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Weekend Flashback: J.D. Salinger, Seamus Heaney, Stephen King, Helen Fielding, Dr. Martin Luther King, Marisha Pessl, and more

Because the week can get hectic... Here's what you might have missed recently on Omni.

SalingerSara Nelson spoke with biographer Shane Salerno about chasing the mysterious J.D. Salinger.

"I read what had been written about Salinger and I was troubled by how little was written by people who directly knew Salinger. So the same stories were repeated over and over again. It wasn't like the [Salinger] family said "Here's the closet, and good luck with your book." It was like a detective story: I spent years researching and calling people and one thing led to another." Read More



HeanyNeal Thompson remembered Irish Poet Seamus Heaney

"Heaney was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several anthologies. Widely regarded as the most important Irish poet since fellow Nobel-laureate W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize committee cited Heaney's 'works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.'" Read More



PesslRobin A. Rothman explored Character Comebacks as Stephen King, Helen Fielding, John Grisham and Roddy Doyle prepare to publish new books.

"In the next few months, four authors will reunite us with four vastly different fictional characters ... old friends we haven’t seen for years. You might remember them as a kid coming to terms with his supernatural powers, a single gal infatuated with the idea of love, a controversy-courting lawyer trying to do the right thing, and a working class music fanatic grasping at success." Read More



MLKSeira Wilson presented a guest essay from Kadir Nelson about illustrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech is a powerful occasion for me--every time I listen to the speech, it stops me in my tracks. I can remember the first time I heard it. I was in the 5th grade and my class assignment was to memorize and deliver the speech." Read More



PesslNeal Thompson got to know author Marisha Pessl and her debut Night Film a little better. 

"Pessl spent a lot of time building the detailed world of Cordova, his family, his films, his oeuvre, and his legacy. And she wanted the details of that world feel real. So she watched and studied the works of Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and other psychological thriller directors, as well as horror film director Dario Argento." Read More




MLKSeira Wilson presented an author to author interview between Leonard S. Marcus and Brian Selznick discussing Randolph Caldecott, namesake of the Caldecott medal.

"I first began to understand what an innovator Caldecott was when I read Maurice Sendak’s essay collection, Caldecott & Co.:Notes on Books & Pictures, in which he talks about how much he learned from him about bringing drawings to life on the page." Read More




SalingerRobin A. Rothman got geeky with David Ewalt, author of Of Dice and Men -- the history of Dungeons & Dragons.

"I wrote this book for a mainstream audience. It always bothered me that D&D has a somewhat dodgy reputation, and that so many people have heard of it, but have no idea what the game is actually like. So I set out to explain D&D to the outsiders -- I want them to see what they’re missing, and to understand why those of us who play the game are so devoted to it." Read More



GNFAlex Carr recapped "What I Read Over Summer Vacation" for Graphic Novel Friday.

"Regular Graphic Novel Friday readers might be aware of my annual summer trip into the Canadian wilderness, where I unplug at a family cabin and read as many comics as I can. This year the weather was especially uncooperative, which made for fine morning, noon, and night reading. Upon my return, a nutritional detox was necessary but I read an especially healthy batch of books, including..." Read More

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Guest Review: Susan Casey on "A House in the Sky"

Susan_CaseyOur thanks to Susan Casey (author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean) for this guest review of A House In The Sky: A Memoir, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. A House in the Sky was selected as one of our Best Books of the Month for September.

Growing up in the small town of Red Deer, Alberta, Amanda Lindhout dreamed big. She was a young girl with a curious streak the size of the Rockies, and though her wrong-side-of-the-tracks provenance seemed to promise only a flatline future, Lindhout decided to change her own fate. Out there, she knew, beyond a horizon dotted with oil rigs and trailer parks, magic awaited, a vast map filled with all things “lost or unexplored, mystical or wild.”

HouseinskyHow did Lindhout know this? National Geographic. Paging through worn copies of the magazine, she was transported to every spectacular place she’d never been: “The world arrived in waves and flashes, as a silvery tide sweeping over a promenade in Havana or the glinting snowfields of Annapurna. The world was a tribe of pygmy archers in the Congo and the green geometry of Kyoto’s tea gardens. It was a yellow-sailed catamaran in a choppy Arctic Sea.”

And so, fueled by waitressing wages and determination, Lindhout’s travels begin, at first in idyllic ways, then accelerating and acquiring a degree of difficulty that would daunt any seasoned explorer. In short order, Lindhout--working as a freelance journalist--ventures into places like Kabul and Baghdad, Addis Ababa, the back alleys of Cairo, and then, finally, Somalia, where the stakes become nothing less than life or death.

Lindhout’s story is exhilarating and harrowing and several other brands of extreme, and it would be riveting however it was told. But in A House in the Sky, readers will find a rare and beautiful alchemy: writer Sara Corbett captures Lindhout’s voice and spirit with utter mastery on the page, and a kind of ferocious grace that I found breathtaking.

I know that’s a strange phrase, ferocious grace. Lindhout’s desire--her need, even--to live on all cylinders burns bright in this book, but Corbett deftly reminds us that even when chipping away at cement, “covered in grit and cobwebs,” while attempting a desperate escape from her prison, Lindhout is still that unassuming and hopeful girl from Red Deer, Alberta. The one who wrote to her mother from India, “I am going to Jodhpur. It is a city in the desert, called the Blue City, as all the buildings are painted blue! I am having the BEST TIME EVER!”

In fact, it’s Lindhout’s contradictions that make her such a rich character. She can be naïve and driven, generous and opportunistic, ambitious and fitful, sometimes all at once. At the same time she’s heading for danger, she’s making friends. And even after she is taken hostage by an extremist group, and her situation descends into darkness, she finds small measures of beauty and even optimism in her captivity. And within that simple, brutal paradox, Lindhout manages to stay alive.

What Lindhout endured during her 460 days in captivity is difficult to absorb, but Corbett is brilliant with the telling detail, and her writing is so strong that she can paint readers a vivid picture with only a few brush strokes.

A House in the Sky is a true story of a young woman’s radical adventures. It is absorbing and inspiring and textured. It is terrifying. It illuminates. It is the best book I have read in a very long time.

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Nobel-Prize Winning Irish Poet Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

Seamus-heaney (1)Seamus Heaney, one of the worls best-known poets, who the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, died in Dublin this morning at the age of 74. His death, following a short illness, was announced by the Irish Times.

Heaney was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and edited several anthologies. Widely regarded as the most important Irish poet since fellow Nobel-laureate W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Prize committee cited Heaney's "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past."

Born and raised in County Derry, in Northern Ireland, Heaney later lived in Dublin and taught for many years at Harvard University at Oxford. His work was closely tied to the Irish landscape and Irish politics, beginning with his first book, Death of a Naturalist (1966). As a Catholic in Protestant Northern Ireland, Heaney wrote often about the "Troubles," and once described himself in the New York Times Book Review as someone who "emerged from a hidden, a buried life and entered the realm of education."

