Grady Hendrix on Paperbacks from Hell and Why Horror Is a Women’s Genre

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is a die-hard horror fan. He writes, reads, and researches the genre and is an expert on its history. His new book, Paperbacks from Hell—about the paperback horror boom in the ’70s and ’80s—is a blood-splattered love letter to horror. It’s a tome to be found on the coffee table in any horror fan’s home, brimming with hundreds of full-color cover illustrations from books that influenced both the publishing and film industries. Just in time for Halloween, we talked to Hendrix about the state of horror today, Stephen King brainwashing, and why horror is a women’s genre.

Bookish: You clearly have a place in your heart for even the campiest horror novels from the ’70s and ’80s. What is it about these books that draws you in?

Grady Hendrix: These books were designed to be sold in drugstores and bus stations, pharmacy spinner racks and in newsstands, even. They’re designed to hook your attention. Either because they’re about hordes of killer cats, or they’re really lurid and full of sex and violence, or because they just make sure that something incredible or unbelievable is happening on every page. I like them because they’re not boring. But also because they’re from a different tradition.

This isn’t how books get written or published anymore and so the rules are totally different. Three-act structure—it doesn’t exist in some of these books. These books will kill their protagonist halfway through. Nowadays everyone’s used to jump scares, everyone’s used to found footage, everyone’s used to Thomas Ligotti and H. P. Lovecraft and all of those stylistic tics. The only mandate for those horror paperbacks is not to bore the readers. It’s a completely different tradition that comes more out of pulp than it does out of horror.

Bookish: How many paperback originals from the ’70s and ’80s did you actually read in the course of writing this book?

GH: The last time I did a count, it was 326. I could read two a day no problem. It’s what I was doing—I was on the couch all day reading books. Four a day was pushing it. There were a couple of days I did six and those were the days that would wipe me out the next day.

What helped is that I was reading by subgenre. I was reading animal attack books all at once. I was reading all the insect attack books all at once. So I knew what the set pieces were. I got a feel for the structure. Medical thrillers are really, really highly structured in a way that haunted house books are not. Animal attack books, if they’re from England, are structured in a really different way than if they’re from the U.S. Once I got a feel for that structure and where the genre’s signposts were, I could go a lot faster.

Bookish: Is there a book you feature that you think is underrated and would recommend readers pick up?

GH: Oh hundreds. Anything by Ken Greenhall. Elizabeth Engstrom’s books. Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer. If you’re going for pulpy fun, there’s a couple hundred of these books that I think work really great. If you’re going for serious why-have-we-forgotten-this-author authors, there are dozens. And a lot of them are women. I don’t think V.C. Andrews gets the respect she deserves.

So many of these authors were great. I wouldn’t have been able to write my book if the books had all been just campy. I found tons of books that were truly either deeply entertaining or truly fantastically well-written. There was a lot to admire here. I mean there’s goofy stuff too and part of my job is to inform and give context. The other part is to entertain. I wanted to do both.

Bookish: You divide the book into sections such as Creepy Kids, Real Estate Nightmares, and Splatterpunks. Were there any subgenres that didn’t make the cut?

GH: Oh sure. Nazis. There’s a ton of books about Nazis: Nazi werewolves, Nazi vampires, Nazi health resorts, haunted Nazi tanks. None of the Nazi stuff made the book. There’s also a whole category of books written by celebrities—like E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate conspirator, and Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter. There are also a whole bunch of government intrigue paperbacks like Graham Masterton’s The Condor, and there’s another one called The Hell Candidate. And there are a lot of categories that I just didn’t have enough time to get to in a way I thought was fair. Like the YA stuff. Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. I didn’t have time to delve into it more simply because I own a small number of those books and they go for a lot of money these days. There’s a huge nostalgia value.

Bookish: In your gothic horror section, you say that horror is a women’s genre. Can you explain what you meant?

GH: Everyone thinks horror and they think Stephen King. That’s brainwashing. The earliest horror novel that people still read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And there are two great horror novels of the 20th century—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. There’s just not an argument to be made for another book by anyone to rank up there with those two. Another great haunted house novel of the latter half of the 20th century is Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door. Plus you’ve got V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice… The main proponents of the ghost story in the 19th century were women writers. One of the most famous short horror stories of all time, without which no anthology is complete, is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

This has really been a women’s genre for a long, long time. Men are late to the party and get all the attention, as seems to be the way of the world.

Bookish: This book is brimming with hundreds of beautifully printed, full-color pictures of old book covers. Does one cover stand out as your favorite? Which is the scariest of the bunch?

GH: The stuff that’s scary is usually pretty understated. I’ve always thought the original paperback cover of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist—that blurred photo of a young woman-is kind of creepy. But… I can’t really pick my favorite out of all the mutant children out there.

I got to know a lot of these artists too. I developed a huge amount of respect for what they did. People like Jill Bauman, Stephanie and Mark Gerber, Lisa Falkenstern, and Rowena Morrill— they’re just amazing artists who had the misfortune to be making some of their best efforts in an industry which was designed to be disposable. Illustration has never been as respected as fine art. It’s always been viewed as commercial. And it’s true, it is commercial. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s rare that an artist can fake their work. They put everything they’ve got into it.

Bookish: In your epilogue, you write “the lesson horror teaches us is that everything dies.” What do you think caused the end of the horror boom?

GH: It was a bunch of things. Publishing was changing. The big publishers were gobbling up the little guys. Everything was consolidating. Some people, like Jill Bauman, say they put the end right on the Gulf & Western acquisition of publishing companies. And other people, like Jeff Conner, who was the publisher of Scream/Press (which did limited edition, really beautiful books), say that it was the beginning of the Reagan ’80s when public libraries were getting less funding and had to watch their budget more. There were definitely changes in distribution too. The mass market paperback went out of style in the ’90s and was replaced by the trade paperback.

On the other hand, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs became huge and that coincided with the whole Splatterpunk boom in the mid ’80s. And so you had more and more books being written where a lot of editors would feel like “the more gore in this, the better! That’s what readers really want! That’s what’s popular right now!” There were more books getting produced more cheaply by fewer publishers with fewer channels of distribution. And it was a real recipe for a bubble.

Bookish: Has horror recovered? What is the state of the genre today?

