the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘interviews’ Category

Francesca forrest photoI recently read and reviewed Pen Pal, a most extraordinary novel by Francesca Forrest.  Click here to read my review of Pen Pal, but the super quick summary is that this epistolary novel focuses around the relationship between a girl named Em who lives in a floating community off the Gulf Coast, and Kaya, a political prisoner. Through Em’s letters and descriptions of her life, Kaya realizes she may have more in common with this girl than she thought.  This is a powerful and profound story of marginalization and empowerment.

Francesca was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the novel, living in Japan, indie publishing, and her passion for helping preserve native and minority languages.

Let’s get to the interview!

LRR:  The novel is written in an epistolary fashion, with letters, diary entries, e-mails, even newspaper articles. Why did you decide to present the story that way?

FF: The novel grew out of a story that evolved on Livejournal. Em’s message in a bottle, was just as an idea that came to me one morning, and people wanted more. I had had the idea of Kaya in my head for years, and I thought, what if she were the one who answered? So a few days later I posted her response. And then, every few days, I’d post another letter. I really loved the format and thought it worked well for a serialization because the wait for the next post gave the readers the experience of waiting for the next letter, just like the characters.

When I decided to turn it into a novel, I decided to supplement the letters with diary entries and other “evidence” so I could tell a richer story. I think it’s interesting to think about what people choose to reveal where, and to whom, and I tried to play with that with the characters’ letters to different people, and with how what they write in their diaries differs from what they say in their letters.

LRR:  Can you tell us a little about how this story came together, and what your inspirations were?

FF: Kaya’s story grew from two dreams I had: one in which a witch, or maybe a goddess, asked me to resurrect a defunct festival in her honor, and one in which a priestess was held prisoner in temple over a volcanic crater. I asked myself how those situations could be tied together, and that got me thinking about cultural suppression and why and how it happens—and then I could see how there’d be parallels to the situation of Em, whose community floats alongside, but keeps apart from, dry-land society. Other inspirations: I was enchanted, long ago, when I heard of jubilee, an event that happens fairly regularly in Mobile Bay, Alabama, and occasionally elsewhere: fish flood the shallow waters near shore so thickly that you can go out and just scoop them up by the armful. This became the dawn of seagifts in Pen Pal. And I was inspired, too, by the story of the pen pal correspondence I mention on the Pen Pal website, between Manuel Noriega, back when he ruled Panama, and Sarah York, a young American girl. That story raised so many questions about adult and child interactions, ulterior motives, and the intersection of the personal and the political.

emlee

artwork by Kelsey Michele Soderstrom

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Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour hosts, and Tomorrow Comes Media for more information on their other blog tours!

 

After reading Jason’s short story collection Irredeemable (watch for the review later today!), I was brimming with questions for him. The interview below just scratches the surface of everything I wanted to know about the collection, where his ideas come from, all the other projects he’s involved in.  Luckily I’ll have plenty of time to question and pester him later this year when I see him at ConText!  And if you’ve got questions yourself, be sure to pester Jason on twitter, @apexjason. We should probably ask him when he finds time to sleep. ;)

Jason Sizemore

Let’s get to the interview!

LRR: You know those “book blind dates” at bookstores, where they cover a book in brown paper, and write things on the paper like “historical fiction!”, “dinosaurs!” and “ray guns!”? What should go on the outside of Irredeemable when it’s covered up to be a book blind date?

J.S.: “Just deserts!”

LRR: What are some of your favorite stories in the collection? Which ones were the most challenging to write?

J.S.: As a huge geek and software developer, I find myself interested in issues involving artificial intelligence and evolving consciousness. “Mr. Templar” is my post-apocalyptic take on that concept where humans destroy the world and only a small handful of androids and robots still exist. Mr. Templar is searching for his creator. It is a bittersweet, touching, and charming story, and by far my favorite.

The most challenging to write was “For the Sake of Pleasing.” I wanted to write something longer than 10,000 words outside a sub-genre I usually write in. At the time, I was reading the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko, and wanted to try my hand at a dark fantasy similar to his. It took me months to get “For the Sake of Pleasing” to a point that made me happy.

