Dawn Tripp on Gender Bias, Strength, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lasting Legacy

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most remarkable artists in American history, but few know the intimate details of the woman behind the abstract masterpieces. In Georgia, author Dawn Tripp brings readers into O’Keeffe’s life and reveals the strength, ferocity, and drive this artist possessed. Earlier this year, Bookish editor Kelly Gallucci caught up with Tripp at the Newburyport Literary Festival to talk about the process of novelizing a true story, the importance of voice, and O’Keeffe’s legacy.

Bookish: In most novels, the author creates the events, the timeline, the plot points. When you’re capturing a real person’s life, however, those elements are dictated to you. Was it a challenge to work within the confines of a life already lived?

Dawn Tripp: It was a challenge because I felt very strongly that although this would be a novel, although it’d be written from O’Keeffe’s point of view, I wanted to stay as close as I could stay to the facts. I wanted to be able to explain or defend every choice that I had made in terms of what she said and what she imagined, and I wanted to be able to trace all of those pieces back to some element in the historical record. That wasn’t necessarily part of my original vision for the novel. But the more I moved into her story, the more deeply I began to understand the gender bias that she had faced and the gender politics she had to work through in order to define herself, her art, and her artistic vision on her own terms. It became more necessary and vital to me to be as true as I could be to what had transpired, to be as true as I could be to her story. My goal in writing this novel was really to bring more people to her remarkable life and her art.

Bookish: How did you go about crafting Georgia O’Keeffe’s voice in the novel? How did you decide which elements of recordings, letters, and memoirs were her authentic inner voice?

DT: I feel that voice—like artistic vision, like self, like the truth of who are are, what we want, what we come from, and where we’re going—is an evolution. We sometimes imagine that there’s one voice. If you go back through O’Keeffe’s letters you’d find that in one week she’d write a letter to Alfred Stieglitz and another to someone else and in those letters there are little tiny discrepancies. The are differences, sort of gradations, in those letters. She wrote two memoirs and the voice of those memoirs is so radically different from the voice in her letters from when she was younger. That was fascinating to me because we do imagine that voice is singular, but it’s kaleidoscopic, it’s multifaceted, and it’s continually changing according to where we are in our lives, what we’re opening to, what we’re closed to, and what we’re working to express.

As both a reader and a writer, I feel that voice is the most important element of a novel. It’s not something that I choose intellectually or analytically. Voice is instinctive; it’s visceral. Finding the voice is an excavation, not a constructed process. I spent an inordinate amount of time soaked in O’Keeffe’s words, historical anecdotes, and interview transcripts that she did in the 1920s. The voice came out of immersing myself in all of those different elements.

Bookish: You’ve said how the letters you read were “at odds with” the image you had in your head of who O’Keeffe was. What surprised you about her?

DT: Going in I knew that she was an incredibly strong woman. She made bold and innovative choices in her art and in her life. But she also understood that strength was about being open to the full range of human emotions and experience. During those years that she lived with Stieglitz, 1916 to 1933, I feel like she really opened to all of those complex dimensions of what it means to be a human being, a woman, and an artist. Her letters reflect vulnerability, anger, desperation, depression, elation, and hunger. I love all of those dimensions of her. That kaleidoscopic self is what it means to be strong. Like with voice, we imagine strength as just one thing: You’re either strong or you’re weak. I think that true strength transcends that binary.

Bookish: O’Keeffe believed she had lost her sense of self, and she reclaimed it in New Mexico. What about New Mexico did she connect with so strongly?

DT: We don’t think of O’Keeffe as a woman who would lose her sense of self. We think of strength being something intact and impenetrable, and strength is just much more complex. In my novel I describe how the instant she stepped off the train in New Mexico she felt that sense of her soul flaring off in all directions. What she discovered there, it wasn’t just the colors or the landscape or the light, it was also that sense of distance and vastness that’s really unique to that particular place. There is something transcendent about being in the middle of that expanse and I’d often wondered if it was almost like a sense of recognition when she met that place. As if she was meeting a place that was vast enough to hold that ferocity that she was.

Bookish: Was there any detail of O’Keeffe’s life that you decided to intentionally omit?

DT: There was an incident, and it still kind of haunts me, that took place shortly after she had been hospitalized for her breakdown. Her younger sister had a show in New York, and O’Keeffe wrote her an absolutely brutally, scathing letter. And her sister never painted again. In her life, there were things that O’Keeffe did or said that were so irretrievable. And I wanted to allude to that. There is a scene in the novel where her great niece says, “How do you do, Aunt Georgia?” and O’Keeffe slaps her across the face and says, “Don’t ever call me Aunt.” And that’s part of the historical record. But that was the only one of those moments that I felt like I could seam into the book in a way that I wasn’t going to upset the whole balance. Those instances didn’t happen all of the time, but when they happened they were so stunningly heartless and heartbreaking at the same time. I couldn’t quite grasp how to integrate the immensity of that and still not lose the driving force of the story. Moments like that demand a level of weight and attention that felt like a gravitational pull, moving the story too far away from the trajectory. The thing about fiction is that it can capture real life, but it has to feel as true or more true in order to be alive on the page.

Bookish: You’ve said that you believe fiction can capture truths that nonfiction can’t. What is one of the truths that you hoped to capture about O’Keeffe in this book?

DT: The most leveling understanding was that the years 1916 to 1933 were a crucible for her. Those were the years when her art was discovered, when she fell in love, craved a child, and nearly lost what mattered to her most. She made unthinkable sacrifices in her life and in her marriage, and she was also making key innovations and bold choices in her art. Those years forged her greatness. They took the strength and willfulness that young O’Keeffe had brought to New York and forged it into something more enduring. But as an older woman she didn’t want to talk about that time. She wanted to distance herself from it. I was working to reconcile the older O’Keeffe that we know with the younger O’Keeffe to find those strands of ferocity in both and how that kind of fierceness had changed.

Bookish: Your son is a very talented artist. Did watching him hone his skills give you any insight into capturing the mind of an artist on the page?

DT: It’s interesting you ask me that. I did go into my boys’ art room and play around with all of his different paints that he had in there. I also watch him work sometimes, and I would notice the way he would work and rework and rework a sketch until he had the composition right. That gave me insight into the way a visual artist would approach that blank page. In order to bring those scenes to life, I had to find points of connection and points of disconnect in the process of a visual artist and my process as a writer. As a writer, you’re always using words and language, which have an analytic dimension. But the best work you do is often when you’re completely open to the voice and the life of the work.

Bookish: Do you have a favorite story or tidbit that you learned about O’Keeffe when researching this book?

DT: My favorite tidbit about O’Keeffe is in the novel. It’s a scene towards the end when she’s tracing her nephew’s face when she’s lost her sight. For me, that was a really critical moment. A number of the biographies I read described an exchange O’Keeffe had with her manager Doris Bry that took place in the early ’70s when O’Keeffe was beginning to lose her vision. She called it holes in her seeing. They were planning a massive retrospective and looking at those early abstractions that she had done and hasn’t seen for decades. And O’Keeffe said, “We don’t have to have the show because I never did better.” I remember reading that and thinking, I don’t know if I can write this book if that’s where we end. Then I read an early biography written by Roxana Robinson that was done in cooperation with O’Keeffe’s family three years after O’Keeffe died. And Robinson described a visit from her great nephew. They spent a day together, and when he’s getting ready to leave O’Keeffe brought him over to the light, but she couldn’t see his face, so she traced it with her hands. I wanted to put myself right into that moment. What was she coming to terms with? That scene, for me, that moment of incredible human connection became the scene I knew I would be writing towards.

Bookish: O’Keeffe assumed, at first, that the intent of her work would be clearly interpreted, and instead her art became linked with her gender. Have you ever had that experience as an author, where your intentions were misinterpreted?

DT: I think that when you are a woman, you are almost always classified as a female writer, or female artist, female CFO, female CEO, etc. with few exceptions. There are subtle assumptions made about your opinion, the value of your opinion, and the weight of your work because you are female. This is not unique to art or publishing. It’s an embedded part of the sexism in our American culture. There’s implicit bias around gender, and we don’t have to look far to see it. It’s something we need to examine, and redress. The older I get, the clearer that is for me. I work to call out implicit bias when I see it, or experience it, and I believe it’s important to do that.

Bookish: This book was inspired by the fact that O’Keeffe never received recognition for her work in abstract art. Have you seen that change at all since publication? Do you think it ever will?

DT: There are still people who have an understanding of O’Keeffe only as the person who painted those sexualized flowers, but she’s so much more. O’Keeffe scholars understand that the body of her work is what is so profound. What’s underappreciated about O’Keeffe is not any given work but the force, range, and scope in what she was doing in art.

In the summer of 2016, the first major retrospective of O’Keeffe’s work went up at the Tate museum in the U.K. The first! A hundred years after she was first exhibited in New York. The goal of the exhibit was to reassess her place in the canon of art. There were periods of criticism through the 20th century where she was denigrated and dismissed as not having the level of importance and influence that she really had. The thing that I found so meaningful about the Tate show is that it reassess her influence on generations of artists, and that matters.

Bookish: Is there anything you learned from O’Keeffe that you hope to incorporate into your own life?

DT: Usually when I’m finished with a novel I’m done. I don’t think about the characters; I’m just done. I haven’t felt that with this book. Not that I’d go back into it or write about her story again, but I feel like the work of spending time in her life and really exploring and translating the challenges that she faced has been such an inspiration for me in my own life. We sometimes imagine that bold choices are what we make in our 20s or early 30s. The thing that I love so much about O’Keeffe and the thing that is still continuing to impact my life, my psyche, my choices as an artist and as a person, is how critical it is to make bold choices throughout your life, to keep making bold choices. I learned how to surf when I was 44 because of O’Keeffe. I learned how to skateboard when I was 46. There’s no such thing as now or never. It’s just now.

Dawn Tripp’s fourth novel Georgia is a national bestseller and was a finalist for the 2016 New England Book Award and winner of the 2017 Mary Lynn Kotz Award for Art In Literature. Tripp is the author of three previous novels: Game of SecretsMoon Tide, and The Season of Open Water, which won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction. Her essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review and NPR, among other publications. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and lives in Massachusetts with her family.

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Librarian's Choice

Librarians' Choice: top 10

December / January 2018

Librarians’ Choice has announced the Top 10 titles for December/January 2018 that librarians across Australia love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the Librarians’ Choice site.

If you are a librarian in Australia, you can nominate titles for the Librarians’ Choice list via NetGalley!

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NetGalley UK’s Top Ten Books of 2017!

It’s been a exciting year both in terms of books and in terms of NetGalley – thank you so much for all your reviews, and your support of NetGalley.co.uk!

As is traditional, we’ve compiled our rundown of the books we – and you! – loved the most this year. It’s a varied and eclectic list, and one we hope you’ll find interesting and stimulating as you compile your own end-of-year roundups. Enjoy!

BOOK OF THE YEAR

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
HarperFiction
UK Edition

One of 2017’s most reviewed novels on NetGalley, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine stole everyone’s hearts – and went on to become a huge Sunday Times bestseller.

This is the story of the irrepressible Eleanor and her perfectly ordered life. Everything is in place, everything just so. Except perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it might just take one thing to change everything completely. And maybe that thing has just happened. A random act of kindness Eleanor could never have predicted…

Funny, wise and warm, this is fiction at its most affecting.

Reservoir 13
Jon McGregor
4th Estate
UK Edition

When it was Book of the Month for April, we described Reservoir 13 as “a shattering, exceptionally written novel that is destined to be one of the most celebrated works of fiction this year.’ And after being critically lauded, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize, we’re sticking with our judgement. It is a staggering achievement – the depiction of a community reeling from the disappearance of a child is simply stunning – from one of the UK’s very finest writers.

Caraval
Stephanie Garber
Hodder & Stoughton
UK Edition

Back in January, we were all very excited about Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and even after a brilliant year for the fantastical in literature, it remains a firm favourite. Earning early comparisons to The Night Circus, Caraval is far more than just more of the same magical showmanship – this is a wonderfully deft, mesmerising and beautifully told tale of love, loss and the impossible. Scarlett’s search for her missing sister, and the truth behind the mysterious Caraval show, is one to savour.

The Girl Before
JP Delaney
Quercus
UK Edition

There were so many brilliant psychological thrillers in 2017, we could have filled this roundup several times over with great examples of the genre. In the end, however, The Girl Before won out. In our February Books of the Month we described it as a ‘spellbinding Hitchcockian thriller’ and NetGalley members agreed, with hundreds of five star reviews. The creepy premise – the perfect house, the scary landlord, a dark secret – and precision suspense made this the cream of the crop.

