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Exclusive Excerpt: "The Last Good Day of the Year"

This powerful thriller from Jessica Warman, acclaimed author of "Between" and "Beautiful Lies," is an arresting page-turner that questions whether the potential for evil lurks within us all. "The Last Good Day of the Year" is on sale now. 

ThelastgooddayoftheyearTen years ago, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor Remy watched helplessly as Sam's little sister was kidnapped. Later, Remy and Sam identified the man and he was sent to prison. Now, Sam's shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. But as long-buried memories begin to surface, she and Remy wonder—could they have been wrong about what they saw?

Excerpt:

From the moment I came unfrozen after Turtle was carried off into the cold night, I cried without stopping. Even when I was silent and otherwise seemed calm, the tears continued, and there didn’t seem to be any point in trying to hold them back— not that I wanted to. None of it felt real. It was like we all had been actors in a pleasant but uneventful long- running play—Childhood: Not a Musical— but to night we’d somehow wandered onto the wrong stage and picked up the wrong scripts. To night, the part of Terrified Mother Who Cannot Stop Screaming will be played by Sharon Myers. This is a big change for Ms. Myers, whose previous role as Pretty Suburban House wife did not require much screaming.

While our fathers searched, Susan Mitchell walked down the street to retrieve Gretchen from Abby Tickle’s house. My mother stayed by the front door and prayed the Rosary, which I’d never seen her do until that night. Remy and I sat at the kitchen table with a friendly cop— he told us to call him Officer Bert— who took notes on a small yellow legal pad as we talked.

“The man you saw tonight— can you tell me what he looked like?”

“He looked like Santa Claus, except he was skinny. I already told you.” Beside me, Remy nodded in silent agreement. I thought he’d been asleep while it happened, but now he insisted he’d been faking.

“Okay, we know that. But other than his costume, did you see what he looked like?”

“Oh. Well, yeah.” My voice was soft and hesitant. All I wanted was for my sister to come home. I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. You have to understand that my world was so small and safe back then; the idea that someone whom Turtle knew and trusted would hurt my sister seemed impossible. “He looked like Steven.”

Officer Bert stopped taking notes and put down his pen. “Who’s Steven?”

“Gretchen’s boyfriend.”

“And who’s Gretchen?”

“My big sister.”

“I see.” A single strand of tinsel, probably from what ever party he’d been called away from, clung to the front of Officer Bert’s sweater. “Did he only look like Steven, or was it actually him?”

“It was him.”

Embrace Your Inner Royal

by Meg Cabot, author of "The Princess Diaries"

Mia Thermopolis of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries isn’t the only princess in town anymore, and we royally approve. Meet Princess Oliva Grace in From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.
                        
It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been fifteen years since we snuck our first glimpse at the diaries of that not-ready-for-royalty princess, Mia Thermopolis.  

But it’s true!

In the nearly two decades since we heard the words “Welcome to Genovia,” we’ve all grown up a little: Some of us have our own careers/children/tiara-wearing cats; Anne Hathaway, who starred in the two Disney films based on The Princess Diaries series, has her own Oscar; and Genovia has its own Wikipedia entry!

But now the little country so famous for its moderate climate, superb beaches, and pears has once again been thrust into the media spotlight.  

And this time it’s because of events so scandalous (but also, according to Kirkus, heartwarming), it took me two books to describe them: one, for adult readers, is called Royal Wedding, and the other is for readers aged eight and up: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.

Notebooks is a very special book for me, not only because it allowed me to follow a dream I’ve had since I was a kid—no, not of turning out to be a princess myself—illustrating one of my own books! But also because it introduces a new character to the royal family of Genovia:

Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, Princess Mia’s half sister, who has been living for the past twelve years in New Jersey, and is totally unaware of her royal heritage. How will Olivia—who considers herself a completely “average” sixth grader, even though she’s a pretty talented artist and “decent” at math—deal with the discovery that she’s second in line to a royal throne?  Is she up for the challenge?

Let’s hope so! In a world that lately seems lacking in civility, I think what we definitely need is more royalty. Not the spoiled-brat kind we see on reality shows (although personally, I believe we could all could use more glitter and limos in our daily lives).  

