Three Questions for Random House VP & Executive Editor David Ebershoff on Hausfrau

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

A letter to the reader from Penguin Press President, Ann Godoff on The Last Bookaneer

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

Three Questions for Ballantine Books Executive Editor Pamela Cannon on Three Many Cooks

Our “Three Questions for an Editor” feature presents Pamela Cannon, Executive Editor, Ballantine Books, on Three Many Cooks by acclaimed cookbook author Pam Anderson and her daughters, Maggy Keet and Sharon Damelio. Together, Pam, Maggy, and Sharon reveal the challenging give-and-take between mothers and daughters, the passionate belief that food nourishes both body and soul, and the simple wonder that arises from good meals shared. Three Many Cooks ladles out the highs and lows, the kitchen disasters and culinary triumphs, the bitter fights and lasting love. What was the genesis of Three Many Cooks, with cookbook author Pam Anderson and her two daughters openly sharing not only their culinary adventures and recipes, but insights into their personal relationships? Three Many Cooks was submitted to me by an agent as a traditional cookbook based on the blog of the same name. After reading the proposal in its entirety, I kept coming back to the parcels of narrative in the headnotes. I sensed that there was a very specific dynamic going on between this mother and her adult daughters, and wondered if there was more there to mine. Also impressed with their ability to handle prose, I decided to take a shot and see if they would be comfortable recasting the book as an autobiographical collection of essays told from their three distinctive perspectives. Knowing that Pam had a lot of culinary fans from her previous bestselling cookbooks, I thought it might be nice to include a corresponding recipe at the end of each essay as a bonus of sorts. The result succeeded beyond anything I’d hoped for. How would you describe the editor/author process over the course of the creation and evolution ofThree Many Cooks, from initial concept to finished book? While they were a bit daunted by the idea of becoming full-fledged prose writers, the trio was excited at the prospect and up for the challenge. After a few initial meetings about what type of subjects to include and how wide to cast the net, they soon found a rhythm in which to work. While I’ve edited books with dual authors, it was the first time editing three people collectively, which can get tricky, but everyone remained respectful of the editing process. Pam, Maggy, and Sharon were fully cognizant that the goal was to make the book stronger as a whole cohesive work, uniting their various points of view within its narrative arc. They had an easy going relationship and a built-in shorthand not just from being in the same family, but from being in the same kitchen as well. It was a privilege to get to know these women and be part of the creation of their story. While this book is clearly an ideal Mother’s Day gift, what elements do you think will connect with the widest array of readers and draw them in? The main elements of the book are family, food, and a sprinkling of faith. The audience for these themes is quite broad. Food, whether it be at stove or at table, is the vehicle that Pam and her daughters use to communicate, as do many of us. A thoughtfully planned meal is the very definition of caring and love. It can evoke a range of memories and emotions, much like reading a good book. And like a good meal,Three Many Cooks is a powerful celebration and tribute to be shared with those you love. Read more about the book here.

Three Questions for Riverhead VP & Editorial Director Rebecca Saletan on The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy

Rebecca Saletan, Vice President & Editorial Director, Riverhead Books, offers fascinating insights into her work with bestselling Russian-American author Masha Gessen on The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy. On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs fashioned from pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others. The elder of the brothers suspected of committing this atrocity, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in the ensuing manhunt; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty in a Boston court of all 30 counts he was charged with. How did such a nightmare come to pass? Gessen is uniquely endowed with the background, access, and talent to tell this probing and powerful story of dislocation, and the longing for clarity and identity that can reach the point of combustion. She explains who the brothers were and how they came to do what they appear to have done. Most crucially, she reconstructs the struggle between assimilation and alienation that ensued for each of the brothers, descendants of ethnic Chechens, fueling their apparent metamorphosis into a new breed of homegrown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere—a split in identity that seems to have incubated a deadly sense of mission.
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Rebecca Saletan
  At what point after the Boston Marathon bombings did the genesis of this book take place and how did you work with Masha to identify the most important elements and perspectives of this tragic story to present in book form?  It happened very quickly – within 10 days or so of the bombings. Masha was at the time still living in Moscow, and deeply immersed in researching and reporting her last book. She always thinks forward to her next project while immersed in the one she’s working on, but in this case, it wasn’t until a longtime friend suggested she take on the story of the Tsarnaev brothers that it occurred to either of us – and as soon as the idea surfaced, I realized there was no one better equipped to tell it. We immediately knew the story we were interested in wasn’t the ripped-from-the-headlines one of the bombings themselves – other books would cover that amply, and faster. The book we were interested in was about why such a tragedy comes to pass in the first place: What transpired in these brothers’ lives to make them decide to take such drastic and devastating action in a place that was as much home to them as any had ever been? By virtue of not only her background, her bilingual – actually, bicultural – fluency, and her astonishing feel for narrative, we knew she was the perfect person to tell that story. Masha herself came to the Boston area from Russia with her family in her teens, and had experienced firsthand the dislocations of the immigrant experience. She stayed in the US for a decade before she returned to Russia in her twenties to cover the transformations wracking her homeland, which included the wars in Chechnya. To report this book she traveled to places that would be dangerous if not impossible for most other reporters to access, including Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan. What was the scope of the editor/author process as this project evolved from initial concept to finished book? This is the fifth book of Masha’s I’ve had the privilege to publish, and we’ve developed an almost married-couple familiarity with each other’s ways at this point. She’s also an incredible storyteller who always develops a vision for what particular path she wants to take through her research and reporting to convey not only the facts but the perspective she’s arrived at. With her Putin biography, I made a major structural suggestion that resulted in a restructuring of the first half of the book – though not actually major rewriting – because I had a sense of where American readers need to be met in order to come on board the story she was telling – but in this case her sense of how to unfold the narrative was nearly flawless. She was writing fairly quickly, however, and I was seeing the book chapter by chapter, so my most useful input was line-by-line, to make the story flow as dramatically as possible and to make sure the themes she was developing resonated chapter to chapter. Sometimes I also suggested she cut back on editorializing and just let the story tell itself, reassuring her that the details she’d chosen were making the points she wanted to make. In other instances, I felt she needed to lead the reader a bit more explicitly toward the connections she was driving at. I think this is a big part of editing, standing out in the theater before the audience arrives and saying what reads clearly and doesn’t need to be hammered home, and what’s not quite coming across. Practically speaking, we have a great rhythm – Masha is a night owl whose most productive hours are from the late evening when her children go to bed until three or four in the morning, while I’m an early riser, especially when I’m in the thick of editing; so not infrequently she’d send me a chapter before she went to bed, and I’d have it back to her, with edits and comments, by the time she woke.    The bombings were such a horrific atrocity that many people may not want to revisit.  Just as many people, though, are still wondering, “Why and how could this happen?”  What aspects of The Brothers do you feel address that question in ways not discussed before and will connect with readers most powerfully?  This is not a book about the bombings per se, and it is not about the victims and the many people who have been traumatized by the tragedy; that story has been well covered by others, in short and long form. This is a book that reconstructs the path someone might take to arrive at the decision to commit such an atrocity – what might have taken place in their background, their encounters with this culture, the shifts in their thinking. This is not to excuse or minimize it in any way. But it does call into question the received models we have been using – models of “radicalization” that are not borne out either by the research on terrorism or by the specifics of this story. We sense on some level, I think, that these models don’t make sense, but we continue to evoke them. In the process we react to such incidents in a way that inadvertently glorifies them and their perpetrators and, unfortunately, helps set the stage for more such episodes. I think this book is crucial reading for all of us because it helps us to narrate the story to ourselves in a way that actually fits the facts and might allow us to evolve a saner and ultimately safer response. Learn more about the book here.