The Long Drop
Denise Mina
Harvill Secker
UK Edition

Winner of the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year, The Long Drop was described as a masterpiece by the Daily Telegraph. Based on a real life murder in the 1950s, this unsettling, uncomfortable and compulsively readable take on justice and retribution is the real deal. Perhaps not the easiest crime drama of the year, but certainly one of the most rewarding and intelligent.

City of Saints & Thieves
Natalie C. Anderson
Rock the Boat
UK Edition

This unbearably tense YA thriller earned comparisons with The Hunger Games and The Thief Lord, but the compelling and richly drawn setting of Kenya made City of Saints & Thieves stand out as a brilliantly accomplished work in its own right. It was a bumper year for YA and Teen, with many worthy contenders, but for us, Natalie C. Anderson’s novel burnt most brightly. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury
UK Edition

Winner of the National Book Award in the US, Sing, Unburied, Sing arrived in the UK with a certain amount of expectation – expectation which was met and exceeded when we finally came to read it. This is an urgent, important and often troubling depiction of the African American experience, written with intensity, verve and power. It is a novel that haunts, and one never to forget.

How to Stop Time
Matt Haig
Canongate
UK Edition

Matt Haig was already one of the UK’s most beloved authors – and the author of Reasons to Stay Alive and The Humans did it again with How to Stop Time. This clever, witty, warm and wise tale of a man who has lived for centuries resonated with readers and critics alike, and made for a novel of unalloyed delights.

A Man of Shadows
Jeff Noon
Angry Robot
UK Edition

Jeff Noon is probably one of the most original writers currently working in what one might call speculative fiction. This genre-defying novel is part Sci-Fi parable, part noir thriller, set in a world split into zones based on light. Atmospheric, brooding, yet compulsive in its plot, A Man of Shadows is Noon at the top of his game.

This is Going to Hurt
Adam Kay
Picador
UK Edition

This Sunday Times bestselling account of a junior doctor’s life was one of the big breakout successes of 2017 – and certainly one of the funniest books about the most serious of subjects. This is a life right at the very frontline, and Kay is a brilliant tour guide to the service we take for granted, in all its hope, joy, pain and frustration.

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Indie Authors… working overtime

by Katie Versluis, NetGalley Sales Assistant

Did you know that over 725,000 books are published independently each year? It’s tough competition out there in the book world, and without the support of a traditional publishing house, every indie author who wants to find some level of success has to work tirelessly to reach the right audience. They have to be their own publicist, communications expert, and social media guru — and that still doesn’t guarantee their beloved literary baby will find fame and fortune.

So, how hard does an indie author have to work to get your attention over those 724,999 other authors? I, a Sales Assistant at NetGalley, attended the first annual Bookbaby Independent Author Conference 2017 to find out!

Over the course of the conference, there were three main areas of discussion: writing, production/publication, and marketing.

Writing

To those of us who have never written a book before, the writing stage seems to be the simplest; you have a good idea, you write it down, you edit it, you write more down, and then continue the process until you have a finished book. But it isn’t always so easy, as Eva Lesko Natallo mentioned in her presentation “A Self-Publisher’s Journey from Rejection to the New York Times Bestseller List”. Eva discussed having an epiphany that involved coming up with a great book idea… for someone else to write some day.

Like many indie authors, Eva never intended to be an author; her book idea kept nagging at her brain until one day she discovered she had the beginning of a manuscript. But even for a book that would later become a bestseller, the manuscript wasn’t exactly perfect. It took years of rewrites and several dozen rejections from traditional publishing houses to become the indie success it is today.

Eva stressed the importance for indie authors to hire an editor to make their book the best version it can possibly be. Professional editors (vs. a prolific friend or family member) are expensive but entirely worth it. A second set of eyes can transform a manuscript into a book that readers will love for years to come.

And that’s not all — indie authors spend years doing research, taking writing classes, and reading complex grammar books, all without getting paid for their efforts. Writing can be a full-time job without the benefits — but it’s a labor that many are impassioned enough to take on.

