All posts by Kathryn Monaco

Why Reading DAISY JONES & THE SIX Will Have You Revisiting Your Favorite ‘70s Rock Albums

The fascinating tale of a fictional ‘70s rock band is chronicled in Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid‘s riveting new novel written as an oral history – a literary roller-coaster ride marked by sex, drugs and rock & roll, with fly-on-the-wall glimpses of life in the recording studio, on the road and backstage.  #1 on the March Indie Next list and the Penguin Random House Spring Title Wave pick, this Ballantine book has already earned many fans, including actress Reese Witherspoon, who raved, “I devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it. Taylor Jenkins Reid transported me into the magic of the ’70s music scene in a way I’ll never forget. The characters are beautifully layered and complex. Daisy and the band captured my heart, and they’re sure to capture yours, too.”  Daisy Jones is a young woman coming of age in L.A. in the late ‘60s, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go.  By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to success is to put the two together. Jennifer Hershey, SVP, Editor in Chief, Associate Publisher, Ballantine Bantam Dell, pulls back the curtain, offering glimpses into this book’s creation and special magic.  Hershey shares her impressions of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s unique writing style, the book’s “oral history” format, and why DAISY JONES readers will be inspired to revisit their favorite ‘70s rock albums.  How did you discover Taylor Jenkins Reid and what were your initial impressions of her writing voice? To say that I “discovered” Taylor would be a little like saying that Columbus “discovered” America!  Before I had the huge pleasure of making the acquaintance of Daisy Jones, Taylor had written five terrific novels and won herself a devoted following.  I loved the book right away—and read it in one sitting; it has a very addictive quality.  I was struck by the freshness of the milieu and conceit of the book—a bit like the movie Almost Famous or A Star is Born, but the first time I’d seen that in book form—and the “as told to” narrative structure for a novel was so distinctive. How would you describe the editor/author process as this manuscript became a book and why do you think the “oral history” structure works so well?  The novel was already in great shape when I acquired it, so we just had fun fine-tuning and tightening.  We talked a lot about how to make the voices feel convincingly as if they had been spoken aloud, without going too far down that road.  Taylor has said that the “oral history” format forced her to up her game as a writer, because everything she wanted to convey had to be done completely through the voices of the characters.  I particularly love the way various characters remember the same event differently, and contradict each other in the telling. What aspects of DAISY JONES & THE SIX do you feel will resonate most strongly with readers? There is so much here: not just one, but two great love stories, a lot of ’70s and classic rock nostalgia (I guarantee you’ll pull out Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors for a fresh listen when you are done!), and some great moments for the feminists in all of us.  Reading the novel makes you feel like you are just hanging out backstage with your favorite band.  It’s just such a fun and fresh read—the kind of novel that, despite its layers, almost reads itself to you, it is so effortless.  

