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Graphic Novel Friday: The Mystery and the Creep

The-Creep_HCAny great detective needs a flaw, and Oxel Karnhus, a private detective afflicted with Acromegaly and, well, his name, fits the bill in The Creep. The disease takes its toll on the once-handsome man--his face is exaggerated, grotesque--and Oxel is all too aware of his affliction. The neighboring teens make fun of him as he exits his apartment; a former flame attempts to hide shock at his appearance; and he breaks out in sweats and headaches due to the agony. The deformity is what gives the recently published compact hardcover its title--Oxel, no matter his good intentions, is an abnormality to everyone upon first glance. He is “the Other,” a creep.

In The Creep, a young boy commits suicide following the death of his friend. The former’s mother is convinced that there is more to her son’s death than depression. Oxel takes the case and it leads him to a secret so shocking that the final revelation left me stunned, even when I was sure I’d correctly read all the dreams and symbols that writer John Arcudi leaves along the book’s path. It’s to Arcudi’s credit that The Creep does not rely on the big secret to drive the story. Instead, it’s Oxel who carries the book. He’s sympathetic--falling in front of the cruel boys who lurk at his stoop, to their laughter and his nosebleed; he makes poor decisions and fumbles toward a resolution without a grand redemption.

And it’s artist Jonathan Case whose beautiful line work takes this story and makes it all the more memorable. Case previously worked on another Dark Horse title, Green River Killer, which was one of Amazon’s Best of the Year picks in 2011. Here he works in color, adding that extra vigor to psychotic hallucinations and Oxel’s fever dreams throughout the book. His Oxel is not a monster--the deformity is prominently displayed without gothic shadows or familiar visual tricks. It’s a frank look at an uncomfortable visage, and Oxel is not alone in Case’s expert portrayal. Characters emote without exaggeration. Readers witness shame, grief, and horror in genuine display, all of which makes the final chapter so vivid. In one flashback panel, the colors appear scratched out of a section, the memory too real to witness in full.

Despite Dark Horse and John Arcudi’s history with supernatural tales (see Arcudi's B.P.R.D., a paranormal investiagtion series), The Creep is a story full of whispers depicted at great volume. The mystery that unfurls is all too human.



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Deep in the Heart of Texas: Philipp Meyer on the "The Son"


Philipp Meyer's 2009 debut novel, American Rust, earned numerous accolades (including a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship) and marked him as a writer of exceptional potential. With The Son--a 150-year saga of family, oil, and power set against the birth of Texas and the modern West--Meyer has seemingly fulfilled that promise. He took time to answer a few questions about the new book, including some of his unusual things he did during the course of his research, and violence as an inseparable reality of North America's past.

The Son is available May 28.

The Son is an immense novel, spanning generations, a wide swath of Texas (and American) history, and incredible cultural change. Did you always intend for it to be this ambitious, or did it grow out of a more particular idea?

I always knew it was going to be an ambitious book. The problem, when I began writing it, was that I didn’t know nearly as much I thought I did about the history of Texas and the history of the American West. And the more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know, and the slower the writing became. There were a lot of moments of slapping my head and realizing I needed to research a whole new period of history before I could write the things that belonged in the novel, and at some point I realized that the book was basically going to take place over two hundred years. That was exciting but also a bit depressing—I was thinking I’d finish this book in three years, like my last one. It ended up taking five years.


The Son is thoroughly entertaining (and revelatory) in its period detail and vernacular, especially Eli’s experience with the Comanches. How much—and what sort of—research was required to achieve such a level of realism?

There was so much research that it all became a blur. I know I read at least 350 books, though I likely read more; I took weeks of animal tracking classes, spent a month at Blackwater (the private military contractor) learning combat skills and soaking up the warrior culture for the sections on both the Comanches and the early Texas Rangers; I taught myself to bowhunt and killed several deer, ate them, tanned various deer hides. I shot two buffalo (whose meat was destined for restaurants and grocery stores) and because the Plains tribes sometimes did it for survival purposes, I drank a cup of warm blood from the neck of one of the animals. Not recommended. And I spent months in the woods, mountains, and deserts of Texas—I slept outside, hiked, or hunted almost everywhere the book takes place, took careful notes on and pictures of all the plants and animals I saw, then realized that the ecology of Texas had changed so enormously over the past 150 years that my notes weren’t necessarily valid. So had to go back to the historical and archeological record to research about exactly how and where and why it changed—the plants and animals I was seeing between 2008-2013 were not necessarily the plants and animals that were there in 1850 or 1870 or 1915.  Texas used to be a much wetter place—much of what is now desert or brushland was grassland in 1850. The landscape has changed radically in a very short period of time.


There’s a lot of violence in this book, and scenes that might make some readers uncomfortable. That’s part of the tale, of course, given both the era and setting. Did you have any reservations about not holding back? Is there intent to the way you want readers to face that violence?

Meyer_OmniI’m reluctant to talk about this too much, and to make too big a deal of it, but here goes:

I’m not sure the book is any more violent than any other book set in this time period, but I made an effort to not glorify it or gloss over it. A lot of books about the American West, about our creation myth, are full of blood and gore but there is no real sense of loss—they are like Quentin Tarantino movies. I wanted to address that tendency. I wanted the reader’s sympathies to shift from one side of the conflict to the other. I wanted the loss on both sides to be real.

That said, the politically correct part of me definitely considered toning it down—especially the scenes of combat between the Comanches and the various settler groups. But doing so would have come at such a cost to truth and accuracy that I couldn’t bring myself to do it—the historical record was too clear. The Native Americans were at war for their very survival and the European-American settlers were at war to make their fortunes and expand their country. Neither side committed any atrocity that has not been committed at some other period in history—whether earlier, during the Spanish Inquisition, or later, during the big wars of the 20th century. And I was careful that whatever violence there is in the book—whether committed by Texas Rangers, ranchers, or settlers, by Comanches or U.S. soldiers—was based on real events. It was not me imagining how things might have been.

It’s important to remember that people have been living in America for 15,000 years; thousands of cultures have risen and fallen here in that time, and, while no one was taking notes, it’s not that hard to guess that most were overthrown by force. In Texas alone, since the Spanish arrived and began writing things down, the Apaches came in and overthrew most of the other tribes and then the Comanches came in and overthrew the Apaches (and to some extent, the Spanish). The land we live on is quite literally soaked in blood; you can’t really understand American history, and what we come from, until you come to terms with that. And equally until you come to terms with the fact that, regardless of the winners or losers, the degree of brutality was basically equal on all sides. I think it’s easy to say that this brutality—the ubiquitousness of it—is the great point to be taken from human history. But that is not how I think of it. The point is that despite all that bloodshed, here we all are, still breathing, still falling in love and having children, still living our lives.


American_Rust_OmniBoth of your novels have a strong sense of geographical identity: American Rust in Pennsylvania and The Son in Texas. How does location shape your books? That is, does the story grow out of your experience of a place, or do you start with a story that you want to tell?

With the story. I didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania or in Texas. I just knew that this is where those books were going to be set. So I had to go and learn those settings. The location is crucial—you have to understand the economic history, the natural history, the philosophical history of a place before you can write about it. You have to know how the people look, speak, think, move, what they hope for, how they vote, how they eat, where they sleep, what they do for work.  You have to know everything. Not necessarily when you start the book, but definitely before the book is done.


Who are your greatest influences? Do you read for inspiration for your own work, or to take a break from your own work?

Overall my biggest influences, and the people who I see myself as learning the most from, are the modernists, basically Woolf, Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, Welty, etc. But I will read anything I find compelling. I’m going through a Vargas Llosa kick and right now and just finished a few books by Lobo Antunes. As a reader, there is nothing more satisfying than coming across an under-appreciated master, or a new book by an emerging master.  

As for the way I read, what happens when you cross the threshold after which you are a practitioner, or a working artist—whatever you want to call it—is that you don’t really read the same way. Probably not so different from the way a professional athlete watches a game. You are constantly observing, learning, zooming in and out on what people are doing. You’re not quite as lost in the magic of it, because you’re thinking: “holy ----, how did she/he do that!” Maybe that’s a loss. When I say it out loud, it seems like it. But in truth it doesn’t feel like it. I guess it feels like the natural evolution of my relationship to writing, or art, or the world. Somehow the pleasure of writing has supplemented or augmented the pure pleasure I used to get from reading. The amount of happiness is the same, but it comes from a slightly different place.


--Jon Foro

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Cotton Tenants: Introducing a Lost American Treasure, Recently Found

51A1GuGHrEL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The following is an excerpt from novelist and short story writer Adam Haslett’s introduction to Cotton Tenants: Three Familiesby James Agee, with photographs by Walker Evans, which will be published by Melville House on June 4. Cotton Tenants is a recently discovered work of reporting, the first dispatch to come out of Agee and Evans’ momentous reporting trip to Alabama during the summer of 1936. The report, which closely analyzes tenant farmers working during the great depression, was commissioned by Fortune magazine, though it was never published. Agee and Evans later collaborated on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a classic of American literature, cited by the New York Public Library as one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century and called the “most realistic and most important moral effort of our American generation” by critic Lionel Trilling.


A Poet’s Brief

Adam Haslett

            How to attend to suffering and injustice? There is so much of it. If we move through the world with our ears and eyes open, it is all around us. It seems intractable. We need filters to prevent ourselves from being swamped, classifications to remove our experience of the pain of others to a level of endurable abstraction. By the time we become adults this adaptation has taken place without our much noticing it. There are friends and family, whose suffering is ineluctable. There are people in our immediate communities whose troubles we see and talk about. And then there is the pain of distant others, news of whose suffering arrives through the media, if it arrives at all. It comes as sheer blight, implicating us we know not how. This we either attempt to ignore or treat as an “issue,” an altogether more tractable entity. 

