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Category: Humor

Paul and Storm to George R.R. Martin: Write like the wind [video]

Comedy duo Paul and Storm have a "Game of Thrones" obsession. In a new video of their song "Write Like the Wind (George R.R. Martin)," they implore the author to pen the next book in the series. "George R.R. Martin, please write and write faster," they sing. "We need our allotment of incest and intrigue and six-page descriptions of every last meal."

George R.R. Martin's rich, complex "A Song of Ice" and "Fire" fantasy series began with the novel "A Game of Thrones" in 1996. Since then there have been four sequels: "A Clash of Kings," "A Storm of Swords," "A Feast for Crows," and "A Dance with Dragons." Together, the five massive fantasy novels total more than 4,200 pages.

That's in hardcover. It'll be even more in paperback, once a paperback edition of "A Dance With Dragons" is released.

Writing all that material takes time. Famously, six years passed between book 4, "A Feast for Crows," and book 5, "A Dance With Dragons," which finally came out in 2011. As promised release dates came and went, devoted readers clamored for the next installment. The agitation reached such a pitch that Neil Gaiman was prompted to write a blog post telling people to calm down:

Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they're ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven't quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that's ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y....

Wait. Read the original book again. Read something else. Get on with your life. Hope that the author is writing the book you want to read, and not dying, or something equally as dramatic. And if he paints the house, that's fine.

Gaiman used some off-color language in his post, which -- fair warning -- makes its way into the Paul and Storm video. The comedians are clearly fans -- not just because they tromp around in period outfits weilding swords and turkey legs, but because their lyrics are grounded in Martin's books. They even reference the two further, yet-to-be-written books in the series, "The Winds of Winter" and "A Dream of Spring."

Since "A Dance With Dragons" came out, Martin has garnered even more fans, thanks to the HBO series based on the books. It's slated to return for a third season in 2013.

The Paul and Storm video premiered Friday on the Sword and Laser show on the Geeks & Sundry YouTube video channel -- a show that also included an interview with George R.R. Martin himself.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Fug Girls get 'Messy' with young-adult follow-up [Updated]

FuggirlsJust in time for summer beach reading season, professional celebrity skewerers the Fug Girls are back with another young-adult sendup of Hollywood celebu-spawn. We caught up with Go Fug Yourself bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan to talk about their "Messy" new book.

Jacket Copy: In your young-adult debut, "Spoiled," a vacuous blond ladder climber goes Manolo a Manolo with her surprise half sister. In "Messy," she continues to spar but with a different female character. What is it about rivalry that appeals?

Heather Cocks: It isn't so much about rivalry as outsiderness. In "Spoiled," Molly was a geographic outsider. In "Messy," we get someone who’s emotionally an outsider. Those are the kinds of feelings that anyone can relate to. A lot of teen rivalry is feeling you’re different from someone else and being judged for being different. I don’t know any teenage girls who look back on that time and say, 'What a wonderful, magnificent time of personal growth.' Usually you're thinking of the girl who made you feel like an idiot.

MessyJC: Like "Spoiled," your new book is a takedown of celebrity culture. But, like your blog, it's a takedown that unfolds in the blogosphere. Why did you want the rivalry to center on a Hollywood insider blog?

Heather Cocks: There's definitely the idea that the Fug Girls are writing a book, so there’s a fun wink to how we met and got started. The reason these books even exist is because we have this blog. People often assume that we ourselves are anonymous because we don’t put our pictures on the website and we have facetious bios we put up. My picture is from Joan Collins when she was on "Dynasty" and Jessica’s is Shannon Doherty from "90210," so people see that and assume we’re trying to stay anonymous and sometimes disbelieve we’re women or that our names are really Heather and Jessica because they’re cheerleader names you would cherry-pick to write a blog like ours. That brings up the whole idea of whether you can believe what you see on the web. It was a fun way for us to deal with identity issues. [Updated June 6, 2012, 8:51 a.m.: The original version of this post said the Fug Girls don't put their fiction on their blog. They don't put their pictures.]

Spoiled_pbJacket Copy: How is writing young-adult fiction different from your blog, especially writing as a team?

Jessica: Heather and I are very comfortable writing together because we’ve been doing it for eight years. Our posts on Go Fug Yourself we write ourselves, but our work for New York magazine and other freelance we do together, so it feels like a natural extension. Logistically, we had a very detailed outline and then we traded.

JC: Why did you even want to write fiction for teens?

Heather: It’s such a different muscle from what we do on the blog because it’s creating something new as opposed to riffing on material. To have a picture that’s your base is different from creating the world yourself. We both watch a lot of CW and ABC Family. We're very soapy people. We read a lot of young-adult because there’s so much really well-written fiction for young adults. God knows the number of times we mention "Sweet Valley High" on our website. It felt like a really natural arena to step into.

JC: What's so great about your books is that the humor from your blog completely translates. What makes fashion and celebrity culture so fun to make fun of?

Jessica: We sort of see Go Fug Yourself as the online version of sitting around with your friends watching the Oscars. It's a virtual coffee klatsch to sit around and say, "What is she wearing? What is he thinking?" We intend it to be good-hearted, but I also think if I had all these resources -- all the money and the stylist and the trainer and the time -- I would look fantastic all the time. There’s something confounding when someone who has all the resources to look amazing all the time sometimes looks totally insane.

JC: Brick was such a narcissistic, movie-star dad in the first book. Without spoiling "Messy," does he step up in book two?

Heather: One of my favorite scenes is when Brooke achieves a measure of professional success early in the book and she tells Brick and they have a little moment together. Anyone who read "Spoiled" knows she’s very much driven by wanting his attention. Brick in this book becomes a little more involved in her life, so I think people will be happy to see him spending some time. But he just finished work on "Avalanche," his epic snow movie shot in Key West.

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-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan; book covers for "Messy" and "Spoiled." Credit: Kim Fox; Little, Brown and Company.

 

826LA adds Pee-wee Herman to Judd Apatow benefit

Apatowpeewee

The Los Angeles branch of the literary nonprofit founded by Dave Eggers, 826LA, counts among its star supporters writer-director/producer Judd Apatow. He hosts the occasional live event to raise funds for the organization, called the Judd and Jon Comedy Music Hour(s). The Jon is musician Jon Brion, who leads the music part of the show.

On Tuesday, 826LA announced two guests who will be on the bill: Pee-wee Herman and Ray Romano. It's hard to imagine the comic minds of laconic Romano and antic Pee-wee meeting, but that may be the point. It had already promised to be entertaining, with Apatow, Brion and Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) confirmed. Expect more surprise guests (one previous event included Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Newman, Garry Shandling, Ryan Adams, Aziz Ansari and Maria Bamford).

The event is scheduled for June 14 on the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. However, rubbing shoulders with Apatow and friends isn't cheap: Regular tickets are $250, and VIP tickets, which include a reception, are $500. But it is for charity -- a literary one.  

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Judd Apatow, left, in New York in April 2012. Right, Pee-wee Herman in 2009. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Carol Burnett to publish memoir about her daughter

Carol BurnettCarol Burnett will publish a memoir with Simon & Schuster, the publisher announced Tuesday. "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story," about Burnett and her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, will come to shelves in April 2013.

Hamilton died of cancer in 2002, at the age of 38. She was, like her mother, an actress, and also a writer. The two penned a play together, based on a memoir Burnett had written. They occasionally appeared on television together, including acting in "Hostage," a 1988 CBS television movie.

“This has been a labor of love for me over the years, and I’m thrilled that Simon & Schuster is going to publish it,” Burnett said in a news release.

In Burnett's book, she takes on both the joys and trials of parenting, including Hamilton's struggle with and recovery from a teenage drug addiction, working creatively together, and seeing her daughter through her illness.

“This is a book every parent can relate to,” said Trish Todd, vice president and executive editor of Simon & Schuster, who acquired the book. “The joys and worries we all experience as parents are here, and Carol tells the story with her trademark humor, brave honesty and genuine emotion. It’s a book full of love.”

In addition to the narrative, the book includes a short story Hamilton was working on when she died and some of Burnett's personal diaries. The loss of a child is, of course, tremendously sad, and the prospect of grappling with that loss in print daunting, as Joan Didion showed in "Blue Nights." However, "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story," promises to include -- as is no doubt inevitable with Carol Burnett -- a fair dose of humor.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Carol Burnett and her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, in 1988. Credit: CBS

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' vs. 'Diary of a Zombie Kid'

Wimpykidzombiekid
In the first corner, in the blue book jacket: the wildly successful "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series by Jeff Kinney. In the opposite corner, "Diary of a Zombie Kid" in splatter-red.

The second is meant to be a parody of the popular children's books, but according to lawyers for "Wimpy Kid" creator Kinney, it's not funny: It's trademark and copyright infringement. A suit was filed Tuesday in Massachusetts, Publishers Weekly reports:

In the filing, Wimpy Kid noted that since the publication of the first book in April 2007 it has rapidly become a “cultural phenomenon,” selling more than 52 million copies, with merchandising that includes T-shirts, hats, action figures, swimwear, and board games. It calls Diary of a Zombie Kid “a counterfeit, copy, and/or colorable imitation.”

Abrams, which has published all six books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, declined to comment on the lawsuit. At press time, PW was unable to reach Joe Dunn, publisher of Antarctic Press in San Antonio, Tex. [which published "Diary of a Zombie Kid"], or Antarctic’s counsel, copyright attorney William E. Maguire.

