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Guest Post: Shane Burcaw, Author of "Laughing at My Nightmare"

LaughingatmynightmareShane Burcaw became a Tumblr sensation by chronicling his life with spinal muscular atrophy on his blog, Laughing at My Nightmare. His warts-and-all-style earned him more than half a million fans. His memoir, also called Laughing at My Nightmare, is out on October 14.

If I had to choose a theme for my upcoming memoir, Laughing at My Nightmare, it would be the absurdity of living with my disability. I was born with a disease called spinal muscular atrophy, and it has been making life pretty ridiculous since I was a baby.

I got my first wheelchair at the age of three, and my favorite activity quickly became crashing into walls at full speed. Looking back, it seems silly, but at least my favorite activity wasn’t running people over or trying to drive down flights of stairs.

The wheelchair gave me incredible freedom, and, naturally, I used this freedom to get into trouble. Driving through dog poop became a new source of joy, (God, I was weird) which is a mostly harmless behavior until I came inside and drove those poop-covered wheels across the white rug in our living room. Mom was not pleased.

As I grew up, my interests turned to sports, which was not the best combination for a severely disabled boy with no regard for his own safety. My friends and I found ways to involve my wheelchair in every sport we played, often at the expense of their personal well-being. Do you know what it feels like to be tackled by a 400-pound wheelchair? My friends unfortunately do.

In school I grappled with the constant pressure to fit in, as most kids do, but my desire to be seen as “normal” despite my disability caused me to go to some extreme lengths that make me cringe today. I tried to be a hardcore skateboarder thug in middle school, grew my hair out, and held on to that identity until I finally accepted that the drug-taking, rule-breaking, hygiene-ignoring lifestyle just wasn’t for me.

Life became more serious in high school as I began to seriously contemplate the realities of my disease. I am constantly getting weaker—arms, legs, neck, jaw, lungs, throat, the whole shebang. I realized I probably would not live a full life when every tiny head cold put me in the hospital for a week. This is when I began to develop the mindset that would help me become the person I am today: the idea that laughter and positivity are powerful weapons against adversity.

In college, I began blogging about this topic, telling stories about breaking my femur and peeing in my pants and falling in love. To my complete surprise, the world enjoyed what I had to say! In a whirlwind adventure that is still taking place as I write this, my blog grew to over half a million readers, I started my own nonprofit organization, I got a book deal, and I even had a few serious relationships with actual human females!

You can read about all of that in my book, and lots of it probably won’t seem like real life. As you read, just know that I have been feeling the same disbelief every step of the way (every roll of the way?).

Life is crazy and it’s beautiful and it’s awesome, and I can’t wait to share mine with you. 

 

Exclusive Sketch by Bernard Chang

Check an exclusive sketch of Green Lantern John Stewart by artist Bernard Chang and don't miss this week's newest issue of "Green Lantern Corps #35."

BernardChang_JohnStewart

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A Love Story Complicated by a Crime: “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters

I received a somewhat disturbing text from a friend the other afternoon. She was running late for work Paying_guestsbecause she couldn't put a book down that I'd recently leant her. "How can I go? I must read on!" "But, the children!" I cried. She is a nanny, you see, so while I could relate to her plight--I had spent a rare sunny day in Seattle, indoors, eschewing some much needed vitamin D reading the very same book--I didn't have children to keep alive. Such are the perils when one picks up The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. So readers, clear your calendars.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Waters recently, on a not-so-rare rainy day in Seattle, to talk about this historical page-turner, set during a "politically untidy" time that has many parallels to our own. 

The story takes place in 1922 in suburban South London. WWI has ended and ex-soldiers are roaming the streets, unemployed and uncertain about the future. In a once grand and genteel house, Frances Wray--a spinster with a surprising past--lives with her mother.  "They've lost their men to war, and they've lost income and servants, and so they've had to bring in lodgers to make ends meet, and they are Leonard and Lilian Barber, the paying guests of the title. Francis is at first appalled by their gaudy furniture and bothered by the sound of them moving about upstairs, but finds herself increasingly drawn to Lilian. So the novel is the story of their affair and the sort of dramatic and really violent and alarming consequences that it has for everybody involved."