GH: When I told people I was writing Horrorstör, I could see the light die in their eyes. But when I said it was about a haunted IKEA, people would say, “Oh that’s really funny,” and they’d want to talk about it. Horror still has the connotation that it’s cheap, it’s gory, and it’s misogynistic. And that really just comes from the tail-end of the boom. The hangover from the bubble bursting still exists.

However, there are also a ton of books that are coming out now, that either are or are not marketed as horror, that do really well. You’ve got stuff marketed as horror like Victor LaValle’s The Changeling or The Ballad of Black Tom. Or works by John Langan and Paul Tremblay. And then you’ve got stuff that’s marketed as literary fiction like Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, which is a straight-up horror novel about a ghost, but it’s marketed as literary fiction because Kunzru is marketed as literary fiction. I would argue that Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad is a horror novel in some sense—or uses a lot of elements from horror.

And then you’ve also got thrillers, which have become the horror of the day. I think Gillian Flynn writes horror. Dark Places is about a satanic murder of a family years ago and someone trying to solve what happened on that night. It’s part mystery, but its roots are in the Satanic Panic. You’ve got all these domestic thrillers that come out too, like a woman bumps her head and wakes up 39 years later and can’t remember her life. Those are gothics right out of the ’60s. They’ve got a little more thriller added to them but it’s a domestic thriller where the nexus of fear is inside the home and the possible monster is the husband. Except traditional gothics pull from the romance tradition in the ’60s and modern gothics are pulling from the thriller tradition.

Bookish: So would you say bookstores and publishers categorize books as horror only if there’s a supernatural element? Or is horror more of a sensibility?

GH: It all depends on how you define horror. If the only thing that says something is horror is whether or not it’s supernatural, then you come up with a really limited definition. Frankenstein is not supernatural—Victor Frankenstein is a scientist. Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is designed to leave you in doubt whether there’s a supernatural element or not. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman going crazy. Same as Shirley Jackson’s We’ve Always Lived in the Castle. A lot of people use the supernatural thing to determine whether something’s horror or not. But is Cujo horror? Is MiseryChuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts” has no supernatural elements in it, yet I think anyone would be hard-pressed to read it and classify it as anything but horror.

Grady Hendrix’s first novel, Horrorstör, an illustrated story about a haunted IKEA, was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. He is also the author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism. A diehard horror fiction fan, he lives in New York City.

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Adapting One Historical Novel to Another: How to Make It Work

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

We’ve all been there: We read a novel, and wonder “How did the author do that?!” Sophfronia Scott has written just such a novel. Her book Unforgivable Love is a retelling of Dangerous Liaisons that will enchant and entertain readers with its historical flair. Here, she tells Bookish readers just how she went about adapting the original.

Ideas are a dime a dozen—they exist in multitudes and any creative thinker knows there is no shortage of good ideas. Still there’s a fascination with ideas and they are considered scarce—that’s why authors consistently get asked how they found the idea for their latest work. But the idea is only the beginning. Two writers can start with the same basic idea and create entirely different products. I think that’s a much more interesting question: How did the writer bring the idea to life?

My latest novel, Unforgivable Love, is a retelling of the 18th Century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The original was an epistolary novel, written in 1782, and told a story of seduction and betrayal among the aristocracy. I set the tale against the glamorous backdrop of 1940s Harlem, with two wealthy people playing games of sexual intrigue to feed their sense of ego and power.

Essentially I took one historical novel and turned it into another historical novel. How did  I make it work?

It’s all about the elements: understanding what makes a good story and building an interesting world in which the story can unfold. In order to do this, I couldn’t just retell the story. I had to create a new one.

Creating a story begins with characters. I chose to tell my story in close third person, giving voice to four characters and their inner lives.

Marquise de Merteuil became Mae Malveaux. Both characters are wealthy but they are also restricted by the conventions of their times. They act out accordingly. For Mae, I added aspects of her having felt something like love in her early years.

Vicomte de Valmont became Valiant “Val” Jackson. I sensed a vulnerability in this character that I wanted to explore. What makes him prone to fall in love? His story explores themes of race and class as well.

Madame de Tourvel became Elizabeth Townsend. My Elizabeth is just as virtuous as Madame de Tourvel but she also has a sense of not being complete somehow as a person, as a human being. She’s looking for meaning in her life.

Cecile de Volanges became Cecily Vaughn. This character, I think, has been given short shrift in the various adaptations of this novel. She’s often portrayed as clownish and awkward, but she’s also a character who makes a full journey from innocence to experience. I wanted to see how Cecily behaved once she began to act with agency.

Once I had my characters I had to create the world in which they lived their lives. For Unforgivable Love, I created social circles to suit the time and the African-American community.

Church: I had no doubt in my mind that the main social setting of this book would be in a church, especially since morals and virtue were going to be important themes. I modeled Mount Nebo Baptist Church, in size and influence, after the granddaddy of Harlem churches, Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Jazz music and night clubs: I used the setting of two clubs to illustrate the different classes. The Savoy Ballroom inspired the Diamond, Val Jackson’s club in my novel. The fact that the Savoy was crowded with people from all walks of life made me think about how Mae Malveaux wouldn’t be caught dead in such a place. That led me to create the Swan, a more refined setting for Mae and her cohort.

Fashion: I used fashion as another way to set Mae apart. I was particularly inspired by the designer Christian Dior’s “New Look” that was introduced during the time of my novel. The look was defined by a narrow waist, full skirt, and dramatic hats. One outfit with a yellow jacket reminded me of a costume worn by Glenn Close in the film Dangerous Liaisons and I knew I had to describe Mae wearing that Dior ensemble.

This is also a story about sexuality and how the way we wield it can be the deepest expression of our human nature. What happens when we take ownership of our sexuality? This question, I think, is why the story of Dangerous Liaisons is still so captivating today. We are still on this quest when it comes to exploring sexuality. It is the foundation that grounds Unforgivable Love, giving the reader a place to stand while at the same time launching him or her into this other world.

Sophfronia Scott hails from Lorain, Ohio. She was a writer and editor at Time and People magazines before publishing her first novel, All I Need to Get By. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and son.

