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Writing Tips from Jen Doll, author of Save the Date

Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I am one of those people who just loves working in my own quiet little apartment, with all my stuff around me. (I live alone, so things are calm enough to do this!) I don’t like writing in coffeeshops or public places generally because I get distracted and want to watch everyone. On the best mornings, I get up, I make coffee, maybe I poke around a little online, and then, still wearing pj’s, I start writing. But I also balance book writing with freelance writing work for websites and magazines and editorial work, so deadlines can pop up that I need to deal with first. My goal is to write something creative daily, to fit it in when I can, even if it’s just ten minutes (which usually turns into something longer). There are days that doesn’t happen, though. I try not to be too guilty about it, and to consider not-writing-but-thinking time an important part of the process, too. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I always wanted to write. I told my dad I wanted to be a writer when I was little and he said something along the lines of “Well, it might be hard to make money doing that,” and so I said, “OK, I’ll be a librarian then.” Clearly, I loved (and love) books. My path to writing a book was a little bit circuitous, but after a few jobs that didn’t take—in advertising, for example—I started working in magazine publishing, and later I became a writer for the Village Voice and The Atlantic, which led to me getting my agent’s attention and ultimately selling my first book. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? A friend told me once, “Just open the Word document.” You can’t write until you do! And even though I can procrastinate and psych myself out of writing for hours—because the longer you go without writing, the more the mind spirals into thinking whatever you’ve accomplished up to this point is just terrible—once you’re staring at an open document, you start to reread what you’ve written, and you start to edit, and soon enough, you’re writing again. And that’s the part that’s really fun, even though when the document is closed it can feel impossibly scary. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Don’t spend more time asking people for advice about writing than you actually spend time writing. The only way to ever write a book is to actually just write it. And it’s a slow process, but you chip away at it and eventually, it happens. I have many bad habits, and finding ways not to write—tweeting and Instagramming and reading random websites and cleaning my apartment—is definitely one of them. (Speaking of which, I should probably clean my apartment now.) Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Save the Date is a memoir, so yes—the “characters” are actually people I know, though most names are changed to protect the innocent and even the less innocent. There is definitely some existential angst involved in writing about real people. It’s nerve-wracking to think someone won’t like the portrayal; after all, I’m talking about humans who actually exist and have feelings and have the right to their own feelings about being in a book! (Just as I have the right to write it, and to feel my own feelings about it.) I’m working on fiction now, though, and it’s really fun to create characters out of thinish air. Of course, I can’t help but bring my own experiences and perspectives to them, and there are probably elements of people I know in all of them. But no one will know if I do it right. Read more about Save the Date here.
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Emerson’s Birthday

This feature will highlight books and authors on certain significant dates in history.  Today, May 25th, is Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s birthday. Born in 1803, Emerson is known best for his essays and for spearheading Transcendentalist thought in the United States. Read more. Emerson’s writings influenced thinkers such as Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau. He is perhaps best known for “Self-Reliance” and “Nature”. After attending the Harvard School of Divinity and acting as a minister in the 1820s, Emerson went abroad to Europe and on his return began giving talks about spirituality and ethics. Read more. Did you know? [Emerson’s] “concept of the Over-Soul—a Supreme Mind that every man and woman share—allowed Transcendentalists to disregard external authority and to rely instead on direct experience.” Read more. This focus on individuality goes hand-in-hand with Emerson’s urges to American writers to find literary independence and a writing style of their own. Read more.
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson emerson Browse through Emerson’s works here.
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Three Questions for Random House VP & Executive Editor David Ebershoff on Hausfrau

David Ebershoff, Vice President & Executive Editor, Random House, offers insights into his work with author Jill Alexander Essbaum on her debut novel, Hausfrau. Hausfrau is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves. How did the fact that Jill Alexander Essbaum had primarily written poetry before beginning Hausfrau influence her approach to the novel form and the development of her narrative prose voice? Jill’s poetic sensibility is everywhere in Hausfrau.  When we say a novel is poetic, we often mean lyrical or even pretty.  But that’s not how Jill is using poetry here.  For example she uses iambic meter in several sections to create a steady drum-beat of dread and inevitability.  She uses space breaks the way a poet uses them between stanzas to both pause the story and quicken the read.  While writing, she read the novel aloud to hear the sounds of the words (in fact, she has memorized much of it).  Whenever she was stuck and didn’t know what to write next, she started choosing her words the way a poet would — relying on sound, beat, image, and even how it looks on the page.  Yet what’s so remarkable about this, to me at least, is Jill has written a very plot-y novel and paced it like a thriller. What was involved in the scope of the editor/author process of working with Jill from initial manuscript to finished book? The manuscript I read on submission was strong and self-assured.  This made my job delicate — I didn’t want to mess up something that was mostly working.  Jill and I went over the novel line by line, making sure every word was in place and there was nothing extraneous or overwrought.  I paid particular attention to the passages concerning love and sex because I knew a certain kind of reviewer would pounce on any purple or overheated language.  I also asked Jill a number of questions about her protagonist, Anna.  We discussed how and why readers might interpret her, giving Jill a chance to respond (or not) in the text itself. Having already received much praise, drawing comparisons to such classics as Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina as well as mega-bestsellers such as Gone Girl and Fifty Shades of Grey, Hausfrau is well positioned as it enters the market.  What, in your view, sets Jill’s novel apart and what aspects do you think will most engage readers? I acquired world rights to Hausfrau at a fairly modest level because I wasn’t sure how readers would respond to such a controversial heroine.  I closed the deal the same morning I left for last year’s London Book Fair.  By the time the fair’s doors opened, foreign publishers were offering on the book.  I met with several of them, and so I had a chance to hear directly from readers around the world who were – I’m not exaggerating – obsessed with the book (one editor was in tears).  What I learned then, and continue to see today, is that people read the book differently — some see it as literary fiction, some see it as a psychological thriller, some emphasize the sex and love.  Jill’s UK publisher is calling it domestic noir (if that isn’t a category, it should be).  The novel is almost a Rorschach test.  The same is true with the protagonist, Anna.  Some people empathize with her.  Others love to hate her.  Some understand her.  Others find her a mystery.  The novel opens with this memorable line: “Anna was a good wife, mostly.”  That seems to capture why people are engaging with the book.  Readers are debating with passion and fury just how good a wife Anna was — or wasn’t. Read more about Hausfrau here.

Beaks & Geeks interview with authors Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha Van Leer, chat with Lindsay at Random House’s Open House event to discuss their 2nd book together, Off the Page. Check out the Beaks & Geeks episode archive! Visit us on Soundcloud Subscribe on iTunes – be sure to rate and review us! Follow us on twitter: @BeaksandGeeks
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Writing Tips from Lily Brooks-Dalton, author of Motorcycles I’ve Loved

What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? When it comes to revising something, I’ve gotten into the habit of retyping my pages. It sounds pretty time-consuming—and it is—but it’s so worth it. I don’t know how else to get that kind of fresh perspective on a sentence-by-sentence level unless you force yourself to literally rewrite every single line. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I’ll probably do an outline. Sometimes I just dive straight into the prose, but at a certain point I need to step back and organize my thoughts. Particularly if it’s going to be a book, I’ll end up laying it out chapter by chapter pretty early on. That outline will change radically as I get further in, but it’s good to have a road map. I’m a big fan of lists—I might make a list of all the scenes I already have in mind, or elements that I want to include, just to get it down on paper. If I’m stuck, a list like that is a great resource to look back at. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I need a quiet room and a big, uninterrupted chunk of time. I’m at my most productive when I know that I can devote an entire day to a project—wake up with it and go to sleep with it. But if all else fails… candy. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I’ve always written, but it wasn’t always clear to me that I could be a writer (whatever that means). When I was a kid, I really believed that I could do anything, but as I got older, it seemed impossible, like I was being foolish if I didn’t have a plan B lined up. I think the first time I really gave myself permission to at least try to be a writer was when I was an undergrad, working on the opening chapters of Motorcycles I’ve Loved, and my writing professor told me it could be a book. I’m not sure I would have allowed myself to entertain that fantasy if someone hadn’t given me the go-ahead. It’s an amazing gift to give someone—to give them permission to go for it. I wish it was easier to give it to ourselves! What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Don’t use three words when one will do. I am totally guilty of that, I always have a whole list of adjectives that I cannot part with. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Finish things. I forget where I first heard that, but it’s the most important thing I know about writing. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas or your opening pages are if you don’t finish your project. Read more about Motorcycles I’ve Loved here
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A letter to the reader from Penguin Press President, Ann Godoff on The Last Bookaneer

