What I’m reading this Christmas: Amanda Diaz, HarperCollins Publishers

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Amanda Diaz.

Thank you for having me!

You’re a publicist at HarperCollins Publishers and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

HarperCollins Australia (based in Sydney) is known for its children’s/YA books as well as its adult list. Which do you work on/prefer?

I’m the publicity manager for HarperCollins Children’s Books, which for me is a dream job as I absolutely love kids and YA books.

You’re a publicist – what does a publicist do? AD pic

Basically the job is about creating exposure for books in order to drive awareness and sales. That’s not a very sexy way to put it, but that’s the bare bones. It requires being very calm, patient and organised.

A publicist works to get attention for books through social media, blogs and websites, festivals, signings, conventions and school visits as well as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Media exposure can come in a number of forms – from giveaways and extracts to reviews and interviews.

How did you get this job?

While I was interning in the HarperCollins editorial department during my last semester of uni, I was in the right place at the right time to be hired for an admin assistant role in publishing operations. My dream was to work in the children’s team though, so when the publicist role came up, I went for it.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I’m very proud to have worked with Children’s Laureate Jackie French on ten books so far. All her work is so excellent, it’s a privilege to be involved in a small way. It’s also been very exciting to work on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series – especially with the recent release of the movie.

Touring with George RR Martin in November last year was also absolutely unforgettable. He is a literary rockstar and so lovely and gracious to boot.

What is different/special about HarperCollins? 

In a business-sense, we have a fantastic mix of commercial and literary stories. There’s truly something for every reader. On a personal level, I’m lucky enough to work with the best team ever at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Everyone is so smart, passionate, hilarious, open and creative. Sometimes we have to pretend not to be having as much fun as we really are, lest others think we’re not actually working.

All the truth that's in meWhat are some awards HarperCollins has won that have particular significance for you?

The Australian Centre for Youth Literature runs the annual Inky Awards – where teen judges and readers decide on their favourite local and international YA titles – and this year, the Silver Inky was won by All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. This is a book that was very special to everyone in house and to see it receive such fantastic recognition from readers was so wonderful and affirming.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

We have to work smarter in competing for people’s attention spans, but the key to doing this is always going to be finding really excellent stories.

If you’re in a book club, what book have you enjoyed discussing?

I’m not in a book club – I’ve tried it out a couple of times, but I always get too impatient with how long it takes for the other members to finish reading the book! But I do run our YA Twitter account – @HarperCollinsYA and love talking to our followers but the books we’re all reading.

Once Upon an AlphabetWhat are some must-reads over Christmas?

Young kids – and their parents and grandparents – will absolutely fall in love with both Once Upon an Alphabet and Count my Christmas Kisses, while cheeky youngsters will adore There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree Who Farts.

Withering-by-Sea is a fantastic middle-grade Victorian fantasy adventure that young girls will NEED. (It’s the prettiest book you’ve ever seen.)

(See my post on it here)

My YA summer favourites are A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray and Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption duology. You can’t go past these picks for action-packed reads with a dash of swoonworthy romance.

The ultimate must-read though is Jackie French’s stunning WWII epic To Love a Sunburnt Country (available 1st December). This is the best thing Jackie has ever written. You won’t be able to put it down, you’ll probably cry and you’ll certainly never forget it.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

My secret reading pleasure is definitely re-reading. You’d be embarrassed for me if I revealed how many times I’ve re-read favourite books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice.Disruption

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Amanda.

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Withering-by-Sea

 

 

The Dink Is The Man

You know that awkward moment where you think you’ve had a brilliant idea for a blog then shortly afterwards stumble upon one that’s not only better, it’s already been done? That’s the essence of what happened to me, having decided that while Game of Thrones the series is excellently good, Tyrion Lannister’s actor Peter Dinklage is irrefutably the man.

It appears that Brisbane Times journalist Jody Macgregor thinks the same, having penned the intro below:

Some people watch Game of Thrones for the sex scenes. I watch Game of Thrones for the scenes where Tyrion Lannister verbally owns people, straight-up lays the verbal smackdown on them. He’s incisive and witty and his remarks are as cutting as any of the show’s swordplay. But Game of Thrones is over for another season and now there’s a Tyrion Lannister-shaped hole in my life.

I just finished watching all two seasons of Game of Thrones in quick succession. I’d avoided it until now mostly because I’m not a big spec fic reader and haven’t yet tackled the books. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I have no patience for having to read maps at the beginning and glossaries at the back because the book has a stupendously unnecessary cast of unpronounceable-made-up-language-speaking thousands.

I also knew, though, that I’d watch the series fine if it was wrought by HBO. They did a phenomenal job and for the most part helped me keep the bazillion characters relatively straight in my head. That and they lobbed the incredibly talented ‘the Dink’ to the fore of my and others’ attention spans.