Yet some social visionaries and brokenhearted artists, of whom James Agee was one, fail richly to make this adaptation. Their work, in the manner of Jesus strained through Marx, insists that distinctions between the suffering of intimates and the suffering of strangers are an outrage. With strenuous empathy they report or represent the hardship of the poor and the disenfranchised. The result is a kind of morally indignant anthropology. An ethnography delivered from the pulpit. Which more or less describes Cotton Tenants: Three Families, James Agee’s report on the working conditions of poor white farmers in the Deep South.

Fortune magazine commissioned the report in the summer of 1936, sending Agee and the photographer Walker Evans to Alabama, and then refused to publish it. No firm evidence has ever surfaced to suggest precisely why.  

 “The trip was very hard, and certainly one of the best things I’ve ever had happen to me,” he wrote in September, after spending two months with and among the families. “Writing what we found is a different matter. Impossible in any form and length Fortune can use; and I am now so stultified trying to do that, that I’m afraid I’ve lost the ability to make it right in my own way.”  But make it right he did.  Five years later he and Evans published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  At the time it sold six hundred copies. Not until 1960, five years after Agee’s death, was it republished and recognized as a classic of American literature. And not until now, seventy-seven years after he wrote it, is the original report he submitted to Fortune available. 

Cotton Tenants, now published for the first time, is a good deal more than source material for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The latter is a four-hundred-page sui generis prose symphony on the themes of poverty, rural life, and human existence. Cotton Tenants is a poet’s brief for the prosecution of economic and social injustice. The former, as Agee himself tells us, is meant to be sung; the latter, preached.

And the message is unsettling: “A civilization which for any reason puts a human life at a disadvantage; or a civilization which can exist only by putting human life at a disadvantage; is worthy neither of the name nor of continuance.” Agee’s aim is to excite the reader’s outrage by describing the particular disadvantages of tenant farmers in meticulous detail.

But why, seventy-seven years later, should we spend time reading a piece of rejected journalism about a vanished world of tenant farming?  One answer lies in the example it sets for the scope and tenor of journalistic inquiry.  The families Agee describes are not the worst cases, but representative ones; the worst would distract through voyeurism. Shock stuns the mind, and by that very action can often engender lassitude.  The way out of this trap is to link the lives described with the system that creates their conditions. To give an analysis of politics that’s firmly grounded in the actual results of politics.   Cotton Tenants presses us to ask two questions: What, precisely, are the economic mechanisms that enforce our own class hierarchies? And what are the “structures of intuition,” as Agee calls them, that serve as the social glue of the system?  It is not difficult to see the economic outlines. Real wages for the working class have been declining for forty years. The increases in “efficiency” and “labor productivity” celebrated by economists have become a transfer mechanism from the poor and middle class to the owners of capital. Wage earners work longer for less; investors reap the rewards.

And what are the “the structures of intuition” that keep the system running?  We could begin with mass identification with the rich and the famous. Ours has long been a lottery culture, in which we are—all of us—protorich. Aspirational marketing fogs our brains and hides reality. But perhaps now more people previously loyal to the system are beginning to understand how rigged it is. Close and thorough description of people’s actual circumstances in the manner of Agee’s long-form report from Alabama, applied to our own time, would doubtless help burn off some of that fog, waking us from the fantasy that we can all earn or win lottery sums. Of such conscience-stricken journalism the aim isn’t to depress anyone’s ambition; it’s to understand how the world functions. There will always be exceptions to the rules. But if we don’t understand the rules, we can’t change them. That goes for the cruelties of capitalism as well as the sentiments that grant it the appearance of common sense.


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“Scatter, Adapt, and Remember”: Annalee Newitz on Her Favorite Mass Extinction, Burrowing Herbivores, and More


An Amazon Best Book of the Month for May, Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction is a fascinating and entertaining look at mass extinctions. Newitz, science journalist and editor of the science website, explains that although life on Earth has come close to annihilation more than once just during the last million years, there’s cause for hope. Every time a few creatures have survived, evolving to adapt to the harshest of conditions. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember focuses on threats old and new, as well as how scientific breakthroughs today will help us avoid disasters tomorrow. From simulating tsunamis to studying central Turkey’s ancient underground cities; from cultivating cyanobacteria for “living cities” to designing space elevators to make space colonies cost-effective, Newitz takes the reader on a remarkable journey through the science of mass extinctions.

Omnivoracious interviewed Newitz recently to find out more…

Does this book help people to take the long view? Is it the kind of the book where after you read it, you’ll never worry about the time wasted waiting in line or when someone cuts you off in traffic ever again?