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Graphic Novel Friday: What I Read Over Summer Vacation

Regular Graphic Novel Friday readers might be aware of my annual summer trip into the Canadian wilderness, where I unplug at a family cabin and read as many comics as I can. This year the weather was especially uncooperative, which made for fine morning, noon, and night reading. Upon my return, a nutritional detox was necessary but I read an especially healthy batch of books, including:

  • Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Like everyone, I wondered if Vaughan and Staples could possibly top their Vol. 1 efforts (which we selected as one of our Top 10 Best of the Year picks in 2012), and like just about everyone, I was so happy to see the indie duo succeed. There is more charm, fantasy, action, science fiction, romance, and grotesquely nude giants in this volume than any comic on the planet. It’s the best ongoing comic that I read, and I gobbled it up before anything else this summer.

  • Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust and Kim Thompson: Being one of the late Thompson’s final translation efforts makes this a must-read—plus, that title. Graphic memoirist Ulli Lust recounts her 1984 journey across Italy, which is nowhere as idyllic as it sounds. Lust is a broke, defiant punk at the time, and the aggressive sexuality she endures is shocking. She travels without passport, money, or GPS, and it’s an adventure that makes me glad I have all three.

 The Daniel Clowes Reader by Ken Parille: As a Clowes scholar, Parille is without parallel and this hefty paperback showcases his devotion to the celebrated cartoonist. For example, the study of Ghost World is 150 pages—complete with a reprint of the source material, interviews, annotations, essays, and miscellany. Parille’s essay on “Clowes and Advertising in the 1990s” is a highlight.

Hawkeye: Little Hits, Vol. 2 by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and more: Like Saga, this is another second volume in the shadow of its former’s greatness, and yet it’s just as fun—especially the game-changing Pizza Dog chapter, told from the perspective of Hawkeye’s canine sidekick. Stylistically, it’s the chapter by which all comics in 2013 should be measured. Bro!

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Volume 6: Return of the Master by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Tyler Crook: Before I go to bed in the deep woods, I like a scare or two, and Dark Horse’s Hellyboy universe rarely disappoints. Sure, the B.P.R.D. books have been somewhat aimless lately, but everything gets back on the spooky track in this volume, with twists aplenty and enough horror to keep me reaching for that night-light. Crook’s art officially comes into its own here.

How about you, Omni readers--what have you been reading the past few weeks?


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Rob Sheffield Gets Philosophical About Karaoke

Turn Around Bright EyesI've never done karaoke. I'll hum a tune sometimes to myself, even articulate one or two lines occasionally. In my car, if I'm alone and the windows are rolled up tight, I'll sing at the top of my lungs. There's no danger there that my tragically tone-deaf caterwauling will hurt anyone.

I've attended karaoke parties and requested songs and cheered my friends and watched from the couch as others picked up the mic. Under my breath I might sing the backing vocals just low enough that nobody can hear. I've even gone to karaoke bars, including one that karaoke-obsessed author Rob Sheffield highlights in his book Turn Around Bright Eyes (one of our Best of the Month in August) as his favorite New York City spot. Again, I sit and I watch and I listen.

Meanwhile, my colleagues Mari and Kevin are known to rock the microphone (sometimes in tandem). I envy them and so many others, but I still never, ever, ever feel the urge to try it.

There's something about Rob Sheffield, though. In his writing, it's a combination of his genuine adoration of music and his admission of having not the greatest voice himself and his own history with karaoke. In person, it's his endearingly quirky presence, the contagiousness of his enthusiasm, the authenticity of his desire to help others find happiness where he has.

After all, here we have a rock critic giving us, well... explicit permission to suck at singing and still have a good time. He's like a walking talking hug of a human, assuring you that how well you sing is irrelevant; what matters is how you feel when you sing.

See for yourself. We caught up with Rob at Book Expo America to talk about all of this and more.

Rob Sheffield on "Turn Around Bright Eyes" from Amazon Books on Vimeo.

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How I Wrote It: Marisha Pessl, on "Night Film"

Pessl Marisha Pessl’s precocious first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, was widely hailed as a brilliant, literary mashup--coming-of-age meets murder mystery. Her new novel, Night Film, is Pessl’s rebellious response to her debut: very male, dark, and mysterious, though no less literary or ambitious. In our chat by phone, Pessl described her intent to “set out into an entirely new territory,” to build the complex world of Night Film from the ground up, a process that was both liberating and, at times, terrifying. Already optioned for film, Night Film is the story of a discredited journalist's attempt to uncover the secret life of a mysterious film director and his daughter, who is found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft in New York’s Chinatown.

Night Film was selected as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for September.


Instead of a carefully manicured garden (you could argue that's how Special Topics was sown and grown), Night Film emerged as a wild jungle that required taming. "There were patches of wildlife in different areas of my head, and I wasn’t exactly sure how it was all going to merge together,” Pessl said. One crux moment occurred during a trip to Paris, where Pessl saw an elegant, rotund man emerge from Christie’s auction house, an exotic woman on his arm. Surrounded by fawning handlers, the couple sped off in a chauffeured Aston Martin as Pessl gawked. That “mysterious duo” became the cornerstone for her filmmaker, Stanislas Cordova, and his daughter, Ashley.

The next step was to explore the Stanley Kubrick traits that Cordova would display. “I was smitten by the idea of the myth of this man (Kubrick), who seemed to be universally hailed as a genius but also ridiculed as an eccentric and a madman,” she said. “And I was interested to see how that diverged from the truth.” Very much so, it turns out. Kubrick was actually as a loving family man, and not nearly the monster he was often portrayed as. Pessl grew curious about the difference between myth and man, between family man and artist, a theme that cuts deeply through Night Film.


NightFilmPessl spent a lot of time building the detailed world of Cordova, his family, his films, his oeuvre, and his legacy. And she wanted the details of that world feel real. So she watched and studied the works of Kubrick, Roman Polanski, and other psychological thriller directors, as well as horror film director Dario Argento. She also interviewed others, including Kubrick confidant John Calley, and she researched witchcraft and satanism. “But at some point you have to stop reading other people and start creating, and come up with something that you find fresh and different, away from what has been done before,” she said.

For pure inspiration and motivation she read a lot of Truman Capote.


While Special Topics had been mapped out in precision--on spreadsheets, graphs, tables--with Night Film, she tried to let it flow. “Night Film was much more of a free fall and a wandering … and sort of allowing that to happen organically,” Pessl said. Sometimes that felt dislocating and frightening, but also more powerful and satisfying. Also, due to the sheer size of the story--and the stories within stories--“this was a much harder book, mentally, for me to write.” Getting into characters’ heads and creating dialogue comes easier to Pessl compared to the challenge of maintaining a steady pace. “The simple task of moving characters through space was so difficult, it really felt like I was laying brick, one sentence at a time,” Pessl said. “So I think in this book I confronted what some of my weaknesses are and I tried to work through them

“I like to push myself … Inherently that means there are going to be failures.”


Pessl is a big fan of Moleskine notebooks. That’s where the initial ideas are collected. Night Film was largely sketched out in two notebooks, one containing broad ideas and themes, the other contained actual scenes. “The books are basically my bibles, and they contain all my thoughts for character.” One notebook became a scrapbook for mood--filled with violent and dark images, notes on family history, scribbled questions, assorted thoughts and ideas. She likes the tactile quality of ripped-out clippings and visuals--a quality that found its way into the book. "I write with a 360-degree experience, full of music, visuals, ripped-out articles and images."

(You can see photos of her notebooks on her website.) 


Pessl listens to a lot of music, and created specific mood-setting playlists for certain scenes and characters. “It transports you to a certain mindset in a very quick way,” she said. Pessl shared one of my playlists, called "Looking for Mermaids" which she listened to while writing the last 50 pages or so.

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Jacquelyn Mitchard and Amy Gail Hansen in Conversation

Amy Gail HansenAs a bestselling author with nine novels to her credit (including the first one chosen for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club), Jacquelyn Mitchard easily qualifies as a veteran of the industry. Amy Gail Hansen is the author of The Butterfly Sister, her debut novel, which came out earlier this month. The two got together for a chat about creative writing, their similar bookshelves, how caring for a family balances with writing, and more.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: I just last week finished graduate school. I got my MFA -- after writing 20 books. Have you had formal training in creative writing?

Amy Gail Hansen: Besides my BA in English, I took a novel workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago and cried because it was the first time I was critiqued. Instead, I decided to freelance for newspapers, where I got a byline and paycheck, a great decision in hindsight. Journalism influenced my fiction writing immensely.

Jacquelyn Mitchard

JM: Hey Hey! The University of Illinois at Champaign is my alma mater, where I took my only formal training in writing, before my MFA -- the freshman elective with the great author Mark Costello. Who are your favorite authors?

AGH: You, of course! I read The Deep End of the Ocean in high school, then again just recently, the second time more meaningful because now I have three kids. I also enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Chris Bohjalian, Gillian Flynn, Carol Goodman, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf.

JM: That could be my bookshelf. Some of those authors are also my great friends. And I think Charlotte Bronte talks to me. Speaking of children... you write from home as a full-time caregiver for your kids. How do you balance the two roles? I can't believe I'm asking this.

Amy Gail Hansen

AGH: Yes, you have nine kids! I should be asking you this question! I'm not balancing both. Sometimes, I'm a better mother than writer, and vice versa. But if I nurture my children and my creative mind, if I write a thousand words first thing, before changing diapers, then I keep sane.

JM: That's all you can do. Personally, I feel fierce when people say my contribution is raising good kids and being a good wife. A writer writes. I consider myself a good mother sixty percent of the time, a bad mother eight percent of the time and an exhausted person a hundred percent of the time. So, back to routines. What's yours -- to write in the morning?

AGH: Yes, I wake up with epiphanies -- answers to plotting problems -- and must get them down before I lose them.

JM: Do you have any idiosyncrasies?

AGH: I always read the first and last page of a book out loud. I did this first with The Great Gatsby and never stopped. I like beginnings and endings. They resound when read aloud.

JM: I love beginnings and endings! It's like the introduction and restatement of a theme in a symphony. Your debut novel shows that. The Butterfly Sister is really lovely. I called it "...a dark mystery that also works on your heart." How do you describe your book?

AGH: It's a mystery with plot twists but also an emotional coming of age story. Ruby Rousseau must return to her past to secure her future. The past is a supporting character in my next book too.

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Shane Salerno Talks About Chasing the Elusive J.D. Salinger


Millions know J.D. Salinger's work -- after all, his 50+-year-old Catcher in the Rye still regularly appears on bestsellers lists and is the topic of countless teenage discussions in and out of the classroom. But it is his personal life that has always been more than a little mysterious.

A supposed recluse -- Salinger "disappeared" to a small town in New Hampshire at the height of his fame -- he never published after 1965. And while there were sightings of and occasional sound bites from him -- not to mention several biographies, tell-alls and who knows how many blogs -- only bits and pieces of his life have been revealed.

In his brand new movie and book, Salinger, screenwriter Shane Salerno and author David Shields pulled all those bits, and many others, together into a fascinating oral history that even those who wouldn't know a Franny from a Zooey will love. Editorial Director Sara Nelson talked with Salerno, about how and why he took on this 9+ year project.

Sara Nelson: Are you one of those Salinger nuts, obsessed since childhood with everything about him?

Shane Salerno: My mom always talked about Salinger when I was growing up in Washington DC and San Diego. We always shared a great love of books, and do to this day. But the thing about Salinger, she would say, is that it is half about the work and half about the mystique. I mean, he wouldn't allow himself to be photographed for TIME magazine! It was just all very interesting... and then when I started to read the work, I was taken with Catcher in the Rye, and fell head first for the Glass family [characters from Franny and Zooey]. So, I was a passionate fan, but knew very little about his life.

Then when I started to find out about his life... when I found out that J.D. Salinger landed [as a soldier] on D-Day, it blew my mind. When I found out that the love of J.D. Salinger's life dumped him for Charlie Chaplin on her eighteenth birthday (or shortly thereafter), it blew my mind I had to make this movie and write this book. They had me at hello. To show you how naïve I was, I thought this project would take six months and cost $300,000. It cost more than $2 million and consumed nine and a half years of my life. I really got hooked.

SN: There has been a lot of material floating around, in books and elsewhere, about Salinger's life: there are several biographies, many articles; his daughter Margaret wrote a book, his one-time girlfriend Joyce Maynard has written about him, etc. But you managed to pull together all the pieces and add some new ones. How and why did people who'd never spoken talk to you?

SS: I read what had been written about Salinger and I was troubled by how little was written by people who directly knew Salinger. So the same stories were repeated over and over again. It wasn't like the [Salinger] family said "Here's the closet, and good luck with your book." It was like a detective story: I spent years researching and calling people and one thing led to another.

Salinger Jeep

[When I found Salinger's war buddy, Paul Fitzgerald] he was sitting on this extraordinary treasure trove of pictures and diaries. We were also the first people to get Salinger's military records: first they told me they were lost in a fire, then they were lost in a flood. Finally, we threatened to sue them under the Freedom of Information Act. One thing we found from those files was that in 1946, Salinger listed his occupation as "author." In the middle of a brutal battle that others have described as "so awful that soldiers wanted to climb inside their helmets" Salinger was writing letters and poetry to the New Yorker.

