Leigh Bardugo on Wonder Woman: “I Just Want to See Her Smash the Patriarchy”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

The summer of 2017 turned Bookish’s editor into a ride-or-die Diana fan, and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer played a significant role in that transformation. The novel tells Wonder Woman’s origin story, introducing readers to a young girl eager to prove herself and earn her place on Themyscira. She’s given the opportunity to do just that when she encounters Alia, a teenage girl and the personification of the Warbringer, destined to bring the world to blood and ruin. We had the chance to catch up with Bardugo at BookExpo America to talk about female friendships, writing kindness, and why the world needs Wonder Woman now more than ever.

Bookish: Diana is a hero in every way, but a lot of the characters in your other novels exist in a gray area. What was it like to write a character who is so defined by her desire to always do good?

Leigh Bardugo: It was an absolute joy. I was really worried when I went in because it was so essential to me that Diana not seem false and not be presented as a paragon. Just because you’re good and kind doesn’t mean you don’t have flaws or weaknesses or fears or that sometimes you don’t make poor choices, which she does.

When I wrote Six of Crows, depending on what section I was working on, sometimes I’d come out of Kaz’s POV and I would just be exhausted and sad and worried about humanity. Then I would write Diana and I would think, “All right, maybe we’re all going to be okay.” There’s a level of optimism that goes along with her character, and kindness. To me, it’s more about her being kind and compassionate than just being good. That is actually much more wonderful to write than I expected.

Bookish: When writing Diana’s origin story, what was one element of her original tales that you were excited to play with and one element that you decided to get rid of?

LB: I loved writing about the Amazons and putting my own spin on the mythology of Themyscira. I’ll admit I didn’t have any interest in writing about Steve Trevor. I was really charmed by his portrayal in the film, but I wanted this story to focus on the women.

Bookish: Diana, Nim, and Alia are a fantastic trio. They not only celebrate the importance of female friendships, but they showcase that there are many ways to be strong. How did you go about crafting their dynamic?

LB: I’ve written a short story set in our world, but this was very different for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way those relationships would be forged and how they would function. In crafting these characters, I was trying to keep them as authentic as possible. I had some wonderful readers who really helped me to work through some of the trickier issues they were dealing with.

It was important to me that even though Diana is the hero of the story, that Alia was a hero too. I wanted all of them to have opportunities to show what they’re made of and to show that feminism doesn’t belong to one person. Feminism doesn’t belong to one kind of person and adventure doesn’t belong to one kind of person. Magic, superpowers, all of those stories don’t belong to one kind of person.

I’m honestly a little heartbroken that I’m never going to write about these characters again. I’m not used to that. I’m used to writing a series or at least being able to say, “Well, maybe I’ll make it a series later.” Leaving them behind is so hard. There are so many stories for that group of characters that I would love to tell.

Bookish: The novel is infused with a lot of humor, both wit and physical comedy—Diana tossing the Lasso of Truth in a Duane Reade bag really sticks out to me. As a writer, how do you find that balance between comedy and the chaos of the world ending?

LB: I think if you only give the reader angst and intensity, the negative emotions start to lose their impact. The reader becomes desensitized. But if I’ve made you laugh and gotten you to let down your guard, it’s going to hurt that much more when I break your heart. (That sound you hear is me cackling.) The balance is one that really emerges in revision, fine-tuning the emotional turns and language so that the funny and tragic moments all get their due.

Bookish: We’re in a moment when Wonder Woman, as a character, is going through a period of rebirth. For years the name seemed to evoke the idea of a woman who manages to juggle a lot of responsibilities, rather than the heroine herself. What do you think it is about her story or about this period in history that is bringing her back into focus?

LB: Maybe because we need her. Maybe because we need her and because this is a great time to see a woman in an action film. We’ve seen more and more of that, and I would love to see even more diverse women in those roles, not just white women. But I think we also need a story of a woman who comes from Themyscira, who comes from a place where peace is a value, who comes from a place where compassion and kindness are values and where being strong is awesome and kicking ass is a delight. I love writing it so much, but those fundamental principles matter so much more now. And we’re all much more aware of that. I don’t know why, because we’ve all been waiting so long.

I wrote an essay about this for Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid and I stopped loving her as I got older and began to understand who I was as a girl and as a woman in the world. It wasn’t until later that I came back to her. I feel like in some ways all of us are reclaiming her and saying “I don’t care if she’s wearing straps. I don’t care if she’s wearing heels. I just want to see her smash the patriarchy.”

Bookish: Mortal women have a chance to join the Amazons if they call out the name of a goddess in their last moments. Do you know who you’d cry out for?

LB: Hera, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Hestia, and Aphrodite. They’re my pantheon. But I don’t belong on Themyscira. Too much cardio.

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of CrowsCrooked Kingdom, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. She is the first author in the DC Icons Series, where the DC Comics super hero icons are written by megastar young adult authors. Forthcoming books include Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas, and Superman by Matt de la Peña.

