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Delilah Dawson talks Kill the Farm Boy, writing with Kevin Hearne, and fairytale tropes

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018. We caught up with Delilah Dawson for a quick chat about Kill the Farm Boy, fantasy tropes, Spam Musubi, and drinking with Kevin Hearne.       Keith Rice: you have Kill the Farm Boy out now, and No Country for Old Gnomes is coming out next year? Delilah Dawson:  Yeah – – KR:  So, what can you tell us about The Tales of Pell. DD:  Tales of Pell are like if The Princess Bride got in a car crash with Discworld.  It’s all about flipping fantasy tropes in a loving way, playing with the tropes of Dungeons and Dragons and what happens when a group of heroes gets together.  Kevin Hearne and I came up with the idea at an airport barbecue restaurant in Houston.  He wanted to do an anthology and I was there for it, and then we realized that took a lot of math and author herding.  We’re like, what if we just wrote the book together? Then you each only have to write half a book, which is a really good deal for us.  It’s all about playing with fantasy tropes. There’s a dark lord but his only magic is that he can make bread in various kinds of crusty goodness.  There is a fighter in a chainmail bikini because her real armor is on hold for layaway, which is why she needs the money. There is a bard who is also kind of a bunny rabbit, and the hero turns out to be a goat, because guess what happened to the farm boy? KR:  What was it like writing something like Phasma, and then moving on to this kind of farcical fantasy? DD:  It was refreshing. Phasma, we call it the “Mad Max” of Star Wars.  It’s kind of unrelenting, violent, soul-crushing, it is a sharp book.  And then you move into the Tales of Pell, which is all light-hearted, fun, jokey, a couple of fart jokes. So, it was very freeing, and in troubled times it was really nice to come home and get an email and it’s this hilarious chapter from Kevin Hearne who is really funny.  And it’s all about being lighthearted and loving, and the good guys win.  It was really nice. You know, you come back from a big fight and it’s like that refreshing sip of ale. KR:  After writing Phasma are there any other Star Wars characters you’d like a crack at?  DD:  The great thing about the current Del Rey Star Wars editing team is that they seem really great at matching authors to the characters, the stories that a given author would really be great at telling.  So, I feel like anything they ask me to do, it would be because they thought I would be the best person to write that particular story. I would be totally down for it.  Phasma is great.  Violent women are kind of my modus operandi.  And, you know, same with Bezine Netal in The Perfect Weapon.  The original pitch for that was female James Bond in space.  I was totally there for it. So, yeah, I would love anything that was offered me. You know, I really want to know what happens to Cardinal and to Phasma.  Although I know what happened to Phasma, but we don’t know about “Episode 9.” Cardinal and Bezine Netal are kind of my babies and I want to make sur that their okay.  And if they’re not ok, I want to make sure that they go out with guns a-blazing. KR:  How was the experience co-writing with Kevin Hearne? DD:  It’s like going to the bar with your best friend and laughing your butt off.  Those stories, we did the outlining and story-breaking when we were at a Con together.  We would just go bar-hopping.  No Country for Old Gnomes, that was on Frenchman Street in New Orleans, we’d go into one bar, get a drink, listen to the music, look at the art on the walls and different things would make its way into the book.  