SN: One of the relationships you turn up in the book is with a 14 year old girl named Jean Miller...

SS: Jean Miller had never told her story for 60 years. She had a relationship with Salinger that was 40 times longer than his relationship with Joyce Maynard. She was 14, he was 30. And the details! She had 100 letters from Salinger. She was with him in the two years prior to the publication of Catcher in the Rye and two years after. She stayed with him in Cornish.

SN: You suggest that his relationship with Eugene O'Neill's daughter Oona, when she was a teenager and he was in his early 20s, was the most important romantic relationship in his whole life...

SS: What's fascinating is that Oona did imprint him with the moment in time -- the cusp between being a girl and being a woman -- that absolutely fascinated him and became the prototype. Every woman after her was judged by her. By the time he met Joyce Maynard, he was exactly the same age as Charlie Chaplin was when he married [18-year-old] Oona. There were patterns with women that would repeat themselves. I'd interviewed Joyce Maynard for 18 hours over two days. Several years later, I interviewed Jean. The seduction ritual [they described] was identical. It had not changed from 1949 to 1972. Both of them were courted through letters, made to feel they were the most important person in the world; both said they'd danced with him to Lawrence Welk. There was a pattern in his life with friends. He had really intense relationships for three, four or five years and then blew that person completely out of his life.

SN: It has long been rumored that Salinger was continuing to write, even though he wasn't publishing. You say in the book that there are at least two manuscripts ready for publication and will begin appearing between 2015 and 2020. How do you know that?

Salinger Bedroom

SS: All I can say is that I have two sources who are highly credible individuals, each of whom have seen the relevant documents. They are completely independent and have never spoken to each other. This is supported by details from nine or 10 separate witnesses who saw the work or were told about it, including his daughter, who said that the second time she was allowed into [his bunker office] he showed her manuscripts and said a red dot meant this was ready to go, and a green dot meant needs editing.

We found an article in Scotland in which Salinger alluded to a new manuscript and said "The Glass family has been getting older, just like you and I." I don't think there was any question that he was going to publish. But his religious beliefs [Vedantic Hinduism, to which Salinger was dedicated for the last half of his life] said "You don't publish for your ego. Writing is OK, publishing after death is probably OK."

SN: How did you meet up with David Shields?

SS: When I was starting on the movie, I interviewed David based on a letter he wrote in a book called Letters to J.D. Salinger. It was clear how much he knew Salinger's work. So, I asked him to stay around and we sat down and started talking about Salinger and it was suddenly one in the morning. I knew I had to do a book, because there was no way what I was finding would be containable in a two hour film. I had been really impressed by his writing. I'm a fan of Dead Languages and Remote, and I thought he understood Salinger deeply. Neither one of us had ever done a biography. I adore books, but I'd never written a book. David had never done an oral history. So we went on this journey together.

SN: How would you sum up the J.D. Salinger you discovered through these projects?

SS: There's a photo on the back of the book, taken at the liberation of Paris. Salinger is smiling; he looks like a movie star. I made the decision to put it on the book after months of thinking about it -- because he's not the Salinger we knew. After the war -- when he was the most damaged -- he was going to nightclubs and telling girls he was a goalie for the Montreal soccer team. He was really trying hard to acclimate himself into society. He was the ultimate iconoclast who wanted to belong.

I think that most people like a "clean story" and the "clean story" about Salinger has been around for decades. "Fame overwhelms him, he moves to New Hampshire and just wants to be alone." The problem with that story is it's not exactly true. What I think is that Salinger was a fascinating, deeply contradictory man. He said he hated fame, but when he wanted to, he called up [reporter] Lacey Fosburgh [then] at the New York Times. This is a guy who hated author photographs, but when he saw a photograph of Joyce Maynard on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, his hatred of author photographs went right out the window.

People say he hated the world, but he was also writing to friends about how much he loved the Whopper at Burger King.

Special thanks to Shane Salerno for supplying the images of Salinger after the Liberation of Paris, 1944 (Paul Fitzgerald/The Story Factory) and at home in his bedroom, 1968 (The Story Factory).

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Kadir Nelson on Illustrating Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech

IhaveAdream260Kadir Nelson is known for his incredibly beautiful children's book illustrations, including the 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, I Have a Dream.  Today marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s groundbreaking "I Have a Dream" speech and Nelson shares his thoughts on what it means to him and how that influenced his experience illustrating I Have a Dream, a gorgeous picture book that includes an audio CD of Dr. King's complete speech, as it was delivered on August 28, 1963.

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I HAVE A DREAM speech is a powerful occasion for me--every time I listen to the speech, it stops me in my tracks. I can remember the first time I heard it. I was in the 5th grade and my class assignment was to memorize and deliver the speech. And as I stood before my class the following morning, Dr. King’s words poured out of me.  As an unexpected side effect of speaking his powerful words, I somehow felt stronger, more confident, and very proud.

Over the years, I have created hundreds of paintings and illustrated books about a multitude of themes, and with each story I have made it a point to show the strength, love, and light that dwells within every character.

As I set about the great task of illustrating Dr. King’s marvelous words, I felt weighted with the responsibility of getting it right.

Before I began painting I listened to Dr. King’s speeches, I poured over books, hundreds of photographs, and I watched documentaries. I even traveled to our nation’s capital to further enrich my appreciation of Dr. King’s experience.

As I walked along the water’s edge all the way up the stairway of the Lincoln Memorial to the spot where Dr. King spoke, I looked out over the landscape and imagined what Dr. King saw as he stood there almost fifty years ago, and took it all in.  I felt privileged and humbled by my great task.

How could I illustrate Dr. King’s powerful words? I decided to use a progression of realistic and straightforward images to describe the setting and mood of the day of the speech, while also setting the stage for the jump to the images of Dr. King’s dream. And as matter of contrast, the images that describe Dr. King’s dream are more conceptual. As the speech progresses and the dream becomes clearer, both dream and reality merge with a fuller and more colorful palette.

The result is I HAVE A DREAM a celebration of Dr. King’s magnificent words that continue to move Americans from all walks of life to share his dream. It is a privilege to share it with you and I hope that the experience children will gain from reading Dr. King’s powerful words will make them feel stronger, more confident, and inspire readers of every age to contribute in their own way to Dr. King’s dream for America. --Kadir Nelson

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Brian Selznick and Leonard S. Marcus on Randolph Caldecott

RandolphCaldecottI'll admit it, I've known about the Caldecott medal for many years and seen it's seal on countless books even before I got into the book business, but I never knew anything about the man for whom the award is named.  Until now.  Leonard S. Marcus, himself a renowed historian and critic of children's books has written a fascinating biography, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing, filled with unseen illustrations including some from Caldecott's last sketchbook.  Caldecott had an interesting life; he crossed paths with people like James McNeill Whistler, sought out adventure, and become an innovator in the world of children's picture books that resonates today.  

In this Omni exclusive, author Leonard S. Marcus and Brian Selznick, himself a recipient of the Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, talk about the man who inspired so many of today's best known children's picture book authors and illustrators.  You can read the rest after the jump.

Leonard S. Marcus: When you began your career as a picture book artist, what did you know about Randolph Caldecott?

Brian Selznick: At that time all I really knew about him was the award sticker with its image of a galloping rider. As a child I had a storybook treasury with illustrations by many classic artists. One section was a compressed version of Randolph Caldecott’s House That Jack Built. But when I was starting out professionally I didn’t have his drawings in mind. But then I didn’t know very much about any illustrator!

I first began to understand what an innovator Caldecott was when I read Maurice Sendak’s essay collection, Caldecott & Co.:Notes on Books & Pictures, in which he talks about how much he learned from him about bringing drawings to life on the page.

LSM: Do you see a connection between what Caldecott was doing and what might be called a cinematic way of storytelling?

BS: Moving images have become central to the way we think about telling stories, and we can see all the seeds for that in Caldecott’s picture books.

I am very interested in what you say about that in your book. For instance, what you write about Caldecott’s possible connection to the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, whose stop-action photographic sequences of people and animals in motion were among the true precursors of the moving picture. As you show, Caldecott’s picture books are themselves almost a kind of moving picture.

LSM: Train travel was still new then and Caldecott liked to draw while on board trains. The world was getting smaller—and faster. In 1870s London where he launched his career, there were the panorama shows people bought tickets to see and the zoetrope arcades. Joseph Turner and James McNeill Whistler were painting kinetic landscapes and seascapes that looked like a shimmering blur.

BS: The whole world was rushing forward at a gallop, and artists like Caldecott, Muybridge, and others were latching on to that impulse and figuring out how to make images move. I’m also drawn to the fact that the technology of the time was itself still handmade. You could go into a workshop you had built for yourself and carve out a gear and cut a piece of wood and make a shutter and pull a latch and have a spring—and invent a new kind of camera. A magician like Georges Méliès could go home, as he does in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and take pieces from the automatons he owned and build his own movie camera. The hand of the human being was still part of it, and for me there is a connection between that and the book as an art form: from the drawing of the pictures to the turning of the page.

LSM: Caldecott invented a new kind of book. Yet he started out life as an unassuming, amiable English Midlands lad growing up fifteen miles from Liverpool. As an adult he had a deep baritone voice and a sparkling manner. If we could hear him speak, he would probably sound exactly like Ringo Starr.

BS: It’s interesting that the early Caldecott drawings you show in your book are so stiff. The great change starts in his first drawing for Punch, a chase scene with coattails flying and legs splayed. Suddenly, he’s able to get that dramatic sense of forward motion.

Then just a few years later, when he makes his first picture books, he becomes so inventive--with his page turns, with his radical use of white space, with all of the work he did in adding other stories within the pictures that are not in the words. It was all very much like what a director does now when making a film.

LSM: Caldecott would stretch a brief nursery rhyme like “Hey Diddle Diddle” into the text for an entire book.

BS: You can see what Maurice Sendak learned from that, not only in Where the Wild Things Are but also in so many of his other books. Look, for instance, at How Little Lori Visited Times Square, written by Amos Vogel. There’s this amazing sequence where the turtle asks the young boy, who has lost his way in the big city, “Are you crying, my little friend?” Every one of those words is on a different full-page spread. So Maurice is making you hear the turtle speaking r-e-a-l-l-y   s-l-o-w-l-y by what he does with the page turns. That was such a revelation, that the simple technology of the picture book could be used to do all of these very interesting, strange, innovative things, and that the innovations can continue. I now see that there’s no end to what a picture book can do.

LSM: Caldecott kept varying the relationship of one illustration to the next. He used what we would call “close-ups,” “flashbacks,” and “flash-forwards” and would swing back and forth between line drawings and full-color illustrations.

BS: For me the greatest moment in the history of film comes in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out the door of the black-and-white world of her Kansas home and into the Technicolor world of Oz. I think about that moment almost every time I plan a page turn. But it wasn’t until reading your book that I went back and looked at Caldecott and thought about the interplay between his line drawings and full-color images, and the thrilling experience he made out of those transitions. Because the interior illustrations in my recent books are black-and-white, all I can do is remember that thrilling feeling and try to make each page-turn as dramatic as possible.

LSM: I loved finding out that because Caldecott knew his books would be sold at bookstalls on rail platforms all across England, he made the cover designs big and bold enough to be read at a glance from a passing train.

BS: That reminds me of when I first moved to New York and worked at Eeyore’s Books for Children and was asked to do the window displays. I didn’t have much in the way of materials to work with, so I painted directly on the window glass. I made sure that whatever I painted was big enough to catch the eye of people riding the bus up Broadway. So when I started doing book covers, just like Caldecott I tried to make sure that the images were big and bold enough to catch the attention of passersby.

But I want to ask you about Randolph Caldecott’s sense of humor. It seems to me that many of the innovations we’ve been talking about grow out of his sense of humor: the idea, for instance, of adding another story in the pictures to the one that’s there in the text.

LSM: Yes, I think that has a lot to do with his love of mischief, and his idea that the words and pictures of a book could be played off against each other, with the reader caught in the middle of what becomes a fascinating game.

BS: I’ve also noticed that in Caldecott’s books the levity and mischief often give way to an undercurrent of sadness on the visual side of his storytelling. That image of Baby Bunting, for instance, where the little child wearing a rabbit skin as a sort of costume sees a live rabbit come along—and seems clearly to be making the connection between life and death. Or in Hey Diddle Diddle, the poor dish falling over and cracking, and the spoon being led away by her parents. There’s such a sense of melancholy in that, which made me think about the fact that, as you say in your book, Caldecott grew up and lived his life as a person with a lot of illness. I had asthma and was very sick as a kid, so I feel a strong connection. Maurice Sendak was a frail child and famously looked out his window and sketched the healthier children in the street below. Martin Scorsese was a sickly child, too. Reading about Caldecott’s illness, it seems that it might well have affected his work.

But to go back to words and pictures: Maurice Sendak talked about that, too--the idea of illuminating a text as opposed to illustrating it. Instead of simply showing what the text says—here’s Little Miss Muffet, here’s her tuffet--the artist can create a larger story that makes us see the text in a completely different way.

LSM: One of the things that make picture books endlessly fascinating to me is the fact that words and pictures can never fall into perfect alignment. There’s always going to be a disconnect.