The novel was inspired, in part, by an actual murder case from that time--a case that had a "classic triangle at [its] heart--a wife, a husband, and a male lover. And, I began to think what it would be like if the lover was female--what that would do to the story, how it would touch on other issues in the period." With this germ of an idea, Waters began researching similar cases in earnest. "I was struck when I looked at those murder cases--and I looked at lots of other murder cases from the period. They did tend to feature ordinary people who by some sort of mistake, by a moment of madness, were plunged into nightmare and into disaster and ultimately towards some sort of violent death. And I was very struck by the fact that people in murder cases like that, they don't know what's coming...In the months, weeks, days leading up to the murder, they were just leading their ordinary lives."

Waters is known for plotting-out most of her books ahead of time, but she admits that she was knee-deep in the writing process before realizing that--despite the murder and the mayhem--the book is mainly a love story.  "I really was sort of rooting for Frances and Lilian but very conscious that their love came at a cost...Once I'd realized, though, that that was kind of the trajectory of the book--that it was based on their love--the book came together for me more smoothly. And then it became a novel very much about how their love is put under pressure, how it's tested by this dramatic incident, and the moral complexity of the events that follow."

Sound a bit dark? Fortunately, as fans of other Waters’s novels like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith can attest, she has a knack for humanizing her characters with pitch-perfect humor for the period that also resonates with a modern audience. "Often humor is so specific to its moment that it doesn't date well. There's nothing worse than, sort of, terrible comics movies from the 20s, for example...The best of them last but they just seem incredibly tiresome now as no doubt our movies will in another hundred years. So, it's trying to find humor that belongs, feels like it belongs to the period and yet still seems kind of funny to us. That’s quite a challenge...We do need to get beyond those static black and white pictures of the past and remember that people live their lives in color, and with laughter, as well as with tears and sternness. The whole range, that's how you bring the past to life."

The Paying Guests was a Best of the Month selection for September.

Guest Post by Mark Sullivan Author of "Theif"

81t1meYIrmL._SL1500_[1]Mark Sullivan author of “Thief: A Robin Monarch Novel”, shares with us his top five espionage thrillers. “Thief” will be available on Kindle and in hardcover on December 16, 2014

I’ve always liked spy books because they’re usually about a struggle over information rather than something tangible like gold. The fact that the MacGuffin - - the thing the spy wants - - is an idea, or a secret, ensures that the stories have to be told in shifting shades of gray, rather than static black and white.

That alone beckons me as a reader. But a really good spy story not only tells a good tale, it usually takes you into an utterly deceitful world on the back of someone uniquely smart, steeped in tradecraft, and highly adaptable.

These five spy novels have stayed with me more than any others. 

1) “Eye of the Needle” by Ken Follett

Follett’s masterwork of espionage focuses on the hunt for the last German spy operating in England in the spring of 1944. Henry Faber, code-named “The Needle” because of his love of stiletto knives, is trying to figure out where the Allies are going to launch D Day. MI5 detectives are after him, but he stays one step ahead, discovering a fake-out designed to make the Germans believe the attack will be at Calais, not Normandy. Unwilling to risk a short-wave radio transmission to warn Germany, he hires a trawler, which shipwrecks on Storm Island where a legless and bitter RAF pilot lives with his young wife. This twist is what sets the book apart. Until the shipwreck, Faber is depicted as a heartless, ruthless killer. But spies operate in shades of gray. Fabor’s relationship with the unloved wife, and the climax that results make this novel one of the best espionage books ever.

