Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Winner: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith!!!

The winner of Lockdown is:

Library Lady!!
Winner chosen by Random.org and has 48 hours to contact me before I have to choose another winner.

Thanks to Tara from Zeitghost Media and Macmillan Publishing for making this giveaway possible!!

Don't forget to check out my other giveaways!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: Researcing for the Zan-Gah Books (Allan Richard Shickman)

Any author, writing for a particular period, has to learn about that period in order to make his story believable.  If you write about the 18th century, obviously you need to know how people in that period livedpaying some attention to the different classes of people.  If you write about Marie Antoinette, you have to know what aristocrats wore, what they put in their hair and wigs to make them white, what the guillotine was like, and even how it worked.  And if you don't know, you have to find out.  That won't guarantee a good book on an 18th century subject, but without that kind of knowledge, I can almost guarantee a bad one.

Writing about the pre-historic period presents special problemsand advantages.  There is an awful lot that we don't know about people of that dim age.  We don't know how they spoke, for example.  Much of what they used was made of perishable materials.  We really don't know who did those famous cave paintings, or even why?  Maybe women did them.  Not knowing can be a good thing for an author, because it leaves some room for him to invent.  In the first book, ZAN-GAH: A PREHISTORIC ADVENTURE, I made a secret society of women, the Women of Na, do the cave painting.  Can you prove me wrong?

The prehistoric period left no written records.  That's what makes it PRE-historic.  To learn about human life circa 12,000 years ago, modern anthropologists have examined peoples in remote areas of the world who were still living in the stone age even into the 20th century.  In this way they have gained knowledge of religion, rites of passage, division of labor by gender, language, and many other things that might well have been the same or similar in the ages before writing was known on Earth.  As an art historian, I have studied some of this material, and rather freely adopted it for my books.

So I knew something of prehistoric peoples before I began writing the ZAN-GAH series.  But it soon became apparent that I needed to look up a few things.  in the first ZAN-GAH book, I had my hero, Zan-Gah, making a sling and learning to use itwhich was funny because I never had held a sling in my hand.  Googled it.  Found enough information to write about it credibly, and the rest is pre-history.  Same thing with hand fishing.  I wish I could say that I had done it and mastered the art, but I don't even like to fish with a rod.  So I looked that up too.  

Because Zan and Dael are twins, I did a more thorough search on the subject of twins in tribal societies, and discovered that some of these peoples were afraid of them.  The birth of twins is so rare that it must have seemed frighteningly strange when it happened.  Did the two new babies share the same spirit?  Some societies killed them and their mother at birth (never the father).  I hadn't known that but the knowledge came in very handy when Zan and Dael were in a tight spot.  Investigation in this case not only gave me necessary authentic detail; it gave me a couple of great ideas for my narrative.  Research is like that.  It gives you ideas.

There is a chapter called "The Cave."  I went to a cave (Missouri, my home state, is famous for them) in order to experience one directly, not just from pictures.  Onondaga Cavern is magnificent, and the tour was great!  I actually saw eyeless animals and bats, and took notes furiously.  I believe I was the only guy in the entire cavern that was taking notes on little note cards.  I mention eyeless salamanders in the book.  I wrote descriptions of the stone configurations, on the spot, that found their way into ZAN-GAH almost word for word.  Other travels supplied geographical information and provided much inspiration for all three novels.  The great split in the earth is based on one I actually saw in New Mexico; and the land of red rocks was inspired by my visits to Colorado and Utah.

There are lots of other items that required research.  For ZAN-GAH AND THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, I had to find out about mammoths and prehistoric peoples who hunted them.  Did you know that mammoths and mastodons are not the same thing?  I didn't.  They look different and are different in size.  One of them cries "OOOAAGGHHA" and the other screams "WAHOOHOOGGHA" when excited.  Just kidding.  I made that up.  But they really were different.  Tasted different too.

