Robinne Lee on Writing Outside the Box

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

If you’re a fan of the silver screen, you may already know who Robinne Lee is. She’s acted in movies like Fifty Shades DarkerHitch, and 13 Going on 30. Acting is far from being her only talent, however, as she is the author of the novel The Idea of You—you might say that Robinne Lee doesn’t fit squarely into a box. Her writing doesn’t, either. The Idea of You tells the story of a mother who has a romance with a significantly younger pop star who her daughter happens to idolize. Here, Lee writes about the challenges and rewards of writing stories that aren’t easily classified.

When I started writing The Idea of You—the story of a thirty-nine year old divorced woman who engages in an impassioned affair with a twenty-year-old member of her daughter’s favorite boy band—I had a very clear idea of what I wanted this story to be. I knew how it was going to begin. I knew the journeys the characters were going to take. I knew how it was going to end. What I did not know—or more accurately, what I was not thinking about—was in which section of the bookstore it was going to find its home.

I love a good love story. I always have. In literature, in film, in music… I love a story that takes me by the heart and whips me up in a frenzy and leaves me someplace else. And that place does not necessarily have to be a happy place. I saw Titanicfour times in the theater. But it does have to make me feel and long and yearn and hope. And if it’s really doing its job, it makes me cry. I kind of like to cry.

So, that was the story I endeavored to write. An all-consuming love story that makes you feel, but that also makes you think. That makes you question. That tackles deeper, darker subjects. That butts up against cultural norms and traditions and what we expect from society and individuals. That provides some social commentary. That is what I took on with The Idea of You.

About six months in, I workshopped the first few chapters with my writers group, who were extremely encouraging and supportive. One of the members, a brilliant writer and a great friend, took me aside for a bit of advice.  Our exchange went as follows:

“You know, for a contemporary romance you need three love scenes that go from soup to nuts.”

I looked at her as if she had grown horns. “Oh,” I finally said. “But this is not a romance.”

“But there’s romance in it.”

“That’s because it’s a love story. I think of it is as women’s fiction.”

“Oh, well then her life should be more of a mess.”

“Why? Why must women’s lives be messes to be interesting? To be worth writing about? Can a female character not be compelling if her life is not a complete and utter mess?”

“Hmm…”

And so I knew I was up against something. That I was writing outside the box. That, in keeping with one of the main themes of the book, I was redefiningKirkus would later call it “genre-bending,” and I quite liked that. But when I was in the throes of it, I stuck to my gut and my story and tried not to think about the marketing plan. In the end, my query letter described it as “a work of women’s fiction with a literary bent and frank sexuality.”

My publisher, the exceptional St. Martin’s Press, labeled it as both women’s fiction and contemporary romance, and they packaged it with a woman’s face and a provocative tagline. I was hoping for a piece of abstract art (my protagonist owns a gallery and the art world is heavily featured in the book), but apparently faces sell. And facing out on shelves it looks a bit like a sleek magazine cover, which I have to admit is quite alluring.

But still there was the dilemma of it not fitting into the parameters of a traditional romance. I worried about how fans of that genre would receive it. There were elements I knew they would find intriguing, but there were others that deeply concerned me. That went so far against the formula I feared there would be backlash. I was not entirely wrong. But the backlash has not come in rejecting the story, so much as in readers’ request, nay demand, for a sequel. A sequel.

Each day since my publication I have awoken to a handful of readers voicing their desire for a part two. Or three, even. Mostly, it is incredibly flattering that someone has connected so much with my characters that they’d like to read more. But I don’t typically read books that are parts of series. Not as a rule, mind you, they just haven’t been the books I’ve gravitated towards. I read Harry Potter, because Harry Potter. And I read the Fifty Shades series, because as an actress I’d been cast in the films, and I thought it was wise to know what exactly I was getting myself into. And oh, what a universe it was! I devoured the Flowers in the Attic books when I was far too young to be reading them. But as an adult, given the choice, I’d rather explore new voices and new worlds, and walk in someone else’s shoes. And if I love a writer, I’ll keep going back to that writer. But in the expectation that she will offer up new, interesting stories. Not a continuation of the same.

For all these reasons, I’d never intended for this story to continue. I gave it the ending I thought it warranted. The one that felt most organic and truthful to me, and for my protagonist in that particular situation, at that particular time. I felt I’d said all I’d set out to say.

And so I find myself in a quandary. I spent three years breathing life into these people, and while often thrilling it was at times very painful for me. I became more emotionally vested in these characters than any I’d written prior. So much so that it was not entirely healthy; not for my psychological well-being, and not for my relationships. And perhaps that is the very reason people connect with them, because I lived them and their story as fully as possible. To make the choice to dive back into that abyss is one that I cannot take lightly.

But the other part of me thinks, “Well, how can I abandon the very people who clearly love my characters and their story? Maybe as much as I do. Isn’t that what matters?” And so, these last few weeks, I’ve been asking myself: Who do I write for anyway? Am I writing for me, or for my audience? For decades I have only written for myself. Certainly, I’ve shared my works with my closest of friends, but for a long, long time I did not endeavor to publish anything. I did not have the confidence. And there is a certain freedom in just writing for oneself. There is a certain freedom of not having to write within a box. And maybe there is a responsibility when you put your work out there to be consumed by the masses. Maybe there is not.

I am a debut author. I am still figuring it all out.

Robinne Lee is an actor, writer and producer. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, Robinne was born and raised in Westchester County, New York. Robinne has numerous acting credits in both television and film, most notably opposite Will Smith in both Hitch and Seven Pounds. She recently completed shooting Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, playing Ros Bailey. Robinne currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. The Idea of You is her first novel.

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Get Inked: Atticus on the Most Tattoo-Able Literary Quotes

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

There are those lines in books that we read again and again. We doodle them in our notebooks, we hang them on our walls. But what happens when that isn’t quite enough? That’s what tattoos are for. Here, Atticus, beloved Instagram poet and author of Love Her Wild, weighs in on the best literary quotes for tattoos.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.” —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” —T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” —Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

“Their lips brushed like young wild flowers in the wind.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

“Chase the light, whatever and wherever it may be for you. Chase it.” —Tyler Knott Gregson

“She wasn’t in a hurry, she didn’t want to miss living.” —J. Iron Word

“Breathing dreams like air” —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“Heartache wasn’t my intention… love was.” —Alfa

“You don’t know this new me; I put back my pieces differently.” —High Poets Society

“I will never be a morning person, for the moon and I, are much too in love.” —Christopher Poindexter

Atticus is a storyteller and observer. Born on the West Coast, he’s spent much of his life exploring the world but now calls California his home. He loves the ocean, the desert, and playing with words. Visit him on Instagram on @AtticusPoetry.

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B. A. Paris on Cliffhangers, Trust, and Feeling Trapped

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Anyone who has ever read Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris knows this to be true: You don’t start one of her books unless you’ve got a reasonably clear schedule. That’s because once you start reading, it’s going to be pretty close to impossible to stop. We caught up with Paris at BookExpo America (while feeling quite stressed out about the events of Behind Closed Doors) and got to chat with her about her new novel, The Breakdown. Along the way, we discussed the importance of trust, dinner parties, and what makes her books so addictive.

Bookish: Both The Breakdown and Behind Closed Doors make readers think hard about trust—who do they trust? Do they even trust themselves? What is it about the subject of trust that inspires you as a writer?

B. A. Paris: I wanted to show that women have to be wary of the situations they get into—and men too, of course—but it’s often women who get married and find out that their Prince Charming isn’t quite the man that they thought he was. We look at other people and we think they’re perfect, but we don’t know what goes on behind their closed doors. And when we are with somebody we have complete trust in them; we never think that they could do anything to hurt us. I think that’s an interesting thing to talk about.

Bookish: Your novels introduce thrills and chills in the midst of everyday life, which arguably makes them more unsettling—they feel plausible. Do you find ordinary situations more frightening than outlandish ones?

BAP: Yes, I wanted to show that these things can happen to ordinary people, especially in the case of Grace in Behind Closed Doors. And I wanted to show that women can find themselves in this situation—intelligent, educated women. I’ve had plenty of letters from readers who’ve said that they’ve found themselves in this sort of situation. And people often say, they’re intelligent women, why don’t they just walk away? I wanted to show that in these situations sometimes, it just happens that you can’t for one reason for another, and even if you don’t have somebody like Millie, dependent on you like in Behind Closed Doors, women can be brainwashed into thinking that they’re useless, that they’re no good. And this is not just happening at home, it can also happen in the workplace as well, this sort of mental manipulation.

Bookish: How was writing your second novel, The Breakdown, different from working on your debut?

BAP: It was hugely different in the sense that I just wrote Behind Closed Doors for me—I didn’t know it was going to be published. I just wanted to write that book. But for The Breakdown I was very conscious of writing for my readers, writing for the people that had loved Behind Closed Doors. I wanted to give them the same kind of reader experience because I knew that was what they would be expecting, without doing the same story. It was really difficult. The pressure was definitely there—it wasn’t an easy ride. It was a breeze to write Behind Closed Doors but it was much more pressure to write The Breakdown. It was the expectations.

I’ve read books by authors that I’ve loved and I’ve been not so keen on the second book, so I was really, really under that sort of pressure to deliver something that would deliver the same reader experience.

Bookish: Both your novels are serious page-turners: It’s virtually impossible to put them down, and it seems like this has a lot to do with pacing. How do you plot out your novels to make them so hard to step away from?

BAP: I’m really disappointing, I suppose. I don’t plot out my novels at all. I know the beginning, and I know the end usually, although not exactly how it’s going to end. I know whether it’s going to be a good ending or a bad ending. It’s just the process of getting there. Behind Closed Doors was sort of surprising because I never thought I’d be able to write such a dark book. There’s no plotting for me. As for the pace, I think that just comes about quite naturally. I don’t aim for it, but I think I manage at the end of a chapter to make the reader want to read on by making a little cliffhanger. I don’t really read over my book and think, “There’s something boring happening here.” Pacing is really important to a book and I’ve just been really lucky that each time I think I’ve managed to pull it off.

Bookish: You said something interesting just now, about how it’s such a dark book. In another interview, I read you saying that you knew Jack was going to be an evil character but you didn’t know just how evil he was until you were writing about him. Can you talk about that discovery?

BAP: I was going to write a book about a couple where the husband was controlling the wife, but I didn’t expect it to be that dark. But when I was writing it, it was really strange. People would ask me if it was hard to write because of the subject matter, but in fact it wasn’t because I really felt that it was the characters writing the book for me. When I was writing Jack’s part, I was Jack, and it was as if he was saying “Come on, this is not good enough. If you want to get people’s imaginations, I’ve got to be better than this. I’ve got to be more evil.” And I really had the impression that he was egging me on and writing the part in his charming way.

Bookish: If you could invite any three writers over for dinner (and the dinner party would be less stressful than Jack and Grace’s in Behind Close Doors), who would you invite, and why? What would you serve for dinner?

BAP: This is such a hard question because I’m going to offend so many writers that I know if I don’t choose them. I think I would have to invite writers of the psychological genre, because then we’d all have something in common. I’d invite Mary KubicaWendy Walker, and Sophie Hannah. But then I’ve got all my friend writers, so Louise Jensen, Lisa Hall, Jane Cory, and probably lots of others. It would be very difficult to choose. It would be a big party—I couldn’t leave anybody out.

What would I serve? Probably fish as the main course. John Dory maybe, or monkfish. And for a starter I might do something like foie gras, because people would expect something like that as I’m French. And then for dessert, I’d probably make the dessert that Grace made, which is a pavlova with meringues and cream. All of those recipes in the book are things that I’ve made before.

Bookish: Both The Breakdown and Behind Closed Doors are about wives who are trapped in very real ways—by their relationships, by their circumstances, by a chance encounter. Why do you think being trapped is so scary, and so resonant for your readers?

BAP: I think that most women, and men as well, identify with Grace. Women might not be going through the same thing as Grace or Cass in The Breakdown, but there are many times in our lives that we feel trapped by circumstances. It could be by our families–having elderly parents, having young children. Sometimes you just feel that you’re never going to get out of the drudge that you’re in, and you feel trapped. And I think that’s why women identify with my books really, because they can see something of themselves in my characters whether they’re going through the same thing or not. Hopefully not. But there is that pressure there for women, I think—maybe more so than for men.

Bookish: There’s a subtle thread about gender in your work. Both Grace (in Behind Closed Doors) and Cass (in The Breakdown) disobey their husbands, which is an inherently gendered thing. Do you see your books as making a statement about gender roles?

BAP: No, I haven’t actually thought about that. Honestly, I just write the books what I want to write. But there’s a change coming in my third book, without saying any more about it. I was aware that in my first two books I’ve chosen women who are victims, and I don’t want to write another woman victim book. It’s another psychological thriller, of course. It’s not about a female victim. Well, it is and it isn’t. I can’t say too much about it. I wanted a change; I felt that my third one had to be different.

Bookish: Both of your books are set in small English towns. Can you speak to your affinity for this kind of setting?

BAP: I think you have to write about what you know. Although I haven’t lived in England for many years, I can easily place myself and my characters in a small English town.

Bookish: I read in an interview that you came to writing relatively recently, but had wanted to write a novel for a long time. Are Behind Closed Doors and The Breakdown stories you’ve had percolating inside your head for years?

BAP: Behind Closed Doors has been brewing in my head for a few years, only because I once had a friend and I thought that maybe her relationship with her husband was a bit off, that she was being controlled—nothing like Grace—but then I thought it might be a good idea for a book. So it had been brewing in my head for a couple of years.

The Breakdown, not at all. I came to the idea because I was driving home through some woods one day in the middle of a huge storm and although it wasn’t night, I was by myself in the car and started wondering what would I do if I broke down, and then what would I do if I saw a car that was broken down. I put myself in that situation and thought, that would be a good start for a novel.

Bookish: You have five daughters. Are they big readers? How have they influenced your writing career?

BAP: My daughters are big readers, especially the eldest three. They all read my books. They’re the first people I give my books to when I’m done. I get good feedback from them. I don’t write my books for my daughters at all, and in fact, when they read Behind Closed Doors, they were horrified that I could write something so dark. They said “Mommy, where did this come from? You’re not that sort of person.” So I like that they’re surprised that I have these hidden depths. But no, they don’t influence my writing at all. Only in that they might say, “Mommy what you’ve said there is a bit old-fashioned, we don’t really say things like that now. We would say this.” And I go, “Okay.”

B. A. Paris grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters. Behind Closed Doors is her first novel.

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Cover Design 101: Behind the Scenes of Scott Westerfeld’s Spill Zone Cover

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we think the same can be said of publishing graphic novels. Spill Zone was written by Scott Westerfeld and the art was created by Alex Puvilland. Once the book was ready for publication, an entire team stepped in to create the cover and jacket. Andrew Arnold, the associate art director at the graphic novel publisher First Second, was part of that team. Here, he takes readers behind the scenes and shares the secrets of cover design.

Click each image for a closer look at the design!

Hello, comics fans! Here at First Second, we take a lot of pride in creating thoughtful and beautifully packaged books. One of our biggest design challenges is creating the cover, and the jacket for Spill Zone was no exception. Here’s an inside look at how this cover came to life, from its earliest stages to the final printed book.

Spill Zone was one of the first projects on my plate when I joined the First Second team last summer. The first thing I did to familiarize myself with the project was read the book, and wow, what a treat that was. Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland have created an incredibly rich world that feels movie-ready. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but also has some dark and twisted elements, and we wanted to make sure the cover conveyed both of those facets.

The process began with several thumbnails from Alex, artist extraordinaire, who had come up with some pretty thought-provoking and eye-catching sketches. At this stage, we like to say that nothing is off-limits. I often find that only a small portion of what we look at during this stage makes it onto the final book. It’s pretty fun to look back at an artist’s initial sketches to see what was originally on the table!

After Mark Siegel (First Second’s editorial director), Danielle Ceccolini (First Second’s designer), and I processed Alex’s thumbnails, we decided that the more graphic approaches were working better than the more illustrative ones.

Once we were all in agreement on the general direction, Alex started to think about the background art and color palette.

As the overall design started coming together, we began to focus in on the details. In the previous stage, we liked what Alex did with the environment, but wanted to see if he could tone it down a little. Sometimes, less is more.

We started to get pretty excited about where it was headed, so we gave Alex the green light to move to pencils, and very soon thereafter, inks.

Once the inks were in, we started exploring the color palette a little further. A good chunk of this story takes place in a radioactive-colored world, so a lot of these early explorations focus on that.

As we got closer and closer to a palette we liked, we delved into a variety of title treatments.

And before you know it, we had ourselves a final cover!

Once the cover is resolved, we start thinking about the rest of the jacket. How will the back cover interact with the front? How can we create an effective spine, with such a tiny piece of real estate? How can the flaps inform the reader with descriptive copy, but still look good?

And then there’s the pre-printed case design! This is the art you see under the jacket, which is glued to the book board.

As all of these elements were being finalized, we were simultaneously communicating with our production team to determine what printing materials and techniques would work best with the design. This includes paper stock, special inks, embossing plates, and lamination. For Spill Zone, we decided that metallic stock was a must-have, not only because it looked good with the art, but it made a direct reference to the radioactive element. Our senior production manager, Alexa Villanueva, worked closely with the printer to make sure the proofing process moved along smoothly. At this stage, we made any last minute text corrections and color adjustments, and made sure all the special effects and materials were printing properly.

From start to finish, this project took several months, but when the books arrived I could hardly contain my excitement. Collaborating with this wonderful group of bookmakers was an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to relive it with their next book, Spill Zone: The Broken Vow.

Andrew Arnold is one of the co-authors of the Adventures in Cartooning series and moonlights [during the day] as a book designer for a children’s book publisher. His work has appeared in several publications, including Nickelodeon MagazineCambridge University Press, and Roaring Brook Press. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrew currently lives in New York City.

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Nuala Ellwood’s Top Five Grip Lit Novels

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Have you heard about the hot new literary genre? It’s grip lit. Grip lit is made up of novels that are a blend of fiction and thriller and typically written by, for, and about women. Nuala Ellwood, author of My Sister’s Bones, is no stranger to the genre. Here, she shares her favorite grip lit books with Bookish readers.

Talking to the Dead
Helen Dunmore, who sadly passed away in June, was a huge inspiration to me as a writer. In this stunning novel she explores sibling bonds, childhood violence, and unreliable memory with an understated menace that bleeds through the pages. The story takes place in a remote Sussex farmhouse at the height of summer where two sisters with a tragic past are reunited when one of them gives birth to her first child. We slowly come to realize that all is not as it seems; one or both of them may have committed a terrible crime years previously and yet each of them manage to convince the reader that the other is to blame. This haunting, beautifully written thriller gives me goose bumps every time I read it.

Apple Tree Yard

On the surface Yvonne Carmichael has it all: a successful career, a happy marriage, two much loved children. So why does she feel so unfulfilled? A chance encounter with a handsome stranger under the Houses of Parliament seems to give her a new lease of life, a chance to break away from the safe, steady world she has built around herself. But a random act of violence brings that world crashing down and forces Yvonne to make a drastic decision, one that threatens to destroy her life. Louise Doughty excels at creating bone-chilling stories by delving into the darkness that exists at the heart of seemingly ordinary lives. One of the things I loved about Apple Tree Yard was that, through its second person narration, it managed to turn the reader into a voyeur. Much like the CCTV camera hidden in the titular yard, we are at once removed from and yet colluding in the horrifying events that unfold.

He Said/She Said

Laura and her boyfriend Kit are at a festival in Cornwall watching a solar eclipse when Laura interrupts the apparent rape of a woman called Beth. They call the police and a man is arrested. However, as Beth becomes ever more entwined in Laura and Kit’s lives it becomes clear that she is getting too close for comfort. This is an extraordinary novel that clouds your perception throughout, much like the eclipse that sets the whole story in motion, so that you are never sure if what you are seeing is the whole picture or just a strange trick of the eye.

The Last Days of Summer

When Jasper Curtis is released from prison and returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters he assures them that he is a changed man, but soon trouble comes calling with horrifying consequences. Here is a novel where the landscape and searing temperature of Texas become characters in their own right and add to the intensity of this terrifying story. Vanessa Ronan’s thriller drips with tension and foreboding from the first sentence to the last.

Lie With Me

This chilling thriller is narrated by Paul, a failed author and pathological liar. One night at dinner Paul meets Alice, a widow. They become involved and Alice invites Paul to stay with her at the villa she owns on an idyllic Greek island. But the trip turns into a nightmare where the ghosts of both Paul’s and Alice’s pasts come back to haunt them and Paul’s lies finally start to catch up with him. I read this novel in one sitting and loved the way Sabine Durrant managed to combine beautiful, hypnotic prose with a killer plot and truly unexpected twist.

Nuala Ellwood is the daughter of an award-winning journalist. Inspired by her father’s and other journalists’ experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, she gained Arts Council Funding for her research into the topic and ultimately made it the main theme of My Sister’s Bones, her debut psychological thriller.

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Bookish Podcasts: From Westeros to the Willows and Beyond

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

If you enjoy lively conversations, dogged research, and quirky or dramatic readings, literary-focused podcasts have something intriguing and thoughtful to offer you. Whether you listen on your smartphone or your desktop, at home, in your car, or at work, podcasts are a way for you to feel as though you are a part of an exciting literary salon, enjoying thoughtful commentary from some of today’s most revered authors. Here, we’ve collected 11 bookish podcasts for your listening and learning pleasure.