You'll probably still be pissed about waiting in line, especially if they run out of your favorite flavor right before you get to the ice cream counter. But this book does encourage you to take the long view on the human species. You may appreciate that humanity isn't doomed just because we have a few annoying habits. My goal is to put our survival in perspective, by introducing readers to other species that have survived horrific disasters—as well as groups of humans who prevailed against plagues, famines, and worse. The apocalypse is complicated—just because we suffer losses and make mistakes doesn't mean humans won't survive. And we may come out the other side of calamity better off than we were.

Newitz headshotDo you have a favorite mass extinction? Why?

I'm most fond of the mass extinction that ended the Permian period, 250 million years ago. It was the worst mass extinction in history, caused by supervolcanoes that unleashed so much ash and carbon into the atmosphere that the planet suffered rapid climate change. Ninety-five percent of species died out in less than a million years. My favorite part is actually the early Triassic, when the planet was recovering. Many different kinds of seriously weird animals, including a bunch of giant proto-crocodiles, evolved and died out before our ecosystems were stable again. I like this period because it's our best example of how the planet recovers from what amounted to environmental collapse. It took 30 million years before you could say the ecosystems were stable, and then about 20 million years later there was another mass extinction. Those were tough times. But our ancestors, the goofy-looking tetrapods who evolved into mammals, made it through. It's thanks to them that we're here now.

 Is there such a thing as a luxurious or even mildly pleasant mass extinction event?

It all depends on your perspective. I think that one of the survivors of the End Permian extinction, the burrowing herbivore called Lystrosaurus, probably thought things were pretty sweet. All its natural predators were dying off, and the sooty air may have resembled what it was used to breathing underground. So it was suddenly like the whole planet was Lystrosaurus heaven. Nice dirty air, plenty of roots and slime to eat, no giant tooth-faces to hide from.

But generally mass extinctions are probably best described as mildly unpleasant, most of the time. They may be set off by a crazy disaster, like a volcano or an asteroid slamming into the planet. But these violent episodes only become massively fatal by causing climate changes that take hundreds of thousands of years to kill everybody off. From the perspective of an individual lifetime, this would probably seem like a gradual siphoning away of luxury—maybe a few dozen species go extinct every year, but nothing catastrophic. Until, in retrospect, you realize that it is.

Can one find a mass extinction, or what happens in the aftermath, beautiful on a kind of grand scale?

Definitely. Each mass extinction effectively creates a whole new world, with new animals, plants, and insects. If you could live for millions of years and watch one happen, it would be like witnessing the death of one set of ecosystems and the birth of another. You'd see the continents ripping apart, and the oceans changing shape. It would be incredible.

Can you share what surprised you most in your research for this book? A fact, an event?

There were a lot of surprises. I think the main one was how long these mass extinctions take. I imagined your typical apocalypse, with the world bathed in fire and then re-emerging from the ashes. But realistically, these events take as long as two million years, and are usually caused by climate change. So it's kind of like the Earth gets slowly smogged to death, and even during the worst mass extinction there are still new species evolving in the ruins.

Is someone or something behind all of these mass extinction events? Is there someone we can blame?

You can blame the entire complicated history of the planet, with its carbon cycles and plate tectonics and habit of getting in the way of flying space rocks. As geologist Peter Ward puts it, the planet is a kind of Medea figure, always killing her children. That said, it's pretty clear at this point that climate change causes mass extinction—and it seems very likely that humans are contributing to climate change right now by releasing so much carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans. What's heartening is that as soon as scientists figured out that we are doing this—which was only a few decades ago—activists and even (yes) politicians and writers starting working to curb our carbon emissions. I think we are on the right track with the quest for alternative fuels and biodiversity, but things may get a lot worse before they get better. 

Do you think you’re better prepared now to face a mass extinction event or less so, now that you are such an expert on them?

I'll never personally face one, because they take at minimum hundreds of thousands of years. But I am persuaded that we may be in the early stages of a mass extinction right now, and I'm prepared to yell as loudly as possible about all the ways we can prevent it from happening. This book is just one instance of my yelling. 

Do you worry about mass extinctions more now than before you wrote the book?

I worry more about people not pursuing the pathway of survival. I'm actually far less worried about humans dying out, and more worried that we'll have to endure a really long period of awfulness and deprivation before we get our act together and maintain Earth's environment in a state that is healthy for us and our current ecosystems. 

If you wanted to be mass-extinction-proof, what kind of animal would you be?

I'd be a human, but a lot smaller. The smaller you are, the easier it is to find enough food to survive! 

If you had one piece of advice for the ordinary human-on-the-street who wants to live through the next mass extinction, what would you tell them? (Or do they have to read the book?)

Read the book if you want my specific suggestions, which range from practical to very futuristic. But there are also the obvious things you can do, like trying to create less waste, supporting the use of fuels that don't shoot carbon into the environment, voting for policies that preserve diversity in land use and discourage factory farming. But there are also the less obvious, and perhaps less measurable things you can do, like not basing your decisions on the idea that humanity will die out tomorrow. Try to make decisions that you think will lead to a world where people could still be living in one hundred thousand years. Don't count on us going extinct. Count on us surviving. And have compassion for our progeny.


