters and calls demanding her daughter be able take wood and mechanical shop, or that girls need not wait for boys to ask them to square dance. (Square dancing, of course, being one way that schools satisfied Title IX requirements.) To Peskowitz's dismay, she had the same arguments at her child's school decades later. Peskowitz watched in the mornings as her daughter settled down to draw bubble letters with her gal pals while boys raced each other to the chessboards. The teacher said it wasn't a problem; it's just what the kids chose. "After I nudged again and again, the teacher eventually taught all the children in the classroom how to play chess. Some girls started to choose that as their morning activity," wrote Peskowitz, the author of "The Daring Book for Girls." "Very often," Peskowitz wrote, "all it takes to outsmart gender stereotypes is a little creative thinking and a little gumption.

Free to Be...You and Me [Soundtrack]

Free to Be...You and Me [DVD]

Free to Be...You and Me [35th anniversary edition book]

When We Were Free to Be [Book]

Remembering 'Free to Be... You and Me,' 40 years later [Jamie Gumbrecht/CNN]

Randall "XKCD" Munroe is doing a What If? book!

XKCD creator Randall Munroe has announced that Houghton Mifflin will collect his amazing What If? science columns into a book called What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, to be published in September 2014. It will include in-depth answers to questions that he hasn't yet answered online, as well as expanded and updated versions of his previous columns.

What If? is one of my Internet must-reads, and I look forward to each new installment, and always read it with delight.

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How Disney movies gave an autistic boy his voice


In Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism , Pulitzer-winning writer Ron Suskind tells the incredible story of how his son Owen disappeared into "regressive autism" at the age of three, losing the ability to speak or understand speech and developmentally degenerating across a variety of metrics, only to reemerge a few years later, able to communicate through references and dialog from the Disney movies he obsessively watches.

A long excerpt in the New York Times, generously illustrated with Owen's expressive fan-art, hints at a book that is wrenching and inspirational by turns. It reminds me of 3500, Ron Miles's memoir of raising a son with autism who was able to engage with the world through thousands of re-rides of Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Suskind is a brilliant writer, and the excerpt is deeply moving. I've pre-ordered my copy.

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