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!
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:
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:
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.
“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:
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. StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.
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. StoryCorps to find more oral history and amazing storytelling.
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.
- You have to go to work.
- Create a polished product
- Know your market
It is with sadness that we share that prolific military fiction author William E. Butterworth III, known the world over as W.E.B. Griffin, died on Tuesday, February 12. He was 89. William E. Butterworth III was the #1 bestselling author of over 250 books, the majority of them published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, with over 50 million copies in print in more than ten languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian. As W.E.B. Griffin, he was the author of 61 epic novels in seven series: The Corps, Brotherhood of War, Badge of Honor, Men at War, Honor Bound, Presidential Agent, and Clandestine Operations. Known for his historical accuracy, richly drawn characters, thrilling adventure, crackling wit, and astute aptitude for the heart and mind of a military hero, Griffin delighted readers for decades with his electrifying novels about the military, police, spies, and counterspies. Under other pseudonyms, he wrote over 100 other books, both for adults and children, including twelve of the thirteen M*A*S*H novels. He has been praised as “a writer of true virtuosity and talent” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), “a truly impressive storyteller” (Midwest Book Review), and “unrivaled” in the realm of military fiction (Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg and Lines of Fire). “If God is truly in the details, then Griffin must be the pop of police procedurals,” wrote Publishers Weekly. As The Philadelphia Inquirer put it simply, “Griffin has the knack.” His passion for writing about the military and other branches of law enforcement carried him through his distinguished career. “Nothing honors me more than a serviceman, veteran, or cop telling me he enjoys reading my books,” he said. W.E.B. Griffin grew up in the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia. He began an illustrious military career in 1946, when he enlisted in the United States Army. After basic training, he received counterintelligence training at Fort Holabird, Maryland. He was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany and ultimately to the staff of then-Major General I.D. White, Commander of the U.S. Constabulary. In 1951, Griffin was recalled to active duty for the Korean War, interrupting his education at the Philipps University of Marburg an der Lahn, Germany. Among his many awards for service, Griffin was the recipient of the 1991 Brigadier General Robert L. Dening Memorial Distinguished Service Award of the U.S. Marine Corps and the 1999 Veterans of Foreign Wars News Media Award, which was presented at the 100th National Convention in Kansas City. He has been vested into the Order of St. George of the U.S. Armor Association and the Order of St. Andrew of the U.S. Army Aviation Association. A longtime resident of both Alabama’s Gulf Coast and Buenos Aires, Argentina, Griffin is survived by his four children, including son Bill Butterworth IV, his co-writer on 21 novels.