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A Conversation with J.A. Kazimer, author of Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale

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Imagine that Cinderella’s been murdered, distracted by a bluebird and run over by a truck in New Never City. Now imagine her stepsister calling on Rumpelstiltskin (stripped of his villainy as punishment for rage issues) to investigate. This is the premise of  J.A. Kazimer’s Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale.

Cinderella’s stepsister Asia, believing her sister’s death to be a case of foul play, shows up at what she thinks is Sherlock Holmes’s door. Only, he hasn’t lived there for a while, not since RJ, as Rumpel prefers to be called, stuffed him into the chimney and took over the residence. Asia, much better-looking then the original story had led us to believe, convinces RJ to help, but really he’s just doing it in hopes that she’ll sleep with him.

As the two dig deeper into Cindi’s untimely death, everyone becomes suspect: Prince Charming; the butler; Dru, the second and not-so-pretty stepsister; even Asia.

Blending favorite fairy tale characters with today’s cultural references and sensibilities, Curses! flips the childhood staple on its head to create a wholly adult, and highly entertaining, reading experience.

I spoke with author J.A. Kazimer for The Nervous Breakdown. We talked about reimagining stories and casting secondary characters in lead roles. Here is part of that conversation. I encourage you to read the full interview.

I’d never read a book like Curses! before, a blending of fairy tale with cheeky romance. I’m curious to know how you explain it to people. 

Curses! is, as the subtitle subtlety suggests, a f***ed up version of a mesh of fairy tale characters and stories with a few twisted nursery rhymes thrown in. A friend once described it as: ‘Neil Gaiman meets Shrek and they live happily ever after…or NOT’. That kind of says it all.

Your book is fairly bawdy. Why did you choose to write it as a fairy tale? 

Why, thank you. I’m a fan of bawdy. To me, fairy tales lend themselves to being told in this manner. Most of us remember our fairy tales via the Disney rose-colored glasses, which is great, but 200 years ago, The Brothers Grimm told a far different tale, filled with violence and bloodshed.

In Curses!, one of the main characters is Cinderella’s stepsister. I love the idea of secondary characters becoming leads. What made you decide to tell the story this way?

Thank you. In so many stories, I wonder, what happens to the minor characters after the hero and heroine ride off into the sunset? After writing Curses! the ugly stepsister has her happily ever after (sort of), and so does her uglier stepsister. Choosing a lesser known character allowed me to create an interesting character without any preconceived ideas about her. Readers think Cinderella’s stepsister, and the only thing that comes to mind is how ugly she is. The rest of her is all mine to craft.

Where can people find you?

My website, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @jakzimer

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Written by Gabrielle

March 22, 2012 at 7:04 am

Spying on CoverSpy: A Conversation with the Site’s Founders

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In October 2009, after the opening of Greenlight Books, the idea for CoverSpy was hatched. Soon “a team of publishing nerds” were running around New York, chronicling the city’s public reading habits.

For a little over 3 years now, everyday this group goes incognito onto subways, through streets, and in parks and bars to get a read on the our literary thermometer. Using Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, they deliver the results almost in real time.

I speak with two of CoverSpy’s founders about the project’s origins, who’s reading what on which subway, and the best books they’ve ever spied.

Here are some highlights, you can read the rest at Book Boroughing.

How would you describe CoverSpy at a party?
A: CoverSpy is a project where we spy what people are reading on subways and around the city and report what we see on our website. Sometimes, especially at publishing events or hanging with fellow book nerds, we mention CoverSpy and people already know about us or maybe even follow us on Tumblr, which is an awesome feeling.

You’ve been doing this for a few years now, you must see trends. What are a few you’ve noticed?
A: When a book is on the NY Times Best Seller’s List we often see it being read around the city for months following. From Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin to Stieg Larsson’s novels, they are very popular for a time and then are read less and less, replaced by the next big hit. People on the Q train love Malcolm Gladwell, people on the F train love Jonathan Lethem and are usually carrying either an NPR or Strand tote bag. There are more self-help books on the L train.

T: People love it when we post a children’s book. They love it even more when it’s an adult reading one–like Sweet Valley Twins. That got a lot of comments.

Do you have a favorite train for cover spying?
T: Everyone’s reading on the F train, so that makes it easy.