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The other day I reviewed the second issue of a brand new short fiction magazine, Bastion Magazine. I was impressed by the quality of the short stories, but what was most remarkable was the sheer quantity of fiction the editor and staff insist on in each issue.  Most of the stories are short, 5,000 words or less, but still, eight or nine in each issue? Great for the reader for sure, but that is a ton of work for any editorial team!  I wanted to learn more about the magazine, and lucky for me, R. Leigh offered to tell me a bit about himself and answer a few of my questions!

R. Leigh Hennig recently moved with his wife and three young children from Rura Penthe, er, Rochester, NY to Seattle. Leigh works as a network engineer by day, and when he’s not working on Bastion in the night, he’s writing his own short stories as well. He’s also an avid soccer fanatic (center back for his Tuesday night team — a defensive rock, and about as fast as one as well) and is probably more dedicated to Arsenal than the Pope is to Jesus.

And as I just learned, Leigh and I are fellow beer snobs. But he lives within walking distance of the Diamond Knot brewpub. What a spoiled guy!  But let’s get to the important stuff, shall we?

LRR: I have to ask. What possessed you to start you own genre fiction magazine?

RLH: I wanted to do something that mattered to people — both to writers, and readers. I love science fiction, and short stories in particular. As a reader, I could never seem to get my hands on enough decent short stories. I’d heard similar sentiments echoed from others.  It seemed to me like there was room for another market. I think there’s probably room for even more. I also know a lot of writers who are putting out amazing stories, but for some strange reason they’re not getting published. It seemed reasonable that I could do my own small part to help out both parties: deliver fantastic new stories to the readers that crave them, and provide opportunities for talented authors, especially those who haven’t been published before, to get their work out in front of people. I’m passionate about the short story format. The publication only seemed natural.

LRR:What are your goals for the magazine?

RLH: In the short term, I’d like the magazine to be self-sustaining. Right now, I personally fund everything. Site maintenance, payments to authors, cover art, advertising, you name it. It would be nice if the magazine could stand on its own. Looking toward the future, I want to become a qualifying market in the Science Fiction Writer’s Association, and I’d like to be able to pay authors a decent rate. I’d also like to be known for putting out quality stories, where an author can be proud to have their story published. All of this I’m hoping we can do, and more, without losing focus on how we started: contributor oriented, providing meaningful feedback within a reasonable amount of time.

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As part of Apex Magazine’s Operation Fourth Story (learn more here),  I was lucky enough to score an interview with Sigrid Ellis, the Editor in Chief of Apex Magazine.  You might know her from Chicks Dig Comics, Queers Dig Timelords, or  Pretty Deadly.   So, whaddya say, wanna better get to know Sigrid Ellis? I do!

sigrid ellis

Little Red Reviewer: How did you come to be involved with Apex Magazine?

Sigrid Ellis: I was asked.

I had worked with Lynne and Michael Thomas on other projects – co-editing Chicks Dig Comics with Lynne, and co-editing Queers Dig Time Lords with Michael. I liked working with them and I respect the work they do. When the opportunity arose to be a submissions editor for Apex, I was happy to help out. At the point where Lynne was looking to move on to other projects, work on Queers Dig Time Lords was just wrapping up. The timing worked out for everyone!

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King David Spiders from MarsI recently reviewed King David and the Spiders from Mars, and last year I got a kick out of She Nailed a Stake Through His Head, the first two anthologies in Tim Lieder’s series of Biblical horror story collections.  It’s easy to say “The Bible is full of violence”, because yes, it is.  But what about the violence we don’t see?  What about the horrific reasonings behind why people did the oh so strange things that they did? Is that *really* the a Temple of Dagon over in the next valley? Why yes, yes it is.  This is what makes historical fantasy so much fun – the authors have free range to take the tiny details that speak to them and go crazy with them. The result? Stories that speak to me.

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In my interview with Tim Lieder, we discussed lessons learned in the publishing industry, the Bible as Literature (and seeking different translations),   the importance of diversity in your TOCs, and more. So let’s get to it!

tim lieder

LRR:  Tell us a little about yourself.

T.L.: I’m a writer. I live in New York. When I was in college I decided to convert to Judaism which was a surprise to everyone, including me, especially since the original inspiration was from an academic class on Biblical literature. I did convert but it took a long time. I have four cats. I started Dybbuk Press (Dybbuk Press facebook page) back in 2004 and I have published 9 books through it. I named it after the Ansky play The Dybbuk which takes liberties with the Jewish legends of the Dybbuk put is one of the spookiest plays ever written (the movie was put on by the 1939 Warsaw Yiddish Theater so that adds even more disturbing subtext). Currently, I make a living at writing but most of the writing is freelance for several clients and includes personal statements, editing jobs and term papers. Still, I manage to sell a few stories every year and I keep working on the fiction.

LRR: How did you get involved with editing and publishing? Any big lessons you’d like to pass on to anyone thinking of a career in editing?

T.L.: Ten years ago, I thought it’d be fun to edit a multi-author anthology and stick my story in it. I was unpublished and thought that it’d be my big break. I think I made every mistake that you could make when trying to edit an anthology. I didn’t offer much money. I tried to work with friends who were also amateurs. I agreed to work with a small press publisher whose only interest was self-publishing (something I learned when I realized that he had thought that his girlfriend’s terrible vampire story was going into the anthology). I didn’t even copy edit. About the only thing I did right was naming the book Teddy Bear Cannibal Massacre. I think that’s the only reason why it ever made a profit.

teddy bear cannibal

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This interview is part of the Book of Apex Blog tour.  Want to win a copy of the book for yourself? Click here for some give aways!

What a great experience to get to interview Tim Susman, author of Erzulie Dantor (read the story here, read my review here).  I knew that Tim was involved with small press publishing, but until now I had no idea it was his press that published Ursula Vernon’s Hugo Award winning Digger!  How cool is that?  You can learn more about Tim at his website, but before you click on that, let’s do the interview, ok?

TimSusman

LRR: Your story “Erzulie Dantor” takes place in a disaster ravaged Haiti. Can you tell us what inspired this story?

T.S.: My sister-in-law organized a relief effort from the hospital in Denver where she worked and went with them to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. We followed the pictures and stories she sent back, which painted a vivid picture of the devastation and desperation there. That was in the back of my mind when I was researching werewolves of different cultures and found the Haitian je-rouge. It was a mysterious creature in legend and also on the Internet; I could find very little about it. So it occurred to me that where there is disaster and tragedy, there are also people willing to take advantage of the disorientation of others. From there, a story about jealousy and voodoo took place, and when I found Erzulie Dantor in the pantheon of Haitian gods, I had the last piece of the story.

LRR: What is your favorite type of fiction to write? Are there certain ideas or themes you enjoy writing about?

T.S.: I have in the past couple years written science fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, mystery, and horror…but if you pin me down to one, I like writing contemporary fantasy. A lot of my longer fiction is written with anthropomorphic animal characters (“furry” stories, about which more below); no matter what the setting, it’s always the characters that push me to finish stories. My works often involve questions of self-discovery or self-actualization, especially in the areas of sexuality or creative inspiration. I don’t like “message” stories, but I think that the best works do contain something that the reader can take away to make his or her life better, and that’s something I try to include in all my work.
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As the Book of Apex Book 4 tour continues, I find myself interacting with more and more of the authors, be it on twitter, or reading their guest posts and interview on other blogs, or interviewing them here.  I’ll let you in on a little secret about how I come up with interview questions: I check out the author’s website. I read their recent blog posts, I look at different projects they are involved in, I wanna know what their deal is.  After a quick glance through Cecil Castellucci’s website, I e-mailed a friend of mine and said “have you looked at her website? this woman is awesome!”.  The more I looked at Cecil’s site and everything she’s involved with, the more often I found myself picking my jaw up off the floor. This woman is involved with everything, she does everything, she’s passionate about literature and storytelling and youth literacy programs. She does everything.  It’s inspirational, is what it is.

Wanna know more about Cecil Castellucci? Of course you do!  let’s get to the interview!

cecil-castellucci-author-2013

LRR:  I’m not usually a fan of zombie stories, but I really enjoyed your Apex story, “Always The Same. Until It Is Not”.  Did I interpret it right? Is the guy a zombie? And what inspired this story?

 C.C. Yes!  You got it right.  He is a zombie.  To be honest, I’m a little freaked out by zombies.  They really are creepy.  Writing this story was a way for me to try to confront my fear of zombies.  I tried to think of it as a way to own my fear.  The idea came after I’d talked with an acquaintance who writes for The Walking Dead.  I swore I’d never watch the show.  Then she sort of challenged me on that because she knows I like a good story.  I started thinking about how it’s always an infection that takes over like wildfire and then descends the world into a nightmare.  I thought, what if I switch what “infection” and “descent” means?  So in this story the infection is humanity and the descent is the rise of it.  It’s sort of the after of the after.

LRR: I’m also a huge fan of your short story “We Have Always Lived on Mars” (Tor.com May 2013). What inspired this story, and without spoiling the ending, can you tell us how you hit on that twist?

 

CC: Oh, I’m so glad that you like that story! I think it’s safe to say that Mars has always been a place where we humans have longed to settle.  It’s close enough to us that we could actually go there, but far away enough that if something happened there or here it’d be hard to get to or get off of.  Right now, there is a lot of Mars love and attention with things like that Mars One and us landing Curiousity on Mars and the Mock Mars missions that they have on Earth in Antarctica, Northern Canada and Utah.  It was a combination of these things that inspired the story.  I wondered what it would be like to be a girl born on Mars who had been cut off from Earth, living in a colony that had no room to grow because it had no supplies with which to expand.  I can’t say more than that or I’ll spoil it!

tin star cover

LRR: Congratulations on your soon to be released Tin Star! What’s the quick elevator pitch for  Tin Star?

 

CC: Tin Star is the story of a girl named Tula Bane, a colonist from Earth who gets abandoned on an alien space station by the charismatic cult leader of her ship at the brink of a Galactic war.  She’s the only human there and human’s are not well liked.

LRR: You’re incredibly active in your local community, hosting teen writing workshops at the library, being continually active in the local arts scene, even reading at local elementary schools.  Can you tell us a little about your passion for the local arts scene and especially  youth fiction and reading?

wrinkle in time

CC: Yes it is true that I am super active in the LA literary scene.  I am very passionate about reading and literacy because I love stories and I really believe that books and stories allow us to see past the boundaries of our day to day life.  It allows us to dream and stretch and grow and travel and see possibilities for different ways of living.  That is especially important when you are in low economic circumstances.  I work at a Title One elementary school doing read aloud to first and second graders.  I’ve been doing it for 12 years now, working with the same two teachers and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done.  I read books, this year it’s The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo to the first graders and A Wrinkle in Time with the second graders.  We take forever reading the book because I stop and talk about every little detail and we use the book to talk about how stories are told, style, history, science, everything!  As for the LAPL Teen Author Reading series that I run, there is one in NY and I know a lot of authors here, so I work with Mary McCoy at LAPL and we coordinate the series together.  I thought LA needed one!  Also, I co edit the LA Review of Books YA / Children’s section.  Mostly we run essays and thought pieces about young people’s literature.  I do these things because I am passionate about young people’s literature and these are ways that I can get our field to be sitting at the big kids table in the larger literary world.  Also, because I think that we fall in love with reading when we are young and that is when we become life long readers.

LRR: You manage the fascinating “Letters for Kids”, where kids get a letter in the mail from an author. What a fantastic idea! What other authors are involved in this, and what’s the most creative letter that has been sent?