Divider

Daniel Handler on Romance, Sexuality, and Getting Over Quotation Marks

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

You may know Daniel Handler by another name: Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. When he isn’t writing about the Baudelaire siblings, Handler is penning adult and young adult novels under his given name. We were lucky enough to catch up with Handler at BookExpo America to chat with him about his new novel, All the Dirty PartsIn it, a high schooler named Cole experiences firsthand the complexity of the “uncomplicated” relationship. Check out our conversation with Handler below.

Bookish: This story is, as the title suggests, is a love story in pieces—what the reader has is literally all the dirty parts. How do you think the story would have been different if the other parts had been included?

Daniel Handler: Well, I don’t think it’s possible to write the whole story of everything, and part of what this book came out of was the way in which sexuality is ignored or pushed aside in so much literature. And that’s a really big part of it—it’s part of the anxiety, and the desire, and the joy, and the anger and sorrow of young relationships. Not that we grow out of it later or anything.

When I wrote Why We Broke Up, it was the first time when I went out to talk about the book that there was a big gender imbalance in my audience. It had always been kind of 50-50, and this time it was like 95% women. And that’s also, in adolescence, when many boys fall off of pleasure reading altogether. I did not fall off of pleasure reading when I was in adolescence. I started looking at what I read, what I really liked, and I saw that it had a really strong sexual streak in it. It was high-minded literature, but like, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a really powerful work when you’re 15. If you go back and read it, you realize that it’s full of threesomes, and you just think about what was interesting to you. So I was thinking about what segment of the population was falling off of reading.

That was a long way of not answering the question. How would it be different? It’d be longer.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts is being billed as a companion novel to Why We Broke Up. Could you talk about how you see these two novels as being in conversation with each other?

DH: I think that Why We Broke Up is extremely romantic, and comes to sexuality through romance and that All the Dirty Parts is kind of the opposite—it comes to romance through sexuality. Certainly you can look at that as being gendered—that’s part of our own gender dysfunction around relationships, particularly when we’re young: Boys need to be nice to girls in order to get laid, and girls need to give it up to be girlfriends. So I thought about the ways those overlap: boys’ desire for romance and girls’ desire for sexuality, and how both those things are divisive.

Bookish: All the Dirty Parts reminded me of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Both are explicit books about men whose lives are more or less ruled by sex. What drew you to this form as a vehicle for the story?

DH: It was actually the form that I found when I started thinking about books that are more fragmentary by Mary Robison, and Jenny Offill, and Maggie Nelson, and all these writers who are doing things in little, small parts. I got interested in that, and that kind of matching, not only the way sex can work in the imagination, but also the kind of fragmented, text-based conversations. It began to seem like the right vehicle to write a book in which those issues could be explored.

Why We Broke Up, for instance, is a long, written letter. That’s a very romantic idea, but it’s not realistic that you’d write a book-length letter to your ex-boyfriend. It’s not feasible.

I did a bunch of things I never thought I would do. I thought I would never write a fragmentary book. I like it a lot but I didn’t think it was my jam. I used to rant against books that had no quotation marks in them—I was kind of like, “Sorry, that’s how we do things.” But the way so many people communicate now, between talking and talking on the phone and emailing and texting and whatever else—it’s all kind of in the loam and I didn’t want to make any kind of division within that. In the book you often can’t tell when the characters are in the same room and when they’re not, and I like that.

Bookish: In this book, as in your Series of Unfortunate Events books, adults are unhelpful at best. The effect is that the younger characters are the only ones whose motives and actions make sense. Can you talk about why you write younger and older characters so differently?

DH: I think I’ve always done that. In my first book, The Basic Eight, there’s a high school girl and her parents are completely absent from the book and horrible things are happening. I think that it’s a major part of adolescence, that compartmentalization. You go to school or wherever you go and you’re in this huge thing that’s happening with people your own age and then you go home, and you’re a kid. I think even now that I’m a parent of an adolescent, and I meet so many parents of adolescents, I see that same division going on all the time. Even if you’re really close and you sit around the breakfast table and you talk about things, there’s still a whole world that’s happening that’s completely out of your hands. I eavesdrop on a lot of teenagers on public transportation and I have such a memory of being on the same public transportation–I grew up in San Francisco and I live there–literally the same buses, and I don’t remember anyone older than I am ever being on those buses and now, sure enough, I’m completely invisible when I’m there.

Bookish: You write in the book, about uncomplicated sex, that if you can’t see the complication, you’re probably it. This seems like the central realization for Cole over the course of the novel, and it emerges slowly. Why do you think this is such an important epiphany for him?

DH: Because I think the sex in his world is being un-compartmentalized. It has nothing to do with his friends, even as one of his friends becomes sexually involved with him. It has nothing to do with the way he spends his time—it’s something that he sneaks off to do. To realize that it’s all part of the world that we’re in is a big maturation process.