BS: Yes, and that is where the magic happens! When you’re looking at a book by Caldecott or a book by Sendak, you’re looking at that weird broken space between the words and pictures where the reader must come and finish the work. All this was very much on my mind when I was making The Invention of Hugo Cabret and even more so for Wonderstruck

Hugo Cabret tells a single story going back and forth between words and pictures. The pictures hand the narrative over to the text, the text hands it back to the pictures, and you need both to understand the single narrative that is being told. But with Wonderstruck, I’m telling two different stories, one with pictures that takes place in the 1920s, and the other with words that takes place in the 1970s. Eventually the two stories come together. I felt like I was writing three different books. The third book was the one about what happens when the two stories intersect. I had to build the book so that the stories worked separately but also together, and I love knowing that this is exactly what Randolph Caldecott strived to do, too.



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How I Wrote It, with David Ewalt

David Ewalt

It's no fluke that Of Dice and Men was an August Best of the Month pick for both the Nonfiction and the Humor & Entertainment categories. The book, which came out last week, is actually several stories all at once.

If you carry a bag of oddly shaped dice everywhere "just in case," David Ewalt offers some geektastic referential humor, a deep dive into the origins of the game you love, and a validating look at his own love affair with roleplaying games (RPGs).

If your experience with Dungeons & Dragons begins and ends with the vague recollection of someone you knew in high school or that funny episode of "Community" a few seasons ago, there's just as much for you to find here, too. What is so appealing about this game that it has attracted such a massive following of basement dwellers? What is playing it actually like?

Amid all of this, Ewalt also dabbles in fantasy writing, offering glimpses of his own character's adventures.

We spoke with Forbes reporter, author, and proud geek David Ewalt (via email) about writing standing up, mixing fiction and nonfiction, and how a lifelong activity ultimately turned into a labor of love.


I wrote this book for a mainstream audience. It always bothered me that D&D has a somewhat dodgy reputation, and that so many people have heard of it, but have no idea what the game is actually like. So I set out to explain D&D to the outsiders -- I want them to see what they’re missing, and to understand why those of us who play the game are so devoted to it.

But I also worked hard to make the book interesting for existing D&D fans. That's where the history of the game comes in; even the most hardcore of role-playing game fans will learn something from Of Dice and Men.


Of Dice and Men I played Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid, and the game was very important to me. But I stopped when I went away to college: I wanted to re-invent myself, so I threw myself into the only slightly less-geeky pastime of student journalism.

Years later, I started writing about the video game industry for Forbes magazine. I like to understand why businesspeople make the decisions they do -- it's never just about money. So every time I met a game company executive or a game designer, I'd ask them the same question: "What made you want to make games for a living?"

Over and over again, I got the exact same answer: "Well, I played Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid." I started to realize that D&D wasn't just a fun pastime, but that it was the most important game of the twentieth century; a unique and powerful form of collaborative entertainment that gave birth to entire industries, and inspired a generation of writers, artists, and executives.

It made me want to find out more -- and to play the game again.


I started the research for this book five years ago, by reading everything I could get my hands on about D&D. There weren't a lot of books about the subject, and most of them were written in the '70s and '80s, so I tore through those pretty quickly. But then I read through a search of every newspaper, magazine story or website article ever written that contained the term "Dungeons & Dragons" -- thousands of pages of text. It was exhausting, but worth it, since it gave me real insight into the game's history.

After learning everything I could from reading, I conducted dozens of interviews with people who helped make the game over the last forty years -- designers, executives, artists, writers, editors and players. Unfortunately, the two creators of D&D, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both passed away during the very early stages of my research, so I never got to talk to them. But that's where the massive periodicals search came in handy again; I found so many past interviews with them that I was able to reconstruct that part of the story, and re-quote Gary and Dave in their own words.


I knew I couldn't just write a dry history of D&D and expect people who'd never played the game to read it; I had to give those readers something they could relate to. So I added in some of my own story, my experiences being a geeky kid and now a geeky adult, and my personal journey as I returned to the game that defined my childhood.

I also knew it would be a challenge to convey the drama of a role-playing game on the written page. At its heart, Dungeons & Dragons is an exercise in collaborative storytelling; it's you and your friends sitting around a table, creating an adventure. So I fictionalized some of the D&D sessions I played in, and wrote them up like they were passages in a novel.

The resulting book is a rather unusual hybrid of memoir, journalism, and fantasy fiction. I know that sounds crazy, but so far people seem to be enjoying it. Of Dice and Men has been described as The Lord of the Rings meets Moneyball, which I find hilarious and tremendously gratifying.


I was surprised how much I got pulled back into the world of Dungeons & Dragons. The game sucked up a lot of my childhood -- nights and weekends lost in a wonderful fantasy world. I thought when I returned to it as a journalist, I'd be able to keep a kind of clinical distance, but I got completely drawn in. It's a testament to the game's power and unique appeal; I want to play it now, just thinking about it.


My workspace is a white-hot singularity of geekiness. On the wall there's an original oil painting of a Dalek, a signed poster from a Devo concert and a framed Xkcd comic strip; behind me there's a bookshelf full of games, novels and science books. I write standing up, so I have a 24" monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse set up at proper height; there's another 24" monitor on the desk itself, for when I feel like sitting down. When standing, I switch the second monitor over to display the command line interface for my linux server.

When I can't write at my desk, I'll take a Moleskine notebook to a bar, often The Brazen Head on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. It's named for a Dublin pub made famous in James Joyce's Ulysses. For some reason, I find it nearly impossible to write on a laptop, so when I'm not in front of my big clicky keyboard and giant monitor, I'm all about pen and paper and a pint.


Silence drives me crazy -- anywhere I go, I turn on the TV or the radio, or wear headphones so I can listen to podcasts. But when I'm writing, I can't have anyone talking, or even singing; their words distract me from my own.

So my Spotify writing playlist is heavily classical, mostly consisting of baroque composers, with an emphasis on J.S. Bach. While I was writing Of Dice and Men I also mixed in a number of modern geeky compositions, including Howard Shore's soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the soundtracks to the first six modern "Doctor Who" series, as performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.


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Character Comebacks: King, Fielding, Grisham, and Doyle Catch Up With Old Favorites

They begin as strangers on the page, slowly coming to life in our minds. We picture the way they look. We imagine their mannerisms. We form opinions about their personalities.

In return, they tap into our emotions, entertaining us or irritating us, making us laugh or cry or scream or cringe. They teach us something about ourselves. And sometimes, when they’re particularly special, they stick around, becoming in some way a part of us that we care about long after we’ve turned the last page.

In the next few months, four authors will reunite us with four vastly different fictional characters ... old friends we haven’t seen for years. You might remember them as a kid coming to terms with his supernatural powers, a single gal infatuated with the idea of love, and a controversy-courting lawyer trying to do the right thing, and a working class music fanatic grasping at success.