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Julie C. Dao: Women I Write Should Never, Ever Be Underestimated

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Bookshelf, bookshelf, on the wall. What is the most anticipated fall release of all? To be fair, there are quite a few. But Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has been at the top of our list for a while. It’s a dark fairy tale retelling that reimagines the Evil Queen from “Snow White” rising to power in a world inspired by Imperial China. To celebrate the book’s release, we chatted with Dao about writing a villain, the power of beauty, and why you should never, ever underestimate any of her female characters.

Bookish: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling/origin story for the Evil Queen from “Snow White.” Which elements of the original tale or character did you want to keep? Which elements did you want to leave behind?

Julie C. Dao: I wanted it to be a completely original reimagining of “Snow White” that was like nothing I had seen before in YA, but I also wanted to hold on to important elements of the old fairy tale. It’s crucial, when writing a fairy tale retelling, to ground the reader in your story. I wanted to make my reader feel comfortable, make them think this is going to be like the tale with which they’re familiar, and then… yank the rug from underneath them! From the original “Snow White,” I wanted to keep the magic mirror, the apple, and the stepmother/stepdaughter dynamic, but I twisted these concepts to fit my own purposes. In doing this, I hoped to make the reader still recognize the inspiration behind the story, but at the same time think of FOTL as fresh and new.

Bookish: What is the hardest part of writing a villain? What is your favorite part?

JCD: I knew I had my work cut out for me with someone like Xifeng who has a character arc that spirals downward. My biggest concern was making her somewhat sympathetic, even as she makes all the wrong choices and succumbs to her own greed for power. That was the hardest part: making her believable in some capacity. My favorite part was putting myself in the shoes of someone so completely different from me and everything I believe in—someone who has no moral boundaries whatsoever when it comes to their ambition. It was an interesting experience!

Bookish: The Evil Queen is famously vain, and in the book we see Xifeng grow from resenting how her beauty defines her to learning to use it as a gift and a weapon. How do you view the relationship between beauty and power?

JCD: I knew, in writing a “Snow White”-inspired tale, that I wanted to keep beauty as power and a status symbol in my story. Classic fairy tales favor youth and attractiveness above all and consistently depict older female characters as evil. So what would happen if a princess grew older and her beauty faded according to society’s standards? The stories seem to insist that the aging princess accept this fate, this loss of her perceived importance as a human being. If she dared to fight against this or resent a younger woman, then she was deemed the Evil Queen/Stepmother.

Basically, according to fairy tales, women were supposed to be young and beautiful until they were not, and then go away. I think our society would like to believe we are beyond this, but the worshipping of physical beauty persists. The perception of beauty may change, but the value placed upon it never does. Outward attractiveness—however defined, depending on the time and place—is seen to help get people ahead and earn them attention.

In Forest, Xifeng recognizes that her youth and beauty are vital assets. She’s clever and educated, but believes her physical attributes will win her the throne and help her keep it, and she’s terrified of losing them. This increasing fear and paranoia propel her toward a tragic choice: She essentially sells her soul for the assurance that she will never lose her looks. She is not a queen punished for aging; she is a queen whose self-inflicted punishment is that she herself cannot see her own worth beyond the prejudices of beauty.

Bookish: Xifeng has a Lady Macbeth moment of seeing blood that no one else can see. Did Lady Macbeth also serve as an inspiration for Xifeng?

JCD: Actually, she was not, but I can totally see what you mean! Lady Macbeth is the instigator behind her husband’s deeds and the blood on her hands is guilt for what she has indirectly wrought, if I remember correctly. For Xifeng, however, the blood that appears on her face is a symbol and a reminder that her beauty is fleeting—that once gone, she will have lost what she considers to be her greatest power. Also, Xifeng would never be content pulling the puppet strings in the background. She would want to be front and center!

Bookish: Underestimating women is a big theme in this book. We see Xifeng overlooked as “just a pretty face” time and again, but we also see her fail to realize how strong the Empress truly is. What drew you to this theme?

JCD: It is ironic that Xifeng hates being underestimated, yet falls victim to doing this to other women, isn’t it? I’m drawn to powerful female characters, and when I say “powerful,” I mean all different types of power. So often in fiction and film we associate female strength with perceived traditional masculine characteristics, like wielding a sword and being physically aggressive. But there are so many types of power people are often too happy to overlook: the power of knowing your truth, of being confident in yourself, of protecting the people you love and the beliefs you value, of charging toward your destiny no matter what cost. I wanted to show different types of female strength in book one, and in book two you will see even more. Every single woman I write has a power of her own and should never, ever be underestimated!

Bookish: We see Xifeng and other women judged harshly for their aspirations in a way the male characters are not. Was this element inspired by the Evil Queen’s lust for power or by more modern influences?

JCD: This element was mostly inspired by the patriarchal society in which I chose to set the book, which is a kingdom inspired by Imperial China. Female historical figures like Empress Wu dealt with much prejudice and censure for their methods in seeking power. And yet, when reading about her deeds, it didn’t seem to me like anything the Empress did hadn’t already been done by male rulers of her time. But they didn’t come under the same kind of scrutiny and criticism. The double standard still exists today, unfortunately, with powerful women in fields like business and politics being criticized for qualities for which their male counterparts are praised.

Bookish: At times, Xifeng’s motivation shifts from wanting to claim her destiny to wanting that destiny because of the freedom it promises. Do you think that, in a way, chaining herself to her fate means losing her freedom?

JCD: Absolutely. There’s an irony in that. The thing about Xifeng is that she doesn’t understand the concept of power. She believes that being Empress is all about being front and center, invincible, and feared and loved and respected—which it partly is, in this world. But it’s also a position of responsibility, in that she is tying herself to the fates of everyone involved: She would be the Emperor’s wife, the Crown Prince’s stepmother, and the ruler of everyone in Feng Lu, for whom she is expected to care and govern. It’s a case of not looking at the long haul, the whole picture. She’s charging toward something she does not fully understand yet.

Bookish: The Crimson Army is an army made up entirely of women who live in the mountains. These fighters are only briefly mentioned; will we get to see them in future installments?

JCD: Yes! Without giving away too much, you will find out a lot more about them in book two!

Bookish: Can you give us three words that describe book two?

JCD: Epic adventure quest!

