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How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once The Birth of Korean Coolbanned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n’ roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and one of the world’s most important smart phones. Here, the author, Euny Hong, gives a guide to modern Korean etiquette.

1. It is never considered rude to ask someone’s age—technically, instead ask, "What year were you born?" Without knowing which party is older, no one knows how to act or speak. One central tenet of etiquette in Korea is that you have to pay attention to who you are in relation to those around you: Man or woman? Older or younger? Professional rank? Etc. etc. You base all of your actions on hierarchy. If someone new enters the room, you have to recalibrate your behavior.

2. Food and drink are to be consumed whilst sitting or not at all, and indoors unless you are sitting on a picnic blanket. Do not carry around food or drink; not even a bottled water. And definitely not coffee. That would be like walking the streets with a pint of Guinness. And for crying out loud, don't bring beverages into the subway. You don't want to be the jerk who spills liquids on someone's Samsung Galaxy smartphone while they're live-streaming their morning TV programs.

3. Corollary to above: Under no circumstances should you bring your refreshment into someone else's home or office. I don't care if you still have a 3/4 cup full of iced latte; you have to toss it before you cross the threshold. By bringing your own insolent beverage, you have denied your hosts the chance to offer a refreshment. They will per custom offer you a coffee even though you have one; you are obligated to say yes and you will end up with two coffees. If you refuse, your hosts can’t have any coffee either.

4. Do not pour your own alcohol. If you want your glass topped off, hint at this by pouring alcohol into someone else’s glass, whether this person wants it or not. That person must then offer to pour some into your glass. A second and very important rule is that when you are pouring alcohol for someone, pour with your right hand and use your left hand to hold your sleeve. This will assure your drinking buddies that you will not stab them with your free hand.

5. If you are out drinking with friends or colleagues, it's not considered sporting to go home until everyone does. Nausea is in no way a good reason to go home. If you must vomit, go off and do it in the bathroom or alleyway, then return and repeat the self-poisoning/purge process. It is totally within bounds to ask a friend to help you barf.

6. If you are a student at a public K-12 school, never raise your hand in class. No good can come of it. If you have to use the bathroom, wait till after class. If you have a question, let it go. If the teacher is horribly wrong about something and you are trying to correct him/her…you are mistaken. Also, jackets are to be zipped/buttoned up or not worn at all.

7. Your pockets are no place for your hands.

Author Booklist: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew Recommend

Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, creators of The Shadow Hero,  recommend their top Asian-American books.

51u6oy3jIpLFrom Gene Luen Yang:

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim

Cartoonist powerhouse Derek Kirk Kim perfectly captures what it was like to be an Asian American twenty-something in the 90's.  I know.  I was there.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

To be perfectly truthful, I don't remember much from most of the books I read.  But this book haunts me. There's a scene where the narrator picks on a quiet girl in the bathroom -- it's been years since I read it, but I can still feel it.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo

Yes, this is a teen romance.  Why would a 40-year-old man be recommending a teen romance?  Because David Yoo is hilarious.

Malinky Robot by Sonny Liew

OK.  So this isn't exactly Asian American, but Sonny cheated on his list so why can't I?  Honestly, I would recommend this book even if Sonny and I aren't friends.  Malinky Robot follows the adventures of Oliver and Atari, two street urchins living in a futuristic metropolis.  

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Another cheat.  Endo is Japanese, not Japanese American, and his book was originally written in his native tongue.  Even so, in this masterful novel about a European missionary travelling through a hostile 17th Century Japan, Endo explores the clash between Eastern and Western belief systems, a struggle central to the Asian American experience.


From Sonny Liew:

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
I've enjoyed all of Allen Say's books -- the art and language looks  simple of the surface, but they're wonderfully adept at capturing the passage of time; a sense of things lost, and found, if only for a moment again, in his stories. This account of his Grandfather's journey from Japan to the United States and back again reminds us of how we can be torn between all the places we've lived in -- that there might be no one true home, and our choices are dictated by our mortality as much as anything else.

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
My favorite of Say's books, though, is Drawing From Memory, about his early apprenticeship under the Manga artist Noro Shinpei. Using artwork and photographs, he shows us the early fears, hopes, and dreams of a young artist in post-war Japan. It's pitch perfect from beginning to end.

