Saturday, May 31, 2014

Flavorwire Short Fiction Contest Winner: “Intern Season” by Amanda Zubillaga

by Jason Diamond)

In honor of May’s National Short Story Month, Flavorwire held its second short story contest and, after much deliberation, emerged with a first-place story, along with three honorable mentions. Over the course of the week, Flavorwire has published each of the four best stories. For this final installment, we present the winning story, “Intern Season” by Amanda Zubillaga.

It’s my first night back, but Sam has already been in town for a little over two weeks. Her internship started the first week in June. I would have been anxious, had it been me — being in a strange city alone and knowing no one — but Sam doesn’t seem like she minded so much. Nights she went out to the bars by herself. She turned twenty-one back in April — her invitation to the adult world, finally — so she figured she should take advantage. I can understand the appeal: no more fat black X’s on our hands telegraphing our inexperience. She took up smoking the first week, realizing that sitting at a bar alone felt awkward without something to do. Smoking not only occupied her, it helped her start conversations; making a quick connection with a stranger is easier when you already share one bad habit, she says. Drinking doesn’t count. Everyone in D.C. drinks.

She’s made friends with the bartenders at this place, so apparently we’re getting hooked up. Russo’s, it’s called. It’s around the corner from our apartment and has a massive sign over the entrance — gold, swirled script, all lit up. Makes it look like it might be fancy inside, but really it’s dark, run-down, and moldy, a basement, laden with dusty green glass behind the bar and sodden navy carpeting underfoot, where men in suits throw back bourbon after bourbon and fratty college students down pitchers of cheap beer, maybe one among them lucking out, finding some sheltered girl from the Midwest, a former corn queen or something, to blow him before passing out for the night, before he gets up and does the same thing all over again. Sam smokes and Sam drinks. I drink. She tells me that when she comes here alone, she likes to play pretend matchmaker and guess who will leave the bar with whom. She also has something of a boyfriend, she says. We suck indiscernible fruit-flavored liquor through straws—peach-orange? a hint of strawberry? — and Sam’s on her third cigarette since I joined her. The boyfriend goes by Clem, apparently a family name. She met him right here at the bar; he’s friends with the bartenders too. He is a lobbyist, she says.

“What’s he like?” I ask, discreetly turning my face over my shoulder to gulp down cleaner air — cleaner being the operative word, since Russo’s stinks of sourness, like stale beer, as bars often do.

“So much fun,” she says, each word better enunciated than the one before. “I’m going over to his house tonight. You should come. He has friends.”

She seems possibly indifferent to my tagging along, but maybe it’s just the way she takes each drag of her cigarette, gracefully, easily, not at all like the giddy Sam I met last summer. We both worked as interns in the Rayburn building. Sam’s office was next door to mine, and the staffers thought it would be nice to introduce us. Then my impression of Sam was that she seemed shy and conservative — the first time we met, she had on a flowered prairie skirt and a pale pink cardigan buttoned all the way to the top. Her hair was frizzy and hung long down her back. She’s at least a head taller than I am, but she seemed small that day standing in Rayburn’s oversized marble hallway. We bonded quickly — eating lunch together in the cafeteria, finagling our way into Congressional mixers with free-flowing booze and hors d’oeuvres aplenty — and by the end of the month we were making plans to room together the following summer. Now, a year later, Sam has taken to wearing fitted pencil skirts and silk blouses that hang from her bony shoulders. She looks sophisticated — like some Hitchcockian femme fatale. Her hair is darker, and she wears it in a smooth, low bun. I look down at my tank top and faded jeans.

“Is this a party? Should I change?” I ask.

Sam shrugs. “You can if you want,” she says.

“Should I? I’m not as dressed up as you.”

Sam stubs out her cigarette in a filthy glass ashtray. “I’m sure you’re fine,” she says, though she doesn’t sound sure at all. She orders us two more drinks before we leave for Clem’s. The bartender — Jim, I think — winks at Sam as he slides a receipt her way.

“What do I owe you?” I ask.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sam says. She puts a fifty on the bar and says to Jim, “Keep the change.”

“How much are they paying you over at the Water Subcommittee?” I ask. Sam just smiles and sucks down the last of the pinkish ice melting at the bottom of her glass.

Clem lives way up in Georgetown, and, though we often walked to the same neighborhood from Foggy Bottom last year, Sam insists we take a cab. She says only the underaged feel the need to walk twenty blocks just to get to a party. I never feel totally comfortable in cabs — some stranger driving you around, taking shortcuts that are probably actually the long way. Suburbanites aren’t meant to travel like this; we like to feel in control. I say so, but Sam only stares out the window.

“How’s school?” I ask.

“More of the same,” says Sam. “I can’t wait to graduate next year.” She turns back to the glass and stares out at the sidewalk tinged the red and green of traffic lights, at couples waiting for a table at Zed’s and packs of girls power walking in stiletto heels.

The driver takes us far up M, past hoards of Thursday night bar hoppers and yellow street lamps, before turning off to the right, then down one dark cobblestone street after another until we arrive at a small brownstone with a black lacquer door lit by a single lantern. It is among a row of well-kept homes on an upscale street: trim hedges line the sidewalk and leafy vines creep around stone-arched doorframes. The streets are wet — it must have rained while we were at Russo’s, though I hadn’t thought of it before — and the air smells softly green. “Is this where money grows on trees?” I joke, but Sam says, “Hmm?” and I don’t repeat myself. As I have no cash on me, Sam pays again. I follow her steps across the uneven bricks and hold my breath as she rings the bell. I can’t hear music or voices from inside, and I’m about to ask Sam if we have the right place when the door opens. A tall guy wearing a Black Flag shirt surveys us; an unlit cigarette droops from his lips.

“C’mon in,” he says, already with his back to us.

We follow him inside. Sam sets her purse down on the dining room table, and I follow suit. The place is all gold-lit and decorated in a warm, traditional style: the chairs are upholstered in patterns of rose and beige, and the wood is dark and polished.

“This is Clem’s house?” I ask.

“His family’s,” Sam says.

I trail after her into the kitchen, where four guys are standing in a semi-circle, drinks in their hands, laughing at the punch line of a joke we’ve obviously missed. Sam approaches the shortest of the guys, a freckled, red-faced thing with an overbite — an overgrown Howdy Doody. “Babe,” he says, and he throws the hand not busy gripping a beer on the side of her waist. She kisses him on the cheekbone with her eyes closed then settles into the crook of his arm. In her heels, she’s easily two inches taller than he is.

“This is Tiffany,” says Sam.

“Tiffany, nice to meet you.” Clem offers his hand to shake. He has a slight drawl, more good old boy than Southern, exactly. “This is Hood, P.J., and Tom.” The guys nod at me.

“Hi,” I say to no one in particular.

“Well, make yourselves comfortable, girls. Grab a drink. Do you drink, Tiffany?”

“Of course she drinks,” Sam says.

Clem and the guys wander out to the back porch while Sam declares that we should move from mixed drinks to wine. My stomach is already churning from the drinks at Russo’s, in retrospect as jaw-achingly sweet as liquid Pixy Stix, but I’m not quite buzzed yet, so I don’t protest when Sam pours me a large glass of chardonnay.

“Just so you know, Hood sleeps with everybody,” Sam says. I’m not sure if this information is meant as warning or encouragement.

“Oh. Which one is he?”

“Good-looking. In the suit.”

“Oh.” I hadn’t pegged the one in the suit as being the good-looking member of the group, necessarily, but, then again, any of Clem’s friends would seem so by comparison. I start to sidestep toward the backdoor to join the guys on the porch, but Sam doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave the kitchen. She leans back against the granite countertop and sips her wine. I wait for her to tell me something more about Hood, some juicy bit of gossip, but instead she says, “Don’t talk about being an intern, okay?”

“Why not?”

“Believe me. Just don’t. Don’t bring up internships at all.”

“But what if they ask me what I’m doing in D.C.?”

“Tell them where you work.”

“Girls!” Clem’s voice echoes through the house. “It’s a gorgeous night. Get out here and join us.”

“Coming,” Sam calls back. She looks at me expectantly. “Not a lie. Just an omission.”



“Can’t I just leave out the part where you’re an intern?” The Sam I knew last summer may have told guys stories for fun — innocent, ridiculous white lies about being the daughter of a Romanian diplomat or growing up in Monaco — but this feels too specific, too small, to be playful.

“Whatever. Do what you want.” Sam strides out of the kitchen, her heels clacking across the hardwood floor. She singsongs, “I’m just telling you.”

Outside a cool mist is wafting inland from the Potomac, and I wish I’d remembered to grab a sweater out of my not-yet-unpacked suitcase. The six of us sit on brown wicker furniture, the porch lit only by the glow of the back windows, the moon, and D.C. light pollution. Clem and his friends talk about which staffer instigated a yelling match when she couldn’t get into an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing and which Rep likes to sleep over with his male press secretary while his wife is back home taking care of their kids in Colorado. Sam giggles and smokes and drinks her wine, and I drink mine, over-thinking what I should or shouldn’t say. Finally, I jump in: “Isn’t it almost time for Congressman Shaffer’s birthday again? Last year Sam and I went to his in-office margarita party and no one even asked to see our IDs. You know, since we look so young, I mean.” Sam looks at me.