A: The covers on the L train tend to be the prettiest, most highly designed which I appreciate. But I think the G train is my favorite because of the range of books read on it. I’m often introduced to authors I never knew existed on that line more than others.

Best book you’ve ever spied?
T: It was some steamy romance novel being read by an off-duty MTA worker—can’t remember the title.Or maybe the guy who was holding one sunflower and ten pink balloons. Again, I don’t remember which book it was. Sometimes it’s the people that stand out.

A: I get a lot of joy out of spying kids reading on the subway, so pretty much put a kid in front of me with Beverly Cleary or Harry Potter and that’s my favorite.

Written by Gabrielle

February 21, 2012 at 7:12 am

Where Musicians and Writers Collide: Publicity

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As someone who went to school for Music Business and who now works in book publishing, I often see the parallels between musicians and authors. It always surprised me when I first started my job search and the interviewer would ask, “Music Business? Why do you want to get into book publishing?” For me it was an easy leap, whether you’re working with a musician or a writer, it’s artist representation.

So, when I heard from John Anealio, co-host of the Functional Nerds podcast, that he wanted to have me on the show alongside a music marketing strategist, I was excited he made the connection as well.

The other guest on the show, Brian Thompson, is a “Vancouver based music industry entrepreneur, record label owner, artist manager, marketing consultant, digital strategist, brand architect, web designer, blogger, podcaster and industry speaker.” He’s one of the co-founders of Thorny Bleeder Records, “an artist development collective” that helps bands “establish and grow their profile and fan base, both domestically and internationally.”

Since being on the show with him, I’ve signed up for his email newsletter, The DIY Daily, a “daily newsletter delivering marketing advice, music industry news, social media tips & tools, tech, apps & gadgets, inspirational & motivational thoughts and much more.” Everyday, waiting for me in my inbox, are 20 great links about how artists of all kinds can use social media effectively. More than most apply to the publishing industry and are links I can forward along to my authors.

On The DIY Daily website, you’ll find a daily podcast offering a variety of marketing tips in under 20 minutes, an in-depth weekly podcast about the music business, daily quotes, and the aforementioned link roundup if you prefer to not to receive them by email.

On the show, Brian, John, Patrick and I discussed the benefits of email lists, social media, and how artists should treat themselves as a business.

You can listen to the episode here.

If you have any questions, check back on the Functional Nerds site next week. Book Publicist Jaym Gates and I will be collecting questions for a future online round table.


On the Shelf

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer
Best known as the author of many science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as the editor of many genre anthologies, in Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer offers “timely advice in an era when the burden of production and publicity frequently falls on authors.” Booklife is an “essential reference [that] reflects on methods for being focused, productive, and savvy in the craft of writing.
Discussing a wide range of essential topics for self-promoting authors, this important guide explores questions such as How can authors use social media and the internet? How does the new online paradigm affect authors, readers, and the book industry? How can authors find the time to both create and promote their work? and What should never be done? Through good-humored encouragement, practical tips of the trade culled from 25 years of experience as a writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, agent, and blogger are shared. Including topics such as personal space versus public space, deadlines, and networking, the benefits of interacting with readers through new technologies is revealed.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

February 16, 2012 at 7:07 am

Interview with Lavie Tidhar, author of The Great Game, an Alt-history, Steampunk Mystery

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Science fiction author Lavie Tidhar is a busy man. He’s had two novels published in 2011 and will see two more this year. Along with his longform fiction, Tidhar fills his time writing short stories, editing anthologies and websites, and, of course, hanging out on Twitter. This month, science fiction publisher Angry Robot is putting out the third book in his Bookman Histories series, The Great Game. But for those of you who have yet to discover the first two, you won’t need to go back to the beginning, The Great Game is one of those few sequels that can be read as a standalone novel.

Infused with steampunk elements, The Great Game is an interwoven, alt-history tale of espionage, often with the feel of an old spy novel. Historical and fictional characters — Oliver Twist, Bram Stoker, Houdini, Jack London, and Frankenstein to name a few — mingle on the streets of Victorian-era London as a “secret shadow war” wages on between humans, a ruling class of lizards, and automatons.

In 2011, Lavie Tidhar was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for his international science fiction site, The World SF Blog, and recently, his book Osama has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Award. Lavie took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the writing process, the role of politics in science fiction, and his love of poetry. You can check out his site here and follow him on Twitter at @lavietidhar.

You’re a prolific writer — your Bookman series has come out in rapid succession and in between you’ve published another novel, a number of short stories, you’re Editor-in-Chief of the World SF Blog, and you maintain your own blog. You’ve also gained a reputation for your frequent Twitter usage. How do you balance your writing with your social media output? Your blogging, editing, and longer form writing?

I tend to do the blogs first — get up, check e-mail, have coffee, update blogs — that sort of thing. Then I can get on with writing. I’m not really a morning person, so it’s a good way for me to slowly ease into that semi-vegetative state required for writing.

Otherwise, it’s a catch-all for me, writing-wise – sometimes I have long stretches of novel writing, then I need a break and write a short story. I love short stories. At the moment I have four half-novels on the go so having to decide which one to focus on can be tricky! Generally I like working on a lot of different things, so I don’t get bored.

Are you someone who finds Twitter facilitates their writing process?

I do find Twitter quite helpful as an escape from writing. I tweet a lot, but only really when I’m writing. It’s like a lot of mini-breaks in between. I just get to be a big geek on Twitter. I was trying variations on The Wizard of Oz on Twitter a while back, came up with The Were-Wizard of Oz and thought, aha! Ended up writing that one and selling it to Ekaterina Sedia’s Beware the Night anthology.

In January of 2010 you wrote a piece for SF Signal about the growing interest in steampunk. You mention its current day relevance: the similarities between England as a colonial power in Victorian times and the US today. The title of your new book, The Great Game, brings to mind the struggle for control of Central Asia that took place between the British and Russian Empire during the 19th century. Your story involves a secret shadow war not only between nations but also between humans, lizards, and automatons. How do you use your work to draw parallels between the past, present, and future?

The Victorian era is so important, you know, in order to understand the world we live in today. Just look at the war in Afghanistan – the First Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-1842, that is. Really our world was shaped so much by that British Empire – no amount of goggles or parasols or cogs or whatever can really obscure the underlying political force of that era, the way it shaped borders, ethnicities, economics and war today.

In my own steampunk trilogy I tried to assume a better 19th century, really – an America only partially colonized by Europeans, an Africa with its intact empires and trade networks, an era where women have more freedom than they did – Irene Adler (from Sherlock Holmes) is a police inspector and becomes chief of Scotland Yard by the third book, for instance. Kind of ironic when the updated-to-our-present day TV series of Holmes makes her into a sex worker! I wonder what it says about our age. The world of the Bookman Histories is not a much better world – there’s revolution, poverty, discrimination, everything the 19th century was so good at – but that’s part of the fun, too.

Read the rest at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Gabrielle

February 2, 2012 at 7:05 am

An Interview with Keshni Kashyap and Mari Araki, Author and Illustrator of Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary

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Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary is the story of 15-year-old Tina M., an Indian-American girl attending a posh private high school in California, and, like so many her age, trying to find her place in the world. A natural for self-reflection, Tina’s ripe for existentialism when her hippie English teacher introduces the subject to the class. The assignment for the year is for each student to find “true and authentic meaning and purpose” in their existence. What follows is Tina’s project. As the subtitle suggests, her search is in the form of an existential comic diary.

Interspersed with letters, as if they were written to the movement’s leading figure, Jean Paul-Sartre, Tina explores her life’s ups-and-downs — failed and newly forged friendships, tumultuous crushes, quirky family members — and her own identity. Moments of melodrama punctuate the pages: “Yes, my dear dead grandfather of French philosophical thought, the highs have swung to lows and I have fallen into something I am going to term CEM or Chronic Existential Malaise.”

Also familiar are those moments of introspection that meander into to the unknown: “I am east, west, happy, sad, normal, freakish, plain, pretty, Indian, American, and quite possibly a touch of Greek due to Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Punjab Province in 327 B.C. I live in California, but someday it might be Zanzibar or the Left Bank of Paris. Maybe the right. I have no idea. Do you see how complicated it gets?”

For anyone who was the slightest bit broody in high school, Tina is a relatable character, and, without question, a likable one. She’s everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has ever wondered if they’ll ever feel normal, and, of course, if they’ll ever find someone who understands them — friend or otherwise.