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

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Cover Design 101: It’s the Little Things that Matter

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Some readers may think that designing a cover for a graphic novel is easy. After all, you’ve got an entire book of artwork at your fingertips. But the process is incredibly complex, and sometimes the smallest details make the biggest impact. We’ve invited our friend Andrew Arnold, the associate art director at First Second, back to share his behind-the-scenes secrets about designing the cover for Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina.

Click each image for a closer look at the design!

It’s a lot of fun to look back on a book cover design process, especially one as near and dear to my heart as Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina. I’m always surprised by which of the initial ideas make their way onto the final cover. Often times, they’re “little things” that didn’t stand out to me in the beginning stages of the process—like the way an image is cropped, the placement of the type, the positioning of a character, etc. So not only is revisiting the process fun, it reinforces how important it is to listen to your gut and trust your initial design instincts—you’re probably onto something!

As I flipped through the various stages of the Pashmina cover design, I noticed that a lot of those “little things” from the earlier parts of the process made their way onto the final cover. For my last guest post, I started from the top—sketches, then inks, colors, etc—but this time around, I thought it might be fun to start with the final image and then take you through the process so you can search for all those little details yourself. So here you go—the final cover of Pashmina!

My goal with this cover, as with all the covers I work on, was to draw in readers and tell them a little about what’s inside the book. Pashmina tells the story of an Indian-American girl who learns about her family’s history with the help of her mother’s magical pashmina. We knew we wanted the cover image to capture a few things: our strong female lead character and her magical (and mysterious) pashmina.

The first step was to ask Nidhi if she had any specific concepts in mind. I’ve found that providing too much art direction at the outset can really stifle an artist’s creativity. It’s also a lot of fun to hear an artist’s initial ideas—I’ve seen them come in the form of a written description, a sketch, or even a loose doodle on a cocktail napkin. If an artist isn’t sure where to start, that’s when I start brainstorming and we begin a more collaborative process. In the case of Pashmina, Nidhi had several starting points that helped shape our direction. Here are a few of them:

As you can see, we kept these early stage sketches very loose. If you get too caught up in the details at this point, you can miss the bigger picture! And, if you look closely, you might see a few things that appear on the final cover! (Like Pri’s windblown hair.)

After some back and forth between Nidhi, her editor, and myself, we eliminated some of the above directions and decided to explore compositions with a full-figure image of Pri:

While Nidhi was doing that, I explored some other ideas:

The thinking here was to revisit the magical component by exploring ideas with and without Shakti. (She’s an important part of the story.) Again, if you look closely, you’ll see a thing or two that appear on the final cover.

Seeing Nidhi’s previous round of images got us thinking about the palette. The orange and black felt a little too much like Halloween (which is a big no-no unless you are working on a Halloween book!), so Nidhi explored a different direction—one that felt a little more fiery and picked up the color of Pri’s pashmina.

We discussed this general direction and, in the end, felt that we needed to show more of a magical connection between Pri and her pashmina. With that in mind, we explored several more directions:

There were some strong options here, but they needed to be developed further:

As you can see, those little things aren’t as a little anymore. One pattern is now easily seen against the background, while another rests within the pashmina itself. The windblown pashmina—while a little different in each composition—is still prominent throughout, and Pri’s gaze is clearly looking away from the viewer; she’s either looking up or off to the side.

In the end, we settled on the following direction. You’ll see that Nidhi supplied some brand new art for Pri and her pashmina (up until this point, we’d been re-purposing interior art to build the cover directions.) Once the general layout was nailed down and the artwork was finalized, we wanted to really zero in on type treatments….

…Before turning our attention to the full jacket design with the spine and flaps!

And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this cover’s evolution, and picking up on all those “little things” that crept their way into the final design. It just goes to show you that sometimes the little things really go a long way!

Happy creating!

Andrew Arnold is one of the co-authors of the Adventures in Cartooning series and moonlights [during the day] as a book designer for a children’s book publisher. His work has appeared in several publications, including Nickelodeon Magazine, Cambridge University Press, and Roaring Brook Press. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrew currently lives in New York City.

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Happy Birthday, Authors!: A Look at Writers Born in October

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Do you share a birthday with your favorite author? Here, we take a look at novelists, poets, journalists, and other writers born during the month of October.

October 1
Faith Baldwin (1893)
Daniel Boorstin (1914)

October 2
Wallace Stevens (1879)
Graham Greene (1904)

October 3
Thomas Wolfe (1900)
James Herriot (1916)
Gore Vidal (1925)

October 4
Damon Runyon (1880)
Jackie Collins (1937)
Anne Rice (1941)

October 5
Václav Havel (1936)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958)

October 6
Caroline Gordon (1895)

October 7
Amiri Baraka (1934)
Thomas Keneally (1935)
Dan Savage (1964)

October 8
Frank Herbert (1920)
R.L. Stine (1943)

October 9
Jill Ker Conway (1934)

October 10
Harold Pinter (1930)

October 11
Elmore Leonard (1925)

October 12
Ann Petry (1908)
Alice Childress (1920)
Robert Coles (1929)

October 13
Conrad Richter (1890)
Arna Bontemps (1902)
Frank D. Gilroy (1925)

October 14
Katherine Mansfield (1888)
e.e. Cummings (1894)

October 15
Virgil (70 B.C.)
P.G. Wodehouse (1881)
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917)
Italo Calvino (1923)
Roxane Gay (1974)

October 16
Noah Webster (1758)
Oscar Wilde (1854)
Eugene O’Neill (1888)
Günter Grass (1927)

October 17
Nathanael West (1903)
Arthur Miller (1915)

October 18
Wendy Wasserstein (1950)
Terry McMillan (1951)

October 19
Leigh Hunt (1784)
John le Carré (1931)

October 20
Thomas Hughes (1822)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854)
Art Buchwald (1925)
Robert Pinsky (1940)

October 21
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)
Carrie Fisher (1956)

October 22
Doris Lessing (1919)

October 23
Michael Crichton (1942)
Laurie Halse Anderson (1961)
Augusten Burroughs (1965)

October 24
Denise Levertov (1923)

October 25
John Berryman (1914)
Anne Tyler (1941)
Zadie Smith (1975)

October 26
Beryl Markham (1902)
Pat Conroy (1945)

October 27
Dylan Thomas (1914)
Sylvia Plath (1932)
Fran Lebowitz (1950)

October 28
Evelyn Waugh (1903)

October 29
James Boswell (1740)
Lee Child (1954)

October 30
Ezra Pound (1885)

October 31
John Keats (1795)
Dick Francis (1920)

Know of an author who should be on this list? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Kate Moretti’s Favorite Modern Whodunits with Unreliable Narrators

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

The best mysteries keep readers on the edge of their seats from page one and cause them to doubt their own theories about who killed who. This is certainly the case with The Blackbird SeasonKate Moretti’s gripping latest novel. A young girl has disappeared, last seen with a married high school baseball coach. He claims to be innocent, but even his wife doubts his tale. To celebrate the book’s release, Moretti put together a list of her favorite modern whodunits.

