Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during World War I, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923. YA author Dana Walrath is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide—which, as she writes in a guest blog post below, is "a genocide that continues through denial." Her powerful novel-in-verse, Like Water on Stone (2014), uses alternating voices to tell of three siblings’ flight from these atrocities. To commemorate this anniversary, Walrath draws us into her research and heritage, and offers more reading suggestions for those who wish to bring this bit of history to the surface.
Place is always a character in a novel: It has a look, a history, a fragrance, distinct sounds. Places carry the memories and beliefs of their inhabitants. In Like Water on Stone, my verse novel about genocide and survival, the reader gets to know one of the world’s oldest places: Armenia.
I am the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, a genocide that continues through denial, and so turns 100 this year. Growing up in New York, I never knew my Armenian mother’s parents, their language or the land that they called home. As a kid I once asked my mother about the childhood of her mother, Oghidar Troshagirian. I got the bare bones: Oghidar’s parents ran a mill in Palu; after her parents were killed she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night to an orphanage in Aleppo. Like Water on Stone put flesh on those bones, adding in a guardian spirit—an eagle—who protects the young ones on their journey. I wrote this story to find my grandmother, to find the Armenia in me.
In 1977, I traveled to Soviet Armenia with my parents and younger sister. There we met our cousins, descendants of Oghidar’s older brother, living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though by look and manner I seemed the average American, this trip woke up the Armenia in me.
In 1984, I traveled to the land where my grandparents were born, where 2 million other Armenians lived before the genocide—Eastern Turkey. Finding Palu, along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River, I traced my way to a mill. I did not know that this mill would eventually become the setting for Like Water on Stone. It took a dissertation’s worth of words in anthropology, complete with a social theory of genocide and its consequences, for me to start discovering the storyteller in me.
I returned to Armenia in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar working on the anthropology of aging. My fieldwork gave me a score of grandparents who cheered for me when Random House acquired Like Water on Stone. Their stories, the meals we shared, the songs we sang and danced all found their place in the book.
This spring I’ve returned again to Armenia for the premiere of an animation of Like Water on Stone, created by a team of young people at Yerevan’s Tumo Center under the direction of my cousin Shushanik Droshakiryan, Oghidar’s great-grand-niece. I’m grateful to know my story will reach so many young people via this film.
I am also deeply grateful for my writer “cousins,” fellow Armenian Americans who also strive to reckon Armenia’s place in history, to tally the complexity and resilience of genocide survivors:
Dana Walrath in eastern Turkey, 1984
Eastern Turkey, 1984
Images from raw drawings that will be included in the animated film based on Like Water on Stone, created by two teen students at the Tumo center in Armenia.
Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. Like Water on Stone is her first book for young readers. She lives in Vermont. For more information, visit her website: danawalrath.com
British noir author Ted Lewis (1940-1982) is best known for his 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home, later renamed Carter and then adapted to film by Mike Hodges as Get Carter, starring Michael Caine. Lewis' nine crime novels were brutal, unflinching in their depiction of the British underworld and set a new standard for hardboiled British thrillers. His final novel, GBH, is now available in North America for the first time. It tells the story of George Fowler from two periods of time: the first in George's past, when he reigned over a hardcore porn empire; the second in the present, when George is in hiding in a small English seaside town for some mysterious reason.
At the time of GBH's original publication in 1980, Lewis' literary career was plummeting, so it's not surprising that his final novel would go overlooked by many readers. But GBH is often considered to be Lewis' masterpiece, even better than his famous Jack's Return Home.
Consider a man like me and love. A butcher loves. He slits an animal's throat and dismembers it and washes the blood from his skin and goes home and goes to bed with his wife and makes her cry out in passion. The man who made it necessary to rebuild Hiroshima loved and was loved back, and I don't necessarily mean the pilot or the man who activated the bomb doors. Whoever left the bomb at the Abercorn rooms would comfort his child if it came into the house with a grazed knee. Everyone loves. Everyone considers things, considers themselves. And I considered why it came to be that Jean should be the one, as opposed to anyone else. And like everyone else, I could compile a list of things that added up to my obsession, and as with everyone else, it just remained a list; the final total defied the simple process of addition.