And then for The Princess Beard, we were in Seattle and I had never had Spam Musubi, and I was like, “Kevin, we have to go get Spam Musubi.”  We ended up with these two foot-tall hurricanes.  And we’re like, “Oh, and it’s a book that’s got some piracy in it!” So, it was very fitting.  So, just a little bit of, “Oh, buddy, you know what would be fun, ooh, yeah that’s a really good idea, let’s do that.” [Laughs]  We giggle a lot. KR:  What was the inspiration for Kill the Farm Boy DD:  Kevin [Hearne] came up with it, it was his idea for an anthology and I said we should make it into just a book we write together.  I think the actual inspiration was just the trope of, kind of, every fantasy novel ever – a poor white boy from nowhere special suddenly discovers he’s the chosen one with secret powers and is the scion of a generation. We were, like, “Oh, my God, stop.”  Like, we love “Star Wars”, but Luke was pretty whiny at the beginning. Let’s accept it and he could’ve died at any moment. So, we were like, well what if we start off with a farm boy anointed as the chosen one and then he kicks it?  Who picks up and carries the torch of that quest?  How do the people come together to do the right thing?  It was all about lovingly playing with the Dungeons and Dragons sort of dungeon party trope, to tell a more current story that is feminist, that is LGBTQ inclusive, that is diverse, it’s not all just a bunch of white awesome people.  We just really wanted to tell a more kind of fairytale fantasy. KR:  You write Lady Castle and Sparrowhawk for Boom.  DD:  Yeah, pretty much anything that’s a portmanteau or two words thrown together, I will write. KR:  What’s your process like writing comics versus writing fiction?  DD:  100% different.  When I write a book, I mean, granted, properties like Star Wars are very different – you work with committee of people, there are outlines involved – but writing a book for me at home is just, I do what I want, and then I turn it in, and an editor helps make it better. With comics, the idea in the pitch has to be something that would lend itself to a very visual story, and you have to describe the world-building.  You also have to think about length and pacing in a different way. A comic is usually 22 pages, and the ones I’ve written have been four or five-issue arcs, so each issue has to have its own small story that has an ending and then they all have to contribute to the overall arc.  It takes a little bit more advanced planning.  There’s also this wonderful surprise of, you write your pages, you edit them, you get them right, and then one day art just falls in your lap and your like, “Oh my God, this is the thing that I dreamed up except better.”  Because the artists are the heroes of comics.  They do all the heavy lifting.  All mad props to them.  They take our ideas and our words and just make them gorgeous.  You don’t really get that with novels.  You get to see one cover that you might or might not like, but in comics you’re usually involved in the art, and it shows up and it’s like seeing your dreams made real. KR:  Okay, so, if you could pick three books to recommend for fans of Kill the Farm Boy what would they be? DD:  Books for fans of Kill the Farm Boy?  Wow, hmmm, it’s more like, “if you like this book, then you would like Kill the Farm Boy.” KR:  Let’s go with that. DD:  So, Good Omens, Discworld, The Princes Bride. If you liked my Lady Castle stuff, if you like Monty Python. All that sort of stuff would lead you into Kill the Farm Boy.  But, I haven’t really read anything as kind of silly and playful as it in a long time. Check out Delilah Dawson’s Kill the Farm Boy Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

20 PRH Books Longlisted for 2019 Carnegie Medals for Excellence

The 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Longlist has been announced and includes 20 books published by Penguin Random House imprints.   Established by the American Library Association in 2012, the Carnegie Medals for Excellence serve as an ALA guide to help adults select quality reading material. Our longlisted nonfiction titles: Our longlisted fiction titles: View the complete longlist here. The 2019 Carnegie Medals for Excellence six-title shortlist—three each for the fiction and nonfiction medals—will be announced on October 24. The two medal winners will be revealed at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards (BMAs) event at American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Seattle on January 27, 2019.

Staff Picks: Haley

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below! Haley, Consumer Marketing Haley is a marketer with the heart of a nerd, writing and running the social media accounts for Unbound Worlds, Penguin Random House’s sci-fi and fantasy site. When not at work, she’s off traipsing through imaginary worlds and trying to find room for her ever-growing book collection.

Priest of Bones Author Peter McLean Picks His Five Favorite Fantasy Debuts

This article was written by Peter McLean and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. Priest of Bones isn’t my first novel–it’s actually my fourth–but it is my first real fantasy book. In changing genres from contemporary crime fantasy to proper “swords and horses” fantasy, I’m reaching a whole new audience, and I now feel like a debut author all over again, with all the excitement and nerves that brings with it. With that in mind, I’d like to celebrate four of my favorite fantasy debuts from the last couple of years, and a forthcoming book for you to look forward to as well. All of these great debuts have been enormous successes and now have equally excellent sequels available, too. I’m a great believer in supporting debut authors, and let’s just hope some of their success will rub off on me too! The four books below are from 2017, and I’ve also included a new book which is going to come out in February 2019. With this one I had the pleasure and privilege of reading an advance copy, which is one of the great perks of being an author. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite “fellow” debuts:
The cover of the book Blackwing

Blackwing

ED MCDONALD

Welcome to the Misery, a blasted land that resulted from the fallout of a magical super-weapon built by a living god who has since disappeared. Here walks Captain Galharrow of Blackwing, bounty hunter and secret agent of a living god. Facing traitors, flesh-eating monsters, reluctant heroes and willing villains, Galharrow and his band of cut-throats must save the Republic from the horror of the Deep Kings and their endless army of the dead. McDonald throws you straight into the action, and some of his creations are really quite disturbing. The pace is fast, the fight scenes extremely realistic and the dialogue sharp and often witty. This is a book with heart, that despite its violence is really about the power of love and friendship. It’s not grimdark, it’s grimheart. The sequel, Ravencry, is, if anything, even better! I’m avidly looking forward to Crowfall, the final book in the Raven’s Mark trilogy, which is scheduled for release in June 2019. The cover of the book The Court of Broken Knives

The Court of Broken Knives

ANNA SMITH SPARK

The Empires of Dust lie dreaming, but their dream is about to become a nightmare as Marith, disowned prince-turned-mercenary, sets events in motion that will unleash a storm of war across an entire continent.

This is a truly extraordinary book, literary in a way that almost demands that it be read out loud. Some people’s prose is poetic, but Smith Spark’s is positively operatic. This is a bleak and bloody story of lust and addiction, regicide and madness, that feels partly like a Greek tragedy and partly like a black metal opera. I have honestly never read a grimdark fantasy quite like this before.

The Tower of Living and Dying, the second in the Empires of Dust trilogy is equally magnificent in its mythological tone.

The cover of the book Kings of the Wyld

Kings of the Wyld

NICHOLAS EAMES

This was a really fun read, with a great story driven by Eames’s very particular brand of humor. It’s like what you might end up with if Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett sat down to write a book together while listening to Spinal Tap and early Black Sabbath on endless repeat.

The humor is absolutely on point, mixing classic rock analogies with gentle pokes at the fantasy genre in general, and yet this is far more than just a funny book. There’s a really engaging story here, and moments of surprising tenderness.

The sequel, Bloody Rose, is on my to-read list.

The cover of the book Godblind

Godblind

ANNA STEPHENS

The Red Gods are rising, and no one is safe. Godblind is among the grimmest of grimdark fantasy, written in a style reminiscent of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones. The growing sense of despair as the story progresses and everything goes from bad to worse to oh-so-much worse is almost stifling in its intensity. One character in particular is dragged bodily across one of the most brutal character arcs I think I’ve ever read, and it’s extremely well done. And then there’s THAT scene, the one with the hammer…

Dark and bleak yet utterly compelling, this may not be a book for the squeamish but it’s definitely a thrill-ride for all grimdark fans.

The sequel, Darksoul, has just been released.

The cover of the book Gates of Stone

Gates of Stone

ANGUS MACALLAN

This is the one that is forthcoming, and you have a treat in store here!

A ferocious emperor’s daughter who will not be denied her birthright, an indolent prince forced to take a stand for the first time in his life, and an ancient and terrifying sorcerer with the power to destroy the world all collide in the lush, tropical islands of a fantasy world reminiscent of ancient Indonesia.

With its tense political drama and rip-roaring action on both land and on the high seas of a fresh and believable Asian-inspired setting, Gates of Stone reads like a collaboration between Joe Abercrombie and James Clavell.

Add feuding sorcerers and a queen who would eat Cersei Lannister for breakfast, and you have a truly fantastic fantasy debut. Angus Macallan is a compelling new voice in epic fantasy, and this is definitely a book to pre-order right now.



Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Edugyan, Robertson Man Booker Finalists

WASHINGTON BLACK, a novel by Esi Edugyan, published by Knopf and Random House Audio, and THE LONG TAKE by Robin Robertson, which Knopf will publish in January in the U.S., have been selected by the judges as two of six semi-finalists for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Among the most coveted international prizes awarded annually for literary fiction, the nominees were chosen from titles published in the UK between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018. The winner will be announced the evening of Tuesday, October 16. Congratulations to all our longlisted and shortlisted authors and their publishers. Click here for the complete list of Man Booker Finalists.

A Visitor’s Guide to Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell

This article was written by Matt Staggs and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. Divine Comedy author Dante Alighieri died on this day in 1321. In honor of the great poet’s life, we offer this short guide to the nine circles of Hell, as described in Dante’s Inferno. First Circle: Limbo The first circle is home to the unbaptized and virtuous pagans. It’s not Heaven, but as far as Hell goes, it isn’t too bad: It’s the retirement community of the afterlife. Hippocrates and Aristotle will be your neighbors, so any attempt at small talk will probably turn into Big Talk in a hurry. You’ll have television, but all of the channels will be set to CSPAN. Second Circle: Lust The wind-buffeted second circle of Hell is the final destination of the lustful and adulterous — basically anyone controlled by their hormones. Cleopatra and Helen of Troy were among its most famous residents during Dante’s day, but you can expect this place to be full of angsty teenagers and reality television stars by the time you arrive. Third Circle: Gluttony Today’s forecast calls for plenty of icy rain and slush — a “wintery mix” for all eternity. You know those people whose Instagram feeds are full of carefully lit photos of artfully arranged entrees? You’ll probably find them here, plus anyone whose response is “I’m kind of a foodie” when asked where they’d like to go eat. Fourth Circle: Greed This section of Hell is reserved for the money-grubbers and overly materialistic among us. According to Dante, those condemned to the fourth circle spend eternity fighting over money and valuables, so be prepared to meet all of your distant cousins who show up out of nowhere with empty U-Haul trucks moments the moment after a well-to-do great aunt or uncle dies. Fifth Circle: Anger Dante tells us that the wrathful and angry souls of this circle spend eternity waging battle on the River of Styx. If playing pirates forever sounds like your idea of a good time, then the fifth circle can’t be too bad. Be prepared to hoist the Jolly Roger and go to war against that one guy in line who yelled at your favorite barista, and the road rage-possessed driver who very nearly rear-ended you last week. Sixth Circle: Heresy Dante wrote that heretics spent eternity entombed in flaming crypts in the sixth circle, but heresy is kind of an obscure sin in modern times. There’s probably plenty of vacancies now, so let’s fill this one with anyone who goes bananas whenever “their” movie franchise or comic book changes in a way they don’t like. The air in the sixth circle is probably choked with ashes and anguished cries of “[X] ruined my childhood!” Seventh Circle: Violence I’ll be honest with you, dear reader: Dante was being kind of a dick when it came to designing this level. It is composed of three rings. The outer ring is filled with blood and fire and reserved for murderers and thugs. That’s fine, but it gets sketchier from here. The middle ring is where, according to Dante, suicide victims go. They’re transformed into trees and fed upon by harpies (which I guess are somehow related to termites?). The inner ring, a place of burning sand, is reserved for “blasphemers” and “sodomites.” Like I said, Dante was a bit of a dick. How about we ret-con this one (Sorry, residents of the sixth circle…) and reserve it for the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church? If that makes me kind of a dick, well, I’ll live with that. Eighth Circle: Fraud The eighth circle is subdivided into ten trenches. We won’t get into the specifics of who goes where (Too bad, Dante. That’s what you get for making me write abut the seventh circle) but here you’ll find con artists of all sorts. Dante described ditches, but I prefer to think of the eight circle as being a giant cubicle farm full of phone and internet fraudsters. Welcome, so-called Nigerian princes and supposed “IRS agents” who insist on being paid in iTunes cards. Ninth Circle: Treachery The final circle is a frozen wasteland occupied by history’s greatest traitors. So … Washington, DC in February?
Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Congratulations to our 2018 National Book Award Semi-Finalists

Congratulations to our Penguin Random House authors who have been chosen by the respective five category judges as “longlisted” semi-finalists for the 2018 National Book Awards. Wednesday, October 10: The “shortlist” of five finalists per category will be announced. Wednesday, November 15: The five winners will be revealed at the annual National Book Awards dinner. See below for our semi-finalists in each category.

 

Fiction

 

Nonfiction

 

Poetry

 

Translated Literature

 

Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

 

How to Write Short Stories (Hint: It’s Not That Simple)

This article was written by Laura Furman and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

As the series editor who chooses the stories in the annual O. Henry Prize Stories, I read hundreds of short stories every year. I also have the benefit and pleasure of asking each year’s twenty winners to write a short piece about how and why they wrote their stories. Along with my own experience as a short story writer, I’m in a good position to ponder a question often posed by aspiring writers: What are the essential elements of a good short story?

As I set out to answer that question, however, I found myself instead enumerating what is not essential. The first thing you should set aside is any explicit or guiding notion of what your story is “about.” Readers often ask writers what their stories mean, but if the writer has a ready answer, that is a problem. A good writer knows where and when the first hint of a story appeared, and how she wrote it. She knows what the process was from draft to finish – but a story’s “meaning” is often as much a mystery to writer as to reader, and that’s as it should be. Writing a short story is an intuitive activity driven by the writer’s wonderful subconscious and it’s as far from meaning as dreaming is from being awake. Conscious logical planning will get you from Point A to Point B in the shortest time but the subconscious excels at fortuitous invention. A writer must learn to trust the startling images and characters that come up in the course of composition. Her subconscious, if she trusts it, will guide her through the beginning, background, and development to the ending, which is often the most difficult part to write, and to understand. The next most important thing is grasping the particular demands of this form. In bringing to life the world of a short story, it is crucial to know what to leave out. Despite some superficial resemblance to the novel, the short story differs from it in important ways; a story must draw the reader in without attempting to imitate the enveloping completeness or epic sweep of a novel. A short story also isn’t a song or a poem, forms that express their world of meaning through extreme compression and abstraction. Some very terse stories do resemble a poem or song, for example Michael Parker’s “Stop ‘n’ Go” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018. Whatever its length, though, and however elaborate or simple its language, the short story is rooted in its own unique deployment of quotidian details, which must feel real and convincing. In all stories, even the most starkly written, the story’s world must be recognizable, however eccentric or fantastical or hyper-realistic it may be. Characters sit on uncomfortable chairs or walk on graveled paths, and the reader must be able to sit on those chairs and walk on those paths. Frequent O. Henry winner William Trevor’s conflicted Irish and English characters feel as real and important to the fond reader as her own friends. The main character in Jo Ann Beard’s “The Tomb of Wrestling,” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, confronts an intruder who means her harm, and the reader is as terrified as she is. The thousands of decisions a writer makes in editing a story boil down to trusting the reader to make connections. That trust dominates the writer’s decisions as she moves from draft to draft and decides what the reader needs in order to understand plot, sequence, setting, and character – without spelling out those elements. Explaining is unnecessary when the story is right; in fact, too much explanation feels to the attentive reader like an annoying interruption, a breaking of the spell. Never underestimate your reader’s intelligence. At a magical point, the writer’s subconscious inventions connect with the reader’s intelligence and emotions, and the reader understands why the story ends where it does; how the ending is an illuminated version of the beginning; that the story’s secret has been revealed without words. The trust that has guided the writer to get rid of all but the right details has paid off and the reader has everything she needs to make the story’s meaning her own. Photo by Da Kraplak on Unsplash
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