Black Chick Lit

This exciting podcast is a bi-monthly production that focuses on books by and about black women. The hosts, Danielle and Mollie, dish on prose and characterization, while at the same time infusing the show with humor. Recent episodes have centered around BelovedThe Hate U Give, and An Extraordinary Union.

Bookworm, hosted by Michael Silverblatt

KCRW’s Bookworm is less of an interview and more of a conversation. The key to this podcast’s success is host Michael Silverblatt, who immerses himself in the work of his guests, thus elevating the conversation from the superficial to the in-depth. Recent conversations have been with Yiyun LiColm TóibínMorgan Parker, and Elif Batuman.

History of Westeros

If you are ready to get down, get dirty, and get deep into the history of Westeros, George R.R. Martin’s created land from Game of Thrones, then this podcast is for you. Hosts Aziz and Ashaya leave no stone unturned as they examine, imagine, and draw upon details and clues to provide listeners with their analysis of the series and with their educated guesses at what comes next.

It’s a Mystery Podcast

This is a spine-tingling weekly podcast hosted by mystery writer Alexandra Amor featuring interviews with fellow mystery writers with the goal of helping readers find the right books for them. A recent episode was “Edinburgh Bookshops, Cooking School Mysteries, and Ghostly Inspiration with Paige Shelton.

Modern Love: The Podcast

Sigh. Modern Love is wonderfully devastating enough as a weekly series of essays, but now it’s a podcast as well in which well-known personalities read previously published essays. Afterwards, host Meghna Chakrabarti and Modern Love editor Daniel Jones discuss the original piece and catch up with the writers of the essays to find out where they are now in their modern love lives.

Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon

Mr. Bear, your host, is the most bookish stuffed bear you will ever meet. Once a week, Mr. Bear reads aloud from favorite works of literature, both old and new, and sometimes interviews writers. This podcast is a great place to discover emerging writers and experience again those classics you already love. Recently, Mr. Bear has been reading aloud from The Wind in the Willows.

Otherppl with Brad Listi

This weekly podcast, features interviews with contemporary authors, poets, and screenwriters. Hosted by The Nervous Breakdown founder and author Brad Listi, recent episodes have included such literary luminaries as Jonathan Safran Foer, Amelia Gray, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Sword & Laser

Created by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt, S&L is a science fiction and fantasy-themed podcast, the overarching goal of which is to build an online community where SFF fans can discuss both genres of books. The most recent episode was a discussion with Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, the authors who write as James S. A. Corey.

The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast

For Lovecraft fans everywhere, hosts of this weekly podcast, Chad Fifer and Christopher Lackey, dive deep on a different Lovecraft story each week, discussing plot, structure, and influences, among other things.

The Longform Podcast

Part of Longform, the weekly Longform Podcast features conversations with writers of nonfiction on craft and storytelling. Recent conversations have included John GrishamAriel Levy, and Samin Nosrat.

The New Yorker: Fiction

The New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, hosts this monthly readings by and conversation with contemporary authors. Recent episodes have included Junot Díaz on Edwidge Danticat, and Mary Gaitskill on John Cheever.

Have a literary podcast you can’t live without? Share your favorite literary podcast in the comments below.

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Susan Spann’s Favorite Historical Mysteries

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Well-written historical mysteries combine the thrill of the chase with an immersive trip to another time and place. Susan Spann, author of the Hiro Hattori novels, understands the excitement history brings to a mystery. Her novels, set in 16th century Japan feature a unique crime-solving duo—a ninja assassin and a Jesuit priest—who join forces to hunt down killers in samurai-era Kyoto… and beyond. Here, she shares her top five historical mysteries.

I love the way historical mysteries let me travel in time, as well as location, to catch a killer. The best ones read like a page-turning thriller, immersing readers in the sights and smells of a different place and time without allowing historical details to overwhelm the excitement of a fast-paced, twisting plot. Here are my top five historical mystery reads, which span the globe as well as the calendar.

Strange Gods

The stellar opening novel in Annamaria Alfieri’s series is set in early 20th century British East Africa. Fans of The African Queen will love the intrepid Vera McIntosh and her partner in crime-solving, British policeman Justin Tolliver, whose quirky romance blooms as they attempt to discover the truth behind the murder of Vera’s uncle, who was found with a Maasai spear in his back.

The Daughter of Time

Though published in 1951, Josephine Tey’s final novel involves a modern detective’s investigation of King Richard III’s alleged murder of the famed “princes in the tower.” In addition to a fine mystery, and some excellent historical sleuthing, Tey’s masterpiece examines the way the “truth” sometimes depends on who’s telling the tale.

Shinjū

When a samurai woman and an impoverished artist are discovered dead in Kyoto’s Kamo River, the apparent victims of a double suicide, only detective Sano Ichiro suspects foul play. To expose the truth, he must risk his honor and his life. As an author of mysteries set in medieval Japan, I love Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series from start to finish. Readers new to the series will want to start here, at the beginning.

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

Though shelved in historical fiction, this page-turning debut novel features a unique, dual-timeline retelling of one of history’s most compelling mysteries, and an unexpected answer to what really happened to Anastasia and the heir to the Romanov throne.

Susan Spann is the award-winning author of the Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mysteries. Betrayal at Iga (Seventh Street Books, July 2017) is the fifth in her acclaimed series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut novel, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. She lives in California with her husband, two cats, and a highly opinionated cockatiel.

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Best Book Club Picks for July 2017: Psychological Thrillers, the Road to Recovery, and More

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Is your book club scrambling for a July 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 memoir about a woman regaining her sight, or would prefer to lose yourself in a gripping psychological thriller, we have the book to get your club chatting. For more excellent picks, check out our Summer Previews!

Patient H69

In Patient H69 Vanessa Potter tells the harrowing story of her struggle with Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder. With the onset of the disorder, Potter was suddenly both blind and paralyzed. The paralysis left first, but for Potter, regaining her sight was a far larger ordeal. This book is Potter’s tale of gaining her sight back bit by bit, and she weaves scientific background about her illness, sight, and the brain into her narrative. If your book club loved Brain on Fire, then this memoir is sure to spark fascinating conversations.

What We Lose

Thandi has always felt caught in the middle. Born to an American father and a South African mother, she’s never felt like she truly belonged, and comments that she’s “not, like, a real black person” only solidify her feelings of isolation. When her mother dies, Thandi begins to wonder how people find the strength and will to move forward and live after experiencing tragedy. In vignettes, she meditates on race, home, grief, and motherhood. This book has been named a must-read summer novel by the Huffington PostBuzzfeedLA Daily News, and more. You don’t want to miss out on this one.

Down a Dark Road

Readers, you’re likely already familiar with the work of Linda Castillo. She’s the author of the bestselling series of Kate Burkholder thrillers, and now, she’s back with a new installment that will keep you up chatting late into the night (whether or not you’ve read the other Kate Burkholder adventures). Joseph King is on the run. He escaped from prison, where he was serving time for killing his wife. Joseph immediately heads back to the Amish community he used to be a part of, and kidnaps his own children. Police Chief Kate Burkholder gets involved, and soon finds herself racing to prove Joseph’s innocence. But if Joseph didn’t kill his wife, who did?

This is How it Happened

Paula Stokes’ latest novel begins with the tragic death of a budding star. Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma to learn that a drunk driver hit the car she was riding in with her boyfriend, Dallas. Genevieve survived, but Dallas died that night. As the country lashes out at the other driver, Genevieve struggles to recall her memories of that night and fight the nagging suspicion that the full truth of what happened has yet to be revealed. There’s a pinch of mystery here, but it’s the exploration of grief, loss, and forgiveness that will captivate readers.

Among the Living and the Dead

For book clubs that love memoirs and are interested in World War II history with a personal spin, there’s no better book to pick up this month than Inara Verzemnieks’ Among the Living and the Dead. Inara was raised in the United States but was always aware of her Latvian heritage and how World War II pulled her grandmother and her sister away from one another for half a century. In this book, Inara travels back to the village where it all began, and makes peace with the struggles her family endured.

The Secrets She Keeps

If your book club is in the mood for an engrossing psychological thriller, look no further than Michael Robotham’s latest. Agatha and Meghan have two things in common: They’re both pregnant, and they’re both keeping secrets. One of Agatha’s secrets is that she religiously reads Meghan’s online blog. She’s obsessed with the perfect life Meghan appears to be leading, as the wife of a handsome and caring husband and the mother to two beautiful children. When Agatha realizes that their due dates are within the same month, she decides to finally approach Meghan and the interaction changes both of their lives forever. Be warned: You may have trouble sleeping after reading this dark tale. You may want to grab a nightlight when you’re picking up cheese and wine for the meeting.

Pretend We Are Lovely

For book clubs that love discussing complicated dynamics and relish sharing in dysfunctional drama that isn’t their own, then Pretend We Are Lovely will be a home run. Get acquainted with the Sobel family of Blacksburg, Virginia. Parents Francie and Tate both have issues with food, whether the problem is consuming too much or too little. They lost their son years ago, and the stress of the loss has permeated their lives and trickled down to their daughters, too. Then, Francie disappears, and the Sobel clan will have to reckon with their past in order to move forward.

Little Monsters

Last spring, Kara Thomas thrilled young adult readers with her debut The Darkest Corners. Now she’s back with a gripping tale about a missing girl and a friendship built on lies. As the new girl in town, Kacey Young is willing to accept any friends who come her way, even with classmates who bring her to the site of a massacre to hold a seance. Kacey thought that creepy night might solidify her friendship with Bailey and Jade, but the girls ignore her the next day, and then Bailey goes missing and Kacey’s involvement in her disappearance is called into question by the police. Book clubs looking to dive into a book that explores the psychology of teenage girls will devour this new release.

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Christina Lauren on Empowered Heroines and Fighting Everyday Sexism

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

As our loyal readers know, the Bookish team adores Christina Lauren. We’ve followed along with their Beautiful and Wild Seasons series, and were ecstatic to dive into their first standalone, Dating You / Hating You. It’s a contemporary romance that follows two talent agents who find themselves competing for the same job and fighting their growing sexual tension. We caught up with both Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs (the writing duo behind the pen name Christina Lauren—often affectionately shortened to CLo) at BookCon and chatted with them about their latest release, everyday sexism, and the best parts of romance novels.

Bookish: This is your first standalone, and it shares a few elements with your debut, Beautiful Bastard: an office romance, a mix of desire and aggravation. What was it like to revisit that setting and explore it in a brand new way?

Lauren Billings: When we had this idea, we weren’t thinking about Beautiful Bastard or trying to redo it in any way. But as the concept evolved, it started to feel like a grown-up BB and the more we discussed it the more we thought, “Yeah, this is something we can do. This is our wheelhouse.” One of the reasons why people really like BB is because it is sort of ridiculous and over the top. We wanted Dating You to be grown-up CLo but still have that element of the absurd. The shenanigans that Evie and Carter engage in bring that absurdity. Now instead of banging all over the office (like in BB), these are characters who are resorting to really terrible behavior and pranks because they’re driving each other crazy.

Bookish: What is your favorite part of romances to write?

Christina Hobbs: I’m realizing I have a very specific male character that I enjoy writing. I love the Carters, the Ansels, the Lukes—the really charming, funny guys. So for me, the scenes that are the most fun to write are the ones where the leads make each other laugh.

LB: My favorite part is when the characters first meet. I love meet cutes. That’s where you set up their personalities and their dynamic. It’s so fun. When I get stuck, I write kissing, but my overall favorite part to write is that first meeting.

Bookish: All of your books have strong feminist themes in them, but this one deals with sexism in a very head-on way. Evie and the other women in her office face a lot of everyday sexism, the kind that even Carter is sometimes oblivious to. Aside from being relatable to your readers, why was it important for you to feature that in this book?

LB: Both Christina and I had experiences in the workplace where we’d work equally hard as a male counterpart and be relegated to a different place on the hierarchy, but I think the more common experience is inadvertent sexism. I worked with people who reported to me who would call me kiddo or sweetie or honey. These are subtle things that chip away at you bit by bit.

When we first meet Evie’s boss Brad in this book, the reader notices the ways that he’s sexist towards Evie because she notices it. But when it happens in your own work place, often you initially let those little insults slide. You think, “Is it just me? Am I being sensitive?” And the insults build up over time. The subtle sexism is where it all starts; it’s the root.

CH: With sexism, there is also a level of privilege. Carter isn’t affected by it in the same way that Evie is, so he doesn’t have to see it if he doesn’t want to. The first time he does he has a moment of realizing he receives preferential treatment.

Bookish: Carter is described often in this book, and Evie thinks a lot about how hot he is. Carter is definitely attracted to Evie, but at least on the page, he doesn’t focus on her body in the same way. Similarly, her pleasure always takes center stage in their intimate moments. It reads like a subversion of the male gaze. Is that how you intended it?

LB: Absolutely, 100%. Like you said, what we notice about Carter is how he looks walking off down the hall in his pants, and a lot of that is for the romance reader. We want our readers to be able to visualize the hero and identify with the heroine. Carter looks at Evie and he sees her intelligence, her strength, her frustration, and he admires all of those things about her. We hope readers will see him appreciating those parts of her and maybe they’ll appreciate those aspects in themselves.

Bookish: In romantic comedies, women who are “married to their jobs” take a lot of heat and get told to take a step back. But here, Carter is also married to his job and he doesn’t ever expect Evie to step back. What made you want to play with that trope in this way?

CH: It’s something we deal with in our own lives. When you’re on a deadline, you have to work. We both have marriages that are truly equal partnerships and husbands who support that.

LB: And our husbands are just as dedicated to their own jobs. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I’m passionately in love with my husband. He’s so good at his job and it matters so much to him. I think that’s incredibly sexy. I value hardwork and if Carter was slacking while Evie was working hard, it would be difficult for me to write him in a swoony way.

CH: I also don’t think we’d root for a heroine who would give all of that up for the hero. Writing strong women in our books is absolutely intentional and important. Those are the women we surround ourselves with, and the women we are. We’re opinionated and strong, so it’s natural that our characters would be as well. And we like to show that there are different types of strength. Some of our women are loud, some are quiet, but they all know who they are and what they deserve. Especially when it comes to writing sex in our books, we want our women to own their sexuality and not be ashamed of it.

Bookish: Evie is older and established in her career, Carter is young and talented but a bit naive sometimes—which is another flip of popular tropes. How did this influence how you wrote their dynamic?

CH: You wanted that.

LB: I did! We’ve written a bunch of books where the man was older, and not because we thought it was sexier. It stemmed from each character’s backstory and life experience up until that point.

Here, we wanted Evie to be older and more experienced because the job that they are both up for should be hers. Logically, she should get it. But because there isn’t a level playing field there it’s called into question.

Bookish: Female friendships are important in all of your books, and a lot of your characters work together. Do you gravitate towards these relationships because you two work together?

LB: That’s so funny! I think you may have pointed out something that we’re not totally aware of. The workplace dynamic comes naturally to us. Our working relationship really is like a marriage. We lean on each other for more than just work stuff; we lean on each other for everything that goes on in our day. In some ways, I feel like writing the female friendships in our books is just as intimate as writing the couple’s dynamic.

CH: Also, people spend such a huge chunk of their day at work so it’s only natural that those people who help you get through it become important to you.

Bookish: You’re capturing a fascinating point in life. Basically from kindergarten to college, friends are on roughly the same track. But after that some get married, some follow their career path, some travel, some have kids. It’s easy to feel like your own accomplishments don’t stack up, and both Evie and Carter feel this way, like they’re failing at adulthood. How do you see this affecting each of them as characters?

LB: We do hold out those yardsticks. Even when you’re married with kids and have a job, you still compare yourself to your friends who are doing other things. Society has these expectations of a specific track you go down, and I think a lot of that is bullshit. There are more paths now, I believe, but I still feel like 30 years old is that flashing sign: You’re supposed to have some of these boxes checked by now.

The very first moment you see that is when Evie is going to Michael Christopher and Steph’s house. She sees that they have a mailbox with their name on it, and a doorknocker, and a three-year-old kid and she doesn’t even have a significant other. For Carter, he had a failed engagement, his younger brother is more successful, he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents, and now he might lose his job.

In a lot of our other books, the characters’ careers were set so it was fun to write characters who were struggling with it.

Bookish: This is a standalone, but if you were able to give one of the characters a spinoff, which would you choose?

Both: Daryl.

CH: I also really love Michael Christopher. I would send him, Steph, and Morgan on a roadtrip. But I’d still pick Daryl. There was a point where our editor asked if we were intending for Daryl and Eric to be having a thing. And we said, “Maybe they are…” It was totally inadvertent.

LB: Our editor also called us out because at one point Jonah was named Derrick, and he was like “You have Daryl, Eric, and Derrick.”

Bookish: You’ve written so many books. Do you ever run into the issue of accidentally reusing the same name?

CH: I never remember anything. I would most definitely write a book with the same name for a different character. Lo would stop me; she’s good remembering thing like that.

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates and brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the New York Times, USA Today, and #1 international bestselling authors of the Beautiful Bastard and Wild Seasons series, Sublime, and The House.

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Signs It’s Time To Say “Boy, Bye”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Heather Demetrios’ latest young adult novel explores one girl’s realization that her boyfriend’s behavior has turned from attentive to abusive. Demetrios was in a similar relationship herself and knows just how common the problem is. Here, she shares warning signs that can help readers to recognize abusive behavior.

Most of the female readers I talk to who’ve read my new book, Bad Romance, tell me that the topic hits really close to home. I’m not surprised: One in three teens is affected by dating violence. Almost every single woman I know has been touched in some way by the epidemic. After spending over two years in my own bad romance, I’m pretty good at recognizing the signs. If you go to the book’s website, you’ll find tons of resources, including a quiz that will help you see if you’re in a healthy relationship or not.

In Bad Romance, my main character, Grace, falls for a boy who is charming and sweet, manipulative and cruel. She doesn’t realize that he’s bad news right away, and once she does wizen up, she’s in too deep. Here are some of the things that she gets woke about by the end of the book:

Put-downs
This is one of the ways that abusers control their significant others. My boyfriend told me I wasn’t as “deep” as him, that I was a “wet blanket.” He knew just how to hit me where it hurt. Making critical comments about your personality, appearance, intelligence, or beliefs is a major sign of abusive relationships. It might seem harmless, but over time these comments can lead to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and generally crap self-worth.

Controlling behavior
This was something it took me a long time to notice. At first I thought my boyfriend just really loved me and wanted to be with me. Eventually I began to see that it was about power. He would insist on being given priority over my friends, control the guys I could talk to, and say which schools I applied to. Control also often turns to obsession: My boyfriend would watch me sleep at night and insist on reading my diary. He wanted me to account for my schedule, wanted to know who I ate lunch with, and who drove me home after rehearsal.

Jealousy
This one is huge. It can be so hard to see jealousy for what it is because it almost seems romantic, right? He loves you so much that he can’t bear to see you even talking to another guy because he’s so afraid of losing you. It’s the whole Edward and Bella thing. My boyfriend made a rule that we weren’t allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex. He would spy on me at work to make sure I wasn’t flirting with other guys. He brought a baseball bat on campus so that he could beat the shit out of a boy who liked me (thankfully, I was able to convince him this was a bad idea). This jealousy started out small, but grew over time. A little bit of jealousy here and there is nothing to worry about, but if jealousy plays a big role in your relationship, this is for sure something to look at. You’ve gotta watch this sign like a hawk.

Threats
This is where it starts to get serious. “I’ll kill myself if you break up with me.” “I’ll kill you if you break up with me.” “I’m going to kick his ass if I see you talking to him again.” “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex/go out/do these drugs with me.” If any of this sounds remotely familiar, run like hell in the opposite direction. This isn’t love—it’s about power and that other person’s severe psychological problems.

Isolation
When I first started going out with my boyfriend, I had a huge group of friends and was very social. By the end, I’d dropped several friends, had major fights with my closest one (to the point that we weren’t speaking for months), pretty much left my church, and was ditching classes I loved because my boyfriend wanted to see more of me. I had never felt so alone in my life. It felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. When anyone tried to tell me I should break up with him, I built a wall between us—or my boyfriend did it for me. It was a very us-against-the-world mentality, and it was lonely and terrifying.

Manipulation
It’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated, and it usually takes a long time to get hip to how your partner is manipulating you. Usually this looks like making you feel bad if you want to do something with your friends or you want to do an activity that takes you away from your partner. Abusers might make you feel like you’re in the wrong when you confront them about something or convince you that you’re imagining things when they give you the cold shoulder or punish you in some way. This always looks like your boyfriend or girlfriend not taking personal responsibility for their own feelings and actions: They will make it seem like their reactions are normal, and that they’re only acting this way because you did X or said Y. Start paying attention, especially when you know they did something uncool, confront them, and then you wind up apologizing. This is a total mind game and it’s crazy-making.

These are just a few of the signs of an abusive relationship. If you even think you might be in a bad romance, please reach out to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on. Don’t go through this alone. You need friends, a teacher, a sibling, or a cool aunt or parent to help you through. I promise that you will find the right person someday—someone who treats you with the love and respect you deserve.

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help further identifying or escaping from an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or chat with them online.

Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I’ll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.

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