Her husband couldn't have timed his return from California any better. A couple of days after we'd made love for the first time. For a week I didn't see her; I waited for her to get in touch with me. When she did, she suggested we have lunch together; it was going to be one of those meetings.
What are you reading?
Nancy Atherton didn't intend to start a mystery series when she wrote her first book, Aunt Dimity's Death, and she certainly didn't intend to forever change cozy mysteries by creating the original paranormal detective. But she did! And with the publication of Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Atherton marks the 20th book in her beloved series.
Twenty books? I’ve written 20 books? Are you serious? I guess you are, because Aunt Dimity and the Summer King is indeed the 20th title in a mystery series I began writing more than 20 years ago.
Aunt Dimity has been around longer than Netflix, Google, Facebook and some of you. The fact that she’s still alive and kicking (so to speak) in a brand-new story is nothing short of miraculous. Not in a million years could I have predicted that my first book would lead to my 20th.
When I wrote my first book, Aunt Dimity's Death, I didn’t think it had a snowball’s chance of being published. At the time, there was no known market for a nonviolent, non-vulgar novel that was sort of a mystery and sort of a love story, with a supernatural element, some gardening, a bit of military history, a pink flannel bunny and a recipe thrown in because, what the heck, why not? The plot couldn’t be summarized in a simple catchphrase, and the story didn’t fit neatly into an established genre. It was a very strange little book—a marketing nightmare!—and I was absolutely convinced that it would remain forever in a box on a shelf in my closet, unseen by any eyes but mine.
And I was OK with that. I hadn’t written Aunt Dimity's Death in order to see my name in print. I wrote it because the first two lines of the story popped into my head one evening, and I simply had to find out what they meant. If there’s one trait I share with my characters, it’s a burning desire to get to the bottom of things.
I didn’t stop to write an outline, and it never occurred to me to do market research. I just hopped, skipped and jumped my way through the book like a kid on a treasure hunt. I never knew what would happen next, and I loved the excitement of not knowing. I wrote to please no one but my characters and myself, and when I finished the first draft, I knew for certain that it would never be read by anyone but me.
I’ve seldom been so happy to be wrong. To my utter astonishment, Aunt Dimity's Death found a great publisher as well as a loyal and highly enthusiastic family of fans. Best of all, it contained a snippet of dialogue that inspired me to write my second book. I hadn’t intended to write a series, but my characters insisted that I stick around to tell more of their tales, and I’m exceedingly glad they did. It has been a privilege to watch them grow and change over time. It has been a pleasure to share in their continuing adventures.
Not in a million years could I have foreseen the long and joyful journey that would spring from the opening lines of Aunt Dimity's Death. I never dreamed that my strange little book would lead to a series that’s still going strong two decades after its most unlikely birth. I hope you’ll join me in a toast to my 20th title. And I hope you enjoy Aunt Dimity and the Summer King. As for me, I'm off to work on number 21. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!
Nancy Atherton is the best-selling author of 20 Aunt Dimity mysteries, including the latest installment, Aunt Dimity and the Summer King (Viking; on sale April 14, 2015). The first book in the series, Aunt Dimity’s Death, was voted “One of the Century’s 100 Favorite Mysteries” by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Atherton lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Author photo credit Grey Taylor.
Fans of Elly Griffiths, author of the popular Ruth Galloway mystery series and winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award, will be delighted to hear she's kicking off a new series this September with HMH.
The first in the Magic Men Mystery series, The Zig Zag Girl follows Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens in 1950 Brighton as he attempts to track down a killer who seems to be mimicking a famous magic trick—the Zig Zag Girl, when the body of some lovely assistant is "cut" into pieces. To help solve the case, Stephens enlists the help of Max Mephisto, the inventor of the trick and an old war buddy. The two men served in a special ops troop called the Magic Men, which staged illusions to trick the enemy.
Perhaps what's most interesting about this series is Griffiths' personal connection to the story: She's the granddaughter of one of the members of the Magic Gang, the real group of camouflage experts that served in Egypt during WWII and famously made the Suez Canal "disappear."
Magic tricks, history and mystery? This sounds like one to look forward to on September 15.
With his National Book Award-winning YA novel, Godless, Pete Hautman explored themes of religion and spirituality through the story of a church that worshipped a water tower—the perfect blend of weighty, provovative themes and a humorous premise. His new novel, Eden West, touches on similiar topics, this time through the story of a teen boy who belongs to an insular, secluded cult, and what happens when the outside world begins to creep in on his protected world. In a guest blog post, Hautman shares his thoughts on readers' fascinations with cults.
Every few years some group of people who share an unconventional set of beliefs winds up in the news: The Branch Davidians. Heaven’s Gate. The Unification Church. Trekkies.* Because these groups are tiny and somewhat (ahem) peculiar, we call them “cults.”
This year, with the release of the HBO documentary Going Clear, the cult of the moment is Scientology—never mind that Scientology might not be a true “cult” (any more than it qualifies as a true religion). Our love of schadenfreude means that any excuse will do to put the sensational and pejorative word cult in a headline. (Did I just do that very thing? Yeah, I guess I did.)
But while the rest of us are congratulating ourselves for being comparatively normal, it’s easy to forget that these cults—or cult-like groups—are largely made up of smart, creative, well-intentioned individuals who are working hard to live good lives within a carefully constructed framework. The majority of cults don’t make the news. They are functional and largely invisible. And while most cults eventually self-destruct or wither away, a few groups with cultish origins—Christians, for example—have evolved to become accepted, mainstream religions.
Since nobody else was doing it, I wanted to write a story concerning a fictional cult that was functional—not your usual cults-are-evil-and-everybody-dies-in-the-end scenario. I wanted to write a love story.
Eden West started out that way. A boy growing up in an odd, insular cult compound in Montana meets a girl from the other side of the 13-mile-long chain-link fence. Inside the compound, several dozen hard-working people are raising their families and waiting peacefully for the end of the world. I wanted my fictional “Eden West” to be idyllic and entirely functional—a sort of backdrop to a more personal story, that of one boy who becomes tainted by contact with the outside world.
As often happens, things fell apart. My carefully laid plan to write a simple love story set against the backdrop of a utopian cult turned out not to be so simple. During the 12 years it took to write, Eden West became the story of a world within a world, a world colliding with itself. Unforeseen events lead the young man, Jacob, to an unexpected series of epiphanies, each of which chisels away at the foundations of his reality. My little utopia imploded, my characters were swept into the resulting vortex, and the story went to places I had never intended to visit.
I learned a lot, and it turns out there’s a good reason why most cults separate themselves from the mainstream—most of them simply can’t survive close contact with the juggernaut of the conventional. Not even in fiction.
*Just kidding, Trekkies. Live Long and Prosper!
And check out Pete's Eden West unboxing video below:
BookPage is excited to reveal the cover for Frank Einstein and the BrainTurbo, the third book in the Frank Einstein series from Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs, to be released August 18. Click to view larger.
The first two books in the series, Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor and Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger, became New York Times bestsellers with a winning combination of real-life science and humor. In book three, Frank Einstein and the BrainTurbo, kid-genius scientist and inventor Frank Einstein's adventures continue—this time involving the science of the human body.
Frank and his best friend, Watson, along with Klink (a self-assembled artificial intelligence entity), create the BrainTurbo to boost the human body and help their baseball-pitching pal Janegoodall. But when Klank goes missing, they must first rescue their robot pal and stop T. Edison—Frank’s classmate and archrival—from stealing their latest invention and using it against them.
We've already had lots of fun with Scieszka and Biggs for this series, as they shared their favorite scenes from book one. BookPage checked in with the writing duo to find out more about book three.
Author Jon Scieszka (left) and illustrator Brian Biggs (right)
BookPage: What are you most excited about in the new book?
Jon: This book, and the whole series, completely excites me with the big idea of inventing a new kind of narrative for kids—equal parts hardcore information, action narrative and humor. Shelve under: InfoFictionHumor!
Brian: Robots playing baseball! Klank is my favorite character in the series, and in the third book we spend a lot of time with him. New layers of his personality are revealed, and we realize that things aren’t as simple as they might originally seem.
If you could choose any invention from the series, which would you want to use in your real life? What would you do with it?
Jon: I would really love to have the invention from Book #6, and I would use it to access other worlds and universes, create an intelligent universal love and allow all lifeforms to eat lunch whenever they want to.
Brian: The Electro-Finger, for sure. I’m really into bicycling, and on a long ride when I’m making my way up another steep hill, it would be nice to just press the button and zoom to the top. Also, I’d like to wire it so it could help me draw faster. Maybe.
What’s it like working with each other?
Jon: Bizarre. Insane. Ridiculous. Educational. Crazy. And Fun. We go back and forth a lot to make sure the science is just right . . . and Klank is always goofy. And it's always fun to see how Brian shows scenes I have imagined. It's a lot like working with Klink and Klank and Watson.
Brian: Jon stands over me as I draw the pictures and chuckles every time I make a mistake. It’s pretty annoying, but it’s OK because I try to add things into the illustrations that later on make him have to change the text.
We work together well. I think we have the same weird sense of humor, and since we were both 12-year-old boys once, I think we enjoy reverting to those mischievous kids we once were to make these stories.
Also, he remembers my birthday, which is nice.
What would you like to tell all brilliant kid scientists out there?
Jon: Ask questions. Test answers. Find out for yourself how the universe works. It is so important for the future of our world to be scientifically literate. And the truth of the scientific world is endlessly crazy, beautiful and fascinating.
Brian: Use your powers for good. Not evil. Make enormous donuts with your scientific knowledge, not vegetables.
Maybe we're excited about baseball season because opening day feels like a better beginning of spring than the actual equinox on March 20 (I mean, it was snowing in NYC). Maybe it's because our local minor-league team, the Nashville Sounds, is getting a brand-new stadium. Whatever the reason, we're excited. Our April issue includes a selection of stellar nonfiction baseball books, but every year we also enjoy a steady stream of baseball novels.
Leslie Dana Kirby has just published her debut novel, The Perfect Game, a psychological suspense that explores the murder of the wife of a professional baseball superstar. In this guest blog post, she digs into baseball as an interesting background for books:
Ahhh, spring. Longer days, warmer weather for reading good books poolside . . . and opening day of baseball season.
As a resident of Phoenix, I have already been enjoying a month of baseball as rabid fans stream in from all over the country to attend spring training games. And as the official opening date of the professional baseball season was April 5, this is a great time of year to crack open some books with baseball themes.
As a kid, I really enjoyed In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, a charming book about Shirley Temple Wong, a young girl who immigrates to Brooklyn from China. As she struggles to assimilate, she finds herself inspired by Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, who is proving that minorities can live their dreams in the United States.
While I was reading about Shirley Temple Wong, my older brother fell in love with Ball Four, an expose by pitcher Jim Bouton, which peeled back the curtain on professional baseball. When it was first published in 1970, it created a firestorm of controversy and was banned by some libraries. By 1999, it was being hailed by the New York Public Library and Time magazine as one of the most important works of nonfiction of the 20th century.
My first novel, The Perfect Game, is set against the backdrop of professional baseball. My protagonist, Lauren Rose, is devastated when her older sister and only sibling, Liz, is murdered. It’s a tragedy that is compounded by the fact that Liz was married to professional baseball pitcher Jake Wakefield. Jake’s fame quickly attracts a national spotlight to the murder and the ensuing investigation.