When I started writing The Blackbird Season, my main goal was to keep the reader off their game and unbalanced. I wanted readers to constantly second guess themselves and spend the entirety of the book wondering “wait, did they do it?” I didn’t specifically set out to write an unreliable narrator (Nate says he didn’t do it and well, you’ll have to read to find out!). But I wanted to play with the idea of perception, the notion that guilt and innocence aren’t as black and white as Law & Order makes us think they are.

I was largely inspired by the modern “whodunit”. Recent books by female authors are incredibly rich and layered, and often it’s impossible to predict the endings. They are character driven (which I love!) and often involve family life, kids, husbands, wives, neighbors and friends.

The Girl on the Train

Rachel Watson is the ultimate unreliable narrator! Rachel is a black-out drunk who is barely still functioning. She watches a couple every day from her train window, a couple that happens to live next door to her ex and his new family. Readers will ask themselves a million questions: What’s with the bundle of clothes? What is going on with her memory? Did she kill Megan? Who killed Megan? I confess I spent most of the novel pretty sure that Rachel killed Megan. But the end… we’ll just say it was a surprise.

Big Little Lies

There’s a PTA party and a murder, or at least you think it’s a murder. Honestly, with this one, you spend most of the book wondering who, if anyone, has died. The plot winds backwards, putting suburban unrest on full display, and peppered with ludicrous (and sometimes hilarious) police interviews. There’s a light humor throughout the whole book but you have no idea who is dead, or who killed them. Even the minor players are developed enough to be doubted!

I Let You Go

A woman is grieving alone in a coastal cabin. She grieves for her son, who was killed in a car accident. But her narrative is disjointed and while emotional, it’s also detached. Too much so. Something doesn’t add up. Then comes the twist and the revelations and we are left to wonder, page after page, who is guilty? What really happened that night? How fine is the line between guilt and innocence? My kind of book!

You Will Know Me

This book is an intimate look inside the world of elite gymnastics. Megan Abbott deftly navigates a family where the parents have sunk their time, energy, money, and entire lives into the success of their child. When a member of the community is killed in a car accident that may or may not be an accident, suddenly everyone is a suspect. I spent the entire story flip-flopping between who I think did it, sometimes changing my mind mid-chapter. The greatest part of this novel, for me, was how easily the reader could follow the family down this disturbing, insular rabbit hole.

Emma in the Night

Two sisters disappear and three years later only one returns. She comes back with fantastical stories about a mysterious island and kidnapping, but the family psychiatrist is suspicious. Did Cass kidnap or kill her sister? Immediately, the reader realizes that something is not right with the Tanner family, specifically the mother. There is a thread of narcissism woven thoroughly throughout their lives and the dysfunction is uncomfortable and disturbing. I spent page after page wondering: Was it the mother? The father? Cass herself? What exactly happened that night at the beach? There is no way to guess the ending of Emma, but the reader will spend a fair amount of time trying!

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at KateMoretti.com or follow her on Twitter: @KateMoretti1 or Facebook: /KateMorettiWriter.

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13 Authors on Banning Books and Censorship

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

It’s Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the right to read. Launched in 1982, Banned Books Week was a response to an increase in the number of books being challenged by groups and individuals. Here, we’ve rounded up the perspectives of thirteen authors—from Roxane Gay to Kurt Vonnegut—on challenged books, book banning, and censorship.

“I don’t believe that books, even bad books, corrupt us. Instead, I believe books challenge and interrogate. They give us windows into the lives of others and give us mirrors so that we can better see ourselves. And ultimately, if you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.” —John Green“On the Banning of Looking for Alaska

“To the administrators I would say: Find your brain again. Stop lying, stop being hypocritical, and trust the young people. Read the book first and don’t just be shocked by one picture [from Persepolis]. Read it first, and then, if you really are shocked, don’t teach it. But I’m sure these people didn’t even read it. I would say to the children that I trust them—and I really trust that they will make a better world. I think they are very intelligent, and I really believe in young people.” —Marjane Satrapi, interview with SocialistWorker.org

“I have extensive experience with having my books challenged and banned. The thing is, when they ban or challenge a book, it instantly makes it prime reading material for that community. You want to guarantee every kid in a school reads the book? Ban it from a school. So I actually appreciate it. These folks would gladly have a nationwide effort to ban certain books. They would gladly control everything that anybody can read. So these small battles are fought so that they don’t gain power to fight that larger war of controlling all of literature, which is what they want to do.” —Sherman Alexie“Book Banning and Censorship”

“This morning I received an email that was, essentially a gesture of censorship. It was a message predicated on the assumption that I came here to corrupt young minds with an agenda. As I mulled it over I wondered how desperately fragile a faith must be if it cannot withstand critical engagement or diverse points of view. Generally at events like [university visits], I read a few essays and the audience and I have a fun, engaging conversation about social justice and popular culture. I do not consider it my responsibility to convert you to my way of thinking or to malign your way of thinking should we hold different points of view. Instead, it is my responsibility to encourage you to question, to think, critically about your beliefs and what they mean for this world we share and the people with whom we share this world. I offer, I hope, a small act of faith.” —Roxane Gay“Acts of Faith”

“People often ask me how I’d want to respond to those critics who would rather see my books pulled from shelves than handed to young readers. I do have an answer, and it boils down to the fact that not every book is right for every person. Some grown-ups are not amused by the kinds of things that make most children laugh, and so they try to stomp those things out.” —Dav Pilkey“What It’s Like to Top Banned Book Lists Around the World”

