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This Week at Fiction Week

New this week at FictionWeek:

The National Book Award has announced their expanded long list for 2014: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine; The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol; Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Redeployment by Phil Klay; Station Eleven Emily by Emily St. John Mandel; Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken; Orfeo by Richard Powers; Lila by Marilynne Robinson; and Some Luck by Jane Smiley;
    The 2014 Man Booker short list has been announced, and for the first time, Americans are eligible for the award: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, a pretty good attempt at making boring subjects somewhat interesting; The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which is such a gripping story about a group of Australian POWs during World War II that a male writer might once again actually have a chance at winning this prize; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, yet another family story by an accomplished author (but this one has some interesting twists); J by Howard Jacobson who gets serious this time with a spookily-realistic dystopian novel; The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, a novel about a rich family in India (and as we know, novels about exotic foreign places have done well in Man Booker history); and How to be Both by Ali Smith, which explores our artificial perceptions of time.
    Earning season continues with the announcement of the Edgar Award winner, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
    The National Book Critics Circle, perhaps sensitive to the controversy surrounding the awarding of the Pulitzer to The Goldfinch, has gone in a more politically correct direction and given their award for fiction to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her novel, Americanah. The finalists were Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Someone by Alice McDermott, The Infatuations by Javier Marias (although the critics circle people don't normally go for inventive style, you never know), A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
   The finalists for the L.A. Times Book Prize finalists have been announced. They are The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett (get it?), Spectacle: Stories by Susan Steinberg, and The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell.So who will win? Percival Everett's new novel is fantastic, but postmodern novels never win. Daniel Woodrell's novel is also very good (as usual), but can a white male win these days? More likely, it will be Claire Messud, a creative writing professor whose earlier novel was named one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year.
    The 2014 Edgar award nominees for best mystery novel have been announced. They are Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook, The Humans by Matt Haig, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny, Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin, and Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy. Who will win? Well, Krueger is the most prolific of the group (and the best selling). On the other hand, Cook is a former winner. Haig's book is a cross-genre sci fi story (do they ever win?). Louise Penny's book is the ninth in her Chief Inspector Gamache series, and it is a best seller. In addition, she is a female writer which is usually an advantage in this era of political correctness (even though the mystery genre is one in which there are almost as many male readers as female readers). Lori Roy stands out as a relatively unknown female writer in this list of mostly male writers who have created best-selling books with male protagonists. Need we say out loud that she therefore has a good chance at winning this award?
   The 2013 National Book Award for fiction was announced (with great fanfare on live TV). The following day, the New York Times headline said The Good Lord Bird by James McBride was a surprise winner. Really? It seems to us that the committee merely continue its tradition of making the politically-correct choice. By the way, the committee made a point of saying that this year they had looked a large number of books, including books from small publishers and even from self-publishers. However, we couldn't help but notice that the five finalists were published by Penguin, Penguin Group, Scribner, Knopf, and Random House,
   Literary awards season continues with the announcement of the Booker winner. It is Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries, making her the youngest winner ever and at 848 pages, it is the longest winner ever (described as "a publisher's nighmware"). It's interesting to look at the Booker award 2013 short list. It includes the shortest novel ever nominated and a debut novel (they usually do include one debut novel, but it never wins). The six books that were considered for the 2013 Man-Booker prize were We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (the debut novel), The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin (the short novel), Harvest by Jim Crace, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri novel was the favorite because he's won every other prize, so why not the Booker too? In case you're interested, here are the nominees from the long list that didn't make the cut: Debut novelist Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart ), Eve Harris (The Marrying of Chani Kaufman ), Tash Aw (Five Star Billionaire ), Colum McCann (TransAtlantic ), Richard House (The Kills ), and Charlotte Mendelson (Almost English ). Three of the nominated books are yet to be released, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Unexploded by Alison MacLeod, and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. (How do unpublished books get included? Does the publisher slip the manuscript to the committee over lunch?)

Recent Book News

   The National Book Award has doubled the number of finalists (from 5 to 10). They are: Pacific by Tom Drury, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, Someone by Alice McDermott, Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon, Tenth of December by George Saunders, and Fools by Joan Silber. Hard to pick a favorite this year. Tom Drury's novel is a sort of sequel to a novel he wrote twenty years ago so he might be considered a sentimental favorite. Elizabeth Graver's book is the history of a family, and family dramas written by a woman usually do well in this competition. Rachel Kushner is a former finalist, and they often come back to take the big prize. Jhumpa Lahiri has the advantage of being female, and she has been winning a lot of literary prizes. In addition, her story is foreign (and therefore, exotic). However, the Lowland is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and that may be a disadvantage if the committee doesn't want to "compete" with the Booker. Anthony Marra's book is a debut novel, and although the committee often includes at least one debut novel, they rarely win. James McBride is considered an underdog for the award by most commentators. We disagree. He is African-American, and he is writing about a runaway slave in the Civil War era. That much political correctness gives him a good shot at winning it all. That said, Alice McDermott, a former winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist cannot be counted out. Next we come to Thomas Pynchon. He's such a great writer it's hard to believe he even made the list. Besides, he doesn't like awards. His nomination was a gesture. He won't win. George Saunders, a professor of English at Syracuse University, is a heck of a writer, but he doesn't have much political correctness. We consider him a long shot. Joan Silber's short stories are great, but maybe the committee is not quite ready to give the award to another writer of short stories. Expanding the finalist list to ten has to be a good thing because it will expose readers to the works of more great writers (and help more writers sell their books). Maybe they should double it again to 20. Or 40. That might even get some self-published novelists noticed. Oops, never mind; they don't allow self-published books. In fact, none of the major awards allow self-published books. The Edgar Award, for example, has made up a harsh-sounding list of eleven rules just to make sure not even books published by very small publishers get to be considered. This year, the National Book Award fiction judges will include not only include writers, but also a literary critic and a bookseller. The 2013 National Book Award fiction judges are Charles Baxter, novelist, Gish Jen, novelist, Charles McGrath, critic, Rick Simonson, bookseller, and Rene Steinke, novelist.
   The folks in Sweden announced that the 2013 Nobel award for literature would go to Alice Munro, the 82-year-old Canadian writer. The fact that she only writes short stories added to the fact that she is not an obscure writer of postmodern novels from a country that oppresses writers made her a long shot for the award.
   The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction goes to Adam Johnson for his novel about an adventure in North Korea, The Orphan Master's Son (even though the prize is supposed to "deal with American life"). The finalists were Nathan Englander for What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, and Eowyn Ivey for The Snow Child, an unlikely story about an elderly couple who adopt a feral girl.
   Heard in the lit underworld: there will be a Nobel Prize for literature this year. The word is that they have already picked five final candidates. There is even talk that it might even be a citizen of the United States for the first time in ten years. If so, who might that be? Philip Roth? Don DeLillo? How about Dylan? Yeah! Let's all vote for my old Greenwich Village pal Bobby Zimmerman. That would be the most interesting choice. Well, don't hold your breath waiting to find out. The Nobel committee doesn't even announce when they will announce. Supposedly it will be sometime this fall. Maybe.
   The finalists for the 33rd annual L.A. Times Book Prize for fiction were Jami Attenberg for her novel Middlesteins, a family drama that made the cover of The New York Times Book Review, Popular writer, Michael Chabon, for Telegraph Avenue (the one in Berkeley), Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, a story of the war in Iraq, Lauren Groff for Arcadia which is set in the post-hippie days of the early 70s, and Lydia Millet for Magnificence, a story of wandering and thinking in modern-day LA. In addition, Margaret Atwood will receive the Times' Innovator's Award for "her efforts to push narrative form" (she is embracing new electronic forms of storytelling).
   Although the Man Booker Award is not on the radar screen of many Americans, worldwide it is a very big deal. Last year, there was a first: the award went former Booker winner Hilary Mantel for Bring up the Bodies, a sequel to her prior winner, Wolf Hall. Over here on this side of the pond, we have the National Book Award, and last year a few of the nominees were better known than recently. Perhaps stung by criticism that the Nat Book Awards were becoming overly politically correct, the list of nominees included a few very accomplished, if not famous, writers. (As we have learned, just because an author is famous, it doesn't mean they are also accomplished - e.g. famous writers like James Patterson and Nora Roberts have never been nominated.) The nominees were a mixed bag of well-known and not so well known. Postmodernist Dave Eggers was nominated for his novel A Hologram for the King. Louise Erdrich, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction a few years back, was nominated for her new novel The round House. Being female and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, this long-time writer of Native American stories was the pick for those who were betting on continuing the trend toward political correctness. Also vying for the political correctness honor were two books about the Iraq war. First was The Yellow Birds, a debut novel by Iraq War vet Kevin Powers. A second nominated Iraq War novel was Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. Boy wonder (relatively speaking), Junot Diaz was nominated for his book of short stories, This is How You Lose Her. Many thought he would add this year's Nat Book Award to his MacArthur Award and his Pulitzer Prize. But it was not to be. The cynics that predicted political correctness won out in the end when the award went to (ta da) The round House by Louise Erdrich. Congrats to Ms. Erdrich.
   Congrats also to Natasha Trethewey who has been appointed as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her poetry collection, Native Guard, poems that relate the stories of the Louisiana Native Guards, an all-black regiment that was called into service during the Civil War.
   In cse you missed it, the 2011 National Book Award fiction winner went to Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward Some saw her semi-memoir as a long shot because it was a personal story rather than "great literature." But the more cynical said it had a good chance because it was quite politically correct, a personal story written by a young African-American woman about a poor African-American family that suffers in the aftermath of politically-significant hurricane Katrina. Others sarcastically said it should have been in the young adult category, not in the general fiction category. Nevertheless, it was the 2011 winner. Some thought her selection indicated the committee was moving away from the big name writers, but this result only partly confirmed that trend. Of the 2011 Nat Book Award finalists, Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman was probably the favorite. It is a book of short stories, some old and some new written by an established writer. (The book was published by Lookout Books, an imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.) Others thought The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht would win simply because it was the best written book in the group. It is a story woven around a young girl's remembrances of her grandfather's fable-like stories. Add to that the fact that the young Yugoslavia-born American author was named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty, and she was included in the National Book Foundation's list of 5 Under 35 and you can see why it might be among the favorites. The other 2011 finalists were as follows. The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak, a story of a Austrian boy who ends up a soldier in World War I. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, a story about Japanese mail-order brides in 1920s California. The story is told using a very interesting plural (we) point of view.
   And what about the 2011 Pulitzer? The 2011 winner was A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It is described by the Pulitzer people (rather vaguely) as "An inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age." It is actually a very interesting study of compulsion and rationalization. Of the three nominees, it was far and away the favorite for the award. 2010, on the other hand, was the year of the dark horse in fiction awards. First, Howard Jacobson was the surprise winner of the 2010 Man Booker prize for his eleventh novel, The Finkler Question. It's pretty rare for a comedy novel to win the Booker, but it is very well written. Most observers (including us) thought Tom McCarthy would walk away with the award for his novel C. Other nominations like Room by Emma Donoghue were supposed to have a better chance than Jacobson, along with Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut: and The Long Song by Andrea Levy. Next, it was long-shot Jaimy Gordon winning the 2010 National Book Award for her sixth novel Lord of Misrule which was published by McPherson, a small indie publisher out of Kingston, N.Y. Considered an unlikely finalist, let alone a possible winner of the award, the book is about horse racing--more specifically about the kind of people who race wornout horses in rigged races at obscure race tracks. She says she started it more than ten years ago, and despite pressure from her publisher didn't want to finish it because she didn't want to write yet another novel staring a wild and reckless young woman. However, in the end, she couldn't stop herself from doing exactly that--and the result is pretty good. All of the other finalists were better known and judged to have a better chance to win the award. They were: Great House by Nicole Krauss from Norton, Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey from Knopf, So Much for That by Lionel Shriver from Harper, and I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita from Coffee House Press.
   By the way, has posted their opinion about what novels are hot. (You can Click Here to see what they think we all should be reading) The list includes Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris, Storm Prey by John Sandford, and the latest novel by the "discovered" Scandinavian phenomenon, Steig Larsson: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
   Have you heard of the so-called Arabic Booker Prize? It's real title is THE INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR ARABIC FICTION and they recently announced their short list for the 2010 prize. The five nominees are: Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel (Egyptian) for A Cloudy Day on the West Side, Mansoura Ez Eldin (Egyptian) for Beyond Paradise, Rabee Jabir (Lebanese) for America, Abdo Khal (Saudi Arabian), Raba'i Madhoun (Palestinian) for The Lady from Tel Aviv, and Naji, Jamal Naji (Jordanian) for When the Wolves Grow Old. A lot of good reading from a little-known group or writers. There has been a lot more interest in writing from that part of the world ever since Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel prize for literature.
   The news that Paul Harding won the 2010 Pulitzer Fiction Prize for his debut novel Tinkers was more significance than it might seem. Turns out the book was published by one of small Indie Presses that are having such a hard go of it these days. And the publisher is a newcomer at that. The book was published by Bellevue Literary Press which is housed at and sponsored by the Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. Only in business 2005, they are one of the new specialized publishers (they are looking for fiction and nonfiction that focuses on medicine). Another Pulitzer finalist, Arizona author Lydia Millet's collection of stories Love in Infant Monkeys was also published by a small Indie press, Soft Skull Press. It shows things are changing out there in publishing land. But will it be for the better? Stay Tuned.
    It seems like the Clark family is trying to take over the NYT best-seller list. Mother Mary Higgins Clark has been riding high near the top of the list with her new novel, The Shadow of your Smile (did you know every single one of her 42 novels has been a best seller?), and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark is still in the top 10 with a new entry in her mystery series, Wrecked. Did the daughter voluntarily give up the top spot to Mom? Meanwhile, Kathryn Stockett is trying to set the NYT best seller list longevity record with her novel, The Help. 60 weeks on the top ten list and counting. Of course the familiar names are also on the list, like Jodi Picoult (House Rules) and Jim Butcher (Changes), yet another in his Dresden Files series. But there are some not-so-familiar names on the list, like New York Times columnist Anna Marie Quindlen who has written a novel titled Every Last One.
    But wait, where is Nora Roberts? She's still missing from the best-seller list. Is she taking a break from cranking out those romance and family-drama novels? Oh, there she is, way down in number 13 on the paperback list, writing as J.D Robb: Kindred In Death by J. D. Robb.
    All in all, this week's list shows readers are looking for more diversity, and that's a good thing. A lot of good reading in there. Happy springtime reading to one and all. Click here to see Amazon's list of bestsellers.
    Big news for Sci-fi fans: the Hugo Award for best sci-fi novel of the year has just been announced. Given out for the best in sci-fi since 1955, the Hugo is one of the two highest awards in the sci-fi genre (the other being the Nebula Award). This year, the award goes to Neil Gaiman for his novel The Graveyard Book.
    Anybody notice the 2009 Agatha award winner for best crime novel was a Canadian who hasn't been writing novels all that long? The award went to Montreal writer Louise Penny for her novel The Cruelest Month . She got started writing novels only in 2004. Before that, she worked for the CBC radio. Her novels feature Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of the homicide department of the Surete du Quebec. Not surprising she won the Agatha award. Of all modern mystery writers, her writing may be the most like Agatha's. Her novels feature unusual types of murders in backwater towns with large numbers of potential suspects. Of course, the murderer is always revealed in a dramatic scene at the end with all the suspects present.
    From the other side of the pond, Marilynne Robinson just won Britain's top award for Women's Writing, the 2009 Orange Prize. She won for her novel Home. As you may recall, she is no newcomer to writing awards, having won the Pulitzer back in '05 for her novel Gilead. In her new novel, she revisits the setting and characters from her previous work. As was announced earlier, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to Elizabeth Strout for a collection of her short stories titled Olive Kitteridge. She beat out Louise Erdrich for her novel The Plague of Doves and Christine Schutt for her novel All Souls.
    Other fiction news: the winner of this year's Man Booker International Prize has been announced. The award went to Canadian Alice Munro. Worth 60,000 pounds to the winner, the prize is awarded every two years. She beat out some top writers, including Australian Peter Carey, American Evan S. Connell, Indian Mahasweta Devi, American E.L. Doctorow, Brit James Kelman, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, Czech Arnost Lustig, Indian V S Naipaul, American Joyce Carol Oates, Italian Antonio Tabucchi, Kenyan Ngugi Wa Thiong'O, Croatian Dubravka Ugresic, and Russian Ludmila Ulitskaya.
    The 2009 Man Booker prize went to Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, a fictionalized life of Thomas Cromwell. Most figured it was time for a woman to win the Booker (after all, the Pulitzer nominees were all women). She was the favorite going in for her vividly told tale of Tudor intrigue. The short list for this year's Booker were: The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, Summertime by J.M. Coetzee, The Quickening Maze by Adam Fould, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

The FictionWeek Literary Review

The FictionWeek Literary Review publishes innovative fiction and poetry, plus book reviews and essays about the writing craft. Submissions are now being accepted for the Fall 2014 issue.

FictionWeek Book Reviews

Each week, Fiction Week focuses on fiction that we believe has exceptional merit. We scour both internet and print book reviews looking for insightful analyses of current books. We also take suggestions for which books to review. CLICK HERE to suggest a book.

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Where is e-publishing going and what does it mean for writers? This news report describes the current status of e-publishing and discusses techniques for producing e-books and opportunities for writers.
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Fiction at the University

What is the current condition of our nation's fiction writing programs at colleges and universities? Believe it or not, it is as healthy as ever. This article discusses America's creative writing MFA and PhD programs, including low-res MFA programs. (Updated for fall 2011.)
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How to Organize Your Own Writing Group

This author describes a few of the many methods of organizing writing groups and/or book discussion groups. He describes not only how to begin a writing group but also how to keep it going.
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