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Guest Blogger: Marcus Sedgwick on "She Is Not Invisible"

SheisnotinvisibleI’m thrilled to be heading for Las Vegas in June to collect the Printz Award for Midwinterblood—it’s still sinking in what a wonderful thing this is—but I’m also delighted to be able to get out on the road in April and meet lots of readers in schools, libraries, and conventions in a ten-day book tour from New York to Houston and back up to Chicago. I’ll be mostly speaking about She Is Not Invisible, a book that I’d been trying to write for around eight years. The outward form of the book is an adventure story about a girl whose writer-father goes missing in the middle of his research for his latest book. When no one else seems interested in tracking him down, she decides to do it herself. What the book is actually about, however, is coincidence.

Everyone loves coincidences—that tingling sensation on your neck when something weird happens to you is really intriguing. But as the years of thinking about how to write about them ticked by, I came to a conclusion: writing about coincidence is hard. For one thing, you yourself can be greatly amused by some relatively low-key moment of synchronicity, but when you try and tell someone else about it, you’re usually met with feigned interest at best or at worst utter boredom. How to convey that sense of excitement that is so personal, so interior?

For another thing, and to be blunt, overly convenient moments in books are what bad writers use to cover up holes in their plot. And as readers we’re very, very good at spotting such things.

So writing about coincidence is hard. That might not seem like much of a statement, but it was enough to give me the key to writing this book: rather than write a book about coincidence, I chose to write a book about a writer writing a book about coincidence. That made my life much easier and meant I still got to discuss all the ideas that thinkers like Einstein, Jung, Koestler, and many others have had on the subject, and yet on the surface keep the form of a sensibly plotted novel, which, with one deliberate exception, I hope steers a safe course through the dangerous waters of the Sea of Overly Convenient Moments.

There’s one other thing about the book and coincidence—and this sounds a little weird—but throughout my life I feel that a particular number has been following me. It’s not a very sexy number; it’s 354, but I feel that I see this number way more often than you should see any given three-digit number. In the novel I discuss ways of understanding such things—ideas around informational bias and apophenia (pattern recognition in random data), but I’ll finish with just one example of what I mean; the kind of thing that inspired me to write She Is Not Invisible. My first trip to New York was about ten years ago. I’d been brought to the city by my publisher, who, this being a very special occasion (I’d been shortlisted for the Poe Awards), sent a limo out to JFK to pick me up. As I got into the car I saw it had a pool number painted on its side; I smiled as I saw “my” number again, 354. The limo drove me into Manhattan, to my hotel, where I checked in to find I had been put in room 354. I love stuff like that, so when I wrote the book, I thought it might be fun to “hide” 354 in the book in as many ways as I could, some of which are obvious, some of which I doubt will ever be seen.

Duck & Goose's Coastal Vacation

In the latest Duck & Goose book, Duck & Goose Go to the Beach, out on April 8, the feathered friends embark on a seaside adventure. Check out exclusive, unused artwork from the book courtesy of author Tad Hills.

Here's an early painting of Duck & Goose without their sun hats, and a final one with their sun hats. Author Tad Hills created a few early paintings of Duck & Goose hatless, but then decided that adding hats would give the characters a distinctly beachy look. After all, everyone needs a sun hat at the beach—even a duck and a goose!   Duck and goose no hats

Nine Pieces of Life Advice from the Mole Sisters

It's never too early to learn about the simple things in life. Rosyln Schwartz's iconic duo offers advice for young readers.

Step away from the noise of everyday life and rekindle the magic of childlike wonder. Take a moment to savor these words from the lovable Mole Sisters, who have truly perfected the art of simple pleasures.                                                           

1. Sometimes life gives you what you need.

2-sometimes

2. Practice gratitude.                              3. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

5-practical                 6-dontbeafraid

 

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Exclusive Q&A with Scott Snyder on Batman Eternals and more

Check out what Scott Snyder had to say about the new Batman Eternal weekly series, The Wake, and American Vampire when he sat down with us at Emerald City Comic Con.

BatmaneternalCharlie Chang: In today’s entertainment world, people are so used to consuming their media on a weekly basis like weekly TV shows. Injustice has been a great example of how comics can do the same. Being a weekly series how do you handle pacing for a weekly book like Batman Eternal?