Keshni Kashyap, author and filmmaker, and illustrator Mari Araki met through a mutual acquaintance and formed an admiration for each other’s work. Together they worked long hours and, as some of the story has autobiographical elements, Mari was introduced to the Kashyap family and shown around the high school that served as a model for Tina’s.

The two were kind enough to answer a few questions about philosophy, storytelling, and the collaborative process. You can find out more about them and their work at keshnikashyap.com and mariaraki.com and you can order Tina’s Mouth through the site Tinasmouth.com.

Did you always know Tina’s Mouth would be a graphic novel?
Keshni: Yes. I started working on it as a side project, and it was always meant to be a graphic novel. I have a filmmaking background, so this distinction is important to me.

How did the storytelling process differ from filmmaking?
Keshni: Because I had a ‘diary,’ I was able to do some different sorts of things. Use the images to make certain ideas bigger or more effective (the mouth, for example) or funny or contrapuntal. I could also make a visual story feel more novelistic.  I’m not sure if I succeeded, but that was my intention.  In filmmaking, you really have to be careful. Voiceovers are very hard to pull off. There are also a variety of other reasons that make being experimental tricky. Producers, for example. And crews of people. With Tina’s Mouth, it was always just me and Mari.

I found the illustrations and text well balanced and the art to be a nice fit with the tone of the story. Mari, how would you describe your style?
Mari: While developing my style, I never really thought about what genre or label of artwork I was creating, but some curators have said I fit into the “pop-surrealist” category so I suppose that’s how most will identify my artwork. However, I prefer just to be thought of as an artist. This way I have no unnecessary, self-imposed boundaries to my work.

Read the rest at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Gabrielle

January 19, 2012 at 6:04 am

Uniting Geek Girls with Leslie Simon

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In her introduction to Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits are Taking Over the World, Leslie Simon defines a geek as “A person who is wildly passionate about an activity, interest, or scientific field and strives to be an expert in said avocation.” What distinguishes a geek from his or her close relatives—say, a nerd, a dork, or a dweeb—is that a geek “does not necessarily sacrifice social status to participate in area of expertise; instead, person will often seek out like-minded peers—in both the real and virtual worlds—in order to connect, bond, and celebrate mutual love for this area.”

With this sociability in mind, Leslie aims to unite geeky girls worldwide. She notes that geek guys have sucked up the air in the room—Seth Rogan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Cera, to name a few—and that it’s time for women to claim some of the oxygen; but first, we must learn to recognize one another. This is where Geek Girls Unite, an amusing field guide to geekdom, lends a helping hand.

There are many types of geeks out there: there’s the comic book geek, the music geek, the movie geek, the comedy geek, the geek who enjoys the domestic arts, and those geeks who always have their nose in a book. Using pop-anthropology, Leslie profiles each of these types, highlighting where they can be found, their outward signifiers, and who their historical predecessors are.

Having written something of a manifesto, Leslie says, “Embrace your quirkiness!” and with Geek Girls Unite she makes it a little bit easier.

Leslie spoke with me about the impetus for the book, her research, finding geek mentors, and growing up geek.

What was the spark that led you to write Geek Girls Unite?

I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to remember what or who it was that sparked the idea for Geek Girls Unite and the only thing I got out of it was a big lump on my noggin. Odds are, I was probably standing in the middle of some weird L.A. party, feeling completely out of place and having horrible high-school flashbacks. Or maybe I watching 30 Rock, basking in the amazingness of Tina Fey and her Liz Lemon alter-ego while sucking back a glass of wine. Either way, I’m sure it was inspired by how I used to feel my quirks and idiosyncrasies held me back when, in fact, they probably helped propel me to where I am today.

You’d mentioned feeling ashamed of your geekiness growing up. I can totally relate. When I look back at what I did to fit in I cringe. How did you react to, or against, your inner-geek — and when did you finally accept that it was who you were and you weren’t going to change?

I still consider myself a work in progress but my geek evolution started happening when I was 18. Once I went away to college and realized that I could choose my friends, it was a whole different ball game. I wasn’t forced to socially cohabitate with people just because they lived in the same zip code; I could actually choose my comrades based on similar interests and outlooks. (What a concept!)

What would you tell your teen geek self if you ran into her today?

