Tag Archives: interview

Writing Tips from Emily Ruskovich, author of Idaho

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? Marilynne Robinson once told a class that I was in that “all character is just a sense of character.” This feels very true to my experience writing fiction. I don’t actively create my characters; instead, I get a feeling about them, and so I try to chase down this feeling and trap it in a scene in order to spend time with it, and hope that the feeling metamorphosizes into something I can see and understand. I don’t build a character by thinking deliberately about the facts of that person, like what they want, what they look like, what they’re interested in. Those details come later. I know that creating a character profile is a method that works very well for a lot of authors, but when I try to get to know a character, it’s like I’m trying to get to know a shadow cast by someone I can’t see, and maybe never will see, even when the story is finished. And the only way it works for me—the only way—is by building a scene around that shadow, that mere “sense.” But even when a story or novel is finished, I don’t actually ever see my character’s faces. When I think of them, the feeling I get from them is distinct and very, very real, but I don’t picture their facial structures, their hands, their clothes. Though those things are important, they are somewhat meaningless to me as I write; they feel like the only things that I straight-out “create.” In fact, sometimes I forget basic facts and have to go back and check eye color to make sure it’s consistent, or even check the age of my character. Those kinds of facts feel very separate of who the character actually is. There are certain aspects of them I can see. Their stances are often very distinct to me. So are the way their shoes look. The way their voices sound, and the way they speak. And sometimes hair color is clear to me, too, but not always. It’s like when I try to visualize them, they are turning their faces away. They are always in motion. I realized recently that this is how I read, too. When I am invested in a novel, I don’t actually “picture” the people in my head, even if their faces are intricately described. I just feel them. There isn’t really something I can compare this experience to, because there is no experience to me that is anything like reading except for writing. And maybe having a dream, when you have such a strong sense in the morning of what occurred, and it really affects you, but you can’t remember details. The faces are blurred. I don’t know if this is useful or not. I guess what this boils down to is: When you are trying to get to know a character, maybe try not to see them so exactly. Trust your instincts, however fleeting and confusing they may be, and just try to build a scene around a feeling, or rather, let that feeling build the scene for you. It’s the only way my characters ever feel real and honest. I hope this isn’t too ethereal to be useful advice. Of course, there are many ways to get to know your characters, and I think other writers have a much more straightforward time getting to know them. I find it very difficult transcribing feelings into people. I think it’s really hard. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? I like to write with animals around. My rabbit has an enormous pen which we built right in front of my window, so I am always looking inside of his pen, watching him and his squirrel visitors. In the morning, before I start writing, I go down to the river and call to my pet ducks. Usually, they fly right to me and have a treat from my hand. I hatched them in an incubator, so they are very tame, even though they have chosen to live in the wild now. When they were little, they would sleep on my lap, or else on my feet, as I worked on my computer. When they decided to fly to the river, I adopted kittens, in part so that I have something to summon onto my lap while I write. Even just having a bird-feeder out my window is very helpful to me. Often, I start by reading beautiful passages by authors I admire. My husband’s office is just on the other side of mine, and often we start out our day by reading to each other what we’d written the day before, to get us going, to get our confidence up. It really helps to have someone pursuing the same things that I am. We help each other a great deal. He always has a cat on his lap, too. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? Yes, I have wanted to write since I was very young. Before I could write, I would often dictate stories or poems to my mom and dad, and they would write them down for me. I remember it seemed like the most magical thing to me, that the things I said could be saved forever simply by my parents making marks on a piece of paper. I was very lucky that I grew up in a house where writing was a natural part of life. My dad is a very prolific writer. Even with all he had to do when I was growing up—teaching, farming, gardening, taking care of children, chopping wood, building barns, managing money trouble—he still found time almost every single day to write, even if he was exhausted. And so it was a very natural part of my existence. I understood writing as a thing that people simply did, a crucial part of daily life. A few years ago, my dad gave me  suitcase full of poems. Fifty pounds of poems! I know it’s exactly fifty pounds, because we didn’t want to pay an extra fee at the airport when I was flying these poems from Idaho to Colorado, so we weighed it very carefully and had to remove quite a few to get the weight down. Hauling the suitcase from state to state, whenever I move, makes me feel very sentimental, like I have been given the gift of actually holding the weight of his imagination. Most of the poems are handwritten. Many of them are sonnets. Many of them are very beautiful. Those fifty pounds of poems are my favorite possession. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps, and so I wrote all the time, too. He taught me from a very early age. So I feel like my career never had a starting point. It was always what I was going to do, because it was always what he did. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? I do have a list of cliche’s that I give to my intro-level creative writing students. It’s called “The List.” As a class, we build on it throughout the semester. It’s very long, and I hope students find it funny as well as useful. It was made in good humor. It contains all the themes or situations that I have encountered many times in student writing. Some of the items on the list include: “No coffee shops; no waking up to begin a day; no college or high school parties; no awkward Thanksgivings; no storms that knock out electricity; no hospital beds; no hitmen; no kids kicking cans; no amnesia; no FBI agents; no CEO executives who suddenly quit their jobs and become free-spirits living on the streets playing music; no serial killers; no unwanted pregnancies if the central conflict is whether or not to keep the baby; no camping or hiking stories if the central conflict is getting lost or attacked by a wild animal; no stories whose energy comes entirely from a bitter or sarcastic voice; no grinning. A grin is so much less complicated than a smile.” The list goes on and on. None of these things are absolute, of course. All of them have been written about very, very well. But it is a challenge I like to pose in my writing classes. I think students enjoy it. I hope so. Of course, I break these rules myself sometimes. One of the rules is, “No stories from an animal’s perspective.” And I definitely broke that rule in my novel. Also, my novel has storms knocking out electricity all over the place. And it also contains a hospital bed. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Yes and no. My characters are all their own selves, distinct from anyone I’ve met. But I do find that I give my characters many qualities of the people that I love. In my novel, the main characters resemble my family members. Not in their actions, or in their stories, just the sense I get of them. The best parts of my character Wade remind me of my dad. There is a moment in the first chapter when Wade knocks his knuckle on the piano as if to test the quality of its wood, and that moment is my dad exactly. Of course, they are very, very different, too. Similarly, I see my mom in both of my central female characters, Jenny and Ann. This may be a strange thing to say, considering I see my mom as the gentlest person on Earth, and yet I have given some of her kindest qualities to Jenny, who has committed an act of horrifying violence. But lending Jenny some aspects of my mom was a way of empathizing with Jenny, a way of complicating her, a way of loving her in spite of what she’d done, which I felt was very important. And I do love Jenny. I needed to, in order to continue this quite painful story. May, too, was inspired by my sister Mary. This is the closest that I came to writing about someone so directly, though it wasn’t at all my intention. Mary came alive in May so quickly. I have hardly changed a word of the May chapters since their very first draft, because those chapters were almost written for me, by Mary’s childhood voice. I have a photograph of my sister when she is young taking a “swim” in a garbage can filled with water that has been warming in the sun. When I look at that picture, I see both Mary and May, equally. It made writing May’s perspectives both very natural and very painful. I feel May’s loss even more deeply because of her resemblance to my sister. Some parts of the novel, in fact, are painful for me to return to because of that. June, also, reminds me a lot of what I was like when I was young. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? The Progress of Love by Alice Munro, and all of her other books, too. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Lila by Marilynne Robinson. And Watership Down by Richard Adams. Learn more about the book below:

The Life of a Book: An interview with Gemina authors and praise from talented book instagrammers!

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.  Take a look at the first post in this series here Gemina is now on shelves! We’re wrapping up this series with an interview with the authors! Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff stopped by the studio to talk about their book tour and much more. Listen here: 
“Getting out and meeting readers is honestly the best part of the job” – Jay Kristoff
Fans have been raving about Gemina, and book instagrammers have a lot to say! From Hikari of Folded Pages Distillery:
Gemina: 10/5 Stars. Explosive, Brutal, Hilarious, Unforgiving, Fist Pumping, Jaw Dropping. These are the words I’m using for Gemina. I started Gemina on Thursday and stayed up last night until 3 a.m. finishing it because I COULD NOT STOP.”
From Vilma of Vilma’s Book Blog:
“I think the whole world knows how much I loved #Illuminae and so far I’m loving Hanna and Nik’s story too! Anddddd the book features illustrations by @marieluthewriter! How awesome is that?!!!”
From Ursula of ursula_uriarte: “I present you guys my favorite book of the year!!! If you haven’t read this series please do yourself a favor and get on it! If you do it simultaneously on audio is even better!” Thanks for following along with Gemina’s Life of a Book series! Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff) Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com Check out more Young Adult books here Get the book here: 

Writing Tips from Fiona Davis, author of The Dollhouse

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?  The most important task is to figure out what your characters’ goals, history and personality quirks are – what they most want from life, and why. And for characters who live in an earlier time period, there’s the additional task of conveying what life was like back then. Since part of my book takes place in the early 1950s, I headed to the library and read old newspapers and magazines, scrutinizing the advertisements as well as the articles. I also listened to the music of the time period, from bebop to Rosemary Clooney, to get a sense of popular trends. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? The Met Museum in New York City is a great place to be inspired. I was lucky enough to catch the designer Charles James’s exhibit while working on The Dollhouse, and the fabrics and styles perfectly captured the essence of 1950s fashion. A run around the reservoir in Central Park can be helpful when I’m trying to solve a plotting problem or visualize an upcoming scene. I find I procrastinate for a good hour before getting down to the actual business of writing. This can include doing laundry, checking email, and reading the paper, until the guilt becomes inescapable. But once I start, I fall into that state of flow and become unaware of time passing. I love that feeling. Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author? I got a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, which taught me how to research and do interviews and write on deadline, and all those skills transferred over to writing fiction. When you’re used to writing every day, it’s easy to power through the painful moments of the first draft, knowing you can clean it up later. The process isn’t precious, it’s just work. What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself? I have a Post-it on the bulletin board above my desk with the heading “Bad Words” written on it: these include “realized, wondered, felt, saw, thought, and heard.” Once I’m done with the first draft, I search for each bad word and instead use deep point of view. (For example, replacing “She heard the cat meow,” with “The cat meowed.”) Makes the writing simpler and more powerful. Luckily, I’ve gotten to the point where I usually catch myself before using them, but you can never be too sure. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound effect on you? The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro is set in two decades, the 1950s and the 1920s, and her attention to detail and descriptions are breathtaking. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, published in 1948, is eerily timeless, as is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I swear Brooks traveled back in time to write that one, it’s so rich in setting and character. In high school, I had a teacher who instilled an early love of Shakespeare, and the musicality of Macbeth definitely stuck with me. Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Alice Mattison, author of The Kite and the String

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! What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? What matters most, I think, is not technique but feeling—the emotions with which we write. Writing an early draft, we have to let go, forget caution and embarrassment, confront trouble. Much of my writing time is spent getting into the frame of mind in which that’s possible. We all have different ways. To revise, we need to ask the kind of obvious questions we ask in the rest of life. “This thing I wrote—does it make sense? Is it clear? Does it get boring?” There are no rules. Some pages and paragraphs and sentences will be good, some won’t. Much of the technique consists of not treating writing as something with a special technique, treating it more like other things we manage to do, though we may not look very professional doing them—cooking a meal or getting ready to have people over. Writing is like that: sloppy, haphazard, but manageable if we work hard but don’t take it too seriously. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I wish I could say that I never base characters on real people! I believe in the imagination! And generally I don’t start with someone real. I think of a situation—maybe “a woman on a wooden pier waiting to be picked up by a boat.” I try to glean what’s happening, and who she is. It’s a wobbly old pier, so she can’t pace comfortably, and she’s new to this kind of place. . . . She’s barefoot, and just got a splinter, and somehow that suggests her job teaching kindergarten and her cousin the cop. . . and is he the person coming in the boat? And who’s with him? I make up characters and stories the way we bring back lost memories, detail by detail. But Grace Paley says somewhere that all her characters are invented except the father, who is her father. And I’ve found myself putting pieces of my father into a couple of novels. Not all of him, and the characters also have traits he didn’t have. Aspects of my father. I don’t know why. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I envy the courage of writers who put random thoughts on pages for months without an idea. They trust that their unconscious minds will eventually disgorge one, when the act of writing or typing lulls them into saying what’s most important to them. These writers suffer more than the rest of us, and have false starts, but eventually their work may be more authentic. I have been known to begin a story that way, but for a novel, I wait for an idea, and make notes. But then I go someplace where I can be my uncensored self (not my desk, where business occurs) and write nothing until a word I don’t expect comes out of nowhere. After all, what’s hardest about starting anything new is to keep from writing what you expected to write. I too believe in letting the unconscious mind give us new thoughts when we’re drowsy and irresponsible—but I make it a little easier by having some notion of where I’m going. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound effect on you? The short stories in Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me a Riddle and Grace Paley’s The Little Disturbances of Man and Enormous Changes at the Last Minute made me think I could try writing short stories: they were about ordinary people, people in messy cities like those I knew, people from immigrant families, as I am. Jane Austen’s Emma is about a young woman with many flaws whom we like anyway, and E.M. Forster’s Howards End is about a personal connection between two women—sisters—that is so nuanced and strong that it enables them to fix their lives when the world of “telegrams and anger” has made trouble for them. That’s what I want to write about: ordinary people, flawed people, people with intense inner lives for whom emotional connection can make a practical difference—who can do what they need to do because they understand each other. Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Alexander McCall Smith, author of Chance Developments

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! After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? Some writers set out to develop a complete road-map of the book, complete with a great deal of detail. I tend not to do this; instead, I mentally write the first paragraph and, on occasion, the last paragraph. With these two elements in place, all that remains is to write the bits in-between. The first sentence is very important. For me, that can set the whole tone of the book, and once I have the first sentence the task of writing proves relatively easy. Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking? Writers can be ritualistic, insisting on all sorts of conditions – where the desk should be and so on. I find that I am able to write wherever I happen to be, and will write in planes and on trains, in hotels or in restaurants. When I am writing at home, though, especially when I am beginning a book, I will use music to get me in the right mood. I have different pieces of music for different series: when I sit down to write my Isabel Dalhousie series I will often play a particular piece of Mozart – the trio “Soave sia il vento” from Cosi. This sets the scene, so to speak. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? When I was a university professor, I wrote a number of academic books with a senior colleague, Professor Ken Mason. Ken, who is now in his nineties, was at school in the UK a very long time ago, and told me about his English teacher when he was aged about twelve (well before the Second World War). This teacher was called Mr Robertson and Ken told me that he gave the boys (it was an all-boys school) the following piece of advice: Never use two words where one will do. I laughed at the story, but then I realized that the late Mr Robertson was right. Since then I have been careful to pare down descriptions and to avoid the excessive use of adjectives. Thank you, Mr Robertson! Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? I am careful not to base fictional characters on real people whom I may meet. The reason for this is that real people may not have the chance to answer back. Some years ago there was an author in Edinburgh, where I live, who based an undesirable character on somebody who she thought had let her down. Everybody knew who it was she was talking about. I don’t think I would care to do that. However, I do put real people into my novels – under their own name and with their permission. I find that the readers like the fact that some of my characters are real people. I once promised the First Minister of Scotland a cameo role in one of my Scotland Street novels, but then I had to find something or him to do. I had him save Bertie, one of the characters in the series, from a runaway bus. The First Minister was extremely pleased. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? I have been much influenced by W.H. Auden’s poetry, and in particular by his Collected Shorter Poems. Other books that have influenced me include the Malgudi novels of the great Indian writer, R.K. Narayan. I very much appreciate Jane Austen and her twentieth century reincarnation, Barbara Pym. Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Heavenly Table

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? Yes, I go to my “office” in the backyard, a former garden shed that I fixed up when we bought the house we’re living in now (unfortunately, I have a difficult time blocking out the world, so writing in a “public” place is impossible for me). There is no phone or internet, just a table and chair and some reference books along with a laptop and a typewriter. The first thing I do to get started is pour a cup of coffee from a thermos and light a cigarette. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I can’t do it any other way. What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? Learn to sit in the chair for a designated period of time, regardless of whether anything is “happening” or not. I think this is the main thing that defeats many aspiring writers, and it’s easy for me to see why.   There have been many, many days when I’d rather be doing anything else (it’s the only time when washing windows seems like a fantastic idea). But I almost always force myself to stay put because nothing will ever happen unless I’m sitting there to help make it happen.   It might be a little easier for me because I’m the type of person who does better at writing and everything else if I’m living on a schedule, but it’s still hard sometimes.  What writing techniques have you found most important? When I decided to learn how to write short stories, I didn’t know anything and I struggled for quite a while without making much progress. Then I read an interview with a writer who said she learned to write by copying out other people’s stuff. For some reason, that made sense to me, and I began typing out short stories by Hemingway, Cheever, Yates, Johnson, O’Connor, on and on. I did approximately one story a week for maybe 18 months and it got me so much “closer” to seeing how they did things like writing dialogue, making transitions, etc. It could be that it worked for me because I’m not a very good reader, but it definitely helped me start figuring some things out. On occasion, when I’m having a bad day, I will still type out a paragraph or two from somebody else. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound effect on you? Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is the best novel I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, reading it also makes me realize how worthless my own work is. Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. I copied every story out of that book when I was starting out, and it helped push me toward the idea of developing, for lack of a better term, my own “voice.”   Also, Earl Thompson’s A Garden of Sand, which I came across when I was maybe sixteen and have never forgotten. I’ve mentioned it before in interviews as being the first book I ever read that contained characters similar to some of the people I grew up around.   Of course, you have to understand, my reading was somewhat limited in those days and I probably hadn’t even heard of people like Faulkner and O’Connor yet. Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Beth Lewis, author of The Wolf Road

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? Stop thinking of your characters as characters and start thinking of them as people. Let them evolve and grow naturally on the page and have them react to situations believably. I believe it’s the writer’s job to figure out what the character wants and then do everything you can possibly imagine to stop them from getting it. Nothing should come to them easily, where’s the fun in that? Conflict creates character and I’ve found the best way to get to know them is to put them in difficult situations, whether emotionally or physically. It’s how we act when pushed to our limits that show who we really are. After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write? I tend to get new ideas around the 70,000-word mark of the previous idea, which is really distracting. I usually get a picture in my head of the opening scene, like the very first frame of a movie, or I might get the opening line. Then a vague sense of the story, and that’s about it. I make a note of it all in my phone for when I’m ready. When I’m able to start the new project I grab my laptop, go to a cafe and stare at the blank page for while. I’ll go on Twitter, read the news, go on Twitter some more and then, once the double espresso kicks in, I’m off. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Don’t be boring. Of all the writing advice out there – and there’s a lot – this is the only one I see as a firm rule. You can do anything you want with your story as long as it isn’t boring. Do you ever base characters off people you know? Why or why not? Not consciously but I have read back over my work sometimes and thought, huh, that sounds just like my mother, better change it! For me, the best part of writing is creating new characters that don’t exist anywhere else. Sure they may have the odd trait in common with someone just as a child shares traits with their parents, but for me, I want my characters as a whole to be fully original. What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell Such a wonderful, far-reaching book and a masterclass on voice and setting. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte Wild, beautiful, and heart-rending. It drags you through all the emotions twice. Weaveworld by Clive Barker All five senses are taken to the max in this book, you get drunk on it.   Learn more about the book below:

Writing Tips from Deena Goldstone, author of Surprise Me

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!  What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable? The most important thing I tell beginning writers (and myself whenever I’m struggling which is often) is to put one’s bottom on the chair every day and dedicate whatever hours you can to work. The daily commitment is more important than the amount of time you spend at it. For me, writing is a process that needs to be attended to, fed, and kept alive every day no matter how difficult or non-productive the time may seem. The struggle to write is part of the process, and often as you take a walk or a shower or fold laundry or drive to a meeting or any of the other mundane tasks we all do during a day, your creative brain will gift you with some insight or bit of dialog or the very answer to the problem you couldn’t solve that morning. But only if you keep the process alive by working every day. How would you recommend creating and getting to your know your characters? Write notes to yourself about your characters before you begin your work. Sit in front of the empty screen and write down whatever comes to mind – facts like how old they are, what the look like, but also random thoughts like whether they have nightmares or like physical exercise or what their favorite food is or whether they’re a dog person. Whatever comes to mind, whether it is germane to the story you’re telling or not. You have to know your characters (even the secondary ones) as well as you know the members of your own family. That knowledge will inform what they say and how they behave. It will make your characters particular and interesting and ultimately, if you know them well enough, THEY will tell you what they want to say and do. What’s the best piece of advice you have received? Surprise yourself when you’re writing. Describe your writing style in 5 words or less. Emotional and character driven. What are three of four books that influenced your writing, or a had profound effect on you? Well before I even contemplated becoming a writer, I read Doris Lessing’s novel, The Golden Notebook, and was astonished to realize that one could write a whole book about the intimate, mundane lives of women. I think it was the first time I realized that this territory was important enough to explore. Amy Bloom taught me how to write about grief – the theme which unites the stories in my collection, Tell Me One Thing. In her story, Sleepwalking, from her collection, Where The God of Love Hangs Out, she writes about how the family members left behind deal with the death of their husband and father without ever mentioning grief or having people break down into emotional messes. It’s all in the behavior of the characters and is amazingly moving and restrained and powerful. I was astonished when I read Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, that it was possible to write a truly prickly, often unlikeable character and still create understanding and sympathy and connection to her. Strout helped me be bolder in writing my characters and certainly gave me permission to create Daniel, in Surprise Me, with all his idiosyncrasies and edges and flaws. Learn more about the book below:

The Life of a Book: An interview with Andrew Unger, events and publicity manager of the BookCourt bookstore

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.   But What If We’re Wrong? went on sale last Tuesday, and Chuck’s launch party was held at the Brooklyn Bookstore, BookCourt.   Chuck read from his book and signed copies for fans… and it was a packed house!  Today we’re featuring an interview with  Andrew Unger, events and publicity manager of Brooklyn bookstore, BookCourt. What is your job title, and what does that mean? What’s your day to day? What would surprise a layman to know? I am the events and publicity manager. My daily schedule is varied and unpredictable, but focuses primarily on acting as the voice and public face of BookCourt. I manage our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the back-end of the BookCourt website. I do all of this in addition to coordinating events for the store. We have one of the most robust calendars of any bookstore in the city, supporting over 300 authors every year. I think everyone, layman and professionals, are surprised to find out just how genuinely moved I am by the opportunity I have to work at one of the premier independent bookstores in the country. What’s it like working at BookCourt vs. any other bookstore? Jonathan Lethem has this wonderful quote he gave us once where he said that BookCourt was a university and a party in slow motion. I’ve always loved that way of talking about the store. As usual, Jonathan Lethem was able to put it so much better than me. On the weekends, we see a vast array of people. Old, young, local, tourist … it’s hard to not get a little whimsical about the “scene.” When you’re here and you’re the one that people look to for a recommendation or for a friendly conversation about one of your favorite books, it always feels almost too good to be true. I’ve only ever worked at BookCourt, but I don’t know that this particular blend of magic could be found anywhere else.   When you order books from a publishing company, what do you consider? What makes a book attractive to you and your customers? We have store bestseller list at the front. This list features the bestselling books from the previous week. Consistently, these books reflect the same taste as reviewers for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. Our customers prefer something sophisticated and intellectually stimulating. Proud as all of us are of our libraries, there’s just no escaping a good cover. Many bad books have been sold through good cover designs and, far and away, too many great books have been relegated to a dusty corner of the shelf because of an ill-advised cover. Occasionally, a truly great book will arrive in the store. Gone Girl or Building Stories. These are anomalous and rise to the top with a momentum born from nowhere else except the compelling narrative itself. IMG_2560 Tell me about some of the events and community-building at BookCourt.  In the early-aughts a Barnes & Noble opened up just a few blocks away from the store. It’s presence was intimidating and unwelcoming. The communities of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens rallied behind us in an impressive way. There are many great neighborhoods in New York, but these two have helped curate and foster one of the most impressive booms in Brooklyn. Today Court Street, as it runs from Atlantic Avenue into Red Hook, is ripe with local, family-owned businesses. In an age when small business is struggling for air, the residents of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens have created something truly special. Because of their dedication to us, we’ve dedicated ourselves to serving them. Our events are free and open to the public and through these events we are able to feature internationally celebrated authors as well as local and debut authors. What’s interesting to you about But What if We’re Wrong? How would you describe it to a reader? Why would they want to read it? But What If We’re Wrong? was so engaging to me because it highlighted the best qualities of Chuck Klosterman’s personality. He is a friend of the store an often in and out. The writing is reflective of Chuck’s cadence and temperament. Thoroughly researched, he delivers prescient wisdom with a light-touch and a flare for the unexpected. The cover design, its simple, understated message of turning something on its head was ingenious and wonderful. I was the most surprised by how the footnotes at the bottom of the page operated as an aside to the reader in a way that looked at quick glance like a moniker of sophistication but read like a nudge and a wink. In almost every way, the book asked over and over again, the question of its title. Not often is a reading experience so cohesive and stream-lined.   Which books are your go-to books to sell? Any old standbys? People expect a booksellers to possess an intimate knowledge of not only all of their favorite books, but also of all the books they haven’t yet read. Great booksellers are up for the challenge. We all spend a lot of time pouring over reviews and ripping through as many books as we can. I don’t want to take the magic out of bookselling, but here are some pointers. —Don’t recommend Bolano. Don’t be that guy. When you’re asked about it, gush appropriately because he’s amazing. Other writers that fall into this category are Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Dostoyevsky, J.D. Salinger, and Phillip Roth. (There’s a pattern) —Listen, listen, listen. What did they do that day? What movies do they like? Are they quiet, nervous, excited, busy, jaded? Most of the time, people know what book they want, you just have to listen to them describe it and pull it off the shelf. —Here is what you recommend in a pinch: —The old stand-by: Stoner —Once in almost 5 years of bookselling, a customer came into the store and asked me to give her my top five favorite books of all time. No one ever asked me this before and took me seriously. Ask any bookseller what book they wish people would read more and they open up completely. For me, I think William Gass‘s The Tunnel is one of the most unappreciated masterpieces ever written. James McElroy’s Women and Men slipped out of print almost a decade ago and no one noticed … it’s the equivalent in my eyes of discovering that a DaVinci portrait was forgotten in the basement of a church abbey for generations. What’s the best thing about your job? No one rolls their eyes at me when I gush about the ways that certain books completely changed my life. Listen to our interview with Chuck Klosterman and his editor, Brant Rumble:  Read first post in this series here, and find out more about But What If We’re Wrong here: 

Listen: Chuck Klosterman and his editor on John Philip Sousa, Phantom Time, and more

Chuck Klosterman and his long-time editor, Brant Rumble, talk with Amy about the future, Moby Dick, high-school level physics, serial killers and much more. Follow the entire Life of the Book here: bit.ly/216fgsS Learn about the book here: