Since its release in August 2013, it's been selected as one of the best books of the year by the likes of Amazon, Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which commissioned Becker to do a special cover for its Book Review, something Becker calls "a highlight" of his experience with the book, along with President Barack Obama buying it on a recent Small Business Sunday shopping trip.
Journey is a departure from Becker's work in film, where he worked doing digital concept design for large-scale motion-capture films, including the widely derided Mars Needs Moms, one of the biggest flops in film history.
"When I went to do the book, I very much purposefully wanted to leave all that behind," says Becker, who cites such classic illustrators as Mercer Mayer and Maurice Sendak as influences.. "I taught myself watercolor and pen-and-ink just to do the book over the course of the summer—I practiced until I felt I was ready to go.
Though he was doing contract work for such studios as Lucasfilm while working on Journey, the book's success has allowed Becker to dedicate himself to picture books full time, with two sequels to Journey and other projects on the way. "It's like, thank god!" Becker syas with a laugh. This is the best thing ever! I can do this all day!"
Aaron Becker appears at Flyleaf Books for story time at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 2 to read from and sign copies of Journey. For more information, visit www.flyleafbooks.com.
But she has a near-anthropological understanding of poultry that she’s brought to her latest book, Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $17.99), a feathery retelling of the classic fairy tale with a Russian setting. She’s currently touring to promote the book, in an enormous tour bus branded with an image of her chicken-princess on the side.
Brett’s encyclopedic knowledge of chickens, gleaned from observing her personal flock of more than 75 birds, inspired the book.
“Both my editor and I breed chickens, and we were talking about how sometimes one little chicken will get a little bit picked on while they’re molting,” Brett says, speaking recently on the phone.
“And then I joked about how when their feathers come in, they look like whole new chickens, and they’re perching like they’re queen of the roost, and my editor and I said, ‘Just like Cinderella!’ at the same time.”
Having already interpreted such classic tales as Beauty and the Beast and Goldilocks and the Three Bears in her past books, Brett was initially reluctant to go back to the well of classic fairy tales, but found herself thinking about how the chickens’ plumage would be a perfect fit for a Russian setting, and how the hierarchy of chickens—the “pecking order,” so to speak—could serve as a metaphor for human behavior.
“They all assume different personalities,” Brett says. “There’s the young pullets, the females, under a year old, and they’re all running around like, ‘I’m so pretty! I’m so pretty!’ And then they get older and they’re a bit more dignified and starting to lay eggs, and they’re acting like it’s the most important thing to happen in the history of the world.
“And then older hens will get bossy, and order younger chickens around, and young chickens will be fighting with each other, and trying to get noticed. They just really looked like they could take on the roles of a story, or a fairy tale in this case. And it lends itself to the Cinderella story—they’re kind of gangling and scrappy at a certain age, and then all the sudden they’re beautiful.”
She’s loved the birds since childhood: “I had a pet chicken as a little girl, and I trained her to ride on the handlebars of my bicycle” Years later, one of her early ideas for a children’s book led to her getting some feed store chicks for research. That helped inspire her 2002 book Daisy Comes Home, and in turn led to her acquiring what she calls “a huge farm of chickens.”
She sells a few, but keeps most of the others: “They live to a nice old age.”
Brett also thoroughly delved into Russian culture and history to create the world of Cinders: “We did a research trip to St. Petersburg and crammed in as much culture as we could in a short time—we saw the ballet, and a symphony concert, and a folk dance concert, and went on walks in the woods and had a hot steam bath and saw some wonderful restored architecture.
"The highlight was probably going to the Museum of Ethnography, where there were mannequins dressed in what was probably the style of the 1800s—I say ‘probably’ because in some of the more traditional villages, they also dressed in this style.”
She admits to wanting to do a few updates to the Cinderella story for her book ("I just didn't want to make the stepmother wicked"), but otherwise loves using animals to tell old-fashioned stories.
“There’s just something human about telling a story animals that’s kind of un-explainable to me, but makes a certain sense when you think about it,” Brett says.
Jan Brett appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 (the giant "Cinders" bus out front will be hard to miss). This is a signing line ticket event. For more information, visit www.quailridgebooks.com or call 919-828-1588.
