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Guest Post by Blake Crouch, Author of the Wayward Pines Series

Blake_crouch_author_photo_2013Blake Crouch, author of The Wayward Pines Series, talks about his favorite thrillers set in remote locations and small towns:

I’m definitely more of a thriller than a mystery guy. I love huge, high-concept ideas, supported by a breathless pace. There is something uniquely terrifying and claustrophobic about taking a huge story and placing it in a small town, in the middle of the forest, or a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  When you can’t just call for help and have the entire might of the NYC police force rush to your aid, the stakes somehow feel higher, and hope is suddenly in short supply. Here’s my top 6 list for these kinds of thrillers that have set the bar for everything else I read:

Testament – David Morrell

If you think James Dickey’s Deliverance is the ultimate man against nature/survivalist thriller, check out Morrell’s second novel about a family on the run in the mountains of Wyoming. Unrelenting and not afraid to delve into the darkest of places.

Vertical Run – Joseph Garber

What if you went to work one day and everyone you saw tried to kill you? I’m such a sucker for setups like that and this thriller pays it off in spades. Also, the book’s framing device, which takes place in the remote, High Sierra, is some of my favorite writing of all time.

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Will this high-concept thriller about dinosaurs brought to life in our time ever be topped? I’m not holding my breath. Intelligent, scary, lightning-paced, and all in support of the coolest idea ever put to page. This is the thriller all other thrillers want to be when they grow up.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

So unbelievably sad and so gorgeously written. Much of it is just a father and son wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, covered in ash, but when McCarthy turns up the juice, your heart won’t be able to stand the tension.

Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane

A paranoid, WTF-is-happening thriller if ever there was one, and the reveal at the end, so rare in novels like this, will leave your jaw on the floor.

The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

I hesitate to even put this novel on the list. You shouldn’t read it. It’s dark, dark, dark, upsetting, and did I mention dark? But something about this story of a young girl who’s being kept in a basement in an otherwise quintessential American neighborhood is the most compelling thing I’ve read in a decade.


Guest Post by Karen Harper: Small Towns Are Scary

91rRsF9%2B8KL.__AA300_[1]New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper walks us through the twist and turns of her romantic suspense novels that take place in small towns where eccentric characters abound and the enemy is too often “us.”  It’s someone the heroine knows and trusts, someone who is keeping deadly secrets.  What a great contrast:  a charming Americana ambience vs. fear and terror.  And often, with a small police force, average citizens must help solve crimes which seem worse in a rural than an urban setting.

In my new Appalachian suspense novels, small town, rural settings really up the ante for an average woman facing fear and crime.  When a murder or kidnapping occurs in such a charming place, the shock is magnified over that of urban crime, where we almost expect something to go wrong.  A long-deserted, picturesque barn can provide a setting more scary than an empty urban apartment building.  Many Americans long to escape to the country, but danger lurks there too, the kind that seems more dreadful set amidst fields and forests, quaint stores and down home restaurants.    

In Shattered Secrets, the first book in The Cold Creek trilogy, (with Forbidden Ground and Broken Bonds to follow at two-month intervals) danger hides in the tall cornfield surrounding a charming, old farmhouse.  Appalachian foothills loom over the rural area and small town of Cold Creek where young girls have been disappearing for decades. 

I love setting terrifying events in lovely settings because being pushed into a grain silo can be as deadly as a bullet in my suspense novels.  Fear is much more primitive and unsettling.  In a way, this is Stephen King territory, but in my books, there is a dangerous love story also woven throughout and an uplifting ending.

 Although strange people and unique criminals can certainly abound in the big, bad city, I have found small town and rural characters to be more eccentric, unique and therefore, fascinating.  Often the villain is someone known to the main characters, which means betrayal and treachery on an intimate, personal level.  Sadly—tragically—the enemy is too often “us,” someone trusted and perhaps loved. 

I’m always thrilled when readers tell me they had no clue who the murderer or kidnapper was until the last chapter.  One of my favorite reviews said it best: “Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end.”  (Booklist, starred review, on Fall From Pride.)

The isolation of people in small towns and the surrounding rural fields and forests means help is not just a quick phone call away as in the city.  In some rural areas with rolling hills, especially in the Appalachians, cell phones don’t work.  Even with moonlight and starlight, it can be intensely dark in the country at night, and, of course, really dark scenes work well too.  I’ve also written two trilogies set among the Ohio Amish, who only use lanterns and don’t want to call the police, even if they have a public phone nearby.  And getting help in a horse and buggy can mean a long ride on a dark road.

 Police in rural areas can be a great distance away, even if someone in danger can get through to them.  In my Maple Creek trilogy, my Dark Road Home trilogy, and now in the new Cold Creek trilogy, the small police force tries its best, but danger seems much more terrifying in what should be a safe setting, especially if the heroine, with the hero’s help, must save her own life. 

An old, abandoned insane asylum, a defunct coal mine, an Indian burial mound—you may never look at small town and rural life the same way again if you read a Karen Harper romantic suspense novel!  Keep the lights on at night and your window locked.  Enjoy!

Exclusive Q&A with Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor is the man behind DC's hit alternate universe books, Injustice: Gods Among Us and Earth 2. Check out what Tom has to tell us about the joys of writing outside continuity and where these two books are headed. 6192R7rQB7L

How do you think Injustice characters would fare against their Earth 2 counterparts?

Tom Taylor: Earth 2 is a very new world and, for the most part, our heroes are very inexperienced and still learning what it is to be a hero. Generally, the Injustice heroes would kick the ass of their Earth 2 counterparts.

However, for those who don’t know, (SPOILER INCOMING - highlight the text to continue reading) Batman of Earth 2 is actually Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne, so it would be very interesting if those two came face-to-face. They’d probably fight a bit. Then try to out-stubborn each other. And then, finally, just go and hunt down the Joker together for some good old-fashioned violent, cathartic, father-son bonding time.

Interestingly, I think Green Lantern of Earth 2 may be the clear winner between the two. Alan Scott is about to demonstrate some absolutely astonishing power. I’m not sure how Hal Jordan would go standing up to that.

When it comes to the Supermen, our new Superman of Earth 2, Val, is a really pure soul and a pacifist, so he wouldn’t fight Injustice Superman. He’d try to talk to him… which probably wouldn’t end well because Injustice Superman is not so great with ‘talking’ anymore. He’s, sadly, more of a “heat-vision and ask questions later”-type of guy.

Val-Zod is taking over the mantle of the Man of Steel, what can readers expect from this new character? What's the main difference you see between him and a young Kal-El? 

Tom Taylor: Clark’s powers developed slowly and he had time to learn how to use them. He also had Ma and Pa Kent supporting him his whole life.

Val is a recently arrived refugee. He lost his parents when he was young and he’s spent most of his life in a capsule. He’s been thrust into a world he’s working quickly to understand, and his powers are coming faster than he could possibly deal with by himself. Fortunately he’s had Lois Lane to help him through this.

Val is a very innocent young man and he’s a pacifist. While Superman grew up knowing that sometimes conflict is necessary, Val believes violence is the single most stupid response to anything.

The characters in Earth 2 and Injustice have to be different and distinct, how do you distinguish the characters in these two series?

Tom Taylor: They really are just completely different people, so it’s not too hard to distinguish them. The only hard bit is living inside all of their heads every day while I write them.

You’re working on two titles that give you a lot of free reign; can you talk a little about what that’s like?

Tom Taylor: It’s a different freedom on each book but there’s still a great amount of freedom in both worlds. A lot of writers like notes and structure and always knowing where a story is going. I am most definitely not one of these writers.

For me, there’s nothing worse than a great idea coming from nowhere but being stuck in an unbreakable mould. I revel in being able to change a story when a character comes along and changes it.

You can’t write Harley Quinn and know what she’s going to say or do ahead of time.

Earth 2 is building toward the upcoming weekly comic Earth 2: World’s End, are you laying the groundwork for that now?

Tom Taylor: Some of the groundwork is being laid, definitely, but we really want to finish the story we’ve been telling for the last year first. Our heroes have been fighting without joy for too long. It’s time to give them some hope.

Tom Taylor can be followed on twitter @TomTaylorMade


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Who is the Shadow Hero? An Exclusive Interview with Gene Luen Yang

Go back in time and listen to an interview recorded last year with Gene Luen Yang where he talks to us about who The Shadow Hero is and where he comes from.

Click to Listen: Gene Yang Interview on The Shadow Hero


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The Man In Two Worlds

91-fHqP6OEL._SL1500_Ben H Winters, author of World of Trouble, shares with us how he went from writing mystery novels to being a sci-fi author.

A confession, science-fiction fans: I entered your world unintentionally. 

Like an astronaut crashing on an unknown planet, I was an accidental science-fiction author—although in truth I was an accidental mystery author first.

A bunch of years ago I wrote a novel for kids called The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman. I thought it was just a funny book about a teacher with a secret. 

But then folks said: “Hey! Great mystery novel!” 

