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Congratulations to our 2018 National Book Award Semi-Finalists

Congratulations to our Penguin Random House authors who have been chosen by the respective five category judges as “longlisted” semi-finalists for the 2018 National Book Awards. Wednesday, October 10: The “shortlist” of five finalists per category will be announced. Wednesday, November 15: The five winners will be revealed at the annual National Book Awards dinner. See below for our semi-finalists in each category.

 

Fiction

 

Nonfiction

 

Poetry

 

Translated Literature

 

Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

 

How to Write Short Stories (Hint: It’s Not That Simple)

This article was written by Laura Furman and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

As the series editor who chooses the stories in the annual O. Henry Prize Stories, I read hundreds of short stories every year. I also have the benefit and pleasure of asking each year’s twenty winners to write a short piece about how and why they wrote their stories. Along with my own experience as a short story writer, I’m in a good position to ponder a question often posed by aspiring writers: What are the essential elements of a good short story?

As I set out to answer that question, however, I found myself instead enumerating what is not essential. The first thing you should set aside is any explicit or guiding notion of what your story is “about.” Readers often ask writers what their stories mean, but if the writer has a ready answer, that is a problem. A good writer knows where and when the first hint of a story appeared, and how she wrote it. She knows what the process was from draft to finish – but a story’s “meaning” is often as much a mystery to writer as to reader, and that’s as it should be. Writing a short story is an intuitive activity driven by the writer’s wonderful subconscious and it’s as far from meaning as dreaming is from being awake. Conscious logical planning will get you from Point A to Point B in the shortest time but the subconscious excels at fortuitous invention. A writer must learn to trust the startling images and characters that come up in the course of composition. Her subconscious, if she trusts it, will guide her through the beginning, background, and development to the ending, which is often the most difficult part to write, and to understand. The next most important thing is grasping the particular demands of this form. In bringing to life the world of a short story, it is crucial to know what to leave out. Despite some superficial resemblance to the novel, the short story differs from it in important ways; a story must draw the reader in without attempting to imitate the enveloping completeness or epic sweep of a novel. A short story also isn’t a song or a poem, forms that express their world of meaning through extreme compression and abstraction. Some very terse stories do resemble a poem or song, for example Michael Parker’s “Stop ‘n’ Go” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018. Whatever its length, though, and however elaborate or simple its language, the short story is rooted in its own unique deployment of quotidian details, which must feel real and convincing. In all stories, even the most starkly written, the story’s world must be recognizable, however eccentric or fantastical or hyper-realistic it may be. Characters sit on uncomfortable chairs or walk on graveled paths, and the reader must be able to sit on those chairs and walk on those paths. Frequent O. Henry winner William Trevor’s conflicted Irish and English characters feel as real and important to the fond reader as her own friends. The main character in Jo Ann Beard’s “The Tomb of Wrestling,” in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, confronts an intruder who means her harm, and the reader is as terrified as she is. The thousands of decisions a writer makes in editing a story boil down to trusting the reader to make connections. That trust dominates the writer’s decisions as she moves from draft to draft and decides what the reader needs in order to understand plot, sequence, setting, and character – without spelling out those elements. Explaining is unnecessary when the story is right; in fact, too much explanation feels to the attentive reader like an annoying interruption, a breaking of the spell. Never underestimate your reader’s intelligence. At a magical point, the writer’s subconscious inventions connect with the reader’s intelligence and emotions, and the reader understands why the story ends where it does; how the ending is an illuminated version of the beginning; that the story’s secret has been revealed without words. The trust that has guided the writer to get rid of all but the right details has paid off and the reader has everything she needs to make the story’s meaning her own. Photo by Da Kraplak on Unsplash

The Importance of Discovering Your Voice as a Writer

This article was written by Alexa Martin and originally appeared on Signature Reads.  

When I first started writing what is now Intercepted, my debut novel, I did it hidden in my basement with the intention of never letting it see the light of day, but as I kept writing — and, let’s be honest, deleting — I grew more interested in the craft, and more interested in what made the authors I admire stand out from the rest. One thought kept popping into my head over and over again: writing voice.