Three Questions for Putnam Editor Sara Minnich on David Joy’s debut novel Where All Light Tends to Go

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. Putnam Editor Sara Minnich answers “Three Questions for an Editor” about her work on David Joy’s Where All Light Tends to Go.  This highly praised debut novel is a savage and beautiful story of a young man seeking redemption. In the meth-dealing family at the center of the book, killing a man is considered a rite of passage, but when eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely botches a murder, he is torn between appeasing his kingpin father and leaving the mountains with the girl he loves. The world that Jacob inhabits is bleak and unrelenting in its violence and disregard for human life, and having known nothing more, he wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above it. For a debut novelist, David Joy has a writing style that feels so natural and remarkably assured as he creates an off-the-grid world populated by authentic characters that are bound to cause readers to feel a wide range of emotions.  What were your thoughts and impressions as you read the initial manuscript for the first time? I was hooked within the first few pages of Where All Light Tends to Go. Both the writing style and the voice of the young protagonist were raw and gritty, utterly real.  After promising opening pages, I was crossing my fingers in hope that the rest of the book would hold up – and it absolutely did.  Shortly into the story things take a shocking and violent turn, and the pace only escalates from there.  Mostly I remember being unable to put it down.  The manuscript needed some work, but I knew from the first read that I loved it and that David was the real deal. How would you describe the scope of the editor/author process as Where All Light Tends to Go evolved into a finished book? The first draft that I read was in fairly solid shape in terms of the plot, pacing, and writing.  The element David and I spent the most time revising over the course of three drafts was the relationship between the hero, Jacob McNeely, and his love interest Maggie.  Maggie’s character needed to be fleshed out, and David did a lot of work to find her voice and to help the reader understand the magnetism between her and Jacob.  Their relationship was fundamentally transformed from the first draft to the final book, in a way that brought a lot of heart and hope to a story that is ultimately quite dark. This novel is not your traditional “book club” book, given the gritty nature of a lot of the stories that unfold in its pages, but it feels like a book that will spark a lot of discussions.  What kinds of readers do you think will be most attracted to Where All Light Tends to Go and why? The novel falls firmly in the category of country noir, so would be perfect for readers of Daniel Woodrell and Larry Brown.  Fans of shows like “Breaking Bad” or “Justified” would also find much to enjoy – a strong sense of place, characters that leap off the page, a grim and intense story, and a relentless pace. where-all-light-tends-to-go-by-david-joy Read more about Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy here.

From the Editor’s Desk: Jessica Renheim, associate editor at Dutton, on Meet me in Atlantis by Mark Adams

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. “Mark wants to write his next book about Atlantis.” Even though it’s been almost four years now, I remember that moment with remarkable clarity. In the summer of 2011, we had just published Mark Adams’ second book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu. It became both a critical success and a New York Times bestseller, and the book to buy if you planned on visiting Machu Picchu, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. So when it came time for Mark to submit his next book idea, I was pretty much ready to be excited about anything. Mark could write about java script updates and somehow turn it into a smart, funny, and engaging story. But even I was slightly taken aback when the proposal landed in my inbox. Before reading Meet Me in Atlantis, my cultural reference points for the legendary lost city could be summed up as follows: an island that had sunk beneath the ocean, alien conspiracy theories, and a vague awareness of a tropical resort bearing the same name. It turns out that the actual history and source of the Atlantis story is far more fascinating and surprising. For starters, everything we know about Atlantis comes from two dialogues written by the Greek philosopher Plato, dialogues packed with details about the sunken island. The information is abundant, but just vague enough that the specific location of Atlantis is never quite made clear. Today, most academics dismiss the tale as pure fiction, but Mark quickly learned that there is an entire global sub-culture of enthusiastic amateur explorers actively searching for the lost city based on the clues Plato left behind. For them, Atlantis was a real place, rooted in history, and waiting to be found. What begins as one man’s skeptical inquiry into why people believe they can find the world’s most famous lost civilization becomes a full-blown quest that spans the globe to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries. In the process of investigating the top five possible sites where Atlantis might have once existed, Mark introduces readers to irresistible characters and locales. He unpacks an incredible wealth of history, philosophy, math, and myth into an absorbing narrative that sings along and captures the curiosity of even the staunchest of skeptics (I considered myself to be one of them), making you hope that Atlantis once existed beyond the imagination of Plato, that some of history is actually coded in the popular ancient myth, and that Mark Adams—driven by an insatiable and infectious curiosity—will lead you to rediscover a lost world. meet-me-in-atlantis-by-mark-adams Meet Me in Atlantis is Adams’s enthralling account of Mark Adams quest to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries; a travelogue that takes readers to fascinating locations to meet irresistible characters; and a deep, often humorous look at the human longing to rediscover a lost world. Read more about Meet Me in Atlantis here.

Three Questions for Random House VP & Executive Editor Kara Cesare on The One That Got Away

Kara Cesare, Vice President & Executive Editor, Random House Group, offers insights into her work with debut novelist Bethany Chase and the newly released The One That Got Away.  Full of both humor and heartbreak, this book tells the story of one woman’s discovery that, sometimes, life is what happens when you leave the blueprints behind. Having been the editor of a broad range of bestselling, award-winning authors, from Janet Evanovich to Lisa See, what was it about Bethany Chase and The One That Got Away that captured your interest and made you want to acquire and edit her novel? I fell into The One That Got Away immediately, and I didn’t stop reading until I turned the last page, which speaks to Bethany’s storytelling talent. I appreciated her gift for creating relatable, winning characters looking for love, but also searching for their place in the world. I missed the characters as soon as I finished the novel—that’s how vivid they were to me, and that’s when I knew I wanted to acquire such an impressive, emotional, and romantic debut. I was also very inspired by Bethany’s strong aesthetics in the novel—she’s an interior designer by trade and her descriptions of architecture and design are so mesmerizing. How would you describe the editor/author process of working with Bethany and what was involved in the evolution of this title from initial manuscript to finished book? Bethany is an incredible partner in publishing. We connected the first time we spoke about the novel, and she was open and receptive to the editorial notes I shared with her. She was very engaged in the editorial dialogue we had and was sincerely invested in making the novel as strong as it could possibly be. Who do you feel will be most attracted to The One That Got Away and what elements of the characters and the story will resonate most powerfully with readers? I think the premise—What would happen if you got a second chance at a love that almost was?—is really intriguing. Her opening is enticing: “Every woman has one. That name you Google at two o’clock in the morning. The intoxicating connection that somehow never solidified into anything real; that particular memory you still visit every now and then, for that guaranteed hit of pure, sugar-packed dopamine.” There’s an irresistible love story at the center of the novel, but there are also wonderful and poignant themes running through it about family, grief, resilience, and of creating a sense of home for yourself that I think will resonate. My hope is that the heart, wisdom, and humor that pervades this novel will appeal to readers looking for a great new voice in fiction, and that their discovery of this new talent will be one they can’t wait to share with their friends! Read more about The One That Got Away here.

From the Editor’s Desk: Neil Nyren, Associate Publisher & Editor-in-Chief at Putnam Books, on Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry

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. I first got to know Dave Barry about twenty years ago. By that time, he’d already won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and had more bestsellers than half the publishing houses I know, but he’d never tried fiction. Then the Miami Herald approached him and several other South Florida writers, including Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, to write a serial novel; I bought the book rights; and I loved his chapter so much, I asked if he wanted to write a whole novel. He said, sure, great idea! It wasn’t until he signed the contracts that he realized that meant he actually had to write a novel, with characters and plot and, you know, a lot of words. It was a brutal awakening. I’m not sure he’s ever completely forgiven me…. But I digress. Since then, we’ve done many books together, both fiction and nonfiction, but I have to say I think his new one may be my favorite: Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. It’s a collection of all-new essays about what one generation can teach to another – or not. Two of the centerpieces are letters to his brand-new grandson and to his daughter Sophie, who will be getting her Florida learner’s permit this year (“So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.”). Another explores the hometown of his youth, where the grownups were supposed to be uptight Fifties conformists, but seemed to be having a lot of un-Mad Men-like fun – unlike Dave’s own Baby Boomer generation, which was supposed to be wild and crazy, but somehow turned into neurotic hover-parents. Yet another conjures the loneliness of high school nerds (“You will never hear a high-school girl say about a boy, in a dreamy voice, ‘He’s so sarcastic!’”). live-right-and-find-happiness-although-beer-is-much-faster-by-dave-barry All of them are extremely funny, but they also have the essence of humor: real heart. They make you not only laugh (a lot), but think and feel, and I promise you will be reading a lot of it aloud to people you love, and even to random strangers. Perhaps over a beer. Here’s to you, Dave. Read more about Live Right and Find Happiness here. Listen to a Beaks & Geeks interview with Dave Barry: