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Miami Book Fair 2011: The Year's Hottest Authors Are in Town

In a few days, South Florida takes off its dunce cap, trades its oversized reflector shades for a pair of sturdy bifocals, and flees the thumping club beats for the quietest stall at the library. It's that great time of year when the Miami Book Fair brings the world's literary elite to town to talk writing, politics, religion, and the enduring search for the great American novel.

The fair consists of a slew of events spread over eight days, but the main draw is the Street Fair, happening Friday through Sunday. New Times interviewed some of its biggest headliners. Unless otherwise noted, these authors will speak at the Chapman Conference Center (Building 3, Second Floor, Room 3210).

What would happen if Judy Blume rewrote Dante's Inferno to star a sexually repressed teenager who thinks she's in hell for overdosing on pot? There's only one author alive qualified to tackle that question; luckily Chuck Palahniuk, maverick author of Fight Club and Choke, decided to give it a shot.

The result is a rollicking trek through a land of cascading shit waterfalls and oceans of hot vomit populated by Hitler and a cast of teen stereotypes out of the Breakfast Club. Palahniuk uses the gruesome setting in Damned, his new novel, to skewer America's Puritan obsession with healthiness.

"My books all start with some horrible, unresolved thing in my own life," Palahniuk says. "Before I wrote this, I was taking care of my mom with cancer."

Palahniuk has cultivated a reputation for shocking audiences. One infamous short story, called Guts, is so brutal that when Palahniuk reads aloud on his tours, dozens have reportedly fainted. But in Damned — which has its own share of stomach-churning encounters — and other works, Palahniuk says his real goal is a legit human response.

"I am absolutely terrified of wasting readers' time," he says. "I'd rather readers reach the end and say, 'I can't believe he did that' than to feel like they regretted spending time with my work." Palahniuk will speak at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. — Tim Elfrink

Nicole Krauss' previous book, The History of Love — published when she was 31 years old — became an international bestseller and won awards.

But Krauss is the first to admit that her new novel, Great House, has a much darker tone than its zany predecessor. "The History of Love was filled with characters who charm you from the first moment you meet them, [who] ask to be loved," she says. "But when I began writing Great House... I was interested in characters who don't ask that of us, who tell us who they are with all of their flaws and shortcomings."

The result is a collection of poignant and, at first, seemingly unrelated stories in which we only slowly begin to understand and empathize with the characters: a New Yorker who coldly chooses career over family only to break down after giving away her writing desk; an Israeli man who loses his wife and takes in his estranged son after the funeral; and a Holocaust survivor who has spent his whole life reassembling the furniture stolen from his father by Nazis.

In the end, the narratives are all connected by the massive, brooding desk — inspired by Krauss' own, inherited escritoire. She began writing the novel shortly after she and her husband, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, had their first child. "The book is about emotional inheritance," Krauss says. "It's about what we consciously or unconsciously pass down." Krauss will speak at 8 p.m. Friday. — Michael E. Miller

Andy Borowitz approached his newest take on humor, The 50 Funniest American Writers, as if he were creating an iPod playlist for a party. "There's nothing more subjective than one's sense of humor," he says. "The only barometer or compass I used when I put together this collection was my taste."

His satirical news site, the Borowitz Report, is visited by millions, and his TV work — including creating The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for NBC — enshrined him among America's funny elite. His new book attempts to codify the kind of humor writing that other comedians love. The book gives him a chance to trumpet works like The Writer's Life, by David Rakoff, a regular on NPR's This American Life.

"[Rakoff] said to me, 'I think I have a funnier piece than the one that you chose,' " Borowitz recalls. "He sent it to me and was actually right — it was a funnier piece... This just proves that David Rakoff is better than I am. Not only has he won the Thurber Prize but he also picked a better David Rakoff piece than I did." Borowitz will speak at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. — Victor Gonzalez

As much as he loved visiting Hogwarts, something always bugged author Lev Grossman when he worked his way through J.K. Rowling's fantasy epic.

"I found it really odd that Potter never seemed to have read C.S. Lewis growing up. No one in his world seems to have ever read any fiction at all, in fact," Grossman says. "I don't think Hogwarts library even has a fiction section."

So when he created his own realm full of young magicians — starting in his 2009 hit The Magicians and continued in his new sequel, The Magician King — Grossman took the opposite approach.

His characters, a bunch of gifted math nerds from Brooklyn, are obsessed with a Narnia-esque land called Fillory, well-versed in Potter lore, and speak not in the faux-Olde English style but in 21st-century teenaged patter: "This place is magic as balls!" hero Quentin Coldwater exclaims toward the beginning of the new novel.

His work has been characterized in review shorthand as "Harry Potter for adults" — and the stories are certainly not G-rated, with torrid intermagician affairs and bloody magical shootouts. Grossman will speak at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Auditorium (Building 1, Second Floor, Room 1261). — Tim Elfrink

One night, Adam Mansbach spent two hours cooing and reading to his 2-year-old daughter, Vivian, before she finally closed her eyes. Mansbach, who's written the grown-up novels Angry Black White Boy and The End of the Jews, went to his computer and wearily hammered out a status update: "Be on the lookout for my forthcoming children's book, Go the Fuck to Sleep."

He was kidding. But all of his Facebook friends thought the idea was genius. So Mansbach wrote the thing. The little manuscript reads like Goodnight Moon according to Lenny Bruce.

To Mansbach's surprise, publisher Akashic immediately agreed to produce the book as a colorful hardcover. Go the Fuck to Sleep hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list. "What parents have told me," says Mansbach, "is that it put into print what every parent has thought. The book is very honest. That's why it's successful."

So successful, in fact, that it's spawned a league of imitators, including the forthcoming If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the Fuck Up? When the author of that title contacted Mansbach in hopes of a positive blurb, Mansbach became angry enough to, well, write another children's book.

"Give me a fucking break," he says now. "Stop ripping my shit off. Get your own idea." Mansbach will speak at 6 p.m. Friday. — Gus Garcia-Roberts

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