“Yeah, Shaffer does that every year,” Hood says. He’s ditched the suit jacket and loosened his tie. The more I look at him the more I agree with Sam — definitely good-looking: dark hair cut short, nice features, broad shoulders. I wonder what else she might know about him, and how.

“You guys do look young,” says the guy in the Black Flag shirt, whose name I already don’t remember. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four,” Sam says. She smiles and raises her wine glass.

“They’re babies!” Clem pulls her closer to him on the loveseat. “Just last year Samantha was working as an intern for Bonnie Baxter.”

“I was an intern last year too,” I say. “That’s how we met.” I repeat every word in my head after I say it and realize that, technically, every one is true.

“Whoa! Interns!” says the one I’m pretty sure is P.J. He’s skinny with spiked-up hair. I imagine the only thing that’s changed about P.J. since high school is the collection of stick-straight hairs on his pointed chin — a sad attempt at a goatee.

“Can you imagine?” Clem says. The guys laugh and drink their beer. I want to say, Really? Are people still making those jokes? What’s next, a crack about cigars and rug-burned knees? But I say nothing. Clem squeezes Sam’s knee. “Just think,” he says. “If we’d met last summer, I wouldn’ta been able to date you on principle. Would have been a tragedy.” He grabs his chest in mock heart attack, and Sam grins and buries her face in his neck.

I stand up and say, “I’m going to get some more wine.”

“Just bring the whole bottle,” Sam says, coming up for air for a moment before pressing herself back into Clem.

Inside I check my cell phone for missed calls. Only one: my mother in California. She’s recently learned how to text, too: “U get in ok? Call me!” I don’t text back. I’m not sure who else I was expecting to hear from; my last boyfriend broke up with me two months ago. He hadn’t dealt well with my first stint as an intern — constantly calling to check on where I was and who I was with. He couldn’t understand why I’d want to go back to that muggy hellhole instead of staying in Huntington and sitting on the beach all summer watching him surf. I walk into the kitchen to see Black Flag Guy opening a beer.

“Oh, hey,” I say, trying not to appear startled.

“Hey,” he says.

I go about my business, pour myself more chardonnay.

“So. Tiffany, huh?” He takes a swig of beer then wipes his lips with the back of his hand. His cheeks and chin are blanketed in fine, dark stubble; his still un-smoked cigarette is tucked behind his right ear. “You don’t look like a Tiffany.”

“What does a Tiffany look like?” I ask.

“You’re more serious than a Tiffany.”

“I’m not that serious.”

I feel him studying me as I drink my wine. “You look more like an Emily,” he says.

“Emily?” I tell myself that this is just a line; he probably uses this move to pick up girls at bars all the time — what is the ratio of people who hate their given names, anyway? — and yet I’m flattered for some reason, even as I know I shouldn’t be. He’s looking at me, really looking at me, and I see something in his eyes. Something responsive — a thoughtfulness. “I’ve actually never liked Tiffany,” I confess.

“Yeah, she’s kind of a stuck-up bitch,” he says.

I laugh. “I’m sorry. I forgot your name.”

“I’m Tom.”

“Hi, Tom.” I’m using my flirty voice. I grab the chardonnay bottle by the neck and turn to go outside, but he takes it out of my hand and sets it back down on the granite.

“You want to see something cool?” Tom says. “It’ll only take a second.”

We walk into the hallway, and he opens a door that looks like a closet but contains a narrow wooden staircase. The steps look old and splintery. “It’s dark down there,” I say.

“Part of the charm,” Tom says. He goes in first, reaching upward and back for my hand. “I got you,” he says. The door shuts behind me, and we are submerged in black. I’m clasping Tom’s hand, bracing myself as we feel our way down the stairs, my wineglass in my other hand. “Almost there,” he says.

“What’s down here?”

“You’ll see in a second.” I take the last step, shorter than the rest, and the terrain changes — there’s something soft and unstable beneath my flip-flops. “Hold on, stay there,” Tom says. He lets go of my hand, and suddenly I’m alone in the darkness. I strain my ears; I can’t hear him at all. I stretch my free arm out in front of me and to the side, but feel nothing, only big, black emptiness and an odd squishiness under my feet. It reminds me of a museum exhibit I saw on a fifth grade field trip. It was a maze, made of heavy, matte-black cloth, devoid of any light source. My classmates and I crawled through on our hands and knees, fingers and elbows and noses and shoes colliding and scraping up against each other, but it was impossible to tell whose was whose or where you were or where you were supposed to go. I was so relieved when I reached the end, unnerved but no different except for a few mussed strands of hair that hung loosely in my face when they should have been tucked back neat beneath my headband. I listen hard.

“Tom? Where’d you go?” I hear a scratching sound over my right shoulder, back behind the stairs. My imagination starts making terrifying and preposterous leaps involving rats, sexual assault, and closed-circuit television, a side effect of watching too many episodes of Dateline with my mother, but then the basement is illuminated in reddish-purple light emanating from a single bare bulb in the ceiling, and Tom, indeed behind the stairs, stands with his hand on the switch. My eyes adjust, and I see that the entire room is covered in pillows and cushions of assorted shapes and sizes, mostly black, many of them arranged to form structures of varying heights and complexities. The back corner is especially busy with pillow-towers and pillow-bungalows: a plush semi-metropolis deserted after all the construction workers have called it quits and gone home for the night.

“What is this?”

“What does it look like?”

“Do you guys…build forts down here?”

“Yep!” Tom grins and swills his beer.

“Oh.” A smile spreads across my face. “You guys are twelve.”

Tom fake-laughs and walks toward me, his feet sinking in with every step. When I think he’s going to stop he keeps on coming, and I drink my chardonnay so that his face can’t get any closer to mine. I occupy myself with looking at the floor.

“What is this we’re standing on?” I make a big show of pushing my flip-flop down to test the firmness.

“Futon mattresses,” Tom says. I imagine there must be a huge pile of rusting, broken-down futon frames in a dump somewhere, irrelevant without their better halves — the yins to their yangs.

“This is the best part of the whole thing,” Tom says. He leads me to a square, neon orange beanbag chair. “Sit,” he commands. He holds my wine while I settle myself down butt-first; the seat sags with my weight, and I feel like I’m only a head and arms and legs. “Comfortable, right?” Tom says.

“Yeah,” I say, “though maybe not the best position to drink wine in?” He grabs my hand and pulls me out with such momentum that I’m propelled too far forward, and I catch myself awkwardly. “Thanks,” I laugh. He hands me back my glass. I look up into his face — smooth lips and wide eyes — and realize that I’m for-sure tipsy, that maybe I’ve had more to drink than I thought, and that I could kiss him, that, in fact, he is waiting for me to kiss him. But I know how kissing goes. It leads to groping, which leads to unzipping and unbuttoning, which leads to fucking, with the very least I can get away with doing being a consolation hand job, and then I’m like every other girl from a middle-class suburb who leaves home to try things with guys who didn’t grow up down the street from her. The worst part is it isn’t new—I’ve already been here and done this, except in a dorm room, the secluded corner of a frat house. I like him, or, at least, I think I do. I could like him. I think about the heat of his unshaven face and meeting his lips with mine like two interlocking puzzle pieces. There’s no reason I can’t do it; I’m not tethered to anyone. There’s no one waiting for me back home who I need to profess my loyalty to. Pillow City seems like a place where such things happen: straps falling easily over shoulders, two people smashing against each other in the dark. I want to kiss him, but it feels like a routine I know too well. It’s become a trap — a dance step I do only because I know how.

“I like your shirt, by the way,” I say finally.

“Do you know Black Flag?” he asks.

“Not really,” I admit. I turn to go back upstairs, but Tom grabs my hand. Don’t do it, I think. Don’t make a move. I don’t want to have to make any decisions about what I want or what could feel good enough to make me not care about anything else right now. His eyes dart around my face, taking me in.

“You have all the power, you know. Beautiful girls.” He takes a strand of my hair between his fingers and tugs it gently. “You don’t understand all the power you have, do you?” I pull away, shake my head. I don’t.

“That hasn’t been my experience,” I say. I go upstairs, leaving him to drink his beer and drown in cushions alone.

I can hear the others’ voices before I emerge from below — Sam’s distant giggling, Clem and the guys talking animatedly. The individual words are unclear, though, and, when I open the door, the main house seems much brighter to me than it did before: it’s like resurfacing in a pool while night swimming. I set my empty wine glass on the counter by the sink, and I hear Clem say, “Hell, yeah! We have to do it! Get a whole buncha fireworks, rent a boat, spend the night on the water —” I follow his voice through the house into the dining room, where Clem sits at the head of the table, Hood and P.J. on either side. Clem’s got a rolled-up dollar bill between his thumb and forefinger and two lines of fine white powder on the mahogany in front of him. My purse has been pushed to the edge of the table. P.J. is punching his fists through the air like a robot, and the guys are laughing so hard that it takes them a few seconds to notice me. “Oh, hey, Tiffany!” Clem says. “I think Sam’s in the bathroom.”