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Translation as an Act of Love: Ursula K. Le Guin and Squaring the Circle

Acts of translation are often truly international efforts. In the case of Squaring the Circle: A Pseudotreatise of Urbogony, this is doubly true. Iconic writer Ursula K. Le Guin selected and translated 24 "Fantastic Tales" by the highly decorated Romanian writer Gheorghe Sasarma in this collection--but not in quite the usual way. Instead of translating from the original language, Le Guin translated initially from the Spanish edition of the book, La Quadratura del Círcolo.

Squaring the Circle, which consists of several short tales each set in a different fantastical city, is perhaps the author's most controversial book. First published in 1975, it fell afoul of Communist censors, who cut about one fourth of the collection. In 1983, as a result of continued censorship, Sasarman left Romania to live in Munich, Germany. Since then he has continued to write, but only published in Romania again in 1989 after the fall of the dictator Ceausescu. He is a potent reminder of the constraints placed on many writers of that era, especially in Romania, where repression was particularly acute.

Le Guin explains in her introduction that, for a while, the book "kept lying around in one place or another in my study." But gradually, the collection exerted an effect on her, as sometimes happens: "It's not rational, not easy to explain [this effect some books have]. They don't glow or vibrate...They just are in view, they're there... And even if I have no idea what it is or what it's about, I have to read it."

As she became absorbed in these tales, Le Guin realized she wanted to translate them into English. "I love translation because I translate for love. I'm an amateur. I translate a text because I love it, or think I do, and love craves close understanding. Translation, for me, is discovery."

Le Guin's "laborious" translation from Spanish into English was then checked against the Romanian original and a French translation. "Both were of use when my Spanish got stuck or I wanted to see the original wording (for Romanian is, after all, a Romance language, half-familiar even if unreadable by me)." The original Spanish translator, Mariano Martín Rodríguez was also of use, via email.

The result? A collection of quite beautiful and sometimes dark tales, sure to delight lovers of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges—or aficionados of the work of Le Guin herself.

"We launched Squaring the Circle at the Seattle Library in mid-May," Le Guin told Omnivoracious. "The author's daughter came from Munich, his nephew from Canada, and the Spanish translator from Brussels, and we each read a story in English, Spanish, and Romanian. The audience was great. I think the high point was when the Spanish translator, reading the story 'Kriegbourg,' stabbed himself in the back, and bled to death (with my red scarf)."

As for Le Guin's favorites in the collection, she has several and found it hard to choose. "Maybe 'Arapabad' is the most beautiful single story, but I love 'Sah-Harah,' and 'Oldcastle.' And images haunt me--the greased slides in Vavylon, the doorways in Moebia..."

Squaring the Circle has been lovingly published by Aqueduct Press as an attractive small-sized paperback with copious geometric illustrations.

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Graphic Novel Friday: the Old Weird

Marshall.lawA few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to hear from China Mieville, the award-winning fantastical fiction author who currently writes an offbeat series for DC Comics, Dial H. Mr. Mieville’s writing can be difficult to pin down, but he is often classified under the genre of “New Weird,” and Dial H fits neatly into that realm. But DC isn’t only looking forward, as two recently published, significantly sized collections prove. These two works highlight the dark, charmingly awkward, and literary publishing that DC and its Vertigo imprint allowed to flourish in the 1990s. Like Mr. Mieville’s oeuvre, they defy easy categorization, so we’ll call them “Old Weird” for now.

Writer Pat Mills and illustrator Kevin O’Neill chose to follow the Watchmen/Dark Knight heyday with a bizarre, outright shocking superhero-hunting-superheroes story, entitled Marshal Law. As The Comics Journal recently noted, the whole thing eventually devolves into a Judge Dredd-esque tale of “Who polices the superhero police?” but for much of the new Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition’s 480 pages, it’s a fascinating snapshot of where comics were after a sea change in the 1980s. O’Neill’s sharp-edged designs are housed in panels that feel more like frames to accentuate Mills’ wry, anti-superhero sentiments, but they cannot shake the “across the pond” nature of it storytellers. Unlike American comics, a significant amount of action takes place between the panels, leaving the reader to piece together the transitions. It makes for a read punctuated by staccato jumps, and O’Neill populates the pages with jokes, puns, and mildly offensive winks to anchor readers to the page. This is not a breezy read, but it’s a historically unsung one, especially for fans of O’Neill’s later collaboration with Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Then there’s the House of Secrets Omnibus by Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen (among others, including Guy Davis, Duncan Fedrego, Dean Ormston, and more), a 750+ page dollhouse-sized tome. Is it horror, thriller, dark fantasy? At about halfway through, even I’m unsure. Protagonist Rain Harper serves as witness and attempted savior for the souls who are called to the house in which she and a jury comprised of ghosts reside. The page layouts are untraditional, often jagged at the corners and imprecise. Kristiansen conveys haunted households and expressions with a graveyard ease—the supernatural is present from the get-go, with sunken, hollow eyes and writhing bodies against flames. The collection doesn’t begin with a hook but rather a slow burn, lengthy prose passages stack atop wide-angle panels. Eventually, the book settles into dialogue balloons and narrative boxes, and the story patiently creeps. Fans of Alan Moore’s brand of horror and Matthew Sturges’ House of Mystery series will appreciate the maddening twists.

