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Archives: 5/2016
May 30, 2016 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?

In a memorable cri du coeur, the wonderful Turkish-American essayist Elif Batuman declared:

‘I would greatly prefer to think of literature as a profession, an art, a science, or pretty much anything else, rather than a craft. What did craft ever try to say about the world, the human condition, or the search for meaning? All it had were its negative dictates: “Show, don’t tell”; “Murder your darlings”; “Omit needless words.” As if writing were a matter of overcoming bad habits—of omitting needless words.’ 

One other piece of advice, though: if an editor, or friend, makes a comment about something you have written and you strongly disagree, don’t dismiss the fact that something in what you have written disturbed them. Their suggestion may not be helpful, or the right one, but look again at the passage in question, just in case there is something there you can improve.

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

Start with the name. Many novelists can’t imagine their characters until they feel they have named them in a way that chimes in with their personalities. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has the following general advice:

‘You may only know your characters’ externals instead of their essences. Don’t worry about it. More will be revealed over time. In the meantime, can you see what your people look like? What sort of first impression do they make? What does each one care most about, want more than anything in the world? What are their secrets? How do they move, how do they smell? Everyone is walking around as an advertisement for who he or she is—so who is this person? Show us. . . .

‘You also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had six months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?’

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

Well, in truth I try the idea out on my wife. She’s also my literary agent and best friend, and will always find the best way of letting me down if my idea is a truly bad one. But what is meant by ‘developing an idea’? It’s too broad a phrase. If one means a whole notion for a book, I advise writing the story down in the manner of a book blurb, no more than 250 words (about the amount of words a book salesman has to interest a customer). If a book project is still unclear, or doesn’t compel attraction within that wordage, something is amiss. 

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

Hemingway is meant to have said, ‘I write drunk and revise sober,’ although some people say it was the other way round. Woody Allen takes lots of showers to get his creative juices going. Scott Fitzgerald used to strip off his clothes — completely — before writing. Gertrude Stein would get her companion to drive her into the countryside so she could gaze on the cows there before going back to her writing table.

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

I produced a school magazine whenI was twelve; and continued as the main schoolboy editor when I was at high school. But for years I though I was an editor of other peoples’ work, not someone who could produce his own books. In 1999 I left my job in British publishing; left Britain; and settled down in a new marriage, in New York. I tried to get a job as an editor at Knopf, but its MD, Sonny Mehta, said I should write a book about my main hobby of 45 years, fencing — so I went off and produced a 520-page book on swordplay over 3,000 years, and suddenly I was a writer. 

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

I have no idea. I always forget advice. Maybe, remember to turn the lights off. Say Yes rather than No. Or, for writers, One can always revise more. 

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

We all fall into hackneyed ways of writing. My current bugbear is people saying ‘incredible,’ when all they mean is ‘very.’ I recall revising a chapter so often that only on a last read-through did I realise I’d started seven consecutive paragraphs with the word ‘Then.’ 

Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.

Anecdotal, story-led, humorous, inquiring, addictive.

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

So far I have published only non-fiction. I have started a novel, set in France in 1946, but my wife (see above) says I’m not allowed to write any more into it until I have finished my current commissioned book, titled ‘The History of Historians.’ But I think about the novel every single day.

What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?

Shakespeare (sorry, but it’s true), Tolstoy’s main novels, Samuel Johnson‘s works, Alice in Wonderland

Learn more about the book below:

May 24, 2016 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’s the best piece of advice you have received?

My graduate professor Frank Conroy said that we only get three exclamations points in our whole career! And I just used one. He meant, of course, that the prose itself should convey emphasis. He also stressed that habit is a writer’s best weapon. I’m still working on that one.

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

I am terribly guilty of what I call “three adjective syndrome” wherein I describe something with no fewer than three adjectives. Usually, that means the third adjective is the one I want, and the first two are just approximations until I get there, but I still have to go back and cull the first two adjectives from the pack. Relatedly, my first drafts have so many clichés it’s like they are going out of style (get it?). I think that’s fine for a first draft. They’re just marking places where I need to go back and think of better comparisons, so I try not to judge myself too harshly.

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

 All characters and no characters are based on people I know. If fiction comes from imagination, then all people contribute to the pool from which I draw.  I like to borrow traits and sayings from everyone, but I have never attempted to reproduce on the page a person I know in real life. Even when I do “heavily borrow” from a person, quoting something he or she actually said, he/she never recognizes herself. That said, my father thinks he’s every character in my books.

What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Madame Bovary

A Visit From the Goon Squad

The Handmaid’s Tale

Learn more about the book below:

May 17, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  

Today we’re featuring an interview with  Aileen Boyle: VP, Associate Publisher, Director of Marketing and Publicity for Blue Rider Press and Plume. 

What do you think is special or unique about this book? Why will readers want to get their hands on it?

Where to start? In this particular case, the reader should feel free to judge a book by its cover: the contents may turn your worldview upside down, or at least challenge you. 

Designer Paul Sahre and art director Jason Booher hit it out of the park – this book could sit under glass at the Whitney and fit right in.  Great design is such a helpful tool for a publicist to get the media’s attention as well as to stand out in a bookstore.

Now that we’ve gotten the reader to pick the book up, what should they expect between the covers?  This is where the fun really begins. Chuck is a brilliant cultural commentator, not only in the way that he makes a point or constructs an argument, but in how he gets the reader thinking. But What If We’re Wrong? has something for everyone: literature, music, politics, science, philosophy and more. I’m not a sports person, but the chapter on football is fantastic and now I can drop that knowledge on my brother-in-law (finally).  Other readers will likewise learn a few things, without question. 

How would you describe your job and how you worked on But What If We’re Wrong? to a layman? What are some of the steps you take when you first start working on a title?

I’ll start with the end goal of my job: to have a reader discover a new book and get interested enough to buy it. 

Booksellers, media and social media influencers are my outside partners to help me reach this goal.   Booksellers have events.  The media does reviews or interviews.  Social media allows us to talk to readers or those they care about directly.  My job, alongside my brilliant team, is to pull all of these levers for a book’s publication.

When a dynamic and popular writer like Chuck pens a provocative, forward-thinking book that can be read by a wide variety of people, I’ve got a lot to work with.   I collaborated with author, publisher, editor and agent to set goals of how we wanted to reach readers and the message we wanted to convey.  We started working on this early –about nine months (or more) ago.  It’s exciting to be almost at the point of publication after all of this anticipation in-house.

Describe the book in one sentence.

A book that makes a persuasive case for the importance of doubt – sorely needed in an age where we think we know everything.

Do you have a favorite line from the book, or a section you particularly love?

While there is no material benefit to being right about a future you will not experience “there are intrinsic benefits,” Klosterman writes, “to constantly probing the possibility that our assumptions about the future might be wrong: humility and wonder.  It’s good to view reality as being beyond our understanding, because it is.  And it’s exciting to imagine the prospect of a reality that cannot be imagined, because that’s as close to pansophical omniscience as we will ever come.”

How closely do you work with the editor, art department, etc. when working on a title?

All members of our imprint work closely together.  Publicity and marketing is the midwife in a book’s birth. The book has been gestating for a while– being written, edited, designed, printed, sold in by reps etc. – but then the labor begins, in the form of a publicity tour which can be physically exhausting and maybe even painful at times.  But publicists are there at the crucial moment of publication day (a book’s birthday!) and when it’s well-received and sells lots of copies, I personally feel happy and proud by association. 

(I might be saying this because my daughter kept me up last night and Chuck and his wife just had a baby, but I think the analogy is apt!)

Read first post in this series here, and find out more about But What If We’re Wrong here: 

May 16, 2016 News

Congratulations to Naomi Novik on winning a 2015 Nebula Award for her novel, Uprooted.

The Nebula Awards recognize outstanding novels, novellas and short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Novik’s novel is an absorbing and moving introduction to a strange world, held in thrall by a cold wizard known as the Dragon. His protection of a peaceful village comes at a cost – a young woman who must serve him for ten years.

Learn more about the book here:

May 13, 2016 News

The countdown is on! With just one week to go, have you decided what you will read on National Readathon Day, Saturday May 21?

A fundraising and social media awareness campaign dedicated to promoting children’s literacy and reading at any age, National Readathon Day is an opportunity to join with your favorite authors and fellow readers across the country by using the hashtag #Readathon2016 to share your love of books and reading.
Last year, the first-ever National Readathon Day succeeded in raising $100,000 benefiting the National Book Foundation and their efforts to support literacy and to deliver books to underserved communities. This year, all funds raised will benefit the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative, which promotes literacy development in children from birth to age 5 through programs in public libraries nationwide.

Here are three ways you can get involved:

1. Join the conversation
In the run-up to and during Readathon Day, use the hashtag #Readathon2016 to spread the word. Tell your friends how you plan to celebrate, or challenge them to see who can read more on the big day. Visit the Readathon Share page for shareable images, videos, and Gifs, and be sure to follow the hashtag to see how other readers like you will be celebrating and supporting childhood literacy.

2. Host or attend a Readathon Day party
Need an excuse to gather together with friends and family? Host a Readathon Day Party! Visit the Readathon Day reading parties page for ideas on how to host a party and be sure to share pictures and videos of your party on social media.

3. Make a commitment to support early childhood literacy
Visit the National Readathon Day fundraising page to make a contribution to support ALA’s childhood literacy programs throughout the country and encourage your audience to do the same by sharing on social media.

We hope you will join us in supporting National Readathon Day and childhood literacy programs nationwide. Click here for more tips on what to read for #Readathon2016 and to sign up for emails. If you have questions, would like to host a Readathon Day event, or to become more involved please email the Readathon Team at Readathon@PenguinRandomHouse.com.

Happy reading! 

May 10, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  

Today we’re featuring an interview with Cover Designer, Paul Sahre. 

You’ve worked with Chuck Klosterman for years – how has your approach to designing his cover changed over time?

It’s remained remarkably consistent. This comes from the systematic approach I have always taken with his covers. There are a number of rules that have evolved over the years, cover to cover: starting with the typeface, HELVETICA BOLD (all caps). There is usually some structure involving the typography that either interacts with or is set apart from a conceptual image. All of the images we have created for Chucks covers are oblique is a way that I think feels right for the author.

The new cover is a departure in that there is no imagery and we went upper and lower case with the type. But then again, this book is a bit of a departure for Chuck so the cover reflects that. He is dealing with some big ideas here so there is a monumental quality to the cover design that is inverted. Yet it still feels like a Chuck cover.

What were some of your other ideas for this cover? Why did you choose to pursue this particular one?

There was a cosmic thumbs up (or down) depending on how you held the book. There was a typographic design superimposed on a photograph of the cosmos. There was a pretzel in the shape of an infinity symbol and there was a fallen over question mark. I think the best cover won out.

Do you interact with the author when planning your design?

We have never had any direct contact during the design process. His reactions/concerns are communicated through the publisher (editor and the creative director). They sort of act as a buffer, which I’ve come to view as a good thing. When designer and author get together it often ends badly.

What is your favorite part of your job? What’s the hardest?

Covers are interesting because they need to do a number of things at the same time that are sort of at cross purposes. 

On a purely functional level a jacket is there to protect the book, but I also like to think of a book cover as a door. It’s the beginning of the experience of reading. 

A book cover should be appropriate, it should feel right (in an unexpected way) but it should also create an experience of its own.

Then there is the packaging (selling) of a book. Covers help sell books, but as the designer I can’t be concerned about that when I am designing the book. This is the publisher’s job. For me this concern translates more as trying to draw people to the cover in some way. So a good cover should engage. 

Read first post in this series here, and find out more about But What If We’re Wrong here: 

May 9, 2016 News

George Hodgman’s bestselling  memoir Bettyville is being developed into a dramedy series by Paramount Television. Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine and Tony winner Matthew Broderick are attached to star, it was reported by Deadline Hollywood. The adaptation is being written by John Hoffman (Looking, Grace and Frankie), who will serve as executive producer and showrunner on the potential series.  Hodgman will also executive produce, alongside Archer Gray’s Anne Carey and Amy Nauiokas (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). The project is currently being shopped to networks. 

BettyvilleMovieStarsTnail

Bettyville follows George Hodgman (Broderick) after he leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his aging mother Betty (MacLaine). He expects to be away for only a few weeks, but life conspires to keep him there, armed with not much more than a (mostly) willing heart, a broken past to sort out, and two irascible personalities: his own, and Betty’s. The funny and heartbreaking memoir chronicles the mother-son journey, capturing truths about family, identity, and our current American landscape.

Learn about the book here.

 

May 5, 2016 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! 

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

I construct my writing on two pillars—ENTERTAINMENT and MEANING. The meaning comes from a deep, personal question I’m wrestling with and my novels help me articulate the answer to myself. That’s why I recommend creating characters that are asking your deepest questions. If you start from that foundation, you’ll know the back-story that led to the question and the journey the character has to embark on to answer the question in a very personal, visceral way.

My best advice to get to know your characters is to push them from the ordinary world into the extraordinary world quickly! Their reactions to the extraordinary world will help you both unpeel the character and give the story the propulsive entertainment it needs to keep the reader glued.

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

I’m an engineer-MBA and hadn’t written a single non-technical word until the age of 28! Yet my first novel was published in India at age 29. What happened in that year? I took a sabbatical from my job at Procter & Gamble and backpacked and lived in places I’d always fantasized about like Bhutan and Mongolia. Both the adventures that came from the journey and the sudden space and silence in my life compelled me to write. I wrote without a goal but ended up completing a novel that did quite well in India.

Since then, I’ve constructed my life around what I call a 4/1/4 principle:

-4 years of goal-directed working in a corporate environment while writing with discipline on the side.

-1 year of complete slack where I travel, meditate, work in an orphanage, live in an ashram, write a little, basically do whatever I feel like without goals.

-4 years of goal-directed living again.

…and so on.

I think this tight-slack model is allowing enough adventures to inspire new ideas while ensuring the discipline to commit them to paper.

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

I tell aspiring writers to never have a single coincidence in their story. Nothing should happen by chance or destiny to your protagonist. The moment destiny plays a role in a story, the reader senses the presence of an author writing the story and the fictive dream breaks.

Indeed, I still experience it myself because I like my novels to be fast-paced and often make things “happen” to my characters in the early drafts so that the story moves along quickly. I have to weed those incidents out in the subsequent drafts to make every incident organic to the story. Let me give you an example from my new novel, The Yoga of Max’s Discontent, which is about a Wall Street banker who becomes a yogi in the Himalayas. I wrote and re-wrote the beginning thirty or forty times to make his decision to leave his job and go to the top of the Himalayas extremely authentic to his past rather than a result of a chance encounter as I’d originally written it.

Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.

Pacy and unpretentious yet layered.

What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?

This will probably be a surprising answer but the one book that had a profound impact on me was Forrest Gump (the book not the movie). I grew up in a small town in the Himalayas in India that people rarely left. My aunt who was visiting from the US left a copy of the book by accident in our house. I remember reading the book when I was fifteen and feeling deeply transformed by the idea of a life that has no limits and a world that knows no boundaries. Soon after, I left my town for New Delhi, then moved out of India and lived in Philippines, Singapore, then Europe and the US, and have been traveling since without any permanent notion of home or a fixed sense of my own abilities and limitations. I think Forrest Gump may have something to do with it!

Other than that, the books I keep re-visiting again and again and shape my writing are perennial Eastern philosophical text like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Dhammapada and the Upanishads, since they always deepen me as a person and a writer no matter how many times I read them.

Learn more about the book below:

May 4, 2016 Random Notes

Happy May 4th! Today let’s celebrate Star Wars by going further into the universe and reading. Check out our Star Wars page here and browse below for some selected books to add to your to-be-read list.

These are just a few of our Star Wars books – check out the page to find more.

 

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