I care little for the gratuitously revealed breasts in each scene (I’m no prude, but I’ve seriously hit boob fatigue—by the end of Season Two I got more excited when I saw a chick not getting her kit off). But I care a lot of Dinklage’s intellect and his acting. This guy absolutely steals the show.

Much has been made of the fact that Dinklage is a dwarf. It’s not something I hugely wish to dwell on. He’s an intelligent man, a seemingly good all-round guy, a bit of a spunk, and an outstanding actor. What’s not to like?

I’d happily watch a director’s cut of solely scenes with Dinklage in them. Or a cut of solely scenes with Dinklage’s commentary. I’m not sure that either exist, though, so I’ll have to do what Macgregor has done: seek out and watch any and every other film Dinklage has been in. How soon until we see Season Three?

A Feast of Books

Last week I blogged about my desire find a house with a library (preferably one behind a hidden door), where I could pander to my love of reading and store my ever-expanding collection of books.

I’ll cheerfully admit that my reach definitely exceeds my grasp on this one. House with libraries tend to come with wings and servants and other items that I can’t really afford, no matter how much I want them. I have lavishly-illustrated coffee-table book tastes on a mass-market paperback budget, sadly, so I need to look at other options for indulging booklovers’ desires.

Instead of insisting on a full library, you could always just get really creative with where I put my bookshelves or invest in some bookshelves that double as decoration, as some places have done.

Or you could pick up a spectacular piece of book art, such as Brian Dettmer‘s intricate and amazing creations, made from out-of date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books and dictionaries. He uses knives, tweezers and surgical tools to cut, carve and shape these old books into three-dimensional works of art. Nothing inside is relocated or implanted as he manipulates the books to forms sculptures that reveal and revel in the books’ contents and their breath-taking complexity of illustration. His work isn’t cheap but if you did find between $3,800 to $32,000USD down the back of the sofa, you could be the proud owner of one of these pieces.

If you want to go the whole hog*, but don’t want to spend a king’s ransom**, you could always indulge your love of books with a culinary adventure, such as Gastro Park’s Game Of Thrones’ feast. Inspired by the TV adaptation of George R R Martin’s infamously bloody series, this fantasy-fueled banquet will set you back a pricey but affordable $100.

Much like the books, the meal is not for those scared of a bit of gore. The feast opens with bloody strips of raw venison, pinned by arrows and garnished with eyeballs and dirt. That grisly appetizer is followed by charred raven’s feet in broth, then a huge portion of crispy suckling pig (complete with a large knife for back-stabbing), and then the dessert; a glistening dragon’s egg, served on a bed of snow and sand and topped with a generous pouring of pure liquid gold.

It’s a feast fit for a king (or, in the case of the liquid gold, for someone who believes they are one). And considerably more delicious than it sounds; the eyeballs in dirt are liquid mozzarella served on tapenade, for example, and the raven’s feet are piquillo peppers in a black squid-ink batter. The spectacular dessert is a work of delicious fiction; some smashing reveals the “dragon’s egg” to be a spray-painted chocolate shell encasing a liquid passionfruit and vanilla centre. And the liquid gold, deployed to such a devastating effect in the books, is a far more feast-friendly orange curd.

The meal is a marketing ploy for the Game of Thrones‘ TV show Australian DVD release. Chef Grant King is less that a bibliophile himself – he had never heard of the books or the show but quickly discovered it to be to his taste: “Anything about chopping dudes up, I’m into that.”

As for this bibliophile? I’m still looking. I have found one ideal home; a lovely and spacious house where one room has walls completely covered in bookshelves. It was love at first sight.  I’m just hoping that love will get the hint and send the several hundred thousand through extra to me I need to purchase this place. If anyone wants me, I’ll be looking down the back of the sofa.

 

*The whole hog is, of course, the suckling pig.

**Okay, there’s just no excuse for this much pun.

 

Plotting for a plane – big bad reads

This time next month I will be winging and training it all over the USA and Canada for two weeks, and with 70 hours of that time to be spent in transit I have one huge worry – what am I going to read?

I’d like to lie and say that I will be tackling big issues and learning Sanskrit and flicking through Hawking‘s Brief History of Time, but my holiday reading is usually selected for two things; is it long enough to get me through a twelve hour flights, and is it distracting enough to stop me worrying obsessively that every tiny change in engine pitch means the plane is about to drop out of the sky during that twelve hours?

Length is obviously needed when you are going to be spending twelve hours straight in a small and uncomfortable seat, so I used to select all my holiday reading by checking out if the book was long enough, and the text densely printed enough, to mean at least ten hours of reading. My old rule of thumb was that if it was under 500 pages I wasn’t interested, and over 800 was the ideal.

