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Categories: Explore: “Blog”
Apr 10, 2019 Writing Tips

Long before I became a doctor, I was a writer. At the age of seven I wrote my first suspense novel, about a blue zebra named Mickey who was warned never to go into the jungle. Naturally, Mickey went into the jungle. I bound the pages together with needle and thread and proudly announced to my father that I had found my future career. I was going to write books!

My father said that was no way to make a living. And that’s how I ended up in medical school in- stead.

Although it delayed my childhood dream of becoming a novelist, I never once regretted studying medicine. I’m fascinated by science. I enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life — doctors treat every- one, from bankers to the homeless. But my passion to write never left me, and when I went on maternity leave and finally had a chance to complete my first novel, I realized that writing was what I was really meant to do. Even though I’d made an occupational detour, those eleven years of medical training turned out to be the best education a writer could hope for.

I finally used my medical knowledge in my tenth novel, the medical thriller Harvest. To my surprise, Harvest hit the New York Times bestseller list. Up till then, I had assumed that readers didn’t care if medical scenes were realistic, but Harvest taught me that, yes, readers are interested in what doctors do and think. My literary agent told me: “Readers want to know secrets.” They want to peek behind the O.R. and autopsy room doors. They want to know what doctors won’t tell them. All the years I’d spent learning to be a doctor meant I could write with the level of authenticity readers are searching for.

Since then, I’ve tried to provide just those details. Have you ever wanted to know the physics be- hind why a plane or car crash kills you? I revealed that secret in Gravity. Ever wondered if you could buy your way to a higher spot on the organ transplant list? In Harvest, I revealed how it’s possible. In The Bone Garden I described how to amputate a limb without anesthesia; in Ice Cold, I described death by nerve gas; and in Playing With Fire, I explored the baffling behavior of patients with partial complex seizures.

Over the years, as I’ve described autopsies, E.R.s, crime scenes, and even resuscitation in space, I’ve exhibited the doctor’s point of view. I know how panicked a doctor feels as a life drains away beneath his hands, and the thrill of hearing a silent monitor suddenly start to beep with a renewed heart- beat. I also understand the logical manner in which doctors approach problems, how they must sift the subjective from the objective, and try to tease out the facts from the emotions.

In my Rizzoli and Isles crime series, medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles gives us the doctor’s point of view. When she and Jane investigate a murder, no matter how disturbing the crime scene may be, Maura thinks like a doctor. Like a surgeon faced with an exsanguinating patient, Maura must suppress her horror and get to work. Others may think she’s cold- blooded or robotic, but that’s how Maura stays in control: by staying focused and doing her job.

I no longer practice medicine, but when I sit down to write a novel I sometimes imagine I’m once again donning a doctor’s gloves and white coat, this time as Maura Isles, my alter ego. Over the course of eleven books, I’ve grafted much of my own personality onto Maura. She and I are fascinated by science, we graduated from the same universities, and shared the same major. We both play the piano, drive the same car, even favor the same wine. In a world that’s far too chaotic and unpredictable, we both search for logical explanations.

In fiction, at least, Maura can find them.

Explore Tess Gerritsen’s books here!

 

Apr 10, 2019 Random Notes

25 years ago, Julia Alvarez wrote In the Time of the Butterflies, the story of four young women from a pious Catholic family that were assassinated in 1960 in the Dominican Republic after visiting their husbands who had been jailed as suspected rebel leaders. The Mirabal sisters became mythical figures in their country, where they were known as Las Mariposas (the butterflies).

This extraordinary story of love, courage, resistance, and family has since inspired other works of fiction, movies, plays, and dances and become an American Library Association Notable Book and a 1995 National Book Critics Circle Award nominee. To celebrate both Julia, a National Medal of Arts recipient, and the anniversary of her bestselling classic, Algonquin Books, Penguin Random House, and Repertorio Español have teamed up to offer one winner the “Ultimate Julia Alvarez Gift Package.” This gift bundle includes some of the author’s bestselling titles, both in English and Spanish signed by the author, as well as two tickets to an upcoming feature of the adapted play En el Tiempo de las Mariposas (In the Time of the Butterflies) at the Repertorio Español in New York City.

Enter for a chance to win here!

Mar 26, 2019 Writing Tips

Food is one of my top five favorite things in the world. Maybe even the top three. But if I have to be honest, it’s probably in the top two. That says a lot about me. Likewise, food can be used to say a lot about your characters.

What’s for Dinner?

Do you know what your characters eat? Does the reader know?

Food can be more than sustenance. It can be used as a tool, a prop, something to show instead of tell. The main characters in my first novel, My Lovely Wife, live in a gated community, eat organic food, and use almond milk instead of the real thing. When one of them chooses to eat something like a hot dog, there’s a reason for it. Food can be used not only to show a person’s character, but also their state of mind.

Do they eat when they’re stressed, or not eat at all? Or do they eat different foods? All of this can say a lot about a character.

Something to Do

Funny thing about characters … they have to do things. Eating can be a big part of that, but it doesn’t have to be fluff.

Imagine two characters meet at a coffee shop to discuss a topic integral to your story. Maybe one lost a job, or their spouse is having an affair, or maybe they’re having an all-out war with a neighbor. The dialogue may be the most important part of this scene, but it doesn’t have to be the only important part.

For example, if both characters order the same thing — say, medium lattes — that’s hardly notable. Or if what they order isn’t mentioned at all, it becomes irrelevant.

But what if one character orders a plain black coffee, and the other orders a jumbo cinnamon roll with an extra-large salted caramel mocha? And which ordered which? Does the one with the problem order the food, or is it the one who has to listen? Either way, the scene just became a lot more interesting.

Cook or Burn

The preparation of food is as important as the consumption of it … or so my friends tell me. I do not cook, not ever, and anyone who knows me is grateful for that.

If I said the same thing about character, it would tell you something. The same applies to characters who cook all their food from scratch, using only ingredients from the farmer’s market. Or maybe your character’s idea of cooking involves pre-made sauces and pre-cooked meat, because they don’t have the time to make homemade marinara sauce.

Kitchens are places where people gather in life and in books, so use the location to your advantage.

To Drink or Not to Drink

Alcohol has at least as many uses as food, if not more. Going out for a drink is another thing for your characters to do. Bars are also where people meet, flirt, and — as often happens in fiction — decide and plan to commit crimes. How much or how little a character drinks, and what they drink, can tell the reader a lot.

But that’s not all alcohol can do. Characters can change when they’re drunk. The shy become bold, the calm become angry, and the happy start to cry. Some drink to the point of blacking out, only to find themselves in a mess the next morning.

Or picture this scenario: A group of colleagues go out drinking after work. As the night wears on, and the group becomes more intoxicated, people start to flirt. They start to say things they shouldn’t. Maybe they gossip about their boss and other co-workers. Secrets are revealed, embellished, repeated.

One of the characters — let’s say a man — goes to the bar to get another drink. He orders a club soda with lime. Unlike his colleagues, he hasn’t been drinking at all. He’s just pretending to be as intoxicated as they are.

Now it’s not just a night out, it’s something deceitful — maybe even sinister. Alcohol can do all of that, if used properly.

Enough is Enough

This is not to say food can be used to show everything, nor should it. While I’d like to spend the majority of my time eating bonbons and bacon cheeseburgers, I don’t. Neither should your characters.

Food is one example of how everyday activities and needs can be effectively used in fiction. It’s not the only thing. It may not even be the most interesting thing. It’s just one of the many tools available to tell your story.

Check out Samantha’s book here: 

Mar 22, 2019 Blog

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below!

This month, we’re featuring Stella Spiegel, Associate Email Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House. Stella loves to travel and is always looking for a great book, or five, to bring on her next adventure.

Check out the books she recommends:

Mar 5, 2019 Blog

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.

 

Feb 27, 2019 Blog

“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:

 

Feb 25, 2019 Random Notes

To highlight some great moments and voices during Black History Month, we’re teaming up with StoryCorps. If you’re not already familiar, StoryCorps is a wonderful organization focused on capturing the wisdom of humanity through interviews and stories in order to create a more just and compassionate world.  Learn more about their mission, history, and impact here

In late August 1963, the March on Washington led hundreds of thousands of Americans to the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech.

