K.A. Tucker’s Favorite New Adult Romance

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

K.A. Tucker’s latest new adult romance is the perfect summer read (we named it one of the best of the season). It follows Catherine, a 24-year-old mom and waitress, who saves the life of Brett, a hockey star. Catherine doesn’t want any fame or attention, but she can’t help her attraction to Brett, who is determined to learn more about the woman who rescued him. To celebrate the book’s publication, Tucker shared five of her favorite new adult romances. Check these out once you’re done reading Until It Fades.

Five of my favorite contemporary romance books are stories written by ladies with strong, identifiable voices and the ability to weave stories that bring to life not only profound romances but multifaceted characters. Here they are in no particular order.

God-Shaped Hole is the destined-for-tragedy love story about two lost, artistic souls finding each other in LA, a city which they both abhor. Tiffanie DeBartolo has a personal way of writing. Her words flow fluidly and honestly, and her main characters feel real in all their peculiarity. This story gripped me from the very first pages.

This is a classic story about two people with tragic pasts finding each other and love, but with a twist: Archer cannot speak and is somewhat of a social pariah in his small town of Pelion, Maine. Mia Sheridan’s writing always enthralls me. She writes with emotion. Her stories are well-developed and beautiful, her prose is poetic, and the romance is jump-off-the-page sensual.

It Ends With Us tells the story of florist Lily, who meets and falls in love with charming and gorgeous neurosurgeon, Ryle. Their relationship seems picture-perfect… until it isn’t. I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but I will say that it puts readers into the shoes of a very real and difficult situation that many people struggle to make sense of.  It’s a sobering tale, but it’s delivered in Colleen Hoover’s signature style, laced with comfort and brimming with her inimitable humor.

This is a darker love story about the cunning Olivia Kaspen, who uses her ex-boyfriend’s amnesia as an opportunity to rekindle their romance, despite the fact that he has moved on. Olivia is not the most redeeming character and she does some despicable things, but you find yourself rooting for her all the same. I credit that to Tarryn Fisher’s writing; it evokes emotion and deep consideration for human nature. This is a book I read years ago, and yet I have never forgotten the visceral feeling I was left with at the end.

This novel tells the story of two characters—thirty-year-old tutor Anna Emerson and sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan—who end up stranded on an uninhabited island for years after their plane crashes. Don’t let the age difference deter you from trying out this book. Tracey Garvis-Graves strings readers along at a painstakingly slow pace and in an honest way, allowing them to experience the growth between these two characters as they face the many challenges of their situation and, over time, as T.J. matures into a man.

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA TODAYThe Globe and MailSuspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. She currently resides in a quaint town outside Toronto with her husband and two beautiful girls.

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Jill Dawson on Her Fascination with Patricia Highsmith

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Jill Dawson is fascinated by Patricia Highsmith—though, let’s be honest, who isn’t? While the rest of us merely read Highsmith’s novels over and over, Dawson decided to do a bit more research into the life of this mysterious author. The things she learned helped to shape her new novel The Crime Writer. It’s a fictionalized tale that images Patricia Highsmith’s life while she was living in England in the 1960s. Nothing is what it appears to be in this quiet village, and Pat soon finds herself wrapped up in a psychological thriller that seems ripped from the pages of her own novels. Here, Dawson shares what she learned about Highsmith’s time living in England and how it helped to inspire The Crime Writer.

Many people—I was among them—are surprised to discover that novelist Patricia Highsmith lived in England. It’s incongruous somehow: a hard-drinking, smoking, independent Texan writer like Highsmith living in a village as small and inconsequential as Earl Soham in Suffolk. I discovered this from her biography. Having just finished reading The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was thrilled to discover that for three years in the 1960s she’d lived not very far from me.

Highsmith chose the village of Earl Soham—a rural area in the east of England—because it would be good for working “due to [its] extreme English quietude.” It was close to the home of her friend, the nature writer Ronald Blythe. But her real reason for wanting to be there was simple: Highsmith was in love, wildly and as never before, with a married woman. The cottage, she believed could be a secret love nest, the perfect distance from London, where she could invite her girlfriend to stay with her, away from prying eyes.

Of course I couldn’t wait to go there and see the cottage she’d lived in: Bridge Cottage. I found a book of Highsmith drawings where the interior of the cottage is lovingly sketched—(Highsmith was a talented artist, as was her mother). The cottage, roses curling round the door, little stream in the garden, is pretty much unchanged, though the current owners seem unaware of its famous former owner (they run it as a guest house these days). Highsmith bought it in 1964 for the sum of 3,500 UK pounds.

It was her habit to move somewhere inspirational, write for a while using where she was living as a setting, and move on. So she set her novel The Storyteller (published in England as A Suspension of Mercy) in Bridge Cottage, and it made sense for me to use it as a setting too for my novel, The Crime Writer. I couldn’t help thinking that Highsmith would not escape the various demons that pursued her and had fun dreaming up ways that the tropes of her fiction (stalkers, murderers and sexual obsessives) might follow her to the English setting.

Seeing the 17th-century Bridge Cottage and thinking of Highsmith living there, my mind teemed with stories. What would Highsmith make of such a typical English village? In her day there would have been two pubs (now just one); I went into The Victoria to check it out and immediately realized what a strong impression a woman, a stranger, made going into a pub on her own in such a small place. And this in 2015! What would it have been like for Highsmith to drink alone there in 1964? Her idea of being incognito was ridiculous: The locals would have been agog with the scandal and drama of having a famous writer in the village. Whether her sexuality was known is a moot point. Highsmith was highly private, and her only lesbian-themed novel, Carol, had been published under a pen name as The Price of Salt. Highsmith did not put her name on the cover until 1995.