Yes, the term “writing voice” may seem like a simple enough concept on the surface, but what does it really mean? As writers, there are so many things we consider as we put our words onto paper: filter words, dialogue tags, adverbs, and even show. Am I a plotter or a planner? Where does my manuscript belong in terms of genre and sub-genre? What in the world is a query letter? All of these questions can be answered concisely, but when it comes to voice, the explanation becomes more complex. Voice can be a combination of your writing tone, sentence structure, patterns, and perspective. It is a stamp on your writing that makes your work personal and recognizable, so much so that your audience can identify a sample of writing as yours without ever seeing your name. As a debut author, that seems like a daunting task, but it makes all the difference in how you will be received as a writer. Presently, in the world of publishing, there are so many talented authors saturating the market that standing out amongst the crowd can seem almost impossible. This is one of the reasons why voice is so important. For me, discovering my voice started well before the thought of writing a book ever crossed my mind. I blogged; it was not a popular one by any means, unless you ask my mother or best friend. It was just a means to stay in touch with friends and family and update them on the happenings in my life. However, as I continued to write my blogs, the comments from readers started to influence the way I wrote. I would get a thrill when someone would reach out to me and tell me how hard he or she laughed at my latest post. Even better was when I’d get an email from a reader stating how much they wanted to get together and have a drink after reading one of my posts. After a while, I knew what I wanted my readers to feel when they read my words. I wanted my stories to be relatable and fun. I wanted my readers to feel like they were having a night out with friends. And that feeling of relatability transferred into my writing style once I finally became brave enough to start my manuscript. Even if you don’t blog, there’s no way in this day and age that you aren’t writing to someone at some point during your day. And while I’m not sure anybody wants to read a book of tweets or Facebook statuses, you are still using writing to get your point across. Another great way to hone in on your voice is to grab a notebook or open a word document and go wild. Just write whatever your heart desires. A quick google search will yield you tons of writing prompts if that’s what you need to get your juices flowing.
Sit down and ask yourself what kind of author you want to be. Decide what experience you want your reader to have. Ask yourself what you can bring to the story that nobody else can.
Most importantly, be yourself. Find inspiration from your favorite authors and allow it to guide you when developing your style. Part of being a writer is being a reader. Knowing what draws you to an author is crucial in creating your own voice. Everyone has an influence, just don’t lose your voice trying to emulate someone else. As writers, we all might be a little crazy to do what we do, so make sure you’re doing it in a way that makes you happy. Whether you’re writing a romantic comedy, thriller, or memoir, remember that yourstory is important and your voice is needed. Writing/Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Two Book Tango: The World in a Grain and Dune

This article was written by Matt Staggs and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds.
Welcome to another installment of Two Book Tango: an ongoing series in which Unbound Worlds pairs two titles that go well together. Today’s pairing is Vince Beiser’s The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. If you’re like me, the only time you probably think about sand is when you’re sinking your toes into it at the beach in summer, or maybe changing your kitty’s litter box. As it turns out, both of us should be thinking about it a whole lot more. According to Vince Beiser, author of The World in a Grain, we’re running out of it, and that could mean a lot of trouble in the very near future. We take sand for granted. Many of the fundamentals of human civilization were only made possible by sand: mining, building our cities, paving our roads, and more. Not much has changed today.  We use more of it than any other natural resource. It is in our electronics, our optics, our windows … there’s almost as many uses for sand as there are grains of it on a beach. There’s different varieties of it, and, like oil, diamond, and precious metals, high value sand isn’t distributed evenly. The more useful it is, the harder it is to get, and good sand can bring a pretty penny.  Sand is big business: People lie, steal, and kill for it all the time. Pirates and bandits, corporations and entrepreneurs, everyone is getting in on the sand game. The big money isn’t just in supplying the stuff for high end electronics manufacturers and construction firms, either. The rising waters of climate change are slowly eating away some of your favorite beaches (maybe even the one we mentioned above!), impacting local tourism as vacationers choose to spend their time and money elsewhere. The services of engineering firms specializing in beach restoration have proven popular, but such efforts are only a temporary stopgap. Inevitably, erosion continues, and with it, the renewed call for more sand. Oddly enough, the issues explored in World in a Grain have something in common with Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune. Herbert, who worked as a journalist for a time, was inspired to write the novel after researching erosion in the sand dunes of of Florence, Oregon for an article.  Sand may be getting hard to come by on Planet Earth, but not so on Arrakis, the parched, desert world of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Still, it’s just as important, because that’s the native habitat of the planet’s sandworms: thousand-foot-long razor-toothed worm-like monsters that produce spice, or “melange.” Spice is an addictive substance with many properties, among them the awakening and cultivation of psychic abilities. The use of these abilities are what makes interstellar travel in Dune’s galaxy-spanning setting possible, so melange, much like our own sand, is part of the bedrock of civilization.  The massive worms are considered sacred creatures by the Fremen, a nomadic people descended from spacefaring religious pilgrims who arrived on the planet generations ago. It is the Fremen who have made Arrakis habitable for human beings by building water reservoirs and canals, and they know the ins and outs of their desert home intimately — especially the potential dangers posed by the sandworms. The creatures don’t make a habit of hunting beings, but the vibrations caused by human footsteps and machinery used to extract melange sometimes trick the worms into breaching the surface in search of other sorts of prey.  The Fremen aren’t the only inhabitants of Arrakis. The planet is under the stewardship of the House Atreides, a noble family tasked by their emperor with producing spice in the quantities needed to power a massive, star-faring civilization. It’s not a great position to be in. The Atreides must please their emperor, and maintain good relations with the Fremen, while being ever wary of plots concocted by the other royal Houses.  If you haven’t read Dune yet, you’re in for a treat. It’s one of the genre’s great works of world-building, offering readers a complex saga of politics, resources, and, family. Forgetting it will be almost as impossible as getting sand out of your swimsuit.  
The cover of the book The World in a Grain