In the hall, I find the door outlined in light, walk toward it, knock, and Sam lets me right in without even asking who it is. She’s putting on lipstick in the mirror, a color not quite red, not quite pink. “You have to go?” she says. “Go ahead. I already went.” I’m generally not one to pee in pairs, but I’m drunk enough that I don’t care. Plus, Sam is preoccupied with staying in the lines.

“You know they’re doing coke on the dining room table out there?” I say. “Right next to my purse. Like, my purse is literally right there, and then there’s some cocaine. Right next to it.”

Sam’s lips are splayed like a butterflied pork loin, and she uses her finger to fix any mistakes. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure they didn’t get any of it on your purse.”

“No, that’s… forget it, never mind.” I want to say that I’ve never seen anyone do cocaine before, that it’s just like the movies. We’ve just entered Boogie Nights. But Sam’s so casual about it that I can’t get the words out. When I’m done I wash my hands, accidently turning the hot handle instead of the cold, and I just let the water run over my fingers as it gets hotter and hotter until it’s scalding and I can’t stand it anymore.

“So, how’d it go down in the basement with Tom?” Sam says. She raises an eyebrow.

“I think I’m going to go back to the apartment,” I say. “Do you think you’ll be ready in a little while?”

“Nah, I’m staying here tonight,” Sam says. “Clem will give me a ride to work in the morning.”

“But…don’t you need clothes?”

“I have some things here.” Sam blots her lips with a single square of toilet paper. “You need directions back? Want me to call you a cab?”

“No, that’s okay.”

Sam grabs me tightly around the shoulders in a bear hug, her fists digging into the center of my back. In the mirror, I see her bright lips say into my ear, “Get home safe.” Her hair smells like nicotine and dew.

Outside there are no stars, just milky gray clouds and a half of silvery moon. It’s even colder since we were out on the porch, and I curl my hands into tight little balls and hold them snug against my outer ribs. No one is on Clem’s street but me, but I feel comfortable here, alone among the bricks and the deep green hedges. Like I can breathe. I sing “Sister Christian” in my head to pass the time. It’s a long walk back to Sam’s and my apartment, and I wish I could see something else in the sky besides airplanes and faded night, but I have no jurisdiction over what goes on up there. I can’t change the bar people spilling out into the streets like shiny, confused beetles, the way they shout for no reason, or the squad cars with their flashing red and blue stationed at the corner of M and Wisconsin. I can’t control the cabs full of drunks whooshing by, though I feel relieved I’m not trapped within them. I can’t erase the things I’ve done, the things I might have done. There is no undo. There’s only now and walking and the bed I have to make up when I get in the door.

Amanda Zubillaga’s writing has appeared in Ghost Town, the new river, and Toad. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is currently at work on a novel.

Friday, May 30, 2014


An Etiquette Guide to the End Times by Maia Sepp
Women's Fiction / Dystopian
Date Published: June 6, 2014

Good manners never go out of style…do they?

There aren’t any zombies (yet), but the world is still at the brink of destruction: It’s 2028 and global warming has led to rising oceans, crazy weather, and resource scarcity. On top of that, someone just turned the Internet off. Seeing as how it’s humanity’s last chance to turn things around manners are, understandably, a bit frayed.

Etiquette buff Olive O’Malley is busy microfarming her urban property and minding her own business (and her chickens) when the government comes calling. Their goal is to push the populace towards carbon-neutrality while keeping kvetching to a minimum, and they come with a proposal: transition Olive’s popular etiquette column to a radio show for the masses, and they’ll help Olive find her grandfather, who’s gone missing.

Olive doesn’t trust the hipster government officials who try to bribe her with delicious-but-probably-a-little-evil chocolate pastries, and declines their offer. (Politely, of course.) But they won't take no for an answer, and soon Olive is knee-deep in turmoil, eco-terrorism, and missing chickens. Now she has to untangle herself from their demands and figure out how to make sure her family (and her poultry) are safe before it’s too late.

Maia left the tech sector to write about sock thievery, migraines, and...the tech sector.

The Sock Wars is her debut novel. The first chapter of The Sock Wars was published as a short story/novel excerpt titled Irish Drinking Socks, and became a Kobo bestselling short story. The Sock Wars has been a top-100 digital bestseller on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the iBookstore, as well as a genre and Writing Life bestseller on Kobo.

Maia's second novel is The Migraine Mafia, a story about a nerdy thirtysomething's quest to come to terms with a chronic illness. It is available online everywhere.

Her latest is a humorous near-future dystopian novella, titled, An Etiquette Guide to the End Times, available June 2014. To be notified about new releases, please add yourself to Maia's mailing list:

Website: Click here

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And now what you have been waiting for the cover of An Etiquette Guide to the End Times:


Show Floor Hours
Saturday, May 31, 2014 - 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM

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Saturday, May 31, 2014 - 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM

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Once Forbidden, Books Become A Lifeline For A Young Migrant Worker

by NPR Staff)

In the late 1950s, when she was just 8 years old, Storm Reyes began picking fruit as a full-time farm laborer for less than $1 per hour. Storm and her family moved often, living in Native American migrant worker camps without electricity or running water.

With all that moving around, she wasn't allowed to have books growing up, Storm tells her son, Jeremy Hagquist, on a visit to StoryCorps in Tacoma, Wash.

"Books are heavy, and when you're moving a lot you have to keep things just as minimal as possible," she says.

She remembers a tough childhood in the migrant camps.

"The conditions were pretty terrible. I once told someone that I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle," Storm says. "And when you are grinding day after day after day, there is no room in you for hope. There just isn't. You don't even know it exists. There's nothing to aspire to except filling your hungry belly. That's how I was raised."

But when she was 12, a bookmobile came to the fields where she and her family worked.

"So when I saw this big vehicle on the side of the road, and it was filled with books, I immediately stepped back," she says. "Fortunately the staff member saw me, kind of waved me in, and said, 'These are books, and you can take one home. You have to bring it back in two weeks, but you can take them home and read them.' "

The bookmobile staffer asked Storm what she was interested in and sent her home with a couple of books.

"I took them home and I devoured them. I didn't just read them, I devoured them," Storm says. "And I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books and that started it."

The experience, she says, was life changing.

"That taught me that hope was not just a word. And it gave me the courage to leave the camps. That's where the books made the difference."

Storm left the camps when she was a teenager and attended night school. She ended up working in the Pierce County Library system for more than 30 years.

"By the time I was 15, I knew there was a world outside of the camps," she says. "I believed I could find a place in it. And I did."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Dan Collison.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Recycling Franchises And Judging Books By Their Covers

by Stephen Johnson)

With Glen Weldon tweeting from the various paradises of Barcelona, this week's Pop Culture Happy Hour calls on the services of two familiar Code Switch pals — Kat Chow and Gene Demby — to discuss the eternal recycling of unlikely pop-culture franchises. We use the July return of Sailor Moon as an excuse to talk about everything from Girl Meets World to Hocus Pocus, George of the Jungle, Newsies, Transformers and more.

Then it's on to the topic of covers — not cover songs, mind you, but actual cover art. In music, that means lamenting the endless shrinkage of album covers from mural-sized fold-out vinyl sleeves to the minuscule avatars we see today. For books, we dig a bit deeper, discussing clichés, coding, color schemes, Kindles and more. Along the way, that brings talk of books about Africa, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, the books of Rainbow Rowell, Chip Kidd's designs, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

And, as always, we close with what's making us happy. I sing the praises of a new way to watch Tiny Desk Concerts, while Kat is happy about the response to an absurdly high-end product. Gene joins me in celebrating sports, though our opinions vary on his favored icon. And Linda offers up a grab bag, from her growing nephews to yelling-intensive TV to a Mad Men moment.

And, of course, she reminds you of what every man, woman and child in America should know by now: We're having another Pop Culture Happy Hour live show, this time to celebrate Episode No. 200! It's the evening of June 24 at NPR HQ, and tickets go on sale at noon ET on June 2. Come join us, won't you?

Until then, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: Linda, me, Kat, Gene, producer Jessica, producers Nick and Lauren, and our dear friend Mike.

Listen To Pop Culture Happy Hour



As a kid, I lived almost entirely inside books, and eventually the books started returning the favor. A lot of my internal world feels like an anthology, or a library. It's eclectic and disorganized, but I can browse in it, and that hugely shapes both what and how I write.
-Kathryn Schulz


by Jo Nesbø, translated by Charlotte Barslund


A deftly plotted novel that probes the deepest mysteries: sin, redemption, love, evil, the human condition.

