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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Elizabeth George talks Inspector Lynley, not being British and more

Posted by on Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 1:01 PM

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.

Elizabeth George
  • Michael Stadler
  • Elizabeth George

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?

Just One Evil Act Cover
  • Dutton Books
  • Just One Evil Act Cover
I have a good understanding of the entire arc of my character’s story, and I know where they’re heading—I didn’t know when I started the series, but I now I have an idea of where they need to go. If I want to advance a character’s story, I can only include them in the novel I’m writing if their story fits thematically into the entire novel. Otherwise, it’ll lie there inertly or just go “clunk.”

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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Caldecott winner David Wiesner bends kids' brains with Mr. Wuffles!

Posted by on Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 3:41 PM

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
  • Photo by Annie Hosfeld
  • David Wiesner
INDY Week: So I have a conspiracy theory about the origin of Mr. Wuffles!

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.

Nope.

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.

"Mr. Wuffles!" - IMAGE COURTESY CLARION BOOKS
  • Image courtesy Clarion Books
  • "Mr. Wuffles!"

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.


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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Dark is Rising author Susan Cooper on Harry Potter and studying with Lewis and Tolkien

Posted by on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Susan Cooper
  • Tsar Fedorsky
  • Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper was doing children's fantasy novels long before they took over seemingly all of fiction, and her famed five-book sequence The Dark is Rising has remained in print for more than four decades, with two of the book in the sequence receiving a Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor, the highest awards for children's literature.

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.


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    Cooper is more than generous about the debt J.K. Rowling and company owe to her work.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

"I'm not John Updike, and I never will be": Richard Kadrey has Kill City Blues

Posted by on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Richard Kadrey
  • Photo via Harper Collins
  • Richard Kadrey

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."

KillCityBluesHC_c.JPG
His next work is due out in November, a YA novel called Dead Set, about a 16-year-old girl who encounters a record store where the vinyl holds the souls of the dead. It's a different style for Kadrey (he's already talked with librarians to make sure it's shelved separately from the ultra-violent Slim series), though both books deal with the line between the living and dead worlds, something Kadrey says is a "modern mythology" with its roots in classic storytelling: “It’s a combination of a fairy tale and the big philosophical questions — what is life? Is there an afterlife? How does this affect how we live our lives and relate to other people? And of course there’s that mythological quality.”

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.

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    Of course, Kadrey is much nicer than he looks, or than his books would indicate.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

From Iron Man to Funky Winkerbean, a guide to upcoming comic book events in the Triangle

Posted by on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM

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.

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  • Image via FCBD site
Saturday sees the annual Free Comic Book Day event, where comic book retailers provide sample books created by publishers designed to hook new readers of all ages. Though the samples include a Superman comic from DC co-written by Richard Donner, director of the Christopher Reeve Man of Steel films, and the start to a new Marvel Comics event scripted by South Carolina writer Jonathan Hickman, there's a large and occasionally bizarre variety among the many offerings.

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.

princeless_preview_cover.jpg
  • Image via Jeremy Whitley
Princeless, the tale of a princess who decides not to wait around in a tower for a prince to rescue her, has earned multiple award nominations for its writer, local creator Jeremy Whitley, including the Eisner, comics' top prize. He'll be at the 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.

Continue reading…

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    A series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

"The world's best artist" Mitch O'Connell brings modern kitsch to Raleigh

Posted by on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 1:47 PM

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  • Image provided by Mitch O'Connell

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.

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  • Image provided by Mitch O'Connell

"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."

Continue reading…

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    "If there's a way to work a naked woman and big eyes and hot dogs and anything else into a drawing, I'll find a way to put it in there."

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Local playwright Monica Byrne lands major book deal with first novel

Posted by on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 9:10 PM

Durham playwright Monica Byrne
Crown Publishing Group, a division of publishing giant Random House, has signed a major book deal with Durham playwright Monica Byrne for the rights to publish her first novel, The Girl in the Road, in 2014. Details of the arrangement were released over the weekend on the website for Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

“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.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

In its last week before closing, Nice Price Books partners with Chapel Hill Library

Saturday & Sunday

Posted by on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 4:44 PM

A patron browses through Nice Prices selections.
For those who've been following our coverage of the closing of the original Nice Price Books in Carrboro, there's one more chance to get some of their inventory this weekend.

According to a news release, Nice Price has partnered with the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library for a benefit bag sale on March 9 and 10. Nice Price will donate 20 percent of sales to the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library, with books priced at $10 a bag on Saturday and $7 a bag on Sunday. Records, CDs and movies will also be available at 75% off their lowest marked price.

The sale is part of the Friends of the Library's efforts to meet the financial needs of the Chapel Hill Library's expanded facility. Friends has pledged $200,000 toward that goal this year.

Nice Price co-owner Cindy Kamoroff said in the release that she saw an opportunity to help the library and clear out store inventory.

“For many years, Friends of the Library volunteers have shopped with us. With the decline in bookstores and the strained economy, libraries have an even more important role in society. We want to show our gratitude for the support the people of Orange County have given us. And we need to sell a lot of stuff.”

Nice Price Books announced the closing of its Carrboro location last month after more than 20 years at its Boyd Street location, citing declining sales and increased competition from such outlets as online sellers as among the reasons for the closing.

The sale will be held at Nice Price's original location at 100 Boyd St. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 9, and 1 p.m to 5 p.m. on March 10.

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    Nice Price has partnered with the Friends of the Chapel Hill Library for a benefit bag sale.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Brandon Sanderson finishes Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time Series with A Memory of Light

Posted by on Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 12:24 PM

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Imagine if J.K. Rowling had died before finishing Harry Potter, or if (as some fans fear) George R.R. Martin passes away before completing A Song of Ice and Fire, the bestselling series that’s also the basis for HBO’s Emmy-winning Game of Thrones. Now imagine you’re the one who has to come in, bring the epic to a satisfactory conclusion, resolve dozens of dangling plot threads, all while dealing with a passionate and demanding fan base who’ll never let you forget it if you fail.

That was the challenge set before young writer Brandon Sanderson when he was called upon to complete The Wheel of Time, a series of doorstop-sized fantasy novels published from 1990 to 2005 by Robert Jordan, a pen name for James Oliver Rigney, Jr., that have sold 44 million copies worldwide. Jordan’s death in 2007 while working on the planned 12th and final volume of The Wheel of Time caused an uproar among those seeking to know the fate of hero Rand al’Thor and the other characters.

Enter Sanderson, the prolific young writer of the acclaimed Mistborn series. A longtime fan of The Wheel of Time, Sanderson was tasked with turning Jordan’s partially-finished manuscript, pre-written ending and extensive notes into something that would successfully conclude the series, which eventually was split into three novels. (Jordan had once said the last book could run 2,000 pages; the finale trilogy collectively ran more than 2,500). That last book, A Memory of Light, was published in January to rave reviews and a spot on the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Sanderson will appear at Quail Ridge Books and Music with Jordan’s widow and editor Harriet McDougal on Feb. 20 to promote Light and answer questions about the series. We got him on the phone to ask what it was like to finally bring the series he loved to an end.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three years after the earthquake, Durham's Jonathan M. Katz talks Haiti relief, the media and Sean Penn

Posted by on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Jonathan M. Katz
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  • Jonathan M. Katz

Journalist Jonathan M. Katz, who currently resides in Durham, was the only full-time U.S. reporter in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake. His experiences, not just during the immediate aftermath of the quake but over the next few years of relief efforts, are recounted in his new book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (Palgrave Macmillan, $26.00), which he'll read tonight at Durham's Regulator Bookshop at 7 p.m. The book has received widespread acclaim for its insight into post-earthquake Haiti, and during its writing it received the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia and Harvard Universities.

We got on the phone with Katz at his Durham residence for an in-depth discussion of the problems with Haiti relief efforts, the lack of understanding and need for accountability regarding the international community's involvement with Haiti and much more.

INDY WEEK: Obviously you have strong opinions on the issue, but I’m curious if your thoughts or perspective on Haiti have changed from when you first wrote the book.
JONATHAN M. KATZ: Most of what I’m describing in the book is what happened, so if something significant happened in the future, I’d want to write a Part Two. But, nonetheless, it’s important to remember that the clock hasn’t stopped, and people are still living in Haiti, and the problems they are facing are still going on.

But I wanted to focus on the aftermath of the disaster, and then the coverage of this a year after, and then two years after, because those are the problems that carry into the future. These problems didn’t end, and they aren’t going to end unless things are done.

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