In the latest book, DAEL AND THE PAINTED PEOPLE, there are two shamans, so I had to do an investigation of shamanism to get things right.  A shaman was a kind of "medicine man" who could contact and influence spirits that caused sickness and trouble.  In short, they were miracle workers, so I wanted their miracles to seem as realistic as possible.  Much of the new story turns on what the shamans do.

An important idea came to me by accident for DAEL AND THE PAINTED PEOPLE.  Listening to National Public Radio, which is the only station I care for, I heard a program on crows.  Some "crow specialists" were discussing the uncanny way crows can recognize individual human faces, even though the ebony birds all look alike to us.  Crows have long memories, and will recall an offense, like the throwing of a stone, for many yearsalong with the offender's face.  I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a "crow specialist," but I did some research on crows and learned some more stuff that came in very handy in DAEL AND THE PAINTED PEOPLE.  In fact, the crow research became the inspiration and core of my third ZAN-GAH book.  By the way, crows and ravens are not the same species at all.  Good thing I did my research!  Moreover, a group of ravens is called an "unkindness" of ravens, whereas a group of crows is called a "murder" of crows.  Just though you'd like to know.

Do I intend to research a fourth book?  I said (quoth) it twice in the past, and I'll quoth it again:  Nevermore!


Allan is an artist, teacher, actor, author, historian, gardener, and former Boy Scout. He has published articles in The Art Bulletin, Art History, English Literary Renaissance, Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900, Notes and Queries, and Colby Quarterly. He was also Art and Music Bibliographer for Shakespeare Quarterly. He has had many letters in various newspapers, including a dozen in The New York Times. Allan taught the history of art at the University of Northern Iowa for three decades. He now lives and writes in St. Louis.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Trailer + Giveaway: Lockdown (Escape from Furnace) by Alexander Gordon Smith

Beneath Heaven is Hell....Beneath Hell is Furnace! Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world.


Escape from Furnace Series by Alexander Gordon Smith - Includes: Lockdown, Solitary, Death Sentence, Fugitives (Available in 2012), and Execution (Available in 2012).

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Thanks to Tara from Zeitghost Media and Macmillan Publishing for offering a copy of Lockdown to give away!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Author Interview + Giveaway: Kendare Blake (Anna Dressed in Blood)

Okay, today I am so excited to have the amazing Kendare Blake here on the blog for a short interview. I highly suggest you read my review of her seriously mind-blowing novel, ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD. I could rave about it for the space of another full-length review, most likely.


I read that you have published some shorter fiction pieces. Do you think that they helped pave the way for publishing your novel? Will you continue to write shorter fiction?

Short fiction is a different animal. Some say that you shouldn't try to write a novel until you master the short story. I don't know about that, but I do know that the inverse isn't true: if what you write are short stories, don't feel pressured to novelize. Writing short does help to fine tune things; you've got a lot less words with which to make a point or an impact. Did the short stories help pave the way to publishing? I'm not sure. It helped with the writing, certainly. And yes, I think I'll always write some short fiction. There are lots of stories. Not all of them are novels.

Cas’s personality seems so real to me. Did you face any difficulties writing from the male perspective?

Oh, I'm glad you think so! When I started writing male protagonists I'd bug a guy writer friend. Does this seem authentic? Would you ever say this? Do this? Think this? But strangely enough, male voice came sort of natural. Apparently I am very dudely and butch.

Did any parts of ANNA actually freak you out while you were writing them?

Yes. One. I can't say which though, without giving something away. A good indicator though: if Cas is really terrified, chances are I'm enjoying the creep factor too.


Your cover is so amazing! Did you have any input into its creation?

Ha, not really! That one is my editor's brainchild. She had this idea of Anna, standing in her white dress, her hair drifting like it does, and her dilapidated Victorian in the background. The artist and designer went through a few versions of her hair, one where it stuck straight up like one of those luck trolls, and one where it whipped around sort of like Jesse from Team Rocket. Along the way I just stared at the prettiness, but they did ask for my feedback and certainly wanted me to be happy with it. Which I totally am.

Are you allowed to say anything at all about the sequel to ANNA? I’m already dying for it.

Yay! I hope it doesn't disappoint. I can tell you that the sequel is called GIRL OF NIGHTMARES. I'm just starting edits on it this week. But yeah, I guess I have to be sort of silent and cryptic right now! Darn. I want to blab.

I know this is a question that a lot of people have asked and yet the problem still exists, but … why do you think young adults aren’t into reading anymore? Or are they?

What? I was blissfully unaware! I think young adults have a lot going on in their lives. College prep and big decisions and you know, life-altering incredibly fun, whirlwind type stuff that can detract from reading time. In college, you read so much that you'd rather eat a book than crack it open for fun. I was sort of like that in school. I definitely read less. But I always went back to it. Voraciously. And I think (I hope) that the young adults and teens who love reading will always love reading. They'll always go back to it. Hopefully voraciously. Readers effing rock.

Thanks for having me for the interview, and letting me yak on and on. You shouldn't have asked about readers and reading! I can talk about it for days :) I am so glad you enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood.

Cheers,
Kendare

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Guest Post: Dreams of Space (Max Darnell)

Dreams of Space? Don’t give up hope now!

Ask a group of kids between five and twelve years old what they want to be when they grow up and you will get many common answers. Sure, there are the professional athletes, doctors, actresses, etc. You will also, however, surely get the classic answer of the past fifty years, astronaut.

Frankly, astronauts have lately lost some of their previous swagger in the public’s eye. The first Mercury astronauts back in the 1960s were practically rock stars – cream of the crop daredevils/test pilots. I would argue that today’s astronauts are just as cool (most are PhD scientists), but they definitely do not receive the same level of attention in our society. In fact, space in general has been the target of criticism and spending cuts, even though every dollar invested in NASA results in $8 injected back into the economy. All of this came to a head when NASA recently opted to let private companies determine the fate of manned spaceflight. In the long run, it will result in faster progress, but it leaves the profession of astronaut up in the air for now.

Nevertheless, our hopeful American youngsters rightly still want to be astronauts, and it is a wonderful dream. Those who harbor that dream are more easily excited by school and are more likely to pursue careers in science and technology (which the country desperately needs now). In other words, we need to keep that dream alive.

Of course actually becoming an astronaut is unbelievable difficult, but that lofty image to which our youth can aspire is the main point here. I am optimistic that within ten years, all of this will not only be resolved, but amplified as manned space flight becomes more common with its commercialization. Until then, we can’t tell nine-year-old Timmy to put his interests on hold until we can sort out the politics. In a time when positive influences for our children are growing scarcer every day, let’s not allow that most iconic of goals to slip away as well.

Max Darnell, a Texas native and first-time author, is currently pursuing his PhD at Harvard University. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, where his interests included nanotechnology, defense, and biomedical engineering.



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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blog Tour: The Auslander Cover Post (Paul Dowswell)



Who ever said you can’t judge a book by the cover (does everyone start this article like this?) was only half right. Its true, but people still do. A crappy cover can ruin your book’s chances before its even published. You need something striking for people to pick it up among all the other books. Fortunately, my publisher, Bloomsbury, have always come up with stunning covers. ‘The Auslander’ has a great cover, courtesy Bloomsbury designer Kate Clarke and design company Blacksheep.

When it first arrived, as a proof, I was a little worried that the running fellow looked too modern – a bit too ‘Indie bass player’ – but they fiddled about with the image and got him looking a bit more 1940s.  I love the graphics on the cover – that creepy red glow and the slightly decrepit edging – it's sinister, which is just right – it’s a real-life sinister topic. I wanted the unfathomable evil of the Nazi regime to be transparently apparent and the cover captures this well.

I think its been a real success, that cover, because several other publishers have used it too – in Italy, Germany and Spain, for example. 

Curiously, my French publisher went for this:


And my Dutch publisher went for:


The British paperback cover is great too – quite different but still capturing that mixture of ‘World War Two Historical’ and ‘major sinister goings on’, which sums up the book effectively.


You make up your own mind about which one you think is best. 

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