Lawrence Cumberbatch (right), then 16 years old, walked from New York City to Washington, D.C., with Brooklyn’s chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

At StoryCorps, Lawrence, 66, tells his son Simeon, 39, about the difficulty of convincing his parents to let him go, and what it was like to be present on the podium behind Dr. King as he spoke.

Inspired to learn more? We’ve got themed lists to help you find your next read – from fresh new authors, to canonical greats.

Head over to StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.

 

Feb 20, 2019 Blog

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below!

This month, we’re featuring Jessica Loffredo, Director, Email Marketing Operations.

Check out the books she recommends:

Feb 18, 2019 Random Notes

To highlight some great moments and voices during Black History Month, we’re teaming up with StoryCorps. If you’re not already familiar, StoryCorps is a wonderful organization focused on capturing the wisdom of humanity through interviews and stories in order to create a more just and compassionate world.  Learn more about their mission, history, and impact here

Wendell Scott was the first African American inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Throughout the 1960s, he poured his heart, soul, and all of his earnings into maintaining his own race car. His son, Frank, remembers what it took for his father to cross the finish line at racetracks throughout the South.

Inspired to learn more? We’ve got themed lists to help you find your next read – from fresh new authors, to canonical greats.

Head over to StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.

 

Feb 15, 2019 Writing Tips

Here’s the thing about writing, or more specifically, about being paid to write: it’s a job.

Of course, you could describe it in more romantic terms: it could be calling, or a vocation. Or perhaps your mind has a more prosaic bent; perhaps for you it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. There are reams and reams of twitter conversations on the topic of why writers choose to write; if you go looking for those I’m certain you’ll find one that matches how you feel. But if you’re actually getting paid to put your stories down on paper, then whatever else you might call it, one thing is certain: it’s a job. I admit that I may have a more businesslike approach to writing than most given that I also work part-time in fund management, but I truly don’t see why the principles that are relevant within a mainstream workplace wouldn’t apply also to writing. So on the principal that you have to fake it before you make it, here are my top three pieces of somewhat businesslike advice for the writer who wants their writing to be more than just a hobby.

  1. You have to go to work.

This is the most important one. Even if you aren’t (yet) being paid, you must believe that you deserve to be paid and act accordingly. If you have only certain hours in the week when you can write, ringfence those hours. Sit down and write in those hours, regardless of whether you feel like it or not — if I always waited until I felt like writing, I would still be writing The French Girl — and make sure the environment you do that in lacks other distractions. (For my part, I’m extraordinarily unproductive at home because sometimes even doing the laundry can seem more appealing than opening the laptop, so I usually write in cafés.) Don’t allow anything else to steal your writing time — after all, you wouldn’t accept an invitation to coffee at a time when you had to be in the office, or your boss might very well fire you. You are your boss now. You have to be tough, and you have to make yourself go to work.

  1. Create a polished product

For the content of your work to earn proper consideration, it has to look the part. Your manuscript might be the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the rough, but agents and publishers get thousands of submissions — why would they spend time on one that isn’t correctly formatted or lacks proper punctuation and grammar? All those things scream amateur, and nobody wants to waste their time with that. Find out what the submission guidelines are for the individual or organization to which you are submitting (which will almost certainly be on their website) and make absolutely sure you meet those requirements. Oh, and proofread your work. Very carefully.

  1. Know your market

You may have the most wonderful crossover chick-lit/gothic/cyberpunk novel ever written, and there might be a publisher out there willing to take a chance on it … but I wouldn’t stake my career on it, and you shouldn’t either. If a publisher isn’t sure how to market your book, or whether there’s even an audience for it at all, they won’t take a leap of faith on it. Have a clear idea of the genre you are writing within and what the readers of that genre expect. As my wonderful agent once told me: save the interesting genre-bending for book five, when you have a devoted readership who will follow you anywhere. (Clearly there are books, and writers, which have defied this last piece of advice and done astronomically well, but those are the exception rather than the rule.)

And that’s it, except to add that writing is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, but it’s also the most rewarding. I wish you the very best of luck. Now go to work!

Check out Lexie’s books here:

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