After he seemingly brought Harry Hole back from the dead in his last novel (Police, 2013), Norway’s Nesbø gives his popular protagonist a breather, shelving the detective in favor of a stand-alone novel that plunges deeply into the religious allegory that has frequently framed his work (The Redeemer, 2013). In fact, the symbolism might initially seem laid on pretty thick for readers looking to solve a satisfying whodunit. Sonny Lofthus, the son of the title, is introduced as a prisoner with “healing hands,” one who was “prepared to take your sins upon himself and didn’t want anything in return.” Like Christ, he suffers for the sins of others and offers redemption. He is also a hopeless junkie. His back story suggests that Sonny was a boy of considerable promise, a champion wrestler and model student, proud son of a police officer. Then, when he was 18, he was devastated by the suicide of his father, who left a note confessing his corruption as the mole within the department, and the subsequent death of his heartbroken mother. After Sonny turned to drugs, he found himself in a web of evil; if he would confess to murders he hadn’t committed, the corrupt prison system would keep him supplied with heroin. Then a fellow prisoner comes to him for confession and reveals a secret that turns Sonny’s world upside down, inspiring him to kick his habit, plot an ingenious escape and turn himself into an “avenging angel,” delivering lethal retribution. The inspector obsessed with the case had a complicated relationship with Sonny’s father, and it remains uncertain until the climax (in a church, naturally) whether he wants to be Sonny’s captor or his collaborator. It’s a novel in which one character muses on “how innocence walks hand-in-hand with ignorance. How insight never clarifies, only complicates.”

One of Nesbø’s best, deepest and richest novels, even without Harry Hole.

Pub Date: May 13th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-35137-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online: April 3rd, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2014


23 Places Where You's Rather Be Reading Right Now

Must-See Book Trailers: 'This Year's Black,' 'His Billion Dollar Baby,' 'Cupid's Mistake'

by Robin Covington)


This was a big week for me because I celebrated my 20th anniversary with The Main Man. It's been a wild ride and I'll take this time to shout out that I wouldn't want to take this journey with anyone else. He is my happily ever after!

The first trailer for this week is for Avery Flynn's newest release, This Year's Black. The soundtrack for this trailer grabbed me right away with the exotic, sexy tune that perfectly complements a romantic suspense story that sweeps the hero and heroine off to a tropical locale. The fun memo board technique and the live-action couple make this a fun trailer for a fun book.

This Year's Black

The video for the His Billion Dollar Baby by Lea Nolan is the perfect showcase for a romance about a billionaire who is faced with accepting his late brother's baby while falling in love with the mother. I really like how the imagery is heartwarming and romantic as it carries out themes of love and family that runs throughout this USA TODAY bestseller. Loved it!

His Million Dollar Baby by Lea Nolan

The trailer for Cupid's Mistake by Chantilly White is the perfect showcase for this fun contemporary romance. Everything from the saucy soundtrack, to the falling hearts and glitter background to the modern, fresh images are what would draw you to this flirty sexy romance. Well done!

Cupid's Mistake by Chantilly White

If you have a book trailer that you would like for me to feature in this column, send the link to Any subgenre is fine as long as it is a romance!

Robin Covington writes sizzling contemporary romance. Her stories burn up the sheets ... one page at a time. She loves her family, tasty man eye candy and comic books. Her website is

Book Buzz: USA TODAY Heads to BookCon

by Kelly Lawler)

Move over Comic Con, there's a new fan convention in town.

The last day of BookExpo America, the publishing trade show, will also inaugurate BookCon, an event bringing pop culture and literature together.

BookCon, held in the Javits Center on Saturday and open to the public (there is a charge), will be a day for readers and fans, bringing them closer to the books, authors and pop culture they love.

Here's a sneak peek at the BookCon panels that will be moderated by USA TODAY writers:

Best-selling authors Jodi Picoult, Kathy Reichs and Ruth Reichl will be onstage together with USA TODAY's Bob Minzesheimer at 11 a.m. in room 1E15. They'll talk about their previous best sellers plus dive into their more recent books, including Picoult's Leaving Time, Reichs' Bones Never Lie and Reichl's Delicious!

Borrowing a perennial Comic Con guest, USA TODAY's Brian Truitt will go one-on-one with comic book legend Stan Lee, who has co-created some of the biggest superheros of all time, from Spider-Man to the X-Men to the Avengers. Lee is venturing into a new kind of storytelling with his children's book Zodiac, out January 2015 from Disney. Like Peter Parker, Lee's new hero is a teenager, a Chinese-American boy who is gifted with powers based on the Chinese Zodiac. The panel is at 11:30 a.m. in room 1E07.

USA TODAY's Lindsay Deutsch will talk to young-adult authors Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments) and Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver) at 1 p.m. in room 1E07. Black and Clare are collaborating on a new book, The Iron Trial: Magesterium, and Stiefvater has just written Sinner, a companion to the Shiver trilogy. The panel will focus on epic stories and creating immersive worlds for readers.

Actor and star of The Princess Bride Cary Elwes is venturing into the world of writing with his new book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. He'll talk to USA TODAY's Carly Mallenbaum about the book, sharing stories from the set of the film at 1 p.m in room 1E15.

Mallenbaum will also chat with actress Danielle Fishel at 2:15 p.m. in room 1E15. She'll discuss her new memoir Normally This Would Be Cause For Concern: Tales of Calamity and Unrelenting Awkwardness. The audience get to know the actress behind Topanga in Boy Meets World and the spin-off Girl Meets World.


The winner for the "Perfect Opposite" by Zoya Tessi giveaway is:

Kerry A.!

Congratulations! I hope you really enjoy this book. I have to just send the form into the tour company and you should have your book soon.

Thank you for entering the giveaway and supporting me and my blog. I really appreciate it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

10 Literary Luminaries’ Ultimate Summertime Reads

by Jason Diamond)

The beach is wonderful and all, but you have to be really rich or really lucky — or really unemployed — to spend all your time lying in the sand while reading books and sipping tequila drinks. While that certainly sounds like a nice life, there’s so much more to summer than sun and sand — and your standard “10000 great beach reads” lists don’t even begin to cover it. So, we asked a few authors and other literary types to recommend the ultimate summertime books for all situations.

Rebecca Rubenstein: Light in August, William Faulkner I read the majority of Light in August with my bare feet dangling off the edge of a pier, at a beach within walking distance of my high school. It was the last quarter of junior year, May, and Chicago’s nicer weather was already in peak form, the breeze and waves from Lake Michigan keeping in perfect time with one another. If ever there was a soundtrack to read Faulkner to, the movement of water, coupled with the soft hiss of cicadas, is it. If you’re lucky, summertime is rife with both of these, and I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to discover Faulkner’s layers and language and voice for the first time with the warmth of the sun on my back and the echo of the waves in my ears.

Rebecca Rubenstein is the editor-in-chief of Midnight Breakfast.

Jennifer Gilmore: The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante I read everything in the summertime. I don’t want light and frothy, I want fierce and brutal and beautiful, and The Days of Abandonment, which chronicles the descent of a woman whose husband has forsaken her leaving her to care for the house and children is that. It is painful and violent and precise and it offsets the awkward ease of sitting on the beach enjoying life.

Jennifer Gilmore’s most recent book is The Mothers.

Amber Sparks: The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers Long, hot days and a loss of innocence seem to characterize all my favorite books about summer; the season seems to flame with dark possibility, with bubbles about to burst – and that’s where Carson McCullers’ much overlooked novel, The Member of the Wedding, lives. Twelve year old tomboy Frankie is growing up in Georgia, awkward and a loner and obsessed with her brother and his fiancee. I’ve heard Frankie described as a female Holden Caulfield, but I think Frankie’s is a murkier, more complex coming-of-age story, and this deeply unsettling book is perfect for the sultry, dangerous days of summer.

Amber Sparks is the author of the short story collection May We Shed These Human Bodies, and co-author of the hybrid novel The Desert Places, along with Robert Kloss and illustrator Matt Kish. She can be found most days on Twitter @ambernoelle or at her website.

Kathleen Alcott: The Green House, Mario Vargas Llosa Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Green House is a book I loved so fiercely I had to immediately give it away: it seemed that the most important reaction was to foist its marvels on someone else. Set alternately in a small town beleaguered by dust storms, on the boats where dying conmen drift through the Amazon, and in the brothels and nunneries that aim to save the men of a rapidly changing Peru, the novel offers a stunning look at inherited cultural identity, the psychological reaches of betrayal, and the unrelenting parts of ourselves.

Kathleen Alcott’s second novel, Infinite Home, is forthcoming from Riverhead in 2015. Her first novel, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, was published in 2012. Her fiction, criticism, and essay appear in publications including The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Coffin Factory, The Rumpus, Explosion Proof, Five Chapters, and elsewhere. Born in Northern California in 1988, she currently resides in Brooklyn.

Kate Gavino: This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is pretty much everything I want out of a graphic novel: jaw-dropping artwork, incredible characters, and a superbly depressing but honest story. The book takes place in a beach cottage in the middle of summer, but don’t let that fool you. Much of the story is told from the POV of Rose, a preteen witnessing the demise of her parent’s marriage, dealing with a questionable crush on the guy at the corner store, and watching slasher films with her best friend. Like Skim, the Tamaki’s previous effort, it is the perfect anecdote to sweet, happy coming-of-age tales and shows adolescence for what it truly is: a shitshow.

Kate Gavino is the creator of Last Night’s Reading.

D. Foy: The Delicate Prey, Paul Bowles Lydia Davis won the Man Booker last year, Alice Munro the Nobel this year, and George Saunders the Folio, which is to say the short story, obviously, is once again as hot as they say this summer’s going to be. Paul Bowles is in my pantheon of all-time greats, and The Delicate Prey is no small reason why. Most of his stuff is set in the blazing country of North Africa, where he lived his last fifty years, but his voice is so icy as to be atonal, perfect for tales, to name just one, of professors sold into slavery and made to dance beaten and tongueless for the pleasure of their Reguibat masters.

D. Foy is the author of Made to Break

Julia Bartz: The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides For a dreamlike and engrossing experience, there’s no better summer read than The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Less gentle than Sofia Coppola’s film version, the short and perfect novel traces events leading up to the suicides of five sisters in Midwestern suburbia. The story’s told by a group of nameless and obsessive male classmates, who pool evidence and piece together memories to try to make sense of the deaths. In addition to the central story, other characters are picked up and dropped, their entire lives encapsulated in perfect sentences like this one: “Three times a day Petrovich showed up at the nurse’s office for his injections, always using the hypodermic needle himself like the most craven of junkies, though after shooting up he would play the concert piano in the auditorium with astounding artistry, as though insulin were the elixir of genius.” This is one of very few books I’ve read more than once.

Julia Bartz is the creator of Book Stalker.

Liberty Hardy: In Cold Blood, Truman Capote I suggest the scariest book I’ve ever read: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It’s a classic for a reason! There are so many fascinating aspects to it: a horrific true crime, small town politics, a famous writer who inserts himself in the story. It’s said that Capote was so wrecked by his involvement with the case that he was never able to really write again. (It is also said that he fabricated a lot of the details and scenes in the book.) If you haven’t read In Cold Blood, summer is the perfect time to pick it up. Read it at the beginning of summer because it will scare the bejesus out of you, a deep, shivery fear that will last the season. Always. Lock. Your. Doors.

Liberty Hardy is a bookseller at RiverRun Bookstore.

Julia Fierro: The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian When I pack for a vacation, struggling to zip my suitcase over a pile of books that might seem anything but relaxing–blood-drenched thrillers and true crime journalism and apocalyptic fiction–my fellow travelers ask, “You’re bringing that on vacation?” One reader’s “beach read” might be a lighthearted tale with a happy ending and so-called “likable” characters. My own ideal reads offer a trip into fictional and nonfictional worlds full of unthinkable situations, which, for me, is the surest form of escape. Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital, a remarkable tale over 600 pages long, includes a bit of every genre of “beach read”–thought-provoking mystery, sex and romance, a thrilling situation, psychologically complex characters, carefully crafted literary prose, plus a pinch of apocalyptic sci-fi. The novel opens in a delivery room of a children’s hospital where Jemma Claflin, the novel’s heroine and a third-year medical student, is assisting in a string of difficult births. Outside the hospital, a storm of biblical proportions rages, escalating until, like Noah’s Ark, the hospital is sent floating into a flooded post-apocalyptic world. The novel’s mix of the miraculous (angels that speak from the hospitals’ walls and magical healings) with the mundane (the vulnerably human story-lines) creates a reading experience like no other. In our distraction-filled lives, we are often unable to make time for the kind of thick page-turner that pulls you in and won’t let go. Vacation is meant for that kind of escape and The Children’s Hospital is one of the few novels I recommend, again and again, to friends, and to my students at The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, knowing I’ll receive emails full of astonished gratitude from readers once they’ve survived Adrian’s devastated, but also redemptive, world.

Julia Fierro is the author of Cutting Teeth and founder of The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop.

Matt Dojny: The Palm-Wine Drinkard (and His Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town), Amos TutuolaI first read The Palm-Wine Drinkard on a white-hot beach in Fort Lauderdale, sipping a Coke spiked with Sangiovese while the sun (and the book) fried my brain. Drinkard is a freaky West African folktale written in what Dylan Thomas termed “Young English,” detailing one man’s often-terrifying, occasionally-hilarious journey to the land of the dead. Along the way, he meets all manner of unsavory characters, including the Invisible-Pawn, the Red-king, and a Hungry-Creature who eats his wife. (Imagine a Nigerian novelization of Spirited Away.) The Palm-Wine Drinkard will make you feel as though you’re surrounded by enigmatic, possibly malevolent entities—especially if you’re on a beach in Fort Lauderdale.

Matt Dojny is the author of The Festival of Earthly Delights

Swoon Romance Publisher Georgia McBride Has NA Summer Picks

by Georgia McBride)

While some readers across the country may still be experiencing winter weather, summer is right around the corner. Most of my friends use this time of year for vacation or at the pool with the kids. But I get most of my non-work-related reading done from June through August. There is something special about kicking back in a lawn chair, lying in a hammock, or sitting under a beach umbrella and getting lost in a story. So if you're looking for me this summer, I'm the one with the wide-brim hat, fruity drink, and face buried in a Kindle.

For those of you who have yet to fill their e-reader, I've put together a list of some New Adult romance e-books to jump-start your summer reading experience. Enjoy!

For a humorous and fun read, The Accidental Socialite by Stephanie Wahlstrom tells the story of a 22-year-old's arrival in London. In it, Paige Crawford trips and falls into the arms of a mysterious man on a drunken night out. Their pic is snapped by paparazzi, and the next day's headlines claim she's having an affair with a married footballer. Instantly elevated to tabloid celebrity status, Paige struggles to conquer her new city while longing for the simpler life she left behind. In what has been called Notting Hill meets Bridget Jones's Diary, The Accidental Socialite is a hilarious and often irreverent romantic comedy available in e-book and paperback.

Missing high school? Class Of '98 is She's All That meets Back to the Future. Back in high school, Jackie Dunn and Matt Stewart would never have hung out, sat at the same lunch table, or God forbid, dated. But when a weird storm transports them from their reunion back to senior year, Jackie and Matt are trapped with seemingly no way to get back to 2008. Soon, they come to rely on one another, even become friends. Just when Jackie's starting to get used to curfews and term papers again, Matt drops a bomb on Jackie that has them rethinking the past and contemplating a new future. Class of '98 released in December 2013 in e-book.

Looking for a contemporary fantasy romance? Cait Hayden's life is all about college exams until she draws the attention of a dragon whose passion she ignites for the first time, and a vampire who plans to marry her as a means to solidify his position as ruler. But when the two suitors force Cait to choose, she finds the consequences are eternal, the love undying, and the bond timeless. Fire of Stars and Dragons by Melissa A. Petreshock is a moving contemporary fantasy that will make you believe in the impossibility of love. And it has dragons!

For those seeking a fun college romance, try Heather Young-Nichols' Up For Grabs. When Flannery Tate learns she will have to drop out of college because her scholarship is no more, she makes a drastic and life-altering decision. She decides to pay for college the only way she can, by selling her virginity to the highest bidder. But perhaps Flannery hasn't thought this all the way through. Her boyfriend and mother just might have an opinion. Up For Grabs is a laugh-out-loud novel about the things we do when our backs are against the wall.

Love to read dark romantic fantasy? Chained to a brotherhood of men with the supernatural ability to invade dreams, Lydon v'al Endrian hunts dreamcasters to be harvested for their dreams and then killed. His newest target is Kalila Montgomery, who awakens a dark desire and a longing for a freedom long-lost. To gain everything he craves, Lydon must seduce Kalila before his plot is discovered and they both end up dead. Wonderfully Wicked by C.J. Burright is a rich and dark New Adult romance, perfect for lazy summer afternoons.

Looking for something a bit more hard-hitting and emotional? Coming this summer from Swoon Romance is Goodbye To You by A.J. Matthews about a girl who decides to have a preventive double mastectomy after her sister is diagnosed with breast cancer. On her last vacation with boobs, she meets "the one" who has the power to change everything. With the surgery only a few weeks away, will she have the strength to tell him the truth? Will he have the desire to stick by her? Goodbye To You celebrates the inner strength of women battling breast cancer and the men who love them through it.

For those who love a true beach read, Had To Be You by Juliet Chatham chronicles the journey one young lady makes back to the town she grew up in for one last-ditch effort to revive the love she had in the one who got away. She wants to stop his impending wedding, but does he still love her "in that way?" And does she love him enough to let him go and be happy? Had To Be You will release in e-book in August.

Readers may visit for more Swoon Romance titles! Read, Swoon, Repeat!

9 Ways Book Tech Changes the Future of Books and How We Read

by Kelly Gallucci and Natalie Zutter)

Ebooks are the future of books, but what about the future of reading? Silent (or Topless!) Reading Parties change the way we read with each other, while speed-reading apps such as Spritz challenge our brains to process words even faster. And let's not forget how wearable books allow us to tap directly into characters' emotions. Thanks to the Internet and these innovative forms of book tech, "social reading" takes on an increasingly nuanced meaning.

