Aug 28, 2015 Behind the Scenes

For book lovers, snagging a summer internship in publishing is a very big deal. Now that it’s almost time to head back to school, we asked our interns about their experiences at Penguin Random House. 

Speakers Bureau Intern: Sara Chuirazzi 

To be completely honest, when I found out that I would be interning with the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau this summer, I had no idea what that entailed. Even so, I packed my life into two suitcases and flew from my small Ohio town to New York City. It’s only been a month or so, but I’ve already learned so much about the business of publishing, and the speakers bureau, in particular (in addition to everything I’ve learned about city living!). Essentially, the speakers bureau represents authors in the world of paid speaking engagements–which I’ve found out is a vibrant, fast-paced industry.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a varied clientele base (libraries, corporations, schools, etc.) and large group of talented authors. Because the bureau represents the entire company, I am lucky enough to work with multiple imprints and types of literature. Not only does working in this capacity keep me up-to-date on new book releases, but I also feel well informed about current events and topics in which there is a demand for conversations, such as LGBT rights, leadership skills, and other social issues. It feels good to know that I am playing a small role in facilitating these important conversations by helping to send qualified, enthusiastic speakers into the world!

This week, one of the agent directors from the speakers bureau presented at our intern lunch meeting and I was overwhelmed by how proud I felt to be part a of this close-knit, hardworking group. Beyond that, I was filled with gratitude for having the opportunity to work at a place that has such a healthy corporate culture and that places such a high value on mentoring. One of the most important things that I’ve learned in my time here is how special it is to connect with people who share your passions. How awesome is it to discuss books and writing with people all day?! What a great foundation to build a career on! I’ve also learned how important it is to get to know the people around you. It’s more than just “networking,” which young people are encouraged to do as frequently as possible. If you’re not actually interested in something, networking doesn’t work. You need to be genuinely interested in how people ended up where they are today, what they love about their jobs, and how you can create a career for yourself that is equally fulfilling.

Here’s to an equally wonderful second half of my internship with Penguin Random House!

Random House Publishing Group Art Intern: Arielle Pearl

Arielle Pearl

These past five weeks at Random House have been really educational and productive. I am interning in the Advertising/Promotions department, as well as the Art/Design department for the Random House Publishing Group imprint. Even on my first day I could tell that this was going to be a valuable experience that I would enjoy. Being an intern can be intimidating, but this is not the case at Random House. Everyone who works here is extremely humble, and friendly, and is eager to teach beginners the works of the business. It is an environment where teamwork is fostered, and the success of books is priority.

In the Art department I am being supervised by Paolo Pepe, the SVP & Creative Director. I have been reading manuscripts and learning how to design book covers using Adobe Creative Suite and hand illustration. This process has been really challenging because everyone involved in the process has a very specific image of how they think the cover should look. One book that I am working on has been in the cover development process for almost a year. It has been really interesting learning about the process from such talented designers, as well seeing the selection process from the publisher’s point of view. For the art department, I’ve also been creating mechanicals using Adobe Creative Suite, and creating templates for e-books.

In the Advertising and Promotions Department, I am being supervised by the Sr Director of Creative Services, Annette Melvin. For the department I have been using Adobe Creative Suite to create advertising materials for upcoming books, such as social media banners, and print ads. I’ve also been writing copy for upcoming book’s advertising campaigns.

Interns at a Networking Event

Digital Video Intern: Katie Susko 

Before I started interning at Penguin Random House, three things came to mind when I thought of book publishers: books, books, and more books. I never would have guessed that the things that I would be handling when working at a book publisher would be mobile apps and YouTube videos; and yet, here I am.

And coincidentally, these two things are exactly what I want to be dealing with.

An outsider may be confused as to why Penguin Random House hired an intern to report sales in the App Store, or analyze the audience retention of a video of Aziz Ansari at Book Con. But from the inside, this makes perfect sense. I am an intern for the app development and video production departments. My daily activities are centered on apps that we have created to accompany our books and brands, such as Fodor’s, Game of Thrones, and Cat in the Hat. My activities also involve our YouTube videos that promote our books, but also get people excited about reading in general. My day-to-day tasks are challenging because they are completely new to me (I’ve only had experience in editorial), but that makes my internship exciting. I never know what I’m going to do next.

