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Articles Tagged “literary fiction”
Oct 17, 2017 News

George Saunders, famed short story writer, has won the Man Booker Prize for his first full-length novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

From The Man Booker Prize website:

The 58-year-old New York resident, born in Texas, is the second American author to win the prize in its 49-year history. He was in contention for the prize with two British, one British-Pakistani and two American writers.

Lola, Baroness Young, 2017 Chair of judges, comments:

‘The form and style of this utterly original novel, reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.’

Lincoln in the Bardo focuses on a single night in the life of Abraham Lincoln: an actual moment in 1862 when the body of his 11-year-old son was laid to rest in a Washington cemetery. Strangely and brilliantly, Saunders activates this graveyard with the spirits of its dead. The Independent described the novel as ‘completely beguiling’, praising Saunders for concocting a ‘narrative like no other: a magical, mystery tour of the bardo – the “intermediate” or transitional state between one’s death and one’s next birth, according to Tibetan Buddhism.’ Meanwhile, the Guardian wrote that, ‘the short story master’s first novel is a tale of great formal daring…[it] stands head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction, showing a writer who is expanding his universe outwards, and who clearly has many more pleasures to offer his readers.’

-Read the rest here.

Browse below for Saunders’ rightfully beloved works:

Sep 12, 2017 Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This time, we’re so excited to host an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.

This final post in the series features a podcast interview with Celeste Ng all about her book, and the designer responsible for the beautiful cover, Jaya Miceli.  

Listen to Celeste talk about family, secrets, empathy, and activism: 

A Q&A with the designer behind Little Fires Everywhere’s beautiful cover art: 

Did you interact with Ng when planning your design?

I worked closely with the art director, Darren Haggar. We bounced around ideas and tried to figure out a mood/setting that would best capture the closeness and secrets in this particular town. I came across Amy Bennett’s artwork and we both felt we’d hit upon something.

What were some ideas for this book that you didn’t end up using?

Some of the ideas were very abstract and some were too specific to the book. I painted some tudor homes. 

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

I love reading the manuscripts. The hardest part is creating a cover that fits the tone of the book and that is also visually striking.

How has your approach to designing covers changed over time? What did you most want this cover to convey?  

I was especially pulled into Ng’s book. I really loved the compellingly intricate and complex storyline and characters. The hard part is the process. I do a lot of art/photo research and sometimes create my own illustrations or hand-lettering, which can all take time. For this particular cover, finding Amy Bennett’s artwork was a perfect fit for Ng’s book. The evening hues, the aerial view of winding roads and the light in the homes, the idyllic sweet suburban street. You know that all can’t be right here. 

Thank you so much for following along with The Life of A Book! Be sure to grab a copy of Little Fires Everywhere, especially now you know all the behind-the-scenes work that has shaped it.

 

Sep 7, 2017 Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This time, we’re so excited to host an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.

In the coming weeks, we’ll interview different people who have been a major part of making the book: a marketer, the book designer, a sales representative, and finally, Celeste herself!

This week’s interview is with Assistant Director of Publicity at the Penguin Press, Juliana Kiyan.

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

I think I can only start with its author, the wonderful Celeste Ng. She’s an incredibly thoughtful and keen observer, expert craftsman, and indefatigable worker. These qualities all shine through in Little Fires Everywhere, but it’s just as important to note that she embodies them off the page as well. (I’d be shirking my duties if I didn’t say to check her out at @pronounced_ing!) She’s been a terrific partner to all of us at Penguin Press and PRH since the early days of Everything I Never Told You, and it’s a thrill to be a part of this next step in her long career. Celeste is a bona fide talent, and Little Fires Everywhere is a seriously unputdownable read.

How did you market this book differently from Everything I Never Told You?

Launching a second novel is a very different process from a debut. With a debut, the goal is to introduce a new literary voice to a wide audience and persuade people to take a chance on the book. We were fortunate to achieve this with Everything I Never Told You, as readers from all over were just as taken with Celeste’s gorgeous writing and the Lee family as we were. With a second novel, we certainly want to reach the fans of the first book and expand upon that, while also making it clear this isn’t Everything I Never Told You 2.0. The reasons why you fell in love with the first book are in the DNA in Little Fires Everywhere, but this is a wholly new story. In terms of publicity, the first item on my check list was easy, thankfully: people were eager to read the new book! Celeste’s profile has risen since her first book published, and many were looking forward to her next work.