 

CC: It is a great idea!  Stephen Elliot who runs the Rumpus asked me to coordinate the Rumpus Letters for Kids, after the wildly succesful Letters in the Mail for adults.  It’s kind of a perfect thing, because I think our sweet spot is about 6 -10 and that’s a perfect age to be getting letters in the mail.  By they way, you don’t have to be a kid to subscribe, anyone can subscribe! Even classrooms!  You get a letter from middle grade author twice a month.  It’s great fun!  Some of the authors who have written letters are Rebecca Stead, Susan Patron, Natalie Standiford, Lisa Yee, Janet Tashijian, Arthur Slade, Bobbledy Books.  They are so good!  I have a few favorites, but of course, it’s hard because they are all so different!  But Adam Rex did an original comic story. (you can see it here http://therumpus.net/2012/12/letters-for-kids/ )  Sherri L Smith wrote an original short story and this guy Nolan O’Brien did an amazing thing with circles.  It’s truly a brilliant thing, and I would have totally subscribed to Letters for Kids when I was young.

plain janes

LRR: Your graphic novel Plain Janes was a kick-off publication for the  D.C. Comics Minx imprint. The imprint didn’t last, but Plain Janes did very well. Would you consider doing graphic novels again? 

year of the beasts

CC: Of course!  And I still have!  For the record, Vertigo reprinted The Plain Janes, so it’s still available.  And you can still get the sequel Janes in Love.  I have actually written many other comics!  I did a hybrid novel called The Year of the Beasts with Nate Powell.  It’s alternating chapters of prose and graphic novel.  I also had a ghost story in Vertigo’s ghost anthology, a comet story in the SPACE anthology over at IDW, an Aquaman/ Mera love story in the Young Romance issue #1, I wrote Green Lantern: The Animated Series issue #11 and most recently I had a comic book for little kids called Odd Duck illustrated by Sara Varon on First Second.  Upcoming in early 2015 I have a graphic novel called Pearl in the Rough illustrated by Joe Infurnari out on Dark Horse.  It’s about a girl who rides the rails in 1932 with an old hobo.  So I’d say that at this point I consider myself a YA author and a comic book writer!

odd duck

well, that’s what I get for not researching Cecil enough on her website. Otherwise I would have known about Odd Duck, Year of the Beasts, and her other graphic novels.  Don’t make the same mistake I did!  Learn more about Cecil on her website, or by following her on twitter.

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As part of the Book of Apex Vol 4 blog tour, I feel very lucky to be able to interview Alethea Kontis.  An award winning author, she describes herself as among other things, a princess and a force of nature.  Alethea was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and give me more information on her short story “Blood From Stone”,  her current projects, adventures on YouTube, and how she stays sane.

Let’s get to the interview!

alethea kontis 1

LRR:  Your story, “Blood from Stone,” is a dark fantasy about a woman who seduces the man she loves and they succeed with their alchemical magic. What inspired this story?

A.K: “Blood from Stone” is based on the Grimm Brothers’ “Fitcher’s Bird” (some are more familiar with Perrault’s “Bluebeard”). “Fitcher’s Bird” is the tale of Fitcher’s last three wives, all sisters, the last of whom ultimately reveals his true nature (because she heeds the warning of a noisy bird) and leads the townspeople to murder him at his wedding. But what about Fitcher’s first wife? What kind of woman twisted this man into such a serial killer? Had he always been a sociopath? And if so, what sort of woman would have fallen in love with him in the first place?

Few have tried their hand at telling this part of Fitcher’s tale, and I am honored to be one of them. To prepare for this story, I researched the real-life historical figure that Perrault’s Bluebeard was based on: Gilles de Rais. Gilles de Rais was a baron who fought beside Joan of Arc, but he went on to squander his fortune until his family was forced to place him under something similar to house arrest.

His get-rich-quick schemes then turned to summoning demons, with the help of an Italian magician called Prelati, dark magicks that involved the sacrifice of countless children, whose bodies they subsequently burned in the fireplace (which is why no exact number is known). Once an author hears a history like that, how does she not write it?

I encourage readers who enjoyed “Blood from Stone” to explore further into the real life of Gilles de Rais.

LRR:  I found “Blood from Stone” to be dark and very adult. But you also write a lot of children’s and YA fiction. Is writing for different ages a different mindset? What’s the trick to being able to write kid’s stuff one day, and very adult fiction the next day?