The success of the "Wimpy Kid" series has rubbed off on "Zombie Kid," which was selling at a respectable No. 50 spot on Amazon's comics and graphic novels bestseller list earlier this week.

Zombies have been treading their leaden steps into literature since Seth Grahame-Smith's surprise 2009 hit, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." The brain-hungry undead might have seemed an odd match for Jane Austen, but there was one thing that made them a perfect fit: Austen's work is in the public domain. Anyone can remake, retool or mash up "Pride and Prejudice," however, whenever they like.

Jeff Kinney's work? Not so much.

As of this writing, a second "Zombie Kid" book is slated to be released in January.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images: Left, Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever." Credit: Amulet Books. Right, "Diary of a Zombie Kid." Credit: Antarctic Press

John Lennon's books on the anniversary of his death

Johnlennonbedpeace
John Lennon died 31 years ago today after he was shot at the Dakota in New York by Mark David Chapman. As a member of the Beatles and a solo artist, Lennon was one of the 20th century's most important musicians. His influence spread beyond music to culture, religious inquiry, politics and art.

He also wrote books. "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works" were small, witty collections of poetry, verse and Lennon's own illustrations, written early in his career. When they were reissued in a single edition last year, David Ulin wrote:

Well before he met Yoko Ono, John Lennon had a habit of going his own way. As early as 1964 -- at the height of Beatlemania -- he published "In His Own Write," a collection of off-kilter poems and stories with line drawings; he followed it the next year with "A Spaniard in the Works." Both books are satirical, full of whimsy, but also marked by that distinctive  Lennon edge. "Sir Alice Doubtless-Whom," he writes in "We must not forget ... the General Erection" (a biting piece inspired by Harold Wilson's election as prime minister), "was -- quote -- 'bitherly dithapointed' but managed to keep smirking on his 500,000 acre estate in Scotland with a bit of fishing and that."...

"In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works" are of a piece but different. The first is loose and off the cuff, while the latter features longer, more ambitious writings and wordplay in the vein of Edward Lear. Like Lear, Lennon relies on nonsense as a strategy and composes doggerel and silly stories, although he also can be quite pointed. For example, the poem "Our Dad" -- which begins, "It wasn't long before old dad / Was cumbersome -- a drag. / He seemed to get the message and / Began to pack his bag" -- seems to speak directly to his own father, who ran off when Lennon was a boy, only to reemerge in the wake of the Beatles' rise. The drawings, meanwhile, are reminiscent of James Thurber, with their rounded figures and exaggerated sense of irony. In one, a group of men hold a brightly lit dog aloft like a lantern; in another, a blind beggar stands next to a man who wears a sign that reads, "I can see quite clearly."

Over the years, fans have sought to frame Lennon's writing as Joycean, for its embrace of puns and idiosyncratic spellings, a la "Finnegans Wake." That's a stretch, not least because Lennon was never anything but accessible, whereas Joyce prided himself on being willfully obscure. More to the point is how Lennon immerses himself in the language, less interested in the meaning than in the sound of the words. This, of course, is as it should be; he was a musician first, after all. Still, with "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works," we see a different side of his expression: exuberant and playful but with a fire all its own.

The 2010 edition of "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard In the Works" includes two introductions: one by Paul McCartney and the other by Yoko Ono.

Asked about Lennon, Ono told the Vancouver Sun, “John was about making the world a better place. He sang Gimme Some Truth, so when I see all the activism out there today, I feel like we will turn the corner soon.”

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Lennon and Yoko Ono with reporters at a "Bed-In for Peace" in Amsterdam. Credit: Associated Press

Grammy nominees include audio books from Tina Fey, Betty White

Tinafey_bn_bookTwo audio books of memoirs by comediennes, read by the authors themselves, received Grammy nominations this week. Tina Fey's "Bossypants" and Betty White's "If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't)" are both in the running in the Spoken Word category.

The three other nominees aren't books at all, but a variety of audio performances. One is "Fab Fan Memories: The Beatles Bond," a collection of fan reminiscences about the Beatles; another is a recording of "Hamlet" performed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and "The Mark of Zorro," an audio drama  featuring Val Kilmer.

In recent years, however, audio books have taken the award. Former President Clinton's "My Life" won the 2005 Spoken Word Grammy, followed the next year by future president Barack Obama's "Dreams from My Father." Obama's "The Audacity of Hope," read by Jacob Bronstein, won the award in 2008. Political books have done well: Jimmy Carter's "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis" was one of two winners of the 2007 award and Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" won in 2009.

Celebrity and comedy have also had some recent success. Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Audiobook)" won in 2011, and the 2010 winner was Michael J. Fox's "Always Looking Up." Maybe that means that the chances of winning are equally good for White and Fey.

The Grammy Awards will be presented Feb. 12 at Staples Center; the audio books category may not make the Kanye-and-Adele-studded telecast.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Tina Fey at a book signing of "Bossypants" in April in New York. Credit: Jim Spellman / Getty Images

 

'Pride & Prejudice & Zombies' — there's an app for that

Prideprejudicezombiesapp

The people who brought you "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" have launched "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: The Interactive Book App" just in time for Halloween.

The download is available for iPads and iPhones at an introductory price of $4.99. A version for Android tablets is expected soon.

Quirk Books kicked off the classic literature mashup bonanza in 2009 with "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies," which became a surprise bestseller. The publisher followed up with more of the same, with "Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters," "Android Karenina" and "The Meowmorphosis." What would Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy and Fanz Kafka think? Their books and others in the public domain are fair game, so the market was soon flooded with books like the "The Undead World of Oz" and  "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim."

But "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" started it all. Its interactive edition has Jane Austen's original version when your device is facing one way; flip it around and it's zombified. "The people in Austen's books are kind of like zombies," zombify-ing co-author Seth Grahame-Smith told The Times the day of the book's release. "No matter what's going on around them in the world, they live in this bubble of privilege. The same thing is true of the people in this book, although it's much more absurd."

The app's zombie elements include hundreds of illustrations, motion graphics, music and sound effects (squish). It was created by PadWorx Digital Media, which won a 2010 Publishing Innovations award for its ebook version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." A trailer for "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: The Interactive Book App" is after the jump.

Continue reading »

Celebrating Flann O'Brien

Flannobrien_thirdpolicemanAn Irish civil servant who wrote under a pen name to keep his work out of sight of his employers, Flann O'Brien -- born Brian O’Nolan -- is now seen as one of the key figures in postmodern literature. But during his lifetime, his books were overlooked, despite finding fans like Graham Greene, who said of "At Swim-Two-Birds," O'Brien's first novel, "I read it with continual excitement, amusement and the kind of glee one experiences when people smash china on the stage."

The Economist's More Intelligent Life writes:

Despite the pseudonym, everyone in Dublin’s incestuous literary circles knew him. When he started openly mocking the civil service and expressing political opinions — a serious transgression for an employee of the state — he was invited to retire at age 42, in 1953. His pension, together with the slender income from his writing, might have let him succeed as a novelist. But O’Nolan was better at self-sabotage than self-promotion, and he died at 54 of cancer and alcoholism. He still left behind five novels, three of uneven quality and two, “At Swim-Two-Birds” and “The Third Policeman,” that are among the greatest accomplishments in English-language fiction.

Last week would have been the author's 100th birthday, and this weekend, Trinity College in Dublin is celebrating with lectures, discussions and readings.

"The man was ingenious and learned like Jim Joyce and like Sam Beckett gave the reader a sweet dose of hopelessness but unlike either of these worthies did not arrive at what we might call artistic resolution. His novels begin with a swoop and a song but end in an uncomfortable murk and with an air of impatience," John Updike wrote in the New Yorker in 2008, looking back on O'Brien's ouevre.

O'Brien may find more fans if a planned movie adaptation of "At Swim-Two-Birds" comes to fruition. Actor Brendan Gleeson has secured funding to make a film version of the metafiction -- in it, a student's fictional characters rebel and take over part of his story. Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Gabriel Byrne have all been said to be connected to the picture. 

Flann O'Brien's books are all available in the U.S. through the Dalkey Archive Press, which takes its name from the author's fifth novel, originally published in 1964.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Writers Bloc's fall schedule begins with Calvin Trillin, Michael Moore

Calvin Trillin
The fall literary season is filling out, with a few advance dates announced by Writers Bloc, which will be host to Calvin Trillin, Michael Moore and Russell Banks. They won't be appearing together, but they will all be coming to L.A. soon.

Trillin's writing can often be found in the New Yorker; he's also been a regular contributor to Time magazine and the Nation. His new book is a collection of his humorous writings, "Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff." He'll be in conversation with comedian and actor Kevin Nealon ("Saturday Night Live," "Weeds") on Wednesday.

Oscar-winning filmmaker and political activist Michael Moore also has a new book, "Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life." Moore will appear at Writers Bloc on Thursday, with journalist and critic Anne Thompson. Both events will be held at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

The literary series often hops locations; its third event of the fall will be writer Russell Banks in conversation with the L.A. Times' Meghan Daum. Banks' new novel, "Lost Memory of Skin," comes out Sept. 27; he'll be appearing at the MGM Building in Century City on Oct. 6.

Tickets for each event are $20. Look for additional Writers Bloc events to be announced as the fall gets underway.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Calvin Trillin in 2007. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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