The Gone Away Place

It’s been forever and a few days since I last posted anything on my website, but I wanted to make sure to note that today my new novel, The Gone Away Place, releases from Knopf Books for Young Readers. I’m excited as always to have a new book go out into the world, where it will hopefully find the exactly right readers who didn’t know they were even waiting for it, as well as those who have been eagerly anticipating it.

THE GONE AWAY PLACE

Some early reviews have already come in. Here are a few excerpts from those:

Barzak shows his expertise in conjuring a palpable sense of otherworldliness in this sad and eerie tale set in Ohio. The gray aura of tragedy might be oppressive if not for the book’s suspenseful elements and glimmers of light, small miracles that inspire hope and emotional healing. Ellie’s quest to find Noah and help other ghosts who want to be released from their bonds to earth is highly spiritual and deeply moving.  -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review  (Full Review can be found here.)

A Stranger Things–Twister mash-up for fans of (super)natural thrills. -Kirkus Reviews (Full review can be found here).

Ellie’s journey through the grief of her tremendous losses is one that will deeply impact readers, many of whom will identify with the experience of having friends or loved ones die unexpectedly. Barzak’s personal, poetic prose deftly exposes the complexity of grief, particularly in Ellie’s eventual goodbye to her friends, which gives a tangible form to an emotional act. But most of all, this is a novel about the importance of stories, reminding readers to be seen and heard; this is what will move us forward, both individually and as a society. – Booklist (Full Review)

If you’re interested in supporting the book, here are some easy ways to do that:

1. Talk about it on social media.
2. Share and repost posts you come across about it.
3. Buy it at an indie bookstore.
4. Or buy it wherever you’d like to buy it.
5. Ask for it at your library if they don’t already have it.
6. Review it on Goodreads & Amazon.com and other sites.
7. Take and share pics of it, if you spot it in the wild or get your own copy.

Hashtag it #thegoneawayplace

It’s hard for books to rise above all the white noise online, so your support is extremely appreciated!

You can purchase the book at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indie Bound

Or any other place where you like to buy books, of course.

Thank you, and if you read it, I hope you enjoy it!

Attack of the Killer Collections

Every year around this season of gift giving, I see lots of posts by writers and readers and online stores, advising people what books would make great gifts.  Usually, these lists consist entirely of novels.  I’m a big fan of novels, but I might be an even bigger fan of short story collections.  But even I can be swayed by novel-fever, and in the past (not the recent past, but back when I did blog regularly past), even I’ve recommended buying novel A and novel B, etc.  This year, I’m recommending three killer short story collections that I’ve read in 2011.  Of course they’re all published by small presses, because the large press publishing industry has this idea that people don’t want to read short story collections.  I think that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that’s another blog post.  For now, here’s my advice:  buy these three collections.  They’re awesome, and they each have killer covers.

Collection A:  After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh

Maureen McHugh is well known in science fiction circles, mainly in the circles that admire high quality, character centered scifi.  Back in the 90s, she debuted with a hugely awesome novel-in-stories (before that term was conceived of) called China Mountain Zhang (read that book, too!).  She went on to write a number of other novels, and one other collection (Mothers and Other Monsters, also recommended), and has been spending time writing Alternate Reality Games and is now writing film scripts.  So the scifi short story world is always very eager to read when a story of hers appears.  This collections revolves thematically around the idea of apocalypses, endings, both literal and metaphorical, both in the epic scifi sort of way, and in the ordinary individual’s self-implosion sort of way.

Cover comment:  Fantastic design that makes the book look old and battered, but isn’t in fact.  Very cool.

Collection B:  Unpossible, by Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory and I won the same award (the Crawford Award) for best first fantasy book.  Different years, of course!  His first novel, Pandemonium, reminded me of a newish, leaner, sometimes scarier (is that possible?  or unpossible?) Stephen King.  His follow-up novels were just as good as the first, but I’d never read any of Daryl’s short stories until this collection came out from Fairwood Press last month.  The stories range from good to great, and a couple are straight-up knockouts.  Really idea-oriented speculative fiction that doesn’t lose sight of its characters and the human drama unfolding around them.

Cover Comment:  Fantastic.  This is a wonderfully weird piece of art.  If Gregory’s previous books hadn’t already sold me on him in general, I would have bought this book for the cover alone (yes, I’m one of those sorts).

Collection C:  Sleight of Hand, by Peter S. Beagle

Does Peter S. Beagle really need an introduction?  Probably for some.  Can’t I just say, The Last Unicorn, and leave it at that? (And if you haven’t read The Last Unicorn, do yourself a favor and get it too).

