This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
08-15-08: Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg Offer 'A Field Guide to
Surreal Botany'; Agony Column Podcast News Report : A Conversation with
illustrations are by Janet Chui.
Oh my. Some books just
knock you right of your proscribed order and trust me, ' A Field Guide
to Surreal Botany' (Two Cranes Press ; July 2008 ; $12) edited by Janet
Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg is one of those
books that you must buy this very instant. Here's
the URL to do so; there are only a thousand out there, so hie thee hence.
Yes, Two Cranes Press have really got it right, totally, totally right
with this one. Gorgeously designed and printed, and yet (appropriately,
given the subject) dirt-cheap, 'A Field Guide to Surreal Botany' gets
it right every way. The conceit is pretty simple; here we have a field
guide to "plants with 'magickal and unverifiable [sic]' properties,"
the Introduction informs us, not unlike 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket
Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases' edited by Mark Roberts
and Jeff Vandermeer, but for plants, not diseases. Printed on thick, slick,
matte, faux-faded paper, it literally oozes quality, to the point where
you might be tempted to lay it on a lesser volume and hope the process
of osmosis will work some sort of "magick." But I think most
readers will be loathe to lay it down anywhere. It's a compulsively readable
and ultra-cool book.
Let's start with the writing, since after all, it is a book. 'A Field
Guide to Surreal Botany' is an anthology, and though there is a vast variety
of voices, there's a nice through-line of low-key "scientific"
verbiage that helps the work hang together. Under the cloak of "science"
however, the differing species offer each writer the opportunity for a
different approach, ranging from the sublime and suggestive to the patently
absurd. Some entries contain short stories and others simply create an
otherworldly atmosphere. Even if this were just bare text on a page, the
collection would be outstanding.
risked bending my book to bring you this.
But it's not bare text on a page. Illustrated by Janet Chui, 'A Field
Guide to Surreal Botany' is simply a lovely, paginated, text-oriented
work of art. The slim trade paperback / chapbook format is very much like
that which it pretends to be. The aged look works. The art is gorgeous.
Buy it while you can, before the age of Surreal Botany passes us by.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : A Conversation with Lou Anders : Post Denvention Hugo
I'm wrapping up the
week with a chat with Lou Anders, the editor of Pyr Books,
as we talk about the World Science Fiction Convention 2008 – Denvention
in Denver, the Hugo Awards, and the upcoming slate from Pyr. Catch up
on what happened while you weren't in Denver and on what's going to happen
tomorrow and tomorrow
and tomorrow, as Pyr lights the way to dusty death – via this link.
08-14-08: 'The Darker Mask', Edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher
Chambers + 'The Ghost Quartet' Edited by Marvin Kaye ; Agony Column
Podcast News Report : An Interview With "Mysty W. Moonfree"
Tor puts out an awful
lot of original anthologies; perhaps too many. It's easy for stuff to
get lost in the flood, and these two books contain enough nuggets that
I wanted to ensure they weren't missed. First up, we have 'The Ghost Quartet'
(Tom Doherty Associates / Tor Books ; September 2, 2008 ; $25.95), in
hardcover edited by Marvin Kaye. Accompanying this we
have 'The Darker Mask' (Tom Doherty Associates / Tor Books ; August 19,
2008 ; $14.95) in trade paperback, edited by Gary Phillips and
Christopher Chambers. Talk about confusing – or confused.
I really can't figure out the HC/TPB strategy here. But set that argument
aside for a few moments, because, we're readers after all, and in the
first and final analysis, here to read, not kvetch about the weird, weird
world of publishing. (Yet.)
So, 'The Ghost Quartet' follows on from 'The Dragon Quintet', and obviously,
focuses on ghost stories, not dragons. I'm glad for that. Kaye, a well-known
writer as well as editor, elected to include himself in this batch, which
is frankly kind of odd, but not necessarily bad. Still, for me, the headliner
is a new novella by Brian Lumley that heads off the collection, "The
Place of Waiting". For me, Lumley is at his best when he's in full-blown
storytelling mode, as he is here, a sort of rambling address to the reader,
a tall tale about a red-eyed ghost. Lumley was made to tell ghost stories,
and this one is superb.
Other contributions to 'The Ghost Quartet' include Orson Scott Card's
"Hamlet's Father", Kaye's "The Haunted Single Malt"
and Tanith Lee's "Strindberg's Ghost Sonata". The volume includes
one nice line drawing per story by Stephan Hickman. They're classy, recycled
a bit in the art direction and add a nice touch to the collection. Thinking
back to the day, this is reminiscent of something Dark Harvest might have
done, and that's a good thing. Readers who are looking for a decent ghost
story should seek this book out. I know, it looks kind of anonymous, in
spite of Hickman's fine art. I guess I just miss those garish, glossy
Dark Harvest dust jackets.
Our second entry is 'The Darker Mask'. Here you have a lot of short stories
that combine a bit of comic book, a bit of the classic "Black Mask
Magazine" pulpish-style mystery, and offer again, one illo per story.
The stories are all over the map, as are the authors, with some high-profile
names from the mystery world youd not expect in a Tor collection.
I'm talking Walter Mosely, with a fine story about serial killers and
what a youth advertiser would call "X-TREME SYMPATHY!!!" Or
Lorenzo "Sleepers" Carcaterra with a tale of an urban witch
in "The Strega's Last Dance". Like 'The Ghost Quartet', 'The
Darker Mask' includes a story by one of the editors, which is kind of
unusual. 'The Darker Mask' capitalizes on our supposed fascination with
"super powers" that are born in the squalor of the city. While
that fascination certainly exists in the world of motion pictures, we
dont have a lot of evidence that readers are lining up to devour
this sort of thing. Yes, I did love 'Soon I Will Be Invincible', now out
in trade paperback. Austin Grossman really nailed the vibe with a very
funny and poignant novel about superheroes. And yes, the stories in 'The
Darker Mask' are fine, but one would probably want to use them as a sort
of reading palate cleanser between novels. You read this whole anthology
in one gulp, I just hope you don't live near a nuclear reactor.
Can I kvetch a bit now? OK. So, here we have two fine new anthologies,
one HC and one TPB. It's outstanding that Tor is publishing these with
illustrations; that's fantastic and they deserve our support. But other
than the fact that 'The Dragon Quintet' came out as an HC, I can't quite
suss the decision process between HC / TPB firsts. To my mind, 'The Darker
Mask' would have been worthy of HC publication; or 'The Ghost Quartet'
might have made a nice TPB original. We do have two illustrated anthologies
from Tor. Good authors, good writing, nice illos. You'll have to dig for
'em, but take a look. You might find yourself super-pleasantly surprised.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : An Interview With "Mysty W. Moonfree" : Five
Authors of a Second Novel
Ortiz, Judith Feinman, Tomi Newman, Pat Pease and Marybeth Varcados
Today's podcast is
a conversation with the five women who ARE Mysty W. Moonfree; Gail
Ortiz, Judith Feinman, Tomi Newman, Pat Pease and Marybeth
Varcados. It was six years ago that they first joined to write
their first novel, 'The Jewel Box: A Capitola Mystery', which they published
last year. Now theyre back with a second novel, 'A Killer Festival',
and I managed to get all five in the studio at KUSP to talk about following
up their first book. I have to admit that as I talked to them, I began
to think that what they were doing might make for a program that could
be repeated at other bookstores. The group collaboration effort to create
a novel is a great way of getting a novel actually finished; Gail Ortiz
spoke to me afterwards and she thought this might be repeatable as well.
But for now,
you can enjoy the five women of Mysty W. Moonfree (an anagram of "Women
of Mystery") as they chat with me about their latest creation by
clicking on this link.
08-13-08 Update: Literature of Place on Day to Day
Karen Joy Fowler,
James D. Houston, Tom Killion and a House in Santa Cruz
Today on NPR's "Day
to Day", they'll be running my report on "Literature of Place"
that features Karen Joy Fowler, James D. Houston and Tom Killion all talking
about the importance of place int heir writing and one place in particular
– James D. Houston's house near the beach in Santa Cruz, which was
once owned by a survivor of the Donner Party and inspired his book, 'Snow
Mountain Passage'. Here's
a link to the Day to Day website. I'll post an update to the report
it self when it is posted to the web, and I
hope listeners will use the "Email this Story" button early
and often. It's election season, get in practice for voting! It will
help this site stay online in these perilous times and reward these fine
writers and artists.
08-13-08: Terry D'Auray Reviews 'In the Woods' ; Agony Column Podcast
News Report : A Conversation with Andrea Avantaggio of Maria's Bookshop
Sometimes we dont
end up reading the first novel until the second novel arrives, which leaves
readers in a dilemma. Do you go back and try to find the first one in
hardcover, pay a premium price and seek out a signed copy? Or do you start
with number two, and hope you didn't miss anything vital? There's a good
example out there now. Tana French has a new novel out,
'The Likeness' (Viking / Penguin / Putnam ; July 17, 2008 ; $25.95). By
all accounts it appears to be worth your valuable time and money. But
there's a predecessor, 'In the Woods'. Today the well-read and well-spoken
Terry D'Auray takes a look at Tana French's first novel so that you can
make an informed decision about both. She's no pushover and she's also
an adventurous buyer, through the various programs at M for Mystery, so
she does encounter clunkers.
You can read her review of 'In the Woods' here and see if these woods
are worth wandering about in.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : A Conversation with Andrea Avantaggio of Maria's Bookshop
: "How to celebrate the best of what our community has to offer"
Today's Agony Column
Podcast News Report is an interview with Andrea Avantaggio
of Maria's Bookshop in Durango,
Colorado. She's sort of out in the hinterlands, and the challenges she
faces are pretty different from an urban bookstore or even one remotely
close to a major population center.
Photo: Scott DW Smith/Imagesmith Photo
Its so interesting when she talks about "the Four corners"
with this California coast guy who called her out of the blue. Four corners
what? It sounds chilly there, but certainly cozy in the bookstore. Here's
a link to another chapter in what is proving to be a fairly thorough oral
history of bookselling in the early 21st century.
08-12-08: A 2008 Interview With Andrew Davidson, Part Two
how I'm going to personalize my query letter to this agent.."
In the second part
of my interview with Andrew Davidson, author of 'The
Gargoyle', we talk more about the actual writing and selling of the book,
moving beyond content to intent. Of course, like any
writer, Davidson writes mostly to entertain himself. If this is the case,
then he's clearly not easily entertained.
Davidson doesn't just spend his research energy in the composition of
the novel. He also spent it in locating an agent, and for those of you
looking for ideas, he's got a few very neat conceits that I'd not heard
Here's the link to part two of the interview, which, I will remind you,
is bookended by readings form the novel.
who care about such things – my readers, mostly – Doubleday
did a full court press on this book, issuing two different ARCS; one with
a funky cover and one with the cover of the final hardbound book. They
even sent out a little gargoyle sculpture long before enaything else.
This little box just arrived in the mail, leaving the reviewer to wonder,
"Well, what the....?" But I've always liked a good gargoyl since
an I saw and ABC Movie of teh Week titled Gargoles, with makeup
effects by the much-missed late Stan Winston.
Random House and Doubleday are total believers in this book, and I must
say, as you'll hear during this interview, I am as well. At least in the
sense of what's written. It's really quite compelling and has the ring
of truth. It also appears to be readable by a wider audience than I might
have guessed since Janet of Capitola Book Café was singing the
praises of the section involving the burn treatments. I agree, but then
this is the Agony Column. In fact, the publisher at one point
sent along a series of rave reviews from a variety of bookstore owners,
which is a tactic I've not seen before. But then, this novel is not like
anything you've seen before either; and to my mind, the comparisons being
made are not particularly helpful. It's not like this or that. It's not
a remix of disparate authors put in a literary blender. It's an organic
whole, with entrails, burned flesh – and more than one heart.
08-11-08: A 2008 Interview With Andrew Davidson, Part One
I write a story that starts with a burn?"
Davidson at KQED.
Here's a book that
goes everywhere, including the center of the human heart. 'The
Gargoyle' (Doubleday / Random House ; August 5, 2008 ; $25.95) by Andrew
Davidson is the gripping, peculiar, pixilated story of a burn
victim whose caretaker claims they were in love – some seven hundred
years ago. And that's not the strangest part of this book that ranges
from present day America to seventh century Iceland in pursuit of love
in all its infinite variety. Think of Scheherazade, 'The Inferno' and
then forget everything you know. 'The Gargoyle' is a remarkable first
It certainly exhibits the "kitchen sink" approach to first novels,
that inclination that writers have to write a book about everything, but
Davidson pulls it off with remarkable ease and only occasional overwriting.
One thing is certain; start this book in the bookstore at your peril,
as it opens with the sort of bravura writing that gets books bought on
case of heartburn.
Davidson is something of a publishing phenomena, garnering a newsworthy
advance that is utterly irrelevant to the quality of the writing, but
likely to get as much attention elsewhere. Forget about all that and concentrate
on an involving love story, no involving love stories, several
of them, woven through the narrative and history.
Today I'm podcasting the first of two parts of my interview with Andrew
Davidson. I had him read from four different sections of the novel, so
I've bookended each podcast with two readings to give you a feel for the
writing and variety in this novel. I'm also going to save you a bit of
time by revealing that the history of the Engelthal monastery given in
the novel is pretty much true, with the exception of once character fitted
into the events we know did transpire. Davidson talks quite a bit about
the importance of research and the variety of research he undertook to
create the novel. Suffice it to say if you're ever a victim of third and
fourth degree burns covering most of your body, you'll have a good idea
of what's in store for you. You
can start you journey to hell itself here. Enjoy the ride, and please
dont disembark until the car comes to a full stop at your destination.