Scott Snyder: With the rise of so many shows and comics that you can binge on, that’s all really changed the way we’re writing a series where there will be cliffhangers and that same sense of suspense and tease where as a writer you have to try and make the reader wait a week for that next issue. There’s also a great expansiveness to a series that’s weekly where there isn’t the same need to keep them at the edge of their seat for the month as opposed to building this cumulative, terrifying, and rolling propulsive plot. It’s more like “Oh my god that just got moved forward a big step, how are they going to have 52 issues worth by the end when the big terrible thing looks like it’s coming now?” So it’s not so much how will the character(s) get out of this predicament in the next issue but this building dread that something huge is coming in the series. That is really fun to play with because you don’t have that kind of room on a monthly book and it’s a different set of priorities in your own writing, I really enjoy it.

CC: How do you think about this series from a character focus? How do you bring a huge cast of characters into a weekly book while still making sure that the plot is moving and that readers know where to focus?

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Two Things We Get Wrong About Social Mobility

Michael Goodwin, author of Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures, discusses the challenges with getting ahead in the world. 51rFM2e87lL

A recent study claims that social mobility in the U.S. hasn’t changed for the last several decades. (See “Upward Mobility Has Not Declined, Study Says” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, January 23, 2014.) The paper received a lot of attention; after all, most of us think it’s harder to get ahead than it used to be.

And we’re right. The paper looks at one type of social mobility, and not the important type.

Think of a ladder with a hundred rungs, with a person on each rung. The paper looks at our ability to climb the ladder—the chance that, say, someone born on rung 20 can climb to rung 80.

And it’s true that it’s no harder for a child born at the bottom to climb to the top than it was in the 1970s. (It’s not easy, compared to other countries, but it’s no harder.)

But that type of mobility isn’t what we should be looking at. After all, it’s a zero-sum game—you can’t climb up a rung without pushing someone else down.

By contrast, here’s what social mobility used to look like. Check out how real after-tax incomes increased just from 1941 to 1950 (in constant dollars):

Income rank

Change in After-Tax Income, 1941-1950

Bottom 20%

+42%

Next 20%

+37%

Middle 20%

+24%

Next 20%

+16%

Top 20%

+8%

Source: The Review of Economics and Statistics, Selma Goldsmith, et. al., Vol. 36, No. 1, The MIT Press, Feb., 1954.

So if you were on, say, the 40th rung, your income improved even if you stayed on that rung. An entire generation rose into the middle class, not because other people dropped out of it, but because more people could afford a middle-class lifestyle.

That’s the type of social mobility we want, and that’s what we’ve lost. Where the ladder used to lengthen, carrying us up even if we stayed on the same rung, now we’re lucky to stay even. All too often, people who stay on the same rung fall out of the middle class. (See “The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.” by Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, February 2, 2014.)

Why did this happen? Was it, as Time says (in “Time to Talk About Inequality” by Rana Foroohar, February 10, 2014), the unavoidable result of “the forces of globalization and technology?”

If that sounds odd to you, you’re right—we had technology and trade in the mid-20th century, and economic law hasn’t somehow completely reversed itself since then. And other countries share our technology, and trade in the same world, without squeezing their middle class out of existence.

What’s really changed is our politics. In the mid-20th century our economic policies were designed to expand the middle class. Since the 1980s, our policies—whatever their official justifications—have been designed to concentrate wealth at the very top. In both cases, the policies worked.

For instance, check out the income tax, circa 1948:

Income

Income left over after federal income tax

$1,000

$1,000

$5,000

$4,300

$20,000

$13,800

$200,000

$52,000

$1 million

$161,000

Source: Paul Samuelson, Economics, McGraw-Hill, 1948, p173.

To turn that into current dollars, add a zero—a 1948 dollar had roughly ten times the purchasing power of a 2013 dollar (see this CPI Inflation Calculator). So someone who made the equivalent of $10 million would get to keep only a little more than a million and a half.

In the government’s hands, that money became spending and jobs.

Today, billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries (see “Buffett says he's still paying lower tax rate than his secretary” by Chris Isidore @CNNMoney, March 4, 2013) and that’s if they pay taxes at all (see “Millionaires Don't Pay Taxes?” by Dennis Romero, LAWeekly, Mon, Aug 8, 2011). They sit on that money (see “How the rich save today” by Lora Shinn, Bankrate.com), while the government can barely afford to stay open at all.

So we get two things wrong about social mobility. It is falling, and it’s not due to the impersonal operation of economic laws. If we want to return to the sort of mobility we used to have—where “getting ahead” didn’t mean leaving someone else behind—we should try returning to the sort of policies that favor the middle class.

Certainly, favoring the rich hasn’t helped anyone except the rich.

New Heroes for New Days

91c4ZDFCn1L._SL1500_Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.

Often, separating who we are from what we do is a difficult proposition, which makes it very hard to make a transition from, say, normal society into, say, a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I am an editor, for example. I have very little know-how when it comes to the natural world and surviving in it. Should there be a zombie outbreak, I can swing a bat or pull a trigger, but forget about setting a snare or making a battery out of tinfoil and pennies. So what does my identity get me when the thing that gave me value in society suddenly has no more value? The short answer is that I would need to re-think what I can bring to the table, quickly. 

Fortunes change in an instant. When the president’s plane goes down in the convict colony of Manhattan, one the most notorious criminals in the nation can become the only hope for bringing out the commander-in-chief alive. A mild-mannered clerk at S-Mart, with the help of an intra-dimensional portal, can become a god-like warrior in the Middle Ages. These are the stories of the American Dream in many respects. Given the right circumstances, we can always become more than whom or what we are supposed to be.

That’s why I think Daryl is the best character on AMC’s Walking Dead. He was a self-confessed deadbeat, following his idiot brother from criminal enterprise to whatever redneck scheme they could cook up. Daryl’s loyalty to his brother was a detriment in the regular world, but in the face of the zombie plague his loyalty helps him create an identity for himself as protector and provider, a useful and trustworthy member of his tribe.

The first time I encountered this type of character was with Cottard from the Albert Camus classic, The Plague, and I believe he is the first character of this type. Cottard begins the story as a criminal. He is depressed and exhibits guilt for an unnamed crime. He even goes so far as to try to end his own life. His fortunes change when his city is quarantined with the bubonic plague. With the dire nature of the outbreak, his crime seems more distant. He finds himself in a position to be a valued member of the town as a black marketer. His criminality in this new context is a virtue.

I love the idea that vice can become virtue in the right situation, or that a different, more successful self can emerge from chaotic situations. There is a forthcoming book that is building a little buzz on this front. Due in August, Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley details a world on the wrong side of an economic collapse in which intellectual capital isn’t what it used to be. People unable to pay their student loans are subject to “repossession therapy” in which the government takes back a person’s education. Within the context of self-actualization in the face of cataclysmic change, Chimpanzee has a tremendous amount of promise. I, for one, am really looking forward to it.

But what about now?  What can I read today? Billed as Cast Away meets Apollo 13, The Martian by Andy Weir is a book about survival in the face of imminent death. This book is less about identity than the previous titles, but it certainly tackles reinvention and the reclamation of one’s situation. The lead character is a part of manned mission to Mars in which he is left behind for dead on the surface of the red planet. Let’s just say the character’s ingenuity and perseverance go way beyond DIY batteries in his struggle to stay alive.

I think we all hope for that turn in life’s current that will help us swim better and faster than we thought we could. Some may even hope for an apocalypse that will revalue society’s virtues. Fiction allows us to experience these inversals of fortune from a rather safe distance. When it’s very good fiction, it maybe even shows us a way to change our own lives for the better. Is there a book that has given you a new perspective on life, love, happiness . . . or the zombie apocalypse? Maybe you can point to other characters like Cottard who are able to reinvent themselves when things hit the fan (Thomas Covenant comes to mind). Tell us about it in the comments.

The Single Biggest Mistake of My Entire Creative Life

41NclV8WIkLOff to Be the Wizard author Scott Meyer reflects on how his past experiences have influenced his writing.

I am currently a novelist and a cartoonist, but before all that I was a stand-up comic. It was at the beginning of my comedy career that I made the single biggest mistake of my entire creative life.

No, it was not becoming a stand-up comic in the first place. (Though you could make that argument. Someday, have me tell you about the time I performed between rounds at a boxing match).

When I was a young comic trying to build up an act’s worth of material, I read any book or article I got my hands on that had anything to do with joke writing. One day I read that when Woody Allen was a stand-up, he wrote at least twenty jokes a day. I read that and thought, That’s fine for him. He’s a genius.

Having that thought, and believing it, was the biggest mistake of my creative life, possibly my entire life. By deciding that he could write twenty jokes a day because he was better than me, I also decided that I couldn’t, and even worse, gave myself permission not to even try. Instead, I bought into the idea that I could only write when I was feeling inspired.

I did write, and I came up with some material of which I am still quite proud, like my theory that Moby Dick was really about marriage. (The whale’s wearing white, and once Ahab’s lashed to it permanently, the whale gets rid of his friends and his boat!) Unfortunately, it took me forever to build up an act I was proud of, and once I had a joke that worked I was reluctant to replace it with something new. People who came to see me often got to where they could lip-synch my act, which is not as flattering for a comedian as it is for a band.

Eventually, I burned out on comedy. I still wanted a creative outlet, so I decided to try creating a comic strip. That’s when I started producing Basic Instructions.

The thing about a comic strip is that you have to produce it on a schedule. You can’t wait for inspiration. The word balloons must be filled. This time, I decided to actually try, instead of just deciding I wasn’t up to the challenge. As you may have guessed, I found that I could write on demand. I’m not saying that everything I write is brilliant, mind you, but in retrospect, neither did Woody Allen. I have certain standards, and if I don’t have any ideas that are up to those standards, I keep at it until I think of something else. Often, comics that I thought were only barely good enough to publish turn out to be reader favorites, which I find both encouraging and worrying.

When they saw my comic strip, almost all of my stand-up comic friends asked the same question: “How many of these do you think you’ll be able to do?”

So far, I’ve created over 900 installments of the comic, most of which are available in book form. Now I’ve also completed two novels, Off to Be the Wizard and Spell or High Water. I am finishing work on a third novel, which I hope to have out by the end of the year. People tell me they’re amazed by my output. That’s flattering, but I’m irritated that it took me so long to really get started.

The hero of my novels is a man in his early twenties who makes a lot of mistakes. That’s me writing what I know.

Q&A with Caroline Linden and Laura Lee Guhrke

In this exclusive Q&A, romance authors Caroline Linden and Laura Lee Guhrke discuss how scandals shape their storytelling, and their upcoming scandalous romances, "It Takes a Scandal" and "How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days."

Caroline Linden: As soon as I heard we were going to be on the Kindle Blog to talk about storytelling, I knew exactly where to start, where many good books start: with a shockingly sensational scandal.

Laura Lee Guhrke: I adore scandals.

CL: Scandals, of course, occur when people break the rules. Historically there were many more rules to break, especially regarding love and courtship, and the consequences could be extreme. I think that's why scandals are central to many historical romances; they push characters out of their ruts and force them to confront new realities.

TakesAScandalCropLLG: Well, if people got to live comfortable lives, where everyone else thought they were wonderful, who’d want to read that? I think it was Laura Kinsale who said, “Prince Charming is boring. So is Princess Charming.” And romances have lots of scandal, so romance readers must like it as much as we do.

CL: I agree. And there are so many forms it can take. In my book, It Takes a Scandal, the scandal is the very fact that Abigail and Sebastian fall for each other. She's an heiress with ambitious parents: a girl who must marry well. He's the mysterious neighbor who's a suspected thief and murderer: the last man any girl should want. Falling in love with each other is the exact wrong thing to do, and yet…

HowtoLoseaDukeCropLLG: Forbidden love always makes for a juicy scandal. Of course, there’s also scandal from the past that haunts a girl forever. In How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days, Edie knows the only way to get past the scandal that ruined her is to marry well, but a husband is the last thing she wants. When she meets Stuart, the indebted Duke of Margrave, she thinks he’s the key to wiping out her past, so she proposes a marriage of convenience that pays his debts and sends him off to Africa forever. Problem is, he won’t stay gone…

CL: I love marriage of convenience stories! 

LLG: Believe it or not, this is the first one I’ve written. Twenty books, and this is my first marriage of convenience.

CL: Talk about forcing people out of their comfortable ruts! It's almost the reverse of forbidden love: instead of two people who desperately want each other, yet must overcome the objections of family and society to be together, the marriage of convenience is about two people who've got each other, but need to overcome their conviction that they shouldn't want each other.

LLG: Oh, Stuart wants Edie. He makes no bones about it. But it takes him the whole book to win her over.

CL: The best part is always how the characters triumph over their scandal. It seems there's a narrow winding path that leads them out of trouble into happily-ever-after, and they have to make difficult, painful, choices along the way—Sebastian must ask for help from the people who helped ruin him, for instance. But that happily-ever-after is very special when they've gone through that much ordeal.

LLG: Your story sounds so good! Especially the part where Sebastian has to put his pride in his pocket for Abigail’s sake. Regardless of how the scandal happens, the best scandal-based romances force the characters to overcome not only the scandal but the emotional baggage that comes with it.

CL: I can only imagine how much baggage Edie must overcome, coping with a husband she didn't expect to see, let alone one who wants her so desperately when she doesn’t want him. I'm glad Stuart changes her mind.

LLG: I think readers will be glad, too. After all, the only thing better than a scandal is a happy ending!

Readers, what's the best resolution you've ever read to a scandal? Or do you prefer not to read scandals at all? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

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Author Seeking Ax Murderer

51071eN1hrLAnia Alhborn, the author of The Bird Eater gives us a glimpse into her childhood and her inspiration behind writing horror.

I recall watching a Stephen King interview on YouTube. It was one of those auditorium jobs. Fans were allowed to shimmy up to the microphone and ask their favorite author their deepest, most burning questions. Sitting at my computer, I patiently waited for the inquiry I knew was coming. It came like clockwork. “What happened to you?” a fan asked Stephen. The crowd erupts into laughter while Stephen looks bemused.

I can relate to that look. It gets tiring explaining that you’re as normal as the next guy, you just have a really weird imagination. Most people aren’t satisfied with that non-answer. They want trauma. They yearn for demons spilling out of childhood closets. But if the answer is always “nothing happened”, what is it about horror authors that make them write what they write?

To that I say: some people are born under a bad sign, and some are born under a dark one. For those of us who write in this genre, our imagination consistently leads us into the shadows. We see the gruesome possibilities other people ignore or are too afraid to dream up themselves. That’s simply the nature of who we are. It’s the way we were made.

As a kid, I was drawn to things like cemeteries and horror movies and abandoned buildings for no reason at all. My parents certainly didn’t encourage me to snoop around an ivy-covered shack that could have housed a hungry witch, and they didn’t pull back the chain link for me while I snuck into the cemetery that butted up against our yard. My mother didn’t know what she was renting when I slid The Exorcist across the counter at the video store. I still remember holding my breath on that one, hoping she wouldn’t notice that it was about demons and kids, praying that I wouldn’t be given marching orders to go pick out some lame Disney flick instead. I’ve always loved Halloween, even after being chased by a masked lunatic wielding a real, buzzing chainsaw over his head. You’d think that would have turned any kid off of the candy-grubbing holiday for good. Not me. I just started daydreaming about those crazed people, about demons and monsters and haunted cemeteries and what a kid like me would do if I had to face them alone. I had as normal a childhood as anyone else, but I remember those scary moments the most fondly. Horror, it seems, is simply in my blood.

Some say, “you must really like scaring people”. Yes, I do, but I also like scaring myself. Writing books like The Bird Eater takes me back to my childhood—the haunted house, the possibility of a sharp-toothed kid leering in the shadows. How I wish I could relive that single Halloween night. Perhaps that’s what we’re all dreaming of when we tuck into bed with a new horror novel. We’re hoping to relive misspent youth. We want to run from the ax murderer. We hope that he’s waiting for us, patiently poised with the edge of his blade glinting in the moonlight. We love horror because fear is an exquisite emotion. It makes our nerves stand on end and reminds us that we can still kick and scream. And as long as we can still do that, surely, we must still be alive.

Exclusive Sketch of Batman by Francis Manapul

In honor of the 75th Anniversary of Batman, we've got an exclusive sketch by Francis Manapul. Check out the details in the buildings!

Francis Manapul Batman sketch[1]

 

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