We take a look at where these characters have been and offer a sneak peek at where we’ll soon find them, including excerpts from each new book.


Stephen King
Stephen King
brings back
Danny Torrance
Helen Fielding
Helen Fielding
brings back
Bridget Jones
John Grisham
John Grisham
brings back
Jake Brigance
Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle
brings back
Jimmy Rabbitte


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Character Comebacks: Stephen King Brings Back Danny Torrance

Doctor Sleep

It was 1977 when Stephen King published The Shining. Since then, he has hinted a few times at writing a new story for Danny Torrance. In one interview he went so far as to wonder what kind of kids Danny and Firestarter Charlie McGee might have. Now, 36 years after we first followed Danny and his parents to the ominous Overlook Hotel, that hypothetical sequel has become a reality. Doctor Sleep, a terrific tale in both senses of the word, comes out September 24.

As part of our Character Comebacks series, we catch up with where Danny's been and where he's going.

How we knew him: A boy with a very special talent, known as shining, that gives him (among other things) insight into future events, the ability to hear others' thoughts, and even telepathic conversations with others who can also shine.

Last scene: The Overlook Hotel, where Danny's father, Jack, was working as a caretaker, had been destroyed. The boiler exploded after Jack was overcome by supernatural forces and compelled to murder his family. Danny, his mother Wendy, and the hotel's cook, Dick Hallorann barely escaped. Finally, the three reunited at a resort in Maine where Hallorann found work, and we were left with hope that Danny would one day be okay.

Where is he now: We see Danny Torrance first only a few years after the events at the Overlook. However, it's soon Dan Torrance -- approaching his thirties and into his forties -- that we come to know as Doctor Sleep, a man with demons (both real and imagined) who helps those passing from this life to ease their journey.

The ShiningWhy we love him: How could we help but adore this five-year-old who, like a true hero, faced the events of his childhood and the terrible burden his talent put on him. We want to see a kid like that come out okay. Even when we meet him again as an adult, he's riddled with emotional scars. And though many of his problems are of his own making, we long to see him finally find some peace, some happiness, some closure.

According to King: I wanted to see if [Danny] still had the shining as an adult, of course. But I was also curious about what he was like as an adult otherwise, having come from such a dysfunctional family and having lived through such a chilling supernatural event.

A sneak peek inside the new book:

On the second day of December in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground. The Overlook was declared a total loss. After an investigation, the fire marshal of Jicarilla County ruled the cause had been a defective boiler. The hotel was closed for the winter when the accident occurred, and only four people were present. Three survived. The hotel's off-season caretaker, John Torrance, was killed during an unsuccessful (and heroic) effort to dump the boiler's steam pressure, which had mounted to disastrously high levels due to an inoperative relief valve.

Two of the survivors were the caretaker's wife and young son. The third was the Overlook's chef, Richard Hallorann, who had left his seasonal job in Florida and come to check on the Torrances because of what he called "a powerful hunch" that the family was in trouble. Both surviving adults were quite badly injured in the explosion. Only the child was unhurt.

Physically at least.

Wendy Torrance and her son received a settlement from the corporation that owned the Overlook. It wasn't huge, but enough to get them by for the three years she was unable to work because of back injuries. A lawyer she consulted told her that if she were willing to hold out and play tough, she might get a great deal more, because the corporation was anxious to avoid a court case. But she, like the corporation, wanted only to put that disastrous winter in Colorado behind her. She would convalesce, she said, and she did, although her back injuries plagued her until the end of her life. Shattered vertebrae and broken ribs heal, but they never cease crying out.

Order Doctor Sleep now.

Return to the main story
Catch up with Bridget Jones
Catch up with Jake Brigance
Catch up with Jimmy Rabbitte

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Character Comebacks: Helen Fielding Brings Back Bridget Jones

Mad About the Boy

Since the first novel, Bridget Jones's Diary, was published in 1996, our fickle protagonist's affections have swung like a pendulum between arch-rivals Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver. It's been 15 years since the follow-up Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and seven since Fielding's 2005-2006 column ran in the Independent, where she first published Bridget's singleton saga in 1995. Each left Bridget in completely different scenarios. When Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, the most narrative and the most emotional of the series to date, comes out on October 15, the inevitable question might be answered: Which boy?!

As part of our Character Comebacks series, we catch up with where Bridget's been and what new trouble she's about to stumble upon now.

How we knew her: A thirty-something London girl ("singleton"), Bridget obsesses about self-improvement as a means to find love, then falls victim to chronic procrastination and over-thinking (not to mention over-eating, over-drinking, over-smoking, and over-reacting).

Bridget Jones's Diary

Last scene: If you've only read the books, Bridget had coupled with top barrister and solver of all international Jones family scandals Mark Darcy, but she had stepped in it once again as others started to react to the hilariously inappropriate inscriptions she drunkenly wrote in all her Christmas cards. If you kept up with the 2005-2006 articles printed in the Independent, Bridget was in the hospital, having given birth to a son with Daniel Cleaver.

Where is she now: London, present day, Bridget's aged along with us during these many years away. She continues to seek mythical secrets to love, dabbling in modern-day tools such as Internet dating sites and social media. Though the nature of her drama has matured, her reaction is as endearingly naïve as ever.

Why we love her: She's so fabulously flawed, reflecting (in gross exaggeration, of course) our own ridiculousness, our own insecurities, our own inner pep talks. Bridget Jones: The Edge of ReasonIn a weird way, she gives us hope: on the one hand, that we're not as bad off as she is and, on the other hand, that we, like she, will weather whatever's bogging us down.

According to Fielding: Bridget’s return happened quite organically. There were things that were making me laugh about modern life in London, and as I wrote I realized the voice was Bridget’s. I didn't tell anyone I was doing it for a long time, so I could write without feeling  self-conscious. The Bridget character makes me see the funny side of things, and feel that it's OK just to sort of muddle along being a human.

A sneak peek inside the new book:

7.06 a.m. Just remembered am on Twitter. Feel wildly puffed up! Part of huge social revolution and young. Last night I just didn't give it enough time! Maybe thousands of followers will have appeared overnight! Millions! I will have gone viral. Cannot wait to see how many followers have come!!
7.10 a.m. Oh.
7.11a.m. Still no followers.

Order Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy now.

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Catch up with Danny Torrance
Catch up with Jake Brigance
Catch up with Jimmy Rabbitte

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Character Comebacks: John Grisham Brings Back Jake Brigance

Sycamore Row

In 1989, John Grisham was a lawyer/politician serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives, about to publish his debut novel: a legal thriller called A Time to Kill. Now, 24 years later, this bestselling author -- whose first print run numbers have the word “million” after them and Hollywood adaptations feature A-list actors --can choose to write about anything he darn well wants. So it's telling that Sycamore Row, due out October 22, takes us right back to that small Mississippi town where we first met Jake.

