We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? The trick that probably has served me more than any other is to always stop and write down a promising idea or line when I think of it no matter what else I’m doing. If I’m on my way out the door or even falling asleep and something good pops into my head—some missing piece of information or crucial development in the story I’m working on, or perhaps an idea for a new story—I’ll stop and take the time to write it down even if it makes me late or means I’ll be tired in the morning. So many times in the past I’ve thought, Oh, I’ll remember that, or, Oh, I’ll sleep on it and write it down in the morning, but then when I return to it it’s gone. So now I always make a note of any idea, even if it’s just an indirect reference or a half-baked thought. So many projects that I’ve gone on to develop or see all the way through came from a scribble in a margin of a book or a text I sent myself at two in the morning. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Reading great books always inspires me. There’s nothing like turning the last page of an incredibly satisfying story and just kind of letting the feeling it left you with soak in. Once I’m done processing that feeling, I’m almost always, like, I want to do that. I want to leave someone feeling that way. Even if the book is very different than my own work. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? At Bennington College, where I studied for my MFA, professors often encouraged us to focus not on publishing our work but on getting it as good as it could possibly be. To focus on what was on the page and not who was going to read it or in what format. At the time, I was frustrated by that. I thought, I didn’t come here to journal—I want to write for readers, but now I see the wisdom in that advice. Once something is published, it’s out there forever and your name will always be attached to it. I look back at stories I wrote in college, and even in my twenties, and I thank God no one is going to read them. There’s no rush to get published. And the reading public has no expiration date. Just write, and polish what you have written until it’s as good as it can be, and then worry about everything else. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? I have a list of things I try to avoid, but clichés, verbs of utterance, and exclamation points are right up there. A few of each inevitably sneak into my work, especially in the first draft, but I do try to troll for them in the revisions that follow. I’ll give myself a few exclamation points for every hundred pages or so, but verbs of utterance I try to keep out altogether. As one professor at Bennington told me, “‘F*** you!’ he shouted angrily,” is redundant. It’s clear from what the speaker is saying that he’s angry. Let the words speak for themselves. If the line is really strong, “he said” should suffice. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I definitely pull individual characteristics—sayings, speech patterns, mannerisms, quirks—from people I know, but it’s rare that any given person is the perfect complex combination of factors for the story I want to tell. And there just aren’t that many people I know as well as I know my characters. To write convincing characters, you need to know things about them that aren’t even on the page. You need to be keyed into how they would react to a given situation, what motivates them in that context, and the gap between what they say about it and how they actually feel—even if they’re not aware of the disparity. You need to get inside their heads in a way I don’t think we often do with people in our own lives. We approach people we know from our own perspectives, not theirs. Of course, by borrowing an isolated characteristic from someone you know and endowing your character with it, there’s the danger that the person you borrowed it from thinking the entire character is based on her. It’s, like, yes, you both wear yellow nail polish, but, no, I don’t think you secretly hate your mother! Read more about Local Girls here.
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. “If you have to recommend just one bourbon to me….” Naturally, this was my first question for Reid Mitenbuler, author of Bourbon Empire. There are some perks to be an editor, and working with an expert on American booze writing a book on the history of bourbon means personalized recommendations. His answer: Buffalo Trace. A lot was riding on his answer: whether or not I, as an equal opportunity drinker of spirits, would buy him and his book depended on my liking his selection. His reasoning certainly sold me: here was an inexpensive bottle ($30) that wasn’t too sweet, or too woodsy. It would go down smooth, he assured me. And the package was cool but wouldn’t win me any hipster points. Spoiler alert: I loved it. And so began a partnership that was about as much what to drink as how to structure the narrative. In many ways the book itself depended on Reid’s unique take on what makes a bourbon good, and how to cut through the marketing hype and tales long made up about a lone man (it’s always a man) toiling on a single still, with a single barrel, to bring you an exemplary bottle of whiskey. Every chapter we worked on became a lesson in reality versus myth. There’s a reason we don’t know the name Lewis Rosensthiel but we know Jack Daniels, or Evan Williams. Rosenthiel is the man responsible for the legislation that cemented bourbon as an American-made whiskey. He was also Jewish, and as savvy a businessman as you’re likely to encounter in the annals of American lobbying. He had a surplus stock of whiskey to sell—a surplus that would, quite literally, evaporate into thin air—and how better to get bottles moving than to limit your competition from overseas. Only Americans could make and sell bourbon, and this definition has stuck. Of course getting to the heart of Reid’s nuanced portrait of American booze—a ride that includes stops at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, to peer at the whiskey-soaked bones of dead Civil War soldiers; at the Kentucky Derby, to sample the world’s finest mint julep; and at the Jim Beam laboratory for the future bourbon flavors—required careful research on my part, too. By which I mean: more bourbon tasting. Memorial Day weekend, 2014, in the thick of pouring over pages of Reid’s first draft, I did my patriotic duty as Method editor and went to the liquor store. There’s a wonderful chapter on the creative genius behind Maker’s Mark—and I sipped on Maker’s Mark. Reid’s brilliant final chapters look at the boom of craft distilleries, and I tried my first rye whiskey, from Tuthilltown Spirits, based in upstate New York. As a reader I love the context for my drink choices. And Bourbon Empire delivers on this and so many others levels. You’ll never look at a liquor store shelf—or bar menu—the same again. Read more about Bourbon Empire here.