I mean the kind like Princess Diana, who was the first royal to be photographed touching an AIDS-infected person, or Queen Noor of Jordan, an outspoken advocate for anti-nuclear weapon proliferation.

And though not all of us are going to marry royals like they did, or turn out to be long-lost heirs to a throne like Olivia, we are all capable of fighting for the underdog, like Princess Leia from Star Wars, or loving our wayward family members even when they do crazy things like freeze the entire kingdom (see: Princess Elsa in Frozen).

Because that’s what being a true royal is all about: using your hidden strengths and talents to do the right thing, even when the odds against you seem insurmountable.

And the more people are willing to use their inner royal powers for good, the more happy endings we’ll have. And to me, that would be even better than a fairy tale.

Thanks so much for joining me on this new journey to Genovia. I just know you’re going to enjoy the trip.

Much love,
Meg Cabot signature

Behind the Scenes | Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler, best selling author of the John Rain series, discuss why preparation and research is crucial in keeping his high tech thrillers believable - in this new Behind the Scenes video

 

Harry Hunsicker: My Book in 15 Seconds

Can DEA contractor Jon Cantrell stay alive and find the missing child. Find out more about Shadow Boys by Harry Hunsicker in a 15 second video.

 

The Art of Writing About Villains

by Melissa de la Cruz, author of "The Isle of the Lost"

To write fully developed wicked characters, it helps to remember that villains are people too!

I’m not sure if there is an “art” to writing about villains, but I do find that to write convincing and three-dimensional villains, one must be sympathetic to their plight. I’m always drawn to stories where good and evil evil isn’t depicted in stark black and white but in infinite shades of grey. We need to understand what drives a person to do evil things in order to understand our own less than noble intentions.

When I was writing the "Isle of the Lost", I decided to have the protagonist, Mal, experience the same snubbing that befell her mother Maleficent. As we all know Maleficent was not invited to Princess Aurora’s christening, which set off the events in "Sleeping Beauty". In my story, Mal is six years old and not invited to Evie’s birthday party. This also sets off the events in my story, and it also gives Mal a little perspective into her own mother’s psyche.

Being rejected and excluded creates a pain that is as real as physical pain, and I think when you write about villains you have to remember that their desires and motivations are just as important to them as the heroes and heroines’ desires and motivations. The art of writing them is to humanize them, to me, they’re not these stick-figure dark lords glowing with a red eye on a horizon, they’re wounded and selfish people who are just trying to do their best to get rid of this pain they are feeling—by inflicting it on others.

In my vampire series Blue Bloods, the real villain of my story is a flawed hero, a failure. I love tragic stories, and I love stories about villains, I see our humanity reflected in their tales so much more clearly than the classic hero stories. Look at the current pop culture slate—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, led by anti-hero characters who are much more complex and interesting than a do-gooder hero.

Root for the villain, if anything, they’re the hero of their own story.

 

CM Punk on Writing Sports Stories

CM Punk first rose to fame as a fan-favorite in professional wrestling.  Since retiring from in-ring action last year, he's announced new ventures as a fighter with UFC - and several high-profile gigs as a comics writer.  Here, he talks about his latest work for DC Comics.

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You’ve had a really storied career as a professional wrestler and it’s continuing on into multimedia and now the MMA world. How long have you been kicking around the idea of writing comic books?

I'm a dreamer. Been reading comic books and novels all my life, so I think creating stories goes hand in hand with that. I've always had an imagination, but my outlet was always a different form. Realistically writing a comic book I’d say became more of a reality after the San Diego Comic Con in 2011. 

 

Are there any parallels you’ve found writing comics that mirror your experiences in pro wrestling, or even training for your upcoming UFC debut?

It's all storytelling. Not so much in training, but the real life experiences and people you meet. Lots of stories start off as, "You couldn't make this stuff up!"

 

You’re writing STRANGE SPORTS STORIES, a new anthology series from Vertigo. What drew you to this project specifically?

I like strange!  I like sports (most of them). The idea just takes something that is more often than not classified as "jock culture" and puts a weird (strange!) spin on it. It was too good to pass up. 

