Monthly Archives: September 2011

An Interview with Author Ed Newman

Haunted houses, scorpions, and teenagers. It sounds like the rumblings of your typical tween science fiction novel, but it isn’t. The debut novel, The Red Scorpion, from Ed Newman — who is generally known for his short stories — deals with all these topics. But Newman combines them in an mature, adult fiction kind of way.

The scene of the story is set with Book One — a professor and researcher travels to Mexico to follow up on some well-known myths. But along the way, he comes across a dangerous breed of red scorpions. His naive, but curious demeanor encourages him to bring a scorpion back home. And so begins an 80-year haunted house story with a twist. The house isn’t haunted with ghosts, but scorpions.

I reached Newman via email and spoke with him about some of the themes of the story, how he came to publish his first novel, and why he found it important to make it strictly available as an e-book.

Q: In your afterward, you talk about how you got the idea for this story. You said that it started out as a dream you had about the action sequence at the end. But those who read it know the story deals with a lot of different themes — fear, adolescence, bullying, even mythology. How did you develop the initial sequence you had in mind into the story it became?

A: Good question. I think all creativity is a form of problem solving. Many of my stories have emerged from dreams over the years, but only this one became a book. The idea required developing a backstory, and as I mulled over where the red scorpion came from  I drew from my experiences living in Mexico in 1981. Making a haunted house story came from my experiences as a teen exploring abandoned houses, always imagining something dark about the place. Unrestrained imagination is like weather patterns. You don’t really control them, you just go with whatever is stirred up.

Q: I was very intrigued by Book One. Did you ever think of developing that a little more? And, what made you decide to tell the story this way — in two parts?

A: Book one was originally a middle section called book two. I had attempted to write it as a diary, but there were too many loose ends that a diarist couldn’t really touch on so I wrote it as a first person account telling what was in the diary. Finally I re-wrote this as a third person account and liked it better, but ultimately decided to make it book one for the purpose of set-up. Maybe this came about as a temporary aversion to the overuse of flashback in films.

Q: At the end of your afterward, you allude to a sequel. Do you have one in the works? If so, what can we expect?

A: Well, I do not have a fully fleshed out sequel, but imagined that there could be some kind of news story that Dusty, now a couple years older, connects to the red scorpion. In the sequel Chuchui, the youth who betrayed his tribe, is now an elderly man who has an empire of some kind. He used his education for evil and has become corrupted by power perhaps. It could play on the drug wars and violence south of the border as a continuation of No Country For Old Men.

Q: After writing short stories for years, this is your first novel. How does it feel to finally get a long-form story out there?

A: A bit like giving birth. A lot of labor pains at the end. Gratifying, of course, since I carried this thing for such a long, long time.

Q: Why did it take so long to make it happen?

A: I work full time and it simply takes a lot of energy to produce a book length manuscript. Stories and articles and blog entries are so much easier to dream up, assemble and release. It takes a special degree of motivation to tackle a book. I was not motivated by money since most books fail to really get a serious return. My aim was to create a Lord of the Flies type book that all the kids on my son’s school bus would be reading when he was a senior in high school. I got serious about the book when he was a freshman or thereabouts. It never happened that way – he is 25 now – but this was the driving force that helped me finish the project. When I failed to get a publisher I set it aside until picking it back up this summer as an endeavor that needed closure so I could move on.

Q: Your book is only available in e-book version. What lead to your decision to just do it as an e-book?

A. Ten or so years ago my father-in-law wrote a wonderful World War II memoir called And There Shall Be Wars. Over 500 pages, 176 original photos and more. He self-published after we made endless attempts to find a publisher. The 2000 books he printed cost $9,000 dollars. A majority of those books are still in boxes in my garage.

Ultimately, the week before our book launch I was persuaded by a publisher friend to print 50 copies for people who come to our book launch party. The economics of such short runs doesn’t make sense though and I have no interest in leaving a garage full of books for my heirs.

The real impetus for going virtual with our book is that I have at least four more books in the pipeline, and that Amazon announced that they have sold more e-books than printed books this year, a first, and a foretaste of the future.

The Red Scorpion is available now for just $2.99.

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Get The Help (Movie Tie-In) for Half Off

If you haven’t read The Help yet, you’re missing out. The bestselling novel is one of the most successful books of the past two years, made more popular by the movie.

I highly recommended it a few months back, and I still do. Get a copy for cheap while you can! The Help with a movie tie-in is now available for $8.80 — a savings of 45%.

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Read Whatever You Want, It’s Banned Books Week

It’s the last week of September and you know what that means! It’s Banned Books Week! Oh, you didn’t know?

Well, each year during the last week of September, libraries nationwide sponsor events to honor books that have been banned and to teach the importance of freedom of speech.

While many classic books that have been banned — like Catcher in the Rye and Grapes of Wrath — there have also been a number of recent books that have been banned, including the supernatural tween hits from Twilight and Harry Potter.

Here’s some more information, if you’d like to find out what Banned Books Week events are happening at a library near you.

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Historic Flood Trashes Books

This photo was taken by Star Gazette reporter/photographer — and my friend — Jason Whong. Historic flooding in New York’s Southern Tier region left destruction everywhere. One of the hardest hit villages was Owego, where this photo was taken outside the Riverow Bookshop. Tons of books were destroyed by the flood, and it breaks my heart to see valuable materials like books turned to waste and debris.

Here are some other sad bookstore photos. This should not reflect in any way that Riverow Bookshop, above, is closing.


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Good News for Kindle Could Be Bad News for Nook

The Amazon Kindle is the most popular, bestselling e-reader out there. But the Nook always had one up on the Kindle — library access. Until now.

Amazon announced Wednesday that people would now be able to download library books to their Kindles. They’re a little late to the game, since the Nook, Sony’s Reader, and other e-readers had already been offering the same service. But the deal will inevitably increase popularity and revenue for Amazon and libraries nationwide.

According to this article by The New York Times, the deal means that publishers are concerned more people will borrow e-books than buy them.

But another point that goes unmentioned here is what Kindle will now do to business for other e-readers.

When my boyfriend wanted to get me an e-reader, he was back and forth about whether to purchase the Kindle or the Nook. He knows I’m a library girl, so he went with the Nook. Later, one of my friends told me she was jealous of me for having gotten the Nook — while she had the Kindle — for the sole reason that I could download library books. The library aspect was a selling factor for the Nook, and now it’s lost that.

We’ve seen such a change in the book industry and publishing over the years as e-books have grown in popularity. But it looks like we’re in for another major change — complete domination by Kindle.

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Get 50 Cent and Jay-Z Bestsellers on the Cheap

A little while back, I told you about a new comic book rapper 50 Cent would be writing. As you may or may not remember, the new comic will be based on his bestseller book The 50th Law.

Well, now Law is on sale for just $11 in hardcover. Law, which is co-written by Robert Greene, is a how-to for achieving success.

And if you aren’t a 50 Cent fan, don’t fret because Jaz-Z’s bestselling book Decoded is also on sale — now $20 in hardcover.

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Review: Mockingjay

**Spoiler Alert: If you have only read my Hunger Games review and Catching Fire review and not the actual book, you might not want to read the following review. Spoilers from previous books are included.

Recap: In the third and final book of The Hunger Games series, we’re still trying to make sense of what happened in book two, Catching Fire. And it seems, so is the main character, Katniss. We quickly learn District 12 has been destroyed, and its remaining inhabitants now live in District 13. Destruction, betrayal, and confusion fill Katniss’s mind as she tries to come up with a plan to get Peeta back from the Capitol — where he’s being held captive — and kill President Snow.

But as I mentioned in my review of Catching Fire, the second book was really just a connector to Mockingjay, which focuses on the rebellion against the Capitol lead by Katniss. Mockingjay holds up the promise of letting a rebel war play out the way it should. The  guys work on new equipment, while the soldiers train. But everything gets turned around when Peeta and Katniss are reunited. The Capitol has tortured, abused, and brainwashed Peeta with tracker jacker fluid, turning him against Katniss.

Now an untrained Katniss, an unstable Peeta, and a willful Gale must work together — along with their fellow soldiers — to take on the Capitol. But their unfamiliarity with the layout of the land, their well-known faces, and the strength of President Snow work against them. Not to mention, Snow isn’t their only enemy.

Analysis: In Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins does a great job of demonstrating the themes of the entire series — trust and loyalty. Here, Katniss grapples with who she can trust. And for the first time, so does Peeta.  With the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta so stunningly different from how it’s been in the past, the reader understands what a twisted world these kids live in. Everyone is questionable, even the closest of friends.

Mockingjay also takes the dark concepts of the previous books to another level. For instance, death and mourning plays a big part in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, when Rue and Cinna die. But the importance of some of the losses in Mockingjay go deeper. And the way Katniss deals with it is a little crazy, but also very real.

And the action — well, it’s a war. A purple haze that shoots blood from everyone’s orafaces, a ground that opens up, parachutes that explode — it’s absurd and it’s violent. Mockingjay makes The Hunger Games looks like child’s play. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale have been thrust into a world where they have to grow up fast — and that they do.

The only issues I had were with the ending. A number of characters’ plotlines were not tied up. Not to mention, the epilogue was unnecessary and very Harry Potter-esque. Nonetheless, it was nice to peak into the future.

MVP: Peeta Melark. Yes, Peeta’s kind of a bastard for much of Mockingjay. But he’s also been brainwashed and doesn’t know any better. Plus, it’s amazing to see this violent, angry side of him, when we’re so used to seeing him as a calm, tender kid. He wasn’t my favorite character in this book, but he was the most interesting.

Get Mockingjay in hardcover for just $8!


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Free Books: Making Good Use of Borders’ Goodies

Though Borders continues to close its doors at hundreds of stores around the country, some have already begun to leave a legacy.

The Borders bookstore in Chicago locked up for good last week, but made one large donation first. According to this article by Huffington Post, the company hired to liquidate the stores, Hilco Trading LLC, donated 8000 books — worth about $130,000 — to Chicago schools.

The Hilco CEO Jeffrey Hecktman says making the donation was an easy decision.

We believe that education, above all other factors, is the foundation of commercial success and so we have decided to do what we can to help ensure American children receive the best education possible. The book donation was only our first step in a continuing commitment to align our corporate resources with the needs of public education.

Included in the donation are books about history, science, math, poetry, business, politics, and travel.

I hope that as more stores close, books are donated nationwide. They may as well make the best of Borders’ dying resources.

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Review: Painted Ladies

Recap: Not a new book, not a new author, and not a new character, but still the same old awesomeness. Robert B. Parker’s Painted Ladies follows the next case in the long list of those covered by Spenser, a private detective from Boston. In his latest triumph, Spenser works as a bodyguard for Ashton Prince — a world-renowned art expert — as he attempts to give a criminal ransom money for a stolen painting. But Prince is killed, and Spenser –unable to accept failure — seeks to find out who killed Prince and why.

Spenser works to solve the mystery with the help of his buddies in the Boston Police. They quickly find themselves stuck in a complicated case concerning paintings, daddy abandonment issues, and the Holocaust. Along the way, Spenser discovers Ashton Prince is a Jewish man with relatives who were murdered by the Nazis during WWII. But he must determine if this stolen painting case dates back that far or not.

Analysis: As a newcomer to Robert B. Parker’s prolific detective fiction, I didn’t know what I was getting into. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that Parker’s fast-paced storytelling and quick-witted dialogue are his best literary assets. The dialogue is snappy and had me laughing out loud at parts. I’m always impressed by an author who can describe a character without having to write a set “description paragraph.”

His dialogue also works well to describe the relationships between people — like that of Spenser and his long-time girlfriend, Susan. From their conversations, we see what a charmer Spenser is and how much these two characters really love each other — despite their decision not to live together.

Susan’s role in this particular story is also fairly relevant, as Spenser questions her about her Jewish background in regards to the Holocaust parts of his case.

One important thing to note is that this was the last book Parker published before he passed away — his last (not counting posthumous) publication of roughly 40 books in The Spenser Series. 40! To have readers turning pages after 40 books with the same character is highly commendable.

MVP: Spenser — no first name. Spenser is undeniably smart and suave — in the same way many detectives in these novels are. But more importantly, he’s likable, which isn’t always the case in this kind of story. Often the good-looking, smart detective comes across as snooty. But Spenser is the kind of guy I’d like to grab a beer with at a bar. And that’s pretty great.

Get Painted Ladies for just $10 or in a special 4-for-3 deal.

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Bourdain Has No Reservations About New Book Line

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is no longer lending his name to just hit TV shows; now he’s also signing off on books.

According to this article by The New York Times, the popular chef, author, and TV host will acquire books for Ecco, which is part of HarperCollins. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be writing them, but he will assist in the overall process. The plan is for 3 to 5 Bourdain books to be produced annually.

It’s a deal similar to that which Chelsea Handler has with Grand Central Publishing.

In a press release, Bourdain says the books will be about food — obviously — but that’s not all.

We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists. And we’re looking to publish them in a way that’s both accessible and respectful of the power of the written word – and appropriately fetishistic about the tactile joys of the printed page.

Seems like a good move for Bourdain’s growing empire. But it’ll be interesting how the non-food-related books fare.

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