Further Afield features are from our greater Penguin Random House family. We pick interesting articles to keep you updated on genre-specific news, interviews, and more. Feeling anxious? Discouraged? Lovesick? Let The Book Apothecary prescribe the perfect book for you. Inspired by Monsieur Perdu in the best selling The Little Paris Bookshop, the apothecary will recommend books good for what ails you.
“With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry, ma chère Madame.” – Monsieur Perdu, The Little Paris Bookshop“The Little Paris Bookshop is an enchantment. Set in a floating barge along the Seine, this love letter to books – and to the complicated, sometimes broken people who are healed by them – is the next best thing to booking a trip to France.”—Sarah Pekkanen, author of Catching Air Get your recommendations here!
Who said reading can’t be competitive? Every few months, we’ll be challenging you to read a list of selected books. Print out the challenge and cross the titles off as you go. Show off how much you’ve read by taking a picture and tweeting @penguinrandom or Instagramming (@penguinrandomhouse) with the hashtag #challengeyourshelf.
About Blue Rider Press and Plume: Blue Rider Press was launched in January 2011 and publishes an eclectic mix of hardcover fiction and nonfiction titles, reflecting President and Publisher David Rosenthal’s wide range of interests, including suspense fiction, popular biography, literary novels, humor, music, and contemporary politics. Plume was founded in 1970 and is today recognized as one of the pre-eminent trade paperback imprints, publishing a range of emerging voices in both fiction and nonfiction, with an extensive backlist. In January 2015, the editorial and marketing leadership for Blue Rider and Plume was unified under one group. Our content: We publish a range of authors including musicians (Neil Young, Elvis Costello), journalists (Mark Leibovich), humorists (Ben Schott, Annabelle Gurwich, Chris Cerf and Henry Beard), sports figures (Stuart Scott, Mike Tyson), political figures (Gary Hart, James Carville, Mary Matalin), TV personalities (James Cramer, Bill Maher) as well as commercial fiction (David Mark, MA Lawson), literary writers (Leanne Shapton, Marisa Silver, Stephen Dobyns) and artists (Extreme Coloring). We love working with our authors to explore digital platforms and help readers connect with the books they love. Fashion maven Amanda Brooks shared behind-the-scenes photos on Instagram while writing Always Pack A Party Dress, and Mamrie Hart kept her YouTube followers updated on You Deserve A Drink throughout publication. Jewel has already starting tweeting about her upcoming memoir Never Broken, and we created a Tumblr for Anna North’s novel The Life and Death of Sophie Stark updated with exclusive content and updates during her book launch. What it’s like to work at Blue Rider/Plume: There’s no such thing as a “typical” Blue Rider Press author. We publish authors with a wide range of backgrounds—from household names (like Neil Young!) to first-time novelists. One of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on, The Knife by Ross Ritchell, was one such debut. It is a fantastic novel that I was personally a huge fan of—and it was amazing to see the literary community rally behind it as well, reviewers and readers alike. When the Chicago Tribune called The Knife a “literary masterpiece,” it was music to my ears! –Wesley Salazar, Marketing Coordinator My favorite part of working at Blue Rider is the variety of books. In recent months, I’ve worked on illustrated short stories, a music memoir, a literary novel, and a collection of humor essays – with such a range of titles, every one of my campaigns is unique. It’s an exciting, fun, and creative place to work, with some of the best authors and colleagues around! – Eliza Rosenberry, Senior Publicist You know what’s invigorating? Saying yes. Yes to mold-breaking, yes to new ideas, yes to beauty, yes to boldness. Blue Rider/Plume looks for books that derive energy from the friction between the expected and the unexpected. – Becky Cole, Senior Editor Learn more about Blue Rider Press and Plume!
Read It Forward has teamed up with literary clothing company, Litographs, for a special giveaway! Enter to win 1 of 5 prize packs that each include a gorgeous new edition of a classic. Thanks to our friends at Litographs, the winners will each take home a clothing item (tote bag or t-shirt) made entirely from the words of the book it depicts. Deadline for entry is 11:59 P.M. (Eastern Time) on June 29, 2015, so enter now!
Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. Karen Joy Fowler and I have been together since 1990, when her agent sent me the manuscript of what was to become KJ’s first novel. That agent had discriminating taste and kept a small list. She also very quietly took the measure of the editors she met. I had known her for years and saw very little in the way of submissions. She placed her clients well and the marriages tended to last. So when the manuscript arrived, I was both curious and interested. Nabokov is famously on record as saying “you will know great fiction when the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as you read.” It’s been my good fortune to have that happen many times though not having it happen is more the norm. With Karen Fowler’s Sarah Canary, it happened immediately and continued to the last page. Her agent had taken my measure over the years and now she hit a home run. That novel—quirky, subversive, funny and, yes, sad, was a literary success. Of the many glowing reviews, the one I still treasure came in as a prepublication comment. I should preface this by saying that in my wayward youth, I had gone to graduate school, reading politics and philosophy and, as a teaching assistant, handling the introductory comparative politics course. I loved the teaching and hated the grad school but I soldiered on until the day came when I realized I would never fit into the white, male- dominated world of academia. And I also realized that poetry and fiction mattered more to me than statistical analyses and grantsmanship. The revelation—not quite as dramatic as Paul on the road to Damascus but still undeniable—was made real when I found myself immersed in the poetry, memoirs, and short fictions of W. S. Merwin. I did not personally know Merwin, but from his work I sensed KJ’s novel would strike a chord and I sent him a bound galley. The result was all an editor could hope for. This U.S. Poet Lauriat and winner of just about every major literary prize had this to say: “An enchanted and enchanting narrative . . . a work with the suggestive authority and the evanescent power of myth. Her storytelling gifts are exhilarating.” KJ now has six novels to her credit, the most recent—We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves—a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic, earned her the PEN/Faulkner Award and made her a finalist for the Man Booker in the first year that prize was opened to Americans. Just this past week the Knopf publicist for Judy Blume’s new adult novel told us that as her tour began, all she wanted to talk about was WAACBO and she urged her audiences to read it. But then, from the beginning it was clear to me that KJ was a writer’s writer and her fans are legion—from Michael Chabon to Ann Packer, from Kaled Hosseini to Ursula Le Guin. If you have yet to read KJ, a good place to begin would be Black Glass: fifteen gemlike tales that showcase the extraordinary talents of this prizewinning writer. I published it in 1998 and its reception far outpaced what publishers expect from short story collections. Nationally (and very favorably) reviewed, it went on become a Ballantine Reader’s Circle paperback, with Ballantine simultaneously promoting all of her backlist. But that was seventeen years ago. The stories have worn well, and Putnam believed, following on the success of WAACBO, there was a new audience, a new generation to reach out to with this collection. But publishing short stories is still hard, and publishing a collection that has already had one incarnation can be a publicist’s nightmare. I’m happy to report that KJ’s terrific publicist (Katie Grinch) came through. At the end of May, Esquire magazine presented its summer reading list and Black Glass was one of their ten fiction selections. Not bad for a republished story collection! And KJ is set to revisit the Diane Rehm show this summer. She is also still touring, largely now to college campuses—several having made WAACBO the freshman read for the incoming class. In Black Glass, KJ lets her wit and vision roam freely, turning accepted norms inside out and fairy tales upside down—forcing us to reconsider our unquestioned verities and proving yet again that she is among our most subversive writers. By turns tender and funny, these stories are also dark and acerbic—the unexpected sting that jolts us out of our comfort zone. A master of the sly feint and cunning conceit, Fowler toys with figures from myth, history, and pop culture, upsetting all our expectations. So here is Carrie Nation loose again in the land, breaking up topless bars and radicalizing women as she preaches clean living to men more intent on babes and booze. And here is Mrs. Gulliver, her patience with her long-voyaging Lemuel worn thin: money is short and the kids can’t even remember what their dad looks like. And what of Tonto, the ever faithful companion, now turning forty without so much as a birthday phone call from that masked man? Playing with time, chance, and reality, Black Glass is, as Kirkus said, filled with “ferociously imaginative stories in an accomplished and risk-taking work from one of our most interesting writers.” The New York Times Book Review: “There is much that is fantastical about Black Glass, but also much that is rooted in a solid emotional reality; in fine-edged and discerning prose, Fowler manages to re-create both life’s extraordinary and its ordinary magic.” San Francisco Chronicle: “[An] astonishing voice . . . at once lyric and ironic, satiric and nostalgic. Fowler can tell tales that engage and enchant.” The Washington Post: “’Black Glass,’ Fowler’s longest story, is one of those marvels that defeat criticism. It’s a piece of bravura virtuosity, which Fowler also manages to make extremely funny. You reread the story, intent on discovering how she did it, and end up losing yourself again to wonder and enjoyment.” The Boston Globe: “Arresting . . . each piece puts us on notice in its own way that an intriguing intelligence is at work.” So, is this multitalented woman a monster? Well, no. No, no, and no again. KJ emerged from the politics that was Berkley in the sixties and she never lost her commitment to fair play and justice. She is a warm and generous woman with a brilliant mind. If you want to know more about her, read her prefatory essay in this new edition of Black Glass. Oh, and one more thing: She wasn’t an English major and did an MA in southeast Asian history. Plus she does not have an MFA in writing. Thank heaven there are still writers who do not follow that cookie cutter path. Read more about Black Glass here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? I write everything by hand, then type it all. I can’t think with a keyboard. I stop to make corrections, the cursor flies around, idiot things pop up. All of these break my concentration. With a pen, I just let my mind go. I see and hear the characters and record what’s there. How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? For every page that is published I have as many pages in outlines and charts about people, places, plot. I try to get photos of the major characters so I can look at them when I’m writing. I also use a lot of floorplans. I go to Savills UK website and find houses and use them. With everything I do beforehand, I’m thinking about the characters and the plot. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? The first sentence is important to me so I work on that. Mainly, I want to set the tone with the first chapter, so I do a lot of pre-work on that. And no matter how much work I do beforehand, until I actually hear the characters talking, I don’t know what I have. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I spend my life trying to get out of things other than writing. Errands, appointments, emails, calls, etc, make me crazy. In the last few years I have done two around-the-world cruises. I have four wonderful months of internet so bad it might as well not exist. I get to tell people I can’t do whatever because I’m on a ship docked outside Tahiti. It is glorious! I write and write, then write some more. On my last cruise I wrote 102,000 words and outlined my next novel — and I saw some great places. Heaven! Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I never in my life thought about being a writer. I thought they were people who lived on pink clouds, not real. But I had a story in my head that wouldn’t go away, so I thought maybe if I wrote it down it would stop pestering me. When it was done, I paid my next door neighbor’s daughter to type it and sent it to a publishing house that had pretty covers. They wrote back asking if they could send me a bunch of money and would I please write some more books. I haven’t stopped since then. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? After I turned in my second book, I spent three months waiting for my editor to read it. During that time I was eaten up with stories I wanted to write, but I thought I had to wait to get the okay to go ahead. I vowed to never again wait for a publishing person for anything. I go ahead and write at my pace and let them move at theirs. It’s a decision that has helped me stay sane. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Not to fall in love with your own writing. Over my many years in publishing, what I’ve seen kill more careers than anything else is ego. “How dare they do that to my work?!” That attitude has no place in publishing. In this business you need to have a thick skin and be ready to take criticism that would cripple most people. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Good stories. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Yes and no. Fiction characters are never as complex as real people. In real life, you might have a mild mannered friend and one day receive a call saying he/she killed someone. But you canNOT do that in a novel. You have to lead up to it, hint at it. Sometimes I see a character trait in a person and I blow that up to be one entire person. As for villains, I have relatives. ’Nuff said. Read about Jude Deveraux’s newest book, Ever After.
Further Afield features are from our greater Penguin Random House family. We pick interesting articles to keep you updated on genre-specific news, interviews, and more. In honor of Pride Month, Biographile has picked some of the most poignant and beautiful quotes from LGBT writers.
“The Library of Congress describes this month as a time to recognize “the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.” To honor the generations of men and women who have fought to live and love independent of hate and ignorance, we’ve collected quotes from sixteen iconic LGBT authors whose writing has shaped our modern culture and drastically improved the discourse surrounding sexual identity.”From E.M. Forster: “It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” (A Room with a View, 1908) Read the whole article here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so twice a month, we’ll feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters? I start by keeping a “dossier” on each character: the usual basics like their age, hometown, birth order, the contents of their fridge. I snoop around—showing up at their tenth birthday parties (then their sixteenth and their fortieth). I write diary entries in their voice. Later in the process I’ll write the same scene from each character’s point of view—a tip I learned from hearing an interview with Jonathan Lethem. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Running helps my writing—both require a lot of endurance. My favorite runs cross both bridges and bodies of water. I find that after a long run, I’m just too physically exhausted to be overly self-critical when I sit down to work, which then makes the writing flow more easily. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I’ve known pretty much since I first learned to write. My first (unpublished) manuscript was called Messy Bessy—an illustrated series about an unkempt schoolgirl who grows up and has twenty kids. In elementary school I wanted to be a writer slash nun, but I was afraid the church would make me censor my writing. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Daydream about your characters. That way, you’re still doing work on your novel even when you’re waiting for the subway, at the gym, on line at the grocery store…. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? I try not to write about an experience until after I’ve been away from it for a few days (or years). Otherwise you gain no perspective on it because it’s so immediate. Also, you tend to sound whiny. So I’ll write down the facts of what happened immediately in my diary, but then I file them away, and later—much later—I can reflect on that experience in the context of a larger narrative. Describe your writing style in five words or less. A chocolate-covered broccoli. (Wait, what?) Read more about Re Jane here.