The frustrations Highsmith clearly felt at her girlfriend’s refusal to leave her marriage caused her pain, but on the other hand loneliness, longing, and being in love were states that suited her. Highsmith wrote in her diary that without a lover “I cannot develop as a writer any farther, or sometimes, even exist.”

I contacted author Ronald Blythe. Now 95, he still lives in Suffolk, and agreed to talk to me about Highsmith. He told me that they had shared “grim sandwiches” in local pubs and he had showed her churches and architecture, and she had in return cooked him the occasional supper at Bridge Cottage. “She wasn’t at all a good hostess,” Blythe said. “It was obvious she wanted her life back to herself, to go back to her typewriter and work.”

Despite Highsmith’s famously difficult personality, Ronnie spoke affectionately of her and in a postcard he wrote that their friendship had been “tender and true.” I tried to be faithful to that, as I wandered around Earl Soham, always picturing Patricia Highsmith moseying around, doing the same: walking, taking notes, and making up stories.

Jill Dawson is the author of Trick of the Light, Magpie, Fred and Edie, which was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, Wild Boy, Watch Me Disappear, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, The Great Lover, and Lucky Bunny. She has edited six anthologies of short stories and poetry, and has written for numerous UK publications, including The Guardian, The Times, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two sons.

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Marcus Sedgwick on Borders, Ageless Characters, and Saint Death

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Whether you’re new to Marcus Sedgwick or a longtime fan of his work, you’ve likely heard the buzz around his newest novel, Saint Death. It tells the story of Arturo, a young man living near the US-Mexico border. When an old friend shows up, begging for help after stealing from a violent gang, Arturo must decide if he’ll risk his own life to save his friend’s. All the while, the boys are watched by Saint Death. Here, Sedgwick chats with Bookish about his new novel, mortality, and choices.

Bookish: Can you take us through the research process for this book? Did you know much about Juárez before you decided to start writing about it?

Marcus Sedgwick: Although the book is set in Mexico, the idea behind it began when I saw firsthand migrants and refugees on the French coast, trying to get into the United Kingdom. A long series of reasons (which you can read in full here) made me realize that the story I wanted to tell would be better played out on the Mexico-US border. I knew a bit about Mexico; I knew very little about Juárez aside from where it was. So there was a lot of research for the book. I relied a lot on a friend of mine, a young Mexican academic and writer, who had first introduced me to the emerging folk saint: Santa Muerte. Obviously, I read a stack of books, not just about Mexico but countries to the south, and accounts of the US side of the border too. There were newspapers and magazine articles, not just about Juárez, but about things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Santa Muerte, and so on.

It quickly became apparent, however, that some very basic facts were hard to come by–the reason being that the non-Mexican press doesn’t report from on the ground in a place like Juárez, and the Mexican press is unable to, because to do so will very often cost the journalist his or her life. Upsetting a narco-lord is a dangerous thing to do. Even to find out which cartel is currently “in charge” of Juárez was tricky–I found some answers by following a number of (anonymous) blogs by people living either side of the border. After about 18 months, I was finally able to make a trip to the city, and visit both Juárez and Anapra (the township just to the northwest of the city, where the book begins) in the care of two very different guides. Both were from the city: I spent some time with an oldish guy called Sergio and then, later, a younger man called Roberto. Each had a very different view of what was happening in Juárez; but it was Sergio’s testimony that I found closer to reality. I could go on, but this is getting long…

Bookish: Can you talk about your decision to write the novel in the Spanish style, using em dashes instead of quotation marks, and Spanish punctuation? As a writer, was it challenging to adapt to a new style?

MS: I wanted to signal to the English-speaking reader in a subtle(ish!) way that we’re in a Spanish-speaking world. Conversely, I didn’t want to italicize the words of Spanish that I include in the book, because this is Arturo and Faustino’s world, and Spanish is their language. But here’s the thing: All of fiction is artificial. People sometimes make the mistake (I think) of believing that realistic fiction is in some way actually real. What fiction has to do is tell the truth, but everything about a novel is actually a construct of some kind, especially dialogue. So in Saint Death I use a false construct of dialogue that is designed to suggest (paradoxically) both familiarity and otherness at the same time.

Bookish: The word “our” is used frequently in the prose, written to include the reader in this journey. It’s our town, our heartache, our fate. Why did you make that choice?

MS: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s a deliberate choice to include the reader in the world. One of the thoughts in the book is the belief that no matter how much we might be tempted to see the world as them and us, it’s just not true. Call it globalization or internationalism, the world we live in now is a connected one, and all our actions affect everyone, ultimately. This is why I chose the preface for the book, taken from a book by Charles Bowden: “This book is about other stories, that occur over there, across the river. The comfortable way to deal with these stories is to say they are about them. The way to understand these stories is to say they are about us.”

Bookish: In some ways, this book is about choices: What do we do at the crossroads, for ourselves or for others? It’s also about inevitability: “Don’t worry where you’re going; you will die where you have to.” What was the hardest thing about balancing these two elements?