 

2) “Our Man in Havana” by Graham Greene

Greene’s seventeenth novel is a savage skewering of Cold War espionage, and in particular Britain’s MI6 where the author once worked. James Wormold is the unlikely hero of the book, a widower, and down-on-his-luck vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. An MI6 operator approaches Wormold, offering him a position gathering intelligence on the Battista regime. The pay is on delivery and Wormold jumps at the chance. But he’s a horrible spy. Desperate, the takes photos of vacuum cleaner parts and sells the pictures as proof of a new and dangerous weapon. Double agents inside MI6 sell Wormold out, and assassins start hunting him. A truly amazing black comedy of espionage.

 

3) “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by John Le Carré

No spy writer takes the reader deeper into a world of shadows that Le Carré. Here he is at his best, writing a fictionalized account of the hunt for a mole in the British Intelligence Service during the Cold War. What makes the novel exceptional is the hero, George Smiley, an ordinary looking, ordinary acting former academic who became a spy to study the far reaches of human behavior. By the time we meet Smiley, he’s assistant to Control, the director of the British Intelligence, the “Circus”, and a powerful man. His power is soon destroyed, however, and he’s sent into retirement. But when word surfaces of a Russian sleeper agent inside the Circus, Smiley is brought in to probe the souls and histories of the five most likely double agents in the highest echelons of British Intelligence. The book also introduces the character of “Karla,” the KGB General who is Smiley’s great nemesis. Their story goes on in “The Honorable Schoolboy” and “Smiley’s People.” But this book is the gem of the three.

 

4) “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy

Any spy novel that causes the White House to debrief its author on his sources is one for the ages. Clancy invents the “techno-thriller” subgenre of espionage with this ground-breaking work that tells the tale of a Soviet naval captain trying to secretly defect to the U.S. on a state of the art Russian submarine. Clancy’s understanding and depiction of submarines and sub warfare tactics are flawless. But he also is masterful at showing the geopolitical stakes of such a defection while taking you deep into the minds of the two protagonists: Defecting captain Marco Ramius, and and CIA Analyst Jack Ryan, who is trying to convince the President that the sub sailing toward the U.S. is not bent on starting World War III.  

 

5) “The Confessor” by Daniel Silva

The third of Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels is a brilliant story of espionage based on a Vatican secret left over from the Holocaust. Allon, a former Mossad operator who now restores classical paintings, is drawn into the crucible of the action in swift, expert fashion. And the plot unfolds hyper-realistically, and at break-neck speed. But what sets the book apart are the chapters told from the point of view of a newly inaugurated Pope forced to look clearly at sins in the Vatican’s past.

 

                                                                                                - - Mark Sullivan

Guest Post by Stephen Frey: The Proximity Factor

RedCellTrilogyStephen Frey, author of over a dozen best-selling financial and political thrillers, including the Red Cell Trilogy, tells us that it’s not just what you know, it’s where you live, that makes for great fiction.

We stand side-by-side on the seventh floor of 23 Wall Street, staring down across Broad Street at the main entrance to the New York Stock Exchange.  It’s six o’clock in the evening of October 19, 1987.

“What now?” my friend asks somberly.

We’re young associates in JP Morgan’s mergers and acquisitions group.  We recently joined the firm after graduating from business school—and spending a boatload on tuition.

“I’m defaulting on my student loan and enlisting in the army.”  I look over at him.  “You?”

 He nods at the window in front of us.  “I’m jumping.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 508 points today, Black Monday.  It’s a one-session drop of 23% which translates into trillions of lost dollars.  We’re assuming we won’t have jobs in the morning.  Many people around the country won’t.

*****

 “We want you to use pre-agreed upon words on pre-agreed upon pages in your novels.  That would allow us to communicate covertly with our people in-country.”

My fork stops halfway to my lips as the man I’m having lunch with speaks up quietly from his seat beside me at the table of a well-known Washington restaurant.  Arranged by a mutual friend, this was supposed to be a casual meet-and-greet with a guy from State who, in return for a good steak, would give me cool ideas for the thriller I was writing.

