Tag Archives: editor

From the Editor’s Desk: Jake Morrissey, Executive Editor, on Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

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. The best present an author can give an editor is the gift of surprise. Editors spend their days reading a lot of manuscripts that don’t tell them anything new. So reading a story about a world you thought you understood framed in an unexpected way that prompts you to think differently about it, that’s hitting the publishing jackpot. Which is what I did when Three-Martini Lunch came across my desk. In this terrific novel, Suzanne Rindell delves into a world I knew something about – book publishing – but sets her story in the late 1950s, which was when big changes were about to take place. I thought I had a decent grasp of the era. I’m familiar with two other iconic New York stories from around that time: Rona Jaffe’s classic novel (and eventual movie) The Best of Everything and the television show Mad Men. In both of those, New York City is portrayed as one of the places to be in the mid-20th century. If you know anything about either The Best of Everything or Mad Men – or even Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 movie North by Northwest – you see a New York that’s sleeker, cleaner, less crowded than it is today. And the roles of men and women were as clearly defined then as their ambitions: Success for men meant career and advancement; success for women marriage and family. In Three-Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell peers beyond that mid-century mindset and explores the lives and worlds of Miles, Cliff and Eden, three young people struggling to gain a toehold in New York and hoping that publishing is the way to do that. The lives they lead are a far cry from the expense-account lunches and pristine suburban enclaves of the publishing elite. These young people are drawn to Greenwich Village and its emerging beatnik culture, with its dark and smoke-filled bars, jazz clubs, and poetry readings. And they struggle to stretch their meager bank balances by living in cramped, ramshackle apartments and having just enough money for food and beer but not always both. Suzanne gives her characters fascinating opportunities to pursue their individual ambitions and indulge their temptations. Even more compelling, she shows readers how the choices they make to achieve their goals changes them. I’m not giving anything away when I say that what you think of Miles, Cliff, and Eden at the beginning of Three-Martini Lunch will not be what you think of them at the end. As I followed the characters’ journeys through successive drafts of the novel, I found myself reassessing my own ideas about what was possible in publishing, in New York, and in America during that time. It was an era on the cusp of upheaval and turmoil, and it’s that change that Suzanne Rindell explores so effectively – and so surprisingly – in Three-Martini Lunch. Which is one of the highest compliments I can pay. Learn more about Three-Martini Lunch below!

The Life of a Book: An interview with editor Brant Rumble, Part 2

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.   Today we’re featuring part two of our interview with the editor of But What if We’re Wrong?, Brant Rumble. Rumble has worked with Chuck Klosterman for years, and has agreed to give us the inside scoop on editing a book.  Q: Do you have a favorite part of the editorial and publishing process? A: I have a few. First, there’s the moment when you realize that you want to work on a book. It’s not unlike the beginning of a romance, minus all of the untoward activities, of course. Then there’s the editing. It’s definitely work, and sometimes it’s more work than anticipated, but, when you can shut out the world and really interact with what someone has written—ask them more questions, challenge them a bit, and just enjoy it like any reader would—that’s entertaining. It’s a heightened form of reading. And, last but not least, there are moments when you can tell that a reader (other than yourself) has genuinely loved a book. Whether it’s a rave review or a crowd of people at an author’s event who are obviously enjoying themselves, or someone on the subway reading one of your books with an intent (but not displeased) look on his or her face. I have a cynical side, like anyone else, but those are the things that have a way of eroding it, at least until the next moment of pain and disappointment comes along. Q: Do you have a favorite section or quote from But What if We’re Wrong?

A: More than any of the other nonfiction books that Chuck has written, this one is all of a piece. I think Chuck’s reader have gotten used to reading his books like collections, reading some essays, but not others, and sometimes not in sequential order. Which is fine. But not for this book. It builds. The chapter on music is the first chapter I read because it was the first chapter draft Chuck shared with me. I enjoyed it, but I know now that I didn’t fully get it, and that’s because I wasn’t reading it in the context of the book. (The chapter begins on page 59.) My early impression became problematic when I expressed some vague concerns about the piece, which I think alarmed Chuck, because—for anyone who knows me—music is my primary preoccupation, and, if I don’t love reading something that a writer I enjoy reading has written about music, then there might actually be something amiss. But the only issue was that I wasn’t reading the material within the flow of the book. Now the music chapter is definitely among my favorites, and, having said all of this, I’m sure the chapter will be excerpted somewhere, and therefore read in isolation. I’m not too worried. I look forward to seeing how readers react to it. The chapter about TV is a challenging one. Chuck makes an argument that I have a hard time understanding, or “buying” as some people like to put it. But that’s why I like it. I don’t just read books to agree with them. Towards the end of the book, there’s a significant riff on the phrase “you’re doing it wrong” that sums up quite a lot about the problem of our collective experience at this point in human history. 

Q: What do you want readers to take away from this book? A: Humility and flexibility. There is not nearly enough of those two things in the world today, unless I’m wrong about that. Read Part 1 of this Q&A here and the first post in this series here.

The Life of a Book: An interview with editor Brant Rumble, Part 1

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.   Today we’re featuring the editor of But What if We’re Wrong?, Brant Rumble. Rumble has worked with Chuck Klosterman for years, and has agreed to give us the inside scoop on editing a book.  Rumble Q: How would you describe this book to someone who’s never read Chuck? A: Imagine you’re about to meet up at a bar (or any other kind of location where you can relax and enjoy yourself) with several of your best friends. You’re going to discuss both important and completely unimportant subjects. You’re going to play some songs on the jukebox, which might lead you to ponder the career of Gerry Rafferty. You’re going to casually watch whatever games are on. You’ll argue, you’ll laugh—both with and at each other—and you might be surprised by a good friend’s revelation or news. And, unless someone loses a tooth or a credit card, you’ll have a good time, living in a world where not all times are good. Reading Chuck is the literary equivalent of that night out. There’s part of me that hesitates to characterize his work in that way because I fear it implies, to some people, a lack of quality, which is not what I’m trying to convey at all. In fact, if that’s what you think it implies, then maybe you need some new best friends. This book, specifically, asks—in every which way—what we, as individuals and as a society, might be wrong about. We look back in history and it’s obvious to us that people have always been wrong about major facts or issues at any given time, yet it’s difficult to apply that same scrutiny to the present. Chuck tries. He looks at art, science, politics, sports, dreaming, the fabric of reality, and just about everything else. He consults experts in each field, and he draws some fascinating conclusions about how we think about what we know, or don’t know. Q: What would surprise a layman about the editing and publishing process? A: People who are unfamiliar with the publishing industry probably don’t realize the extent to which editors are involved in a book at every step from signing it up to editing it (they probably can guess about that part) to publishing it to finding ways to promote it years later. Editors depend on countless colleagues in production, design, sales, publicity, marketing, rights, and legal—not to mention booksellers and media and partners outside of the publishing house—but an editor is generally involved throughout the entire process. An editor is the author’s primary connection to the publishing house. Maybe a layman knows all of this. Sometimes that guy is smarter than we think. Q: What do you look for when you acquire a book? How does that apply to But What if We’re Wrong? A: It’s relatively simple: I look for books I love to read. Of course, I have particular interests in music, pop culture, sports, counterculture, and quirky/weird/wild subjects, so most of the books I look for relate to one or more of those realms, but I also love a writer who can pull me into a subject I was never expecting to want to read about. That takes a distinct voice and command of language, and usually some sense of levity, which can range from subtle to outlandish. As for Chuck, I’ve been working with him since the beginning of his literary career, which was essentially the beginning of my career as an editor. In 1999, I was a novice editor, but I’d been trained to look for writers and books, applying the aforementioned principles, and I’m extremely fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to start working with Chuck. The way in which he typifies the kind of writer I enjoy reading cannot be overstated. Q: What’s the first thing you do after acquiring a book? How do you start the editing process? How do you collaborate with Chuck? How has it changed since his first book? A: Usually, in the process of acquiring a book, an editor has had some kind of conversation with the author. So, the first step is usually an extension of that conversation, and just getting to know each other a little bit. If the writer is in New York, I take him or her to lunch. We talk about logistics of the project and the general approach the writer is going to take with the book. With Chuck, this is the eighth book we’ve worked on together, and we know each other well. We’re pals who’ve watched approximately fifty college football games while sitting in the same room. But I still take him to lunch sometimes. We usually have three big conversations about a given book—one before he starts writing, one after he’s been writing for a while, and one before he delivers the first complete draft. Then we have lots of little conversations and email exchanges until the book is ready to go to the printer. That hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Check back soon for Part 2., in which Rumble describes his favorite parts of the editorial process and the most striking chapters of But What If We’re Wrong? Read the first post in this series here.

From the Editor’s Desk: Carole Baron, editor of Maeve Binchy’s A Few of the Girls

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. As Maeve Binchy’s publisher and editor, we worked on every one of books together. She was a natural born storyteller whether she was writing a full length novel such as her first, Light a Penny Candle or her last, A Week in Winter. But Maeve was also a short story writer. Working as a columnist at the Irish Times honed her talents in setting up a story with a beginning, middle and end. But in her way, she could pack a whole novel in a 3,500 word short story. She was once asked “how long is a short story?” and her answer was: “It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string.” In other words, tell the story. And check out The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Club where she details how she asked herself nine questions before she set out to write any short story. Maeve wrote a lot of them, and now seemed like the time to share these with the world. What a treat it would be for all of Maeve’s considerable and loyal fans. Gordon Snell, Maeve’s husband, was on board. The first task was pulling altogether the short stories with the help of her UK publisher, her agent and her husband. We read every short story she ever wrote… maybe 100, maybe more. Some of her short stories have already been collected into books (I am thinking of “The Lilac Bus,” for example). Others were published in magazines or newspapers, mostly in the UK. Some were written for charity auctions and even as gifts for friends. Which stories should we include? How would they be organized? I was hoping that the organization of the stories could drive a narrative of life because after all, that’s what Maeve wrote about. Once the stories made the final cut, there was only one way I could go about it: I printed them all out—yes, on paper, this was not a job for the computer. I read and reread them, made a few notes, and then put them on my dining room table, trailed some onto the floor, and covered the couch with stories. I would move stories from place to place physically. I added colored paper to help sort out themes as they emerged. Maeve always wrote about relationships and love, about lousy friends, about family, and jobs, and holidays that changed people’s lives. After reading and sorting and crying and laughing, it was clear that the stories fell into natural categories: “Friends and Enemies,” “Love and Marriage,” “Your Cheating Heart,” “Relatives and Other Strangers,” “Work and No Play,” and “Holidays”… And a book was created: A Few of the Girls. So grab a copy and spend some time with Maeve … I think I’ll join you. I can never get enough of Maeve’s humor and wisdom. And if you want a taste of one of her perfect short stories, there is Vintage’s e-short “Dusty’s Winter” that won’t disappoint. Listen to an excerpt of A Few of the Girls from Penguin Random House Audio here!  Read more about Maeve Binchy’s book below.

Remembering Pat Conroy’s life and work

New York Times bestselling author Pat Conroy died Friday, March 4, at the age of 70.  Conroy passed away at his home in Beaufort, SC, surrounded by family and loved ones.  “The water is wide and he has now passed over,” said his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy.  Funeral arrangements are currently being made at this time.

Read the New York Times obituary here.

“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince of Tides to today,” said his longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday.  “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly,” Talese said.

Listen to an interview with Nan about Pat Conroy’s life here.

Conroy is the author of eleven previous books, including The Boo, The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, South of Broad, My Reading Life and The Death of Santini.   His novels have sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

The Life of a Book: From Manuscript to Bookstore

Ever wonder how a book makes it from the author’s mind to a reader’s shelf? We’re going deep inside one book in particular, But What If We’re Wrong?  by Chuck Klosterman to show readers the changes, collaborations, hard work, and inspiration that goes into the development of a book. In the coming months, we’ll talk to the editor, marketing team, cover art designers, and other people who help make a book… a book! Chuck Klosterman is an author and essayist known for his books (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Eating the Dinosaur, and Fargo Rock City, among others), and his columns and articles for GQ, Esquire, Grantland, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine. His newest book, But What If We’re Wrong?, coming out this June, is all about the supposed facts and knowledge we take for granted. Check back in the coming weeks for the inside scoop from Chuck’s editor, Brant Rumble. IMG_4161 copy   Read more about But What If We’re Wrong? below

From the Editor’s Desk: Linda Marrow, Editor of Try Not To Breathe

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.

The manuscript of Try Not To Breathe came in to me at about 9:30 one night and due to some happy intersection of title and description and still being too awake to go to bed, I made a cup of tea at about 10 and decided to glance at a page or two before turning in.  At about 1 a.m. I forced myself away from the book for the night but could barely fall asleep – so full was my head and my heart of the story of the two young women Holly Seddon had created.  When I was in the world on her pages I had that magical and delicious feeling every lifelong reader knows when your actual surroundings melt away and all you can see are the streets and houses the characters are seeing. I finished reading the manuscript the next night and for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about Amy and Alex and what both joined and separated them.

Hopefully without giving too much away, the novel is about two women, Alex and Amy, both 30 years old and from the same area of England, where they grew up going to neighboring schools. Told in alternating points of view, their lives intersect in a way that will change everything for both of them. Alex is a journalist whose life has spiraled completely out of control. She had seen tremendous success as a writer very early in her twenties when she beautifully and movingly documented the last year of her mother’s struggle with terminal illness. During this time she became incredibly sought after in London magazine circles and also married the love of her life. But when her mother dies, Alex loses her moorings and plummets into alcohol and reckless behavior, finally moving back to the house she had grown up in.

When Alex is at her local hospital one day working on a small, routine story (the only kind of writing work she can now get)about vegetative cases – she finds herself staring at a young woman, a patient, asleep. The girl looks familiar to her, and suddenly she realizes that  this is Amy Stevenson, a girl who had disappeared when both she and Alex were 15, only to be found near death in the woods. Amy has been in a coma ever since, and the police were never able to discover who had assaulted this girl. Amy’s family and the whole town were left mystified and damaged.

Alex finds herself haunted by her own memories of that time and cannot stop herself from beginning to investigate the story. She realizes that in the fifteen years since the attack, Amy has gone from being at the center of notoriety to having been nearly completely forgotten.

Of the many themes explored by Holly in the novel, two are favorites of mine. One is the phenomenon of locked in syndrome, which Holly researched and uses so brilliantly for the character of Amy, showing us the heartbreak of a young girl trapped mutely within her body.  My other favorite is the music of the novel. From its title on, Holly has imbued her book with a perfect soundtrack as iconic song after song from the early to mid-90s seems to play in the background. And by the end one can see that Try Not To Breathe isn’t just an R.E.M. song title but helps introduce one of the most compelling facets of the novel – the false promise of control, and the beauty and wonder of watching Alex measure out just enough courage each day to fight her demons one more time.

Listen to an excerpt from the book here:

Read more about Try Not To Breathe below.

Ed Park, Executive Editor at Penguin Press, on The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

Ed Park, Executive Editor at Penguin Press, shares his insights into editing Elizabeth McKenzie’s new novel, The Portable Veblen, which went on sale Tuesday, January 19. Take it away, Ed! I joined Penguin Press in late 2014, and about two minutes later was sent Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel The Portable Veblen. The title made me smile, I remember, and every sentence that followed felt unbelievably fresh to me. It’s the story of a fraught engagement between seeming opposites: thirty-year-old Veblen, a down-to-earth office temp with a sideline in translating from the Norwegian, and Paul, an ambitious neurologist who’s being wooed by Big Pharma and the Department of Defense. Will they make it to the altar? Everything from the Palo Alto setting to the soulful squirrel that Veblen connects with (and Paul wouldn’t mind destroying) was at once strikingly original and true to life. EdParkVeblenJan2016 It’s been such a joy to watch the excitement build for this one-of-a-kind novel, with sales falling under its spell, and booksellers singing its praises. Along with being an IndieNext pick, Veblen has also received three starred pre-pub reviews and been selected by prominent indies for their signed first edition book clubs. Adam Kirsch’s early Veblen review in Slate took the thoughts right out of my head: “No matter how many novels you’ve read, it’s safe to say you’ve never read a novel like The Portable Veblen.” It’s true! Thinking about the list I’ve put together so far, I’m hoping something similar can be said for every title. For now, let’s begin with a young woman named after the economist Thorstein Veblen, and a very charismatic squirrel…

Andrea Walker, Executive Editor at Random House, on The Longest Night by Andria Williams

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.

Andria Williams’ debut novel The Longest Night is a book about many things—the Cold War, the American West, gender roles in the 1960s, the birth of nuclear power—but above all it is a portrait of a marriage and the forces that challenge it.  I was immediately drawn into the story by the opening scene of the novel—a man named Paul, racing through the night on a rural road, passing an ambulance and fire trucks that are rushing away from an accident that he is driving towards.  What is taking him there, compelling him to put himself in terrible danger?  Who is he trying to save?

Before we can get answers to this question the novel flashes back to a blindingly hot summer day, three years earlier.  A young family are driving cross-country from Virginia to Idaho Falls, where the husband, Paul, has been stationed for his next army tour.  They stop at a lake in northern Utah where local teenagers are diving from the rocks.  The wife, Nat, is desperate to cool off, and leaves her one and three year old daughters while she climbs to the top of the cliff and dives in, fully clothed.  When she emerges from the lake Paul is furious—embarrassed, ashamed, scared she could have hurt herself.  But as a reader, I was fascinated.  I wanted to know what Nat was looking for in that moment of freedom.  Did she just want to escape the demands of being a wife and mother for those brief seconds?  Did she want to show her husband that she was her own person, still?   Did she want to set an example of fearlessness for her daughters, or was she not thinking of them at all?

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When I describe Andria’s novel I often say that it reminds me of Revolutionary Road, if such a book were set in the American West.  That is to say—it is a story about frustrated ambition; domesticity; the stifling social norms of a small town, ruled by a cabal of wives who never fail to match the color of their centerpieces to the tablecloths.  Yet it is also a story about how love changes in a marriage—how it is shaped by distance and separation; the birth of children; by our challenges in reconciling our adult selves with our adolescent ones.  It is a story rooted in a uniquely specific time and place, that is utterly universal in its implications.  I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Read more about the book here.

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

We’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry with a beautiful new edition of the book, out now. Regina Hayes, Editor at Large of Viking Young Readers, wrote this letter to commemorate the day.

It is hard to believe that forty years have passed since the publication of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  It seems like only yesterday that I met Mildred Taylor, when the manuscript that became her first book about the Logan family, Song of the Trees, won a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books.  Mildred was interviewing the editors who had expressed interest in her manuscript, and she came to our offices at Dial, a beautiful, shy, but very composed young African-American woman. Much to my delight, she chose Dial as her publisher, and I became her editor.

After working with her on the first book, I knew Ms. Taylor had enormous talent, but I was still stunned when the manuscript for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry arrived: a hugely accomplished, compelling, full-fledged novel with an unforgettable cast of characters. Reading it, I had shivers up my spine.  Could it really be as good as I thought it was? But subsequent readers confirmed my judgment.  There was such excitement in the office around publication. We firmly believed that this was an important book, and our faith was justified when the Newbery committee chose Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as the most distinguished contribution to literature for children that year. Today. generations of readers have agreed as they embraced the Logan family saga.

To celebrate the occasion, the wonderfully talented and award-winning Kadir Nelson has agreed to create new covers, not only for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, but for all nine of Mildred Taylor’s books about the Logan family, which will be reissued throughout the year. Mr. Nelson’s work has been featured in numerous different outlets, including The New Yorker, a United States postage stamp, a Michael Jackson album cover, and numerous award-winning children’s books, and his rich, inviting paintings are the perfect complement to Mildred Taylor’s heartfelt stories.

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And something more to look forward to:  2017 will see publication of the final book in the saga of the Logans, which follows Cassie Logan through the years after World War II,  as she attends law school and becomes involved in the momentous years of the early civil rights movement.

I hope you will join all of us at Penguin Young Readers in the year-long celebration of a ground-breaking writer, her memorable, moving books, and forty years of courage, love, and pride.

With best wishes,

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