The World in a Grain

The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization

VINCE BEISER

After water and air, sand is the natural resource that we consume more than any other–even more than oil. Every concrete building and paved road on Earth, every computer screen and silicon chip, is made from sand. From Egypt’s pyramids to the Hubble telescope, from the world’s tallest skyscraper to the sidewalk below it, from Chartres’ stained-glass windows to your iPhone, sand shelters us, empowers us, engages us, and inspires us. It’s the ingredient that makes possible our cities, our science, our lives–and our future. And, incredibly, we’re running out of it. The World in a Grain is the compelling true story of the hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more essential every day, and of the people who mine it, sell it, build with it–and sometimes, even kill for it. It’s also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand, which has received little public attention. Not all sand is created equal: Some of the easiest sand to get to is the least useful. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, taking readers on a journey across the globe, from the United States to remote corners of India, China, and Dubai to explain why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, readers encounter world-changing innovators, island-building entrepreneurs, desert fighters, and murderous sand pirates. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, rippling with fascinating detail and filled with surprising characters. The cover of the book Dune

Dune

FRANK HERBERT

Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece—a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides—who would become known as Muad’Dib—and of a great family’s ambition to bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

Writing is Work, and You Need to Make Time for It

This article was written by Karen White and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

I always get a little squirmy when I’m asked to give advice on writing. I mean, what makes me an authority on the subject? Sure, I’ve written a bunch of books, but the only “training” I’ve had in my chosen vocation is the thousands of books I’ve read in my lifetime so far.

I’d like to think that despite not having a lot of experience or knowledge about the whole writing thing when I started, surely I’ve learned something along the way. And I have. In that vein, here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned in my nearly twenty years of being a published author. No, I haven’t figured out the magic formula that will grant a writer instant success. But I have accumulated a nice list of what not to do if you’re planning on having a career as a writer. Do not spend all your writing time making excuses as to why you can’t write instead of actually writing. Excuses will not write a book. Finding the perfect time to finally start a book is like choosing the right time to move to another country and start a new life. There will never be a perfect time, as there will always be reasons why the timing isn’t optimal. If you have a burning desire to write a book (or move to another country), make it a priority. The rest will fall into place, and you’ll be a lot happier with yourself. Do not take to heart everyone else’s writing style/advice/methods before you’ve given yourself a chance to figure out your own. Writing is incredibly personal. There are as many writing techniques and styles as there are writers. It’s what gives us our individual writer’s voice. It’s precious and unique and you need to own it and not dilute it with external influences before you’ve given it a chance to sprout. If I’d listened to all the well-meaning advice when I started (don’t write in first person, never start a sentence with “and,” outline everything before you write the first sentence), I would never have written my first book. Do not surround yourself with naysayers. For whatever reason, there will always be people in our lives who will attempt to discourage us from our pursuits. Either family members, friends, or other writers will have negative things to say about our talent (or lack thereof). Don’t listen to them. It’s always easier to be a critic than the warrior fighting the battle. Just remember that it’s not about them. Your writing is between you and the words on the page. And nobody else. Do not wait until the muse strikes before you sit down to write.This one always makes me laugh. I would have written exactly three pages in my entire career if this were true. In my previous life in the business world, I don’t imagine I would have lasted in any job very long if my attitude had been that I’d only show up for work when I felt like it. There are usually about a million other things I’d rather be doing than gluing myself to my chair and getting to work. Since I consider writing my career and not just a hobby, I treat it with respect. Do not say my family/job/life isn’t conducive to writing a book.News flash: unless you’re independently wealthy and your family is entirely self-sufficient, this will never change. I wrote my first books in my SUV at the football field and horse barn while my children practiced. My husband traveled about ninety percent of the time for his job so I was basically a single mom for most of the week. Instead of chatting with the other mothers, or reading a magazine, or napping, I used that time to write. There are pockets of time in each of our lives that we can prioritize as writing time. Expect to let go of a few things (binge watching on Netflix, hanging out on Facebook, sleeping in on weekends) to find the time. But the time is there if you’re willing to make your writing happen. Do not expect that the hard work is over after you sell your first book. It’s only just beginning. To prepare yourself for your writing career, start thinking about your next book as soon as you send your first book proposal to prospective agents and editors. You’ve got momentum so make the most of it. Writers write. It’s what we do. We turn off the negative voices, we create the time and the place, and we write. To borrow words from Nike, Just Do It. Writing/Photo by Lubomyr Myronyuk on Unsplash

Penguin Random House Ranks #1 on Forbes List of America’s Best Midsize Employers

Penguin Random House is #1 on the newly released Forbes list of “America’s Best Midsize Employers 2018.” Forbes annually recognizes and ranks U.S. employers based on an independent survey that evaluates the attitude of employees toward their own company and the public perception of the company by industry employees. Heralding this year’s list with a prominent feature article, Forbes staff writer Vicky Valet focused on Penguin Random House, noting that “the company is celebrated by its workforce for being an employer that values freedom.” Madeline McIntosh commented: “People are given a great deal of ownership to make independent decisions. If you do the right thing by the books and by readers and by authors, you’re rewarded by being given new challenges.” Forbes further recognized that “the entrepreneurial spirit that shapes the employee experience at Penguin Random House has proven key to the publisher’s recruiting efforts, much of which focus on college campus outreach and the company’s internship program. It has played an important role in retention, too. Access to online courses and a mentoring program allow Penguin Random House’s 5,000 North American workers to take career development into their own hands, as do events like Company Week, an annual series that invites employees and authors to gather for days of panels, presentations and community service. This culture of empowerment—coupled with unique benefits like a sabbatical program, student loan repayment assistance and, yes, free books—helps turn entry-level hires into lifetime employees. ‘So many have risen through the ranks,’ says Madeline. ‘I was an assistant 24 years ago, and I’m not an unusual case.’” Penguin Random House’s commitment to the communities it serves was also acknowledged, including literacy sponsorships and the more than $2 million in creative writing scholarships our company awarded to New York City public high school students over the past 25 years. Looking globally, Forbes referenced our ongoing partnerships with worldwide organizations like Save the Children, and employee volunteers who journeyed to Rwanda in January. In addition, Penguin Random House was on Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity list for the first time this year, placing at #64 overall for both large and midsize employers. The Forbes feature concludes with these words from Madeline: “We’re not just a bunch of people who like to read. We believe books have the power not just to help people’s days through entertainment or inspiration, but to really change the conversation and the culture at large.” In compiling this list, Forbes worked with market research company Statista, which surveyed 30,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees. All the surveys were anonymous, allowing participants to openly share their opinions. The respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of zero to 10, how likely they’d be to recommend their employer to others. Statista then asked respondents to nominate organizations in industries outside their own. To view the complete Forbes list and article, click here.

PRH Summer Giving: We Gift Our Books to Shakespeare-in-the-Park Ticketholders

In the ongoing spirit of us giving back to our communities, Penguin Random House has been a longtime supporter of Shakespeare in the Park, one of the cornerstones of the Public Theater’s mission to bring performing arts to the people of New York City.  Since 1962, over five million people have experienced more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals.  As New Yorkers waited in line this summer for tickets to watch free performances of Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theatre in NYC’s Central Park, our Penguin Random House employee volunteers cheerfully distributed free books on three different August afternoons. Penguin Random House gift bags and Hogarth Shakespeare totes were filled with such titles as Judy Blundell’s THE HIGH SEASON Christina Dalcher’s VOX (distributed in advance of the book’s 8/21 pub date), Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHTMargaret Atwood’s HAG-SEED,  Edward St. Aubyn’s DUNBAR and Jo Nesbø’s MACBETH.   Volunteers had the opportunity to talk with Shakespeare fans from all walks of life, including an educator from New Jersey who shared that she would assign an acting session from VOX for her class.  A librarian from Yonkers also shared her excitement about receiving a second copy of VOX (she had already pre- ordered one).  Another group of women announced that they would start a book club with all the books they received. Volunteer Matt, Academic and Library Marketing Assistant, Penguin Young Readers, said, “While the perks of a morning in the park and two free tickets to see Shakespeare can’t be understated, what really made this a pleasure was seeing the enthusiastic responses to the books we handed out, as well as the love and recognition of Penguin Random House as an institution.” Penguin Random House imprints continue to publish the full range of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as books inspired by of The Bard’s works, such as SHAKESPEARE BASICS FOR GROWN-UPS  by B. Caotes  and E. Foley, and THE GAP OF TIME   by Jeanette Winterson, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale  and part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, an international Penguin Random House publishing initiative. Penguin Random House volunteers in action:

So Say We All: Mark A. Altman on the Oral History of Battlestar Galactica

This article was written by Swapna Krishna and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds. Oral histories have become increasingly popular ways to tell the story of important moments in pop culture. They take away the barrier between writer and storyteller; it makes you feel closer to the narrative because all you’re seeing are people’s own words, arranged in a way that tells a coherent story. However, despite the fact that an oral history may seem like an easy endeavor, it’s anything but. That aforementioned arrangement is key to being able to follow the narrative and understand opposing points of view. Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross have become experts at the enormous work that goes into these books; they edited a two-part oral history of “Star Trek,” The Fifty-Year Mission, an oral history of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” with Slayers and Vampires, and now they’ve moved onto the sci-fi classic “Battlestar Galactica” with So Say We All, out August 21st from Tor Books. Unbound Worlds spoke with Mark Altman on how exactly they put these enormous books together and where they might head from here. Unbound Worlds: What first made you interested in conducting and compiling oral histories? Mark A. Altman: It all began with the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek.” We felt we in a unique position to tell the history of “Star Trek” in a way that no one else could. Even then, it took some convincing from Ed to bring me around. It wasn’t till after reading the wonderful oral histories of “Saturday Night Live” and MTV that I realized this was a great format to chronicle the history of Trek that had never been done and also be true to the Rashomon-like history of the franchise. To Ed’s credit, I’m delighted I did do the book with him and I keep trying to get out, but he keeps pulling me back in. UW: What’s the research and interview process like? What about the process of putting it all together into one coherent story? MAA: Years of intensive research and hundreds of hours of interviews are where we start. But you’re absolutely right, perhaps the biggest challenge is taking literally hundreds of thousands of pages of transcripts and turning them into a coherent narrative. We always say it’s like attending the greatest dinner party in the world with 200–300 people and then getting them to tell these amazing stories they’ve never shared before and prodding them to tell you more, even the things they don’t want to or might have forgotten about. UW: Is it ever hard to decide what makes it in versus what to cut? MAA: Yes, because these books could be thousands of pages instead of hundreds if we used all the great stories we had. Thankfully, Macmillan indulged us on the Trek book and let us bifurcate it into two volumes to do justice to the entire 50 years, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception we received. Otherwise, that would have been hard to distill down and we would have lost some amazing stories and anecdotes. Buffy and Galactica have been easier to keep at less than 1000 pages, but it’s still a challenge given the bountiful material we’ve had access to in terms of the candor and passion of the people we’ve spoken to. UW: You work with a co-author, Edward Gross. How is the work divided between the two of you? How do you collaborate? MAA: It depends on the subject. In the case of the first Trek volume, we really built on each others’ work and interviews. For the second volume, we divided up the series but then flipped everything. There was no way I was doing “Voyager,” I was very insistent on that fact. For Buffy & Angel, Ed primarily took “Angel” and I did “Buffy” but there was definitely a cross-over in interviews and we revise each others sections. BSG was definitely the most clearly defined. I did 1978 and 1980 primarily and he did Ron Moore’s series, which isn’t to say we didn’t both contribute to each section, but he did the heavy lifting on his section and vice versa. And when I was finished I was really unhappy with the 1980 section. I didn’t feel I had really added anything new to the story and I knew no one was ever likely to write about the subject of this dreadful series again, so I started from scratch intending to really do a deep dive, did a ton more interviews, and it’s one of my favorite chapters in any of the books now. UW: You’ve done oral histories for “Star Trek,” “Buffy”/”Angel,” and now “Battlestar Galactica.” Was there one that was your favorite? Not because of the property, but because of process or uncovered secrets? MAA: I agreed to do all these books, first and foremost because I’m a fan of all these shows. These books are primarily a hobby for me, my day job is as a writer/producer for film and television series which is quite time consuming so if I’m going to give up my hiatus, weekends, and nights for a book, it has to be something I’m passionate about. “Star Trek” was no-brainer, but “Buffy” was super fun because it not only gave me a chance to write about a show I loved as well as my family, but also talk to several people I worked with in my other capacity like Felicia Day and Sean Astin, who were guest stars on an episode of “The Librarians” I wrote and, of course, Christian Kane. But then “Galactica” was also a big deal for me because I grew up on the 1978 series and always felt it was the Rodney Dangerfield of sci-fi series. Despite its many flaws, it was a really significant and impressive series that had a lot to do with influencing the future of television, even if people don’t recognize that. And, of course, Ron Moore’s series is just a major milestone in genre storytelling and one of the greatest TV series ever produced so to have the kind of access we had thanks to Ron and tell the real story behind this show was really remarkable and we were honored to do so. UW: “Battlestar Galactica” had a long-lasting impact on science fiction as a genre. What does it mean to you personally, and how do you interpret its legacy? MAA: It was the sci-fi “Sopranos.” Ron and David Eick created a series that will stand the test of time and really was part of the dawn of peak and binge-able television. It’s very significant and a really remarkable accomplishment. The original series deserves more respect but is often derided because it was perceived as a “Star Wars” rip-off. But it actually, if sometimes clumsily, dealt with some very heady themes and had some of the most remarkable production design and visual effects in any genre film or TV series ever. It was also a show about a literal family unlike “Trek,” which was a figurative one, which made it unique as well and there are some remarkable episodes and an ingenious premise that made “BSG 2004 possible. It was one of the few sci-fi series to deal with theology and spirituality as well. What we also chronicle is the unique place Universal Television was at the end of the ‘70s in the waning days of the studio system when talent was under contract and half the show creators were either drunk or on drugs, and work was done by a small coterie of largely white men who all knew each other and would all get hired on each others shows. I found that period absolutely fascinating and it’s amazing to see how dramatically TV has changed. UW: You’ve traced quite a bit of Ron D. Moore’s career through “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager,” and now “Battlestar Galactica.” What was it like to work with him, and what do you think these books say about his career? MAA: Ron is a remarkable talent. That’s no secret. But what people might not know is what a great guy he is. A total mensch. I first met Ron back in the heyday of “TNG” when I used to interview him for the late, great Cinefantastique magazine. He has remained steadfast and loyal even when I was less than effusive with my praise for his films like “Generations” (which I savaged) and yet he remained very supportive of my own career. I think he’s incredibly savvy and smart and has a passion that is unparalleled among genre creators. He has been incredibly supportive of Ed and I. With the “Trek” books, he spent literally tens of hours on the phone with Ed speaking to him with complete candor and thoughtfulness. When it came time to do So Say We All, he literally reached out to the entire cast and crew on our behalf and told them to speak to us honestly about the show and it really opened the floodgates so that we were able to talk to everyone involved in the new series from Eddie on down to the grips — okay maybe not the grips, but mostly everyone. UW: This is the last book in your oral history trilogy. Why is that, and if you could open the door to exploring more shows and properties, what might they be? MAA: Well, that’s not quite true. When I wrote [the introduction to So Say We All], I thought it would be. That I said everything I had to say. And while it’s likely to be our last oral history of a genre TV show—although never say never again—we’re already committed to another oral history of a major film series for Tor that we’re writing now and have a few other projects that we’re discussing so like I say; I keep trying to get out, but they keep pulling me back in. A big part of this is how much I enjoy my working relationship with Ed Gross as well as my fantastic editorial team at Tor, but also how much I love these TV series and films we’re writing about. There’s a great line in the mediocre Michael Crichton film “Looker,” when Albert Finney is asked to do plastic surgery on a really beautiful girl and he wants to turn down the assignment and he’s advised by a colleague, “You better do it or someone less competent will.” That’s kind of how I feel about these oral histories too.
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

Staff Picks: Jenny

Who better to give book recommendations than the bookish experts? Penguin Random House employees are sharing their favorite reads every month. Browse below! Jenny, Production Manager, Crown Publishing Jenny, a production manager at Crown, is convinced she was born with a book in her hand. She lives in her houseplant forest/apartment and spends all her free time drinking tea and rearranging books.

If You Want to be a Writer, You Need to be Fearless: Here’s Why

This article was written by Christina Dalcher and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

A quick Google search for ‘writing advice’ tells me there can’t be much left that hasn’t already been said. Nobel Prize winners offer tips. Forty experts tell beginners what to do. Bestselling authors give us insight into their creative processes. And so on, ad infinitum. Then there’s that perfect book, half craft, half writer’s memoir: Stephen King’s On Writing. If I could only have one how-to manual on my shelf, it would be that one.

Where does this leave us, then? What guidance can I, a debut novelist and writer of flash fiction, possibly offer the world, or the emerging writer? I’ve thought about it over and over, and finally came up with two words: Be fearless. We know writing takes work, and skill, and talent, and perseverance. There’s the old ‘Butt-in-the-chair, honey!’ mandate (with its cute acronym) — a writer’s corollary to the athlete’s ‘Just Do It’ mantra. You want to run? Run. You want to write? Write. There’s something so plainly tautological about it all. And there can be beauty in tautologies.
But I think fearlessness is the single quality we as writers need to cultivate, and I mean this in multiple ways.
We need the bravery to pour our emotions out, spilling ink onto paper with a little of our own blood mixed in. That’s no small trick. We need the courage to send our words into the world, knowing that once we do, a part of us is gone, floating in the public sphere, no longer under our control. If one accepts Roland Barthes’ notion that the author is dead, we authors must embrace the concept that we’re killing some portion of ourselves the minute our work leaves us. And, of course, we need the self-esteem and thick, carapace-like skin to hang on and persist when the inevitable rejections hit our inboxes. Believe me, they will hit — hard. A bland form rejection from an agent or editor can carry all the pain of bludgeon to the face, a direct smack to our very soul. Everyone who writes, or who wants to write, requires a ring fighter’s determination, a Rocky-esque willingness to go the distance, and to keep going. Being fearless also takes us in new directions, allowing us to experiment with previously unknown forms, new characters, and diverse points of view. One of my favorite things about writing flash fiction — tightly condensed stories often under 500 words — is exactly this: Within the space of a day, I can be a cranky old man on a front porch in Mississippi, a young housewife, or a sneaky feline. Fearlessness is a gift, a license to try something different and liberate ourselves from any habitual ruts. And it need not be limited to our writing lives. We can extend it to our whole lives: to our relationships with ourselves and others, to our careers (and the changing thereof), and to how we interact with the world. Finally, we need to forge some armor of another sort — the kind that protects us from dissatisfied readers. It’s useful to remember that old John Lydgate saying about not being able to please everyone all of the time. Every once in a while, our words may not even reach the point of unpleasing, instead inspiring far less positive reactions. Still, they’re our words and our thoughts, and we have to steel ourselves against ugly feedback. (Hint: read your reviews, or not. Then go back to doing what you do.) When I teach writing classes, the very first thing I tell my students is to prepare for rejection and failure. Both are going to happen, sometimes much more frequently than we’d wish. The rejection and failure aren’t the focus, though; it’s what we do afterwards that counts. And what we, as creators, should do afterwards is simple: get up and do it all over again. Would I call myself fearless? Would I use that label? I don’t know; I haven’t walked through the world with a superhero cape on my back. I do know that others have said this about me, starting with my first professor in graduate school twenty years ago. That man is gone now, and I can’t pick up the phone and say, “Hey, guess what? I believe you.” So instead, I write, a little or a lot every day, and try to live up to the descriptor. I try to fear nothing, even when that seems impossible. Maybe you were expecting a writer’s user manual. A list of do’s and don’ts full of perennial tips like ‘show, don’t tell’ and ‘avoid adverbs.’ Something along those lines. But the best advice I can give, and — in my mind — the only advice worth its salt, is encapsulated in two words. Be fearless. Then sit back and watch what happens. I have a feeling what happens will be good. Be Fearless/Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash
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