For those who know Elizabeth George only from her Inspector Lynley novels or the BBC adaptations that air on PBS, you might be in for a shock when you see her at her upcoming appearances at McIntyre’s Fine Books and at Quail Ridge Books & Music. Though the novels are set in England and feature an extensive use of British culture and society, George herself is American born and raised, and has earned widespread acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for her tales of the noble-born Lynley and his working-class partner Havers.
As George prepared for the release of the 18th book in the series, Just One Evil Act (Dutton Adult, $29.95) which came out Oct. 15, we called her up to talk about her character, the tradition of British mysteries, and more.
INDY Week: The first Lynley book came out in 1988. Did you imagine back then that you’d still be telling stories with the characters 25 years later?
Elizabeth George: Back then, and even today, I don’t tend to project into the future. What I’ve always done is devote my concentration to the current book I’m working on. But I will say it’s been a terrific ride and a wonderful opportunity through this series to not only support myself as a writer, but to get to meet people and go places I’d have never had the chance to encounter otherwise.
There’s a huge following for the books from the TV series, though there are some differences from the books. What do you make of this following?
The BBC has reduced stories down to the crimes themselves and their solutions—the novels are not just crime novels but character novels, focusing on not just the people investigating the crimes but those whose lives are affected by them. But I’ve enjoyed the productions and particularly the performances of the actors playing Lynley and Havers. What was missing for me was that greater experience that the reader can have, or the viewer could have had.
That said, they did a fairly good job with the crimes, and the performances of Nathaniel Parker and Sharon Small as Lynley and Havers were excellent. But if you read the books, you get exposed to many, many characters and many walks of life in Great Britain.
Mystery/crime, more than almost any other genre, really has that large number of continuing series and continuing characters. Why do you feel that’s the case?
The tradition of the crime story and the mystery novel, the whole tradition of the consulting detective and the crime story, was started by Edgar Allan Poe with C. Auguste Dupin, the continuing character. And that might be why that format has been followed.
If you’re going to write about crime, and criminals, and what goes into criminal investigations, it might be more difficult to do it if you have to re-create the wheel every time with new characters. Now, some writers do this, and do it brilliantly. But I enjoy reading series characters, because of that wonderful moment when you get to see that series character one more time, and I wanted to create that experience for the reader.
Additionally, when you have a series character, you have the opportunity to explore that character over a period of his life more fully than if you didn’t have a series character, and that appealed to me as well.
I get the sense from other interviews with you that you plan each book individually, but how do you plan out the arcs for the characters as you continue writing the series?
So when I write a story, I know what crime I’ll be exploring; then I’ll know which investigator I’ll be featuring—Lynley and Havers, Lynley solo, Havers solo, and so on. And then I’ll go on from there.
It sounds like you have a sense of how this could all end at some point.
Oh yes, I’ve had a pretty good idea of that for a while—where each character is going, where the story will take them. But I won’t get there for a while.
My parents, who are addicted to the TV version of Lynley, would kill me if I didn’t ask you if there were any plans for more episodes.
Well, I have spoken to the actor who played Lynley, and have met with him in London, because he is very interested in seeing if any more of the Lynley shows can be made. But of course this is an enormously difficult type of endeavor to launch, and there are huge expenses involved. But he has been working with the world arm of the BBC to help make this happen.
Because the Lynley DVDs have been hugely successful around the world, and the show has been shown on PBS, the BBC is interested in making more shows if they money can be gotten together. But I really don’t know where things stand at this point.
And the $64,000 question: How annoying has it been for people to go, “Oh! You’re not British?” over and over?
I find that people think that I’m British because my books are set in Great Britain, but I find it unusual. I’m certainly not the first person of one nationality to set books in a different nation and in a different culture. So I don’t think it should come as a total surprise to people, but it sometimes does.
In a way, I’m happy about it—I labor over the books to make sure the details of Great Britain are right, even though I’ve never lived in Great Britain. I do sometimes urge people to take a look at my website, where the most frequently asked questions are there and are answered.
I can’t even speak a British accent. I can think in one, and can speak in some of the cadence if I’ve been in Great Britain for a number of weeks, but I can never get it quite right.
Well, the books are uniquely British—not just in that they’re set there, but many aspects of British society are embedded in the characters, and help drive the plots.