In a publishing world where exhaustive collections are the norm, there still exists a rich undergrowth of cultish stories that deserve greater readership. DC dug deeply with these two hardcovers, unearthing dark soil from which new weird may grow.



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The Patrón Way: A Conversation with a Marketing Pioneer

51-8MaPeiHL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Most people assume that Patrón tequila has been around forever. But it wasn’t until 1989 that Ilana Edelstein’s late life partner, Martin Crowley, returned from Mexico with the “liquid treasure” which he, Edelstein, and co-founder John Paul DeJoria (also co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products), would grow into one of the world’s most recognized liquor brands. spoke with Edelstein about her first book The Patron Way: From Fantasy to Fortune - Lessons on Taking Any Business From Idea to Iconic Brand, which details the story of Patrón’s rise and paints an intimate portrait of her role in the creation of an iconic brand.


What led  to your decision to write this book?

It’s been over ten years since I’ve been with Patrón. And after my time with Patrón, friends and foe—everybody—kept nagging me to write a book. But I just wasn’t able to go there yet, you know? The experience was still too raw with me. But I guess something shifted two and a half years ago: I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We were updating each other on what we’d been doing and she said, “You should write a book,” as they all would say. And at that moment I said, “Yep, I am gonna write a book!”


You’re bound to reach an audience of entrepreneurs curious about starting businesses in the spirits industry. Do you have words of warning? Words of encouragement?

They would be words of encouragement. Those words are the same for any kind of business. Do your research, do your homework, then apply it. Cover your bases. Be thorough. Follow your own best sense. Everything we did at Patrón was approached with how we as customers would respond to it, how it would affect us. We just assumed everyone was like us. We were in our own little bubble, I will admit. But we are just humans at the end of the day. And [our marketing decisions at Patrón] affected people the same way.


What do you consider your greatest marketing contribution to Patrón?

If I have to choose just one? With Martin and I we never took ownership of ideas in the sense of “this idea is mine, this idea is yours.” So it’s hard to say. But one thing I brought, whether consciously or not, was femininity to a spirits brand that didn’t have that. Whatever promotions we did, we had as many females as males there. And we weren’t actually doing it on purpose. By accident, that’s what happened with me being involved. Martin was a bit macho, but he had a feminine side too. So he was able to embrace those things that I brought to the table. And he singlehandedly put me in touch with my creativity. I had no idea I was creative before that, which was pretty amazing.


If you were launching the Patrón brand tomorrow, and not the late 1980’s, how do you think the experience would be different?

When we were launching, we didn’t know how our competitors were doing. We didn’t know how the industry was doing. So we had to come up with our own way. So if we were doing it now with the same ignorance, we would probably just do whatever we felt the moment called-for, just like we did then. It might have played out differently because of the times. You know, we never followed a business plan! We were both business people, we had business backgrounds. The operations were set up in the normal way, but the marketing is what really set it apart. And that pricing—we priced the products so the distributors would be making a bigger profit. So it’s obvious why they’d want to sell our product over another one.


You mention in the book that one of the cornerstones of the brand marketing was the connection with celebrity. Would that still be the case if you were launching today?

Absolutely, if you have the ability to. We did, because of 1) living in Los Angeles, and 2) John Paul [DeJoria]. People follow celebrities; they think they know more, that they know the good stuff. And that’s why they’re paid millions of dollars to endorse products. Which we never did! When it’s an “organic” endorsement, it’s much…louder…I think.

Beyond Patrón, when you think of brilliant marketing campaigns, what comes to mind?

In its day, I thought Absolut Vodka’s Andy Warhol campaign was amazing. He did all these art bottles. It was brilliant. I also saw a brilliant billboard the other day. It was for Saab. It said something to the effect of, “Tired of German techno? Try Swedish Metal!” Isn’t that good?


The work of writing seems dramatically different than how I envision the work of marketing Patrón.

Very much so. Writing is very solitary, and at a desk. [Patrón’s ] marketing was everywhere else. And it’s certainly not solitary. Especially in the liquor business, it’s all fun! You’re out. You have your Patrón girls handing out sips. You know, it’s not hard giving away free booze! Everything that surrounds that industry is fun and celebration…there’s nothing better than marketing a consumable.


The Patrón Way is a business book, but the more I read, the more I feel this book is just as much an homage to Martin Crowley, your late life partner.

It absolutely is. Would I have preferred it to end a different way? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I had the ride of my life. I had the love of my life, which I don’t think I’ll ever replicate. I had the most amazing good fortune for 13 years, on every level. The business was intertwined with us. We were not separable, the three of us: [Crowley], me, and the business. [Our relationship] didn’t end well, but I was very sad when he died. He was a brilliant entrepreneur and an incredibly creative guy. If you met him, you might not have liked him, but you certainly never would have forgotten him. I’m not saying everyone didn’t like him, but you either took to that kind or you didn’t. This book is a big tribute to him.

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Dick Lehr: On Whitey Bulger and the Upcoming Trial of the Century

51AeZgL3mLL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Today he's known simply as WHITEY -- the Boston gangster whose epic crime story has become the stuff of history. It's not just he's a stone-cold, hands-on killer (he faces 19 murder charges); or his longevity (he's now 83, and his underworld reign covered decades). He's made history because he brought the Boston FBI to its knees, corrupting FBI agents so they acted as his palace guard and protected him from rivals in the underworld and from other police agencies seeking to bust him.

Whitey Bulger has become America's most notorious crime boss because he's at the center of the worst informant scandal in FBI history -- and now, in June 2013, he finally goes to trial in federal court in Boston in a racketeering case that has attracted media from around the world. It's one of those rare legal spectacles -- a proverbial trial of a century -- where Whitey himself has promised to take the stand to explain his claim that the U.S. government promised him immunity against prosecution for his reign of terror in Boston and beyond, a brutal, blood-splattered legacy of extortion, loan sharking, drug trafficking, torture and murder.  The trial, expected to last throughout the summer, will take viewers into the heart of darkness, featuring Whitey's secret control of a band of Boston FBI agents.

Whitey's life story is told in our new biography WHITEY: The Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss the most comprehensive study of Whitey to date, covering his formative years as a boy on the streets of South Boston during the Depression; his bank-robbing years, which resulted in his only stint in prison, including Alcatraz; his role in the infamous LSD experiments in prison, backed secretly by the CIA; his rise to power in the 1970s with the help of the FBI; his sixteen years on the lam as a fugitive from justice and, finally, his capture in Santa Monica in 2011. It's all there, a biography that gives readers insight into the making of the monster and reveals the origins of Whitey's sense of invincibility and entitlement above the law.

And there's more. By chance, Whitey's saga will unfold this summer on a second stage besides the courtroom. It's the streets of Boston, where film star Johnny Depp will portray Whitey in BLACK MASS, the motion picture adaptation of our previous book about Whitey that incorporates material from our new biography. Barry Levinson, the Academy-award winning director, will be shifting his cast and crew around the city to capture Whitey's rise and fall for the big screen while federal prosecutors and Whitey's lawyers tangle in the courtroom over the mountain of evidence showing Whitey as calculating psychopath and cold-blooded killer.

--Dick Lehr, co-author of WHITEY: The Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss




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YA Wednesday: "Gorgeous" Paul Rudnick

GorgeousAs a screenwriter, Paul Rudnick has some big hit movies under his belt and now he’s put his cinematic savvy to good use in his first young adult novel that we picked as a Best Teen book of May, Gorgeous.   In Gorgeous, Rudnick skewers Hollywood and our beauty-obsessed world with an over-the-top (in a good way) twist on the Cinderella story.  In Rudnick’s version,  Cinderella-–or Becky, in this case--is an unremarkable girl living with her obese mother in a Missouri trailer park who is offered the promise of irresistible beauty by the most famous fashion designer of them all (you’ll recognize the real-life inspiration).  What’s a girl to do? Say yes, of course…  

Gorgeous is great satire but it also asks the ultimate question--who are we when we take a hard look in the mirror?  Do we see ourselves as others see us, for better or worse?  And maybe living in the limelight doesn’t look so pretty to those under its glare...

I was curious about Rudnick’s choice to go from writing movies to writing for teens and asked him to share the story behind his story in the exclusive guest post below.

My mom struggled with her weight all her life. She tried every possible diet and stuck with the Weight Watchers program for years. She learned to weigh everything she ate on a little metal scale, but she hated the prepackaged dinners, which she said looked like frozen diapers. She finally lost many pounds and bought a skinny new wardrobe, but she eventually gained all the weight back. A few weeks before she died, I watched while she went through a box of photos of herself as a teenager and a young woman. She looked up and said, “You know, back then, I thought I was so ugly. But I looked great!”

It broke my heart, but then my mom laughed, because in my family, humor was essential. This was the inspiration for Gorgeous, my first YA novel. Women in particular are constantly bombarded with images of glamour and perfection, in magazines, at the movies, on TV and online. I’m also mesmerized by the dangerous glory of fashion, and about how designers can become modern-day wizards, promising impossible transformations. So I came up with Becky Randle, an eighteen-year-old from a Missouri trailer park, who receives a tempting and scary offer. Tom Kelly, a legendary and reclusive designer, will make Becky three dresses — one red, one white, and one black. And if Becky wears these dresses, she will become the most beautiful woman in the world.

At first I wasn’t sure where this idea might lead me: Should it become a book or a play or maybe a movie? I’ve written in all of these forms: I wrote the movies In&Out and Addams Family Values, and the novel I’ll Take It, which was based on the annual New England car trips I’d take with my mom and her sisters. We’d claim that we were going to watch the leaves change, but we were really hitting every outlet store between New Jersey and Maine.                    

After several false starts, Gorgeous came fully alive only when I began to write in the first person, in Becky’s own voice. That’s also when I realized Becky’s story was a YA novel. I’d been reading a great deal of YA, because the books are addictive and wonderfully entertaining. I’ve loved everyone from J. K. Rowling to David Levithan, Veronica Roth and John Green, all of whom have devoted and often global followings. There’s a good reason for that: Their books grab the reader and won’t let go.

I like a challenge, so I plunged right in. I wanted to see if I could write a YA novel that would both do Becky justice and reflect my own sense of humor. I showed the manuscript to a fifteen-year-old, and she approved, which was a huge relief. Teenagers, I know, are tough-minded, vocal, and passionate readers, and they have no trouble saying exactly what they think. Becky’s take-no-prisoners best friend is the always loyal and always outspoken Rocher, who sometimes wears a T-shirt that says, “I Hate You More.”

The best way to write a YA novel, I’ve found, is not to worry about any specific notion of what a YA book should be. I’ve tried to make Gorgeous as accurate, heartfelt, and as much fun as possible. I hope that readers will understand Becky and cheer for her, and swoon every few pages. And as for me, well, I’ve already started my next book, and it’s YA. --Paul Rudnick

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Bestselling Fantasy Author Raymond E. Feist on Thirty Years of Writing

Magicians EndNot many authors can claim to have had a wide readership for thirty years, but that’s exactly the milestone fantasy writer Raymond E. Feist celebrates this year. Back in 1982, Feist wrote his first novel Magician, a story about an orphan boy named Pug who is thrust by a war into captivity in an alien world, only to rise to become a Master magician. That novel introduced readers to Midkemia and the Riftwars, an epic series of battles between Good and Evil. It also began a rather remarkable run during which Feist’s success has outlasted that of many of his contemporaries.
Fittingly, after twenty-nine books (authored and coauthored), Feist marks the thirtieth anniversary of the start of it all with Magician's End, the final chapter of the Chaoswar Saga and the climax of his Riftwar Cycle. Omnivoracious caught up with Feist to ask him about his career and his books.
What do you think has contributed to your longevity in the field?
I have no idea. If I did, I'd bottle it and sell it. I started out to write a "ripping yarn," and have a good time telling a story, and that's always been the prime motivation. So I guess I can say that multiple generations have decided to have fun with me. I know I get youngsters who tell me their parents gave them the books.
What are you most proud of about your body of work?
The longevity. I've been continuously in print in the English language since 1982, and there are not a lot of writers who can claim they've never had a book go out of print. It pleases me more to have people discovering me as a "new writer" more than it does to make a bestseller list.
How did you survive the rough patches? What carried you through?
I got a lot of support. I have some really good people in my life who took care of me during the crazy times. Writers tend to live in mental caves when we work, and we do need to get out and get some fresh air and sunshine now and again, and every once in a while someone needs to drag us out of that cave.
Do you have a favorite novel among your own work?
It's like kids, really. You love them all, but each is unique. Magician is my first born, so to speak, so it really is special in that respect. Magician's End is the other bookend, really, so it's special in a different way.
What, really, do you think has changed in the book culture over the last decade?
Tough one to answer. If I was to point to one important thing it's that younger readers are more attuned to the concept of content as opposed to a book as an objective item. They don't mind reading on a Kindle, Nook, iPhone, laptop, etc.
Did you do anything special to celebrate thirty years of Feist books?
Touring the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand, so I can visit with my readers. Then I come home and maybe take a week off and hang at the beach. When you live in San Diego you don't need to go far for a vacation.
What’s next for you?
I’m already working on King of Ashes, the first volume of a new series set in a new universe. I hope the readers find it as compelling as they did the Midkemian books.
What would you say to a writer just beginning now, based on everything you’ve learned over the years?
No one can teach anyone to write. They can help someone learn, so don't confuse those two things. The thing about writing is you have to practice, so write a lot and don't stress if it's isn't perfect the first bash. If you want to play piano, you practice. If you want to play piano well, you practice a lot. And if you want to play piano in Carnegie Hall, you practice hard for years. Writing's the same.

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