Why does baseball create an interesting setting for books? Perhaps it is because the topic takes many of us back to lazy summer days of enjoying peanuts and cracker jacks. Others relish the opportunity to get a glimpse into the glitzy and glamorous lives of professional baseball players. And the truly hardcore fans might be looking for a way to combine their love of the game with the joy of reading.
The slow pace of baseball play also allows time for reflection between plays. For baseball fans, that allows times for thinking about the possible implications of a hit or a fly ball. For authors, this allows time to discuss the reaction of the players or the spectators in between the action.
Additionally, baseball allows for reflection on individual performance more than most sports. For example, in my book, Jake pitches a perfect game, a tremendous achievement for a baseball pitcher. While other athletes might excel in a game, it isn’t really feasible for players in other sports, such as quarterbacks or basketball point guards, to accomplish a “perfect” outing.
Overall, I think for most of us, baseball represents the quintessential experience of long, relaxing days spent rooting on our favorite teams. So in between pitches in the next game of your favorite MLB team, consider reading some of these other popular books that feature the all-American sport:
I hope that one of these, or some other baseball book that you pick up this summer, might be a grand slam for you!
Thanks, Leslie! Readers, The Perfect Game is now available from Poisoned Pen Press.
Believe it or not, it's the first day of spring! Raise your hand if you're sick of gray days and ice—or if you're pretty sure the spring equinox is a big fat liar (looking at you, NYC). Littlest readers can celebrate the return of spring (or dream of it) with a fresh crop of picture books:
Shawn Sheehy sneaks plenty of fun facts into his outstanding new pop-up book, Welcome to the Neighborwood. Each spread reveals the home of a different creature, from spiders to hummingbirds. I love how this delicate paper craftsmanship mirrors the intricacy and fragility of nature, encouraging little ones to both explore and respect their environment.
For another unique offering that gets up close and personal with nature, April Pulley Sayre's Raindrops Roll zooms in on the magic of rain with a captivating balance of science and poetry. Seven Impossible Things blogger Julie Danielson shares a few spreads from the book on her blog here.
The title of Kadir Nelson's If You Plant a Seed recalls the slippery-slope hijinks of a certain demanding mouse and his cookie (or moose and muffin, if you prefer), and the rabbit and mouse at the beginning of this gorgeous book certainly need to learn some manners—but fortunately they do, and their gardening efforts become a sweet allegory for the importance of kindness and sustainability.
You Nest Here with Me, written by Jane Yolen and her daughter and fellow birder, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a classic bedtime book—but with so many baby birds tucked into their little homes, it's also a classic springtime book.
Carin Bramsen's Just a Duck? is on this list simply because of its hyper-vibrant illustrations. It's a story of unlikely best friends who learn to appreciate each other's unique strengths, but there's something about the colors, textures and, most of all, hilarious expressions that reminds me of all the best parts of spring.
Finally, the bears have it in two exceptional new picture books: The magical paper collages in Finding Spring by Carin Berger capture just how hard it is to wait for new seasons; and The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach is irresistibly full of mischief and bright, sunny adventures.
Want even more? Check these out at your local library:
You can view all our children's picture book coverage here.
Here's something that's definitely not normal: a serial killer as a sort of bumbling hero. Maybe "hero" is too strong, but the unnamed protagonist in British author Cameron's debut is, outside of kidnapping and murdering girls, darkly funny and even likable. His lifelong killing spree kicked off when he took out his bad dad, and now he's moved on to prostitutes and other girls, sometimes killing them and burying them in the woods, sometimes keeping them in a cage on his property. Add in some real, non-sociopathic feelings about a few of his victims, plus cops circling about a disappeared hooker, and you've got one strange story on your hands.
Erica regarded her new cellmate with a mixture of elation and disdain. Whilst a problem shared is a problem halved, she clearly wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of sharing hers with a bleeding, screeching harridan.
The hooker had told me that her name was Kerry. Then again, she'd told me that she was clean in every respect, where both her profession and her trackmarks suggested otherwise.
I'd picked her up a mile from Jeremy's house on a foolish and immediately regrettable impulse fueled by raw adrenaline and the sheer bloody-minded need to catch something, so to speak. She'd directed me to a remote riverside picnic area on the south side of the city, and had been only too eager to jump into the back of the van, the false promise of mattresses and pillows offering a welcome relief from the repeated prod of a gearlever in the sternum.
Until that point, this, in a nutshell, was the reason I never interfere with ladies of the night: it's just too damn easy. It's a game for impotents and bed-wetters. These women queue up to get in the car with you, for Christ's sake. They actually expect you to take them somewhere dark. That they exercise free will in putting themselves in harm's way only makes obligingly slaughtering them all the more cowardly.
What are you reading?
It's been 10 years since the publication of Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci's groundbreaking young adult debut, now one of Time magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Ten years ago, sci-fi fans—especially young females—felt like they could let their geek flags fly after reading about Egg, who styles herself after the heroine of her favorite sci-fi movie, Terminal Earth, by dressing all in white, shaving her head and coloring her eyebrows. She's got her shields up—especially against boys. But then she meets Max.
Castellucci looks back on the book that defined her as an author and encouraged nerdy girls to stay weird while finding their courage:
It begins at a bookstore: one of my favorite indie bookstores in Los Angeles, Skylight Books. When I was first trying to sell my first book and dreaming of becoming an author, I would walk to the store, which is funny because nobody walks in Los Angeles. I went there to haunt the shelves, paw the books and dream that maybe one day I would be an actual author. The staff was friendly and encouraging. They let me stay for hours.
In those early years of being a dreamer, they asked me to help out at inventory. I came in to support, but also needing the grocery money to help clean the store and count and shelve the books. I still do inventory with them every year—15 years and counting. I had written two novels and a picture book that had not sold. I was blue. And poor. And dreaming. Somewhere in fiction while I was dusting and lamenting my rejections both by the book industry and gentleman suitors. Then Steven Salardino, the manager of the bookstore and now a dear friend, turned to me and said, “You should write a book called Boy Proof and the boy should be named Max.” Instead of shrugging him off, or throwing a dust rag at him, I said, “OK,” and set about to do it.
The title had struck me deep in my core. And as a nerdy girl myself, I had felt like that growing up and wanted to write a book about a girl who was a true nerd and the star of the book, not the sidekick or the best friend. A girl who, like me felt a little boy proof. I wanted to write the book that I had needed and wasn’t there when I was growing up geek. I had a few loose threads in my head that I thought I could pull on to make a story.
While time coding for my friends production transcript company, I had seen footage of a girl who dressed up as Trinity from the Matrix movies. To give myself swaths of time to write, I was an extra in movies and once got a call to interview to be a child ape on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. I was not chosen to be an ape. (Tim Burton’s loss, to be sure!) The interview was at special effects make-up artist Rick Baker's studio, which was truly inspiring. Living in Hollywood with all of this buzz of making it and reinvention made me think to back to when I was in high school. I had a great friend whose mother, a famous singer and actress, was making her big comeback, and there was a boy I was too shy to figure out how to make my boyfriend who sat next to me in math class. His name was not Max, but the shadow memory of him was a place to start.
I put those things together to write a book called Boy Proof about a girl named Egg who dressed as the main character of her favorite sci-fi movie. Who loved post-apocalyptic movies and read comic books. Who felt uncomfortable around the new boy. Whose dad was a special effects make-up artist. Whose mom was a TV star making a comeback. A nerdy girl who lets down her guard to let love in.
It was the first novel I sold, and it was born in a bookstore.
And to this day, I always ask Steven to help me title my novels.
Author photo credit Eric Charles.