Aside from learning the ins and outs of a book publisher (from both my supervisors and from the amazing brown bag lunches), I now have knowledge in video production, marketing, sales, audience involvement, app design, and so much more. But in book publishing, there is always more to learn. Luckily, my supervisors and co-workers have encouraged me to get involved in as many aspects of publishing as I can while I’m in New York (we just don’t have the same opportunities back in Michigan).

With this overwhelming encouragement, and inspiration from brown bag lunches, I hope to look more in depth at the art and editorial departments. I have studied these two subjects in school and would love to see how they are executed at an actual business (and then I can go back and brag to my professors).

But you may be wondering: if I’ve been studying art and editorial, why are the app and video departments “exactly what I want to be dealing with”? I have always been fascinated with the way that others are able to take traditional ideas and transform and innovate as our world evolves. And that is exactly what my department is doing. Videos and mobile apps are not what you’d expect from a book publisher: and that’s why I want to be here. I am so blessed to be working with some of the most innovative and creative people I have had the pleasure to meet, and it has only added to my desire to be in the book publishing industry. For the rest of this internship, I hope to learn as much as I can about apps and videos; from the design and editing to, ultimately, the users’ interaction.

I am so lucky to have this internship this summer (and the free books aren’t so bad either).

Thanks to all our interns for all your hard work! You’ll be missed! 

Aug 26, 2015 Editor’s Desk

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.

I fell in love with Naomi Jackson’s debut novel about a matriarchal family in Barbados, The Star Side of Bird Hill, from the opening page. In short order, Jackson indelibly captures Barbados’ Bird Hill neighborhood and the two young Braithwaite sisters who have left Brooklyn to come and live there with their grandmother. From its very first line, Star Side plunges us in this very specific, very beautiful community: The people on the hill liked to say that God’s smile was the sun shining down on them.

Jackson’s first descriptions of the girls at the heart of this novel are also stunning. Dionne, the elder sister, is “sixteen going on a bitter, if beautiful, forty-five.” Phaedra, age ten, saw “her skin had darkened to a deep cacao from running in the sun all day in spite of her grandmother’s protests… Glimpses of Phaedra’s future beauty peeked out from behind her pink heart-shaped glasses, which were held together with scotch tape.” Before I turned to the second page, I was fully immersed in this place, and I felt I had known these girls for years.

Author Naomi Jackson grew up in a predominantly West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn and spent summers in Barbados with her family. There is a strong autobiographical element to Star Side, which explores themes of immigration and identity, motherhood and family, sexual awakening and coming of age, and mental illness and belonging.

After their mother’s breakdown in New York forces them into exile in Barbados, Dionne spends the summer in search of love, while Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations. The girls’ grandmother, Hyacinth, is a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah. Hyacinth is a magical character, and the novel beautifully explores parenthood through her loves and losses. Her daughter Avril left Barbados for good when she fell for the girls’ father Errol. When Errol arrives to reclaim the sisters, the girls must choose between two worlds, as their mother once did.

It has been so gratifying to see in-house readers, booksellers, and reviewers connect with this lyrical narrative. Jackson’s Barbados captured our imagination, and her characters are unforgettable, especially the heartbreaking young Phaedra.The Star Side of Bird Hill is an Indies Introduce selection, and many of our independent bookselling partners told me at BEA how excited they were to get this novel into the hands of their more advanced YA readers, as well as their adult readers who love transporting, literary fiction. I look forward to seeing many more readers fall for Star Side and the very talented Naomi Jackson.

Read more about The Star Side of Bird Hill here.

Aug 24, 2015 Writing Tips

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?

There is no secret to my technique beyond revising again and again and again, both for meaning and for the rhythm and sound. As many other writes have confessed, my early drafts are sloppy, flat, confused, and disappointing. Four or five drafts into a project, and maybe I begin to see what is there. The difference, in my mind, between writers who are successful in finding an audience and those who struggle, is when and where in the revision process a writer gives up and settles for “good enough.” Learn to be just a bit tougher on your own work than the toughest editor you have worked with and you’ll find that editors suddenly love your work.

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

Though I started as a fiction writer, for the last fifteen years I’ve focused on what is called creative nonfiction, or literary nonfiction. But I’m glad this question is here, because it gives me the chance to point out that even in memoir, even in a piece of literary journalism, the people on the page function as “characters.” They are real people, not imagined, but the reader has never met them, so you have to build these individuals up just as a novelists builds up an imaginary character: let us see them cross the room, let us see them fidget, let us hear the peculiarities of their speech, let us in on what seems important to them. People are contradictory and enormously complex. Try to show a glint of that.

After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write?

I check my e-mail, look out the window, get up for more coffee, linger near the refrigerator, jump up onto the internet to find news of Donald Trump’s latest insanity, and then berate myself for being such a procrastinator.

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

No. It is a job. The way I get into writing is to say, “time to get to work.”

Did you always want to write?

I always wanted to write, and penned silly plays and stories even in second grade, but I grew up lower middle class, my dad was a car mechanic, and I barely knew people who read books much less people who wrote them, so it wasn’t until I neared the age of 30, having washed out of four or five other career pursuits, that I finally decided, let’s try to do this. Let’s try to write a book.

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

The novelist Vance Bourjaily once told me that he doesn’t even try to write the first chapter of a novel until he has written a complete draft from somewhere in the second chapter to the end. Only then does he know what has to go at the start.

Now this may or may not be a useful technique, but it made clear to me that writing a book – or an essay, or a story, or a poem – is an act of discovery. You don’t sit down and say what you want to say. You sit down with questions, see where they lead you, follow them into unexpected territory, and then many drafts later go back and fix the writing so it all points in the same direction.

Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.

Sentences are fascinating puzzles.

Read more about Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy here.

Aug 21, 2015 Behind the Scenes

For book lovers, snagging a summer internship in publishing is a very big deal. Now that it’s almost time to head back to school, we asked our interns about their experiences at Penguin Random House. 

DK Publicity Intern: Lauren Díaz Morgan

After moving to New York City in hopes of beginning a career in publishing, I was overjoyed to be accepted to Penguin Random House’s Summer Internship Program.

But when I found out that my summer assignment would be in Publicity with DK, a nonfiction imprint for children and adults, I grew a bit nervous. Though I had experience interning at my university press back in college, I knew nothing about publicity, and I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to work with nonfiction titles. To my surprise and delight, I have found myself to be very happy both with my department and with DK.

Lauren Morgan

As a publicity intern, I am involved in reaching out to media outlets and generating interest in our books. This generally consists of brainstorming and researching outlets to which we can pitch our books; writing a press release that gives a brief summary of the book and explains why it is interesting, useful, or important; and mailing out a copy of the book along with a press release to each outlet, hoping that they will find it interesting enough to review. This can be especially fun at DK, where we publish such a wide array of titles. In one day, I can put together a press release and mailing for a book on cheese, another for a book about the Pope, and a third for a children’s sticker book.

While I spend most of my time on the steps of this process, there are new tasks that pop up every day, whether they be helping to schedule an author tour or assisting with our holiday gift guide. Publicity is a new field for me, but I’ve learned so much in the past five weeks, and I’m glad to say that I’m really enjoying every day. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity with DK, and I’m eager to learn more as I continue working this summer.

Young Readers Production Intern: Denise Conejo

As an intern, working in production is like taking in the view from the top of the empire state building watching and observing the busy, bustling crowds below. I get a breadth of the publishing arc, I get to see it all happen and know the logistics of how it happens. While some may not appreciate the more business and formulaic side of publishing that production may well be it happens to fulfill my compulsive side to be neat and organized. A lot of my day to day tasks include working with excel sheets, excel sheets and some more excel sheets. They’re like the veins that keep production pumping. I help maintain sheets for estimates, royalties, trim size/page count, as well as updating statuses on SAP and Filemaker Pro for titles being reprinted.

Denise Conejo

And then there’s digital, one of my favorite parts of production. This really surprised me because I’ve always hated reading books from a tablet. Regardless, I found that I enjoyed the immediacy of seeing the end product. It takes about a month to see a turnaround for an e-book, while it takes 6-9 months for a printed title! My tasks with digital production include writing memos to Aptara (the company who puts together the e-books) giving specific and detailed instructions on what we want the final product to look like. Once the files are made and returned to me, I check it to make sure it is exactly what we wanted. Afterwards, I circulate it to various departments where they give the “OK” or tell us what needs to be worked on. Easy!

I’ve learned so much about the process of publishing already, so for the next and last 5 weeks of my internship I can only imagine how much more I will gain from the people who make this department work so smoothly.

Thanks to all our interns for all your hard work! You’ll be missed! 

Aug 20, 2015 Further Afield

Do you ever look at your daunting pile of books and wonder just how long it’ll take you to plow through them all? Read it Forward has a great new tool – the To Be Read Calculator.

TBR

Play with it yourself, here!

First to Read
Aug 19, 2015 Editor’s Desk

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.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s fiction is like a new species of wild animal. First there’s that stunned delight: I’ve never met this species before! Whoa, it feels kind of dangerous. Then there’s the inevitable effort to categorize it, to place it within a larger taxonomy. It’s been delightful to watch some of our smartest, most fearless writers come to grips with what makes Ottessa Moshfegh’s work so special, so hard to shake. Take Jeffrey Eugenides: “Moshfegh is a writer of significant control and range…. What distinguishes her writing is that unnamable quality that makes a new writer’s voice, against all odds and the deadening surround of lyrical postures, sound unique.” Or Rivka Galchen: “A scion of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Raymond Carver at once, Moshfegh transforms a poison into an intoxicant.” Those stories I read in the Paris Review stuck with me for keeps: these are very different psyches each to each, and the voices are utterly distinct, but each is an exploration of a mind that’s unsteady on its feet in a most arresting way, a triumph of unreliability, you could say – unreliable on just about every level imaginable. The world is a lot weirder than is commonly understood; Ottessa as an artist has a purchase on that weirdness and brings us into contact with it, in a way that is wildly electric.

But those are the stories; like many I was very eager to see what this writer would do with a longer form. McGlue, her bravura novella, gave a tantalizing hint, but nothing quite prepared me for the narrative tricksiness, the storytelling cunning, of Eileen. My God, can this writer play the long game. I want to quote, if you’ll forgive me, from the starred Kirkus review, because it makes the point better, I think, than I can: “A woman recalls her mysterious escape from home in this taut, controlled noir about broken families and their proximity to violence…. The narrative masterfully taunts…. The release, when it comes, registers a genuine shock. And Moshfegh has such a fine command of language and her character that you can miss just how inside out Eileen’s life becomes in the course of the novel, the way the “loud, rabid inner circuitry of my mind” overtakes her. Is she inhumane or self-empowered? Deeply unreliable or justifiably jaded? Moshfegh keeps all options on the table…. A shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.”

Set in the 7 days leading up to Christmas in 1964 in a small town outside Boston, Eileen is the story of how a deeply unhappy young woman imprisoned by her circumstances finds a most unexpected accomplice who busts her out of her confinement, though arguably, as Bob Dylan sang, she uses a little too much force… While stylistically this reminds me of nothing so much as Shirley Jackson of The Birdcage and Vladimir Nabokov of King, Queen, Knave, in another sense this reminds me of the wonderful Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, in that there’s a political valence to this novel all the more powerful for being so beautifully sublimated in a powerful suspense novel. It’s a hell of a thing for a young woman to feel as unattractive as Eileen Dunlop is made to feel by the world around her; the wound is real. And so, though she makes choices you or I might perhaps not make – though perhaps you would! – I think few will say that in the end they’re not rooting for her to go all the way.

Read more about Eileen here.

Aug 14, 2015 Writing Tips

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! 

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

I’m a big believer in the “writing retreat.”

Sometimes writing retreats involve locking myself in a hotel room for a few days to really throw some words on the page—other times these retreats involve gathering with my writer friends in a variety of inspiring, usually beautiful places, where the word count might not be high but the camaraderie and daydreaming leads to a whole lot more writing down the road.

This is how The Deacons of Bourbon Street series came into being. Last spring, Maisey Yates, Rachael Johns, and I roomed together at the RT Convention held in New Orleans. We spent a lot more time wandering that fascinating, mysterious city than we did at the conference. When an editor (perhaps jokingly!) suggested we should write a multi-author series together since we got along so well, we jumped at the idea. New Orleans and gritty bikers seemed to go hand in hand for us, and once we settled on that premise, it seemed inevitable that we should pull in Jackie Ashenden, renowned for her dark and sexy stories, to round us out.

And all because we visited New Orleans!

After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write?

We sent a lot of emails back and forth, since we live all over the place—Maisey and I on the west coast of the US, Rachael on the west coast of Australia, and Jackie in New Zealand. But we also spent some time on Skype. We talked a lot about biker books, about characters, about the kinds of things we liked and the sorts of stories we wanted to tell. We fashioned an overarching plot and then we decided who our characters would be within that plot. We came up with a synopsis for all four books and once that had the enthusiastic support of our agents, we settled down and wrote a chapter each to introduce our characters and stories. That was the most fun—to see all the conversations and ideas we’d thrown around come together into these four fantastic stories. All set in our decadent version of New Orleans’s famous French Quarter.

How did you handle plot and character continuity across four books?

We talked a lot. Communication is key when it comes to working on multi-author projects. We discussed timing and plot points and the characters’ relationships with each other endlessly. We also sent each other/the whole group the scenes where their characters appeared in our books. The goal was always to make the characters feel seamless across all the books, and to show how they all functioned as this group of sworn brothers, reunited after years in exile. I think we pulled it off, but of course, that’s for readers to decide!

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

I was lucky enough to write my book a few months after everyone else did. This was particularly helpful because it meant that I’d already read how the series ended and could write directly toward it—always a huge advantage! So one of the things I did to get in the writing mood was to read those other books and immerse myself in the world. Another thing I did was to curate “inspiration boards” on Pinterest. Looking at moody reference pictures (many featuring Charlie Hunnam, of course, as everyone’s favorite biker inspiration Jax Teller) was another way to get myself in the right mindset. I also relied pretty heavily on a mix I made of songs that brought me into the right headspace. One in particular (Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”) was and is such a perfect encapsulation of my hero in this book that all I have to do is listen to that awesome opening and I’m right back there in the Priory with Ajax…

Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not?

I have some family members who are more familiar with biker clubs than I am, but I didn’t base any characters on them. Though I did appreciate it when they didn’t laugh at me when I told them what kind of book I was writing! The truth is that reality doesn’t make great fiction. Characters are always better when they’re entirely themselves instead of pale imitations of real people. “Larger-than-life” makes a good story and fascinating characters. “Just like life” is something we can all do all by ourselves, without a good book. I prefer books.

Learn more about Make you Burn here.

Aug 11, 2015 Backlist Time Machine

Heading to the beach in the dog-days of summer? Taking some time off to unwind and catch up on your reading? Penguin Random House employees never go on vacation without a good book – see below to learn what professional book-people read on their off-time.

Kristen Fritz, Senior Director, Content Marketing, Digital Marketplace

Her vacation read: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Guatemala
The view from my reading spot in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala

“As I was situated along the shore of the soothing, somewhat eerie, very magical Lake Atitlan in Guatemala for a week last spring, Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker-winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, proved to be the kind of book in which I got deeply lost while silently willing the world to stay away and let me read.”

Lindsay Jacobsen, Senior Coordinator, Consumer Engagement 

Her vacation read: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

“Sometimes you begin a book on vacation and find that the story doesn’t match your destination. The book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling was the perfect companion on my trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Her sparkly-eyed dreams of fame and materialism seamlessly complement a self-serving Caribbean beach getaway. While hanging out with Mindy, I laughed and I cried. I read out loud to no one. I used the book as protection from the sun. I was so enthralled, I even neglected my piña colada.”

Nancy Sheppard, Vice President, Director, Advertising and Promotions, Penguin Publishing Group

Her vacation read: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

The Magicians

“Here I am with the great staff at City Lit Books while on vacation in my old neighborhood, Logan Square in Chicago. I was there handselling my favorite vacation read, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, in paperback!”

 

Check out all our bestsellers to find more vacation-reading inspiration!

Aug 6, 2015 Writing Tips

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! 

After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write?

Usually when I sit down (or often, stand up) to write, I start by re-reading and editing the previous day’s work. That gets me back into the world of the book. Then I just carry on with the story from where I left off. I am a somewhat disorganized writer. I don’t write outlines or think too far ahead when writing a first draft. I write fast first drafts that I finish in three to ten months, and then spend a couple of years editing. I often think of scenes as puzzle pieces or quilting squares, shuffling them around until they make sense. I do, however, often write a basic timeline so I can remember when pivotal events happen and how old everyone is. But the story itself emerges only when I am actually writing. Often I have no idea where the plot is heading until it emerges from my fingers. For this reason, I am a serious rewriter. I write at least a dozen drafts of each book. Much of the structure, plotting, and pacing emerges in later drafts. I think of my first drafts as skeletons, and each successive draft as layering on muscle, veins, fat, skin, hair, etc. Until it is a fully living book.

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

One thing I learned fairly early on is that I cannot afford to wait to be in the right mood. For me, writing needs to be a daily discipline, like exercise. I do it no matter what mood I am in. The hardest part is getting myself to the computer and shutting off the Internet. Once I open the document and start working, I am suddenly in the mood. Work inspires work. Also, when you have a small child and the various diplomatic obligations that come along with being an ambassador’s wife, you write in every unscheduled moment, whenever those moments are.

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

I have kept a journal since the day I learned how to write, but I never thought of myself as a writer until graduate school. I majored in theater in college and worked for several years as an actor. But eventually I became frustrated with the limited roles available to women. I wanted to play paleontologists and astrophysicists but ended up playing ingénues and prostitutes. It got old. I began writing some of the things I wished my characters would say and decided to go back to school. After getting an MFA in fiction writing and an MS in journalism, I worked in newspapers and magazines for years before finally writing my first book. I don’t think that first book would have happened, however, had I not taken an enormous risk by moving to Yemen to take over a newspaper. From the moment I accepted that job, I think I knew I was going to have a lot to write about!

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

One evening in 1992 I was sitting in a bar in Bainbridge Island, Washington with a friend who is a brilliant and prolific composer. I was going on and on about various ideas I had for short stories, and he said, “You know, there comes a time when you have to stop talking about what you are going to do and start doing it.” I went straight home that night and wrote a short story. I still think about that conversation twenty years later. It gets me into the chair (or standing in front of the computer—I often write standing up).

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

Don’t wait to feel inspired. If you’re serious about writing you should be writing every day. Treat it like any other job. Schedule time for it, even if you only have a half hour a day.

Turn off the Internet. Check Twitter and Facebook after you write, not before. I indulge in this bad habit too often. I write best when I schedule specific times of day to check social media. If you need to do research online, make notes in your draft of things to look up later, when you are done writing.

Don’t ever send out a first draft. While there are a few writers out there who produce genius first drafts, most of us do not. Rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite your story until you feel you have absolutely taken it as far as you can. Then get a writer you trust to edit it. Rewrite some more. Take at least a day between drafts so that you can approach your work with fresh eyes.

Do you ever base characters on people you know? Why or why not?

Yes. But though real people often provide the initial spark or inspiration, the characters swiftly take on a life of their own. Ultimately I don’t think any of the characters I create resemble the people who originally inspired them except in the most superficial of ways. I observe the people around me with the eyes of a journalist, noting quirks and interesting phrases. There is so much rich material just floating around. The imagination takes off from there.

Read more about The Ambassador’s Wife here.

Aug 5, 2015 Reading & Eating

Wine and food pairings are all well and good, but there’s no better pairing than two complementary books. Reading + Eating posts feature two titles that will inspire you to cook, read, eat, and enjoy. The gorgeous cookbook images, and handpicked recipes and quotes make for some delicious reading. 

This month, we’ve paired Frances Mayes’ gorgeous memoir about growing up in the South with The Broad Fork, a lush cookbook from beloved chef, Hugh Acheson.

collage

In Under Magnolia, beloved author Frances Mayes returns with a lyrical and evocative memoir of her childhood in the South. Under Magnolia is a searingly honest, humorous, and moving ode to family and place, and a thoughtful meditation on the ways they define us, or cause us to define ourselves.

“As gothic as anything Faulkner could have dreamed up, populated by characters straight out of a Flannery O’Connor story…a thorny memoir that strips away the polite Southern masks, sweet magnolias be damned. Unforgettable.” – Atlanta Journal Constitution

“With perfect-pitch language, Mayes unblinkingly describes her growing-up years… One can almost taste the mushiness of ‘a pot of once-green beans falling apart in salt pork’; one can almost smell the cloying scent of honeysuckle, gardenias and overripe peaches that infuse the always-too-humid air.”– USAToday.com

Read more about Under Magnolia here.

The author of The Broad Fork, Hugh Acheson, is a James Beard Award-winning chef and partner of the restaurants Five & Ten, The National, and Empire South in Georgia. In this beautiful new cookbook, he focuses on seasonal produce, balance, and flavor. See below for two wonderful recipes from the book.

455_Ache_9780385345026_art_r1

POACHED SHRIMP OVER RADISHES WITH SALSA VERDE

Serves 4, as an appetizer

Poached shrimp take about three minutes. Salsa verde can be made ahead. Radishes take a minute to cut up, if that. The broth assembles in a minute and is cooked for fifteen before the shrimp go in. I guess what I am saying is that I realize you’re busy but this is so easy, so fast, and so impressive that you need to go and make it.

When buying shrimp, hopefully you find them fresh. But if not, shrimp are one of the few things that freeze well, so find fishmongers whom you trust and buy from them. They’ll know which ones are going to put a smile on your face.

1 pound shrimp (16 to 20 count)
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup dry vermouth
3 cups chicken stock
¼ pound (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 leek, white and light green parts well washed and cut into 1-inch lengths
Kosher salt
12 radishes, quartered
½ cup minced celery with leaves
¼ cup Salsa Verde

1. Peel the shrimp, leaving the tails on and reserving the shells. (Even better if you have the heads, but if you’re buying head-on, buy about 1½ pounds.) Set aside.

2. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the shrimp shells (and heads if you have them) and cook for 3 minutes, until bright pink and aromatic. Add the vermouth and deglaze the pan. Add the chicken stock, butter, thyme sprig, leek, and kosher salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture and return the liquid to the pan over medium heat. Discard the strained solids.

3. Season the shrimp with kosher salt, and immerse them in the poaching liquid. Cover and cook for 3 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked through.

4. Arrange the radishes and the celery in individual bowls for serving. Divide the shrimp among the bowls, and then ladle some of the poaching liquid over them. Finish each bowl with salsa verde, and serve.

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STEAMED ARTICHOKES WITH DRAWN THYME BUTTER

Serves 4, as a side

I was a wee little guy when Pops was doing a sabbatical in Palo Alto, at venerable Stanford University, but I remember eating egg rolls and artichokes with drawn butter. Now that may not have been in the same meal, but that’s how my memory puts them: together. The egg rolls were (amazingly enough) homemade by my mum and the artichokes came from a couple hours south of us. Big, green, thistly orbs. And I fell for them—hook, line, and sinker. Now my kids love the hunt to get to the heart of the artichoke, scraping each leaf with their teeth and getting all they can from their beauty.

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced yellow onion
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 large globe artichokes, top 2 inches sliced off
1 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt
1 lemon, cut into wedges

1. Place a stockpot over low heat and melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in it. Once the butter starts to foam, add the onion, half of the thyme, and the parsley, and begin to sweat the onion. While you prepare the artichokes, the onions will happily hang out over low heat.

2. Tear off the first few outer leaves from the bottom of each artichoke, as well as any attached to the stem. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the stems until you reach the white inner part. Add the artichokes to the pot, stem side up. Then add the white wine and enough water to cover the artichokes. Bring to a boil over high heat, add enough salt to make the liquid pleasantly salty, and then lower to a simmer. To keep them submerged, place a plate that’s just small enough to fit inside the pot over the artichokes. Cover the pot with a lid and cook the artichokes for about 20 minutes, or until you can slide a knife into the stem with no resistance.

3. Remove the plate and then the artichokes from the liquid, and place the artichokes on a cutting board to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, use a chef’s knife to carefully slice each artichoke in half, starting at the tip of the stem. This will expose the heart of the artichoke. Just above the heart you will see a fuzzy part, which is called the “choke.” Using a small spoon, remove the choke. You will be left with the heart and the fleshy leaves.

4. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a small saucepot and add the remaining thyme leaves. Once the butter is fully melted, set it aside.

5. Place the artichokes on a large platter and season with salt, to taste. Garnish with the lemon wedges. Serve with the reserved melted butter for dippin’.

Read more about The Broad Fork here.

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