MS: Yes, you’re right, both these things were in my mind as I wrote, but I like to balance opposites in my books, so it wasn’t too hard to do. One of the things that lies underneath lots of my books is trying to show that life is full of opposites–and that very often sanity lies in the position of balance, rather than extremes. As you say, there’s also the concept in the book of bridges–both literally (in terms of the border crossings) but also metaphorically– representing those moments when we move from one thing to another. The book features some thoughts of Carl Jung (hidden in the character of Carlos)–Jung saw the number five as symbolizing the bridge. Five is halfway from one to nine, after all, so I used the number five a lot in the book. Jung also wrote a lot about transformations, so there are many oppositional transformations depicted, most notably in the chapter called “Arturo’s Dream.”

Bookish: We never find out exactly how old Arturo is. He shows incredible maturity at points, but then we’re reminded through other characters that he is young, not a kid, not quite a man yet. Why did you choose to not disclose his age?

MS: I have always resisted the belief that we need to give a precise age to our characters. Obviously sometimes it’s necessary, but mostly I don’t think it is. I could write an essay about this deceptively simple question, but I’ll try to keep it short! For one thing, it’s not necessary to know exactly how old Arturo, Faustino, and Eva are; we know they’re young people, not little kids, on the way to being adults. There’s a concept called “masking” in the comic book world which argues that an illustrative style that shows characters’ faces more simply (and less “realistically”) enables the reader to project themselves into the shoes of those characters. In addition, I don’t think someone’s age is the most interesting thing about them, it’s enough to have a rough idea. In the same way, I rarely give much physical description of how my characters look–how someone looks is again (very often) the least interesting thing about them. What makes people people, and what makes characters become real, is seeing what they think, what they say, how they interact with others, and so on. In Arturo’s case, I often find young people in difficult situations show unbelievable maturity—because they have to—but then again, he is still just a kid, after all.

Bookish: Santa Muerte never speaks or takes corporeal form, but she is a character in this book—one that is awed, feared, and respected. Were there challenges to writing characters, like Arturo, who are constantly aware of their own mortality?

MS: There’s a long relationship with Death in Mexico, stretching way back to the form of worship of the Aztecs and so on. In the modern world, we have the Days of the Dead, the worship of Santa Muerte (small but rising rapidly) and the image of Catrina (depictions of a pretty, skull-faced lady). Some people argued that it’s because Mexican people are less afraid of Death, some that it’s because they’re more afraid of Death. Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly the case that Mexico has a more open dialogue with Death than many other cultures. So I found it “fun” (because I like thinking about Death) to have my characters pondering mortality, which is a common enough thing in a violent world, as well as having Santa Muerte drifting in and out of the book, and their lives. By the way, if you want the best account of this subject, I recommend Death and the Idea of Mexico by Claudio Lomnitz.

Bookish: This novel tackles a number of complicated topics (everything from American-funded cartels to immigration to environmental change), but it never feels overstuffed. How did you go about weaving these together without overwhelming the story or the reader?

MS: It was important to me that the book was more than just a tragedy set on the border. I wanted the reader to have a sense at least of the context of events which is causing problems in these areas, because I want the reader to get the sense that we will be seeing many more such flashpoints around the world (and often close to home) unless we start to take a radically different view of how the world should be composed. In order to do that successfully in a traditional manner, I would have had to write a book that was five times as long, and which probably very few people would have read. Instead I used a sort of Greek chorus of small (less than one page) chapters, which are interspersed between the main chapters of the book: These offer a range of views about all sorts of things that have and are affecting the borderland.

Bookish: We see two figures being referred to as kings in this book: Jesus and Arturo. Is that because you see Arturo as a Christ-figure or more because Jesus represents the humanity in God?

MS: I had a long conversation with someone about this when the book first appeared in the UK. Her view was that the book could either be read as a condemnation of the idea of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, or, in fact, an endorsement of it. I agree with her view. I called Arturo the King because of the decisions he is faced with taking, but I cannot say more without giving away very large spoilers!

Bookish: Siggy says to Arturo at one point, “You are at the hardest point of all. You are not a kid. You are not a man. You are somewhere in the middle.” What do you think it is that makes life so difficult when you’re at that point?

MS: Being a teenager is a pretty intense experience for most people. For some it’s a breeze, yes, but for many more people it’s a crazy time in which your body changes, your mind changes, in which you almost literally become a new person. It’s also accompanied by lots of new thoughts and experiences: things like sex, thoughts about mortality maybe. This time of life is that bridge I was talking about earlier—it’s the bridge between childhood and adulthood. And the kind of adult we become is very dependent on how we survived our teenage years. I believe many adults neglect that fact, intentionally or otherwise, but if we are really to understand who we are as adults, we can do no better than see how we got there.

Bookish: The book explores one of the reasons for the refugee crisis, while also explaining that natural disasters (resulting from climate change) will cause more displacement in the future. What is a resource that you recommend for readers wanting to educate themselves about these problems, and get involved in finding solutions?

MS: I guess I’m not alone in feeling that the world is in an especially fine mess at the moment. It can feel hopeless and as a result, it can feel depressing. But I think that ironically it also means we are in a time when it might be possible to change things. If you look at how close the elections in the US and the UK last year were, how close the French election is turning out to be, a couple of percent either way can make all the difference. Even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, you can have conversations with people who are; engage them, debate with them. I think part of the reason we’ve come to this place is that too many people haven’t been engaged with politics (in the broadest sense of the word). Now, we’re seeing a rise in membership and grassroots funding of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to give just one example; an example that shows that people are realizing not only that we have to try and make a difference, but that we can, too. To do that, we have to educate ourselves: read quality newspapers and join organizations like Amnesty International, and so help them raise funds; or in the case of climate change, follow the work that NASA has been doing. There are lots of good sources for news about the climate and theirs is among the best.