Well, I do like the books to as much as possible reflect not only England as it is, but the changing face of England as it is altered over time. That’s why I’ve looked at some of the issues that are contemporaneous in Britain, such as racism and intermarriage and arranged marriage, and of course of class—it was a deliberate choice on my part to make Lynley and Havers part of two distinctly different classes, so I could explore issues in Britain that were once very much on the surface, and today, I think, play out much more surreptitiously than they once did.
And that might be part of why the books are popular—those class issues are present all over the world, especially in America, and when you see them filtered through the light of a different culture, there can be something that feels very allegorical about that.
Well, there are very interesting things about England that don’t exist in the United States that make the place very fascinating for me. For example, in the United States, we tend to celebrate success, and don’t necessarily look at where somebody came from as much as we look at what the person’s achieved.
Whereas in England, it’s the complete opposite. They don’t celebrate success; they derive success, and their concentration is almost entirely on where someone came from. They’re not sure what to make right now of the Middleton family, as they are perhaps the greatest case of by the bootstraps in British history. They adore Kate Middleton, but you’d be hard-pressed to see any article about the Duchess of Cambridge that doesn’t talk about her roots.
In America, we might talk out about how you can start out the child of a single mother whose father abandoned the family and wind up President of the United States. That to us is seen as one of the beauties of living in the United States. In England, though, that would certainly not be spoken of in any awe-struck fashion.
Elizabeth George appears at the Fearrington Barn for McIntyre's Fine Books at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20, and at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, for a signing-line ticket event. For more information, visit www.fearrington.com and www.quailridgebooks.com.
If you don't know the name David Wiesner, ask your kids about "the book where the frogs fly around on lily pads" (Tuesday) or "the one where the Three Little Pigs break out of their story and go exploring" (The Three Pigs). Wiesner, who appears at Quail Ridge Books on Tuesday, Oct.15, has become one of the most acclaimed and best-selling authors of children's picture books, with three Caldecott Medals and two Caldecott Honors, for his left-of-center stories that take a surreal look at everyday objects and classic tales.
Wiesner's latest book, Mr. Wuffles! (Clarion Books, $17.99), is no exception, with a tale that pits a group of tiny aliens against a house cat who's mistaken their spaceship for a toy. We talked with Wiesner about the inspiration for his work, what's drawn him to such oddball tales, and more.
David Wiesner: Let’s hear it.
You have a cat named Mr. Wuffles, and he likes to play with a little toy that looks like a spaceship.
I tried, darn it.
It actually began years ago, when I did a cover for Cricket magazine. It was an alien spaceship, and they’ve landed in the desert, and they’re getting their picture taken, but when you turn out the back cover to see the wraparound image, you see they’re actually in a sandbox in the backyard, and they’re very tiny.
So after The Three Pigs, I wanted to turn that into a book that would have been called Greetings!, and I tried and I tried, because the opening sequence was so wonderful — you followed this alien spaceship coming down onto the Earth, and landing in what looks like the desert, and then this giant hand comes into the frame, and when you turn the page, you see it’s this young girl who’s lifted up a couple of them and you realize the reality is they’re very small and in this sandbox. (laughs)
And then I couldn’t come up with anything else! The only other idea I had was that the aliens were speaking their own language, which were symbols, and the aliens and the girl would have a fun day in the sandbox. I gave it up, did Flotsam, came back to it, gave up again, did Art and Max … and I was drawing in my sketchbook while waiting for my daughter at her music class, and I drew a spaceship with all these little nodules all over it, and I said, “My cat would love to scratch its neck all over this thing!”
That was the magic bullet — the story started to spill out of my sketchbook and I had the story. I no longer had that great opening with the ship in that sandbox, but the story started to flow, in these directions where I never expected it to go.
By the way, I based the cat on my own cat, but he’s not named Mr. Wuffles. One of my son’s friends has a cat that’s named Mr. Wuffles, and I just needed a really silly name that this cat would probably hate. (laughs) “Mr. Wuffles” was perfect.
OK, I was off, but it’s interesting to me that you still have that opening where you have that shock, that shift of point-of-view, but it’s from a human/cat perspective instead of the aliens’.
Yeah, you have that cat passing that row of cat toys, totally disinterested, the tags are still on them, and then you find that one toy, and see the aliens inside. Every story has that moment where it just clicks. I wish I could plan for it, and then I could plan for each book! You just have to keep working and hope that moment comes.
