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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.

Alien Invasions

OutoftheblackEvan Curry, author of the upcoming book, Out of the Black, from his popular Odyssey One series, discusses the idea of an Alien invasion on earth.

The words invoke imagery from a hundred movies and books, from War of the Worlds to Independence Day and beyond. In the Odyssey series I play with the common tropes of the genre, twisting some and just enjoying others, but the common question has a tendency to remain… Even if we accept the central premise, is any of it really possible? Why would aliens bother with us anyway? More importantly, for a military science fiction writer like myself at least, could we beat them back? Could we win?

Better minds than mine have given it a lot of through, including the US Military if rumors hold some truth to them, but it always seems to boil down to us poor humans having something the big scary aliens want. Alright, that makes sense on the surface, so what could we have? Air? Water? Gold or other precious metals?

No, none of those make sense. Any space faring culture would more easily acquire those in space at any asteroid belt, out in the Oort Cloud, or any of a thousand other possibilities. So why invade? Two possibilities make sense, a lot of sense.

First, Aliens may want or need our Biosphere. Air, Water, even food can easily be manufactured or sourced from accessible resources in space but the complicated linking of everything that makes up the world we live on may be the rarest of the rare. It may also be essential to life, not just as we know it, but as the universe understands it.

We like to say that we humans are star stuff, and that’s very true.  The seeds of life, whether you believe abiogenesis or creationism, came from the heavens above. The process through which we evolved here on Earth may end in wildly different places on another world, but that starting point may well remain a constant. DNA, the habitable zone, and the basic rules for all life as we know it could be universal.

So for those invaders, Earth would be a jewel floating in an eternal desert. Priceless, and worth having at any cost.

No matter how advanced these aliens are, however, they would be fighting at a sore disadvantage. Earth is our home, we evolved here, and we know all its secrets. Alright, we know some of its secrets.  Our supply lines would be short, we could easily hide and strike from the shadows, and generally make it very expensive to try to hold the planet. They could easily take it, any species capable of getting here is going to walk right over us in the initial invasion, but we could make it unbelievably expensive to hold.

They couldn’t just wipe us out, that would almost certainly destroy the biosphere that attracted them. Hell, we’re doing a great job of that just by accident, so believe it or not the Earth’s biosphere is incredibly fragile in the short term. Certainly, it would recover, but that could take decades or centuries and presumably our uninvited guests want to move in now. Against such a foe, our best defense might be putting a nuclear gun to our own heads and trying to out crazy them. We’re pretty good at that, just check the history of the cold war.

So, yes, we could probably beat back such an invasion by hook or by crook.

The second possibility? Oh yes, them. Well, if the Earth is ever invaded by a species that doesn’t need our biosphere… we lose. We will never see such an enemy coming, they would hold all the cards, and wiping us out would simply be good security. 

Exclusive Excerpt: "As Red as Blood"

As red as bloodThe new teen mystery As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka is one of this month's Kindle First books. Prime members can download the book for free through July 31, 2014.

In the book, the first in the Snow White Trilogy, 17-year-old Lumikki Andersson finds herself caught in a dangerous web of events after discovering a stash of money and attempts to track down the origins.

Check out an exclusive excerpt from As Red as Blood (PDF).

Kendra Elliot's Thrillerfest Homecoming

Author Kendra Elliot comes full circle as her Thrillerfest nomination for "Buried" has her finally saying, "I'm an author."

KElliot_CROPFive years ago I attended my first Thrillerfest Conference in New York City. I was unpublished, but I wasn’t a total newbie; I’d been honing my craft for a few years, had a few manuscripts under the bed, and had paid close attention in my local writing groups and conferences, trying to figure out this odd world of publishing. When I noticed the Romance Writers of America conference was in Washington DC a week after Thrillerfest in NYC, I made plans to attend both in one long trip back east.

One of the main reasons to attend conferences is to rub shoulders with the authors you admire. My highlight that year was standing guard for Lee Child’s signing line. I was a serious fan. I’d volunteered for the signing and had been assigned to keep his rowdy autograph seekers under control. I spent most of the time holding up a nearby wall as I chatted with one of his editors. She asked if I was an author, and I said, “No, I’m a writer.” She asked the difference, and I told her that I felt I couldn’t call myself an author because I wasn’t published. She nodded, but gave me an odd look.

I didn’t go to the awards banquet. I wasn’t an author, so what would be the point? I’d never been to NYC. A good friend made certain my friends and I saw the highlights of New York, turning it into an amazing experience.

The next few years brought changes to my writing life. I got an agent. I sold. I quit the day job and sold again. My publisher put out four of my books in eighteen months and bought more.

Fast forward to Spring 2014. I was chatting with a writer buddy on Facebook when someone from my publishing house posted on my wall, congratulating me for an award nomination. I assumed she was talking about a Romantic Times nomination I’d heard about four months prior. I replied, asking which award she meant.

Her: The Thriller award

Me: WHAT??

Me: Are you sure?

Her: My phone won’t let me post the link. Of course, I’m sure.

I found the announcement, saw my name, and burst into tears.

It wasn’t possible. The thriller awards are for the BIG, IMPORTANT writers. I scanned the list of names. …Lisa Gardner, Stephen King, AND FREAKING Lee Child in the hardback category. I was listed in the paperback category along with my good friend and mentor, Allison Brennan.

I don’t belong on this list. Where are all the other authors? The real authors?

In my head, I was still the newbie. Possibly I was perceived as being successful in publishing, but I was terrified that someone would figure out that I was a sham. That my books weren’t that good or deserving of praise. Even though I’d sold over a half million books in two years, I still had doubts. Big ones. When people ask me what I do for a living, I still struggle to say “I’m an author.” It feels like a lie.

Would the self-doubt ever go away?

Another good writer friend (yes, I have a lot of good writer friends. The writing community is a close, supportive one) sympathized with my doubt, assuring me that it was normal for a large percentage of writers and sent me this quote

The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.― Jaggi Vasudev

It made me laugh, but it also resonated deeply.

I wasn’t an idiot for my doubt, but I couldn’t let it control me.

I frequently use the full circle as a theme in my books. Toward the end of a story, my characters often return to a key place or event in their life, but the second time they are armed with new skills they’ve learned in their journey.

So I will return to New York City for another amazing experience. This time as a recognized author in my genre, and I’ll hold my chin up and smile at that awards banquet, proud that this book has received important nominations from the romance and thriller communities.

I’m an author.

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Exclusive Sketch of Superman by Kenneth Roccafort

Superman artist Kenneth Roccafort presents a Kindle exclusive sketch of Superman.