 

The story you’ve created is baseball-centric. Why choose a tale revolving around baseball over other sports like hockey or football?

I pitched a few different things, I think it just so happened that my baseball idea had the most potential. I used to play, I go to games a lot, and I'm a Cubs fan. 

 

I’ve heard you rave about Jason Aaron’s SCALPED in the past, but what are some of your other favorite Vertigo series over the years?

PREACHER is essential reading. I wish hotels had Preacher instead of a bible. I feel the same way about Y: THE LAST MAN. Excellent stuff. 

 

If you could write a DC Universe comic, what would you write? Are there currently any DC Comics creators whose work you’re following? 

I'd love to tackle Batman. More so for his rogues gallery. Lobo was always a favorite of mine as well. Anything really. I enjoy the challenge of creating a story for characters I never necessarily thought I'd be writing. I read everything Scott Snyder writes. He's one of my favorites. 

Page to Screen Blake Crouch: Wayward Pines

Blake Crouch's international best-selling series Wayward Pines has become a 10-episode television event on FOX. Learn more about the series in an exclusive interview with author Blake Crouch.

 

Jonathan Stone: My Book in 15 Seconds

Jonathan Stone's pulse-pounding thriller takes readers from the darkest corners of New York's financial empire into a shadowy hierarchy of wealth and power. Find out more about The Teller in a 15 second video

 

Lincoln Pierce Talks About "Big Nate"

Lincoln Pierce, author of the New York Times bestselling "Big Nate" series, takes some time to answer questions for Kindle readers.

"Big Na"Big Nate Lives It Up"te" has been running in newspapers for almost 25 years. How did it get its start? I began trying to get a comic strip published when I was 18, and for several years had no success. But I could tell I was improving when the generic rejection letters became more encouraging. Finally, I submitted Neighborhood Comix, loosely based on the neighborhood in New Hampshire where I'd grown up. One of the featured kids was named Nate, who had a little brother, Marty. At the time, Nate was blond and something of a straight man; Marty had all the gusto. I combined the two brothers into Nate, but I gave him more of Marty's over-the-top personality. I renamed the strip Big Nate, and very quickly, I realized what really interested me was what took place in Nate's school. The more I wrote about Nate's adventures with his classmates and teachers, the more I enjoyed myself.

How do you find inspiration for the strip? What’s your process? I've never been one of those cartoonists who sees something happening on the street and thinks, “That would make a great strip.” Instead, I imagine situations Nate might find himself in or conversations he might have. Big Nate is a four-panel strip, so the dialogue in panel 4 might come to me first. Then, it's just a matter of writing the dialogue in panels 1, 2, and 3 that lead to the payoff. It also doesn't hurt that I can remember in vivid detail things that happened when I was Nate's age.

Which cartoons/cartoonists have influenced you most? It begins with Charles Schulz and Peanuts. I don't think it was possible to grow up reading comics in the 60s and 70s and NOT be influenced by Peanuts. I really absorbed the rhythm of telling a joke in four panels. There's just something about it that's so symmetrical and beautiful to me, and I always knew that any strip I'd create would have to be four panels. Next I would cite Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury, because I think he brought an entirely new kind of writing to comic strips. He almost always found a way to sneak two gags into one strip. There would be one joke—presented either in the third panel or early in the fourth—and then another, often times understated but somehow even funnier joke, to close out the strip.

I'd also pick a relatively obscure but enormously important cartoonist named Francis W. Dahl, who created multi-panel comics for the Boston Herald in the 30s, 40s, and 50s that were like nothing I'd seen before or since. They're part political satire, part social commentary, but there's no anger, no outrage. His cartoons poke fun, in a big-hearted way, at everyday people—usually, residents of New England. I discovered my grandparents’ collections of his comics when I was about 7 or 8. And while I'm talking about cartoonists before my time, I'll also mention George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Cliff Sterrett's Polly And Her Pals, and E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, the strip that introduced Popeye.

 

The "Big Nate" series is full of hilarious adventures and is great for readers aged 8-12. Learn more

 

Behind the Scenes with Julia Spencer-Fleming

Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of Through the Evil Days, discusses her experiences with small towns and what makes them interesting setting for mysteries.