A week later terrorists fly a plane into the Pentagon.  We could have seen that plane from the restaurant.

A week after 9/11 I call my friend in New York City.  The one I’d worked with at JP Morgan in the late-eighties.  A few years before, he’d taken a job with another investment firm, and his office was high up in one of the Trade Towers.  I fear the worst as his home phone rings, but for some reason he doesn’t understand, he took that horrible day off to go fishing with his kids.  He hadn’t gone fishing in years.

I never heard back from that guy at State about using code words in my novels.  Or maybe I did.

*****

In 2014 almost everyone in the country has an opinion on whether the Washington Redskins football team should keep using that name or drop it out of respect to Native Americans.

A few weeks ago I’m in a local mall when someone passes a nasty remark to a prominent Redskins player about how he should refuse to play on Sundays as long as the owner keeps using the name.  Fortunately, the player takes the high road and doesn’t engage even as the man keeps harassing him.  Maybe he agrees with the man, maybe he doesn’t.  But getting into it at a mall with a fanatic won’t solve anything.

However, the incident gives me an excellent idea for a scene in the novel I’m currently writing.  I’m halfway through the manuscript.

*****

I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life in and around New York and Washington—cities in which, often times, local news equals national news.  That compelling point was made to me recently by a savvy young woman at Thomas & Mercer, my publisher.

And, as I started thinking about my writing career in that context, I realized what a profound effect physical closeness to that phenomenon has had on me in terms of writing what I know.  I started my career in 1994 penning (literally) novels set in the financial world.  When I moved to Washington in 2000, those “financial thrillers” quickly gained more and deeper political threads.  And now that I’ve been here in DC for a while, my genre has become ninety-nine percent political.

“Write what you know” is the oldest and most often used adage in the publishing world, and it can be interpreted in many different ways.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that only doctors should write medical thrillers.  But, in my case, it’s pretty clear that the Proximity Factor has set the tone for everything I’ve ever written.

Lora Leigh Shares Her Inspiration for Hunky Heroes

Romance author Lora Leigh shares how she finds inspiration for her hunky male leads. Her latest book, Ultimate Sins, is on sale now.

Lora leighWhere does the inspiration for a hunky hero come from?

Television. The movies. A particular book.

Or when you see a man jogging in the park, sweat sheening his dark flesh as he runs with a steady, powerful stride, wearing nothing but sneakers and jogging shorts that fall just a little too low below his navel. His muscles moving, flexing while the breeze flirts with his dark hair and his green eyes seem fixed on some point in the distance.

He’s snagged my attention now and my imagination is off and running, because the potential for “hot” is just shimmering around that far too gorgeous body like waves of heat rolling off asphalt.

He’s not really handsome. He’s not a pretty boy or some young poser. He’s a man. Mature.

Mentally, I’m rubbing my hands together in glee because my imagination is painting pictures for me and some wicked little imp is just pecking out the words as if the challenge to keep up with how fast the picture is coming together is just too great to pass up.

The jogger passes me, his jogging shorts brief, not hugging his body, but comfortably covering it. Black shorts, white sneakers. A white knight at the very core, but a really bad boy when he gets intimate.

I notice, the day is starting to get really hot. Where’s that July Polar Vortex the weather man promised? I’m anything but cool.

As I watch him jog away from me, my heart’s racing and there’s a heroine jumping above the others in my imagination, waving her hand and shouting, “Here I am! Here I am Lora! He’s mine!”

Because already an image is beginning to form of a hero.

He’s a man most women would shy away from. A good girl knows better than to look, let alone touch. But the good girl in the heroine demanding him has already made the mistake of looking.

The man she sees has seen life, lived it, glimpsed the darkness and knows it. He’s a man that when he touches, he knows where to touch, how to touch, for optimum pleasure. He’s a man that understands the fragility of a woman’s body, but he still has to learn the strength of a woman’s heart.

But she knows he seen her. From his periphery. He’s watching her as he jogs by.