As part of our Character Comebacks series, we catch up with where Jake's been and what he's facing now.

How we knew him: A good husband, a doting father, and a protégé to local legal icon Lucien Wilbankes, 32-year-old Jake's an idealistic defense lawyer who's well-liked by all the locals in his small Mississippi town. He puts everything he loves on the line when he takes on a career-making (or -breaking) capital murder case so divisive it garners national attention.

A Time to Kill

Last scene: Downing a margarita with his mentor Lucien Wilbankes and banker Stan Atcavage before facing the horde of press outside his office. The verdict came back Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity thanks to one bold juror's persistence.

Where is he now: It's been three years since the notorious Carl Lee Haily trial. When a wealthy local man ends his life, leaving behind a recently altered radical will, Brigance is once again in the middle a controversial trial rife with racial tensions.

Why we love him: He's the well-meaning underdog. His sense of integrity, particularly when he and his family are vulnerable, make him all the more courageous. He's not perfect. He's not pure. But he's smart, and he's good. He makes the right decisions, especially when they're the most difficult.

According to Grisham: Jake was and is a very autobiographical character. When I wrote A Time to Kill, I was that lawyer working in that small town, with big dreams and almost no money. So, I know him better than any character since, and I’ve always wanted to watch him through another trial.

A sneak peek inside the new book:

They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind. A front was moving through and Seth was soaked when they found him, not that it mattered. Someone would point out that there was no mud on his shoes and no tracks below him, so therefore he was probably hanging and dead when the rain began. Why was that important? Ultimately, it was not.

The logistics of hanging oneself from a tree are not that simple. Evidently, Seth thought of everything. The rope was three-quarter-inch braided natural Manila, of some age and easily strong enough to handle Seth, who weighed 160 pounds a month earlier at the doctor's office. Later, an employee in one of Seth's factories would report that he had seen his boss cut the fifty-foot length from a spool a week before using it in such dramatic fashion. One end was tied firmly to a lower branch of the same tree and secured with a slapdash mix of knots and lashings. But, they held. The other end was looped over a higher branch, two feet in girth and exactly twenty-one feet from the ground. From there it fell about nine feet, culminating in a perfect hangman's knot, one that Seth had undoubtedly worked on for some time. The noose was straight from the textbook with thirteen coils designed to collapse the loop under pressure. A true hangman's knot snaps the neck, making death quicker and less painful, and apparently Seth had done his homework. Other than what was obvious, there was no sign of a struggle or suffering.

Order Sycamore Row now.


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Catch up with Danny Torrance
Catch up with Bridget Jones
Catch up with Jimmy Rabbitte


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Character Comebacks: Roddy Doyle Brings Back Jimmy Rabbitte

The Guts

Roddy Doyle wrote two more books after he published The Commitments in 1987, completing what came to be known as the "Barrytown Trilogy" (named for the fictional Ireland town in which they all took place). But the two follow-ups were about Jimmy's family members. It's been 26 years, and while his family serves a larger role now than they did in the original, we're once again focusing on not-so-young-anymore Jimmy, Jr. in The Guts, due out January 23, 2014.

As part of our Character Comebacks series, we catch up with where Jimmy's been and "What's Goin' On" now.

How we knew him: A twenty-something Dublin lad who lives with his parents and uses his passion for music to build and drive an Irish soul band to the brink of success.

Last scene: Jimmy was (at least physically) where he had been when the story started --in his room with a few mates listening to music. Only this time he had the benefit of some hard-learned lessons: the soul band he created and managed disintegrated just when they were on the verge of a big break, and instead of Motown classics, it was the Byrds he was playing for his crew as they plotted their next project.

Where are they now: When we catch up with Jimmy, he's 48 and has a wife, four kids, and devastating news for all who care about him. Music is still his business: helping musical acts that have faded away find new life in the digital age. He's a "musical fascist" (as his wife puts it) who'd rather spend more on an electric guitar than buy an acoustic that will turn his son into a singer-songwriter. A couple of his old band members come into the picture, and old goals set the circle- of-life spinning again for Jimmy and his old dreams.

The commitments

Why we love him: When it came to music, young Jimmy was opinionated, bossy, stubborn, but above all passionate and well- meaning. He had a knack and a special spark that just made us root for him. Now, middle-aged Jimmy is facing one hell of a challenge, sending him spiraling into questionable behavior. Still we're rooting for him not just to survive, but to truly live.

According to Doyle: I started thinking about Jimmy again soon after the Irish economy collapsed. Many of the early reports on, say, Irish radio were almost gleeful and nostalgic; explanations of the word, 'recession', were often accompanied by a 1980s soundtrack. I wrote The Commitments in the mid '80s, a time of deep recession, and I began to wonder how Jimmy and his family would be coping with this new recession. I was also interested in seeing if I could give vibrant middle-aged life to a character who had previously been a very young man. I wanted to inflict the misery of middle-age on Jimmy and see what he -- actually, I -- could do with it!

A sneak peek inside the new book:

--D'yeh do the Facebook thing?
--Wha' d'yeh mean?
They were in the pub, in their corner. It wasn't unusual anymore, having a pint with his father. In the early evening, before he went home after work. He'd phone, or his da would phone. It wasn't an organized, regular thing. It had started the day his da got his first mobile. His first call was to Jimmy.
–How's it goin'?
–Yeah, me.
–How are yeh?
–Not too bad. I'm after getting' one o' the mobiles.
–I'm usin' it now, like.
–Will we go for a pint? To celebrate.
–Grand. Good. Yeah.
Jimmy's da had still been working when he got the phone. But he'd retired a while back. –There's fuck-all work, he'd told everyone when he'd made the announcement on Stephen's Day, when Jimmy had dragged the kids to his parents' house to collect the presents and kiss their granny. – So I might as well just stop an' call it retirement.
Jimmy's own job was safe – he thought.
–Well, said his da now in the pub. – Facebook. Yeh know it, yeah?
–I do, yeah, said Jimmy.
–What d'you make of it?
–I don't know.
–Yeh don't know?
–No, said Jimmy. –Not really.
–But you've kids.
–I know tha', said Jimmy. – I've four of them.
–Is it the four you have? Said his da. – I thought it was three.
–No, said Jimmy. –It's been four for a good while. Ten years, like.
This was what Jimmy liked. It was why he phoned his da every couple of weeks. His da was messing, pretending he didn't know how many grandchildren he had. It was the way he'd always been. A pain in the hole at times, but, today, exactly what Jimmy wanted.


Order The Guts now.

Return to the main story
Catch up with Danny Torrance
Catch up with Bridget Jones
Catch up with Jake Brigance

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