In the age of Tumblr and Twitter, readers are finding that it's easier than ever to interact quickly and easily with their favorite authors. Innovators in the industry recognize this trend and note that it'll only grow from here. Several cite author Hugh Howey as an inspiration for where the future of reader/author interactions can go. "Howey forms powerful, organic connections with his readers," Danny Fein, CEO and Founder of Litographs, says. "In stark contrast to the static, informational author websites of the past, Howey's web platform allows readers to interact with each other, contribute fan fiction and art, and download books directly."

Before his website dazzled readers, Howey was being celebrated for representing the different opportunities that digital publishing presents. The author originally published his novel Wool in novelette-sized chunks, eventually releasing them in full. "I'm excited to see writers and publishers… create work specifically for this new medium," says Margot Atwell, Publishing Community Manager at Kickstarter. "Books conceived for the digital sphere might be very different from their print counterparts. I can imagine everything changing, from cover design to length to frequency of publication and even more."

Not just the books should change, many believe; so should the communities around them. "Current events highlight the dangers of there being only a handful of major players who control the relationship of readers to books," says Zola Books CEO Joe Regal. (Full disclosure: Zola Books is Bookish's parent company.) "In the digital world, where everyone can broadcast their taste and benefit from it, it's crazy that readers are tied to specific retailers and their devices. Fortunately, technology doesn't have to trap readers in closed and airless ecosystems; digital tools can enable every passionate book advocate to have a voice—whether author or publisher, independent bookseller or reader."

One of those tools is, of course, the Zola Books social reading app, which serves readers on both iPhones/iPads and Android devices. Regal also points to social writing sites like Wattpad and subscription sites including Oyster and Scribd as examples of diverse and exciting ecosystems—though he notes that brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes & Noble will continue to play an important role. "The ways that people discover and share books," he says, "are only beginning to be explored."

Change can be a frightening thing, but many are actively embracing the future of digital books and finding creative ways to ensure that readers favorite aspects—such as signed, personalized messages from authors—remain a part of the reading experience. Autography is already providing loyal readers with this unique opportunity, with authors clamoring to be a part of it.

"I truly believe that signed ebooks are the wave of the future," says Eloisa James, author of Three Weeks With Lady X, who recently participated in an Autography event at Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. "Readers love Autography and its ability to allow me to sign books especially for them, to wish a friend happy birthday, or give a special greeting to a fan." (If that's piqued your interest, Zola Books is holding an Autography event at BookCon this Saturday, May 31, at booth #2763.)

Another indication that the tide is turning is that people talk about reading in the kinds of terms formerly reserved for television. "Discovery-friendly and binge-friendly" is how CITIA CEO Linda Holliday describes her ideal nonfiction reading experience. "The idea that the first chapter is the only promotion in a world of 24/7 conversations seems downright quaint to me. And yes, the category will continue to merge with essays and articles. What were formerly only books will also (and sometimes only), be traveling databases of connected content objects, everywhere and all in one place at the same time."

Jennifer 8. Lee, co-founder of iPhone reading app Rooster also notes how the notions of "books" and "television" converge thanks to digital transformations. "'Books,' or rather written narratives, are getting more episodic and doled out over time," she says. "There is now even appointment reading, when an episode [of] something is free to read for only a limited time. In contrast, television, or 'screen narrative,' is moving in the other direction, embracing binge-watching via subscription services like Netflix, HBOGo, and Hulu. That feels more like experiencing a whole novel and narrative arc." (TV writer and comic book writer Jane Espenson said much the same in an interview with us!)

"Gone are the days where we have to think twice about sampling content," adds Julie Haddon, VP of marketing at Scribd. "It's quickly becoming an all-you-can-read world."

Even those loyal to the humble book can't ignore the desire to be connected to other book lovers, and technology is offering the ability to discuss literature across more platforms than ever before. The days of Sunday book clubs are far from over; in fact, they're keeping up with the times. "We're finally on the forefront of customization when looking for your next read," Haddon says. "Recommendations amongst friends, family, book clubs, and more are evolving and getting smarter thanks to new technology and services."

While many are focusing on the way in which we'll be reading (i.e., the eternal ereader debate), others are thinking more on the content itself. "Most innovation is really going to be in editorial," predicts Michael FitzGerald, CEO of Submittable "I think editorial is a wildly undervalued skill set, and new technologies are going to enable editorial to exist outside existing money structure (i.e., Midtown Manhattan). There's a huge opportunity for independent publishers with strong editorial as product and distribution costs drop."

Considering how quickly technology and social media have advanced in the last few years, it's impossible to truly predict just how far we'll go with new forms of reading. But readers and writers alike know that one thing will never change. Maris Kreizman, Kickstarter's Publishing Community Manager and the creator of the hilarious crossover blog Slaughterhouse 90210, says it best: "Readers will continue to seek out great stories above all else. The definition of what books are and what they can be will continue to evolve, and the ways in which readers find and enjoy them and form communities around them will evolve, too."

Book Buzz: Authors Pay Tribute to Angelou at BookExpo

by Bob Minzesheimer)

A day after the death of Maya Angelou at age 86, the celebrated memoirist and poet was remembered by three diverse authors at BookExpo America, the annual publishing convention.

Actress Anjelica Huston, talk show host Tavis Smiley and novelist Lisa Scottoline all paid tribute to Angelou's words and legacy.

Huston, whose second memoir, Watch Me, will be released Nov. 11, began her remarks by reading from Angelou's poem A Brave and Startling Truth, written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995.

"If we are bold," Huston added, "only love sets us free."

Speaking about her own life, Huston described the burdens early in her acting career of being known mostly as the daughter of director John Huston and the girlfriend of actor Jack Nicholson.

Only after she nearly died in a car crash, when she was 28, she said, did she realize that "I'd been marginally wasting my life."

She said she decided to write her memoirs — A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York, was released last year — after the 2008 death of her husband of 17 years, sculptor Robert Graham. His death, she said, left her "alone and in a state of shock." She added, "I knew enough about sorrow not to hold on to things too tightly," but "to open the doors, let the air in."

Smiley described how, as an African-American boy in a family of 10 kids sharing a three-bedroom trailer in the cornfields of Indiana, he was inspired by Angelou's poem Still I Rise.

Smiley, whose book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year will be released Sept. 9, is one of only two African Americans among the featured speakers at the four-day convention. He called on publishers and editors to publish most diverse voices.

"It's not enough for us just to celebrate the life and legacy of Maya Angelou," Smiley said. "We need to recognize that every one of us has a voice, a unique thumbprint on our throats, and each of us has a story. I want to encourage all of us in the book publishing world to work a little bit harder to get the stories of people of color told."

Scottoline, whose next thriller, Betrayed, will be released Nov. 25, discussed how novelists use their imaginations to "tell a truth" that goes beyond facts and helps readers discover things about themselves.

She said that's true "for writers either alive or dead," then added, "Maya Angelou will never really die."

Unseen Hitchhiker's Guide Material in New Douglas Adams Biography

by Alison Flood)

Unknown journeys … Douglas Adams at home in Santa Barbara, California in 2000. Photograph: Dan Callister/Getty Images

Extracts from an abandoned draft of a Hitchhiker's Guide novel by Douglas Adams are set to be included in a new biography of the late author after they were discovered amongst the papers in his Cambridge archive.

Adams died in 2001, aged 49, leaving behind him seven much-loved novels and three co-authored works of non-fiction. The Salmon of Doubt, published posthumously in 2002, was a collection of fragments and part of an unfinished novel culled from his hard drive, but his new biographer JL Roberts, who was given full and exclusive access by Adams' family to his papers, found a treasure trove of unsuspected work within the boxes and boxes of material housed in St John's College.

A selection is set to be included in his forthcoming biography of Adams, The Frood, from cut extracts from the first Hitchhiker's Guide novel, The Dentrassi and Arthur's Reverie, to extracts from the "lost" draft of Life The Universe and Everything, including one on "Inter-Species Sex".

"The Salmon of Doubt was taken from the hard drive of all Douglas's many different Apple Macs," Roberts said. "Nobody had ever thought about a paper trail though. Douglas Adams was the king of new technology, and people probably thought he'd had a huge bonfire of all his papers. But there are boxes and boxes of notebooks, lots of typescript stuff, paper printed from the computer … it was just an enormous job."

There is "an enormous amount of material out there that has never been seen before", said Roberts. As well as Life, the Universe and Everything, the biography will feature an alternative original pitch for Hitchhiker, a lost rough script for the second television series, and further scraps of unused material, with names like Baggy the Runch and The Assumption of Saint Zalabad.

The Life, the Universe and Everything draft, Roberts said, has "whole chapters where the characters are doing different things – different ideas he never got round to using, [such as] chapters written from Arthur Dent's point of view".

But "none of this stuff is finished", he added. "It's very important to contextualise this material properly … and I understand people thinking that this is raw material and he didn't want it to be seen. I spend part of the book asking what Douglas would have wanted … but there are so many great Douglas Adams jokes which have been completely air-sealed for the last 20 years. [And] I think it's wonderful that we finally get to read some of this stuff."