I liked that. I liked being a mystery writer. I like mysteries. And so I wrote a novel for adults about a detective solving crimes that no one else cares about. To make it interesting, I came up with a very good reason  to why no one else cares: because Earth is on a collision course with a massive asteroid and civilization is about to end.

And then folks said: “Hey! Great science-fiction novel!” 

And so here I am, the “Man in Two Worlds”. The Last Policeman won the Edgar Award, for mystery writing, and then its sequel Countdown Citywon the Philip K. Dick Award, for science-fiction writing. 

Theoretically one could quibble with both designations and insist that the novels (including the third volume, World of Trouble, which comes out today) are more properly categorized as speculative fiction, the sci-fi subgenre that imagines and examines a hypothetical alteration in human history. Some of my favorite novels inhabit this category, especially Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and some of the best works by the aforementioned Philip K. Dick—I am particularly smitten with The Man in the High Castle

But, listen, I refuse to decide one way or another. I’d be a fool! First of all, like all writers, I want as many readers as possible: I want science-fiction readers, I want mystery readers, I want your Great-Aunt Judy who usually prefers romances but will go ahead and give this one a try because she likes the look of the cover. 

The other reason I refuse to decide is because one of the exhilarating things about this job is that you never really know what’s going to happen next, including what you yourself will come up with tomorrow. (Did I say exhilarating? I meant terrifying.) I could declare myself an Official Science-Fiction Writer, or an Official Mystery Writer, and then have a whiz-bang idea for a story about pirates, or one about a love affair, or one about this renegade zoo keeper who kidnaps these orangutans and—hey! Don’t steal my zookeeper idea, dude. 

Ira Levin is one of my all-time favorites, because he wrote Broadway thrillers and he wrote creepy horror and he wrote speculative fiction and he wrote about robots. He had good ideas and he went where they went. That’s my mission statement: to come up with good ideas and follow them, to whatever distant star I crash-land on next. 

Author Lindsay McKenna's Cinderella Story

Romance author Lindsay McKenna discusses her new release "Never Surrender" and character transformations.

NeverSurrenderCROPAs a romance writer, I’m always attracted to Cinderella stories where love transforms my characters, even in the most dire of times. Never Surrender is a Cinderella story that captures both the dark and the light of that beloved tale. Bay is thrown into a torturous situation, but through the undying love of Gabe Griffin, is able to heal and be the woman, and live the life, that destiny holds for her.

Baylee Ann Thorn is in love. She is a navy combat corpsman, part of a supersecret Pentagon project:  Operation Shadow Warriors. When ordered to work with a US Navy SEAL platoon out of Afghanistan, Bay met the warrior she would fall in love with, Chief Gabe Griffin.  

Because of her commitment to the top-secret program, one of forty women trained in combat to see if they could handle it, she is to be deployed one last time to Afghanistan before she marries Gabe. Their parting is bittersweet. Instead of the woman being left behind while the man goes overseas into combat, it is reversed. Gabe is fearful for her and that she’s been sent to an army special forces A-Team, not to the SEALs, as he’d hoped.

Bay comes from strong stock, the Hill people of West Virginia. Born and raised on Black Mountain, her marine corps father, Floyd, taught her to shoot at twelve, to track and live off the land. When Bay is captured by a Taliban leader, it is a combination of her own background and what Gabe has taught her as a SEAL sniper that will make the difference between her living and dying.  

Gabe gets orders cut to go over to Afghanistan to join the hunt to try and find Bay among the Hindu Kush mountains. He knows what the Taliban will do with a military woman and he has to control all his wild, anguished emotions and concentrate on finding her alive.

Bay is traumatized and tortured. It is her Hill backbone of steel combined with her fierce love of Gabe that gives her the strength to escape her captors and make a break for freedom. She knows if she’s caught, they’ll kill her.  But after what she has suffered already, death is a reprieve. Still, it is her love for Gabe that drives her to try. In the early-morning light, Bay hides from the Taliban, who are hunting her down. But she’s her father’s daughter and knows tracking and backtracking. She uses Gabe’s sniper SEAL knowledge to hide out in plain sight.  

Gabe’s world comes apart and is haphazardly sewn back together again when he finds Bay and is able to rescue her from sure death at the hands of the Taliban. On a medevac flying to Bagram’s hospital, he realizes the harsh truth and the daunting recovery it will take to get his Bay back to him.  

Bay slowly returns over time, with the patience and love of the man who will not give up on her for any reason. She works to transform the dark evil that has stolen a part of her soul and return herself to the light and love that Gabe holds for her.    

Love is the most powerful human emotion in the world and Bay’s heart allows her to begin the long road to her recovery, to reordering her life, with Gabe’s steadfast belief and love. The stresses, the challenges, are daunting. Together, they learn to empower themselves to create the life they had dreamed of having, no matter what the ashes of the past have decreed.

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Guest Post by Gregg Hurwitz, Author of "Don't Look Back"

Gregg,IMageNew York Times and internationally best-selling author Gregg Hurwitz's gives us his top mystery, thriller, and suspense page turning must reads.

For me it all started with Stephen King. I remember reading Salem’s Lot late at night when I was in fifth grade, hiding under my bed, flashlight tucked between my cheek and shoulder. To this day, I swear I heard the crunch of gravel outside my window, coming ever nearer. It was my first realization that books could do that. The effect that book had on me was terrible and exciting and magical and I found myself dreaming about one day corralling that magic for myself, putting particular words on a page in a particular order in a way that made other people feel things as if they were actually real.

My parents kept their most delicious books on the top shelf of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet so I had to risk life and limb to reach them. Scaling the shelves while trying to hug my weight forward so the whole thing didn’t topple down on top of me—it was a precarious venture. The books with the best covers were up there. And the ones with the best sex scenes, like Clan of the Cave Bear, eagerly circulated around Mr. Burns’s junior high Spanish class with key passages underlined. But I digress. Jaws. Maybe the best cover ever. That naked swimmer. The phallic rise of the monster from the depths of the murky unconscious, coming not just for her, but for anyone who dared crack the pages. I read it in a breathless gulp. Then I plowed through the rest of Peter Benchley’s works. I wrote him letters too, always proudly penning my age beneath the signature: Gregg Hurwitz, age 11. I told him that one day I wanted to be a writer just like him. And I thanked him for Jaws and Jaws 2, The Island and The Deep and The Girl of the Sea of the Cortez. In one of the more embarrassing moments of my young life, he wrote back claiming that as much as he’d like to, he couldn’t take credit for Jaws 2, as he didn’t write it.

My high school in San Jose—Bellarmine College Prep—had an extraordinary English department. I was fortunate to take seminars on Faulkner and Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Dante, and to dive headlong into Shakespeare’s tragedies. From Grendel’s arm hung from the rafters to Gatsby’s green light at the end of the dock, the images and themes we discussed were abundant, as many as our growing brains could gobble up. This built the foundation I brought to reading what I consider the finest thriller ever written.

Red Dragon. It exists on a different level for me. Impeccably paced, sumptuously written, and check-all-your-closets scary. It felt like riding a roller coaster with one eye on the loose cog in the cart in front of you. I never knew when it was gonna veer, loop upside down, or simply leave the prescribed tracks and send me plummeting into a whole new order of terror. For all the professorial psychological insight Thomas Harris brings to the characters, he never once loses sight of the story or indulges in the superfluous. Dolarhyde’s backstory is downright Faulknerian. It’s not simply that it rings with emotional truth; it’s that you feel it in your bones. In Red Dragon, Harris fused the two aspects of story I love most—the kind of plotting that makes your heart claw up your throat, and the sort of resonant emotional depth that pulses in your gut—a fictional heartbeat beneath the one knock-knock-knocking against your ribs.

I suppose that’s the ultimate goal for me, my own green light across the water. To write something that achieves that perfect seesaw balance between plot and character, pacing and depth. There is no such thing as “perfect” in literature but there are those beacons that make me want to keep swimming toward the light.

Sizing Things Up with Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant

You are not smallIn Anna Kang and New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant’s new picture book, You Are (Not) Small, young children learn that size is relative—and that true friendship is always “one size fits all.”

Help kids to keep track of who is big and who is small with a growth chart featuring characters from the book. Click here to access the chart and follow the instructions listed on the PDF.


Exclusive Q&A with Sean Ryan for "New Suicide Squad #1"

NewsuicidesquadQ1: Which member of the Suicide Squad would you least want to run into in a dark alley?

Sean Ryan: None of them would be that great to meet in a dark alley. I'd probably have to say the one I'd least like to meet would be Harley. She might not be the most deadly member of the team, but she's certainly the one that is the hardest to figure out what she's gonna do next. 

Q2: Let’s say the Suicide Squad started a band, who’s on what instrument and why?

SR: Hmm...let's see...Harley on vocals because she's certainly the talker of the group. Deadshot on bass. I think because his trigger fingers seem perfect for the bass. Deathstroke on lead guitar because he'd probably demand it. Black Manta on keyboards because...I'm running out of instruments. And Joker's Daughter on drums, mainly cause you can call drums, skins, and she's wearing someone's skin on her face. 

Q3: Are there any villains you think would be an excellent addition to the Suicide Squad?

SR: Certainly. I think the majority of folks from the Flash's rogue’s gallery would fit in real nicely with the Suicide Squad. Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Mirror Master, Trickster, and Weather Wizard. The police just need to put them in Belle Reve instead of Iron Heights.

Q4: On the flipside, which villains do you think would be unable to play nice on the Squad?

SR: Most of your big time villains wouldn't be able to play nice, they're so used to doing their own thing that being on a team, especially on a team where bombs are implanted into your neck, isn't going to be their cup of tea. Guys like the Joker, or Luthor, or Darkseid. They could never be a part of these ranks.

Q5: What can reader’s look forward to with the introduction of Joker’s daughter? How is Harley Quinn going to react to her presence?

SR: Joker's Daughter is definitely a massive wild card. She's so new and so unpolished, there's really no telling what she'll do.  The one thing you can count on is that her and Harley are not going to get along. I mean, Joker's Daughter is wearing the Joker's face. You can't be too surprised that Harley would be unhappy. 

Q6: Deathstroke is usually a one-man team, how will he get along with the other members of the Suicide Squad?

SR: Not well. Deathstroke is a mercenary and is doing this for the money. Deathstroke is probably one of the best fighters in the entire DC Universe. He really looks down on the rest of the team, cause he knows he's better than all of them. 


Exclusive Q&A with Tim Seeley for "Grayson #1"

Dick Grayson stars in his own new series, not as Robin, not as Nightwing, but as Grayson and writer Tim Seeley talks to us about this new direction for the original Boy Wonder.

Grayson1Q1: After the events of FOREVER EVIL and NIGHTWING, what is Dick Grayson’s state of mind at the start of this new series?

Tim Seeley: Dick has been tasked by Batman with infiltrating Spyral, so he's adjusting to a new job, and a new life, while also being full of that confident Dick Grayson swagger that he's up for the task, because he HAS to be. Dick is determined to maintain everything he's learned from Batman, and on his own.

Q2: Dick Grayson is now working at the spy agency Spyral (that first appeared in Grant Morrison’s BATMAN, INCORPORATED), what can you tell us about this mysterious organization?

TS: Spyral was formed by the UN to watch over, and if necessary, exterminate emerging superhumans. It was originally led by an ex-Nazi scientist named Dr. Otto Netz, or "Dr. Daedalus" and as you can imagine with that guy as the boss, Spyral has acted on the side of the angels in some cases, and on not-so-the-side of the angels.

Q3: This series is called GRAYSON and not NIGHTWING obviously, can you talk about how this is going to differ from a superhero title now that Dick doesn’t have a secret identity?

TS: Well, for a start it's much more of world-hopping adventure, and the story will be about Dick's conflicts with being undercover as much as it is about his fights against worldwide threats! In GRAYSON Dick isn't patrolling rooftops, and standing on gargoyles as much. He's running through markets, and jumping on trains, and leaping from airplanes!

Q4: Artist Mikel Janin has a very distinct style that’s giving Dick a new look, what’s the collaboration been like? How do you feel his illustrations complement the story?

TS: He's really the perfect choice for this book. Mikel started out as an architect, and he draws some of the most convincing cityscapes I've ever seen, not to mention that he does great action, and acrobatics! Also, he makes the dudes hot, and the ladies sexy.

Q5: What are some of your favorite Robin stories?

TS: I think the first ones I read were in "The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told" when I was 10 or 11, maybe. And there's one I always remember called "The Origin of the Batman-Superman Team" where Dick is totally cool with telling Superman he's being a jerk.

I've always loved the Marv Wolfman/George Perez Titans stuff that had Dick go from sidekick to leader. I also loved ROBIN: YEAR ONE by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, and Javier Pulido.  And there's a NIGHTWING ANNUAL by Marc Andreyko focusing on Dick and Batgirl where Dick had to hide his..."attraction" to Barbara. That's a great Grayson moment.

Q6: In another life, what do you think each of the different Robins--Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne--would have done for work? You know, had they not all grown up with extreme life tragedies.

TS: I think Dick would have probably been a counselor or a social worker. He lives to help people.

I think Jason would have been in prison.

Tim Drake would have become a detective, or a NASA scientist, or both.

And Damian...Damian would have taken over the world.

Q7: Do you feel like any character in comics has better head of hair than Dick Grayson? I mean…my God. It's just so luscious.

TS: Yeah, I now live vicariously through Dick. If you read a lot of panels with narration like "And the night desert air runs through his thick hair like a lover's fingers..." assume it's me dealing with my own receding hairline.