Beagle has made something of a comeback in the last decade, publishing several short story collections with Tachyon Publications, and all of them bear the hallmarks of his wit, wonder, and deep sympathy for ordinary characters caught up in extraordinary fantastical events.  This particular collection seems to revolve mostly around magicians, dragons, gods and enchantresses.  There’s light and dark both in these stories, a wide range of types of fantasy stories.

Cover Comment:  Gorgeous.  That is all.

Now, go forth and buy short story collections as gifts.  For yourself, and for others.  Because, really, collections rock, and these ones are killers.

Out of this furnace

I’ve been reading a novel called “Out of this Furnace” for one of my summer courses.  It’s by Thomas Bell, an author from Braddock, Pennsylvania who grew up in a steel mill family.  The novel is semi-autobiographical, following three generations of a Slovak immigrant family from the turn of the century through the thirties.  The novel was published in 1941, not long after the last decade Bell writes about in the book, the 30s.  The book works more like a very well-done historical narrative more than it does as a novel, at least in terms of what expectations for novelistic writing looks like these days.  It provides many more insights than a typical historical narrative, too, because of the personal relationship the reader builds with its characters, rather than the distanced tone of an actual historical narrative.  In any case, I learned a lot reading it, about a time and a place and a particular kind of people, and also a lot about how things looked during the first thirty years of the Twentieth century around places like the one I grew up in, which isn’t very far from the novel’s setting.  Just outside of Pittsburgh.

In any case, a couple of quotes leaped out at me while I was reading today.  The leaped out because even though they were written seventy years ago or thereabouts, they felt like they could have been written today:

“The depression deepened to the sound of voices chanting that prosperity was just around the corner, the country was fundamentally sound.  In the face of unparalleled catastrophe the rich and powerful lacked even the decency to keep silent.  Blind, ignorant, obsessed with the myth of their own infallibility–they had been obeyed longer than was good for an human being–they drooled their obscene mumbo-jumbo, witch doctors without faith in their own magic imploring the betrayed to have confidence, the penniless to put their money into circulation, the despoiled to take pride in an America plundered, gutted and laid waste.  Silence would have become them more and proved wiser, for there must have been many like Dobie whom their stupidities shook out of bewilderment, goaded to anger.”

And another:

“What did they ever do for the working people?  All through the depression they haven’t done anything to help anybody except the big banks and corporations.  What good did voting Republican do John when he was getting dollar-fifty pays and taking money down to the mill on paydays to keep his insurance in force because they weren’t even giving him enough work to pay for his insurance?  He had to take from our few dollars in the bank and pay it to the mill on paydays instead of them paying him.   I owe four months’ rent and I’ve got a store bill that scares me when I think of it.  Do they think we’re all greenhorns and they can rub our faces in the dirt forever?”

And there’s more where that came from.

Gettin ready to rock

Lately I have been in busy hell.  Forgive me if I owe you an email.  Right now, getting revved up to go to Wiscon at the end of this week.  Karaoke Party on Friday night.  Be there or be square, as they say in Paris, or in the 1950s.  Also this Wiscon Alan, Kristin and I will be debuting our first publication in the new Electrum Novella Series, David J. Schwartz’s The Sun Inside, which will rock your socks off.  A review from novelist Elizabeth Bear says: “Beautiful Women.  Exotic cultures.  Fabulous monsters. Audacious heroes. Total war.  Sound familiar?  It should not.”  If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.  Maybe a private karaoke session avec moi dans la Concourse L’hotel en Madison?  Like I said, be there (at the karaoke party) or be square (having not read David Schwartz’s novella The Sun Inside and thus not being able to participate in the conversations gazillions of people will be having about it, sharing communal feelings about a cultural artifact that allows them to talk about, you know, ideas and beliefs)!

So, onward now to make departure preparations.

Ta.

Just in case

justincase.jpgBeen hard at work today on novel revisions, but also I finished reading my first Meg Rosoff book. This one was Just In Case, which I enjoyed thoroughly, except for a couple of things that posed problems for me as a reader.

The book is about a boy named David Case, who changes his name to Justin on a day when he comes face to face with the near death of his baby brother, and saves him, but in the process is opened up to the reality that at any moment fate could claim him. So he takes on a new identity in order to avoid his fate. The writing is quite magical, full of Amelie-like moments of wonder and beauty, as well as dark moments in which David/Justin’s relationship to the world is severely damaged. He’s introduced to love by an older girl named Agnes, who is totally the type of girl boys like Justin fall for: bright, artistic, and flighty. She’s a photographer, and helps him create his new image of himself–Doomed Youth–which also happens to be the title of her next exhibition. In any case (no pun intended), the book is full of Justin’s baby brother’s thoughts, animal consciousness, a sort of primal spirit to the world exuding in every moment. Except at various points in the book, it felt like there were important things missing. Justin’s mother and father, for example, who seem like fairly together middle class people in a suburb of London, seem quite all right with him leaving home to live with his girlfriend, then quite all right with him going to live with the family of a friend, with lots of his strange behavior being very apparent to them. I understand parents can be quite ignorant to the fact that their children are going through very real problems, but it seems to me that these parents go beyond ignorance to something different–they seem more like absences altogether, and it not in a way that feels right. They feel like cardboard, and that the author didn’t really take the time to set up a real dynamic between them and Justin to show the reader why they care so little that he’s gone, that in fact he doesn’t even have to run away because they let him go. I feel there can be quite good reasons for this, but I’m still baffled by the end of the book why they’re such ciphers. I don’t need much to go on, but I need something. It was a glaring hole in a story that had captured me in so many other ways–imagistically, emotionally, with a quickly moving pace. I’ve never read Rosoff before, but I do know she’s known for her first novel How I Live Now, which was published as a YA novel a couple of years ago. This novel, and another novel that’s recently been released, have come out as adult, which I find interesting, because they could very well still be considered YA novels. I find this interesting because it seems there’s a blurrier line in readerships for YA/adult books these days, and, because I’m naturally curious, I wonder why that is. At the same time fantastical novels seem to be finding their way into the general fiction shelves, and I wonder if there isn’t some sort of parallel there. If there is, I’m not sure what the root of it is, but I generally like shelves full of a variety of books, rather than categories, so this is good for someone like me. But I’m sure it’s infuriating for other readers who, even if they like a variety of genres, like them to be in different sections of the bookstore so that they can find what they want more readily.

As for Rosoff, I’ll be reading her other novels because I liked so much of this one. I just hope there isn’t a great absence of something important in the other novels, as a grasp on the relationship between a self-destructive, scared boy and his parents was absent in this one. Despite that, it was still a really enjoyable read.

Now off to find something else to read.

More on Americans and reading

Okay, one more entry before I head out for the weekend.  This one is a review by Laura Miller on a book called The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby.  It seems to be related to the ideas Ursula Le Guin addresses in her essay “Staying Awake” in the most current issue of Harpers.  I like this excerpt of Miller’s review of the book, which points out some of the weaknesses of Jacoby’s (and probably Le Guin’s) examples they sometimes use to illustrate points that have actual substance, which undermines their ability to persuade some people to see what they are seeing (like David points out about his reaction to the excerpt of Le Guin’s essay I posted the other day).  Miller:

I don’t entirely disagree with Jacoby on many of these points. As a literary critic, I too worry about the dwindling numbers of Americans who read for pleasure. Furthermore, like Jacoby (and Caleb Crain, in a recent New Yorker article about the prospect of a “post-literate” America), I believe that reading fosters a particular mental stamina, discipline, creativity and flexibility that can’t be acquired from other media. In a future dominated by complex social systems, technology and science, only people who can think in this fashion will have enough understanding of how the world works to actually run it. And to remain truly democratic, America should be made up of citizens who are able to think that way.

Nevertheless, Jacoby has a hard time separating her legitimate worries about America’s eroding attention span from simple disagreements of taste and generational preferences. She dismisses certain forms of popular art out of hand, automatically presuming that her readers will agree. But I, for one, see no reason why newspaper articles on “the newest trends in hip-hop” should be written off as no more than craven pandering to distractible young readers; the subject is interesting, and worthy, in its own right. I might not equate Bob Dylan with Milton, as some overzealous rock critics have apparently done, but I’m also aware that the pop fluff of one era (the operas of Puccini, for example) often becomes the classical repertoire of the next. When Jacoby hauls out that old, shopworn story about crowds gathering at the docks to grab the latest installment of a Dickens novel, she’s not accounting for the fact that Dickens had about the same artistic status in his day as the creators of “The Sopranos” have in ours — and I’m not sure that the Dickens novel in question (“The Old Curiosity Shop”) emerges as the better work in the comparison.

Le Guin uses the story of crowds gathering at the docks for the latest installment of a Dickens novel too.  It’s a good story, but I think Miller has a good point on its weakness as an example because it’s both shopworn and also doesn’t fully examine or contextualize the example.  In any case, I’m glad people are talking about these things, and trying to define what it is that reading does that other forms of engagement and entertainment do not, and what reading, too, does not do.