“Banning of books is a common practice in police states, like Cuba or North Korea, and by religious fundamentalist groups like the Taliban, but I did not expect it in our democracy. No student is forced to read [The House of the Spirits]. Teachers like to teach it because they believe it gives the students insights into Latin American literature, history, politics, social issues, and customs. They usually offer their students other options but most students choose the book, they enjoy it and often they write to me. Their comments prove that they have understood the story and they are curious to learn more. The novel seems to open their minds to other places and peoples in the world.” —Isabel Allendeletter to the North Carolina School Board

“Well, my first novel, The Kite Runner, has found itself as frequently appearing on the banned book list and frankly it’s something that’s always perplexed and puzzled me. I’m never quite sure what children are supposedly being protected from, because by now I have received thousands and thousands of letters from both middle school and high school students, children who read the book, either at home for themselves or in classrooms and I think, judging on the content of those letters, they’re far, far more sophisticated than we give them credit for. They get the context. They get the reasons why certain scenes are put in. They really understand that and they articulate that to me. I feel that, far more harmful to kids is so much of the pop culture that they’re exposed to through television, through the internet.”—Khaled Hosseinispeaking to the American Library Association

“[A] parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system… I hope the students of Knoxville will be able to continue to learn about Henrietta and the important lessons her story can teach them. Because my book is many things: It’s a story of race and medicine, bioethics, science illiteracy, the importance of education and equality and science and so much more. But it is not anything resembling pornography.” —Rebecca Skloot, on Banned Books Week

“[T]hey never learn. The inevitable result of trying to ban something—book, film, play, pop song, whatever—is that far more people want to get hold of it than would ever have done if it were left alone. Why don’t the censors realize this?” —Philip Pullmanon the futility and evil of banning books

“People died in the freedom struggle, and to think that having gained freedom at such a cost, it is now indeed threatened again. All writers are threatened by censorship, and censorship is the reality lurking behind the words ‘media tribunal.’ We are protesting against the institution of a media tribunal, which of course means ‘word police,’ not merely on our own behalf. Writing presupposes an interaction with readers. If the work and the freedom of the writer are in jeopardy, the freedom of every reader in South Africa is too. Our protest is an action undertaken by South Africans for all South Africans, committing ourselves to a demand for our free country: freedom of thought expressed, freedom of dialogue, freedom from fear of the truth about ourselves.” —Nadine Gordimer, interview with The Guardian

“Dear Mr. McCarthy… If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the [education] of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books—books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive. Again: You have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.” —Kurt Vonnegutletter to the North Dakota School Board

“As far as I can tell from the talk of the people who are against the books, they somehow think that if we don’t write about sex, it will disappear, it will go away. They talk about preserving their seventeen-year-old and eighteen-year-old children, protecting them. Well, biology doesn’t protect them. They don’t need to read books.” —Alice Munro, CBC interview

“Maybe what’s upsetting about [Truth & Beauty] is that it’s true, it really happened. So let’s make a pact today not to read any nonfiction that could be upsetting. If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades, all represent such staggering acts of human depravity and perversion that I could see the virtue of never looking at them at all.” —Ann Patchett“The Love Between the Two Women is Not Normal”

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Kendare Blake: “I Don’t Really Believe in Endings.”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

In Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series, three young queens are vying for the throne. The one to wear the crown will be the one willing to dirty her hands by killing her competition. The second installment, One Dark Throne, takes readers back to this dark world and follows each queen in her attempts to stay alive. Here, Blake shares the inspiration for her murderous storyline, her thoughts on endings, and where our favorite characters may go from here (if they survive).

Bookish: At its heart, this is a story of young women taking their power and agency back from a society that strives to control them. Can you share with us what drew you to this theme?

Kendare Blake: I’ve always enjoyed putting people in sticky situations and seeing how they deal with them. And I enjoy working with complicated women. But the premise of Three Dark Crowns was wholly inspired by a beehive: a matriarchal system where an exiting queen will bear multiple queens and those baby queens kill each other. So it was that brutal bit of nature that drew me to this story specifically!

Bookish: Katharine emerges from the Breccia Domain a changed queen. She starts to break free from Natalia’s plots, but she isn’t completely in control herself. What can readers expect from her in the next book?

KB: In One Dark Throne, expect for her to be almost completely changed, as far as her drive for the crown is concerned. Her physical weaknesses don’t seem to be bothering her anymore either. But the new strength comes at a price.

Bookish: Unlike her sisters, Mirabella spent her life believing she’d face no competition for the throne. But now, everything she thought she knew is slipping away, and she’s struggling to face a future where she may be killed. What were the challenges of writing a character who is experiencing that kind of realization?

KB: Ah, Mirabella, the most powerful and favored triplet. When I started writing, I didn’t think I would like her. She was so sheltered and, despite her love for her sisters, I thought she would react badly when confronted with the realities of her situation. She was the most difficult character to write, perhaps because she and I are the least alike in personality, but I thought she showed surprising spunk, and was open to learning and changing her mind in a way that the other sisters weren’t.

Bookish: With three protagonists each making decisions that impact and change the story, is your plotting process for this series different from the way you plot your other books?

KB: The setup is more complex, setting all the pieces on the board at the start of the game, if that makes sense, but I still don’t really plot. I let the characters go and see what happens. With this many conflicting interests, and this many forceful personalities, they’re bound to get into the dickens without much interference from me.

Bookish: You’ve said you were thinking about this story for a few years before writing it, and now it’s developed from a duology to a four-book series. Who or what has changed the most since that original conception?

KB: Actually, not much has changed, despite adding books and other content (novellas, bonus scenes, etc.). One Dark Throne still ends more or less where it always would have. Now I just get to write the after, when before it would have been left to the imagination. I’m glad to be able to spend more time on the island, and with many different queens, but part of me is melancholy about that. Knowing the end. Knowing the rest. I like unanswered questions, and I don’t really believe in endings. But, I suppose by the time I reach the close of the fourth book, enough questions will have spun out from new conflicts to be able to leave some things unknown.

Bookish: This series is set in a matriarchal society. Did you research similar societies for inspiration or was your focus instead on subverting patriarchal norms?