The Ghost Bride: A Novel by Yangsze Choo
The writer spent her early years Malaysia but now lives in the United States. The novel itself is a supernatural tale set in 19th century Malacca. Yangsze and I have talked about adapting the book into a graphic novel -- something I raised after reading a draft of the story. It's a bit of Sandman-esque fantasy set in my home country of Malaysia, with a brave (in believable ways) female protagonist -- I think it'd make a great comic, but the book itself if of course well worth a read.

51hzCCavQOLSour Sweet by Timothy Mo
I read this years and years ago – it’s about Chinese immigrants making a go in London, and the cultural gap between generations. There were troubles with triads in there, too. In my own mind, Sour Sweet has become the prototypical immigrant novel. It's also been a while since I've read another book in the same genre -- a reluctance borne maybe of fear of repetition. Which is probably unfair to all those books out there, but somehow Sour Sweet already occupies that brain space, and there hasn't been room for more just yet.

Chan is Missing by Wayne Wang
Strictly speaking this clearly isn't a book of any sort -- but it's one of my favorite movies and an intriguing look at Chinese-American assimilation in the United States. There's a sort of Rashomon thing going on, with multiple accounts of the life of the missing Chan providing no easy answers, but rather a textured, complex view of a man. It's funny as well!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
It's rather good, this.

The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
Ok, by now this whole Asian American Lit category thing is halfway out the window, maybe we can pretend this counts too. I remember The Good Earth being a harrowing read -- all the hardships the protagonist goes through. I can't vouch for how accurate it is a depiction of the lives of Chinese villagers back in the day, but it certainly felt authentic,  a book that's lived long in the memory even as the details have faded.

Skim by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I haven't had a chance to read their new book This One Summer (from First Second!) yet, but Skim was wonderfully drawn and written, an unexpected surprise when I picked it up on a whim from a local comics store. The beauty, aches, half-truths and half-lies of adolescence, all expertly and subtly captured.


Guest Blogger: Julia MacDonnell, author of "Mimi Malloy, At Last!"

Mimi Mally, At Last!Julia MacDonnell’s fiction has been published in many literary magazines, and her story “Soy Paco” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her journalism has appeared in The Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. A tenured professor at Rowan University, she is the nonfiction editor of Philadelphia StoriesMimi Malloy, At Last! is her first novel in twenty years. It serves as a a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to fall in love and that one can always come of age a second time.

My childhood was an immersion course in the lives of girls and women.  I grew up with eleven aunts and twenty-five girl cousins, all living within a hop, skip, or a jump of one another on the South Shore of Boston.  I also had a paternal grandmother and a maternal great-grandmother close by.  Sure, I had an uncle for almost every aunt, as well as a paternal grandfather and a bunch of rowdy boy cousins, but it was the women who schooled me, and their teaching tool was the Yik Yak Club: its members, the curators of their family’s oral history.

Not that I had a name for it back when I was a kid, sneaking around to eavesdrop on Ma and my aunts as they gathered at our kitchen table, drinking cup after cup of percolated Eight O’Clock coffee.  The name came to me when I was writing my second novel, Mimi Malloy, At Last!.  The narrator, Mimi, has no use for ancient history, declaring early on, “I’m not one to dwell on the past.”  By contrast, my mother, Norma, loved nothing better than a good gab session with her sisters and sisters-in-law. She’d be the one to call the meetings, almost always around our kitchen table.  A cirrostratus of cigarette smoke would signal that a gab fest was in session.  Worried about their figures, these women smoked instead of snacking, Ma cadging butts from her sisters because she’d never dare light up in front of my father.  

What could be so riveting, I wondered as a child, that it transformed these women from familiar aunts and mothers into luminous creatures whose voices, laughter and, at times, sobs floated around on smoky air? 

Only while I was writing Mimi did I figure out the answer. I figured out that the Yik Yak Club was a place of comfort and support for its members, a place where they could confide in each other, sharing words they couldn’t say to anybody else.  Yes, serious family business was sometimes negotiated and resolved during its sessions, but the most important thing seemed to be that they were together, a small, bright gathering of women, mothers in their twenties and thirties — in my mind’s eye, all of them are beautiful — their cheeks flushed, their eyes bright.  These weren’t women with time on their hands, but women who squeezed out of the endless hours of mothering and housewifery a bit of time to be together.

The post-World War II years, the 50s and 60s, are portrayed as decades of oppression when women stuck at home in subservient roles, an epoch before our collective consciousness had been raised.  In my family, most women had worked at the Fore River Shipyard during the War.  Their subsequent ability to stay home and raise their children was experienced as a gift. As little as they had, they gloried in their homes and families, and in their role in making the arduous ascent from the working to the middle class.  I’m convinced that the Yik Yak Club eased their way, giving them not just a forum for venting, though that mattered, but a place for listening, which they did in awe and wonder, each of them shaping herself into who she would become.  The Yik Yak Club I witnessed growing up was the school in which I learned about the perils and joys of mothering, sistering, wifing, and housekeeping; where I absorbed my most important lessons about how to be a woman alive in the world.  

--Julia MacDonnell

Guest Blogger: Barbara Taylor Bradford on “A Woman of Substance”

A Woman of SubstanceNew York Times best-selling romance author Barbara Taylor Bradford discusses her breakout first novel, A Woman of Substance, one of the top ten best-selling novels ever written with more than 32 million copies sold.

A Woman of Substance was my first novel.  I had attempted to write four others, and every time I stopped when I'd written about 90 or 100 pages. I simply didn't like them.

And then one day, unexpectedly, a young girl popped into my head as if from nowhere. I could see her clearly in my mind's eye. She was a girl of 12, and I knew she would grow up to be a beautiful young woman. Her hair was auburn and she had green eyes. But the important thing was that I sensed she was determined and clever and had a strong will.

That very moment, I took out my yellow pad and started to make notes. And soon I knew her very well indeed! Her name was Emma Harte. I understood she was driven and ambitious, and she was going to become and extraordinary woman. In fact, I wanted her to become a woman who would make it in a man's world of business when women were not doing that. I decided she would become a great tycoon.

Essentially, A Woman of Substance is the life story of a girl who started with nothing in life, who overcame hardships and adversity of every kind and triumphed in the end. I believe it’s an inspiring book because Emma achieves her dreams.

When I started to write the book, I knew I would finish this one. I had to because Doubleday in New York had bought it on a 12-page outline plus 90 pages – and they had done so within 48 hours of first reading those pages.

People have asked me why A Woman of Substance became so successful, and so quickly. I think there are many answers to this question. To begin with, Emma is a compelling character, as are her life long friends Blackie O'Neill and Paul McGill, the love of her life. And of course, the book has everything in it... drama, intrigue, money, passion, power and revenge – all of those great human emotions that make for a good story.

Eventually, A Woman of Substance was published in 90 countries and 40 languages. And I'm happy to tell you that it is still selling today. Woman all over the world told me that Emma Harte was their true role model, and that the book had changed their lives for the better. Some had started businesses. Others left bad relationships or abusive marriages. Many had gone to live in other cities. But they had all moved on and been successful. They thanked me for creating Emma Harte.

I had set out to simply tell a good story about a strong woman. I hadn't intended to send a message. But apparently, quite unconsciously I had. To sum it all up, all I know is that I wrote the kind of story I love to tell about an ordinary woman who becomes extraordinary in living her life a certain way and goes out to conquer the world.

Barbara Taylor Bradford’s second and third book in The Emma Harte Saga, Hold the Dream and To Be the Best, are now available in ebook, along with Act of Will, Angel, Remember, The Women in His Life and Voice of the Heart.

Guest Blogger: Gwyneth Paltrow

WithinGwyneth Paltrow is an Oscar winner and author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook, My Father's Daughter. She is a mother and an actress, splitting her time between London and New York.

When my latest cookbook, It's All Good, was nearly complete, I was still searching for someone to write the foreword.  Because the book included amazing recipes based on a particular healing diet I had been prescribed by my physician, I immediately thought of Dr. Habib Sadeghi.  Not only did he understand the medicinal qualities of whole foods, but also the spiritual partnership we have with the earth that provides them to us.  I was extremely grateful when Dr. Sadeghi agreed, and even more so when I recently received the opportunity to return the favor and write the foreword to his incredible new book, Within.

What struck me immediately about Within is that it’s so universal.  Yes, it focuses on the goal of losing weight, but it does so with principles that can be applied to anything we want to achieve.  It’s really a life map instead of a diet.  In fact, it isn’t a diet at all because he never mentions food or even exercise.  The world doesn’t need another carb counting lecture.  It’s really a healing workout for the soul, and that seems only fitting since people often call him the Old Soul Doctor.  

They say that over a lifetime, everyone has at least one story or experience that will break your heart. If that’s true, then Dr. Sadeghi has enough for three lifetimes.  He’s an old soul not because of what he’s been through, but because of how he survived and thrived on the other side of those difficulties. In Within, he shares the tools he used to get through those experiences and the wisdom he earned in the process. 

That’s why I was so proud to write the foreword to Within.  Who hasn’t wanted to change their life in some significant way and felt totally lost as to how to make that happen?  Dr. Sadeghi isn’t a motivational guru.  Even better; he’s somebody who’s “been there”.  If direct experience is the only real teacher in life, then Dr. Sadeghi has a PhD in getting your life off life support.  You’ll feel his compassion on every page and he never talks down to the reader.  Instead, he approaches every subject with the same intuitive empathy that makes him so successful as a physician.

I highly recommend Within, no matter what kind of change you’re seeking in your life.  Just be prepared for a paradigm shift in the way you think and feel that only comes from fearlessly “stepping into your loving”.

--Gwyneth Paltrow

Guest Bloggers: Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Hunt the FalconSEAL Team Six and Thomas Crocker are back hunting their most elusive adversary yet: The Falcon.

When the White House needs someone to track down a group of dangerous terrorists who have been assassinating U.S. diplomats in posts all over the world, who do they call? Tom Crocker and his SEAL Team Six special operators, aka Black Cell. They’re the black ops specialists who are often tapped when anything highly sensitive, time-critical and extremely dangerous has to be done.

This time they raid a bomb-making factory in Thailand where Crocker and his team discover a group of Iranian terrorists holding Venezuelan passports, which points the finger of blame directly at the Iranian Quds Force. And here’s the little known true fact(the one that DC officials never talk about): the United States has been fighting a secret war with the Iranian Quds Force for years. They’re the group behind many attacks against Americans in Iraq (including the rocket attack on the Green Zone) and Afghanistan. Currently, they’re fighting alongside pro-Assad forces in Syria, and they also have a branch of operatives in Venezuela known as Unit 5000 that is in the business of shipping cocaine to Europe and using the proceeds to attack the West, and particularly the United States.

No one talks about them because they’re so nasty and as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, take orders directly from the religious leaders of Iran – not the president, but the mullahs. They are, without a doubt, a state-sponsored Islamic terrorist group, much better trained, armed, funded and more insidious than al-Qaeda. And in Hunt the Falcon they’re lead by Crocker’s nemesis and the man behind his wife’s kidnapping in Tripoli (depicted in the previous book in the series Hunt the Scorpion) Farhed Alizadeh – the Falcon.

The question is: what are they up to now? And why are they operating right under our noses? To find the answers, Crocker and his men crisscross South America, trying to stay one step ahead of Unit 5000 operatives. When the latest technical gadgetry from DARPA fails during a raid on the terrorist hideout, Crocker has to rescue one of his wounded men the old-fashioned way: climbing a fence and improvising his way out with bullets flying.

Believe it or not, that’s just in the first hundred pages. And it’s only a fraction of Crocker’s problems. People back home in Virginia depend on him, including a wife at home who is trying to cope with PTSD and a father who seems to have fallen in love with a much younger woman.

The pace and severity of the physical and mental challenges Crocker and his men must face as they attempt to head off catastrophe push them to the brink of exhaustion. But even when they’re asked to undertake a final “suicide mission” deep behind enemy lines without backup, or a credible exfil plan, Crocker and his men answer the call.

--Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Guest Blogger: Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltDefense attorney Mickey Haller returns with a haunting case in the gripping new thriller from best-selling author Michael Connelly.

In my new novel, The Gods of Guilt, the Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller likens the practice of law to juggling chain saws: It can be dangerous, especially if you catch it by the wrong end. I think writing a novel is the same way. There are many pitfalls. You have to be careful and steady with your juggling. Still, every book is a challenge in its own way, and those challenges are set by the juggler himself. So there is no use complaining about it. If you want to take the easy route, then juggle marshmallows.
When I wrote The Gods of Guilt, I think I went with chainsaws. I gave myself a challenge that probably nobody would notice but myself. I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.

First of all, I wanted the book to function as an entertaining legal thriller with lots of intrigue, courtroom drama, and subterfuge. I wanted a few surprises too, including the death of a secondary character that the reader wouldn’t see coming. None of that was really secret in terms of the structure of the book. They were needed ingredients and difficult enough to juggle and keep in the air. The secret agenda I added was with regard to two of the main characters. While functioning as a fast-moving thriller, the book’s true center revolves around the relationship between Mickey Haller and his 16-year-old daughter, Hayley. I wanted that strained relationship to be the engine that drives Mickey’s choices and desires through the book. The book is, after all, called The Gods of Guilt. I wanted Mickey to be operating from a standpoint of seeking redemption in his daughter’s eyes, and if he succeeded, then he would save the relationship that means so much to him and ease the guilt that weighs him down as the story begins.

But here’s the catch—or, I should say, the challenge. I did not want Mickey and Hayley to have a single exchange of dialogue in the book, let alone meet face-to-face. I thought this was necessary, at least in the first half of the book, to underscore how deep the rift was between this father and daughter and how difficult it would be to bridge the gap. I wanted Mickey’s efforts to reach out and to explain his actions to be unrequited. I wanted his phone calls to go unanswered, his texts unreturned. When the centerpiece trial got underway, I wanted Mickey to turn from the defense table to look for his daughter in the public gallery, only to see she was not there.

I hope you pay attention to this as you read my novel. I know there is one scene where Mickey watches his daughter from afar, and another off the page where Hayley visits without Mickey really knowing it—you’ll understand what that means if you read the book. You’ll then be able to decide if the challenge was successfully met, and if it was the right choice. Can the father-daughter relationship be the true center of the book if the two principles never talk to one another on the page? You be the judge.

— Michael Connelly

Q&A with Kass Morgan, author of "The 100"

The 100Ever since a devastating nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth's radioactive surface. Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents--considered expendable by society--are being sent on a dangerous mission: to recolonize the planet. It could be their second chance at life...or it could be a suicide mission. Find out which when you read The 100.

What was the inspiration behind The 100?

Kass Morgan: My editor, Joelle, had the idea for a title and thought it’d be fun to develop a book about a hundred kids with dangerous secrets sent to recolonize a nuclear war-ravaged Earth. I came on board early in the process and called on a lot of my own interests, coloring the story with shades of everything from Lord of the Flies to the Homecoming Saga, which was a major influence for me.

What was the most fun part about writing?

Kass Morgan: I enjoyed putting myself in the mindset of people who were seeing Earth for the first time after spending their whole lives on a spaceship. It was fascinating to think about the things we typically associate with beauty—sunsets, trees, rivers etc.—and then imagine what it’d be like if someone without our vocabulary had to describe them. Is a sunset intrinsically beautiful? Or is it something we’ve only been programmed to think is beautiful? Perhaps for someone who grew up among the stars, a mossy rock or even the body of a dead animal would have more impact than streaks of color in the sky.

Did you discover any tricks or tools during the writing process?

Kass Morgan: The story is told from four different POVs, which can be a little tricky for a writer, so I created four different playlists to help me get back into that character’s headspace when it was time to switch to a new section. But in the end, I found myself listening to the same few songs over and over again—tracks that I used to skip over because they reminded me of past relationships. Those songs turned out to be incredibly useful tools for tapping into memories of heartache, which as everyone knows, is an essential part of writing YA.

I’m also an editor, and I’ve spent years listening to my mentor talk about torturing characters—putting them in situations that evoke strong emotions and force them to act. But now I think it’s just as crucial to torture the writer! Listening to those songs proved so helpful that I decided to take the process one step further: I found really emotional emails I wrote (and received) at the end of an important relationship, which allowed me to recall all the fascinating anguish of heartbreak and guilt.

I may not know firsthand what it’s like to set foot on earth for the first time, but I can imagine what it’s like to be a strange, scary new place with the person you believe poisoned the world you left behind. 

How does it feel to have your book being turned into a TV show?

Kass Morgan: It’s awesomely surreal! I got to see the pilot, which was so exciting, I could barely sit still. It was crazy to see characters I created on screen, almost like turning on the TV and seeing last night’s dream being played out in front of you. The writers and producers did a fantastic job adapting the story for the different medium, and I can’t wait to see what fun ways they devise for torturing the characters!

I was particularly excited when Henry Ian Cusick was cast as the Vice Chancellor. I had a big crush on him during LOST, so the fact that he’s involved in THE 100 sort of blows my mind. If I weren’t the consummate professional, I might just tweak the plot to involve a shirtless scene or two . . .

The 100 is coming out in the middle of a big science fiction moment, with movies like Elysium, After Earth, Star Trek etc.  Do you have any theories about why it’s become part of the cultural zeitgeist?

Kass Morgan: I think science fiction is the natural evolution of the dystopian trend. Dystopian fiction and movies are a great way to examine our anxieties about the state of the world, but to me, sci-fi is a vehicle for exploring the solutions. In some ways, it feels more nuanced, more aware of the grey areas between good and evil.

Did we catch a dig at vampire novels at one point in THE 100?

Kass Morgan: Definitely not a dig! I’m a big fan of vampire novels; I think I wrote at least four essays on Dracula in college and grad school. Part of the fun of sci-fi/post-apocalyptic fiction is imagining which elements of a culture will withstand the collapse of civilization. Will our descendants be more interested in our twitter addiction or vampire obsession? How will future generations of school children analyze our peculiarities in their history homework?

How’s the sequel coming along?

Kass Morgan: I’ve having a ton of fun writing the second book, and just spent a delightful weekend writing in the woods. It’s great for the forest scenes, though less useful for the scenes on the ship. Maybe I should take my laptop to the planetarium this weekend? I wonder if they have free wifi and Stumptown coffee...

Guest Blogger: Holly Black, author of "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown"

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from best-selling author Holly Black.

When I was in seventh grade, I bought a novel for twenty-five cents at a garage sale a couple of blocks from my house. I picked it up even though it had a hilarious photographic cover of three glum-looking people in white face paint and even though I was worried something with vampire in the title would gross me out. The book was Interview with the Vampire, and I must have read it a hundred times since then. It led me to read Tanith Lee’s Sabella, or the Blood Stone, all Les Daniels’s Don Sebastian de Villanueva books, Suzy McKee Charnas’s The Vampire Tapestry, Nancy Collins’s Sunglasses After Dark, and lots more.

I obsessed. In seventh grade, I wore a vintage satin vampire cape to school. In eighth grade, I wrote a massive research paper on vampire folklore.

Looking back, I wonder why I liked them so much and why that fascination endured. I think its because they are contradictory creatures. They’re elegant yet animal. They were like us humans once, but now they’re monstrous. They’ll live forever and at the same time, they’re already dead. And they need us, because they need to drink our salty, delicious, disgusting blood.

They’re us with the brakes cut. Us, without consequences. Our worst, best – most extraordinary, most powerful – selves. The part we secretly love.

But as much as I wrote about vampires as a kid, I didn’t think I would ever write a vampire novel as an adult. I’d loved so many vampire books – and there are so many great ones, so many beloved ones – I just didn’t know if I had anything to add to the conversation. So when I was asked to write a short story for an anthology, I thought back to all the things I loved about vampires when I was a kid and I thought about all the stuff I loved about them now that I was an adult.

I started wondering how the world would experience an outbreak of real, blood-drinking monsters. We already, as a culture, love serial killers. We’re already obsessed with the beautiful, the doomed, and the damned. Imagine how much weirder and worse it could get. Imagine a walled-off, quarantined city where parties live-stream to the Internet. Imagine that the vampires there don’t kill a human every night, but when they do, everyone tunes in.

Did you know that during rally car races, the audience would watch from the side of the track, despite the fact that the cars often plunged into the crowd? It got so that having your leg broken by a famous rally car racer was a mark of distinction. And while laws were passed to make the sport safer – spectators kept right on lining up until they were forbidden from doing so.

We love wrecks. We love disasters. In our domesticated, civilized hearts is a yearning to get close to danger and escape, but also – maybe -- to watch others get too close and not escape.

Which is maybe why one of quickest paths to something like fame is through doing something disastrous – either on television or online. Criminals get caught after posting pictures of themselves with the loot they robbed on their Facebook pages. Three of the most popular videos of all time on YouTube are two men fighting on a city bus, a college student being tasered for loudly questioning Governor John Kerry and, a lady stomping grapes who falls and makes loud wheezing noises while trying to get up.

We love to watch things go badly for people.

And in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the world has gone badly for seventeen-year-old Tana Bach. She’s conflicted about the idea of monstrousness, having grown up with posters of literal monsters on the walls of her friends’ bedrooms, monsters with their own YouTube channels. She’s used to seeing girls and boys become famous by becoming dead.

So one morning she wakes up after a party, where she passed out in a bathtub, to find almost all the other partygoers drained of blood. She could be infected herself. She has to go on a road trip through the night with her ex-boyfriend, who is raging with infection and thirsty for blood, and one other person—the first monster she’s ever met, the first one who hasn’t been on the other side of a TV or computer screen.

Tana has had the world presented to her one way, but being among the monsters, is very, very different. What might seem glamorous from a distance is horrific close up. She’s got to save herself, but she can’t help but be tempted to try to save others too – and that temptation will cost her a lot of things, maybe even her humanity.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is full of stuff I love—all the messy, messed-up stuff. It’s the book I always wanted, the one I never knew I would write. But most of all, it’s a book about a girl discovering her inner monster and learning to love it.

--Holly Black

Exclusive Q&A with Jonathan Maberry on Zombies

Author and zombie expert Jonathan Maberry shares his insight about the undead phenomenon in popular culture, the differences between writing prose novels and comics, and his work on the "Marvel Universe vs." line of graphic novels.

Zombies seem to pervade pop culture these days.  What do you think is the appeal for readers? And what is the appeal for you as a writer?

Jonathan Maberry: It took a while for the mainstream to catch-on, but zombies are about the most useful trope for telling just about any kind of story.  You can’t say the same with vampires because they’ve become so highly romanticized that they’ve become the story. Often they're more interesting than the human characters, and after a while that can hit a single, grating note. Zombified Jonathan Maberry

With zombies, the creatures have no personality, no intelligence; they don’t crowd the humans out of the story. They represent a massive, shared threat that every character in the story reacts to, and once introduced it’s often best not to have them shamble through every scene. Because everyone is reacting to this same threat, and because the monster’s personality in no way intrudes, we get to put the human characters under the microscope. We get to see how this shared threat impacts their lives. People under stress are the very basis of drama.

Thematically, the zombie plague is a protean metaphor. It can stand for something different to each writer and even, through interpretation, to each reader/viewer.  In World War Z, Max Brooks chose to explore the way politics might interfere with the response to a viral outbreak.  Joe McKinney uses his series of novels as a way of showcasing the failure of the government’s disaster response infrastructure. S.G. Browne explored more personal matters of love and disenfranchisement in Breathers. Charlie Higson gave us a new version of the Generation Gap with The Enemy.

I’ve used zombies to explore a lot of different themes in my novels, comics and short stories. In Patient Zero I took a look at how biotech industries can use science to manipulate politics in order to maximize profits. In Dead of Night and its forthcoming sequel Fall of Night, the story deals with the moral issues of using (or even preserving for research purposes) the biological warfare science of the Cold War. That book also uses a creepy point-of-view subplot to explore dementia and Alzheimers. In Rot & Ruin and its sequels we explore the value of human life.

There’s no end to the creative potential of the zombie genre.

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