He knows she’s there and he knows all her inner most secrets. There’s no hiding from him. There’s no hiding from the hunger he’s keeping carefully banked, the dominance that’s not really hidden in that sharp gaze. And he’s there, because of her.

He’s seen her before. He’s a man not used to telling himself “no,” but he’s also a man who has no idea what to do with a good girl.

This isn’t the type of woman he normally associates with. She’s not hard, bitter, and just looking for a few hours of pleasure.

This woman, he knows, will take hours. He’ll demand hours. He’ll demand forever…

Damn…I really didn’t have time to add a book to my list, but I think this isn’t just added—it’s heading for the top.

That’s what I get for going to the park to ponder the question, “What makes a hunky hero?”

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Exclusive Q&A with Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius XM Radio and founder and CEO of United Therapeutics who was just recently named the highest paid female CEO in America talks to us about her newest book, "Virtually Human" and the role that mindclones have in our future. Virtuallyhuman

Q1: What's been the biggest lesson you've learned in business?

Martine Rothblatt: Persistence is omnipotence.

Q2: The recent New York Magazine piece was such a great feature on both you and your family. How does it feel to be the highest paid female CEO in the US, and what advice would you give to others seeking new heights in their businesses or industries?

MR: It feels rather unreal because it is based on stock option values that require our stock to rise about $40 per share in price, not actual salary that for me is about 5% as much and would probably not qualify me to be in even to 100 female CEOs. However, my advice is to meet an unmet need in a practical, reliable fashion, and to not give up until your goal is achieved.

Q3: In your book, "Virtually Human," you mention that we need to figure out the mindclone thing right now, and that through this debate, we will learn about ourselves, our psychology, our consciousness, and our souls.  How far away do you think society is from seeing mindclones all around us, all the time?

MR: I believe it is as close to us in time, and will become as ubiquitous despite being as unbelievable that ubiquity would occur, as the birth of the Apple computer in 1982. 

Q4: From a business perspective, how do you think Mindclones will be perceived in the future?  For example, when they apply for jobs, will humans remain competitive?

MR: I believe Mindclones will be humans albeit without bodies, and thus we will remain competitive albeit as Mindclones. Similarly, we remain competitive for most jobs provided we are IT capable -- smartphone, laptop or computer capable.

Q5: What's the one thing you'd hope for the average reader to take away from your recent book, Virtually Human?

MR: It is crucial to treat everyone with dignity, meaning respecting the value they have for their life, whether their skintone is different or they have no skin at all, and whether they immigrate from another geographical space like central America our from cyberspace like Mindclones. There are tried and true methods in law and psychology to judge the consciousness of Mindclones.

Exclusive Q&A with Paul Pope

Paul Pope talks about writing for a new fanbase, the Battling Boy universe, and the newest book in the series, "The Rise of Aurora West." Aurorawest

Charlie Chang:Battling Boy” has been such a success and I’m personally really looking forward to exploring more of this universe. What have you enjoyed so far about the success of the book and the series?

Paul Pope: The cool thing with doing this series is it falls into the purview of Young Adult, I’ve never had kid fans before and I do panels with Young Adult fiction and science fiction writers and that’s very interesting. It’s a completely different world. I’m used to Comic-Con and the culture and collecting and I have a lot of fans and peers in the industry at Comic-Con. It’s really amazing going to schools to do talks and to see Battling Boy in libraries and school libraries. Meeting twelve year olds who are fans of my work.

CC: I feel like kids have an automatic response to whether something is cool or uncool, good or bad, right or wrong. Since they’ve just been gravitating towards Battling Boy and Adventure Time and so many of the other great all-ages comics being written right now. For these fans, what is the difference between “The Rise of Aurora West” and “Battling Boy”?