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in Kent in South East England, but now lives in the French Alps. His books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood.

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Heather Gudenkauf: How My Hearing Loss Inspired My Deaf Heroine

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Heather Gudenkauf’s Not a Sound kicks off with Amelia Winn, a deaf former ER nurse, and her service dog Stitch stumbling across the corpse of Gwen Locke in the woods. The police warn Amelia to stay out of the investigation, but she can’t help but try to find out what happened to Gwen, who had once been a good friend to Amelia. Here, Gudenkauf shares how her own hearing impairment shaped the heroine of her latest novel.

When I was four, I wistfully watched my five older siblings pack up their book bags and run out the back door each morning to rush off to school. I could not wait to follow in their footsteps and walk the four blocks to our neighborhood elementary school. I wanted to be able to decipher the strange markings found in the books they brought home from the library, wanted to be able to transfer these hieroglyphics onto crisp, white paper. I knew, even at that young age, how powerful this could be.

Finally, my first day of school day came. Freshly sharpened pencils, crayons, wide-lined paper, a lunch box free of dents and dings, safety scissors, and paste all tucked carefully into my book bag along with the brightly woven rug to be pulled from my cubby each day and unfurled for nap time. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that school wasn’t quite what I envisioned, what I hoped it would be.

I was one of “those” kids. The one who was always three or four steps behind the rest of the class. The one who continually asked my neighbor what we were supposed to be doing. The one who would look up from my worksheet to find everyone else lined up for gym class and halfway down the hall. I came home from school exhausted, disheartened. School was hard work and I was no closer to figuring out what was written in the beautifully illustrated books that I loved to look through. No closer to understanding the loops and curlicues I painstakingly copied from the books onto scraps of paper.

Then one day a mobile audiology testing van pulled up in front to the school. The audiologist instructed me to raise my hand each time I heard a beep and then placed the headphones over my ears. I heard only half the beeps. I was quickly diagnosed with a profound unilateral hearing loss—which simply means I am completely deaf in my left ear. After this revelation, everything started to make a lot more sense.

With my kind of hearing loss, I can hear but when placed in situations where there is a lot of background noise like busy classrooms, restaurants, and other crowded areas, I struggle. I equate it with being able to hear every third or fourth word, which can, and still does at times, result in plenty of missed information, misunderstanding, and miscommunication.

Eventually, I was fitted for hearing aids and, with some accommodations provided by my teachers, suddenly the world of reading and writing flew open wide for me. My parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, and friends never viewed my hearing loss as a deficit. It was just part of who I am, part of what made me into the person I’ve become.

Over the years, as a teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to meet children, each unique and special in their own way. Not surprisingly, I found that no matter their differences, people have a lot more in common than not. Ultimately, we are all searching for the same thing: our place in the world. I knew that in my most recent novel, Not a Sound, I wanted to feature a heroine who is smart, strong, and fiercely independent, who happens to be deaf. Amelia Winn, with her loyal sidekick, a service dog named Stitch, uses everything that makes her special and unique to protect those whom she loves and ultimately to help her regain her place in the world.

Heather Gudenkauf is an Edgar Award nominated, New York Times, and USA Today bestselling author.  Heather lives in Iowa with her husband and children. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and running.

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Jordan Harper on the Importance of Punching Back

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Working as an in-demand screenwriter has made Jordan Harper no stranger to writing an action-packed story, which certainly comes across in his debut novel, She Rides Shotgun. It’s a gritty, emotional, and grippingly terrifying thrill-ride about the fine line between being bad and being good. We caught up with Harper recently to talk about the draw of the powerful young girl character, the difference between writing for the page and writing for the screen, and about why he believes the perfect response to being punched is to punch back.

Bookish: She Rides Shotgun puts the reader right alongside Nate, as though we are a part of him, running for our lives. We’re in Nate’s head as much as we can be but there’s only so much we can know given the third person narration. What else do you want readers to know about Nate McCluskey?

Jordan Harper: My first draft of the novel was written much more from Nate’s point of view than Polly’s. It’s really more Polly’s story than his so I’m glad I made the switch, but there’s a lot of Nate on the cutting room floor, particularly his relationship with his brother Nick, and how that blend of toxic masculinity and bravado gets passed on generation to generation.  There was even a brief explanation of how white trash hill people (my people) spread from the east coast to the Ozarks and then to California. Which is probably a bit much, so it’s better on the floor than in the book.

Bookish: Polly is a remarkable character. In many ways, she’s old beyond her years and yet she is still very much a child. At the end of the first part, she cuts off her hair and dyes it red, an action both literal and symbolic of her change. There seems to be a trend with these powerful, dangerous young girls in pop culture (Eleven in Stranger Things, for example). Why do you think such characterizations are growing in popularity?

JH: On one hand, this isn’t new. Polly springs from a mini-genre, the crook and child on the road, that has a long tradition of very strong little girls: Mattie Ross in True Grit, Addie in Paper Moon, Natalie Portman’s character in The Professional. But the current vogue springs from the fact that when a vacuum is filled, it is filled rapidly. People are hungry for girls in crime fiction who aren’t victims or props. I’m not the first to say that the majority of interesting crime fiction these days features and/or is written by women.

Bookish: The relationship between Nate and Polly goes from basically non-existent to survival mode, to mentorship, and finally to something close to father and daughter (or maybe as close as they can be). Polly goes from being rigid with fear to strong and powerful. In their case, violence is a learned behavior but rage seems to be inherited. Why?

JH: The answer to this is buried in the scene in which Nate teaches Polly how to take a punch, and it is my inner anarchist’s response to anxiety (which plagues both Polly and Nate). I think that anxiety is a natural response to the modern world, a world that teaches you not to fight back, a world that does violence to you daily in a million different ways and expects you not to punch back. Polly does no violence to anything but herself at the beginning of the book, which is why her fight-or-flight instinct jams her up so often. Nate teaches her that the correct response to being punched is to punch back, which is a radical thought these days.

Bookish: Let’s talk about place. California is supposed to be the land of dreams fulfilled, fruit, honey, and beautiful people, right? But here you show us the underbelly. What drew you to California as a setting?

JH: I moved to LA almost a decade ago, and I love it deeply. There was never any question about where to set the novel. While a few of the places in the novel are fictional, every location is at least based on real places that I drove to while writing the book. I write best about places that I physically go to. So since this is my home, it made for a natural location.

In some ways, California is it’s own country, but it’s also the most American place, with its worship of cars, its dirt, its dedication to a dream that’s only achieved by a very few. I also love that here in LA you can drive from the Pacific Ocean to the desert madness of the Salton Sea in half a day.

Bookish: She Rides Shotgun is your first published novel. What was the experience like for you and how was it different from writing screenplays?

JH:  It was fiendishly difficult, a nearly three-year process. Writing a novel has made writing for television seem very simple and quick. A novel has so many more moving parts.

Bookish: The movie rights to She Rides Shotgun have already been sold, and you’re working on the adaptation. How’s that going?

JH:  I just turned in a draft to the producers, so I’ll know better how it’s going when I hear back from them.

Bookish: What are the pros and cons to adapting your own work?

JH: While I’m happy with what I’m done, and I’m very excited to be working with the producers I’m working with, I’m not sure I’d tell other authors to attempt adapting themselves. Maybe you shouldn’t adapt yourself for the same reason that you shouldn’t operate on yourself: You need to make deep cuts without pain. But it’s a great honor to take a crack at it, and put these characters on the big screen.

Bookish: I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Polly. Any plans for a sequel?

JH: I’ve toyed with an idea for bringing Polly back, but not in my next novel. I’ve been wrestling with a new idea based on a murder that took place in my high school when I was a senior, but it’s been rough going. I’ve also got an idea for a modern-day Bonnie-and-Clyde murder mystery that I’ve been excited about for a while. So we’ll see.

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He has been a music journalist, film critic, and TV writer. He is the author of the short story collection, Love and Other Wounds. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Conversation and Connection: Will Schwalbe on the Gifts Books Give Us

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Will Schwalbe is a true literature lover if ever there was one. Books for Living, his latest, offers the reader a list of life-changing books. We caught up with Schwalbe this April at the Newburyport Literary Festival to talk about some of the titles he chose to feature, the necessity of letting people love the books they love, and, most importantly, to hear his surefire suggestions for how to get a reluctant reader to pick up a book.

Bookish: Let’s start off with your favorite question. What are you reading?

Will Schwalbe: At the moment, I’m reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which is a marvelous literary novel that starts in Korea with a young woman who marries a Christian minister. Where I left off, they are heading off to Osaka, and I’m so excited to get back to it. It’s really tremendous.

I’ve read some wonderful books recently. I’ve loved Hourglass by Dani Shapiro. It’s a memoir of her marriage and it is the most frank memoir of an ongoing marriage that I’ve ever read. Another I finished recently was Setting Free the Kites by Alex George, which is set in Maine. It’s about the friendship of two boys. It’s a very original voice but in some ways reminded me of John Irving.

Bookish: The life-changing titles you list within Books for Living are diverse in terms of genre and publication date. Are there any you regret not including?

WS: I’m a big overwriter. It’s quite a slender volume, and I cut dozens of books and have tons of regrets. I would’ve loved to have written about Stoner by John Edward Williams, Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe, and Night by Elie Wiesel. I wrote chapters about all of these and more. I wrote about Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. But I had to whittle it down to these 26. I wanted 26 because, if someone chose to do so, I wanted to make it a year of reading—a book every two weeks for a year.

I had certain themes and genres that I wanted to cover because I really wanted to show that there are great things we learn from all different kinds of books. There are young adult, middle grade, and picture books. There are classics like The Odyssey. There are thrillers like The Girl on the Train and cookbooks like The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. Everywhere I go I talk to people about the books that shaped their lives, and it’s such a wonderfully diverse group of titles. I wanted to reflect that. I didn’t want it to be a list of titles that had been anointed great books. I think a great book is a book that is great for you.

Bookish: E.B. White’s Stuart Little was one of your choices. Are there other authors who are considered to write primarily for children that you would suggest adults seek out?

WS: One of the middle grade books I loved writing about was R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. It’s the story of a boy with a facial deformity who is going to school for the first time. It has the most marvelous message, which is not just to choose kindness but choose to be more kind than necessary. I don’t know anybody who couldn’t gain from reading this. The characters are vivid, and it’s a wonderful, surprising story. A book for everybody.

I also have a chapter about a picture book, More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera Williams. Picture books are so delightful for readers of all ages. If you revisit them as an adult when you’re not reading them to a child, you see the artistry that goes into the text and images. The great ones are really works of art.