Juliana Kiyan

How would you describe your job and how you worked on this book to a layman? What are some of the steps you take when you first start working on a title?

Ultimately my job is to help get a book out into the wider world in ways that compel readers to check it out and hopefully buy it. As a publicist, I work on connecting with media and with booksellers. On the media front, we aim to secure reviews and interviews with outlets that people know and trust and that have a wide reach. We line up as much media as we can at publication in order to get the book in front of a wide range of potential readers, and we continually build on those opportunities from there. With booksellers, we plan events that bring the author out to different parts of the country to connect directly with fans and customers. Booksellers are among a book’s earliest readers, and it’s incredibly exciting to hear from a bookseller who fell in love with a book and is eager to support it by hosting an event, by handselling, by writing a staff recommendation. My colleagues and I pursue all these avenues and more to, essentially, get the word out.

With a beloved author like Celeste, this was all a lot of fun. We began working on the publicity and marketing campaigns for Little Fires Everywhere relatively early, maybe about nine or ten months before publication in earnest. We had a rich foundation from our experiences with her first book, and we laid out our top goals and priorities. Early on in the year, Celeste visited the office, and that was the first of many productive discussions we’ve had as a team. It’s hard to believe we’re finally at publication.

Describe the book in one sentence.

Through the lens of the placid suburb of Shaker Heights and a deeply human cast of characters, Little Fires Everywhere is a finely observed examination of privilege and identity, words and action, secrets and belonging, and what it means to be a mother.

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

We all work very closely together. Both Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You were true team efforts from beginning to end. The publicity and marketing generally come in closer to the book’s pub date, but in the case of Little Fires Everywhere it was all hands on deck from the day of acquisition. We all loved the first book and couldn’t wait to dive in right away. Celeste’s editor, Ginny Smith Younce, and I have spoken and emailed more about this book than either of us could ever count—we always want to make sure we’re on the same page. Same with our marketing team: Matt Boyd, Caitlin O’Shaughnessy, and Grace Fisher. Marketing and publicity are very intertwined, and it’s important that we connect regularly since our efforts play off of and benefit each other.  Marketing is also doing the crucial job of working with sales to make sure booksellers and accounts have everything they need as we approach publication. We’re all on Team Celeste and proud by association.

Anything else you think would be interesting for readers to know?

If it ever comes up in casual conversation, perhaps ask Celeste about her former career as a miniaturist. She is a fountain of information when it comes to teeny tiny physical recreations of objects from everyday life.

Tune in next week for the next interview in this series, and learn more about the book below:

 

Aug 30, 2017 Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This time, we’re so excited to host an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.

In the coming weeks, we’ll interview different people who have been a major part of making the book: a marketer, the book designer, a sales representative, and finally, Celeste herself!

This week’s interview is with sales manager Megan Sullivan.

When you describe Little Fires Everywhere to book buyers, what is your hook? What is memorable or unique about the book? Why would they want it in their store?

First a little back story. I had been a buyer and bookseller at Harvard Book Store for many years and when I was hired to be his co-rep in New England, Karl Krueger invited me to an author dinner with Celeste and a bunch of booksellers even before I was a rep. I was excited to meet her as she lives just minutes away from me. Her book Everything I Never Told You was the first book I read as a PRH rep and is special to me for all this, so when I heard she had a new book coming, I hounded the editor (okay, asked politely a lot). I read Little Fires Everywhere as soon as the manuscript was posted, about 4 months before sales conference and I was immediately hooked. A sophomore novel can often slump a bit relative to an author’s first book. Not so this one—it dazzles. Rich characters and sense of place, Celeste is able to make you see the story from a variety of perspectives. I told my stores that this will be one of the biggest books in the fall and they should pile it up.

Megan's Workspace
Megan’s Workspace

What do you like about this new book? Do you have a favorite moment or line? Were you surprised by anything?

I think the character development is richer in Little Fires Everywhere. And there are so many moments to pause and think that I don’t have a favorite. Elena Richardson, the mother of the Richardson clan, surprised me. She could have been written as a cookie-cutter wealthy woman, unaware of her privilege, but I felt Celeste wrote her with some compassion.