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It was just about a month ago that I met author Matthew Thyer at Confusion. We hit it off, he sent me home with a copy of his new novella The Big Red Buckle (review will be posted later this week), and we’ve been emailing and tweeting back and forth a bit since them.  After some initial confusion on my part, we ended up trading interviews.  You can learn more about Matt by following him on twitter, or checking out his blog, Feet For Brains, where he talks about writing, publishing, technology, traveling the world, parenting, and more.  He’s a pretty cool guy, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again at ConText later this year.

In our extensive interview, we talk publishing, sports, influential authors, NaNoWriMo, getting into science fiction, and more!

matt thyer

LRR: The Big Red Buckle is a novella in the scifi subgenre of “sports in space”. How did you come to the decision to make sports a large part of the story?

MT: It was not so much a decision as a happy circumstance. The Big Red Buckle was a short story I took to a critique group for fun. I am a huge fan of endurance sports, and I had written this piece because I could not shake the idea. The critique group liked it, way more than I had expected anyone would, they gave me some feedback and I went home and let it mature. Soon it had doubled, then tripled in size and the concept, “sports in space”, seemed like more and more like a series.

In the days before NaNoWriMo I was doing a great deal of preparation work for a novel idea and in tandem with that I finished the first one and outlined three more stories in the “sports in space” series. All the stories are based on sports I enjoy, but they were also world building exercises.

Why sports? Well, think about all the hubbub that we just lived through. Another Super Bowl is done and gone. High enough anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere it’s hockey and the Stanley Cup that are celebrated with equal vigor. Europe and South America have soccer. Sport is a huge part of any contemporary human society.

If fiction is supposed to be a mirror for self observation than this particular sub-genre seems underrepresented. With the series, I hoped to address a couple of issues. With The Big Red Buckle, in particular, what happens to sports that have a money problem (see Professional Bicycle Racing). I wanted to juxtapose athletes with elite levels of funding next to the people who compete because they love the activity. Book two, Up Slope, is more about a sport that is used as a utility, how it affects us mentally and physically, and becomes a part of our lives which can bridge functional gaps. How a sport, especially in a non-professional setting, makes better people.

Books three and four, will have similar thought experiments going within them.

big red buckle

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This post is part of the Book of Apex Vol 4 blog tour!  We’ve got about 20 authors involved, traveling the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts here and there. Today it’s my pleasure to have Ian Nichols, author of “In The Dark”, visit and answer a few questions.  Ian doesn’t mention it below, but you can read his short story “Mortal Coil” at Daily Science Fiction.

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LRR: In “In The Dark”, Morgan doesn’t recognize the language the gypsy is singing in. What do the words of his song mean? What language is the gypsy boy singing in?

I.N.: The gypsy is singing Portugese fada, sad songs abut the harshness of life and love. I heard these for the first time when I visited Portugal in 1996, and they are the blues of Portugal. The words mean “I was dancing in my boat besides the Cruel Sea, and the sea was roaring that I was stealing, and I wonder if the sea will have reason to see my heart dancing.” That’s a very loose translation of a sad song.

LRR: What inspired this story?

I.N.: I was born in Wales, but came to Australia when I was three. I didn’t go back to Wales until I was forty-six. Down in those valley towns, it’s not like “How Green Was My Valley,” or even like Dylan Thomas. The mines have always been dark, dangerous places, and when Maggie Thatcher closed them down in the eighties, the mining towns fell to ruin. Unemployment was running at well over 50% in Blainah, where I was born on the kitchen table at No. 12 Part St, alcoholism was rife and so was dependence on social services. There were holes in the hillsides where the old mine working had collapsed for lack of maintenance, and every now and then part of the hill would slide down into the valley from this and bury a house or two. If you were lucky, no-one was killed. The older people still talked about what it was like down the pits, and I took this mood, this feeling, as the basis of my story about how the mines can have a darkness that is theirs alone, a darkness of the soul.

LRR: Where else can we find your fiction? What work of yours are you most proud of?

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