The book is authorised by the Adams estate and Douglas Adams' family, including his daughter Polly and his sister Susan. Although there have been previous biographies of Adams, including Nick Adams' Wish You Were Here, and Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic, The Frood takes an "all-new" approach, said publisher Preface, part of Random House.

"It would be ridiculous to pretend that Douglas Adams' life and work has gone unexamined since his dismayingly early death at 49, but throughout the decade since the last book to tackle the subject, the universes Adams created have continued to develop, to beguile and expand minds, and will undoubtedly do so for generations to come," said the publisher, announcing publication of The Frood in October.

The book will, said Preface, tell the story "of Adams's explosive but agonisingly-constructed fictional universe, from his initial inspirations to the posthumous sequel(s) and adaptations", with Roberts interviewing friends and colleagues "for a fresh take on the man and his works".

The title is a word of Adams' own invention, meaning an amazingly together guy. In his own words: "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is."

The news about the release of unseen material comes shortly after Hitchhiker fans around the world celebrated Towel Day - the annual phenomenon on 25 May marking the day fans gather for Adams' wake. Adams' fans know that a towel is "about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have", and proved it earlier this week by taking part in a series of towel-bearing escapades.

As Adams put it: "any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

Early Gay Literature Rediscovered

by Trebor Healey)

Valancourt Books is an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction. James Jenkins and Ryan Cagle (who've incidentally been together for 10-plus years and were married in Iowa in 2009), began the press to bring back the many great books that remain out-of-print and inaccessible. Specializing in gay titles, gothic and horror novels, as well as literary fiction, they founded Valancourt Books in 2005 to restore many of these works to a new generations of readers. It's an impressive and fascinating list. I got so lost in it, and had so much fun looking around at all the great books I've never even heard of, I just had to interview these guys.

Trebor Healey: I'm always amazed when a new press emerges. Knowing how difficult it is to get a start and to make a go of it, it always reminds me that the passion for literature is as strong as ever, and book lovers will always find a way to share their enthusiasms and the treasures they find in the enormous world library of books. Tell us your story.

JJ: My whole life, I've been someone who loves to read, but my reading tastes have always been a bit off the beaten path, and I continually found myself frustrated by the fact that so many great books that I wanted to read were out of print and unavailable. As an undergraduate, I became really interested in the Gothic fiction of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and eagerly devoured the few books that were in print: The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, Ann Radcliffe's books, and a few others. But there were hundreds and hundreds of other titles that sounded really enticing, yet weren't available anywhere, either to buy online or get at a library. The specific impetus for starting the press came when I was doing research on the Gothic novelist Francis Lathom (1774-1832), who was rumored to be gay, and discovered that the only place in North America where you could find his books was on microfiche in Lincoln, Nebraska. It just seemed ridiculous in the 21st century -- with the modern technology we have now for making books available -- that books of such interest to readers and scholars should be out of print. So in early 2005, we began reprinting some of these old Gothic novels, and over time, we expanded into neglected Victorian-era popular fiction, including old Penny Dreadfuls and sensation novels, as well as a lot of the decadent and fin de siècle literature of the 1890s. More recently, in late 2012, we discovered -- to our surprise -- that there was a ton of great literature from the 20th century, sometimes even as recent as the 1970s or 1980s, that was out of print and almost impossible to find in libraries or secondhand copies, so we've begun republishing a lot of neglected modern works, most of them either of gay interest or horror/supernatural (though, of course, the two often overlap!)

TH: I've worked as a volunteer at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, and what I loved about working there was the thrill of discovering some amazing old gay novels -- books like John Horne Burns's early gay classic, The Gallery, from 1947, and Luis Zapata's Adonis Garcia. I also worked with Winston Leyland and Gay Sunshine Press for a few years in San Francisco before he shut it down and I was impressed with all the obscure early queer lit he'd published and kept in print: Charles Warren Stoddard's Cruising the South Seas, Adolfo Caminha's Bom Crioulo, Oscar Wilde's Teleny, the Gay Roots series, etc. Now I can add Valancourt Books to that list of resources for hard-to-find gems of gay lit. Your reprints of Walter Baxter's Look Down in Mercy and Martyn Goff's The Plaster Fabric are great examples of gay men at war, and I also find myself drawn to Francis King's work, such as The Dividing Stream. I definitely think you guys are onto something -- this is the next wave of what's been happening in publishing, and one of the positive things about the internet and books. How do you go about rediscovering the books you end up reprinting?

JJ: The ONE Archives sound wonderful -- I'd love to check out their collection sometime! Many of the gay classics we've been reissuing are ones that were last published in the 1980s by the UK's Gay Men's Press in their Gay Modern Classics series. We've reprinted most of that series now -- great titles like Kenneth Martin's Aubade, about a teenager's first love (written when Martin was only 16!) Gillian Freeman's The Leather Boys, the first novel to focus on love between young working-class men, (everything before that time had featured gay men who were wealthy aristocrats, emperors, etc.), and Michael Nelson's A Room in Chelsea Square, a wonderfully camp classic about bitchy queens in 1950s London that elicits some really strong reactions from today's readers -- people either think the novel is hilarious fun, or else they view the main character, Patrick, as a reprehensible predator. I think it's great that a gay novel from 1958 can still inspire such interest and passionate responses.

As for where we've discovered some of these other great books, sometimes it's just serendipity. The excellent Francis King, who you mentioned, I first "met" when I was corresponding with him about something he'd written on Forrest Reid, one of whose books we were republishing. Not having read any of Francis' novels and not knowing much about them, I afterwards picked up one of them, An Air That Kills (1948), and was really blown away by it. We're now publishing six of his, and also five by his mentor, the perennially underrated C.H.B. Kitchin, to whose books Francis introduced me.

You mentioned Walter Baxter's novel of the British campaign in Burma, Look Down in Mercy, which is a really terrific book. WWII-themed novels were still very popular in 1951 when it was first published, and it was a bestseller in both the U.S. and UK, perhaps a little surprisingly, since a significant portion of the book has to do with the love between an officer and an enlisted man. An intriguing thing about the book is that in the UK edition, the officer is consumed by guilt and self-hatred and throws himself out of a window at the end, but in the U.S. edition, the author rewrote the last chapter to give a happy ending and a possible future for the two men. I should mention, too, that one thing that sets our editions apart from many publishers who reprint older books is that our editions all have new introductions either by their authors or by leading writers or critics. Look Down in Mercy, for example, has an introduction by Prof. Gregory Woods, who wrote the landmark History of Gay Literature (Yale Univ. Press, 1998), a book that meant a lot to me when I came across it at age 18 or 19 or so, and which helped me discover a lot of great gay authors.

TH: That is important to provide the new introductions, and a great service to your readers. It offers much-needed context. You also republish a lot of gothic horror and books dealing with the supernatural. Since publishing with Steve Berman's Lethe Press, I've been amazed at the huge horror market among gay readers. Why are gay people so into horror?

JJ: It's interesting you mention gay people and horror - it's a connection not a lot of people make (probably some readers are perplexed at why we focus on two seemingly such different areas as gay fiction and horror), but it actually goes back a long way, all the way back to the old Gothic novels of the 1790s and early 1800s, which is what we first began with publishing. In books like Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) and Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), you often come across fairly obvious gay themes. In The Monk, for example, the monk falls in love with one of the young novices, who ends up being revealed as a girl in disguise, but up until that point the gay subtexts are pretty clear. A lot of those Gothic authors, like Lewis, William Beckford, Francis Lathom, were homosexual, and I think the traditional explanation for the gay/horror connection is that it was impossible for them to write openly about gay themes back then (or even perhaps express them, since words like "gay" and "homosexual" didn't exist), so they sublimated them and expressed them in more acceptable forms, using the medium of a transgressive genre like horror fiction. Gay subtexts are something that run through horror fiction from that point all the way to the present day -- in Victorian times, of course, there's Bram Stoker's devotion to Sir Henry Irving, reflected in the homoerotic aspects of Dracula (Dracula's line "This man belongs to me!" as he warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker). As you mention, in more recent times there are plenty of gay authors working in horror -- Poppy Z. Brite, Clive Barker, the late Michael McDowell and Michael Talbot, both of whom we're republishing, and a ton of others.

TH: I'm a total aficionado of Pan, fauns and satyrs, as you likely figured from whatever you know about my work, so of course Forrest Reid's The Garden God jumped out at me. And I wonder if there is more material you've come across that deals with either Greco-Roman mythology or the whole Pan/faun sublimation of male eros, etc. in those earlier times (I love that your "gay titles" header bar is a boy playing a flute).

