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Writing Tips from Sparrow Beckett, author of To Have and To Master

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!   Sparrow Beckett is the pen-name for two writers in two countries who combine forces and collaborate. Justice and Sorcha have both answered the questions below.  What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? Justice: Someone once told me a good novel is made up of mostly strong, colorful nouns and verbs. As writers, we often hear the terms active writing versus passive writing. Filling a book with adverbs makes a story sound passive. So when I’m writing, I go for strong descriptive nouns and verbs. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Sorcha: With an evil day job and a big family, I’m so busy that I’m exhilarated by every free moment to write. If I get stuck in one of my stories, I switch to one of my many others. Justice: I get inspired from all sorts of things. Sometimes a movie, another book, or even a song I hear on the radio. When I’m feeling low on inspiration, I’ll surround myself with different media and types of art. Usually something will jump out and the wheels will start turning.
Sparrow Beckett
Sparrow Beckett
Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? Sorcha: I started writing a Black Beauty fanfic when I was seven. For Grade Ten English class, I wrote a novella, and then a novel for Grade Thirteen Creative Writing. My novel was so bad, that the publisher I submitted it to sent me a rejection with a blank space where my name was supposed to go. I quit writing after that. About two decades later, I started writing for fun. That was when I met Justice in an online group, and she introduced me to the modern world of publishing. Justice: I was a writer before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. Writing is just in me. It’s been a part of everything I’ve ever done, before I even realized it. So finally getting the guts to officially try writing a fiction book didn’t surprise anyone. I started by self-publishing back when it was a budding development. I learned a lot and I think it better prepared me for the traditional publishing world. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Sorcha: Quit making excuses and write. Justice: Find an amazing crit partner or group – the harsher the better. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? Sorcha: I think stalling out of self-doubt is the biggest bad habit to avoid. Feeling like you’ll never be as talented as your favorite author isn’t a good enough excuse to give up. You owe it to yourself to work at it. Justice: I have to agree with Sorcha. Self-doubt can be crippling and, unfortunately, something many authors, including myself, suffer from regularly. It’s hard to stay positive among rejections and brutal reviews. I have to remind myself constantly that everyone has their own journey, comparing yourself to other authors is pointless, and that giving up just isn’t an option. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? Sorcha: The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon – The main character has an arc that fills me with hope and a sense of personal responsibility. The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett – Like most of Pratchett’s work, it shows human nature in a humorous yet poignant light. These books explore themes of power, respect, and responsibility. The Jalav series by Sharon Green – Explores an interesting example of how a woman can still be strong while submitting to organic power exchange relationships. The Steamwork Chronicles by Cari Silverwood – This series taught me to be unapologetically sexual in my work. Justice: A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole – This was the first romance I ever read. Oh the things it opened my mind to… Her mix of sexiness, humor, and adventure made reading fun for me again, and started my love of paranormal romance. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly – Wow, this book made me cry, made me think, and made me take an active interest in history. The writing and depth of emotion is beautiful and something I aspire to. Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – This book gave me permission to write honestly. It is probably the most earnest, authentic book I’ve ever read. Learn more about To Have and to Master here.

Ed Park, Executive Editor at Penguin Press, on The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

Ed Park, Executive Editor at Penguin Press, shares his insights into editing Elizabeth McKenzie’s new novel, The Portable Veblen, which went on sale Tuesday, January 19. Take it away, Ed! I joined Penguin Press in late 2014, and about two minutes later was sent Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel The Portable Veblen. The title made me smile, I remember, and every sentence that followed felt unbelievably fresh to me. It’s the story of a fraught engagement between seeming opposites: thirty-year-old Veblen, a down-to-earth office temp with a sideline in translating from the Norwegian, and Paul, an ambitious neurologist who’s being wooed by Big Pharma and the Department of Defense. Will they make it to the altar? Everything from the Palo Alto setting to the soulful squirrel that Veblen connects with (and Paul wouldn’t mind destroying) was at once strikingly original and true to life. EdParkVeblenJan2016 It’s been such a joy to watch the excitement build for this one-of-a-kind novel, with sales falling under its spell, and booksellers singing its praises. Along with being an IndieNext pick, Veblen has also received three starred pre-pub reviews and been selected by prominent indies for their signed first edition book clubs. Adam Kirsch’s early Veblen review in Slate took the thoughts right out of my head: “No matter how many novels you’ve read, it’s safe to say you’ve never read a novel like The Portable Veblen.” It’s true! Thinking about the list I’ve put together so far, I’m hoping something similar can be said for every title. For now, let’s begin with a young woman named after the economist Thorstein Veblen, and a very charismatic squirrel…

Bookspotting: Kristin is reading The Girls by Emma Cline

Ever wonder what Penguin Random House employees are reading? We’re a bunch of professionally bookish people, so you can always count on us to have a book on hand… or thirty piled on our desks. Our Bookspotting feature shows off the range of readers behind the scenes at Penguin Random House. Kristin, in consumer marketing, is reading an advance reading copy of The Girls by Emma Cline Find out more about the book here:

Bookspotting: Miguel is reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ever wonder what Penguin Random House employees are reading? We’re a bunch of professionally bookish people, so you can always count on us to have a book on hand… or thirty piled on our desks. Our Bookspotting feature shows off the range of readers behind the scenes at Penguin Random House. miguel Miguel, in consumer marketing, is reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Find out more about the book here:

Penguin Random House Partnering with the ALA for National Readathon Day 2016

The American Library Association (ALA) is joining with Penguin Random House to support the second annual National Readathon Day, which will take place on Saturday, May 21, 2016. It is a day dedicated to the joy of reading and giving, when readers everywhere can join together in their local library, school, bookstore, and on social media (#Readathon2016) to read and raise funds in support of literacy. This year, Readathon Day is presented as part of ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign, and will benefit ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read initiative, a program that supports the early literacy development of children from birth to age five in libraries across the nation.  Sari Feldman, president of ALA, said, “We are thrilled to partner with Penguin Random House on National Readathon Day 2016.  Not only does Readathon Day present an opportunity to generate excitement amongst readers of all ages, but it also enables children and students everywhere to get involved in an effort that supports youth literacy. The transformational power of reading is fundamental to the value that libraries provide to their communities each and every day.” Penguin Random House is dedicated to creating lifelong readers by supporting programs such as ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read. As part of its commitment to #Readathon2016, Penguin Random House has announced its Library Awards for Innovation, where libraries across the country will have the opportunity to apply for grant awards in support of creating the most innovative community-based programs in 2016. Libraries are encouraged to use Readathon Day as a jumping off point for submissions to the Library Awards for Innovation. Leading up to and during #Readathon2016, individuals can contribute to ALA and Every Child Ready to Read by visiting the Firstgiving Fundraising page at www.firstgiving.com/5066/national-readathon-day and sharing with their friends and family. All readers are encouraged to join in Readathon Day fun on social media, using the hashtag #Readathon2016. Visit the official website, www.readathonday.com, for more information on how to get involved online and in person, including sharing images and videos, and hosting local reading parties. Last year’s inaugural Readathon Day put the national spotlight on reading in support of the National Book Foundation’s literacy programs. This year, #Readathon2016 shines a light on libraries and early childhood literacy through ALA and Every Child Ready to Read. Visit www.readathonday.com for more information.