PP: Well, this is the first time that I’ve worked on a series drawn by another artist. It’s drawn by David Rubin, he’s a Spanish artist. I deliberately wanted a European artist and specifically a Spanish artist. I feel like everyone knows about the French cartoonists and the Italians and there are so many other talented people out there and I’ve been wanted to work with David for a long time. We collaborated on illustrations before and I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. Luckily he had time and he’s quick so he’s able to do two books in one year. The format is also different. This one is 160 pages so the Aurora story completed is about 360 pages. “Battling Boy” clocks in at about 450.

CC: What are you most excited for fans of “Battling Boy” to experience that’s new?

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A.C. Arthur and Donna Grant on Writing Paranormal Romance

Romance authors A.C. Arthur and Donna Grant discuss their favorite parts of writing paranormal romance. A.C. Arthur's latest paranormal romance, "Shifter's Claim," is on sale now. Donna Grant's latest, "Burning Desire," is also available now.

  Shifter's claimA.C. Arthur – Whenever I sit down to write a blog post I always wonder where to start, what to say, what my tone should be. It’s the same when I start reading a book that takes me into a new world. 

Donna Grant - I definitely agree. For me, there's nothing more exciting than developing a new world - or getting to stay in one that I've already created. It's like starting with a blank slate. You get to craft your adversaries, allies, and everything else in whatever way you want. My favorite part of crafting a new world in paranormal romance is making my villains horrible, evil sociopaths. I've also been known to redeem a villain or two along the way. What's your favorite part?

A.C. – Growing up I could not wait until I was old enough to do what I wanted. Of course, I found out the hard way that grown-ups have a few guidelines they have to follow as well. But what I love most about building a paranormal world is creating the rules and adding characters that will ultimately break them.

Donna - Isn't it so much fun to weave these intricate worlds? I love when I add something that I don't Burning desirerealize could be detrimental to the characters. Until it is. In my Dark Kings series featuring dragon shifters set in Scotland, they are the ultimate protection for our planet against other supernatural beings. Yet they keep their true selves hidden from humans after a woman betrayed them. They've used magic to keep from falling in love with mortals, and yet love prevails. 

A.C. – This is so true about adding something to a world and then finding out how damaging it can be later in the series. For instance, in my first Shadow Shifter stories about the half human, half jaguar species that live among humans, the most important rule is complete secrecy. Yet, in Shifter’s Claim, the hero is forced to reveal himself in order to help the human he is desperately in love with.

Donna - I love when characters must choose between their world and love. It puts them in some amazing situations. In my book, Fire Rising, the hero, Tristan, has to show her his true form as he saves her from certain death. Then he does the unthinkable and brings her back to Dreagan for protection. Which doesn't sit well with some of the other Dragon Kings.

A.C. – I am sure the Dragon Kings were not happy to see her or to know that their secret was out! Another interesting aspect about world building is how we deal with the changes these new relationships prompt. My hero, Sebastian, is adamant that his mate—despite being human—remain by his side, even though he knows the rules. The Assembly Leader has to choose between killing the human and losing one of his soldiers and adapting to the situation. It’s not an easy choice because this will ultimately change the premise of their world and beliefs in future stories.

Donna - I love when one act changes everything for the characters and their world!

A.C. – Just as one decision can change everything in the real world. I think these are some of the elements that draw readers into paranormal stories. The way we combine the new with the old to bring about a happy ending each time can be very rewarding.

Donna - So true. With every book I write, something else develops in the world I created that I never saw coming. It's always so much fun to put our characters through the ringer, only to give them an HEA [happily ever after] at the end.

A.C. – Yes, it’s definitely all about the HEA ending!

Readers, what’s your favorite part about reading paranormal romances? Is it the wonderfully wicked villains, the intricate new worlds, or the hero and heroine who find love no matter what? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Comics Preview: Gotham Academy #1

Get a preview at the first few pages from DC Comics' new series, Gotham Academy, written by Becky Cloonan, Brandon Fletcher, and illustrated by Karl Kerschl.

GOTHAC_Cv1_ds_54297036a5c642.28352008

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