You’ve been doing books since the 1980s — I was wondering if there was a switch that got flipped between the more traditional stories you were illustrating back then, and the more surreal, adventurous stuff you’ve become known for ever since.
No, that’s always been what I wanted to do, and what I’ve always done — even if you see what I was drawing as a kid. The other stuff — I was a working illustrator and I needed money! (laughs) I did textbooks, chapter books, covers, anything that came down the pipe. Getting to do author-illustrated books, you had to work up to that at the time. I did a few picture books for other authors, but getting to do something on my own took a little while.
Some of it was more interesting than others, but everything was a learning experience. Clearly the work that was more interesting to me, and was better as a result — and this was reinforced by reactions from others — was the work I did myself, where I could really indulge my imagination and my surreal tendencies. After Free Fall was published, my first author-illustrated book, I pretty much stopped doing most other work for other authors. For me, telling stories with pictures in a picture-book form is really the thing that’s most exciting to me.
It’s certainly a contrast to look at The Loathsome Dragon, and then look at The Three Pigs, where they go into a story very much like that book, and save that dragon, and I was wondering if you wanted a do-over.
That dragon’s sort of a recurring character in my work — it’s in Free Fall. The Loathsome Dragon was sort of an experiment, where my wife wound up doing most of the rewriting. I was working on that at the same time I was working on Free Fall, and it actually came out first. I worked on Free Fall for about four years prior to its publication, because I was working on other jobs, and trying to make Free Fall everything I could make it. Once it was published, and I had the reaction to it, that was enough to convince me that that was the area where I should concentrate.
And it paid off very well for you.
It did, and I was lucky enough to find an editor who responded to that. When I first pitched it, it was not fully formed, but I was passionate about it, and I was lucky that they saw that and encouraged me to work with it. I’ve continued to work with the same group of people since then. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
And your work has stayed in that very experimental place.
Yeah, and you can get away with that if your story is very well conceived and thought-through. The core is, “Am I telling you a good story?” And if I am, I can push the envelope in terms of how I present it. The thing about a picture book is, it’s short. It requires a form of storytelling that is very quick and concise, and you have to stick with that. As long as that story is there, I can take the reader on any kind of visual journey that I can dream up.
There’s also a very vignette type of quality in your books. That sticks with me because ... well, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is now in theaters, and it kind of bums me out how they keep taking all these great picture books and explain everything. I could just imagine them doing a movie version of Tuesday and having kids investigate why the frogs are flying around, or aerial dogfights with frogs, and so on. You read the book, and you don’t need all that. Why are the frogs flying around? Because it’s Tuesday.
Yeah! The book leaves so much for the reader to bring to it. It’s a small thing, it’s a short thing, it terms of presentation, but it suggests so much. When filmmakers expand picture books, it often turns into, “We need a moral” or “We need to layer on family conflict,” all this stuff which ... I don’t know. I don’t think kids are really clamoring for that. I think they just want something funny, something fun, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be explained. It just is, and that can be why so many movies of picture books are so ... lacking, let’s say.
What’s interesting about your books, and how I’ve been describing them to others, is that they capture that feeling you have as a kid that “the world is bigger and much stranger than what I see around me in my limited space,” but it’s presented in such a way that even an adult who reads these books are going to be left looking over their shoulder for a frog on a lily pad.
That’s what I wanted to see as a kid, and that’s what I want to see now. There’s amazing people in the picture-book field right now. I love seeing what’s being done — it’s one of the most creative fields around, and not enough people are aware of it. They keep waiting for the next 3-D blockbuster, and right there, in those 32 pages, are more extraordinary things than you’ll see on the big screen for the most part.
David Wiesner appears at Quail Ridge Books & Music to promote Mr. Wuffles! at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct.15. This is a signing line ticket event. For more information, call 919-828-1588 or visit www.quailridgebooks.com.
Cooper's long and varied career includes not only a bevy of children's fantasy novels, but also numerous works of journalism and several collaborations with the late actor Hume Cronyn (to whom she was married from 1996 until his death in 2003), including the oft-produced Appalachian stage play Foxfire and the Emmy-winning TV-movie versions of Foxfire and the novels To Dance with the White Dog and The Dollmaker with Jane Fonda.
On the phone from her home in in Marshfield, Mass., Cooper wryly calls herself "a writer with several strings to the bow."
"I mean, I started as a newspaper reporter and feature writer, and I’ve written — obviously! — fantasy books for young children, and nonfiction books, and for the theater and television," Cooper says. "But those are all different parts of my imagination doing all those different things. There must be something that links all those parts together, I suppose. But I’m first of all a novelist, and one whose novels almost always seem to involve fantasy."
Why fantasy? "That’s like asking, ‘why are you left-handed?’ It’s the way the imagination was born, I think.”
Cooper began writing fantasy novels with Over Sea, Under Stone (1965), an entry for a children's story contest that expanded into a tale of siblings on vacation tracking down the Holy Grail to protect it from evil beings. Seven years later, she revisited these ideas with The Dark is Rising (1972), about a young boy who discovers he has magical abilities and must be trained to save the world from the forces of darkness.
If that sounds familiar.... well, Cooper is more than generous about the debt J.K. Rowling and company owe to her work.
"The dark and the light have always been with us and always will be," she says, simply.
She also hardly considers herself a pioneer in children's fantasy: "I think you will find an awful lot of us have never thought, ‘I am writing a children’s book’ — we’re just writing the books. Maurice Sendak used to be very vehement about this. We write the books we want to write for ourselves, and often we’re writing them for the child we used to be that is still alive inside our heads."
Cooper credits her childhood experiences for the extensive use of history in her work, which draws from everything from Arthurian legend to figures from Celtic and Irish mythology such as The Mabinogion.
"It’s partly England, I think — when you grow up in an area with 10,000 years of history around you," Cooper says. "When I was a kid, I’d walk to school every day past a grassy mound that was an Iron Age fort, and I had a view of a castle that was 900 years old from my bedroom window, and a farmer dug up a Roman path and pavement in a field. Things like that, you take them for granted. So you have a sense of time as well as place, I think. And if you’re born to be a writer, it affects the type of imagination you have, I’m guessing."
The turbulent world in which she was raised also influenced the darkness in her works, which often seen children beset upon by monstrous beings of pure evil: "If you grew up in England when I did, then you grew up in a really terrifying environment, the way children in the Middle East do today, because WWII was going on and people were trying to bomb you. So that sense of terror is imbued in you like the sense of history that’s in the land.
And a few encounters with living legends didn't hurt: "I studied at the University of Oxford, and the English syllabus stopped at 1832, because there were two gentlemen named Tolkien and C.S. Lewis who had resisted taking it any further — they were both teaching there and we went to their lectures. So we encountered, thanks to those two, things like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and above all, Shakespeare. A friend of mine once said, 'They taught us to believe in dragons.'"
Her newest book, Ghost Hawk, explores more of American history, with minimal fantasy elements ("There’s one basic element in this book that could not happen, but otherwise it deals with human behavior"), and explores the relationship between a young Native American and an English settler.
"It’s kind of the flip side of the happy Thanksgiving story," Cooper says.
Susan Cooper will read from Ghost Hawk at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 7 p.m. This is a signing line ticket event, with tickets available with the purchase of Ghost Hawk. For more information, visit www.quailridgebooks.com.
With titles such as Aloha From Hell and Kill the Dead, it's clear that Richard Kadrey's "Sandman Slim" novels are not for the faint of heart, something that should be equally clear from just looking at the author. If the photo's not enough of a clue, Kadrey might be the most horror-author-looking horror author alive, an intimidating figure covered with elaborate tattoos, including runes burned scar-style into his knuckles.
Of course, he's much nicer than he looks, or than his books would indicate. Kadrey, who'll be appearing on behalf of his latest novel, Kill City Blues (Harper Collins, $24.99) at Flyleaf Books tonight, is a pleasant, even congenial fellow, even when discussing his passion for Grand Guignol levels of violence in his books.
“I’m not someone who’s really into writing hardcore social realist literature," Kadrey says. "There’s plenty of people who are great at that, and I’m not one of them. I’m not John Updike, and I never will be.”
Kill City Blues is the fifth book in the "Sandman Slim" series, about a magician who's escaped Hell seeking vengeance. Slim's saga has escalated to the point where the probable destruction of the universe is a major plot point, with humor, violence and cultural references abounding (one of the last lines in Kill City Blues is Slim musing that "A universe without Terrence Malick and Lucio Fulci isn't worth living in").
"He's what William Gibson called a 'post-literate man' in Neuromancer," says Kadrey. "Though he was in Hell for 11 years, and while there he had to read a few books."
For Sandman Slim's tales, Kadrey reaches to the tradition of the classic pulp novels, which he calls "modern fairy tales."
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it was a chance to play with the kind of over-the-top worldview you find in those books, and the over-the-top possibilities in those worlds," Kadrey says.
"You can go back to something as obvious as James Bond and supervillians—the idea that there’s some lunatic somewhere with a home base built into a volcano is just a wonderful, wonderful thing to get to play with. It’s the same thing as with the Spaghetti Westerns—the almost kabuki-like violence and ritual behaviors among these characters.
"I’d rather see lunacy than everyday life. I believe that pulp tradition is pure imagination—it’s the real world, but with lunatic imagination put on top of it."
Richard Kadrey will read from and sign copies of Kill City Blues at 7 p.m. tonight at Flyleaf Books. For more information or to reserve a copy, call 919-942-7373 or visit www.flyleafbooks.com.
This Friday Iron Man 3, which was partially filmed in Cary and throughout North Carolina, will blast into theaters after already taking in $200 million internationally. While it's the biggest comic-book-related event in the Triangle, it's not the only one, as a series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months. These events help emphasize the variety and diversity of the medium.
Scholars of classic illustration would do well to check out Fantagraphics' sample from their reprints of the classic comic strip Prince Valiant, while fans of the AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead should check out the free issue of the comic book that inspired it.
Local creators are also represented at Free Comic Book Day. While there's plenty of books for kids featuring Adventure Time, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants and even translations of Swedish Pippi Longstocking comics, we recommend checking out the Princeless/Molly Danger book from Action Lab Entertainment, featuring a pair of well-developed, strong-willed female heroes that are equally appealing to young boys and girls — and their parents.Free Comic Book Day event at Chapel Hill's Ultimate Comics along with Pittsboro-area creator Tommy Lee Edwards, who in addition to his comics work has helped design such feature films as The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington and the scuttled live-action remake of the popular Japanese anime/comic Akira.
Ultimate Comics celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, along with the fourth anniversary of the Durham-based NC Comicon, which attracted such record numbers to the Durham Convention Center last fall that they've doubled the space for this November's show. In celebration, they're doing a series of events with Marvel Comics creators over the next few months.
Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.
"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.
"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."
O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.
"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."
“I wanted to scream,” Byrne recalls when she received news of the agreement at the end of last week. “[My agent] was excited, everyone was so excited, and so pleased by the deal, which was considerable.”
Crown signed what Byrne characterized as a six-figure deal for the North American publication rights in a pre-emptive contract for the book, buying it before it went to auction with other publishers. As a result, she now joins a group whose roster of writers is capped by the likes of Rachel Maddow, Martha Stewart, George W. Bush and Michelle and Barack Obama.
The Girl in the Road, some 98,000 words long in manuscript form, traces the harrowing twin journeys of two women forced to flee their homes in different times in the near future. The first, Meena, is a Brahmin-caste student whose odyssey takes her from the coastal city of Mumbai toward Djibouti across a futuristic but treacherous bridge that spans the Arabian Sea. The second, Mariama, escapes from slavery as a small child in Mauritania, joining a caravan heading across Saharan Africa toward Ethiopia.
The novel took five years to write, Byrne says, and was completed during a research trip to Belize at the end of last year. Its purchase came three weeks after she acquired representation with the Frances Goldin Literary Agency, a New York firm specializing in literary fiction and politically oriented nonfiction. Its clients include Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Allison and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The development follows Byrne’s successes as a playwright on local stages over the last two years. After she appeared in productions of Fistful of Love and REDGHOST with Durham’s Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, artistic director Jay O’Berski directed Byrne’s dark comedy Nightwork for Manbites Dog Theater in 2011. Last April, Little Green Pig commissioned and produced What Every Girl Should Know, a speculative historical drama inspired by the work of Margaret Sanger. The company has commissioned a new work for their 2013—14 season. A subsequent drama, The Pentaeon, was selected for the 2012 Collider New Play Project, a collaboration between Fermilab and Fox Valley Repertory Theater in Illinois.
Byrne is currently at work on her second novel.