I would definitely tell her to loosen up and live a little… or a lot! In high school, I was so scared of life—scared of not doing well on a test, scared of my friends thinking I was lame, scared of getting in trouble for missing curfew, scared of disappointing my parents. I really didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love, whether it was coming from my friends, my family or myself. When you want so badly to be liked (and/or loved), it’s easy to loose focus on who you really are and what’s really important. I know that now… but it would’ve been nice to understand that a little sooner.

You can read the rest of the interview at The Nervous Breakdown

::[Links]::
Buy Geek Girls Unite at IndieBound
Check out Leslie’s website

Written by Gabrielle

December 20, 2011 at 6:09 am

The Laura Miller Interview: B-Sides and Outtakes

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The independent bookstore McNally Jackson, located in SoHo, New York, features a regular series called “Conversations on Practice” hosted by author and musician Glenn Kurtz. Kurtz, an excellent conversationalist, invites fellow writers to sit down with him to discuss their life and work. These are some of the most engaging nights going on in New York and Brooklyn’s thriving literary scene.

The other month Salon’s book critic Laura Miller was the guest. As a fledgling reviewer and interviewer, listening to an intimate conversation about Laura’s 20 years of experience in the field and her approach to the craft was of personal interest. 45 minutes flew, not seeming nearly long enough, and I was left with more questions than I’d had walking in.

Laura was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule—she has two deadlines a week—to let me pick her brain. The final version of the interview ran in The Rumpus last week; because of space, here are a few things that didn’t make it in:

In The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia you say, “A critic has to write as well as read, and while writing about a book can reveal things you’d never get from simply reading it, it can also make reading a less immediate and visceral experience.” When reading a book in anticipation of writing a review, what do you look for that you might normally pass over if reading for pleasure?

Key facts, like dates, names, places — Were they college freshmen when they first met, or seniors? At USC or UCLA? — that sort of thing. I had to overcome my tendency to skim over paragraphs with lots of capitalized words. I know I’m going to need certain facts when I sit down to write the piece, even if they aren’t the sort of thing I ordinarily dwell on.

I assume you have a lot of say in the books you choose to review for Salon. How much control do you have? Any considerations you keep in mind when deciding what to review?

Almost total. However, I do need to keep an eye on the readership for the various pieces I write, which is so easy to measure online. That’s one reason why I review more nonfiction than fiction, about three to one. I like the two genres equally, but if you could see a graph comparing the readership of my review column over the course of a month, you’d see a little mountain for most of the nonfiction reviews and barely a bump for the fiction. My employers don’t harangue me to write pieces that generate more traffic, but they don’t hire me to write pieces that only 5000 people are going to read, either.

How does reading and reviewing fiction differ from reading and reviewing non-fiction?

As a general rule, the average reader of, say, Salon is much more interested in nonfiction than in fiction. Even if a nonfiction book isn’t very well written, readers can often learn something from it, and even if they never actually read the book, they can still learn things from the review. People like learning things! So while a review of a work of fiction absolutely must discuss the book as an aesthetic object, often readers are perfectly happy to read a nonfiction review that basically decants the most interesting parts of the book and serves as an alternative to actually reading it.

Are you able to read a book without your critic-mind infiltrating?

The argument I make in my book is about the value of getting beyond the idea that our initial reading experiences are Edenic and that the eventual growth of our critical faculties represents a fall from grace or innocence. There’s a further stage of growth as a reader in which you can experience both the pleasure of getting lost in a book and the awareness of the book as a work of art. You can have both experiences at the same time, without the diminishment of either one. Actually, reading isn’t the only area of life in which this can happen; it’s one of the benefits of getting older, if you can manage it. You see experiences in many layers at once. But you do have to really work at it to get to that point. It takes practice.

What was the last book you read that used symbolism well?

Pretty much every good work of fiction does this. The most recent really good novel I read was “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I suppose most readers would not peg that book as particularly symbolic. So, off the top of my head: the way that fertility serves as the epitome of female power and vulnerability at the same time in Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder.”

::[Links]::
Read Laura’s reviews, essays, and interviews at Salon
Learn more about The Magician’s Book
Buy The Magician’s Book from Indiebound
Visit Glenn Kurtz’s website
If you’re in the New York City area, you should check out McNally Jackson’s events

Written by Gabrielle

November 1, 2011 at 5:50 am

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