Production and Publication

When it comes to production and publication, this too can be an expensive but rewarding venture. Without a traditional publisher at their back, indie authors have to pay someone to format their books and design an eye-catching cover, which again can add up to thousands of dollars.

In her presentation, “Green-Light It: How Indie Authors can Publish Well in Today’s Exciting and Competitive Publishing Climate”, Brooke Warner of SheWrites Press stressed that indie authors need to work twice as hard to hold up to the standard of traditionally published books.

As readers like you know, the design of a book can have a huge impact on winning you over. Most of the time indie authors don’t have the resources or talent to design and format their own books, which can stunt the success of their book before it even makes it to the shelf. Let’s face it: all of us judge books by their covers (despite what our mothers told us), and indie authors are far more likely to lose their potential audience to a flashier, more expensive cover.

Marketing

Marketing, a big focus at the conference, can be a tricky area for indie authors. It takes a special talent that not everyone has, especially if you aren’t particularly tech savvy.

Without a built-in group of fans following their work, indie authors (particularly debut authors) have to work especially hard to get your attention. The more traditional forms of book marketing, like ads and reviews in newspapers and magazines, aren’t generating the buzz they once did, so many indie authors have to turn to social media and email marketing to get the word about their book out. 

In the panel, “#Essential: Online Book Marketing Techniques”, Ally Nathaniel, Lucy Briggs, Shelley Hitz, and Dana Kaye discussed the right and wrong ways to appeal to readers in online spaces.

It can be incredibly easy to turn off readers when marketing a book online. For example: when an eager author on Twitter promotes their book too often. One wrong Tweet can alienate a readership, so indie authors need to take special care of their online presence.

One strategy discussed was “serving before you sell”, or engaging with your audience before trying to promote your title. It can be a difficult area to navigate — indie authors are understandably proud of their work, but an audience will only tolerate overt selling for so long.

If you follow any indie authors on social media, take note of how they’re engaging with you. Do they respond to your comments, favorite your replies, and regularly post interesting, funny, or relevant content? In her presentation, “Essential Author Led Book Marketing and Publicity Tactics”, Sandra Poirier Smith of Smith Publicity noted that there is, in fact, a strict schedule to follow when trying to promote an author brand. Post too often, lose followers. Post too little, lose followers. Social media is an art — and not everyone who participates is an artist.

Despite the sometimes grueling hoops that indie authors have to jump through to have their voices heard, publishing independently can be a rewarding and lucrative venture. Not only does it allow them to publish faster and with more control, it can even give a much larger slice of the profit pie.

If you like the idea of supporting a single person with the dream of having their book succeed, consider reading indie today. You could find your next favorite page turner!

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News from NetGalley

New! Post reviews with one-click to Goodreads, & social accounts

Can you believe that NetGalley members (like you!) submit 60,000 reviews each month?​ Your efforts are extremely valuable to publishers and authors—but wouldn’t it be great if, in that same single click, those reviews could also be shared to other readers via your Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts? Today’s the day!

​No more copying and pasting your reviews into each social platform. ​Connect your accounts​ directly in NetGalley​ to make your review process ​more ​efficient​ than ever​:

Once your accounts are authorized, all you have to do is click each icon and your review will be automatically posted to ​those ​timelines​ ​when you submit your review​ in NetGalley​.

You’ll also start to notice hashtags on book pages, which can be automatically added (and edited) in your social posts.

Bonus!  When you authorize your Goodreads account, ​you’ll have this handy checkbox to automatically post your full review and star rating to your Goodreads bookshelf​. Give it a try! ​

​Have questions? Read more here, and reach out to our support team​ anytime.

 

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Book

Cover Love

We’ve rounded up covers we love, and we hope you will too. We’ve also gathered all of your cover votes from this month, and your most loved cover is…The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson!

Click on each cover to read the full description, request (or wish for) the title, and “Like” the cover if you haven’t already. If you’ve read these titles, don’t forget to share feedback with the publisher and with your friends & followers.

Tell us in the comments below which covers you’re loving right now &
they could be included in next month’s edition!

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Grady Hendrix on Paperbacks from Hell and Why Horror Is a Women’s Genre

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is a die-hard horror fan. He writes, reads, and researches the genre and is an expert on its history. His new book, Paperbacks from Hell—about the paperback horror boom in the ’70s and ’80s—is a blood-splattered love letter to horror. It’s a tome to be found on the coffee table in any horror fan’s home, brimming with hundreds of full-color cover illustrations from books that influenced both the publishing and film industries. Just in time for Halloween, we talked to Hendrix about the state of horror today, Stephen King brainwashing, and why horror is a women’s genre.

Bookish: You clearly have a place in your heart for even the campiest horror novels from the ’70s and ’80s. What is it about these books that draws you in?

Grady Hendrix: These books were designed to be sold in drugstores and bus stations, pharmacy spinner racks and in newsstands, even. They’re designed to hook your attention. Either because they’re about hordes of killer cats, or they’re really lurid and full of sex and violence, or because they just make sure that something incredible or unbelievable is happening on every page. I like them because they’re not boring. But also because they’re from a different tradition.

This isn’t how books get written or published anymore and so the rules are totally different. Three-act structure—it doesn’t exist in some of these books. These books will kill their protagonist halfway through. Nowadays everyone’s used to jump scares, everyone’s used to found footage, everyone’s used to Thomas Ligotti and H. P. Lovecraft and all of those stylistic tics. The only mandate for those horror paperbacks is not to bore the readers. It’s a completely different tradition that comes more out of pulp than it does out of horror.

Bookish: How many paperback originals from the ’70s and ’80s did you actually read in the course of writing this book?

GH: The last time I did a count, it was 326. I could read two a day no problem. It’s what I was doing—I was on the couch all day reading books. Four a day was pushing it. There were a couple of days I did six and those were the days that would wipe me out the next day.

What helped is that I was reading by subgenre. I was reading animal attack books all at once. I was reading all the insect attack books all at once. So I knew what the set pieces were. I got a feel for the structure. Medical thrillers are really, really highly structured in a way that haunted house books are not. Animal attack books, if they’re from England, are structured in a really different way than if they’re from the U.S. Once I got a feel for that structure and where the genre’s signposts were, I could go a lot faster.

Bookish: Is there a book you feature that you think is underrated and would recommend readers pick up?

GH: Oh hundreds. Anything by Ken Greenhall. Elizabeth Engstrom’s books. Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer. If you’re going for pulpy fun, there’s a couple hundred of these books that I think work really great. If you’re going for serious why-have-we-forgotten-this-author authors, there are dozens. And a lot of them are women. I don’t think V.C. Andrews gets the respect she deserves.

So many of these authors were great. I wouldn’t have been able to write my book if the books had all been just campy. I found tons of books that were truly either deeply entertaining or truly fantastically well-written. There was a lot to admire here. I mean there’s goofy stuff too and part of my job is to inform and give context. The other part is to entertain. I wanted to do both.

Bookish: You divide the book into sections such as Creepy Kids, Real Estate Nightmares, and Splatterpunks. Were there any subgenres that didn’t make the cut?

GH: Oh sure. Nazis. There’s a ton of books about Nazis: Nazi werewolves, Nazi vampires, Nazi health resorts, haunted Nazi tanks. None of the Nazi stuff made the book. There’s also a whole category of books written by celebrities—like E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate conspirator, and Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter. There are also a whole bunch of government intrigue paperbacks like Graham Masterton’s The Condor, and there’s another one called The Hell Candidate. And there are a lot of categories that I just didn’t have enough time to get to in a way I thought was fair. Like the YA stuff. Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. I didn’t have time to delve into it more simply because I own a small number of those books and they go for a lot of money these days. There’s a huge nostalgia value.

Bookish: In your gothic horror section, you say that horror is a women’s genre. Can you explain what you meant?

GH: Everyone thinks horror and they think Stephen King. That’s brainwashing. The earliest horror novel that people still read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And there are two great horror novels of the 20th century—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. There’s just not an argument to be made for another book by anyone to rank up there with those two. Another great haunted house novel of the latter half of the 20th century is Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door. Plus you’ve got V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice… The main proponents of the ghost story in the 19th century were women writers. One of the most famous short horror stories of all time, without which no anthology is complete, is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

This has really been a women’s genre for a long, long time. Men are late to the party and get all the attention, as seems to be the way of the world.

Bookish: This book is brimming with hundreds of beautifully printed, full-color pictures of old book covers. Does one cover stand out as your favorite? Which is the scariest of the bunch?

GH: The stuff that’s scary is usually pretty understated. I’ve always thought the original paperback cover of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist—that blurred photo of a young woman-is kind of creepy. But… I can’t really pick my favorite out of all the mutant children out there.

I got to know a lot of these artists too. I developed a huge amount of respect for what they did. People like Jill Bauman, Stephanie and Mark Gerber, Lisa Falkenstern, and Rowena Morrill— they’re just amazing artists who had the misfortune to be making some of their best efforts in an industry which was designed to be disposable. Illustration has never been as respected as fine art. It’s always been viewed as commercial. And it’s true, it is commercial. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s rare that an artist can fake their work. They put everything they’ve got into it.

Bookish: In your epilogue, you write “the lesson horror teaches us is that everything dies.” What do you think caused the end of the horror boom?

GH: It was a bunch of things. Publishing was changing. The big publishers were gobbling up the little guys. Everything was consolidating. Some people, like Jill Bauman, say they put the end right on the Gulf & Western acquisition of publishing companies. And other people, like Jeff Conner, who was the publisher of Scream/Press (which did limited edition, really beautiful books), say that it was the beginning of the Reagan ’80s when public libraries were getting less funding and had to watch their budget more. There were definitely changes in distribution too. The mass market paperback went out of style in the ’90s and was replaced by the trade paperback.

On the other hand, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs became huge and that coincided with the whole Splatterpunk boom in the mid ’80s. And so you had more and more books being written where a lot of editors would feel like “the more gore in this, the better! That’s what readers really want! That’s what’s popular right now!” There were more books getting produced more cheaply by fewer publishers with fewer channels of distribution. And it was a real recipe for a bubble.

Bookish: Has horror recovered? What is the state of the genre today?

GH: When I told people I was writing Horrorstör, I could see the light die in their eyes. But when I said it was about a haunted IKEA, people would say, “Oh that’s really funny,” and they’d want to talk about it. Horror still has the connotation that it’s cheap, it’s gory, and it’s misogynistic. And that really just comes from the tail-end of the boom. The hangover from the bubble bursting still exists.

However, there are also a ton of books that are coming out now, that either are or are not marketed as horror, that do really well. You’ve got stuff marketed as horror like Victor LaValle’s The Changeling or The Ballad of Black Tom. Or works by John Langan and Paul Tremblay. And then you’ve got stuff that’s marketed as literary fiction like Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, which is a straight-up horror novel about a ghost, but it’s marketed as literary fiction because Kunzru is marketed as literary fiction. I would argue that Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad is a horror novel in some sense—or uses a lot of elements from horror.

And then you’ve also got thrillers, which have become the horror of the day. I think Gillian Flynn writes horror. Dark Places is about a satanic murder of a family years ago and someone trying to solve what happened on that night. It’s part mystery, but its roots are in the Satanic Panic. You’ve got all these domestic thrillers that come out too, like a woman bumps her head and wakes up 39 years later and can’t remember her life. Those are gothics right out of the ’60s. They’ve got a little more thriller added to them but it’s a domestic thriller where the nexus of fear is inside the home and the possible monster is the husband. Except traditional gothics pull from the romance tradition in the ’60s and modern gothics are pulling from the thriller tradition.

Bookish: So would you say bookstores and publishers categorize books as horror only if there’s a supernatural element? Or is horror more of a sensibility?

GH: It all depends on how you define horror. If the only thing that says something is horror is whether or not it’s supernatural, then you come up with a really limited definition. Frankenstein is not supernatural—Victor Frankenstein is a scientist. Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is designed to leave you in doubt whether there’s a supernatural element or not. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman going crazy. Same as Shirley Jackson’s We’ve Always Lived in the Castle. A lot of people use the supernatural thing to determine whether something’s horror or not. But is Cujo horror? Is MiseryChuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts” has no supernatural elements in it, yet I think anyone would be hard-pressed to read it and classify it as anything but horror.

Grady Hendrix’s first novel, Horrorstör, an illustrated story about a haunted IKEA, was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. He is also the author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism. A diehard horror fiction fan, he lives in New York City.

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IndieNext

Indie Next List

December edition

The American Booksellers Association has announced the selections for the December Indie Next list, drawn from the recommendations of indie booksellers throughout the US. You can request many of these titles on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the ABA site

If you are a bookseller, you can nominate titles for the Indie Next list via NetGalley, and receive special access to new galleys via the Digital White Box program. Sign up today!

Additional Indie Next titles:

Future Home of the Living God: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich
(Harper, 9780062694058)

The City of Brass: A Novel, by S.A. Chakraborty
(Harper Voyager, 9780062678102)

Year One: Chronicles of the One, Book 1, by Nora Roberts
(St. Martin’s Press, 9781250122957)

Reservoir 13: A Novel, by Jon McGregor
(Catapult, 9781936787708)

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us: Essays, by Hanif Abdurraqib
(Two Dollar Radio, 9781937512651)

Improvement: A Novel, by Joan Silber
(Counterpoint, 9781619029606)

Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls
(New Directions, 9780811226691)

Signal Loss, by Garry Disher
(Soho Crime, 9781616958596)

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Celebrate Picture Book Month with Lerner Publishing

 

What Is Possible in a Picture Book?

By Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books Editorial Director Carol Hinz

We all know what a picture book is.

But what is a picture book meant to do?

One answer to that question is that it should catch children’s interest and entertain them. While I don’t disagree with this statement, neither do I believe it is the whole truth. Picture books inform, they delight, and they offer us endless opportunities to look at our world from fresh perspectives.

I’m a believer that while a picture book must speak to a child, a child needn’t be the book’s only audience—reading a picture book can be a powerful experience for a person of any age. As an editor, my time spent working on picture books has made me increasingly curious about what can be accomplished within the confines of this format . . . and to look for possibilities to break the format’s “rules” every once in a while.

I’d like to spotlight a few forthcoming picture books from Carolrhoda Books and Millbrook Press to explore the question of what’s possible with a picture book.

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday
by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Ana wants tickets to the amusement park for her birthday . . . and instead her abuela gives her a chicken. It turns out that this is no ordinary chicken! It doesn’t like chicken feed, it’s too busy to lay eggs, and it’s building SOMETHING in Ana’s backyard.

In this picture book, a chicken is also a construction whiz, and a gift that isn’t what our main character wanted turns out to be even better than she could have imagined. The illustrations include lots of fun details that encourage repeat readings.

Meet My Family! Animal Babies and Their Families
by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

What kind of families do animal babies have? All different kinds! Main text written in rhyming verse brings together a wide range of animal babies, from the sweet to the fierce. Meet a wolf pup cared for by the pack, a young orangutan snuggling with its mother high in a tree, a poison dart frog riding piggyback on its dad, a shark pup going solo, and much more.

This book offers a look at the many kinds of families found in the animal kingdom, and it gives us a chance to look at adorable animal babies in a fresh way!

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones
by Sara Levine, illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

What dinosaur would you be if you had a bony ridge rising from the back of your skull and three horns poking up from the front? A triceratops!

This book makes the most of a Q&A format to show readers just how much our own skeletons have in common with those of some of the best-known dinosaurs. And it ends by highlighting the scientific connection between dinosaurs and birds. (Yes, birds!)

This book may just change how you see dinosaurs . . . and modern-day birds!

Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

A picture book can make us laugh, it can teach us something new, and sometimes it can help us join a conversation.

How often do you talk to the kids in your life about race? A little? A lot? In this book, Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, have a conversation that all of us are welcome to join. They imagine themselves as fifth-grade classmates who are stuck together working on a poetry project. In the course of 33 poems, they reflect on their own experiences of race while exploring relatable topics such as hair, recess, family dinners, and much more. Artwork by acclaimed illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko beautifully shows how two people who begin the book as near-strangers can end it as friends.

For more thoughts on picture books, check out these blog posts:

Greetings from PictureBookLand

How Picture Book Pagination Keeps Readers Turning the Pages

The Element of Surprise in Nonfiction Picture Books

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Librarian's Choice

Librarians' Choice: top 10

Librarians’ Choice has announced the Top 10 titles for November 2017 that librarians across Australia love. You can request or wish for the featured titles below on NetGalley right now, and view more information on the Librarians’ Choice site.

If you are a librarian in Australia, you can nominate titles for the Librarians’ Choice list via NetGalley!

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