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

Originally published on, 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.


The Most Beautifully Written Books Lana Popović Has Ever Read

Originally published on, 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.


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.


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

Originally published on, 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!


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

Originally published on, 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.


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.


Robinne Lee on Writing Outside the Box

Originally published on, 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?”


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.


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

Originally published on, 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.


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

Originally published on, 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.


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

Originally published on, 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.


Nuala Ellwood’s Top Five Grip Lit Novels

Originally published on, 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.


Bookish Podcasts: From Westeros to the Willows and Beyond

Originally published on, 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.