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The Changeling [Aug. 16th, 2017|03:49 pm]
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The ChangelingThe Changeling by Victor LaValle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many authors have tried to write New York City-based fairy tales, but with THE CHANGELING Victor LaValle gets it right. Here, the city is home to monsters both real and imagined, physical and online, hidden behind mystical glamours and cold, hard computer screens, in the forests of Queens and on abandoned islands in the East River. THE CHANGELING expertly balances on a tightrope between horrific phantasmagoria and crisp realism, but that’s something I’ve come to expect from LaValle, whose excellent previous novels BIG MACHINE and THE DEVIL IN SILVER walked that same tightrope just as effectively. (His recent novella THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM jumps gleefully over the rope straight into the playground of genre fiction to sterling effect.) I unreservedly recommend anything LaValle has written, but with characters you can’t help but identify with, even if you’re not a parent, and a story so compelling the pages fly by, THE CHANGELING might be his most accessible novel yet. Besides, how could I not love a novel in which the author makes a passing reference to one of my own books?

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Hollie Overton Talks About THE WALLS [Aug. 8th, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Hollie Overton, whose new novel is The Walls. Here is the publisher’s description:

A heart-stopping psychological suspense novel about a Texas prison official driven to commit the perfect crime, by the author of the international bestselling thriller Baby Doll.

WOULD YOU KILL TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY?

Working on death row is far from Kristy Tucker’s dream, but she is grateful for a job that allows her to support her son and ailing father.

When she meets Lance Dobson, Kristy begins to imagine a different kind of future. But after their wedding, she finds herself serving her own life sentence — one of abuse and constant terror.

But Kristy is a survivor, and as Lance’s violence escalates, the inmates she’s worked with have planted an idea she simply can’t shake.

Now she must decide whether she’ll risk everything to protect her family.

Does she have what it takes to commit the perfect crime?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Hollie Overton:

When I began writing my second novel, The Walls, I alternated between feeling incredibly inspired and consumed with anxiety. The expectation of whether I could write another book, and if I did, whether it would be as well received, weighed on me. But eventually I realized the only thing I could control was the writing. Focus on that and everything else will fall into place. I set out to do that with The Walls but life had other plans. The scariest part of writing this book was coping with one of life’s greatest losses.

My mother, Betty Overton, was a domestic abuse survivor. She married my father and adopted my twin sister and I when we were just six days old. By the time we were four, his addictions and violent temper were spiraling out of control and her only choice was to walk away. When I first had the idea for The Walls, about a woman who marries a violent man and must find a way out, I thought a lot about my mom and that sacrifice she made, giving up the man she loved for the love of her children.

In the midst of writing The Walls, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse. A lifelong smoker, she’d been plagued with health issues, her lungs ravaged, each breath a struggle. But she always remained upbeat and positive, finding the bright spot in each and every day. When that flash of fear bubbled up about whether the book was any good and if I’d make my deadline, I reminded myself of my mother’s fighting spirit. She rarely complained about being trapped inside her home, trapped inside her own body, unable to walk more than a few feet at a time without getting winded. In Mom’s words, I needed to “get over myself.”

When I wasn’t working, I would head over to her place. We’d cook dinner or order takeout, then curl up to watch our favorite TV shows and movies, pausing every few seconds to share anecdotes. I always hated leaving Mom, but with deadlines looming, I had no choice. She’d wave off my apologies, reminding me how lucky I was to do a job I loved, a job that allowed me to care for her. With Mom’s words echoing in my head, I’d return to my laptop, eager for her to see the finished product.

Unfortunately, my mother passed away two days after I delivered the final manuscript to my editors. Guilt consumed me those first few weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I missed out on, time I’d spent writing instead. Whenever I get too melancholy though, I’m reminded of one of our final phone calls. I was working on edits and had promised to drop by but I wasn’t finished yet. I just needed one more day and then I’d come by and see her. I was emotional, knowing she wasn’t doing well, but not at all aware that our time together was running out. Despite my tears, Mom wasn’t having it. “Hollie, you’re being ridiculous. I didn’t raise you to live your life for me.”

My mom’s greatest wish was to see me succeed. Each time a new writing dream comes true, I know she’s cheering me on. The Walls is dedicated to my mom, the person who taught me to be brave, taught me how to write through fear and how experiencing death, the scariest thing there is to face can teach you a lot about life. My mom may be gone but thanks to her influence, I have plenty of stories left to tell.

The Walls: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Hollie Overton: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Hollie Overton was raised in Texas, and draws on her unique childhood experiences for inspiration. Her father was a member of the notorious Overton gang in Austin, and served time in prison for manslaughter. Hollie is a television writer whose credits include the CBS drama Cold Case and Freeform’s Shadowhunters. Her debut novel, Baby Doll, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into eleven languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and rescue dog.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Reminder! Reading this Saturday! [Aug. 2nd, 2017|02:25 pm]
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Just a reminder, I’m reading this Saturday, August 5th, in Astoria, Queens as part of the Line Break Reading Series!

Day: Saturday, August 5th
Time: 3:00 PM
Where: Q.E.D., 27-16 23rd Avenue, Astoria, Queens

$7 at the door. More info at the Line Break website. Be there!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Vivian Shaw Talks About STRANGE PRACTICE [Aug. 1st, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Vivian Shaw, whose debut novel is Strange Practice. (I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Shaw briefly at this year’s Readercon, and now I’m even more excited to read this novel!) Here is the publisher’s description:

Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. She treats the undead for a host of ills — vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies.

It’s a quiet, supernatural-adjacent life, until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice — and her life.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Vivian Shaw:

In the end, for me, fear is largely defined by the unknown. Fear of what might be lurking behind the last locked door, or beyond the mirror-black windowpane at night; under the bed; in the recesses of one’s own psyche. The unknown is a vast blank space in which our minds can come up with much more terrible things than are likely to be there, and this is both terrifying and delicious, the way looking down from a great height can feel exhilarating.

But most monsters, once you encounter them, are there to eat you. It’s simply a question of how.

The scariest part of my book, Strange Practice, is that the monster is not under the bed, or in the closet, or the back seat of the car: the monster is inside people’s heads, and it has slotted its way into the part of their heads that is reserved for faith. For some other periods in its long, long existence, it has pretended to be the voice of conscience, or an oracle whispering in the mind’s ear. It is just clever enough to be indistinguishable from what it purports to represent.

This monster — this entity — exists solely to consume. Unlike some monsters, however, it is not only a predator: it manipulates its prey in order to coax from them the substance it particularly enjoys. It’s a fairly well-known concept; Stephen King has written several pounds of literature about creatures that feed on fear, in one way or another, and what I’ve done is in no way groundbreaking — but the thing I wrote about is particularly nasty in the way it gets inside your head. Of note, additionally, is the way in which it transmits its power to the people under its control, and this was particularly entertaining to write: I have always loved the delightful spookiness of old-fashioned electrical technology, and getting to feature that as a talismanic, supernatural focus of belief was fun.

Because the thing in Strange Practice is clever, in a blind cunning kind of way. It finds its way into your mind, and works out what it is you believe, and like a radioactive isotope of some element you actually want or need, it fits itself into that hole and takes advantage of your mind’s own pre-existing settings. It has been many gods, to many people, over the millennia. It is good at languages. It picks up quite quickly, and seamlessly, the cadence and vocabulary associated with various forms of scripture. What it wants, more than anything else, is to feed — and what it feeds upon is pain and fear and hatred.

In playing with this particular monster I spent a lot of time reading through various passages of scripture to find phrases and sentences that could be repurposed to serve its ends. One of my characters, Edmund Ruthven — a vampire who has been around for over four hundred years, one way and another — explains a little of why this specific monster is so unspeakable:

“Imagine you’ve prayed all your life,” he continued, “that you’ve been taught to pray, taught to believe that you must give praise in prayer and that you are not to expect the blessing of hearing anything ever answer back — that expecting anything to reply to you is hubris and wickedness — but one day there’s this little voice, this still small voice, that does reply. And you believe it and you love it and you worship it, just as you have been taught to all your life…and it shows you wonderful things inside your head, and takes away your fear and pain. And it tells you how to make things…and where to go…and what to do to people with those things, once you get there.”

 What it wants is to feed, and what it eats is fear and loathing, and it is not the creature itself but the way in which it takes its meal which I find the most frightening — perhaps because it is so difficult to disprove. There is no way to be absolutely certain that the little voice in the back of your head is your own. The monster under the bed and the monster in the closet, in the depths of the ocean, in the long shadows of the wood, are identifiable as themselves: a predatory other, waiting for you. The truly scary part of my book is that the monster itself inhabits your own perceptions, shaping itself to fill the holes already waiting for it, and it might already be in there. Might have been there all along.

In Strange Practice, there are authorities which keep an eye on things to (hopefully) prevent any such occurrences. In the real world? Well, you take your chances — and stay away from 1940s electrical technology, at least in caverns under the earth. Can’t be too careful, after all.