JJ: You're right, these do show up often -- both in gay and horror fiction (Arthur Machen's really wonderful The Great God Pan being the obvious example of the latter group). The image you mentioned from our website is a detail from M. S. Corley's beautiful cover art for Harmonica's Bridegroom (1984) by Paul Binding, an author influenced by Forrest Reid's classic (and unjustly neglected) novels like The Garden God (1905). It was pretty common in older gay works to include references to Greek or Roman themes, since gay men then commonly understood ancient Greece and Rome to be societies where homosexual relationships were tolerated and even encouraged -- often allusions to Greek mythological characters essentially functioned as code that gay readers would recognize, a way of identifying an author or book's sympathy with gay readers and gay themes that would probably be overlooked by straight readers. (These sorts of coded, subtextual ways of writing about homosexuality were often necessary, since up until the 1950s British authors could be prosecuted for writing openly about homosexuality, and in the U.S., authors and publishers could also face legal action and suppression of their books, not to mention social or moral condemnation that might end an author's career.)

TH: Gay men often think that it's the older generations who value books and that younger queers read less or perhaps don't feel the need for gay literature since the movement has, in a sense, been a victim of its own success and there are now lots of voices/stories out there on TV and in the movies and media. This is obviously a generational misconception, as you guys are both of the younger generation and seem to be very into books. What are your thoughts on this?

JJ: That's an interesting question. Though I think most of our books have something to offer to readers of all ages, I do think our audience for some of the gay classics of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, tends to be a little older, while our horror books appeal to all ages, but particularly perhaps to a slightly younger demographic.

The huge advances in gay rights over the past decade, with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, the spread of gay marriage starting with Massachusetts in 2004, and more recently so many states' gay marriage bans falling one after the other, have completely changed life for gay people in this country -- to the point where future generations of young gay people will never really have lived in a time where being gay was illegal, where you could be fired or evicted for being gay, where gay people couldn't marry, etc. And it's possible that some of those young readers may have trouble seeing the relevance of those older books or may think it's silly that they invariably end with the self-loathing gay character dead from suicide or murder. But I think it's important still to read the gay classics of earlier generations and remember what the struggle was like then and how thankful we should be for how far we've come. And, most importantly, a lot of these books feature really interesting, engrossing stories, even if some of the gay issues are occasionally a bit dated. One that we're publishing this month is Rodney Garland's The Heart in Exile (1953), which was a surprise bestseller in both the US and UK and was released in the '50s and '60s in some lurid-looking pulp paperback editions. It's believed to be the first gay detective novel, and in it, the main character is a psychiatrist who descends into the "gay underworld" of London to investigate why his former lover committed suicide. Though dated, the story is still a page-turner, and as Neil Bartlett notes in his introduction, it's pretty amusing when the author, in all earnestness, tries to explain to heterosexual 1950s readers what "camp," "butch" and other similar terms mean.

TH: In discovering out-of-print gay classics that clearly will have great interest today, have you found any gay novels by people of color? I know this is likely challenging as those voices, outside of such figures as James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Yukio Mishima, were often not heard before the 80s. But those would be amazing discoveries and of great interest to a lot of readers.

JJ: Those are some great writers -- Baldwin and Mishima in particular are writers I really admire. I'm sure there are gay classics by other writers of color, though I have to confess that - possibly because we specialize in British fiction -- I'm not able to cite any offhand. Interestingly, though, there are a couple important American works we've stumbled on lately about gay black characters, both of which we're looking at to see if they're something we might reprint: Blair Niles's (she was a straight woman) Strange Brother (1931), which was a success when first published and focused on the gay scene in Harlem, and George Baxt's A Queer Kind of Death (1966), by a white author, but which introduced the first gay black detective in fiction, Pharaoh Love, and which has gone on to become something of a cult classic.

TH: I've spent some time in South America where I came across lots of gay writers who are not translated into English. I know translation is costly and ambitious for a small publisher, but have you considered bringing some of these gems into print in English? Chilean Pedro Lemebel comes to mind. His beautiful novel, My Tender Matador, has been translated, but the majority of his work has not, and he's a huge gay presence in South America that I think American readers would appreciate and/or learn from. As someone who prefers reading on an international level, I love that you are bringing back lots of British novels and just wondered if you've had the opportunity to look further afield outside the English-speaking world.

JJ: The Chilean and other South American literature you mention sounds really interesting. We just visited South America for a couple weeks earlier this year and loved it down there! I'm sure I'd enjoy discovering and learning about the authors and works you're talking about. At this time we don't have any immediate plans to move into translated literature, though it's something we'll likely look at in the future. But you're right -- translation costs are high, so it probably wouldn't be possible without grant funding. Most likely, we'd be looking at reissuing out-of-print books for which translations already exist.

TH: How do you guys handle the logistics? I'm sure it can get overwhelming since you don't exploit the working class ala Amazon! The book biz is tough and I'm curious how that part is going.

JJ: Being only a two-person operation and republishing mostly little-known titles, we rely heavily on modern technology to make our work possible. The paperbacks are printed on digital presses and done on an "on demand" basis, so that readers anywhere in the world can order them at any time and have a copy printed and bound and sent to them quickly. The old traditional way of publishing (printing thousands of copies and warehousing them somewhere until they sell) just isn't viable for most of these neglected titles that have been out of print for 30, 40, 50 years.

The advent of e-books has also been great for the kind of work we do. We're traditionalists -- we love printed books, and we put a lot of time and care into the design and typography of the books to make them visually appealing and attractive -- so we prefer to sell them as paperbacks. But we recognize that many people like the convenience of e-books, and because there's no printing cost involved, we're able to offer them at low prices ($6.99-$7.99); many readers are more willing to take a chance on a neglected classic as an inexpensive e-book rather than paying more for a paperback. So, though we like traditional printed books better, e-books have been really helpful in allowing more readers to discover some of these great titles that they might not otherwise have read.

You mentioned Amazon -- both as readers and publishers we have sort of a love/hate relationship with them. They do stock all our books and they're instrumental in making them available to readers at affordable prices worldwide, but we're also strong supporters of independent bookstores and are constantly looking for ways to get our titles on the shelves of more brick-and-mortar indie booksellers. We've had one or two rather serious issues with Amazon, probably the worst of which was when they claimed a scholarly edition of a gay Victorian novel we published was "pornographic" and banned it from their Kindle store. It's more than a little terrifying for the future of reading when one company has essentially a monopoly on the sale of e-books and can arbitrarily censor books and deny readers access to them.

TH: That is ominous, and I'm glad you mentioned it as we all need to remain aware of the power of Amazon and how that power can lead to censorship. Finally, what are turning out to be the bestsellers from your list (and are you selling more in ebook format or print?), and what books have you got forthcoming in the near future?

JJ: Overall, it's the horror titles that sell best: readers can't seem to get enough of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's lesbian vampire classic Carmilla (1871), George Brewer's bizarre Gothic fairy tale The Witch of Ravensworth (1808) or the weird and macabre stories of some of our rediscovered modern authors like Gerald Kersh and Charles Beaumont.

Of our gay-interest offerings, I wish I could say that our best-selling title was a literary masterpiece, but it's actually a Victorian erotic novel called The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881), which mixes fact and fiction (and a lot of sex) in telling the story of a male prostitute in London around the time of the Cleveland Street Scandal and the Oscar Wilde trials. There is only one known copy of the original edition (at the British Library), so it's a very rare text and has gotten a ton of interest. Of our 20th century gay-themed offerings, readers have really responded to Francis King's brilliant Never Again (1947), a heartbreaking tale based on his own childhood;, Michael Campbell's equally moving Lord Dismiss Us (1967), the story of two gay people at a boarding school: a teenager unashamedly coming to terms with his identity and a tortured teacher who is unable to accept his own; and, the witty satires of C.H.B. Kitchin, whose Ten Pollitt Place and The Book of Life are neglected masterpieces.

Among our forthcoming titles, we're extremely excited to be republishing (for the first time ever) two of the very best novels from the horror publishing explosion of the 1970s and 1980s, both written by gay authors, both of whom we sadly lost very young at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The first is Michael McDowell's The Elementals (1981), which Poppy Z. Brite has called "surely one of the most terrifying novels ever written," and which led Stephen King to proclaim McDowell "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today". Though best known today for his screenplays for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, McDowell is finally beginning to win recognition as an important and highly individual Southern Gothic horror novelist. The second is Michael Talbot's vampire novel The Delicate Dependency (1982), which many people think is one of the best vampire novels ever written. In addition to his three horror novels, Talbot published a really strange and remarkable book entitled The Holographic Universe - still in print today - which posits the theory that the entire universe is nothing more than a hologram. We're really thrilled about both of these and are hoping for a great response from readers.

As for traditional books vs. e-books: At the moment, for most of our titles, traditional books are outselling the electronic ones by about a 2:1 margin. But not long ago, it was a 4:1, 3:1 margin, so the e-books are certainly gaining ground. Some of the books, especially the pulp horror titles, actually sell better as e-books.

TH: Well, it's amazing that you are rediscovering all these fascinating titles. I think it's a huge boon to gay literature and I commend you guys for bringing these great stories to the community.

JJ: Thanks, Trebor, for taking the time to talk to us. I've really enjoyed having the chance to chat with you and share a little info on what we're doing here at Valancourt Books!