Bookish: What is it about certain books that make people connect to them so intimately that they feel the compulsion to have others share that reading experience with them?

WS: There are two kinds of people in the world. One I call publishers and the other I call privaters. Publishers just want everyone to share their enthusiasm. Privaters like to keep their enthusiasms to themselves. If you are by nature a publisher, whether it’s a book, a movie, a food you had at a restaurant, or a part of the country, you want to share. Even among publishers, there are certain books that just demand to be shared. Those are the ones where you really want to talk about them with your friends. It’s not just that you want your friends to read them, but you want to talk about them.

For example, I write about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s an extraordinary read. It’s very powerful, and in many ways very upsetting. It’s one of the most beautiful books about friendship that I’ve ever read. So you want your friends to read it because it gives you such a powerful lens into friendship and a kind of language for discussing friendship. Some books speak very quietly to your soul, but some demand that you share them.

Bookish: Is it possible to love someone who doesn’t love your favorite book?

WS: Oh, yes, absolutely. I am a big believer that people absorb information in all different ways. Some people are auditory and music is their life. Some people are really primarily visual and can spend endless hours in art museums and love movies. Some people like stories and some don’t, some like to read and some don’t. I love book people. I’m delighted to find them. They are my tribe. I love to share books. Yet some of my favorite people not only haven’t read my favorites, they don’t really read at all, and that’s fine. I never want books to feel like a cudgel that you’ve got to beat people with for either not sharing your opinion or for not reading. That’s not the intent.

Bookish: Do you have any books that you loved when you were younger and went back to read when you were older and they didn’t hold up? Or maybe you loved the book for a different reason when reading it again?

WS: There are books that I had the most marvelous experience with. I don’t know if they would hold up, and so I’m not going to test it. I loved Alistair Maclean, who wrote these incredibly, hairy-chested adventure stories: Guns of Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone, and Where Eagles Dare. They probably do hold up, but I have such incredibly vivid memories of devouring them that I don’t even want to reread them. I like those memories pure. If there was a book that I loved and I started to reread it and it wasn’t holding up, I would simply put it away. If I loved it, I don’t want to mess with that. Nor do I really want anyone else’s opinions of it. If I loved it and you didn’t, that’s great. Good for you. I don’t care. You’re not going to convince me to love it less.

On the flip side, there are books that really reveal themselves to you over time. That for me is especially true of reading poetry. There are poems that I’ve loved all my life. When I go back and read them, I love them more and more every time. There are also books where you know you’re going to love them, but it’s not the right time in your life for them. Everyone has always told me that I’ll love Anthony Trollope. I’m sure I will love Trollope but not yet.

Bookish: Do you have any tips for getting younger reluctant readers to pick up a book?

WS: Nothing made me read a book faster than my parents discouraging me from reading it. Fear of Flying came out, and they said, “This is too old for you.” So I thought, I’m reading it. Parents often ask me what to do if their child doesn’t like to read, and I’ll recommend that they buy a certain book, and I offer to write their child’s name in it and under that I write, “This is a book of which your parents won’t approve.”

Bookish: The End of Your Life Book Club touches me deeply for many reasons, but primarily because I am a mother who shares a love of reading with her son. What is a book you think that is perfect for a parent and child to read together?

WS: There are so many extraordinary books for a parent and child to read together. It’s really the experience of talking about it with the parent that is so special. I used to think books were the greatest gift you could ever give anyone, but I don’t think that anymore. I now think they are the second greatest gift, because the greatest gift is the conversation you have about a book that you love. I also think that there’s something extraordinary about parents who are reading what their children want them to read. There’s something really powerful about parents who follow their child’s instinct and interests and passions. Sometimes parents present their favorite books from their childhood to children, and it just may not speak to that child. Reading the the books that your kids love is a great thing.

I tell the story of a grandmother who was sad because she used to have these great conversations with her grandson and they became monosyllabic. At some point she asked him what he was reading, and he said The Hunger Games. So she read The Hunger Games, and then they had something to talk about. The amazing thing about The Hunger Games is, before you know it, you’re talking about the role of media in society, about war, about income inequality. There are some books out now that are amazingly powerful and that can give way to some important conversations.The Hate U Give is one that families should read together. Every family should read that book together. There is so much to talk about there, and it’s a marvelous book.

Now more than ever, we need to read. We need to read really diverse voices which are very different from our own experience, whatever that is and whoever we are. We should seek out writing by people who are very much unlike us and challenge our preconceptions.

Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing; digital media, as the founder and CEO of Cookstr.com; and as a journalist, writing for various publications, including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The End of Your Life Book Club and coauthor, with David Shipley, of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.

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Best American Short Stories’ Heidi Pitlor on What She Looks for in a Guest Editor

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

From our friends at BookishHeidi Pitlor is a bookish jack of all trades: novelist, former editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and current series editor of The Best American Short Stories. We caught up with Pitlor this April at the Newburyport Literary Festival and asked her about upcoming short story trends, technology, and our obsession with domestic thrillers. 

Bookish: You’re the series editor of The Best American Short Stories, and each year you work with a different guest editor. What do you look for in a guest editor?

Heidi Pitlor: I try to find guest editors who are both critically and commercially successful. I also seek a diversity of writers, on every level: content, genre, style, personality, person.

Bookish: If you could pick any author, who would you want to work with next?

