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? As intimately as possible. For me, that’s by writing character sketches. Not just a paragraph or two, but deep intricate stories complete with grade-school triumphs and middle-school humiliations, grandparents immigrating and parents divorcing, detailed visions of houses and part-time jobs, dead pets and young-adult heartbreak, irrelevant vignettes coming out of the woodwork. I don’t expect for this character-sketch material to make it into the book—90 percent of it doesn’t come close, and I end up deleting most of the 10 percent that I do shoehorn into early drafts. But this backstage exercise helps me define these imaginary people, so I know how their voices sound, what they look like and even how they dress, what they’re worried about and hopeful for, what they want. So when it’s time for these characters to walk onstage, they’re ready. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? When I was in my mid-twenties, I was a copy editor at Doubleday, and for a brief period it was my job to help shepherd Pat Conroy’s Beach Music into the world. I ended up spending a good amount of time with Pat, who’d temporarily relocated to New York City to finish working on the manuscript. One day we walked from a meeting at his editor’s house to his hotel, the unnecessarily long way through a cold damp Central Park, while Pat peppered me with questions about my unconventional childhood in New York City in the 1970s. I eventually asked why he was so curious. And he told me that this is the most important thing for writers to do: to listen—really listen—to other people’s stories. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I spend a huge amount of time writing about the book, instead of writing the actual text. This includes the above-mentioned character sketches, but also scenes that I don’t know will fit anywhere, and plot notes and alternate possibilities, and a detailed outline. Sometimes I have a half-dozen documents open, and none of them is the book. For my most recent, The Travelers, I even wrote a TV treatment and a pilot script, neither of which I attempted to sell. I think it’s useful for me to try to tell a story in different formats, especially very short ones: the one-sentence elevator pitch and the one-page flap copy. A writer can spend a decade working obsessively on a novel, but in the commerce of publishing many of the most important decisions about any book will be made based on very short pitches—from literary agent to editor to sales rep to bookstore buyer to a potential reader standing in the bookstore, asking, “What’s it about?” Every single one of those interactions is an opportunity for the book’s life to be cut short or to survive, for someone to decline or to agree, “Okay, I’ll take a look.” But I won’t be there for any of those interactions—you never get a chance to defend your book!—so instead I want to try to make sure that the book is pitchable. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I did, yes. But for a long time I equated being a working novelist with being third baseman for the Yankees: an unrealistic dream, an impractical self-indulgence. After college I was burdened with student loans to repay, no financial cushion, so I wasn’t in a position to bet everything on a creative-writing career—neither the writing-workshop academia life nor the freelance-writer version, trying to scrape by on short stories and house-painting gigs. I wanted to pursue a separate freestanding career, one that would definitely put me in the path of becoming a writer, but also one that would also be tenable and satisfying if I never ended up writing a published book. So I worked in publishing. My career got off to an extremely slow start as a direct-marketing assistant at a professional-magazine publisher (our titles included the likes of Journal of Accounting and Middle Market Lending Letter, and I was tracking the efficacy of junk-mail campaigns), but one thing led to another, and I quickly moved into the book end of things, and seven jobs later I was an associate publisher. That turned out to be the last position I quit, nearly a decade ago. I was thirty-eight years old. Learn more about Chris Pavone’s new book below!
Ever wish you were friends with a character from a book? Yeah, us too. And now that it’s the season for gift-giving, we’re thinking about all the characters who’d give the best presents. Check them all out here! Learn more about the books below:
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 to get thinking? I’m a big believer in the “writing retreat.” Sometimes writing retreats involve locking myself in a hotel room for a few days to really throw some words on the page—other times these retreats involve gathering with my writer friends in a variety of inspiring, usually beautiful places, where the word count might not be high but the camaraderie and daydreaming leads to a whole lot more writing down the road. This is how The Deacons of Bourbon Street series came into being. Last spring, Maisey Yates, Rachael Johns, and I roomed together at the RT Convention held in New Orleans. We spent a lot more time wandering that fascinating, mysterious city than we did at the conference. When an editor (perhaps jokingly!) suggested we should write a multi-author series together since we got along so well, we jumped at the idea. New Orleans and gritty bikers seemed to go hand in hand for us, and once we settled on that premise, it seemed inevitable that we should pull in Jackie Ashenden, renowned for her dark and sexy stories, to round us out. And all because we visited New Orleans! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? We sent a lot of emails back and forth, since we live all over the place—Maisey and I on the west coast of the US, Rachael on the west coast of Australia, and Jackie in New Zealand. But we also spent some time on Skype. We talked a lot about biker books, about characters, about the kinds of things we liked and the sorts of stories we wanted to tell. We fashioned an overarching plot and then we decided who our characters would be within that plot. We came up with a synopsis for all four books and once that had the enthusiastic support of our agents, we settled down and wrote a chapter each to introduce our characters and stories. That was the most fun—to see all the conversations and ideas we’d thrown around come together into these four fantastic stories. All set in our decadent version of New Orleans’s famous French Quarter. How did you handle plot and character continuity across four books? We talked a lot. Communication is key when it comes to working on multi-author projects. We discussed timing and plot points and the characters’ relationships with each other endlessly. We also sent each other/the whole group the scenes where their characters appeared in our books. The goal was always to make the characters feel seamless across all the books, and to show how they all functioned as this group of sworn brothers, reunited after years in exile. I think we pulled it off, but of course, that’s for readers to decide! Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I was lucky enough to write my book a few months after everyone else did. This was particularly helpful because it meant that I’d already read how the series ended and could write directly toward it—always a huge advantage! So one of the things I did to get in the writing mood was to read those other books and immerse myself in the world. Another thing I did was to curate “inspiration boards” on Pinterest. Looking at moody reference pictures (many featuring Charlie Hunnam, of course, as everyone’s favorite biker inspiration Jax Teller) was another way to get myself in the right mindset. I also relied pretty heavily on a mix I made of songs that brought me into the right headspace. One in particular (Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”) was and is such a perfect encapsulation of my hero in this book that all I have to do is listen to that awesome opening and I’m right back there in the Priory with Ajax… Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I have some family members who are more familiar with biker clubs than I am, but I didn’t base any characters on them. Though I did appreciate it when they didn’t laugh at me when I told them what kind of book I was writing! The truth is that reality doesn’t make great fiction. Characters are always better when they’re entirely themselves instead of pale imitations of real people. “Larger-than-life” makes a good story and fascinating characters. “Just like life” is something we can all do all by ourselves, without a good book. I prefer books. Learn more about Make you Burn here.
We know readers tend to be writers too, so twice a month, we’ll 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! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I try to get started pretty much right away — for some reason I can never make myself outline anything, or even do all that much thinking or research before I start writing. I think I just need to see the story on the page before I know what to do with it or whether it’s working. So as soon as I have the very beginning of an idea, I usually try to start writing the story or novel as I think it might go, starting from the beginning. I don’t know if this is actually a good system — I almost always end up rewriting much of the beginning, and for a novel I typically spend about a year writing and rewriting before I get to a story that actually works. But so far it’s the only system I’ve been able to follow. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? These are pretty clichéd, but I like to make tea and sit in a chair by the window. Sometimes I even light a scented candle. If it’s a first draft, I usually write long-hand in a journal. I find the computer pretty distracting, and I can’t seem to get in a groove if I’m looking at the screen. The journal allows me to sort of slip into an alternate mental space where I can think about the story I’m trying to tell. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I always wanted to write. Before I actually knew how to write I’d make my mom or my aunt take dictation. I produced several “books” this way. You could say I started my career as an author when I published my first short story in The Atlantic in 2005. But I didn’t necessarily feel like I’d started a career then. I wasn’t sure I could ever publish anything else, and for a long time I didn’t. When my first novel came out in 2011 I felt a little more like I had a career, but I still wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to publish anything again. I guess I’m not sure I’ll ever fully feel like I have a career as an author — I might always feel uncertain about the next step, the next thing. I do feel like a writer most of the time now, which is different from having a career, but which still feels good. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Sometimes when I’m thinking about what a character looks like, I’ll imagine people I know, but usually not people I know well. I don’t usually base characters’ personalities on people I know — my writing isn’t usually very autobiographical, so the stories I’m writing often call for people with particular characteristics that wouldn’t necessarily match those of people I know. If anything I tend to base characters on aspects of myself. If I’m trying to think about how someone might behave in a situation, I might think about how I might act if I were a little stronger, or weaker, or meaner. And so sometimes my characters end up being an expression of a particular side of me, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. How is writing a novel different from the kind of writing you normally do? I’m also a journalist, and writing a novel feels very different from that kind of writing in that it’s more inward. When I write a news story I’m talking to people and reading things and stitching it all together into a piece that says something about the outside world. When I write a novel I’m sort of going deep inside my own brain and building a new world in there, and then trying to communicate some of it on the page. Someday I’d love to have my brain scanned while I’m writing fiction and then while I’m writing non-fiction — I wonder if the activity would look really different. Read more about Anna North’s book, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark here.
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.