Dear Reader, Here’s how Matthew Pearl describes his search for a good story that inhabits the environs he calls “gray-area history”: “A few years ago I stumbled on a stray detail indicating that century publishers would hire agents to obtain valuable manuscripts that were fair game under the laws. Because of their shadowy place in history, I could not find much else about this group, but I was intrigued. Building on this fragment of legal and publishing history, I tried imagining more fully these freelance bounty hunters – the history of their profession, what they might be called on to do, who they were, their backgrounds, how their lives would bring them to this unusual profession and how the profession would shape their personal lives. As far as historical fiction goes, it fit one of my ideals: a bit of gray-area history that cannot be explored very far without the help of fiction. In this case, it seemed to me to call for informed speculation – what I’d refer to as research-based fiction – plus plenty of imagination.” The result is […] The Last Bookaneer. Matthew has performed this kind of historical fiction sleight of hand successfully before with Dickens and Dante; now he turns to Robert Louis Stevenson living in Samoa in the midst of writing his last book. As always his history is dead-on, when Matthew writes about real characters, there are no gray areas. But in The Last Bookaneer, it’s his fictional characters- the literary pirate Pen Davenport and his assistant Edgar, that bring the chain-smoking, gone-native, near deified-by-the-locals-in-Samoa Stevenson to life. I feel sure you’ll get lost in the world Matthew Pearl conjures. What more can a reader ask? Sincerely, Ann Godoff Penguin Press President, Editor in Chief
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Backlist Time Machine: Mom’s Favorite Book

For many of us, a love of reading starts at home. For Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate our inspiring moms by sharing a few of their favorite books. Four Penguin Random House employees explain which titles are especially meaningful to them and to their mothers.

“My mother and I have both read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen many, many, many times. I remember discussing the book with my mom when I couldn’t have been more than twelve and again more recently when I read this classic as a woman in my 40s. In our most recent discussion, my mom and I marveled at the subtleties that stand out the more one has lived, details such as how very quickly Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings for Mr. Darcy turn from distain to admiration once she has witnessed the grounds of Pemberley (seriously, no sooner has her carriage pulled up to the front door than she is swooning for the guy!). Also the bigger picture. As a girl I was furious with Mr. Darcy for his treatment of Elizabeth Bennett but, in the final analysis, Elizabeth’s pride was just as vicious as Mr. Darcy’s prejudice. Pride and Prejudice, two big vices to watch out for! I will always treasure the conversations I’ve had with my mom about this favorite book.”

-Sara Carder, Editorial Director of Penguin Publishing Group 

Turns out Pride & Prejudice is a popular favorite…

Mom and I at Central Park

“Every time I read the book or watch the movie it’s something I get to share with my youngest daughter.  We both love it so much, we’re always quoting it to each other!”

-Mother of Katherine Stewart, Marketing Coordinator, Penguin Press 

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“My mum was a teacher and her favorite author was Roald Dahl, which she often read to us as kids. The BFG was my favorite because the main character is Sophie, like me. My mum sadly passed away 6 years ago so she didn’t get to meet two of her granddaughters. But I’m lucky enough to have several of her Roald Dahl books (with her name written inside so they didn’t get lost at school), which I read to my children. It’s a lovely reminder of her.”

 -Sophie McNeill, Director, Partnerships and Audience Development for Brightly

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“One of my mom’s favorite books is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. My mom is inspired by this true(!) story of Louis Zamperini’s endurance and courage. It’s a miracle that Zamperini survived a plane crash, starvation, and torture—not to mention post-traumatic stress disorder. Just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse for him, they do. But he doesn’t just survive all the terrible things that happen to him, he learns to forgive and live a full and happy life. Zamperini’s story is a testament to the power of grace and forgiveness.”

-Joanna Ng, Assistant Editor, Penguin Publishing Group

Grab a new book to share with the mother in your life!