What’s your favorite thing about your job? What would surprise a layman to know?

I love getting to read books so early! It’s so much fun to talk with booksellers when you know one of their favorite authors has a book coming. I often feel like I’m a bookseller still just in a slightly different role.

Do you have a favorite bookstore in the Boston/Cambridge area?

I love all the stores around here, but I spent 14 years at Harvard Book Store and it’s part of my DNA now.

Tune in next week for the next interview in this series, and learn more about the book below:

Aug 24, 2017 Behind the Scenes

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’ve we delved deep into two very different books before: But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This time, we’re so excited to announce an interview series all about Little Fires Everywhere, the second book by Celeste Ng. Her first book, Everything I Never Told You, was a smash hit and ever since fans have been waiting with bated breath.

In the coming weeks, we’ll interview different people who have been a major part of making the book: a marketer, the book designer, a sales representative, and finally, Celeste herself!

Let’s kick things off with a Q&A with the book’s editor, Virginia Smith. Read on below!

What do you look for when you acquire a new book? How does that apply to Celeste Ng?
It depends on the kind of book, of course, but I love to encounter a fully-realized world. And Celeste does that as well as anyone writing today. From the first line of Little Fires Everywhere, you are dropped into a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, where everything is meticulously planned. And where something is deeply wrong. The gun is loaded, so to speak, and you’re dreading the moment it fires. I was traveling when Celeste’s agent Julie Barer sent me the manuscript for the novel, and I read it in one furious sitting, stuck on the tarmac at La Guardia in a cramped, delayed plane. I cried, I gasped, I laughed, I cheered, I hummed along to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. By the time we finally landed, everyone else on the flight was asleep, but I was nearly bouncing in my seat, excited to get out and tell my colleagues how wonderful Celeste’s second book was.

How is your work different with a debut vs. a second book?
One obvious difference is that you don’t have to “introduce” a non-debut writer. And that was certainly the case with Celeste, who immediately established herself as one our most captivating writers with her stunning first book, Everything I Never Told You. The love that book received was so heartening to see, especially in a difficult time for debut fiction. But it was a reception truly earned. And now Celeste has created something even more exceptional: a triumphant second novel. These are a rare species, but Celeste is a rare talent. The job of the entire team at Penguin Press is to spread that good word to our bookselling partners, to media, and most importantly, to readers.

Author Celeste Ng
Author Celeste Ng

What do you think was your biggest impact on Little Fires Everywhere?
In my mind, I am her ideal reader. By happenstance, I am exactly the same age as both Celeste and one of the main characters in Little Fires Everywhere. And while every person’s experience is unique, I felt like my personal history gave me insight into the world Celeste has created. The novel is set in and around a high school in the late 1990s. Celeste artfully evokes the quality of teenage life in that period, and I could read those aspects of the novel out of my own experience. I knew Celeste had nailed the landscape. Now, twenty years later, I find myself the mother of two young daughters, so the novel’s beautiful exploration of the possibilities and pulls of motherhood also resonates with me on a deep level.

What do you think would surprise a layman to know about your job? What is your favorite part?
People who aren’t in publishing are generally surprised that editors are involved in all aspects of a book’s publication. And I enjoy that. It’s an honor to advocate for creative work I love. I trained and worked as an actor before coming into publishing, and I appreciate how important that support is for an artist. It’s also a great privilege to work in a community of people who are all so excited about writing. And I enjoy all aspects of bookmaking, from the puzzle of editing to the aesthetics of the physical book. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to work with wonderful mentors who have taught me the importance of all of those aspects of publishing. I find the sales process invigorating. Our launch at Penguin Press is fun. Ann Godoff is just the platonic ideal of a publisher, and I decided to be an editor after hearing Scott Moyers pitch Tom Ricks’ FIASCO at the Columbia Publishing Course in 2006. Working with the two of them makes me better.

Virginia Smith
Editor Virginia Smith

How are you involved with the other aspects? Art, marketing, publicity?
I’m very fortunate to have talented colleagues who bring experience and expertise to bear on books I love. I enjoy seeing the vision of the art department worked out in the cover design, strategizing about a publicity campaign, and getting into the weeds on the marketing plan. It is particularly great in this case because our whole team worked with Celeste on her first book. We all had such a lovely experience partnering with Celeste for Everything I Never Told You, as she is just a delight and a star in every sense.

Why will readers want to read this book?
Because it’s just fantastic? One of the things I love most about Celeste’s work is her profound empathy. Every character in her Shaker Heights is fully realized—and the novel is still completely propulsive. We are plunged into a chilling mystery from the opening line; a seemingly perfect family is undone by secrets; the underlying racism of a community is uncovered; and mother-daughter relationships are powder kegs ready to detonate. Celeste’s meditations on the complexities of motherhood are worth the read alone, but the novel’s examinations of identity, belonging, and the nature of art are equally powerful and rewarding. She writes about issues that polarize us today with such heart for all involved. She tells a good story, which of course is job one, but she is also searching for what motivates each of us—and what sparks a fire.

Tune in next week for the next interview in this series, and learn more about the book below:

Feb 28, 2017 Editor’s Desk

Riverhead Vice President & Editorial Director Rebecca Saletan, Mohsin’s longtime editor, shares her insights on Mohsin Hamid’s new novel: “I have had the enormous privilege of publishing Mohsin Hamid for the entire span of his extraordinary writing life, some twenty years now. He has the rare and precious gift, never more evident than in this new book, of being able not only to see into the future but to imagine, in the shape of real human lives, plausible and humane alternatives to the dark places where our worst impulses could lead us.”  

Mohsin Hamid, Photo by Jillian Edelstein

Mohsin Hamid. Photo by Jillian Edelstein

From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Exit West goes on sale from Riverhead Books on March 7 and is an astonishingly timely love story that brilliantly imagines the forces that transform ordinary people into refugees — and the impossible choices that follow — as they’re driven from their homes to the uncertain embrace of new lands.  Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, this book tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Exit West has been lauded with tremendous advance praise.  Here is a sampling:

“Mohsin Hamid’s dynamic yet lapidary books have all explored the convulsive changes overtaking the world…His compelling new novel, Exit West, is no exception…Writing in spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy….Hamid does a harrowing job of conveying what it is like to leave behind family members, and what it means to leave home, which, however dangerous or oppressive it’s become, still represents everything that is familiar and known.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[A] thought experiment that pivots on the crucial figure of this century: the migrant… [A] wry, intelligent novel… brilliantly managed… Hamid’s cautious, even fastidious prose makes the sudden flashes of social breakdown all the more affecting,” the author continues. “Evading the lure of both the utopian and the dystopian, Exit West makes some rough early sketches of the world that must come if we (or is it ‘you’?) are to avoid walling out the rest of the human race in the 21st century.” –The Financial Times

“Writers should be wise, and Hamid is wiser than many… No novel is really about the cliche called ‘the human condition,’ but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here.” –The Washington Post

“Hamid’s prose powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived ‘under the drone-crossed sky.’ But his whimsical framing of the situation offers a hopeful metaphor for the future as the ‘natives’ come to accept their new neighbors.” –TIME Magazine

Learn more about the book here:

Sep 7, 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?

The absolute first thing I do is decide my main characters’ names. I feel like I need to know someone’s name before I can start to know him or her. My favorite place to figure out first names is the Social Security popular baby names website, where you can view name popularity by birth year (back to 1879) to see what common and (uncommon) names were in the year your character was born.

After I decide names, I’ll start to make notes of other things, like birthdays/age or relationships to other characters, quirks, where a character lives, or things he/she likes or dislikes. But I start drafting pretty soon into this process. I mostly learn and get to really know my characters as I’m writing the first draft, thinking about what they do and how they react and speak when I put them in different situations. So I think the best way I get to know my characters is to write them. By the time I get to the end of the first draft, they’re often different than what I started with (and I know them much better). But then I go back and revise.

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

The first line of novel is really important. It sets the tone for the entire book. I want it to show what the book is ultimately about, but also to be interesting and hook the reader. When I first start thinking about and developing an idea I always start thinking about first lines. I jot down ideas, often for weeks or months. But, I don’t wait for the perfect first line before I start drafting a book. I begin with the first one that comes to me and then I keep writing from there to get my first draft going. So just the act of getting words and ideas down on the page is the most important action I take in order to actually start writing. I set a goal for myself – usually 3-5 pages a day – and I make myself sit down and write something, make some progress in the draft, even if it’s ultimately terrible and will all be changed in revision.

Most of the time the first line that appears in the final draft of the book is not at all what I started with. I keep thinking on that first line, even as I keep writing the first draft. Usually I don’t understand enough about the story myself until I finish or get most of the way through a first draft. So I start writing at the beginning, but 9 times out of 10 that beginning changes by the time I make it to the end!

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

I always write at home, and I need quiet to write. I negotiate my writing schedule around my kids’ schedules so I usually write while my kids are at school during weekdays, or very early in the mornings on the weekends or during the summer when my kids are home – really, whenever I can find uninterrupted quiet each day. I have an office in my house where I can shut the door, and I do write there, but when no one else is home I also write at my kitchen table.

I like to drink coffee while I write, and that always helps to get me thinking. Or when I get stuck, I’ll exercise. Taking a long walk, run, or hike, often helps me work through a plot a point I was stuck on or figure out a problem in my story.

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

The best advice, and I got this from a writing professor in grad school, is simply, “butt in chair.” As in, just sit down and force yourself to write something, no matter what it is or how terrible you think it is. The hardest part is making yourself sit down to do it. So I don’t let myself make excuses – I put my butt in the chair every morning and write something.

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

I read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott in the first fiction writing class I took, and I still have a copy on the shelf in my office. I love what she writes about first drafts and I feel like it’s still important to give myself permission to write something terrible the first time around as long as I write something. I’m a big believer in the importance of revision! Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite novels, and the first I read by her. I come back to it, and her novels, again and again, because I feel like I learn so much about sympathetic character development from her. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which I first read in college, always makes me think about writing characters in a world different from our own today (which is applicable for writing historical fiction as well) and the fact that characters still need to first be inherently human and relatable, no matter how different their world is from the one we know.

Learn more about the book below!

Jul 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! 

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

Yes, I go to my “office” in the backyard, a former garden shed that I fixed up when we bought the house we’re living in now (unfortunately, I have a difficult time blocking out the world, so writing in a “public” place is impossible for me). There is no phone or internet, just a table and chair and some reference books along with a laptop and a typewriter. The first thing I do to get started is pour a cup of coffee from a thermos and light a cigarette. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I can’t do it any other way.

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

Learn to sit in the chair for a designated period of time, regardless of whether anything is “happening” or not. I think this is the main thing that defeats many aspiring writers, and it’s easy for me to see why.   There have been many, many days when I’d rather be doing anything else (it’s the only time when washing windows seems like a fantastic idea). But I almost always force myself to stay put because nothing will ever happen unless I’m sitting there to help make it happen.   It might be a little easier for me because I’m the type of person who does better at writing and everything else if I’m living on a schedule, but it’s still hard sometimes.

 What writing techniques have you found most important?

When I decided to learn how to write short stories, I didn’t know anything and I struggled for quite a while without making much progress. Then I read an interview with a writer who said she learned to write by copying out other people’s stuff. For some reason, that made sense to me, and I began typing out short stories by Hemingway, Cheever, Yates, Johnson, O’Connor, on and on. I did approximately one story a week for maybe 18 months and it got me so much “closer” to seeing how they did things like writing dialogue, making transitions, etc. It could be that it worked for me because I’m not a very good reader, but it definitely helped me start figuring some things out. On occasion, when I’m having a bad day, I will still type out a paragraph or two from somebody else.

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

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is the best novel I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, reading it also makes me realize how worthless my own work is. Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. I copied every story out of that book when I was starting out, and it helped push me toward the idea of developing, for lack of a better term, my own “voice.”   Also, Earl Thompson’s A Garden of Sand, which I came across when I was maybe sixteen and have never forgotten. I’ve mentioned it before in interviews as being the first book I ever read that contained characters similar to some of the people I grew up around.   Of course, you have to understand, my reading was somewhat limited in those days and I probably hadn’t even heard of people like Faulkner and O’Connor yet.

Learn more about the book below:

Jun 21, 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?

The most important thing I tell beginning writers (and myself whenever I’m struggling which is often) is to put one’s bottom on the chair every day and dedicate whatever hours you can to work. The daily commitment is more important than the amount of time you spend at it. For me, writing is a process that needs to be attended to, fed, and kept alive every day no matter how difficult or non-productive the time may seem. The struggle to write is part of the process, and often as you take a walk or a shower or fold laundry or drive to a meeting or any of the other mundane tasks we all do during a day, your creative brain will gift you with some insight or bit of dialog or the very answer to the problem you couldn’t solve that morning. But only if you keep the process alive by working every day.

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

Write notes to yourself about your characters before you begin your work. Sit in front of the empty screen and write down whatever comes to mind – facts like how old they are, what the look like, but also random thoughts like whether they have nightmares or like physical exercise or what their favorite food is or whether they’re a dog person. Whatever comes to mind, whether it is germane to the story you’re telling or not. You have to know your characters (even the secondary ones) as well as you know the members of your own family. That knowledge will inform what they say and how they behave. It will make your characters particular and interesting and ultimately, if you know them well enough, THEY will tell you what they want to say and do.

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

Surprise yourself when you’re writing.

Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.

Emotional and character driven.

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

Well before I even contemplated becoming a writer, I read Doris Lessing’s novel, The Golden Notebook, and was astonished to realize that one could write a whole book about the intimate, mundane lives of women. I think it was the first time I realized that this territory was important enough to explore.

Amy Bloom taught me how to write about grief – the theme which unites the stories in my collection, Tell Me One Thing. In her story, Sleepwalking, from her collection, Where The God of Love Hangs Out, she writes about how the family members left behind deal with the death of their husband and father without ever mentioning grief or having people break down into emotional messes. It’s all in the behavior of the characters and is amazingly moving and restrained and powerful.

I was astonished when I read Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, that it was possible to write a truly prickly, often unlikeable character and still create understanding and sympathy and connection to her. Strout helped me be bolder in writing my characters and certainly gave me permission to create Daniel, in Surprise Me, with all his idiosyncrasies and edges and flaws.

Learn more about the book below:

Jun 2, 2016 Editor’s Desk

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.

There are several things that are most thrilling to a book editor. First and foremost is the discovery of true talent. Everything else
extends from that. Next on the list is when other people throughout the company respond to that talent positively and excitedly. When strong enough, that response not only becomes electric, it becomes unstoppable. At its most exciting it becomes a tidal wave of appreciation for a book or a writer. Next, of course, is the validation that comes from a wider audience – The bookstore buyers, managers and sales people and then, finally, actual real people who make the final judgment on the book.

Over the course of my lengthy career, I have brought in a lot of
great talent and some major stars. That is satisfying in its own right.
But it does not compare to the discovery of a writer who is fresh,
unknown, who is to be revealed. I have never seen a response to an unknown talent like the one I have seen for Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter. It started with my read where, after only 20 pages, I realized I was not just reading a well-written novel, I was reading something special, spectacular.

Claudia Herr, who became the line editor and helped shape and refine the novel with Stephanie, was the next reader and the first person to come into my office. She was, literally, trembling and said she had never been so excited after reading a submission. We went about trying to build a consensus but we did not have to try very hard. The manuscript swept through Knopf, through all the layers and every department. Never before had I gotten emails or phone calls saying things such as, “You must buy this book,” or “We have to publish this!”

We met with the author and Ms. Danler was at least as
impressive as her wonderful prose. Although there are obvious
autobiographical elements in her first novel it was immediately clear
that she had many more books in her ­ she was an author, not just someone who had written a terrific first novel.

The thrill has continued every step of the way. The wild enthusiasm within the Knopf group turned into equally strong support from reviewers and bookstores and consumers. Right from the beginning, we thought that Stephanie Danler had written a novel that had a chance to become iconic, to really be that over-used cliché: “the voice of a generation.” It is starting to look as if we all might be right.

What did we see in this book from the moment the manuscript
was submitted? We saw an elegant and eloquent use of language; the author’s descriptions of food made us hungry; her descriptions of sensual cravings stirred us; writing about the turmoil of being young brought us all back to our youth, or for those who were still young, it was like having their own lives being thrown back at them at the speed of light. The book made us all see ourselves in different ways, no matter our age or our sex. It also made us see outside of ourselves. It made us see the narrator’s very specific world as well as the world at large in new and startling ways. 
This is what talent does. This is what Sweetbitter is about to do to readers all over the world.

Learn more about the book below!

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