Write What You See: Writing Advice by Alyson Richman

“It’s so fine, yet so terrible, to stare in front of a blank canvas.” — Paul Cezanne     Every morning, an empty white page appears on my computer screen, waiting to be filled in with sentences that will eventually become a novel. This blankness can be both intimidating and exciting, a paradox I wrestle with each time I sit down to write. I always enjoy speaking with other writers about their own processes of creation. It differs so widely amongst novelists. Some writers work on an outline first, and then write out scene by scene, scratching off each chapter that they’ve already loosely plotted in their head. Others speak of writing from a stream of consciousness, where they work until they’ve reached the end of their story and then circle back to edit and revise the rough draft into something that will become their finished manuscript. My mother, an artist, taught me to see the world as though it were a painting, and I draw upon the same techniques she used to create her finished canvases when I’m writing my novels. The views outside the windows of our childhood home were miniature paintings to my mother, ones which had their own color and texture that changed with every season. She encouraged me to consider both the light and shadow in an artist’s charcoal drawings as well as the backstory of the artist’s personal history. When we went to museums, she taught me first to look at each painting up close and then from a few steps away, thus training me to gaze at the canvas from all directions to see how certain things were revealed when one looked at it from a different angle. She was quick to point out that the artist never over-saturated the canvas, and that leaving part of the canvas bare was sometimes just as important as the areas that had pigment. Years later, when I sit down to write, I hear my mother’s words in my head and they continue to guide me. For me, each chapter is a blank canvas. I begin to craft each scene sentence by sentence, as if they are brushstrokes moving my reader through the story. I write from a visual perspective, so each scene is an artistic composition that I see inside my head and strive to then share with my readers. Painters have their own language, often drawn from nature’s rich palette. A sky can be cornflower blue or the deep hue of hyacinth. Characters should never be black and white, but rather filled with varying shades of gray. Contrast is what makes a painting interesting, my mother would tell me. So, I channel these painterly ideals whenever I think about placing one character against the other; I reflect on what emerges when strength is contrasted against weakness, joy against sadness, or life against tragedy. In the end, my advice to writers is really about encouraging more than one way to approach storytelling. Books are like any other art form, and can be created in just as many ways. For me, it is about closing my eyes and writing what I see. Once that armature is put down on paper, I build layer upon layer onto it until the world and the people who populate the story are just as I imagined them. I mentally construct the architecture of the rooms my characters inhabit, then set out to recreate them for my reader. I feel the texture of the clothes they wear just as much as I feel the weight of their emotions. Then, sentence by sentence, the novel becomes its own universe, hopefully filled with everything my mother used to tell me made a painting interesting. Rich in emotion and filled with contrast. A work that, in the end, conveys a new and original portrait from the artist’s own eye. Written by Alyson Richman                Check out Alyson Richman’s latest novel below:  

Penguin Random House and zulily Host Books for Kids’ “Buy 1, Give 1” Campaign

To kick off the season of giving while also celebrating National Family Literacy Month in November, zulily, the online retailer obsessed with bringing special finds to its customers every day, is teaming up with Penguin Random House to help provide books to children in need across the U.S.  Zulily is leading its third annual holiday giving campaign, launched November 1 and planned through December 12, 2018. Special sales events during the campaign will feature a curated selection of children’s books and each Penguin Random House book purchased labeled with the “BUY 1, GIVE 1” badge will trigger a new children’s book donation, up to 100,000 books, from Penguin Random House to First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books and other essentials to children in need nationwide. Visit here for full campaign details.

Amazon Best Books of 2018

Amazon.com announced its selections for the Best Books of 2018, naming Tara Westover’s Educated (Random House) the #1 pick for best book of 2018 and Kekla Magoon’s The Season of Styx Malone (Wendy Lamb Books) the editor’s pick for best book in the children’s category.  Amazon’s annual list features the Top 100 books of the year plus Top 20 lists across various categories ranging from biography, literary fiction, and mystery to children’s and young adult. All lists are hand-selected by Amazon’s team of editors—first by choosing the best books of every month and then, finally, the best books of the year. To see the full lists of Amazon’s Best Books of 2018, click here. The Amazon Editorial Team’s Top 10 Picks of 2018 list also includes  Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (Knopf), Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River (Riverhead), and Tommy Orange’s There There (Knopf). See the winners below:  

5 Good Writing Habits You Need to Learn Now

This article was written by Lorraine Berry and originally appeared on Signature Reads.   As writers, we can be our own worst enemies. We may have dozens of reasons why we are not writing.  Sometimes, these barriers may feel insurmountable, but James Clear argues in Atomic Habits that those barriers can be breached through a series of one percent changes to our habits. “The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do,” he says, and he offers a series of small steps to developing a writing habit.
Clear provides methods that help pinpoint those habits that are ineffective, and a large variety of tactics to create effective habits that will change what we do. His book contains clear instructions on how to develop writing as a habit, one that will feel as automatic as brushing your teeth or that first cup of coffee in the morning.
Here are five effective habits. Habit #1: In order to encourage inspiration to strike, set up a time to meet with it. James Clear cites a British study that showed that those who write down specific times when they will practice their new habit have the highest success rate. For writers, creating such an “implementation intention” would involve writing down a sentence that looks like this: “I will write for (period of time) at (time of day) at (location).” So, for example, “I will write for 30 minutes at 3 p.m. at the kitchen table.” By sitting down each day at 3, you accustom your brain to this new habit. Once your brain can count on you to keep your new habit, you may find that new ideas and inspiration are waiting for you. Habit #2: If writing is important to you, create an environment that encourages you to write. Our environment can create barriers to practicing our new habits. If your habit is to sit on the sofa to watch TV, and you had intended to write while sitting on the sofa, then the TV may prove to be too big a temptation. Instead, choose a place to write that isn’t associated with another habit. If you live in a tiny space with few options, then designate a specific place to write. It doesn’t have to be a different room. In a studio apartment, you may decide to use a different chair or to set up a small writing corner. You will attach writing to that particular place, so if you’re in that space, your brain will expect you to write. Environmental clues can be used to help reinforce your new habit. Habit #3: Create temptations that reward you for your new habit of writing. Habits are developed because our brain has a dopamine-driven feedback loop. It is the anticipation of the reward that causes the release of dopamine that makes us feel good. In fact, anticipation releases more dopamine than actually doing the thing we craved or wanted. You can use a habit you already have (getting up early, taking the dogs for a walk, drinking coffee in the morning) to attach the habit you are trying to develop to a reward that your brain anticipates. In this way, the habit you are developing is sandwiched between a daily habit you do anyway, and is followed by something you want. Clear provides readers with methods for identifying both the already established habits and also the things that individuals consider to be rewards. His system might look something like this:
  • After (current habit), I will (habit I need to develop).
  • After (habit I need to develop), I will (habit I want).
So, if you walk your dog every day after breakfast, and you need to write, but you also want to spend time on social media, you could do this:
  • After I walk the dog, I will write for 30 minutes.
  • After I write for 30 minutes, I will go on social media.
If going on social media has kept you from writing, this creates a system where social media is the reward you use to encourage yourself to write. Habit #4: Make it easy to practice the habit of writing. Wasting time is easy: we carry distractions in our pocket or give it pride of place in our living rooms. If we want to develop the practice of writing, we have to remove barriers to our practice. One way is to prime your environment with cues to your habit. So, if your intention is to write in the morning at the kitchen table, before you go to bed at night, lay out your writing implements —laptop or pen and paper. I take it further by making writing easier all the time: I carry a small notebook in my purse, have one in my car’s glove box, and leave several throughout my house. This way, it’s as easy to write as it is to pick up the phone. Habit #5: Start with the Two-Minute Rule for new habits and continue from there. Maybe you’re afraid that you’ll fail in some way because your committed writing time is too long. Clear suggests creating a ritual and following the Two Minute Rule as a way to prime yourself for your new habit. If your goal is to write at night, you can help to cement the habit into your head by attaching it to a ritual of your choosing, whether that’s a cup of herbal tea or changing into comfy clothes.  Each evening, as you engage in the ritual, your brain will anticipate that you are about to sit down and write. Your ritual primes your habit. Next, write for two minutes. If you feel done, stop. Clear argues that two minutes is usually enough to get past any initial resistance. Clear has filled Atomic Habits with hints like these that enable us to change the habits we dislike and replace them with habits that show who we are. In order to be a writer, you must develop the habit of writing, even if it’s one word at a time. As Margaret Atwood reminds us, “A word after a word after a word is power.” Writing at the table © Andrew Neel/Unsplash.

The Power of Journaling to Capture Ideas

This article was written by Ryder Carroll and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

When I was young, I loved looking at ancient astrological maps that seemed more like celestial bestiaries than effective means of navigation. The skies were teeming with terrifying ancient creatures ranging from giant scorpions, to centaurs, to beasts whose names have been long forgotten. Each born from man’s attempt to make sense of the breathtaking chaos of light that revealed itself on the darkest nights. Most cultures developed long elaborate stories that buried their heroes and demons in the stars, all to make some sense of the world around them.

If you’ve ever stared up at a night sky, clear of clouds or city lights, you can’t help but architect your own existential explanations just to cope with the shimmering abyss. It’s estimated that each year, 100 billion stars are born and die in the observable universe. That’s 247 million a day! Yet, even in this age of Google Maps, stars continue to serve as a fundamental way to understand our place.

Stars have safely guided explorers across the hungry depths of alien oceans for centuries. But how? It all started by jotting down what we saw, one star at a time until it began to make sense. We found patterns, and identified relationships. From centaurs to quasars, each generation refined their knowledge and understanding to better help contextualize the stars as they related to us.

Writing can feel very much like setting out on a journey into the unknown. But rather than stars, we’re reliant on the glittering constellation of ideas scattered across the vast darkness of our minds. Buried somewhere up there are parts of all the stories we will ever tell. It’s important that we figure out a way to makes sense of our thoughts, and it starts with cataloging them, one thought at a time.

Be it for the next story, or the last, journaling can serve as a form of mental cartography. Your journal can be a mental atlas, which can be referenced as you set sail or when you get lost at sea. Like stars, thoughts can be used as waypoints. Stories are simply sequences of curated thoughts, which are plotted out to guide your audience safely through your tale. Without them, there are only dark shoreless oceans. 

The beauty of keeping some kind of journal is that it can live in a vacuum. It simply serves as a repository for ideas, waiting to be used. Some are hesitant to journal because they’re only aware of long-form journaling, which can seem time consuming. True, but the process of drawing your ideas out by hand can be an incredibly effective practice to capture and refine your thoughts. 

If you’re not convinced it’s worth the effort, short-form journaling is a perfect alternative – or addition to – long-form journaling. In both cases, the point is to cultivate a map of your thoughts and insights. Isn’t there an app for that? Sure, but writing your ideas out by hand will make them seem far more tangible and real. This practice also allows you to capture ideas in all their many forms. A nascent idea could begin as an image or a shape. 

Notebooks have stood the test of time as the ultimate traps for capturing thoughts, no matter how exotic. Over time, they become maps. Like stars, ideas without maps, no matter how bright, remain meaningless. And, like stars, ideas fade. There really is nothing more frustrating than losing a brilliant thought before you had the chance to find its purpose. Each thought has the promise of functioning as your north star, so be sure you keep track of it. 

Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio on Unsplash

How to Discover and Strengthen Your Writing Voice

This article was written by Jayne Ann Krentz and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

Give the same plot to ten different writers and you will get ten very different stories. No two will sound alike. Why? Because every author brings a unique voice to the craft of writing. Voice is everything when it comes to telling a story.

It isn’t clever plot twists or deep character insights or detailed descriptions that draw a reader back again and again to a particular writer — it’s the writer’s voice. Just to make things even more complicated, the truth is that no two people respond to a writer’s voice in exactly the same way. Some readers will never be compelled by your voice. With luck, others will fall in love with it. Voice is hard to define because it’s a mix of so many things — your core values, your world view, your personality, your sense of optimism or cynicism or despair or anger or bitterness or hope — all those things are bound up in your storytelling voice. And then there’s the craft aspect. You can write successfully for your entire career without giving a moment’s thought to your voice. But just as knowing and understanding your core story can be extremely useful at various points in your career, so, too, is having a clear sense of your voice. If you comprehend its strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to figure out how to sharpen it and make it more powerful. How do you identify your writing voice? Here’s a simple exercise: Write a scene from start to finish. It should be a scene that is infused with the emotions, themes, or conflicts that compel you as a writer. It is helpful to think of scenes as short stories. They have a beginning that engages the reader, a middle in which emotional and often physical action takes place, and an endpoint that either resolves the narrative or provides a cliffhanger that leads into the next scene. Give your scene to a couple of people to read. These should be people you trust. Make it clear that you do not want a writing critique. You are not interested in their opinion of your characters or your plot. You want one response, and one only, to the following question: “What is your emotional takeaway from that scene?” Did you make your reader’s pulse kick up? Did you arouse curiosity? Anger? Sympathy? Did you scare your reader? Did you make that reader want to know what happens next? Your goal is to identify the single strongest emotion that the reader experienced while reading your scene. That response will help you analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your voice. The worst possible reaction from a reader is no emotional reaction at all. There is nothing that will kill a writing career faster than storytelling that bores the reader. Put the most engaging elements of your voice on display in the very first sentence of your book. Readers will not give you a few pages or a couple of chapters to get the story going. You must draw the reader into your world from the very first sentence, and you do that with your voice. Listen to your writing voice. It will tell you what kinds of stories you will write with the most power. Once you have figured out your voice, do everything you can to strengthen it and make it more compelling. Voice is your superpower. Discover it. Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

Katherine Arden on Russian Fairy Tales and Finishing Her Trilogy

This article was written by Keith Rice and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. We caught up with Katherine Arden at New York Comic Con for a quick chat about how it feels to finish up the Winternight Trilogy, Russian fairy tales, and cupcakes. Unbound Worlds: The Winter of the Witch arrives January 8th — what can you tell us about it? Katherine Arden: Well, it’s the third book in the Winternight Trilogy; it ends the story of Vasilisa Petrovna and her colleagues and relations. It takes place in medieval Russia and, as far as specific plot points, not everyone lives. But it does what I hoped this series would do and it brings Vasilisa from childhood to adulthood. Fully, I think. And that was the most important thing I wanted out of the series, to show the coming of age of this young woman in medieval Russia, and it did. And it was a huge amount of work, and I spent two weeks in a basement to finish it eating only cupcakes. And there were many somewhat angsty calls to my editor in the realm of, like, “It’s not working, it’s not working.” Then it did work and I finished it, and I am so excited to present it to you guys in January. UW: How does it feel to finish up the trilogy? KA: I have mixed feelings. It was huge focus of my life for five years, so letting it go is bittersweet, but I’m also excited to do a non-medieval Russia book. Very excited. And just to have it be over, and to have everyone be able to know what I was planning on doing from start to finish. UW: Did you intend it as a trilogy when you started? KA: I did, although the trilogy that I wrote bears no resemblance to the trilogy that I thought I was going to write however many years ago. Seven now, I think. No resemblance whatsoever. It has the same start point that I intended and the same endpoint. But, the points in between are stranger than I could’ve imagined. I always meant to have it as a trilogy from day one. And I did, so that was good. One point for planner. The only point for planning really. UW: So what peaked your interest in Russia and Russian folklore? You have your degree in Russian, correct? KA: Yeah, in Russian from Middlebury College. I spent a year in Moscow when I was 19, and I went back to Moscow my junior year of college. I’d always loved books based on folklore. I was a huge Robin McKinley fan growing up, and I always loved Russian fairy tales. When I was a kid I had a book of them, illustrated. And then when I was in Russia, one way I learned to speak Russian and to read it was to read fairy tales to myself. And so, I have this kind of background of fairy tales when I started casting about for a book idea. And I was like, oh, I love fairy tale books, I love Russian fairy tales. So a book based on Russian fairy tales just made sense. And then the rest kind of just grew in the telling. UW: Setting the Winternight trilogy in medieval Russia was an interesting choice. What led you to that? KA: Well, at first it was going to be a more fantasy-type setting influenced by Russia. But then it didn’t feel focused and real enough. So, the historical setting, I thought, would ground the fantasy elements, and make them more resonant than just having a sort of abstract fantasy world. I also felt that the medieval Russian setting is not very common in literature, and it would be interesting to show Russia before all the things that we think of as Russian existed. There was no troika or samovars, no tsars, empire, Communism — all those things hadn’t happened yet. I wanted to show the Russia that I’d experienced, free of stereotypes that we have in the West. Part of it was that, was bringing it into a place that was realistic but not weighted with preconceptions. UW: Can you recommend any books on Russian Folklore and mythology for anyone who’s interested in looking into what underpins your trilogy? KA: Absolutely. If you want the master tome, it’d be a book of fairy tales by Alexander Afanasyev. In translation, obviously — they’re written in Russian, but get them translated. It’s a tome of dozens of Russian fairy tales. I would also try Pushkin’s Fairy Tales by A.S. Pushkin. They were written by him, they’re not folklore in the old tradition. But they draw upon oral traditions and they’re very beautiful. I would say Pushkin and Afanasyev are two great go-to’s for Russian Folklore 101. I would also put in the illustrations of Ivan Bilibin, which are incredible sketchings of Russian folklore, like three different fairy tales. UW: Any new projects under way you can tell us about? KA: I’m actually working on something and I’m really excited about. But, I can’t say anything specific right now. There will be news soon, though.
Editor’s note: Want to start at the beginning of The Winternight Trilogy? Grab a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale! If you’re looking for something for a younger audience, be sure to check out Katherine’s new release, Small Spaces — a creepy ghost story for middle grade readers. Cover detail from The Winter of the Witch, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Oh Poor Horror, Misunderstood: Josh Malerman on Horror’s New Generation

This essay was written by Josh Malerman and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. Josh Malerman defines the new generation of horror writers as only he can in this inventive essay. Unbury Carol is out now, and Inspection is coming in April 2019.

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

Mother says you’re made up of witches and woods, brutal bloodletting, slashers in hoods. But I know better, having eaten my share, saved some for later, stashed under stairs.

Mixed ‘em and matched ‘em and made new pairs.

Mother doesn’t like you. She says you are trite! I try to convince her night after night. I beseeched her, “Dear Mother, open thy mind. Horror is no longer a word you will find so neatly packaged with stuffing and twine.”

“Leave me, dark child, with a full foamy stein. And take your common monsters, speckled with teeth Used so often they put me to sleep. Take your old bones lying out in the rain While I read something compelling and sane.”

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

I continued with Mother, as well as I could. My argument expanded to include books she deemed good. “Some say Jane Eyre is as much of a fright as Tanith Lee’s Dreams of Dark and Light. And some cite Melville as a man of such tales, for what could be scarier than a giant white whale? But never mind the classics, fuddy mother of mine, horror no longer grows on the vine Here, let me show you one of mine.”

Here I showed Mother Inspection of mine.

She huffed and she hawed until halfway she knew it, she lifted the book and she almost threw it, then brought it back down to the yarn on her knees, and read the second half at her ease.

“But this isn’t horror, rotten child of mine, for it has no vampires or inverted nines.”

“But Mother, you see! The word is elastic, and all us new writers are made of new plastic! We’ll write of such things, but not cause they’re gaudy, we’re interested in both the mind and the body. We thrill but we think, we’re intellectually naughty. We’re interested in both the mind and the body.”

Dear Mother then frowned and dismissed me again. But she hadn’t yet thrown the book in her hand.

“What does your kind know of the ways of the soul? Coming of age? Quality control? Leave me, braindead child, and take with you your trolls.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

I took leave as she ordered but for only so long, and returned with a stack of new songs. A tower of books, a stack of new songs.

“Horror has changed, Dear Mother it’s true, it’s not the same now as it was for you. The genre is present as the ice in your drink, it’s come up through the pipes and the sink.”

Here Mother looked to the kitchen, to the sink, and I felt I’d made progress, had got her to think.

“The genre has fled from the castles of yore and is no longer steeped in bones and gore–though we love such elements, we love them, it’s true! But did you know the color blue could be as much monster as the thing in the brew? Did you know we see monsters in even baby blue?”

“The way you talk, it’s as if you see scares everywhere.”

“That’s it! That’s right! Even over there!”

I pointed to a corner where nothing was there.

Mother shook her head and pointed, too, a long wrinkled finger and said, “You, oh you. Do you think me so vulgar to believe such a thing? That your genre might be found on a butterfly’s wing?”

“But what better place–do not make a face–for your likeness may match the pattern of lace in the curtains of this room in which we debate, or the pattern indeed of the butterfly’s mate.”

“Oh!” Mother said, shaking her head. “Leave me, gross child, and take your undead. You speak as though you’d marry Dreary and Dread.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

“I’ll leave you, Dear Mother, I’ll go up to my bed. But not without repeating the things that I’ve said. For horror has risen from the graves of yore and can be found now in places never heard of before, or perhaps even the corners of this very room! A brand new monster in this very room!”

She looked to the corner and I felt I’d scored, but I’d need to describe what stood where the walls met the floor.

“Do you see it, Dear Mother? The crown of its head? Why, it’s not even a ghost, it’s not even dead. Nor is it invisible, as you’ve read of before. What stands in this room is More.”

More as a monster?” Mother laughed at me so. “But what sort of horror does More have in store?”

I crossed the room then.

“The livers are living but they still want More. The lovers are loving but they still want More. Mothers are presented with examples but they still want More. Do you see, Dear Mother, we’ve made a monster of More?”

Mother seemed to consider, but did not look resigned.

“I told you,” I said, “the body and the mind.”

She set down my book, took the yarn from her lap, rose to a standing, and clapped a lone clap.

“Bedtime for me, ugly child of mine.” And she made for the staircase of antique pine.

Her opinion, I thought, as hard as the wood.

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

But as she took the first step, and the step did shriek, she paused without turning to speak: “The way you see it, stairs could be horror. And a person who takes them, an explorer.”

She did turn then, and gave me a wink, nodded her head as if to rethink, then climbed the stairs and called over her shoulder, “Interesting child, you simmer and smolder–do all you new writers think this way? Horror in all things, every day?”

She stopped outside her bedroom up there, perhaps pondering a brand new scare.

“Yes, Dear Mother,” Dear Mother, I swore.

And she whispered, “Not bad,” before closing the door.


Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

How to Deal with Plotter’s Block (Which Is Worse Than Writer’s Block)

This article was written by Francesca Hornak and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

This year, with the deadline for my second novel in sight, plotter’s block descended. Plotter’s block is different from writer’s block. Writer’s block, as I see it, is when you have a story but the words aren’t flowing or behaving. Plotter’s block is when you’re itching to write, perhaps you’re already writing — except you have no story. Nothing to reel your readers in. All you have is a jumble of settings, characters, conflicts, scenes. Nothing, in short, that is actually going to hold that blurb. The tricky thing is that actively searching for ideas can feel contrived, and paralyzing. So there’s definitely a case for putting everything on hold, while your subconscious chews things over. But if you’re as impatient as I am, you’ll want to help your subconscious out in the meantime. These, then, are the three places I look for stories (without telling myself I’m looking).

Read the local news Unlike the global or national news, local papers are mines of small-scale human-interest stories. And these stories, the family feuds, the individual tragedies, the community uprisings and the everyday heroes, are exactly the material a novelist needs. It worked for me, anyway. The plot I’ve ended up with for my second novel is based on a story in my local rag about ‘Patient X’ — a mysterious man who had been lying unconscious and unidentified in hospital, for thirty days. The paper’s focus was on the man: Who was he, and how could someone go un-missed ‘in one of the most connected cities in the world’? My focus is going to be on the patient’s neighbors, who find him, call him an ambulance, and are then brought together by the puzzle he presents. Conversations with strangers Everyone has something for your novel, if you let them talk. Case in point: after I’d found Patient X, I met someone at a wedding who told me about a strange man in her very bourgeois street in West London. His house, which he has apparently lived in since birth, looks derelict with boarded up windows. He barely speaks to anyone (although you can faintly hear him playing the violin through those window boards). But every morning he goes to the local tube station, collects a load of free papers, and delivers one to every house on the street. Immediately I thought of Patient X, and what great details these would be for the local ‘loner’ — possibly even details the plot could twist or hinge on. Then there was the man I sat beside on a plane who told me how his mother, sick of making packed lunches every morning, hit on batch-freezing industrial quantities of sandwiches every few months instead. He and his siblings would then get these frozen sandwiches — usually only half defrosted — in their lunchboxes. Admittedly it didn’t spark a whole novel, but something in its muted, suburban madness really appealed to me. And unlike a friend or relative, a stranger is unlikely to find out you plundered their life. If they do, you’ve obviously written a bestseller. Existing stories If you’re really stuck, it’s worth considering any myths, parables, or fairy tales that caught your imagination as a child. I’ve always loved the story of The Prodigal Son — I like the way its themes of sibling rivalry and unconditional parental love are so enduring, and the fact that everyone behaves badly or rashly at some point. I used it to structure my first novel Seven Days of Us, because I knew I wanted to write a family story about one rebellious sister and one who was very attached to her parents. The key to making this method feel fresh and inspiring, I think, is to reverse one aspect of the existing story. In my case, the ‘errant’ sibling was off doing good deeds, rather than squandering her inheritance, while the stay-at-home sibling was very frivolous. I don’t see any shame in this tactic — apparently there are only about seven stories in the world anyway, so it’s no wonder we all get plotter’s block from time to time. Good luck. Plotter’s Block / Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash