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This Just In...News From The Agony Column


03-23-08: Update: Link to NPR Story and Website

Not Crying Wolf Link to NPR Web Page

Today my story on Toby Barlow's 'Sharp Teeth' aired on NPR. Here's a link to the page where you can use the EMail this Page button nesra the top to email the page; please do so to as many individuals as you can a separate button push for each person, and you'll help support this site. It's the Agony Column version of Pledge drive. NPR went all out for this and gave it a full color web page with an excerpt from the novel. Read it, and ordewr the book via NPR for extra extra points! Now, I'm off and I have some incredible stuff I collected this weekend on a field trip. Look for it soon!


03-21-08: NPR First Book Series, Toby Barlow (Really!) ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Nancy Bass Wyden of Strand Books, NY

Presumably to Air

Yeah, I know, I'm starting to sound like the boy who cried, "Wolf!" No pun intended. Such is my state that I never even thought of the possibility of there being a pun. But do note that while I'm once again told this will run on Sunday, there's no guarantee. You can look here for updates, and as soon as I know, you'll know. But Sunday has been the plan now for a while; last week was a "pre-ponement"; the current schedule is, I guess a "re-ponement." That said, here we go again:

This Sunday, on Weekend Edition Sunday, NPR will be broadcasting my report on Toby Barlow and the rather odd journey he took when he decided to write 'Sharp Teeth', an epic story of werewolves in love in free verse. It features excerpts from my interview with Barlow himself, and as well, Jennifer Barth, his editor over at HarperCollins. This is a pretty interesting look inside the world of publishing, from the time a writer with a truly unique idea first sets pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, through getting an agent, selling the book to a publisher and seeing the book edited and brought to the shelves. I'll podcast unedited versions of both interviews next week. (Assuming the piece runs this week.)

Listeners who want to keep this little website going can help by going to the NPR Weekend Edition Sunday Website on Sunday morning / afternoon and using the "Email this Page" link on the URL that I'll provide. If listeners email this page and it ends up in the Top 25 Most Emailed Stories, NPR continues to give me access to the writers that you want to hear from. Your support of my work for NPR directly supports this website, and is greatly appreciated. And heck, I hope you just enjoy the story! If youre out there thinking about writing your first novel, here's a look at somebody who did what youre doing and against all odds succeeded.

And know I do appreciate your help with the Emailing this story dealie – that's your best bet for supporting the site. It's cheaper than PayPal and more secure. I'm sure you're all security-obsessed, right?

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation With Nancy Bass Wyden of Strand Books, NY : 23 Miles of Books

1938. Pretty remarkable.

It's been about 20 years since I made my only journey to New York. At the time, I was installing a Unix-based system for stock traders and the only places I saw outside of the bowels of gosh, you know, I think it may have been Bear-Stearns, were super-posh restaurants where my boss and I attempted to run up the highest bills we could for dinner.

Thus I had no time at the time to check out what proves to be local landmark bookstore, Strand Books. Fortunately for me, theyre still around after all these years; in point of fact, they've been around for more than eighty years. I was privileged to speak with Nancy Bass Wyden, who with her father, Fred Bass, is currently running the store.

The Bass family story is remarkable in every way and inspiring in every way a bookstore story can inspire. They've got a huge web presence and some 23 miles of books. If you want to find out what it takes to run a bookstore for three generations, this is your chance; here's the MP3 link. Beware that web site; theyve got their used books and rare books online. Now it wont quite as fun as wandering through the aisles, waiting for that moment of serendipity, but it could be equally hazardous to your financial health.


03-20-08: Black Static Three and Andrew Humphrey's 'Alison' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Tim Pratt at SF in SF, March 16, 2008

Back to the Best of the 80's With Third Alternative Press

To die for – you decide how.

I know, you think I've lost the path, what with all these non-genre entries popping in and out of the column and the podcast. That's not the case, and I'm here to remind you that what got me started in this biz twenty-something annos ago was my discovery that the horror genre, which I'd sort-of despised as utter trash, was actually becoming the home of some seriously enjoyable literature. I recently unearthed a copy of Night Cry Magazine while cleaning out the shelves, and thought, "I wish they still made 'em like this."

Ask and ye shall receive – that day, Black Static Three and 'Alison' (Third Alternative Press ; March 2008 ; £9.99) by Andrew Humphrey arrived and I remembered just why I'm here – because there's a lot of stuff out there that you won't find on *.*.com, that's not going to show up at Giant Friggin' Chain Acres O' Books, that's going to be tough to find even at your independent genre fiction bookseller. With Andy Cox at the helm, Third Alternative Press seems to be single-handedly resurrecting the best of the 80's horror fiction boom, and they're doing a fine job, both in periodical form – Black Static – and in book form with Andrew Humphrey's 'Alison'.

If I'm going to read a magazine, it has to readable. I'm pickier these days than I was back in the 1980's about that sort of thing. The same goes for overall production values; I want a magazine that pretty much looks and feels like a book, but is not a book. That is, I want a magazine with the same level of attention to how it is produced as what you might find in a decent small press book; good cover, good binding, thick paper. Black Static Three has it all and it's all very nice; readable print, nice paper, a cover that seems just a tad heavier than a cheapo magazine cover, yet nonetheless belongs only on a magazine. Inside, Black Static Three delivers cleanly-designed fiction and non-fiction with low-key B&W illustrations. Of course all this would be for nought if the contents were like say, Wired, which looks nice but these days is wall-to-wall advertisements for either products or the hipness-quotient of those behind it.

The fiction content of Black Static Three is nicely varied. You have the current-day dream-horror of "The Pit" by Alexander Glass; think Poe informed by 21st-century medicine. Seth Skorkowsky's "The Mist of Lichthafen" takes another tack. It's a gritty little tale with apparitions and monsters in a fantasy setting. If you've ever taken acid in the deserts of the southwestern USA, you might have had an experience like the "Rick" of Tony Richards' "The Sentinels." I can't call it a good trip, but it's a good story. Ian R. Faulkner turns in "The Difference Between," a solid story with an effective World War I setting. Carole Johnstone offers IrnBru and a bloody syringe for "The Morning After," which verges on being a short-short. Urban themes persist and take a short trip into the near-future with Will McIntosh's "The Fantasy Jumper." Matthew Holness finishes the magazine with a grungy, grotty story titled "The Toad and I." It's most unpleasant in a manner one inclined to read horror might find particularly pleasant. All in all, no duds – Black Static Three is a solid collection of dark fiction. I'd look for Tony Richards' forthcoming novel from HarperCollins, and read any story by the other authors that appeared in subsequent issues.

That leaves us to the non-fiction, which is plentiful and pretty stellar. Tony Lee's "Blood Spectrum" is nice roundup of cheesy, low-budget and big-budget horror movies; the sort of fun reading that prevents rational thought. Highlander: The Source? Who knew? Stephen Volk offers a venomous essay in defense of screenwriting in "Electric Darkness." Not a review per se, just a nicely paced spew. One of my horror novelists, Christopher Fowler takes the big-screen wretches to task in his column, "Interference." Even a passing mention of Life on Mars merits passing mention here; Fowler addresses "The Incredible Shrinking Brain" of the most recent regurgitation of 'I Am Legend', and expresses enough admiration for Sweeney Todd that I may bother to watch it someday. Probably not, but, there you go. And Peter Tennant's "Case Notes" includes lots o' book reviews and an interview. Lovely stuff, with some pointers towards books that are probably worth one's valuable time. All in all, Black Static Three is worth your valuable time – and money.

Unhappiness as a form of love.

That leaves us with 'Alison' by Andrew Humphrey. The bottom line here is a bit of psychological, relationship horror, super clean and nicely complex, but not overblown. It's the short-novel equivalent of one of the stories one might find in Black Static, setting up on the first page the kind of situation that keeps you reading until you've turned the last page. Chris and Alison, Spike and Emma. Somebody is going to die; others may live, but not happily ever after. Here, prose and pacing carry the day. At 172 pages, it really is an all-nighter. Just dont plan on a big smiley day afterwards, and if you're in a relationship that is troubled, maybe give this one a pass until you're feeling good. 'Alison' belongs to that branch of fiction that blurs horror and depression. Humphrey's sense of pacing and revelation keeps things lively, but again, the slash-your-wrists-and-hope-to-die school of fiction isnt for everyone. You were warned; and I hope heartened by this blast from the past in the present. This is why I started reading genre fiction again, so long ago. This is why it's worth reading. No, its not all literature that will live forever. But it does live while you read it. And perhaps you'll want to continue to live after reading it, just to experience the highs of feeling low.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Tim Pratt at SF in SF, March 16, 2008 : Briefly Interviewed

During the break between the readings and the panel at SF in SF, I took the time to speak with both authors. I just plugged in a mic, let the feathers fly, mostly asking about the work each writer read. Today's podcast is my chat with Tim Pratt. It's not an epic interview in a sit-down studio; and that's why I like doing them this way. Quick and dirty often yields decent results – or, at least, results that are not overly long. Here's the MP3 link; that will help you kill a few minutes. You can listen to this instead of the unfolding horror-show of the US economic pericalypse that came to pass Sunday evening. Hey, the end of the world happened and nobody noticed because they were listening to Tim Pratt at SF in SF. How cool is that?


03-19-08: Mary Doria Russell Awakens 'Dreamers of the Day' ; Agony Column Podcast News Report : Tim Pratt Reads 'Artifice and Intelligence' at SF in SF on March 16, 2008

Yesterday's Vacation, Today's World

Dream or nightmare?
We probably know Mary Doria Russell best for her incredible, out-of-the-blue science fiction novels 'The Sparrow' and 'Children of God'. But it was her historical novel, 'A Thread of Grace' that got her the Pulitzer nomination. I hope they didn't wear out the Pulitzer pen, because you could not imagine a more relevant novel than 'Dreamers of the Day' (Random House ; March 11, 2008 ; $25), which does no less than examine the root of pretty much everything that's sending this world to hell in a handbasket – the modern map of the Middle East.

It's no secret that the countries we take for granted today were created out of whole cloth by Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Lady Gertrude Bell. But we've not seen a concise, and rather appropriately terrorizing vision of just how this happened, and that's precisely what's on tap in Russell's latest. And if you remember the way 'The Sparrow' handled the often-insane complications that result when politics and religion collide, then you can understand why Russell is the perfect writer to tackle this.

The setup is pretty simple; Agnes Shanklin has inherited enough money to undertake her dream vacation. It's Egypt and the Holy Land for Agnes; for us, it's the world we have come to inherit. She sets herself up in the Semiramis Hotel shortly before those who would create the potential destruction of our world arrive, and in the course of the novel meets the players while she witnesses the real-life political version of science-fictional world-building. Unaware of the consequences of what they are doing, the brilliant and powerful muck it up like only the brilliant and powerful can.

Russell's a writer who can succinctly get to the heart of complex issues, create intense and memorable characters and tell a hell of a good story in the process. She's smart enough to know that evoking the power of the events she's describing is by itself not enough, and she's able to deliver all the elements required to pull off the challenge she sets for herself. And because readers of SF like to have a bit of the unreal, they'll be pleased to know that the narrator is no longer with us. No wonder she has such an excellent perspective. Of course, if things persist on their current course, we could all join her sooner rather than later. Let's hope that's not the case, but if it is, well, those having read this book will be at the front of some line. And that may be a good thing – kind of like the seat at the front of the handbasket.

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Tim Pratt Reads 'Artifice and Intelligence' at SF in SF on March 16, 2008 : Taking Cues

Pratt reads at SF in SF.

Today's MP3 podcast is Tim Pratt reading 'Artifice and Intelligence' at the most recent SF in SF. He notes that the story was written at the behest of his better half, who provided him with a series of restrictions that he worked within. (He wasn't able to write a story that involved time travel and a hippogriff; but I 'm sure some brave soul out there will.) He also notes that he promised his wife half the pay he got for any story that sold, and that he's paying her twice for this one – it's been selected for Rich Horton's 'Year's Best' anthology.


03-18-08: Tim Pratt Transforms into T. A. Pratt : Agony Column Podcast News Report : SF in SF March 16, 2008 : Tim Pratt Reads The River Boy

No Rest for 'Poison Sleep'

Not your ususal work clothes. Not your usual work.
It's been too long since I spoke with Tim Pratt about his excellent first novel, 'The Strange Adventures of RangerGirl' – long enough that he's won a passel of awards and managed to start a new series writing as T. A. Pratt. Last year, he introduced Marla Mason, a contemporary sorceress in 'Blood Engines'. She's back again this year with 'Poison Sleep' (Bantam Spectra / Random House ; April 1, 2008 ; $6.99), and alas, while things may be better in San Francisco, in her hometown of Felport, well, it's a nightmare. Literally.

If sorceresses can have APB's, then Marla gets hers from Leda Husch who runs the Blackwing Institute for the criminally insane, the Felport version of Arkham Asylum. Fortunately, Elsie Jarrow's been "contained," and the only escapee is Genevieve Kelley. She's just a dreamer – but unfortunately powerful and with lots of potential to be manipulated. Marla and Rondeau need to find her before she turns everything around her into the very bad dreams of very bad people. Obviously, more than a few folks are going to be seriously scathed.

So, heres the deal with Pratt's version of the contemporary urban fantasy. Like 'The Strange Adventures of RangerGirl,' the Marla Mason books' greatest strength is Pratt's ability to create complicated, realistic characters whom he then promptly plunges into supernatural adventures. The supernatural aspects are always entertaining, energetic and well described, but none of that would matter a whit if his characters weren't so well grounded. And it's not just the series characters who do well in these books. They're written to be pretty much standalones, so the ancillary characters, the "one-offs," so to speak, are as well-drawn as the continuing characters. Obviously, it's best to read the books in the order written / published, but, that said, you can pick them up however they come to you.

One of the reasons is that Pratt is not a time waster or a tease, which is rare but exemplary in this sort of fiction. He doesn't pussyfoot around. By the bottom of the first page Marla is in full-force battle mode, dagger drawn, with spells holding on the tip of her tongue. She doesn't find what she expects, and neither will you. Pratt's a smart plotter and knows pacing is critical in a paranormal thriller. When you keep the reader breathless, the reader has no breath to ask questions. Pratt makes effective use of the tools of a mystery writer; these books are in effect mysteries with magic. His ability to provide a good superstructure for the elements of the fantastic makes them seem more realistic, though no less fantastic.

Pratt's novels are outstanding, but he's also an award-winning short story writer. It was a great pleasure to hear him read 'The River Boy' as the first of two stories for the latest version of SF in SF, one you can experience when you listen to this MP3. This is a powerful, short, lovely little fable written while he awaited the birth of his first child – but it's definitely no lullaby.


03-17-08: A 2008 Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi and Jeremy Lassen

"Crossovers and Melding Points"

The making of a book – let it win awards!

Just before the last edition of SF in SF, I had the good fortune to speak with Paolo Bacigalupi and his publisher, Jeremy Lassen. Here's the great success story – no, make that two great success stories not just for readers of science fiction, but readers, plain and simple. The first portion of the interview, I speak with Paolo about his themes, his methods and his intentions behind the echo-themed stories he writes. They're really rather remarkable, and they put me in mind of Andrew Kimbrell, as Paolo puts into fiction what Kimbrell stays awake at night worrying about.

But I also managed to talk to Jeremy Lassen about a very different ecology, the business ecology that allows him to thrive in the midst of skyscraper publishing like a Roundup-proof weed that gets stronger every time you throw poison on it. Lassen find and exploits the niches ignored by the Easy coast magnates, and he helps everybody in the process – writers, especially readers and even the magnates who leave him the openings he uses so well. Here's the MP3. Now, short story writers of the world, get out there and produce! These are your dreams made flesh. Well, some of them.


Agony Column Review Archive