May 2, 2015 Backlist Time Machine

Today, as the Kentucky Derby begins, we’re celebrating a wonderful backlist title: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand.

Before the wildly successful Unbroken hit the shelves, Hillenbrand was best known for her fascinating book on the racehorse, Seabiscuit, and his place in history.

Despite his impressive racing pedigree, Seabiscuit was an unlikely champion – he was small for a racehorse, had crooked legs, and didn’t run particularly well as a young horse.  Under the gentle hands of his owner, Charles Howard and his trainer, Tom Smith, he slowly grew into his potential. Read more.

When Seabiscuit started to win races, he seized the American imagination and became an underdog hero. Even when an injury seemed to ruin the horse’s career, Seabiscuit came back to the track, won a legendary race and cemented his hero status. Read more.

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“It’s easy to talk to a horse if you understand his language. Horses stay the same from the day they are born until the day they die. They are only changed by the way people treat them.”

Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Enjoy the Derby!

May 1, 2015 Random Notes

This Saturday (May 2, 2015) is the first ever Independent Bookstore Day! It doesn’t take much to convince a reader to visit a bookstore, but there are other reasons to join in on Saturday than just browsing the shelves. Find your closest store here.

For some inspiration and store recommendations, check out Fodor’s 16 Indie Bookstores We Love.

Indie Bookstore Day social

If you’re based in New York City, you can see all the goings on, store by store, here.

Apr 30, 2015 Writing Tips

How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters?

I write historical fiction—some of my characters are based on real-life people, while others are invented. But the process of developing who they are is very similar for both the fact-based and the fictional characters. When I began The Tutor, I did a minimal amount of research because I didn’t want the history, the facts, to get in the way of the story. As the novel progressed I did a tremendous amount of research, but at the start I was interested in developing the dynamics between my main characters, how they reacted to each other—so I hurled them into situations where their dialogue and their actions began to convey their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their anxieties and obsessions. I wrote the first fifty pages this way, so that I got to know my characters before I started soaking them with the actual history of the times. For all my characters, I bring traits of people I know, including myself. But sometimes, and this is the alchemy of the art, I don’t even realize who I’ve brought in, what ghosts from my past I’ve conjured in creating these characters, until I’ve finished writing.

Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking?

Over the years I’ve learned that for me there are no special places I go and no special things I do to get into the mood to write: I just sit down and make myself do it. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s very hard. There is a wonderful magic that often comes with the process of writing—the sentences or moments that seem to come out of nowhere and light up the page—but I don’t think there’s any magic to the act of sitting down to do it. You have to stay at it and feel as though you are stuck to that chair with Velcro. I guess I’m afraid that if I have to go to a special place or do a special thing in order to write then the process will become precious, even fetishized, and that I will lose the natural, organic impulse. I can work with kids running around me, dogs barking, piles of laundry undone, dinner waiting to be made, bills waiting to be paid, or I can work while I’m alone and there is peace and quiet.

Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author?

My first “novel” was a mystery called, well, The Mystery of the Green Glass. I wrote it in third grade, longhand, on thick yellow paper with a thick pencil. I wish I had that copy now! My third-grade teacher launched a literary magazine for her students to publish poems, short stories, and art. This was way back before computers were ever used in schools or were ever used at all. We painstakingly wrote and drew everything on mimeograph paper and then printed out copies on the mimeograph machine in the school office. I started my mystery “novel” for that magazine, and then I just kept on going. I remember the satisfaction I felt as the stack of yellow paper grew on my desk. A few years later, my stories became more personal: I’d sit on the basement stairs of our house, in the dark, and in my head I’d write very autobiographical accounts of all the dysfunctional things that were going on with my family. Decades later, after I’d published journalism and a few short stories, it was returning to my autobiographical voice and then publishing memoir pieces and personal essays that truly enabled me to find my voice and to launch my career as a writer.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

Stop talking about how you’re going to write—sit down and do it! Because the real learning starts when you commit yourself to putting the words down on the page.

What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself?

For writing novels: I think it’s very important to get through the first draft before you start extensive rewriting and revising. It’s hard to know what that first chapter or those first several chapters need to be until you’ve gotten to the end of your story. I remember I wrote a novel in graduate school, and years later I looked at all the drafts of the first chapter that I’d labored over–draft after draft after draft where I tried to incorporate all the comments from my workshops and all my neurotic insecurities about a word or a sentence or tense (past or past perfect, etc.). I think I wrote at least twenty drafts of that first chapter. When I looked at them again, years later, I realized they were all pretty much the same and that I’d been like a cat licking the same patch of fur over and over again. I could have written a draft of the whole book in the time that it took me to rewrite that first chapter so many times.

Learn more about The Tutor here.

Apr 25, 2015 Reading Challenges

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.

There are always books on your to-be-read shelf, so why not challenge yourself? We picked 24 beloved Young Adult books everyone should read. Show us how many you finish!

(click image to see full size and print out)readingchallenge-must-read-ya-best-sellers

Apr 20, 2015 News

Welcome to PenguinRandomHouse.com. where you’ll find countless books, author pages, genre-specific recommendations, and more. We’re happy to welcome you to our beautiful new home and can’t wait to find you your new favorite book.

Clear, beautiful, fun, specific      

With thousands of new books to choose from every year, it can be overwhelming trying to find a new read. We’ve made it easier than ever to surface books you’ll love through clean design, sophisticated genre pages, and suggestions based on bestsellers, your category preferences and more. home

Organized, Detailed, Simple

Book detail pages are chock-full of information: plot summaries, excerpts, praise, reading guides, author Q&As, podcasts, videos, and so much more. With our expansive content network, you’ll find everything you need quickly and easily.

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Know exactly what you’re looking for?

For the reader who knows just the sort of book they prefer, we have pages for each genre, sub-genre and sub-sub-genre! Whether you like hard or soft Science Fiction, Paranormal Romance, or Space Opera novels, PenguinRandomHouse.com has you covered.

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Get the latest news and announcements  

Want more from your favorite author or category? It’s easy to sign up for specific news about bestsellers, your favorite book genre or a particular author. Get the scoop on big blog posts, interviews, author event dates, and book announcements.        stay in touch

Share with friends

Social media just got more bookish! It’s easy to share a book with a friend, alert your followers to a great author signing in your area, or pin a beautiful piece of cover art.book detail (social)

 Never miss an author event again

We know how important writers are to you. Keep tabs on your favorites – we’ve made it easy to get information about author events, signings and readings, so you’ll never miss a tour date in your town.meet our authors

Insider Access

Get in the know with the Penguin Random House blog, The Perch. There are always behind-the-scenes posts, from editors writing about a new favorite book, to an author doling out writing tips.the perch

Show off your reading chops by playing Book Bingo or participating in a challenge. Keep tabs on other competitors on social media and start exploring titles you might not have picked up otherwise.book bingo

Head to the PenguinRandomHouse.com homepage to find your next read!discover your next book

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Apr 20, 2015 Reading Challenges

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.

There are always books on your to-be-read shelf, so why not challenge yourself? We picked 26 of our bestsellers, from A-Z to read. Show us how many you finish!

(click image to see full size and print out)

readingchallenge-2015-penguinrandomhouse-AtoZ (1)

Apr 20, 2015 Random Notes

We are thrilled to announce our 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner in the Biography or Autobiography category: The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer.

The Pulitzer Prizes called it,

“An engrossing dual biography that uses recently opened Vatican archives to shed light on two men who exercised nearly absolute power over their realms.”

Congratulations to Mr. Kertzer, his editor David Ebershoff—who has edited his third Pulitzer-winning book in as many years—and everyone at the Random House Publishing Group for this proud and defining occasion for all of us at Penguin Random House.

This is the 124th time a book published by one of our current or past imprints has been honored with a Pulitzer, a humbling accomplishment unrivaled in trade-publishing history.

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Read more about The Pope and Mussolini here.

Apr 18, 2015 Editor’s Desk

Rebecca Saletan, Vice President & Editorial Director, Riverhead Books, offers fascinating insights into her work with bestselling Russian-American author Masha Gessen on The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy.

On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs fashioned from pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others. The elder of the brothers suspected of committing this atrocity, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in the ensuing manhunt; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty in a Boston court of all 30 counts he was charged with. How did such a nightmare come to pass? Gessen is uniquely endowed with the background, access, and talent to tell this probing and powerful story of dislocation, and the longing for clarity and identity that can reach the point of combustion. She explains who the brothers were and how they came to do what they appear to have done. Most crucially, she reconstructs the struggle between assimilation and alienation that ensued for each of the brothers, descendants of ethnic Chechens, fueling their apparent metamorphosis into a new breed of homegrown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere—a split in identity that seems to have incubated a deadly sense of mission.

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Rebecca Saletan

 

At what point after the Boston Marathon bombings did the genesis of this book take place and how did you work with Masha to identify the most important elements and perspectives of this tragic story to present in book form? 

It happened very quickly – within 10 days or so of the bombings. Masha was at the time still living in Moscow, and deeply immersed in researching and reporting her last book. She always thinks forward to her next project while immersed in the one she’s working on, but in this case, it wasn’t until a longtime friend suggested she take on the story of the Tsarnaev brothers that it occurred to either of us – and as soon as the idea surfaced, I realized there was no one better equipped to tell it. We immediately knew the story we were interested in wasn’t the ripped-from-the-headlines one of the bombings themselves – other books would cover that amply, and faster. The book we were interested in was about why such a tragedy comes to pass in the first place: What transpired in these brothers’ lives to make them decide to take such drastic and devastating action in a place that was as much home to them as any had ever been? By virtue of not only her background, her bilingual – actually, bicultural – fluency, and her astonishing feel for narrative, we knew she was the perfect person to tell that story. Masha herself came to the Boston area from Russia with her family in her teens, and had experienced firsthand the dislocations of the immigrant experience. She stayed in the US for a decade before she returned to Russia in her twenties to cover the transformations wracking her homeland, which included the wars in Chechnya. To report this book she traveled to places that would be dangerous if not impossible for most other reporters to access, including Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan.

What was the scope of the editor/author process as this project evolved from initial concept to finished book?

This is the fifth book of Masha’s I’ve had the privilege to publish, and we’ve developed an almost married-couple familiarity with each other’s ways at this point. She’s also an incredible storyteller who always develops a vision for what particular path she wants to take through her research and reporting to convey not only the facts but the perspective she’s arrived at. With her Putin biography, I made a major structural suggestion that resulted in a restructuring of the first half of the book – though not actually major rewriting – because I had a sense of where American readers need to be met in order to come on board the story she was telling – but in this case her sense of how to unfold the narrative was nearly flawless. She was writing fairly quickly, however, and I was seeing the book chapter by chapter, so my most useful input was line-by-line, to make the story flow as dramatically as possible and to make sure the themes she was developing resonated chapter to chapter. Sometimes I also suggested she cut back on editorializing and just let the story tell itself, reassuring her that the details she’d chosen were making the points she wanted to make. In other instances, I felt she needed to lead the reader a bit more explicitly toward the connections she was driving at. I think this is a big part of editing, standing out in the theater before the audience arrives and saying what reads clearly and doesn’t need to be hammered home, and what’s not quite coming across. Practically speaking, we have a great rhythm – Masha is a night owl whose most productive hours are from the late evening when her children go to bed until three or four in the morning, while I’m an early riser, especially when I’m in the thick of editing; so not infrequently she’d send me a chapter before she went to bed, and I’d have it back to her, with edits and comments, by the time she woke.   

The bombings were such a horrific atrocity that many people may not want to revisit.  Just as many people, though, are still wondering, “Why and how could this happen?”  What aspects of The Brothers do you feel address that question in ways not discussed before and will connect with readers most powerfully? 

This is not a book about the bombings per se, and it is not about the victims and the many people who have been traumatized by the tragedy; that story has been well covered by others, in short and long form. This is a book that reconstructs the path someone might take to arrive at the decision to commit such an atrocity – what might have taken place in their background, their encounters with this culture, the shifts in their thinking. This is not to excuse or minimize it in any way. But it does call into question the received models we have been using – models of “radicalization” that are not borne out either by the research on terrorism or by the specifics of this story. We sense on some level, I think, that these models don’t make sense, but we continue to evoke them. In the process we react to such incidents in a way that inadvertently glorifies them and their perpetrators and, unfortunately, helps set the stage for more such episodes. I think this book is crucial reading for all of us because it helps us to narrate the story to ourselves in a way that actually fits the facts and might allow us to evolve a saner and ultimately safer response.

Learn more about the book here.

Apr 17, 2015 Writing Tips

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! 

Do you ever base characters on people you know?

All the time! And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who wouldn’t say the same thing. But. Even if you do base a character on a person you know, that person becomes changed in small or large ways to accommodate the story you are trying to tell. So in the end, a real person becomes a made-up person. That’s the way it works for me in fiction, anyway.

How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters?

For some writers, characters just come to them, though they are usually vague at first, ill formed.  As the writer keeps on with the story,  the characters reveal more and more about themselves.

There are times, though, when a character comes out of nowhere, fully formed; I love when that happens. HOW it happens, I have no idea. It’s like finding a four- leaf clover.

Some writers are very meticulous about keeping notebooks, compiling details that will go into making up a character, and so by the time they start writing, the character is pretty much determined: how he looks and acts and says is less of a surprise.

If you want to write, you need to find out what methods work best for you. It’s always best for me when it’s FUN writing a character, even the obnoxious ones–in fact, the obnoxious ones might be the most fun to write.

How is writing historical fiction different from other fiction?

I think what’s most important in historical fiction is that it feels like the story is actually taking place in whatever time you set it. People need to talk a certain way, have certain ways of doing things, have certain expectations of each other, certain moral codes. Clothes need to be right. Food. The political and social climate. You take on a lot of responsibility when you write historical fiction. You have a contract with a reader that you will take them somewhere else in time; you don’t want them feeling like they’re seeing behind the curtain. It’s much harder than contemporary fiction!

Is there something to do to get in the writing mood?

Yes. Write.

I don’t mean to sound flip with this answer. It seems to be true that if you just get that first sentence down, another will want to follow. That said, I’m almost always in the mood to write; it’s what I love doing most. I think if writing is an awful chore for you, if you have to trick yourself into sitting down and putting down lines, you might be better off in another line of work. Even if you’re a good writer, if you don’t like doing it, what’s the point?

What is your writing style, in five words or less?

Intimate.

Read more about The Dream Lover here.

Apr 16, 2015 Beaks & Geeks

Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test, Frank, Lost at Sea and many others, joins Amy to talk about his latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Read an excerpt here.

Subscribe to Beaks & Geeks on iTunes, visit us on Soundcloud and follow us on twitter: @BeaksandGeeks

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