Bookish: This book subverts the trope that women are the ones to “catch feelings” in a relationship—in your book, it’s the male partner who does. Why did you make that decision?

DH: It just seemed like the way the story was heading, I guess. I like to be surprised when I’m reading a book, so when I’m writing a book, I think about what would be surprising. I try to avoid the pitfalls of cliché and particularly with gender, it’s so easy to see when you’re planning a book how deep those clichés are and how easy it is to fall into them.

Bookish: What’s next for you?

DH: I have a picture book coming out in the fall. And then I’m finishing an adult novel and a Snicket book, so I’ll continue to keep one foot on each side of the seesaw I guess.

Daniel Handler is the author of six novels. As Lemony Snicket, he is responsible for numerous books for children. His books have sold more than 70 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages, and have been adapted for screen and stage. His first play, Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit, will be produced this fall at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He lives in San Francisco with the illustrator Lisa Brown, to whom he is married and with whom he has collaborated on several books, and one son.

Divider

Claire Messud’s Favorite Books About Female Friendships

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Claire Messud’s latest novel, The Burning Girl, explores the aftermath of broken friendship. At the start of seventh grade, Cassie Burnes ditches Julia Robinson in favor of boys, alcohol, and drugs. Julia, our narrator, is heartbroken that her longtime best friend is suddenly becoming a stranger. Over the course of the year, Cassie begins to spiral and Julia wonders just where the girl she used to know went. In honor of the book’s publication, Messud put together a list of her favorite books that explore complex female friendships.

The Girls of Slender Means

Muriel Spark turns her sharp wit and keen eye upon the residents of the May of Teck Club, a residence for single young women at the end of the Second World War. She captures their foibles and passions, their subtlest dynamics, and their buoyant, youthful frivolity. But as with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, another of Spark’s masterpieces about girls and women, there is darkness behind the bright facades, and a strong dose of tragedy in the comedy.

Two Serious Ladies

The inimitable Jane Bowles wrote just one novel (in addition to a bunch of short stories and a single play): It’s a brilliant but eccentric double narrative about two women, Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield, linked by friendship, but living out their separate stories in different places—a farmhouse on Long Island and what’s supposed to be a holiday in Panama, chiefly—surrounded by unlikely new companions. Bowles, like Muriel Spark, is a tragicomic genius; the novel is an existentialist exploration of what it might mean, for each of these two women, to live authentically, which proves a challenging project.

How Should a Person Be?

Sheila Heti’s “novel from life” about the author as a young woman/artist figuring herself out is, like Bowles’ fiction, an existential undertaking. Central to the work and perhaps most memorable in it is the intense friendship between Sheila and her artist friend Margaux: two creative women who love and respect one another, working in different disciplines, honest even in their less appealing attributes, attempting to articulate what their work is and why it matters, as well as their ambitions/pretensions/illusions about that work.

Cat’s Eye

This remains for me one of the most intimately powerful novels about the complications of girls’ friendship and how the dynamics unfold over time. Elaine Risley, an artist, recalls her often painful childhood relationships with Grace, Carol, and the charismatic but venomous Cordelia. Her story will surely strike a chord with many female readers. Margaret Atwood deploys her remarkable ability to evoke the uncanny and the sinister, and the novel is, like Cordelia herself, haunting.

Neapolitan Novels

This gripping tetralogy about the lifelong friendship between Lenù and Lila, two working class girls from Naples, by now needs no introduction. Its portrayal of the pain and rivalrous complication of the girls’ intimacy is as affecting as its depiction of their abiding loyalty and love; and Elena Ferrante’s great triumph lies in her ability to weave into the women’s personal stories many of the broader social themes of their times—political, social, philosophical, and literary. If not always an elegant stylist, Ferrante is a remarkable storyteller, and these books are enormously compelling.

Claire Messud is a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Author of six previous works of fiction including her most recent novel, The Burning Girl, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.

Divider

Jeannette Walls on The Glass Castle Adaptation

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

In 2005, Jeannette Walls published The Glass Castle and welcomed the world into her unique family. With the film adaptation in theaters, Walls is on the road sharing her story and her thoughts on the cinematic version of her life. Bookish had the chance to listen to her speak at a stop in New York, and get her thoughts on the movie.

The path to adapting The Glass Castle has been a long but worthwhile one for Jeannette Walls. Her first attempt at writing her family history started in her 20s, but the memoir didn’t take shape until her husband entered the picture. “My husband pulled the truth out of me,” Walls confesses. “He thought I was exaggerating when I first told him about my childhood.”

The first draft took six weeks to write and five years to rewrite. Walls sought honesty and truth in those rewrites more than anything else. “If there’s something so horrible and painful you cannot imagine putting it down in words, that means you must, because it’s pivotal,” Walls says. “And then you confront [it.] You say, ‘Am I being honest? No. I need to go a little bit deeper.’”

Walls admits there were days when she’d cry under her desk after writing, but she still recommends it. “It was extremely cathartic… you have to be fearless about it… [and] once you write something, you kind of own it and it doesn’t affect you the same way… The trick is not pretending that you don’t have those issues. It’s kind of owning them.”

Once published, the book caught the attention of quite a few filmmakers, but none of the scripts seemed to truly capture what Walls’ childhood and family life had been like until Gil Netter, who produced Life of Pi, entered the picture. “I figured if he knew how to make a movie about a Bengal tiger and an orangutan in a boat, then he would know how to make a movie about my family,” Walls joked.

Netter brought on Destin Daniel Cretton to direct, and after watching Cretton’s Short Term 12, Walls knew that she could trust him with her own story. “It’s real easy to make fun of drunks and make fun of crazy homeless people and he was never going for the cheap shot.” Walls says of Cretton’s direction. “It was just brilliant from day one. He consulted with me on a regular basis.”

Walls was invited to the set multiple times, though seeing the final product still blew her away. “I had a bit of a meltdown watching it,” she says. “They didn’t gloss over the weird, ugly stuff, but they also didn’t ignore the joy… I was just so grateful to Destin and each of the actors for doing layered, nuanced storytelling.”

She hopes that the film affects viewers in the same way. After the publication of the memoir, Walls was often sought out by readers who were touched by her story and felt it connected to their own. This, she shares, is why she felt so compelled to write. “When one person tells a story, it opens up other people to tell stories and that, to me, is why we tell our stories. It’s for those emotional connections that [show] we’re not alone.”

As the conversation wound down, Walls shared the new insight the film had given her about her family and her relationship with them. She confessed that it allowed her to support herself in a way she hadn’t before. “One of the transformative things about watching this movie was seeing Brie Larson making these tough choices. I loved her and was, like, rooting for [her] in a way that I never loved or rooted for myself.”

The Glass Castle hit theaters on August 11, 2017.

Divider

A Tale of Four Cities: Must-Read International Thrillers

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Hankering to end your summer with an international voyage? Author Christine Evelyn Volker rounded up five mysteries and thrillers set on foreign soil. There’s seduction in Seville, intrigue in Istanbul, murder in Moscow and villainy in Venice. What do they have in common? Enthralling locations, treachery, and hints of love, like in her book, Venetian Blood.

The Seville Communion

The pope’s computer is hacked, and Father Lorenzo Quart is sent to Seville to investigate. This talented, dashing emissary soon finds himself tested when he must make sense of a run-down local church “defending itself” from demolition by killing off the would-be developers. Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s intricate whodunit builds with the pulsating rhythm of a flamenco dance. As bodies pile up, Quart tries to put the pieces together and his vow of chastity is in peril when he’s waylaid by the alluring Macarena. For many reasons, he’ll always remember Seville.

Istanbul Passage

This was my first Joseph Kanon book, and now I’m hooked. He draws you into the thrilling world of espionage, like the tempting fragrance of Istanbul’s spice bazaar. It’s the end of 1945, in an Istanbul divided between loyalties as it straddles east and west, land and sea. Leon, an agent and a victim of betrayal, must decide who is friend and foe. He adjusts quickly to his predicament but is faced with agonizing choices ranging from bad to worse. Just how far is he willing to go to shield a man with the blood of innocents on his hands?

Gorky Park

Martin Cruz Smith put the Moscow police procedural on the map with this classic. Arkady Renko, an honest chief investigator, smokes to block out the stench of corpses and vent his frustration with KGB interference. He must solve a triple murder once mutilated bodies are found in the dark, frozen landscape that permeates the book. His pursuit of the case plunges him into expanding circles of corruption and treachery, even perhaps, by someone very close to him.

Playing with Fire

Julia, an American violinist, wanders into an antiquarian’s store in Rome and is mesmerized by the waltz Incendio, meaning fire. Once she plays the captivating music, her world is upended by a brutal force. Shifting to pre-WWII Venice, we observe the tender story of two young people in love: He’s Jewish, she’s Christian. With magical incandescence, they bring the Incendio waltz to life against the gathering clouds of war. As Julia searches for clues in modern-day Venice, we must ask ourselves: What evil has been stirred up by this music?

Defectors

It’s the early sixties and Moscow looks dim and tired—a graveyard for spent spies, like Frank Weeks. An American defector, now watched by the KGB, he and his ilk carve out a half-life existence. Russia grips them in a fierce bear hug from which they can never escape. When Frank’s American publisher sends younger brother Simon to edit his KGB-approved memoir, change glints on the horizon. As Simon succumbs to the lure of Frank’s smooth talk of brotherly love, you wonder if instead he’ll crash upon its rocks. This scorpion’s nest of spies is perfectly portrayed by Kanon. You’ll be on edge till the end reveals which scorpion wins.

Christine Evelyn Volker has lived on both U.S. coasts and traveled in between. She was born in the melting pot of New York City and grew up on Long Island. After studying in Albany, New York, for her undergraduate degree from University at Albany–SUNY, in Spanish Language and Literature, and securing an MLS, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She retooled herself with an MBA in Finance from UC Berkeley and worked in corporate and international lending. Her career brought her to live in Milan and London. An intrepid traveler, she is writing full time, thanks to the support of her husband, Stephan, a public interest environmental lawyer. She’s grateful for two accomplished stepsons and their wives. In addition to Venetian Blood, she is writing a second international mystery, taking place in the Peruvian Amazon, and has completed a children’s picture book.

Divider

Davy Jones’ Bookshelf: Seven Must-Read Pirate Tales

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Ahoy, readers! Prepare to set sail for adventure. Katharine Ashe has a new novella hitting shelves and pirate-lovers won’t want to miss out. The Pirate and I follows Charles Brittle as he attempts to turn over a new leaf and live an honorable life, and win the heart of Miss Esme Astell, of course. In honor of the book’s release, Ashe put together a list of books perfect for readers who crave adventure on the high seas. These novels are sure to have you saying, “a pirate’s life for me.”

Pirates are filthy, rude, crude, thievish, and viciously violent. Yet we adore pirate stories. Why? Because we can invest our most fervent hopes into them: No friends? Climb aboard and you’ll have dozens! No money, clothes, or weapons? Steal them! Mistrust politicians? Join the only consistent democracy in the world!

Pirate protagonists invert reality, allowing us to call out the ugly underside of civilization, and instead celebrate a world in which the basest crimes become something grand and good. The heroes of these novels flaunt the stifling, hypocritical laws of society for reasons we applaud: family, honor, brotherhood, charity, and love. And they’re unforgiving to cowards who break the strict code of pirate justice.

A great pirate hero is a rogue with a heart of gold, which I love. Here are some of the best.

Unhooked

I never cared about Neverland until I read Lisa Maxwell’s young adult novel in which everything Pan is turned upside down, including the fairytale’s so-called hero and its sublimely perfect villain. Woven with clean yet luscious prose, this story of a misfit young woman dragged into fairyland is a sensory banquet full of danger, hope, and courage. It is both deliciously fun and magically beautiful.

Destiny’s Captive

Descended from a long line of pirates, when Pilar Banderas steals adventure-seeking Noah Yates’ ship, it’s not greed that propels her theft but a desperate effort to protect the beloved women of her family, who are her sole responsibility. Laugh and cheer as Pilar shows arrogant Noah what it really means to be heroic. Bonus: On the gorgeous cover of this romance novel, the heroine is ripping the hero’s “bodice.”

Emmanuel Appadocca

An epic story of daring, adventure, and love, this novel is both historically real and delightfully fantastical. A wealthy Trinidadian of mixed race, educated at the best universities in Europe, fluent in multiple languages, a lawyer and politician, Maxwell Philip was incensed over the continued practice of slavery in the United States. And as a lover of Sir Walter Scott’s wildly popular fiction, Philip knew how to spin an enthralling tale. Starring the adventure-seeking son of a white wealthy planter and a black enslaved woman, the novel reveals a spectacular and deeply moving world of honor and danger unmatched in pirate fiction. The ending will slay you.

The Pirate Lord

Gideon Horn has a super idea: kidnap a ship full of convict women en route to New South Wales and keep them as wives for his crewmen. But intelligent, big-hearted Sara Willis has a thing or two to teach the pirate captain about consent and women’s rights. This is an unabashedly feminist romance—from the dedication to Professor Emily Toth, to the hero’s ultimate realization: “What kind of paradise is there where people are not free?”—and a gloriously satisfying corrective to typical abduction romances. I adore this novel.

Treasure Island

The Scots really do have a way with telling adventures. More than a century after its publication, this story is still a cracking yarn about a boy swept into the experience of a lifetime. Peopled with marvelous characters, it’s at times hilarious and at others thoughtful, and always clever. It remains a classic for a very good reason.

The Pirate’s Duty

When Captain Pierce Walsingham sets out to defeat a diabolical sea villain, he damns the fate that makes Oriana Thorpe a crucial part of his plan: “He had to use her and protect her at the same time.” Featuring a hero with honor in his very bones, a heroine born of generations of smugglers, and thoroughly delightful banter, this is pirate romance at its absolute best.

Stardust

“Adventures are all very well in their place… but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain,” muses the young adventurer Tristran in master storyteller Neil Gaiman’s faerie novel. Pipe-smoking Captain Johannes Alberic of the Perdita (“lost”; great novelists rarely use names blithely) is both protector and enabler. “Tristran often found himself looking back on his time on the Perdita… as one of the happiest periods of his life.” And isn’t that how we all feel after reading a wonderful pirate tale?

Katharine Ashe is the USA Today bestselling author of historical romances featuring strong heroines and the hot heroes who love them, including her latest novella The Pirate and I, which is now available in ebook for $1.99. Learn more about her books at www.KatharineAshe.com.

Divider

The Theory of Connectivity: Do Ideas Choose the Right Writer at the Right Time?

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

They say the wand chooses the wizard, but do ideas choose their writers? That’s what Hazel Gaynor believes. Here, Gaynor shares the theory of connectivity—the idea that inspiration seeks out the right writer at the right time—and how it applies to her latest novel, The Cottingley Secret.

It’s the question all writers are asked, and one we rarely know the answer to: “Where do you find your inspiration?” Erm…

We don’t like to admit that inspiration often feels more akin to desperation. We conveniently ignore the fifteen ideas we tossed aside before stumbling across the one that stuck. So, where do we find our inspiration? The real answer is that inspiration can come from anywhere, or from nowhere. Sometimes we have to wrestle an idea to the ground. Sometimes we fall in and out of love with an idea several times before we commit to writing it. Rarely does inspiration strike with the certainty of a cartoon lightning bolt or tied up in a bow, ready for us to unwrap the bestselling novel waiting inside.

And there’s another school of thought on inspiration: It isn’t the writer who finds the idea at all, but rather, the idea that finds the writer. I call this the theory of connectivity—author and idea, coming together at exactly the right time to make magic happen.

I love the notion of ideas circling in a holding pattern, waiting for permission to land on the writing desk where they know they’ll be nurtured. It’s a theory Elizabeth Gilbert discusses in Big Magic. She talks about an idea she had for a novel but never did anything with, only to discover, years later, that Ann Patchett was writing a book with remarkable similarities. Gilbert believes that because she’d ignored the idea it wandered off to find the right person to write it. “[T]his novel really wanted to be written, and it didn’t stop its rolling search until it finally found the author who was ready, and willing, to take it on.

It has happened to us all, right? That excruciating moment when you hear about a book which is exactly the one you’re planning to write. But you know what? That brilliant idea you had that became someone else’s bestseller was never yours to begin with. There’s no point seething with envy. Far better to move on and open yourself up to the idea that is yours. Because it is out there, waiting for you.

This was certainly my experience in writing The Cottingley Secret.

Having grown up in Yorkshire, England, I’d always known about the Cottingley fairies hoax of the 1920s, when two girls claimed to photograph fairies at the bottom of the garden. But it wasn’t until I attended a writing workshop in 2013, where the fairy photographs were used as a writing prompt, that the idea to write a novel about the events first came knocking.

But I wasn’t ready; wasn’t fully tuned into it. Although I didn’t realize it then, it wasn’t the right time for me to write the book. My notes and enthusiasm were put into my Ideas file, and I got on with other novels.

It was two years before the Cottingley idea returned, and this time it didn’t tap me politely on the shoulder. It pulled up a chair, looked me straight in the eyes, and demanded my full attention. This was the right time for me to write the book, and three curious things happened to confirm it.

First, during a conversation with my agent, while brainstorming ideas for my next book, she mentioned the Cottingley fairies. I’d never discussed it with her. She didn’t know about the writing workshop, or my Ideas file, or that I’d grown up in the area where the photographs were taken.

Then, I then realized that 2017 would mark the centenary of the first Cottingley photographs. 2017 would be my publication year for the book, if I wrote it.

Finally, during early research, I unknowingly started an email exchange with the daughter of one of the girls who took the original photographs. That daughter—now in her eighties—lived in Belfast, a two-hour drive from my home. We met. She was thrilled to hear that I was writing a novel about the Cottingley story, and especially thrilled that someone from Yorkshire was writing it.

The idea had well and truly touched down. It had come back to me at exactly the right time.

I now have an answer to the question of where I find my inspiration. My answer is that I don’t. Inspiration finds me.

As Gilbert also says in Big Magic, when commenting on the business of writing: “I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least. But sometimes, it is fairy dust.”

And that’s why we write, because on the good days, when the perfect idea finds us as the perfect time, we can all create magic.

Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris will be published in 2017. Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland.

Divider

The Most Beautifully Written Books Lana Popović Has Ever Read

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Language can be spellbinding. It can evoke sights, sounds, and smells. It can take you to different worlds and transform you into new characters. Lana Popović’s debut, Wicked Like a Wildfire, is already gaining serious attention for its vivid descriptions and lush writing. To celebrate the book’s release, Popović shared books that captivated her with their stunning writing.

When you’re done adding these books to your TBR pile, head over to our giveaways page to enter to win a copy of Wicked Like a Wildfire.

I have an abiding fascination with exploring the many aspects of beauty on the page—especially when this closer look is rendered in compellingly stunning language. Here are some of my favorite books that find beauty in the strange, the mundane, and the tragic, all gorgeously wrought down to each sentence.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

This contemporary fantasy about blue-haired Karou—a girl at the center of an epic struggle that spills over from another realm into our own—is both visually stunning and lyrically written, and Laini Taylor’s take on angels and demons is dazzlingly original. Though anything that she writes verges on impossibly lovely, this is the book that broke my heart with its beauty and cemented my love for young adult fiction.

Kushiel’s Dart

Never have I read a book that made me want to ply its main character with lush trifles and cocktails in return for more stories as much as this one did. In Terre d’Ange, a land of unsurpassed beauty and grace, Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève is an anguissette chosen by Kushiel, the god of justice and vengeance. She’s a stunningly beautiful courtesan and spy who finds pleasure in pain. Brimming with political intrigue, gods, and shatteringly gorgeous love stories, this book is luscious and seductive, an ode to the danger of beauty.

The Fifth Season

This brilliant adult genre-bender—fantasy meets sci-fi meets dystopian—evokes a world built on the backs of orogenes, a minority blessed and cursed with the power of magical seismology, and wields it to deliver blisteringly perceptive social commentary on our own world. N.K. Jemisin’s visuals of a restive land trapped in a state of constant seismic upheaval are stark and stunning, and her exploration of human nature and the vastness of our emotional landscapes is piercingly beautiful, too.

Uprooted

Set in a Slavic-inspired fantasy world, this story follows the narrator into a gorgeous, verdant realm of old magic, sacrifice, and a sinister forest that isn’t what it seems. Agnieszka’s bright, unruly, and willful voice leaps off the page, and I found the twist on Slavic folklore particularly bewitching.

The Likeness

We don’t usually think of psychological/crime thrillers as beautiful, but Tana French’s plunge into the secluded little world of a toxically entwined, co-dependent group of friends—who may or may not be ruthless murderers and manipulators—is beautifully written, breathtakingly perceptive, and true to her unique brand of unsettlingly dark and twisty.

The Hidden Memory of Objects

This contemporary YA with a speculative twist follows Megan, a withdrawn and talented found-object artist, in her quest to prove that her charismatic, gregarious brother didn’t commit suicide like the police believe. Over the course of her own investigation, Megan relies on her newfound ability to see an object’s history by touching it—but only when that history is written in tragedy and pain. Danielle Mages Amato’s writing is clear and luminous, and her incisive exploration of grief, political corruption, and the haunting world of “murderabilia” lingers long after the last page.

Lana Popović was born in Serbia and spent her childhood summers in Montenegro. She lived in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania before moving to the United States, where she now calls Boston home. She works as a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman, specializing in young adult literature.

Divider

Happy Birthday, Authors!: A Look at Writers Born in August

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

August 1
Herman Melville (1819)
Amy Friedman (1952)
Madison Smartt Bell (1957)

August 2
James Baldwin (1924)
Isabel Allende (1942)
Beverly Coyle (1946)

August 3
P.D. James (1920)
Leon Uris (1924)
Marvin Bell (1937)
Walter Kirn (1962)

August 4
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792)
Knut Hamsun (1859)

August 5
Guy de Maupassant (1850)
Conrad Aiken (1889)
Wendell Berry (1934)

August 6
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809)
Norma Farber (1909)
Piers Anthony (1934)

August 7
Garrison Keillor (1942)

August 8
Sara Teasdale (1884)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896)
Valerie Sayers (1952)

August 9
John Dryden (1631)
Philip Larkin (1922)
Daniel Keyes (1927)
Jonathan Kellerman (1949)

August 10
Suzanne Collins (1962)

August 11
Alex Haley (1921)
Andre Dubus (1936)

August 12
Edith Hamilton (1867)
William Goldman (1931)
Walter Dean Myers (1937)
Gail Parent (1940)

August 14
Russell Baker (1925)
William Kittredge (1932)

August 15
Sir Walter Scott (1771)
Edith Nesbit (1858)
Stieg Larsson (1954)
Mary Jo Salter (1954)

August 16
Wallace Thurman (1902)
William Maxwell (1908)
Charles Bukowski (1920)

August 17
Ted Hughes (1930)
V.S. Naipaul (1932)

August 18
Paula Danziger (1944)

August 19
Samuel Richardson (1689)
Ogden Nash (1902)
James Gould Cozzens (1903)

August 20
H.P. Lovecraft (1890)
Jacqueline Susann (1918)

August 21
X.J. Kennedy (1929)
Robert Stone (1937)

August 22
Dorothy Parker (1893)
Ray Bradbury (1920)
Annie Proulx (1935)

August 23
Edgar Lee Masters (1868)
Robert Irwin (1946)
Melanie Rae Thon (1957)

August 24
Jorge Luis Borges (1899)
Jean Rhys (1890)
A.S. Byatt (1936)

August 25
Charles Wright (1935)

August 26
Christopher Isherwood (1904)
Julio Cortázar (1914)
Barbara Ehrenreich (1941)

August 27
Theodore Dreiser (1871)
C.S. Forester (1899)
Ira Levin (1929)
William Least Heat-Moon (1939)
Lisa Yee (1959)

August 28
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749)
Sir John Betjeman (1906)
Janet Frame (1924)
Rita Dove (1952)

August 29
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809)
Preston Sturges (1898)

August 30
Mary Shelley (1797)

August 31
William Saroyan (1908)

Know of an author who should be on this list? Leave a comment and let us know!

Divider

Best Book Club Picks for August 2017: Karin Slaughter, Leigh Bardugo, and More

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Is your book club scrambling for an August read? We’ve got you covered! Here, we’ve pulled the best book club picks coming out this month. Whether you’re in the mood for a novel about motherhood, or would prefer to escape to the island of Themyscira, we have the book to get your club chatting. For more excellent picks, check out our Summer Previews!

The Good Daughter

Raise your hand if you love Karin Slaughter. We sure do. In this new novel from the beloved author,  sisters Charlotte and Samantha Quinn endure one terrible night that changes their lives forever. That was the night that their mother was killed. Nearly three decades later, another attack occurs in their small town of Pikeville. Charlotte, now a lawyer like her father, is immediately drawn into the case. But she struggles to handle the memories that this new attack is bringing to the surface for her, and her past threatens to catch up with her. Book clubs that love taut thrillers: Look no further.

Reincarnation Blues

Milo is running out of time. In Michael Poore’s novel, humans can be reincarnated up to 10,000 times, and Milo is down to his final five lives. After those, his “soul will be canceled like a dumb TV show.” Each death offers Milo a brief respite to rest before his new life begins, but more importantly it allows him to connect with his love, Suzie, more commonly known as Death. This is an insightful, funny, and thoughtful novel that is sure to connect with readers who like side of humor with their philosophical conversations. It’s also earned comparisons to the work of Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams, and fans of either are sure to easily get lost in this world.

Motherest

It’s been said that if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. In her new novel MotherestKristen Iskandrian mines the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. Agnes is a college student, and while this is typically a time that children separate from their parents, Agnes has more distance from her mother than she wants. While trying to get in touch with her mom, she finds herself in love and then pregnant. All the while, she writes letters to her mother about what she is experiencing. If there are any mothers in your book club, this book is sure to be doubly popular.

When I Am Through With You

Stephanie Kuehn’s thrilling novel is narrated by Ben Gibson, who is currently sitting in jail and ready to tell readers exactly how he got there. He begins his tale with two important facts: He loved his girlfriend, Rosa, and he killed her. From there the narrative explores just how a school camping trip ended in such tragedy. Ben promises not to lie during his retelling of events, but book clubs will no doubt love debating how reliable of a narrator he truly is.

To Die In Spring

If your book club loves diving into historical fiction, then To Die In Spring might be just the book for you to pick up this month. Ralf Rothmann’s novel introduces readers to Walter and Fiete, who are living in Germany near the end of the Second World War. They work on a dairy farm, but in 1945, they are forced to join the SS, and are quickly plunged into the horrific and violent end of the war. In  a starred review, Kirkus called this novel: “ Searing, haunting, incandescent: Rothmann’s new novel is a vital addition to the trove of wartime fiction.”

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Calling all feminist book clubs: This is the perfect read for August. Leigh Bardugo’s novel explores the origins of the iconic Wonder Woman. The tale starts on the island of Themyscira, where Diana feels more like an outsider than an Amazon. But she’s offered the chance to prove herself when she meets Alia—a descendant of Helen of Troy and the mythical Warbringer. The Warbringer is destined to bring about the worst war humankind has ever seen, but Diana believes that she can change the future. This is a novel sure to please long-time fans and newcomers still high off of the Wonder Woman movie, and book clubs will have plenty to talk about when it comes to female portrayal of strength, the importance of female friendship, and the relevance of Wonder Woman in today’s world.

Lights On, Rats Out

You likely already know Cree LeFavour for her cookbooks and her James Beard Award nomination. But here, she’s showing readers an entirely new side of herself.  For years, LeFavour struggled with self-harm—specifically, burning herself with cigarettes. Here, she recounts her time in therapy, along with her intense relationship with her therapist. This book is vivid, troubling, and sure to make a strong impression.  Readers, a word of  warning: For those who do not wish to read about self-harm, it might be best to pick out another book from this list.

Fast Falls the Night

Prosecutor Bell Elkins returned to her small Appalachian hometown after law school to help people in the impoverished community. But eight years later, she’s considering moving to D.C. and leaving the place behind. Her plans come to a sudden halt when several people in town die of overdoses. It seems that a batch of heroin laced with a lethal dose of elephant tranquilizer is to blame. Bell and her colleagues have a mere 24 hours to find the source of the drugs and save as many lives as they can. Book clubs looking for a chilling mystery based on true events will want to pick up Julia Keller’s novel.

Divider