The problem is that longer doesn’t always mean better and certainly doesn’t mean engrossing. I used to always go for epics as holiday reading, regardless of how interesting they sounded, and it was the Lord of The Rings that finally cured me of it. I can appreciate the immensity and originality of Tolkien’s work, but I just don’t enjoy his writing style and before the plane was even in the air I was bored. I slogged through what felt like five hundred pages of Bilbo Baggins’s party and by the time the first of the Ringwraiths showed up to kill the hobbits, I was actively cheering them on. I failed to finish the book on that holiday, opting instead to read the inflight magazine and watch Terminator 2. Three times.

Terminator 2 is probably closer to my reading level on a plane than the non-fiction that I normally like to get my teeth into. I’m usually crampled and fretful, and in need of a book that will entertain and engross me rather than educate me. Stephen King is one of my favoured in-flight authors, as is George R. R. Martin, but King clearly wins on the grounds that he releases books more often that once every seven years or so. Sadly, I’m up to date on Stephen’s work and facing seventy hours with no ideas of what to read and the worrying feeling that I may end up watching Terminator 2 yet again.

What’s your preferred read when you’re up in the air or on a long journey? Do you settle in for a long-haul of brain-stimulation or are you all about the brain-candy? And can you recommend anything that will keep me off terrible action flicks?

 

(And yes, I know, one obvious answer to my issues is an e-book reader but the one I have my eye on has been unavailable in Australia for the last few months. I may pick one up in the USA, if I can find it, but that’s too late to prevent me gnawing my own arm from boredom on the way there. And then how will I be able to carry it?)

From book to screen – fandom, fanaticism and Game of Thrones

Season one of George R. R. Martin‘s excellent Game of Thrones has just finished and, like most of the fans of the books, I am thrilled with how it was interpreted.

In fact, like many fans of the books, I have been insufferably excited by the whole thing. I keep getting into long hyperbolic conversations with other people who have read the series to debate every twist and turn and boring the bottom off my poor partner, who has never read the series. My enjoyment of the HBO’s adaptation inspired me to reread the entire series of the books (and pre-order my copy of Dance With Dragons, which is out next week) and I can’t wait to see their take on book/season two.  Like Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings the screen version of Game of Thrones has been lauded for its casting and vision, managing not to alienate the loyal readers of the series in its portrayal of Martin’s epic tale.

But unlike the Lord of the Rings adaptation, it’s making some big tweaks to the story. Coming from a recent rereading I can clearly see changes to both some of the characters and the narrative, that I assume HBO have done deliberately to take us to places that the books didn’t. (I won’t spoiler them here, but feel free to ask me about these in the comments or advance your own theories on the changes of direction.)

Any avid reader of the series can see that HBO are not doing a completely faithful adaptation, but very few texts that are transitioned to screen make it there unchanged. Most books need to be altered extensively and most authors – and readers – have to accept that. True Blood author Charlaine Harris was philosophical about the changes that would need to be made when her Southern Vampire series was adapted for the small screen. “I had to hand all control over to Alan Ball. But having said that, I was pretty careful about who I handed it over to. So I really can’t complain about what he’s done and in fact I’m very happy.”

That adaptation – True Blood – made some sweeping changes, with numerous minor characters being fleshed out into starring roles and a complete departure from the books’ versions of events.  This can confuse the hordes of new readers who decide to buy the books, based on what they have seen on TV, Charlaine finds. “It’s delightful from a sales point of view, but they do tend to bring a different expectation. They do have the tendency to see the characters as the actors on television, which was not the original intent. Every now and then there’s the tendency to get the action in the books confused with the series, which is quite different.”

When done well the changes that seasoned script-writers and directors make to books make for excellent viewing. Not all authors react with such equanimity when confronted with change to their works, even when those changes are quite minor. Anne Rice was so loudly dissatisfied with some of the casting for the adaption of her novel, Interview with a Vampire that she took out an advertisement to complain, stating that Cruise “is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler.”

After viewing the film, however, she became a convert to the changes that had been made, praising both inserted scenes and Tom’s performance with an enthusiasm that puts even the most avid Game of Thrones fans to shame. “I’m no good at modesty. I like to believe Tom’s Lestat will be remembered the way Olivier’s Hamlet is remembered. Others may play the role some day but no one will ever forget Tom’s version of it.”

No Fantasy please – we’re women.

Winter is coming, and Ginia Bellafante thinks that the ladies won‘t like it.

The Winter in question is HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martins political fantasy epic, Game of Thrones and Ginia, the New York Times reviewer who saw the screening in advance, is less than impressed. She feels that the TV show is an overblown over-sexed extravaganza whose budget could have been better devoted to keeping Mad Men on air. In this land of “dwarves and loincloths” there are too many characters, she thinks, perhaps the show should warn people who can’t count cards to go back to watching Sex and the City re-runs?

The show does have a lot of characters but then, so do the books. I like to read a bit of fantasy, and I am a fan of Game of Thrones and the series it is part of. And I know plenty of other people – male and female – who‘d agree with me. When I worked as manager of a games and bookstore in Ireland for two years, one of the most common questions was, “Do you know when the next George R R Martin  is coming out?” That question came up so many times, from all genders, that we joked that we should just stick a sign up behind the till saying, “No, Book Four is not out yet. Direct complaints to Mr Martin, please.”

While there are many criticisms you can throw around about the books – including an impassioned plea to Martin to just release book five already – there is no denying that they have many fans of both genders. Bellafante is clearly not a fan, which is fair enough, but she assumed that what held true for her applies to everyone with a uterus. Women, she stated, simply weren‘t going to like it – not because it was badly-cast, or poorly scripted, or just plain boring – but because it is fantasy.

“While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”

Now, I’m not a Hobbit fan nor in a book club, but I am better placed than Ms Bellafante to judge Martin’s writing, and fantasy generally, by the simple virtue of actually having read some. I wasn‘t aware that having boy parts was a prerequisite to enjoying the genre and I didn’t find the books particularly patronising, but Ginia’s belief that women don’t enjoy epics is getting right up my nose.

Bellafante’s dismissal of fantasy as “boy fiction“ led to lots of heated responses, some vitriolic and other more thoughtful, so much so that she weighed back in a few days later, trying to pour oil on troubled waters with a piece entitled, “Pull Up and Throne and Let’s Talk”. This probably didn’t come out as well as she hoped. Ginia started by explaining, “I write from a perspective that is my own, not one that seeks to represent a big tent of varying opinion.” Which is fair enough, even her previous piece included an offhand blanket statement about half the darn planet.

And then she continued, “As I wrote in the review, I realize that there are women who love fantasy, but I don’t know any and that is the truth: I don’t know any. At the same time, I am sure that there are fantasy fans out there who may not know a single person who worships at the altar of quietly hewn domestic novels or celebrates the films of Nicole Holofcener or is engrossed by reruns of “House.””

So, not only does Ginia believe that she doesn’t know a single woman out there who likes to read fantasy, but also that these exotic female fantasy fans (who she has never met) may well conglomerate in groups, trading sorcery and sword novels and refusing to read or watch outside their tiny circle of knowledge. Roaming their homes in chain-mail bikinis, purchasing “Hot Dwarves Monthly” and throwing axes at the TV to activate the extended and expanded Directors edition of Lord of the Rings.

Not just, you know, reading good books and enjoying them, regardless of their reproductive organs.

To which all I can say is, Ginia, the problem here is clearly not Game of Thrones or the fantasy genre. It’s that you need to meet more women.

Recent Acquisitions

One of the side perks of writing this blog is thinking of fabulous books to buy that can be the subject of future posts. I’ve been feeling a little vintage lately and noticed that the 60s beehive ponytail is coming back in, so I’ve satisfied my Bardot fetish reading-wise by purchasing a copy of Valley of the Dolls.

Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann is all about fame, fortune, and the downward spiral of drugs and depression; the general spaced-out clamity it JUST LOVES to bring. I adored the movie and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the world of sordid 60s stardom. I instantly fell in love with this inexpensive version on Boomerang, if you’re a collector of pretty/girly hardcovers then I suspect you’d sigh over this just as much as I did – it’s the most perfectly pink shade interspersed with the stark black of wrought-iron gates. Dreamy.

I’ve also turned my attention to reading more high fantasy lately. I definitely have to be in a certain ‘mood’ to read high fantasy or full-on science fiction, so expect me to take advantage of this mood, and in later posts I’ll discuss the books which have caught my eye:

Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon

This seventh novel by Kay Kenyon has been compared to Frank Herbert’s work (of Dune fame), commended for its vivid characters, world-building and superior prose. If you’re just interested in the storyline, however: Pilot Titus Quinn, along  with his wife and daughter, are thrust into a parallel world after a simple space travel expedition goes horribly wrong. Titus makes it back to the first world, but he is much changed and his memory is gone, as well as his family. What happened? And how will Titus get his family back? Ooh, suspenseful!

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

This book’s had such a following since its publication in 1997 that it’s currently being made into a tv series (due to premiere in 2011). What drew me to it, aside from its evident popularity with epic fantasy lovers, is that it pretty much sounds like World of Warcraft. And boy do I love a good computer RPG. Apparently heroes die, the story is steeped in medieval history, there are sub-plots galore…and the writing is apparently pretty awesome too.

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Now I have the books…time to get to reading! Look out for my thoughts on them in future posts.

Any of these you’re interested in, or have read before?