HP: Living, dead, anyone? Maybe because I was just reading a piece about him, the first person who comes to mind is James Baldwin. But if we’re sticking to writers who are alive, I’d love to work with Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Donna Tartt, Colson Whitehead. I’ve been absurdly lucky to work alongside the authors who have guest edited the series since I’ve been on board. We only invite American writers or those who live here to guest edit the book, otherwise I’d ask Ian McEwan, Roddy Doyle, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel… I could go on and on.

Bookish: If you could only recommend one short story to our readers, what would it be?

HP: I think I’d have to know the reader first. Fiction is so subjective, as everyone knows. But if I were forced to suggest a few story writers to someone who had never read any American short fiction, I might suggest Sherwood Anderson, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro. Even listing those four was extremely difficult for me, and feels a little like being asked to pick the best person from a large country.

Bookish: Is there anything that you see in short stories that you wish was more present in novels? Or vice versa?

HP: That is so interesting and hard to answer. I guess that in literary stories and novels, and this is a vast and silly generalization, but I’d like to see a greater focus on momentum and conflict. It’s easy for writers to get caught up in words and language, and forget about story.

In some ways, stories and novels aren’t that different. They’re different to write, of course, but when I’m judging writing I’m in the same place in my head: I’m either engaged or I’m not. I want to keep turning pages or I don’t. One of the biggest gifts a writer can give a reader is to place a question at the beginning of the story or novel, a question that is only answerable by reading the pages that follow.

Also, I beat this drum all the time, I would love to see more humor. Comedy typically is associated with light fare, but I crave meaningful, deftly written, intelligent humor. Satire, weirdness, surprise.

Bookish: What new trends or themes do you expect readers to see in the future?

HP: More and more people are writing about technology. If I read anything set in the present day that has no mention of anything technological, I am suspicious. It’s hard for me to gauge future trends right now because, since last fall, everything in country has been up in the air. I’m waiting to see what trends and themes will emerge from this moment in history. Right now there’s just a lot of trepidation in the part of fiction writers, readers, publishers. (Nonfiction might have more solid ground.) That said, we might see themes of social justice and inequality creep into fiction. I do expect more writers to explore the impacts of technology.

Bookish: That’s a tough balance to strike. How do you keep up with the times when technology is changing so rapidly? In the time it takes to write, edit, and publish a book your references may already be dated.

HP: It’s tricky. But this is the world where we live right now. I’m always excited when I read a story that makes me think deeply about it or utilizes it in a way that’s artistic and organic. In some ways, it’s important as a writer to focus more on the writing and characters and their truth than on whether your references feel dated. To my mind, it’s not the rapidly changing technology or cultural references that will feel dated in the future as much as certain attitudes. For example, sexism, racism and xenophobia, no matter how subtle (the Chinese launderer, the Indian grocer, the frumpy mom, the ditzy teenage girl) date a work of fiction far more than anything else.

Bookish: When you aren’t compiling newest volume of Best American Short Stories, you’re writing novels. You mentioned earlier that writers offer a question at the beginning of a book that readers are compelled to find the answer to. In your second novel, The Daylight Marriage, a woman goes missing. The obvious question is: What happened to her? But did you have another question in mind when you wrote it?

HP: Yes–I wanted to explore the culpability of Lovell, the husband. Even if he’s not culpable in one way, is he in another sense? Where do we drawn our lines of culpability? To me, that is the most interesting question because there is no clear answer. As a writer, it’s always more interesting to set yourself a question without a yes or no answer.

Bookish: Hannah’s husband Lovell is a scientist, and in the novel you create a strong connection between science (and those small variables that can enact great change) and Hannah’s disappearance. Why did you choose to weave these two elements together?

HP: Lovell is a regimented thinker, a climate scientist driven primarily by physical proof rather than emotion. I wanted to push him into a realm where he was forced to rely on his own intuition and emotion, where physical evidence came not from his own work but someone else’s, in this case, the police. The novel is set during a time when many in government questioned the existence of climate change (this moment has unfortunately returned). Scientists were trying to prove the existence of global warming, as well as the fact that humans were at least partly to blame. The latter is infinitely difficult to prove, far more than it sounds. There are endless variables, and so we must rely on data drawn from correlative studies rather than directly causal data. Lovell is faced with a similar predicament after his wife disappears. And the more he thinks about what happened to her, the less he understands.

Bookish: Readers continue to be fascinated by novels that explore the things a character doesn’t know about his or her spouse. Why do you think we’re drawn to these stories?

HP: I started this novel right around the time of a high-profile murder in my town, a case involving a young husband and wife. I was fascinated by my own endless fascination with these people I had never known. So many of us are voyeurs. Writing fiction is a form of voyeurism. Marriage is often a closed room to everyone but the spouses. Fiction gives us the chance to explore these closed rooms, and if the spouses are closed off to each other? Even better for a reader.

I think that schadenfreude comes into play as well; we are glad to learn that a perfect-seeming couple is, in fact, anything but perfect. Not that my characters are perfect by any stretch, although they might look that way on first blush.

Bookish: You’ve said that Hannah’s thread in the novel went mostly unchanged during the editing process. What was it about her story or character that you felt you nailed the first time around?

HP: Hannah was very clear to me from the beginning. I understood her sense of lost promise. She was someone who was set on a rather charmed path as a child, and a few things happened that bumped her off. Her life became, well, normal. Most lives do. That’s part of growing up. But there’s a loneliness and isolation to young motherhood that can exacerbate a sense of lost promise. I began with a very simple dialogue between Hannah and a man that she meets at a time when her desires are extraordinarily raw and available. He can see them and easily manipulate her, and this dialogue became the backbone for the rest of the book.

