On the strengths of fiction done as near-history

The origin story of Children of Earth and Sky, my current novel, begins with my Croatian editor being the first person ever to tell me about the Uskoks of Senj. He did that as we approached where their stronghold had once been on the Dalmatian coast (the Uskoks are long gone now, a small tourist town remains). I told that road trip story here and another version of the origin story here. By the time I came, many years later, to write a book taking off from that anecdote, the tale did not involve Uskoks, or the Dalmatian Coast. Nor was it formally about the aftermath of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, or the Holy Roman Empire, the Republics of Venice or Dubrovnik. And Senj had become Senjan. Read the rest

Horrorstör – A twist on a haunted house story set in a modern IKEA-like megastore

See sample pages from this book at Wink.


by Grady Hendrix

Quirk Books

2014, 240 pages, 7.4 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches (softcover)

$9 Buy a copy on Amazon

Imagine a store much like Ikea, but not quite up to Ikea’s standards. In the book Horrorstör, Orsk is a shabby copy of the Scandinavian warehouse we all know, and maybe even love, right down to the incomprehensible product names (Frȧnjk, for example) and a Bright and Shining Path that guides shoppers through the showroom floor maze. But something about Orsk is different. And very, very wrong.

Amy works at the Orsk in Cleveland, Ohio. Caught in a spiral of student debt and unable to support herself, she moves into her mom’s trailer and wonders if she’ll ever dig herself out of retail. ​That's when things change. ​Resigned to working at Orsk for the rest of their lives, Amy and her co-workers arrive every morning to find broken wardrobes, shattered glassware and vandalized sofas. Convinced someone is hiding out in the store and up to no good, they agree to spend the night in the store with their manager to unravel the mystery. Little do they know that tonight is their final shift.

Horrorstör is a clever twist on a traditional haunted house story that takes place in a modern consumerist setting. The symbolism and criticism of consumer culture and the nature of work are there if you look for them, but it’s light, and pretty funny, and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Read the rest

The Marvels - A playful novel of real life lived on a theater stage

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

1766. A ship named the Kraken. A little girl tied to the mast, her face darkened by the shadow of a fearsome sea monster. It’s approaching, closer, closer, its teeth just inches from her face. But none of this is real.

Pan back to reveal an audience – and that’s when we realize that we, like them, are being treated to a performance. All this comes in the first few pages of Brian Selznick’s The Marvels and it sets the tone for everything after. Stories within stories, books inside plays, real life lived out on a theatre stage.

The Marvels is a novel of two halves. Part one consists of a 400-page collection of immersive black-and-white pencil drawings that tell the story of the Marvel family. From modest roots to fame and fortune, from lucky escapes to fiery ends. Part two is a short novel in itself, picking up in 1990 with young runaway Joseph Jervis absconding from boarding school in order to search out his enigmatic uncle, Mr A. Nightingale, and then discovering the history of the Marvel family for himself.

The illustrations of part one are a real pleasure and very manageable in one sitting. With every image realized on a two-page spread, there are layers and intimate details to get lost in. A range of pencil techniques capture the story’s varied landscapes, which switch from brooding oceans to tropical forests to cobblestoned alleyways. Selznick obviously doesn’t believe in white space. Read the rest

Ultra-coordinated motherfuckery

In 2013, a hacktivist group calling itself Konstant kOS raided one of the government’s most secure computer networks. Their target was a list of more than a million American citizens monitored as potential terrorist threats. The list was classified because it was feared that making it public could result in widespread violence.

Konstant kOS, on other hand, believed information needed to be free. They thought citizens should know about potential terrorists amongst them. Also, they thought stealing and publishing the list would be fun.

Marcus Sakey's Written in Fire is available from Amazon.

So they did. As a result, thousands of innocents were assaulted or even murdered.

This didn’t happen, of course; it’s a small detail in my novel Written in Fire, the final book in the Brilliance Trilogy. The premise of the series is that since 1980, 1% of people have been born with extraordinary gifts, essentially a form of savantism that lets them see patterns the rest of us can’t. Some spot rhythms in the stock market and amass vast fortunes; others read body language so minutely they can intuit your thoughts and fears. The stolen data was a nearly complete list of these “brilliants.”

While Konstant kOS is my invention, they’re obviously based on hacker collectives like Anonymous, which fascinate me. Shadowy organizations of rogue anarchists waging private wars resulting in everything from surreal silliness to rough justice to reprehensible and mistargeted damage? Tell me more.

At this point, I should say that while I’m tech-savvy, by the standards of this fine publication, I’m at best a journeyman. Read the rest

What different novels look like with everything removed but punctuation

Adam J Calhoun wrote on Medium: "I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words. Can you tell them apart or are they all a-mush? In fact, they can be quite distinct. Take my all-time favorite book, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. It is dense prose stuffed with parentheticals. When placed next to a novel with more simplified prose — Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy — it is a stark difference (see above)." Read the rest

The Hike: a new novel by the author of The Postmortal

Drew Magary's The Postmortal, a dystopian novel about what happens to the world when someone discovers the cure for aging and almost everyone takes it, was one of my favorite books of 2011 and I still think about it. Here's my review, and here's my podcast interview with Magary.

Magary has a new novel coming out called The Hike. The publisher gave us an exclusive on the cover reveal, and it's a beaut. The illustration is by Will Sweeney, and design and art direction is by Paul Buckley

The Hike is coming out in August.

I asked Drew to share a few words about the book and here's what he said:

Okay, here’s the deal: It’s been five years since the publication of my first novel, The Postmortal. I started a couple of other novels only to have them stall in the middle, which is deeply annoying. And then, about a year ago, I went to give this speech in East Stroudsburg, PA, in the Poconos. I decided to go out for a hike before the speech, and that little hike, along with my affinity for old King’s Quest PC games and folk tale collections from Ruth Manning-Sanders is what ended up inspiring this novel and the bitchin’ cover you see here. I can’t tell you any more than that right now, or it’ll kill me.

Here's the publisher's description:

When Ben, a suburban family man, takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania, he decides to spend the afternoon before his dinner meeting on a short hike.

Read the rest

5 books that bust the myths of drug writing

In November of 2014, my crime thriller Cracked was published by Titan Books. Its protagonist is a crack-addicted former fighter and personal trainer, Danielle “Danny” Cleary.

Soon after I signed the publishing contract for this series – it will be a trilogy – I realized with a kind of sinking, sickening clarity, that I might be asked about the drug use in the book. While Cracked isn’t about, uh, crack per se, I knew that having an addict for a heroine was going to raise some eyebrows. The drug use, like some of the violence in the book, is precise and detailed.

Barbra Leslie's Cracked is available from Amazon.

Now, I’ve never been a fighter (although I do like to punch things). But the drug use? Yeah, I didn’t have to make that part up. Ten years ago, after a painful split from my then-husband, I tossed my middle-class, respectable life out the window and dove head-first into a world of dive bars, cocaine and finally, after falling for a guy whose addiction beat mine by many years and orders of magnitude, crack. (This was very out of character for me: I’m one of those people who can’t smoke weed without feeling nauseous, and never had a second’s interest in any hallucinogen or opiate, though à chacun son goût, and all that.) I was able to stop. I’ve been drug-free for about seven years now.

Despite all this – and my bookworm English degree, and a life filled with reading nearly everything I could get my hands on – I was never attracted to books about drugs, or written by addicts. Read the rest

Free Kindle e-book: "Imhotep" by Jerry Dubs

Imhotep, by Jerry Dubs, is free for a limited time as a Kindle e-book. It has 4.3/5 stars with over 500 reviews. It sounds like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but this time the Hank Morgan character winds up in ancient Egypt. Read the rest

The ten best adventure novels of 1966

My friend Josh Glenn compiles terrific lists of genre novels from the mid-20th century. His latest is a list of the ten best adventure novels of 1966. Josh also includes the cover art of early editions of the books, which are always much better than the art on newer editions. I want to read every book in this list!

Thomas Pynchon’s postmodernist, apophenic* adventure The Crying of Lot 49. Has discontented California housewife Oedipa Maas uncovered a centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies? Or is she perhaps merely detecting signals where there is only noise? “The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate.” Fun fact: Pynchon’s fictional aerospace engineering company, Yoyodyne, is referenced in the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

1966 was a good year for other media besides books. Here's my review of a book called 1966! A Personal view of the Coolest Year in Pop Culture History.

*Thanks for teaching me a new word, Josh! (apophenia: The perception of or belief in connectedness among unrelated phenomena.) Read the rest

Poster shows locations of 42 Great American Novels

One Flew Over the Cuckooo's Nest by Ken Kesey took place in Salem, Oregon. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was based in Chicago. The Shining by Stephen King took place in Estes, Colorado. These novels, and 39 others, are on this Great American Novel Map ($30) published by Hog Island Press.

Read the rest

Excerpt from The Biographies of Ordinary People, by Nicole Dieker

Summer 1989

Natalie wore a red-and-white checked dress with strawberry buttons, and she could feel the ends of her hair brush her chin. She held on to Mommy’s purse with one hand as Mommy pushed the stroller and Meredith walked a few steps ahead, in her dress that was blue.

Yesterday Mommy had given them afternoon baths and then asked them to go out on the front porch and sit still while she cut their wet hair. She asked them not to put their feet near the broken part of the step because Daddy hadn’t fixed it yet. Then Mommy put one knee on each side of Natalie to hold her in place as she cut and combed and cut again, and pulled Natalie’s hair straight with her fingers to make sure it was even.

They all had just-alike hair now, all new-school just-alike hair and different colored barrettes that had come from the same package. Natalie’s barrettes were red, and Meredith’s was blue, and Jackie’s was yellow. Mommy had let them toss the old hair in the yard, for the birds. Meredith had not been happy.

Now they were going to school for Orientation. They were close enough that Natalie could see the tent. She had never seen a school with a tent before. When they lived in Portland, she had gone to preschool.

They stopped at the crosswalk and looked up and down the empty street for cars, because Rosemary knew you had to do it every time or one of her girls would forget, when they were older. Read the rest

The Martian and Station Eleven are both $(removed) as Kindle ebooks today

Two novels I enjoyed very much are on sale right now on Amazon for $(removed) each: The Martian by Andy Weir, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both novels are thrilling survival stories about people who do their best to overcome desperate conditions. Read the rest

Anne Rice: political correctness is new form of censorship in the book biz

Anne Rice, of The Vampire Chronicles fame, posted on Facebook her concern that novelists "are facing a new era of censorship, in the name of political correctness." Read the rest

The brilliant ideas and radiant visions of reclusive SF author Greg Egan

There are no pictures of Greg Egan online, and his website has a disclaimer that while some of his more dedicated fans claimed to have tracked down a picture of the author, it’s not him.

Meet the man who remade Middle‑earth

Ethan Gilsdorf interviews John Howe, Tolkien Illustrator and Conceptual Designer of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogies

The Dune in our Heads

A problem crops up when filmmakers try to adapt epic fantasy worlds to the big screen—particularly beloved, richly-imagined literary ones. Sacrifices must be made. Characters are cut, and plotlines are re-routed. Scenes and places don’t match what readers have pictured with their minds. Fans of the original book cry foul.

In the case of director Alejandro Jodorowsky, his vision for Frank Herbert’s masterwork Dune was so over the top, so surreal (and, at times, so absurd), it probably would have blown the minds of critics before they had a chance to grumble.

That is, if Jodorowsky’s translation and transmogrification of Dune had ever been made. It never was.

Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast 128: Masters of Sex

Boars, Gore, and Swords is hosted by stand-up comedians Ivan Hernandez and Red Scott. In each episode they break down HBO's Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. They also talk about movies, TV, science fiction, fantasy, and lots of other things. NSFW.

With an episode yet between our live podcast and beginning Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen” in George R.R. Martin’s Dangerous Women anthology, Ivan and Red continue to direct Game of Thrones fans desperate for entertainment towards worthy replacements with our “What You Should Be Watching” series! This week it’s Showtime’s Masters of Sex, featuring the fascinating and truly terrifying sexual lives of the 1950s. Ivan and Red are joined by Caitlin Gill, member of the San Francisco comedy mafia “The Business”, who has appeared in 7x7 Magazine, on NPR’s Snap Judgement, and on this very podcast. Get into it, Daddy!

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GET BGaS: RSS | On iTunes | Download episode Read the rest

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