Strange Practice: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Vivian Shaw: Website / Twitter

Vivian Shaw was born in Kenya and spent her early childhood at home in England before relocating to the US at the age of seven. She has a BA in art history and an MFA in creative writing, and has worked in academic publishing and development while researching everything from the history of spaceflight to supernatural physiology. In her spare time, she writes fan fiction under the name of Coldhope.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Reading on August 5th [Jul. 25th, 2017|02:14 pm]
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Hello, Kaufmanniacs! (I’m trying that one out to see how it works. The verdict so far: Not well!) Anyway, this is a heads up that I will be reading in Astoria, Queens on August 5th as part of the Line Break Reading Series. Here are the details:

Day: Saturday, August 5th
Time: 3:00 PM
Where: Q.E.D., 27-16 23rd Avenue, Astoria, Queens

If you’re not familiar with the neighborhood, Q.E.D. is easily reached from the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. stop on the N train (the W train does not run on weekends). That’s the last stop on the N, and it’s only a short ride from Manhattan. The subways on the weekends are often a crap shoot, so be sure to check the MTA website to see if you’ll need to allow extra time, plan an alternate route, or sacrifice an animal to the subway gods.

I’ll be reading with three other great writers: David Keck, Rajan Khanna, and the amazing Olena Jennings!

Here is the Facebook event page if you feel like RSVPing.

Admission to the event is $7. You can purchase advance tickets, or buy them at the door.

Important note: This is not a family-friendly event. There will probably be bad language, and there will definitely be alcohol served, and you may not want your little ones around that.

However, I hope to see all you adult-type folks there!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE Is Now In Paperback! [Jul. 24th, 2017|03:43 pm]
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Good news for everyone who has been waiting for In the Shadow of the Axe to come out in paperback: The day is finally upon us! Thanks to the good folks at Crossroad Press, Axe can now be read by e-book hating Luddites across the world! You can buy print copies from:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

IndieBound

Or buy it from your favorite bookseller! If it’s not on the shelf at your local bookstore, ask them to special order a copy for you. And of course the e-book is still available at all your favorite e-book outlets. Get your copy today!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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It [Jul. 18th, 2017|08:49 am]
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ItIt by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Wonderfully immersive and gorgeously written, IT is a remarkable achievement. I put off reading it for a long time because of its daunting length, but I’m so glad I finally dove in. I absolutely loved it. At the heart of the novel, as well as at the heart of my love for it, sits the Losers Club, seven characters who, thanks to Stephen King’s masterful ability to conjure character from perfect details and authentic emotions, I came to feel as though I knew intimately. I really grew to love them over the course of the novel, especially as children, and found myself slowing down toward the end because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to them. When I finally turned that last page, it was a bittersweet moment because I was both deeply satisfied with the narrative and a little sad that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with them. I wish I’d had a circle of friends this close when I was growing up!

The monster itself is a stunning creation, wholly original and something well beyond the tropes it imitates in order to frighten its victims, but what lasts for me from this novel are not the scare scenes but the emotions. In so many ways, this novel is about kindness, love, and friendship. The monster could easily be a metaphor for bullying, or violence, or the cosmic unfairness of a child’s death, or a town’s dark history coming to light, or all of those things, but it’s the deep and abiding love these characters have for each other that allows them to defeat the monster in the end. Not without cost, but also not without reward.

I love the novel so much I’m tempted to call it perfect, and I think in some ways it is, such as in characterization and the use of setting, but it stumbles a bit toward the end, in my opinion. I thought the monster was much scarier without the extended mythology King gives it (the macroverse, the Turtle, the Other, etc.), and the handful of times he lets us into its thoughts saps too much of its mystery and ability to terrify. I understand the mythology ties into King’s magnum opus of the Dark Tower, but on a purely standalone level I thought it detracted from the horror by making the unknowable too known. I think I definitely belong to the school of thought that says the less we know about the monster, the better. Additionally, three characters outside of the Losers Club, Henry, Tom, and Audra, also make their way to Derry, but not much comes of their presence. Henry obviously has the biggest connection to the characters, being their childhood bully, but as an adult threat he’s taken care of rather quickly. Tom follows Beverly to the town but is then pretty much instantly dispatched with. Audra’s presence is important to end of the novel, but otherwise she’s just sort of there. (These three characters’ sections also sometimes feel like an unwelcome intrusion on the narrative, although I suppose that works thematically.) Lastly, the sex scene in the sewers feels like a major misstep to me. It’s beautifully written and actually quite sweetly portrayed — these characters are wonderfully, charmingly innocent, not lascivious — but it still feels out of place, both because of the characters’ prepubescent age and because I didn’t fully understand its purpose. I will readily admit I didn’t get how this act achieves what it’s meant to achieve, namely focusing the characters enough that they can then find their way out of the sewers. Symbolically, I think there might have been better ways to signal the end of childhood and the start of adulthood, at least in the context of this novel. I can totally see why this scene sticks in some readers’ craw, and I really do wonder why King thought its inclusion made narrative sense. (Beep beep, Stephen!)

But those missteps did nothing to temper my profound love for this novel. IT now holds a place of honor as my favorite Stephen King novel. Although there are still so many more I have to read, it’s hard to imagine any of them resonating as strongly with me as this one. I can see myself returning to this novel again and again in the future. It would be like revisiting old friends.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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My Necon 37 Schedule [Jul. 17th, 2017|02:18 pm]
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Necon 37 is this weekend! This is the writers’ conference I’ve been going to the longest, ever since 2000. I’ve only missed two in the ensuing years, which makes this my sixteenth time! Here is where you can find me on programming:

Friday, July 21st

1:00 PM   Kaiju Big Battle: Why Giant Monsters Are on the Rise Again
John Goodrich, John W. Dennehy, Nicholas Kaufmann (M), Gemma Files, Craig Shaw Gardner, Darrell Schweitzer
We all grew up on Saturday afternoon movies with badly overdubbed dialogue and massive, larger-than-life monsters. Those monsters are on the rise again like … well, like Godzilla rising from the Pacific! But why? Our panelists discuss the resurgence of giant monsters and try to formulate a plan to save Tokyo.

(I’m looking forward to moderating a panel on one of my favorite subjects: giant monsters!)

8:00 PM  Meet the Authors Party

(If all goes well, I should have print copies of In the Shadow of the Axe to sell and sign at Necon! Fingers crossed they arrive in time!)

Saturday, July 22nd

9:00 PM  The Infamous Necon Roast
In the immortal words of the Human Torch, “Flame on!”

(Once again, Jeff Strand and I will be co-hosting the annual roast. Who is the lucky recipient of this dubious honor? You’ll have to be there to find out, especially because it might be YOU!)

Sunday, July 23rd

11:00 AM  Necon Town Meeting
Tell us what we did wrong, what we did right, and what you’d like to see us do next year.

(Come yell at us for putting you on a 9 AM panel Saturday or Sunday morning!)

The rest of the time, you’ll find me milling about. Necon is a small, intimate gathering, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding me if you want to say hello or ask me to sign a book for you. I’m friendly, I promise! (Except during the roast.)

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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ALERT! ALERT! IMPORTANT READERCON SCHEDULE CHANGE! [Jul. 12th, 2017|09:19 pm]
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For reasons beyond my control, my reading time has been changed from 11 AM on Friday to 2:30 PM on Friday. This change won’t be in the program book, but it will be reflected in the mobile version of the program and the printed grid. Sorry for any inconvenience this last-minute change may cause!

You can see my entire, updated Readercon schedule here.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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My Readercon 28 Schedule [Jul. 8th, 2017|11:29 am]
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Readercon 28 is fast approaching on the weekend of July 13th-16th! Here’s where you can find me on programming:

Friday, July 14th

12:00 PM  Back from the Dead. Judith Berman, John Crowley, N.S. Dolkart, Nicholas Kaufmann, Sioban Krzywicki (leader). There are many characters in SF/F who die in what appears to be a permanent fashion, only to be brought back from death. Examples, left intentionally vague to avoid spoilers, appear in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba books, and as far back as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. How do the characters interact with resurrection (their own or someone else’s) and in some cases even prepare for it? When do readers feel like this works and is believable and satisfying, and when does it feel like a cheap trick or a cop-out? What is it like to read these stories while grieving, or keenly aware of one’s own mortality?

(I’m so psyched to be on a panel with the great John Crowley, and to get a chance to talk about why I made Trent from Dying Is My Business and Die and Stay Dead a hero who can’t die.)

2:30 PM  Reading: Nicholas Kaufmann. Nicholas Kaufmann reads from a work in progress.

(I’m not 100% sure what I’m reading yet, but I’m leaning toward something from the novel I’m currently working on, The Scarred Man. Or maybe I’ll read something else. Come on by and be surprised!)

6:00 PM  Kaffeeklatsch. Nicholas Kaufmann.

(Come hang out with me, drink coffee if you like, and ask me all sorts of questions! Or just sit there and stare at me creepily, I don’t care.)

As you can see, my programming schedule is Friday-heavy this year. The rest of the time, you’ll definitely find me attending other interesting panels and readings, as well as hanging out in the lobby/bar with friends and perusing the Readercon Bookshop. I will also be happy to sign any of my books for you! Feel free to come right up and say hello!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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