Bookish: Are you working on another novel now? Can you tell us anything about it?

HP: I am working on my third novel. one about motherhood and specifically mothering a boy in modern society, and a bit about publishing. It’s satirical, so it’s a departure for me. It’s difficult at least for me to write about the world directly right now, so writing satirically feels just right.

Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. A former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007. Her writing has been published in Ploughshares, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, and elsewhere. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Regis University in Denver. She lives with her twin daughter and son and her husband outside Boston.

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Bookish’s Must-Read Books of Summer 2017

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Your vacation plans are booked, your bags are packed, and now all you need is the perfect book. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up this summer’s best new releases. Whether you’re craving a gripping mystery, a heart-stopping romance, or a fascinating look at history, we’ve got you covered. We’re recommending nearly 100 books this season, so you’d better get reading. The summer won’t last forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jill Santopolo on Lessons Learned from Other Genres

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

No literary genre is an island. Even if there is one genre you usually read, odds are, it has more in common with other kinds of stories than you might think. No one knows this better than Jill Santopolo, whose latest novel The Light We Lost draws on her experiences writing and editing across a number of genres. Here, she tells readers about the lessons she’s learned from her genre-spanning career.

Before I started writing The Light We Lost, I spent ten years editing children’s and young adult novels across many different genres. I’m still doing that, and I love it. I love being able to work on mysteries and paranormal romance and fantasy and historical fiction and contemporary novels because I can look at what one author has done really well in one genre, and see how it might apply to what another author is writing in another genre. I can give tips to a mystery writer about narrative tension from editing a romance novel, I can give tips to a historical fiction writer about world building from editing a fantasy novel. I love being able to do that, finding pieces of the writing craft that crossover from genre to genre.

So when, a few years ago, my boss, the publisher of a children’s book imprint, asked me to read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey to see if there was anything that she did that we might learn from and share with the young adult novelists we were working with, it made perfect sense to me. And I did come up with some things that I thought might be useful—some that I also ended up applying to my own writing of The Light We Lost. And when I did so, it got me thinking: What have I learned as a children’s book editor that could make my adult writing stronger? While young adult novels aren’t a genre, they do have some similarities as far as craft is concerned—and they’re elements of craft that I thought might my make my own novel stronger.

Pacing
One of the things I keep in mind when I’m editing children’s books is that books are competing for kids’ attention with sports, video games, apps, homework, play dates… basically everything. The goal with any children’s book is to keep the pace of the story moving so quickly that there isn’t any place that feels natural to pause, nowhere to put the book down and go do something else instead. We want those kids to fall asleep with their books on top of their blankets. And one of the ways to make that happen is to pay special attention to pacing. When I started writing The Light We Lost, I kept that in mind. I wanted my readers to get so wrapped up in the momentum of the story that they fell asleep with it on their blankets as well.

Love Triangles
I’ve edited more than one teen romance with a love triangle at its center, and, as an adjunct professor at The New School, have worked with students who are writing books with love triangles in them, too. The “who will s/he choose” and “who would I choose” is something that seems to connect readers deeply to the characters whose stories they’re reading—think about Bella, Edward, and Jacob from Twilight. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale from The Hunger Games. Calla, Ren and Shay from Nightshade. The trick, I think, is creating two characters who are potentially a good match for the main character because they fulfill different needs that the character has. Then the reader—and the character—get to choose which of those needs is more important. Making that decision along with the main character is a way to connect the reader to the story, and that’s always my goal—to make that connection.

Short Chapters
The Light We Lost is written in vignette form, none of which is more than a handful of pages long. This is something else I look for when I edit books for children and teens. It’s easy to read “just one more,” when the next chapter is only a couple of pages long. This ties in with pacing, but is slightly different because it’s not just the idea of keeping the action moving, but it’s the idea of making each scene as tight and taut as possible.

No Extra Words
When I’m line-editing novels for kids and teens, I often circle words or sentences or whole paragraphs and write “needed?” next to them in the margin. I tried to do the same thing with The Light We Lost. The book’s not all that long, and every word that’s in there feels, to me, like it’s absolutely necessary. I hope readers feel the same way.

There’s that old writing mantra: Write what you know. And then there’s the addendum: Write it slant. For the past 15 years I’ve known children’s books. But with The Light We Lost, I took what I learned and I wrote it slant.

Jill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the author of three successful children’s and young-adult series and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.

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News from NetGalley

We hope to see you at BookExpo America & BookCon!5-4-2016 4-29-28 PM

BookExpo America: June 1st & 2nd
BookCon: June 3rd & 4th
Javits Center, New York City

Fun reasons to visit our booth, #2015:

Declare yourself a true #BookAdvocate by taking a selfie in front of our banner. Share it to show that you help books succeed!

Snag one of our buttons & postcards (for yourself and a friend!).

Exciting news this year:

We’re sharing a booth with Bookish, our sister company!
Get a Bookish tote bag and your badge scanned, to be one of the first readers notified about a special giveaway that will be happening on the Bookish site after BEA/BookCon.

Psst: Giveaway will include signed swag
from Leigh Bardugo and Christina Lauren,
plus more Bookish goodies!

Won’t be attending? No worries! You can still share in the excitement by
downloading the Buzz Books to discover the most highly-touted books being
published this fall-winter.

      

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