KB: The only real inspiration was the beehive. It was fun to write the boys who come to the island from patriarchal cultures and watch them try to acclimate. And it was interesting to watch myself make mistakes, like giving characters the wrong last names (the last name should follow the mother’s line) or the wrong inheritances (daughters inherit first).

Bookish: Both titles follow a pattern of Number Dark Object (Three Dark CrownsOne Dark Throne). What’s your process for coming up with titles? Can readers expect them to follow the current pattern?

KB: Ha, you noticed! Yes, we’re sticking with the pattern. It might irritate some people that we’re not going in order—one, two, three—and I’m pretty sure there won’t be a title with the number four in it. So for the folks who like things just so with their numbers, I’m very sorry!

Titles usually show up fully formed for me. If the book is ready to be written (meaning I’ve tossed it around in my head for a few years), it has usually titled itself. Anna Dressed in Blood was one of the first titles that came to mind. It named the ghost and was wholly the title from day one. Three Dark Crowns was originally titled Three Black Witches, but then I wrote the book and they were more queens than witches. Witches is a mainland word in their world, a foreign word.

Bookish: Which character’s journey are you most excited to explore in future books?

KB: I’m excited to continue on with the relationships between the characters. I want to see how they change within their new situations. But I don’t want to name names… because then readers will know they live!

Bookish: Which scene are you most excited to see readers’ reactions to?

KB: The whole thing, really! Those last hundred pages or so the ropes tighten and the bodies start to drop. I just hope they enjoy it. I hope the queens take them for a ride.

Kendare Blake holds an MA in creative writing from Middlesex University in northern London. She is the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, a Cybils Awards finalist; Girl of NightmaresAntigoddessMortal GodsUngodly; and the New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns series. Her books have been translated into eighteen languages, have been featured on multiple best-of-year lists, and have received many regional and librarian awards. Kendare lives and writes in Kent, Washington. Visit her online at www.kendareblake.com.

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Jennifer Mathieu on Feminism, Moxie, and Fighting Back

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Picking a favorite book can be tough for any reader, but we can’t deny that Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie is high on our list. This young adult novel takes readers to an average high school where a quiet girl named Vivian decides that she’s done putting up with sexist behavior. Inspired by her mom’s punk rock zines from the 90s, Viv decides to start a feminist movement, encouraging other girls to join together, stand up, and fight back. Here, Mathieu talks about young feminists today, the importance of intersectionality, and why this book is a love letter to her students.

Bookish: You dedicate this book to teens and women fighting for equality, but also to a teacher who called you a “feminazi.” How, at a young age, did you find the strength to turn an insult like that into an empowering desire to learn more about feminism?

Jennifer Mathieu: I’m not really sure! At the time that teacher insulted me, I knew that it hurt inside and was deeply humiliating. However, in my gut I also knew that the teacher was wrong. I hadn’t explicitly started calling myself a feminist yet, but again, I knew the teacher was not correct in using that term and I knew he wasn’t correct in taking sexist stances in class, which he did so often. It was a challenging experience and at the time I didn’t speak out against him like I now wish I would have. With hindsight, I can see how transformative this experience was for me because it was one of the first times I felt like I was being ridiculed for holding beliefs I knew were good and true.

Bookish: What does having moxie mean to you?

JM: To me having moxie means having guts and gumption. It means speaking your mind, speaking truth to power, and resisting in ways big and small.

Bookish: It’s easy to be caught off guard when something demeaning or sexist happens to you. Through Viv and her friends, you’ve offered readers a script of sorts: things to say or do in those situations. Was that something you were conscious of when you were writing?

JM: I think so, yes. I’ve always shied away from writing for teenagers with any sort of preachy tone because teenagers can see right through that sort of thing. That said, I think Moxie is the closest I’ve ever come to writing a book that I hope teenagers, especially teenage girls, can use as a touchstone or guide as they navigate the world around them. They may not necessarily mimic exactly what Vivian and her friends do, but they might just be inspired by them and come up with their own ways of reacting when confronted with sexism.

Bookish: The book opens with quotes from real teenage girls. How have your experiences as a high school teacher helped to shape the world of this novel?

JM: My female students inspire me every single day. I have been co-sponsor of the feminist clubs at the schools I’ve worked at, and it’s so wonderful to be able to watch young women (and men!) discover gender equality and to fight for it! Young feminists today have a much more intersectional view of the world, and they’re so convinced of their ability to change the world for the better. I love it! At the same time, so much of the garbage that I faced as a teenage girl still exists in high schools today. As a teacher I call it out when I see it, but so much of it goes on when I’m not looking. Writing Moxie felt like a love letter and a thank you letter to my students sort of wrapped into one.

Bookish: Some of the sexism in the book is so extreme (school dress codes, the bump-n-grab) that it feels out of a dystopian novel. But as readers we know that these are real things happening in real schools to real girls. What was it like writing those scenes?

JM: Honestly, I have regular moments of feeling like we live in some dystopian world given everything that happens to women and girls in this country and this world! As for what happens to Vivian and her friends, everything that happens in Moxie I’ve either experienced or witnessed, so I knew I wasn’t making it fantastical and I knew girls and women would relate. Writing it was so validating, though, because I gave these girls the tools to confront their situations and they confronted them and won. That doesn’t always happen in real life, unfortunately.

Bookish: You include a number of well-meaning characters who don’t “get” the movement at first—from a best friend who is disinclined to use the word feminist to a boyfriend whose mantra is “not all guys are like that.” Why was it important for you to feature characters like these?

JM: When I got to college and really heard the word “feminist” and what it meant I jumped in with both feet. I was an immediate believer because I quickly made connections between my lived experience and what the feminist movement was fighting for. I felt like I’d met my tribe. But I also know that for a lot of women and girls the word feminist has a negative connotation, mostly due to how it’s represented in popular culture or because of things they hear from their families. I wanted those girls to feel like they had a place in Moxie, too, and it’s my hope that even if at the end of the book they don’t necessarily feel comfortable embracing “the f word,” they do feel comfortable fighting for their rights.

As for the character of Seth, I wanted to create a believable guy who means well but doesn’t always get it, because so many men and guys I’ve encountered over the years think and act like Seth. Really decent guys who mean well but are still learning and who can benefit from feminism, too. I just wanted a variety of entry points into Moxie. I wanted this book to have as broad of an appeal as possible because I believe in its message so much.

Bookish: Viv often feels empowered and energized when she’s making the Moxiezines. What were you feeling as you created them, and this book?

JM: I felt like I was traveling back in time. In the late 90s and early 00s I made a zine about my life called Jennifer (I’ve never been so hot when it comes to titles, obviously) and it was such a fun, creative outlet for me. I used to put on music and make my zine that was full of silly stories and cartoons about my life in my early 20s. It was just a joyful time of self-expression. I felt that again when I was creating Moxie, but there was an additional layer of excitement because I knew more readers would be able to connect with these zines than they ever did with my Jennifer zine. (And I think that’s a good thing!) Overall, writing this book was such a joyful experience. I put on Bikini Kill and started typing. It was so much fun.

Bookish: Viv is a truly relatable protagonist for this story because she experiences a lot of fear. She’s afraid to be seen, heard, judged. She’s angry but often silent. What message do you most hope she brings to girls like her, who want to stand up but maybe don’t know how or are afraid of what will happen if they do?

JM: I was a lot like Viv when I was in high school. I spoke up a bit more, but I was more Viv than Lucy. I was also terrified of what other people thought of me and was super anxious to fit in. In many ways, writing Vivian’s story was a bit of wish fulfillment for me. I was getting the chance to rewrite my past with what I know now. There are so many times, looking back, that I wish I’d stood up and spoken my mind when I was in my teens. It’s my hope that Vivian inspires some girls to not be afraid to speak up for themselves.

Bookish: You cover a lot of feminist territory in the book, from its history to its intersectionality problems to its modern connotations. Which aspect of it was the most challenging to write about?

JM: I would say my top concern was making sure I made the book as intersectional as possible. The feminist movement has often struggled to include and amplify voices beyond those belonging to white, straight, middle class women. The Riot Grrrl movement was more progressive in terms of its inclusion of queer women, but it was still a primarily white movement. I have zero interest supporting white feminism or a feminist movement that erases and ignores voices of women of color, queer women, trans women, women with disabilities, and other women from marginalized groups. So I knew I wanted to address intersectionality in a very explicit way within certain scenes and with certain characters. At the same time, I didn’t want the book to feel like an after school special with “the gay girl” and “the black girl”—just these perfunctory stand-ins for bigger groups. I was determined to write a book that painted feminism as a big tent, and I want young women to be able to talk about this aspect of the feminist movement with openness. There’s so much work to be done in this area and it’s my hope that Moxie sparks some important conversations. Hopefully I pulled it all off in a way that felt believable even though I know no writer is perfect and I’m super open to feedback.

Something I’m really excited about is the Moxie Tumblr. It’s being run by a former student of mine, a Latina who understands the importance of intersectionality and who is embracing it so beautifully on our amazing Tumblr. You can check out her original art and other awesomeness at moxiegirlsfightback.com.

Bookish: Moxie was already written at the time of the January 21st Women’s March, but there are some clear parallels between the march and one particular scene in the book. Looking back on that scene, did you feel the connection between it and the march?

JM: There is a scene in Moxie that parallels the march, yes, and I’d written it before the march took place. When I marched in January I thought about Vivian and her friends, about all the Moxie Girls, and I knew if they existed for real they would absolutely be marching with me. In my heart, they were.

Jennifer Mathieu started writing stories when she was in kindergarten and now teaches English to high school students. She won the Teen Choice Debut Author Award at the Children’s Choice Book Awards for her first novel, The Truth About Alice. She is also the author of Devoted and Afterward. She lives in Texas with her husband, son, and dog.

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Essential Graphic Novels to Read on Batman Day 2017

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Batman Day is back! But the twist? Harley Quinn is taking over. In honor of Harley Quinn’s 25th anniversary, Batman Day (September 23) will also feature the immensely popular Clown Princess of Crime, who burst into our lives when she debuted in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and is now a mainstay in comics, movies, TV shows, and video games. But let’s get to the important question: What should we all be reading on Batman Day this year? Well, look no further. We asked our friends at DC Comics to recommend some quintessential Caped Crusader reads and they delivered.

Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race

It’s Frank Miller. It’s Batman. It’s the next chapter in the Dark Knight Returns saga. What more do you need to know? Well, how about that it’s co-written by master scribe Brian Azzarello? Or illustrated by legends Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson? A new war is beginning. An army of Kryptonian madmen is preparing to claim Earth. Batman has to save the world. Or die trying. Again. On Batman Day, this is the book you have to read.

Harley Quinn: A Celebration of 25 Years

For the last 25 years, from TV to film to comics and back again, Harley has been one of DC’s most popular characters. And now, to celebrate her 25th anniversary, she’s taking over Batman Day! But where to start? How about here with this anthology graphic novel, Harley Quinn: A Celebration of 25 Years, with stories by some of the best creators in the industry, like Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Jim Lee, and more. It’s one of our essential reads on September 23.

Batman Vol. 3: I Am Bane

This shouldn’t surprise you much—Batman by Tom King is one of the best comics on the stands today. And this volume may just be the apex of the series thus far. The Dark Knight’s intellectual equal and physical superior, Bane, has returned to Gotham City for a single purpose: to break the Batman once and for all. But first he’ll destroy everyone the Dark Knight has ever loved… or loathed.

Batman: Year One

You want an essential read on Batman Day? What about one that’s essential everyday? Look no further than Batman: Year One Deluxe Edition, the classic tale of the Dark Knight’s first year in Gotham City. This new edition of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s seminal story now features more than 40 pages of behind-the-scenes material, including the complete script and pencil breakdowns. It’s a dream come true for collectors and a great way to begin for new fans.

Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Die Laughing

You’ve seen a couple movies and a few TV shows, so you think you know Harley Quinn? Think again. The truth is that the best Harley stories today are being told in comics form from a creative team that’s mastered the art of crazy in Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Die Laughing. In these action-packed pages, the powerhouse team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti joins forces with artists John Timms and Chad Hardin to draft a new beginning for DC’s craziest antihero.

Blake Kobashigawa is the Trade Marketing & Sales Manager for DC Comics. He has been with DC Comics for six years, working in the Digital Trade and Book Trade spaces. He reads comic books in his work time, spare time, and any time in between.

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