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

Originally published on, 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.


Bookish’s Must-Read Books of Summer 2017

Originally published on, 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.



























Jill Santopolo on Lessons Learned from Other Genres

Originally published on, 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.

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.

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.



From Goth Girl to Gone Girl: Unreliable Narrators in Literature

Originally published on, our sister company.

Where do you turn when you can’t trust your own mind? In The Widow’s House, a couple moves into a deteriorating estate in the Hudson Valley, hoping to revitalize their marriage and careers. However, shortly after moving in, the wife, Clare, begins having visions of strangers walking their property and she starts to hear wailing. Could the house be haunted, or is it all in Clare’s mind? Author Carol Goodman took inspiration from gothic novels when crafting this thrilling tale, and here she shares how unreliable gothic narrators are still influencing characters and novels today.

Reader, beware: spoilers ahead.

Unreliable narrators are all the rage, from the prevaricating Amy in Gone Girl to the inebriated Rachel in The Girl on the Train to the semi-amnesiac Leonora in Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. When these women aren’t flat-out lying, their versions of the truth are compromised by alcohol, trauma, or just a very vivid imagination. Why are we so drawn to these alt-truthers? Is it something about our particular times? Or has the unreliable woman always been with us?

It’s tempting to look to gothic literature for answers. Our modern imperiled (or seemingly imperiled) female protagonists calls to mind the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and her heirs. From Emily St. Aubert, the heroine of Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, who is kept prisoner in an Italian castle, to the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper who is confined to a room with bad interior decorating, these women have to sort out the mysteries of their situations to find the truth. Jane Eyre has to find out who’s in the attic. The second Mrs. de Winter has to figure out what happened to her predecessor, Rebecca.

Trapped in a duplicitous world, is it any wonder that they retreat into their own versions of reality? Jane Eyre admits to opening “my inward ear to a tale that never ended—a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously.” The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper begins to see figures in the walls. The second Mrs. de Winter is so insecure (maybe because she doesn’t get a name!) she believes Mrs. Danvers’ version of the truth and misreads her husband’s feelings about his dead wife.

The modern psychological thriller is filled with such perversions of reality. Rachel in The Girl on the Train gives into her husband’s version of her drunken behavior because “After a while … you don’t ask what happened, you just say you’re sorry.” The narrator of Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, doubts her own perceptions after hearing someone thrown overboard in the night: “Maybe he’s right, the nasty little voice in my head whispered.” Only Amy in Gone Girl is impervious to doubt, and that makes her (spoiler alert) the most unreliable narrator of the unreliables—a woman who has turned the tables on the gaslighting male to create her own truth.

So why are we drawn to the unreliable narrator? Because the world is harder and harder to parse these days and we need to see how it’s done? Because we need a reminder to see past dissimulation and seek the truth? Whatever the reason, the gothic tradition with its unreliable narrator is likely here to stay. “A truism of critical commentary,” writes critical commentator Patricia Murphy, “holds that the gothic emerges in literature during times of cultural anxiety.” Welcome to the new goth.

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of fourteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.


Lori Rader-Day on the “Right” Research to Do Before Writing

Originally published on, our sister company.

“Write what you know” is common advice for writers, but what about times when you want to learn and write about something new? Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died has done her fair share of writing outside of her own lived experiences, and here, she shares some advice about her research process. Whether you’re researching your own project, or just fascinated to know how books come together, we think you’ll find her advice illuminating.

For my new novel, The Day I Died, I wrote about a handwriting expert who gets embroiled in a small town murder/kidnapping case that’s bound to unravel her life, which has been lived in basic obscurity on the run with her son for thirteen years.

What people want to know about all that: Do I know how to analyze handwriting?

I’m reminded of the writerly adage where readers will skewer you for any tidbit of your nonfiction that smacks of lying but pick apart any fiction for a hint of real life—finding accusation with anything made up but then refusing to believe that anything made up can be entirely fictive. There’s a line there, and readers want to find it.

Me? I’m a make-it-up fiction writer who, yes, sneaks bits of my real life—and yours, if you sit still too long—into my work.

I’m no handwriting expert. I have also not raised a kid or lived on the run for thirteen years. For the handwriting expertise used in my novel, I did what all writers do at least a bit: I researched it.

Though there are a couple of ways I could have gone with the research for this novel, here’s what I did: I read a book. Specifically Sex, Lies, and Handwriting by Michelle Dresbold with Jack Kwalwasser. This book didn’t just provide the basis for any expertise I gave my character; it launched the entire premise of the novel. Back in 2007, I saw the book on a library shelf and thought: Hmm. There’s something I know nothing about.

And then I wrote the book anyway. That is the beauty of research. I don’t have to write what I know. I can write what I absolutely don’t know.

For instance, in my first novel, The Black Hour, I wrote about a university campus, something I knew a lot about, since I worked on one every day. But I wrote about it from the perspective of a sociology professor, while I was an administrator with absolutely no pedigree in the subject. What does a Sociology 101 professor say on that first day back in front of students, still recovering from an attack by a student she didn’t know and a little gun-shy? I didn’t know. I bought a textbook, and I studied up.

In my second novel, Little Pretty Things, I wrote about a motel housekeeper, once a promising high school long-distance runner and now stuck in life and hoarding secrets. I borrowed the town I’d grown up in—and a couple of hotels I’d had the pleasure of never sleeping in—but what I didn’t know was what it was like to be a high school track star. Runner’s high? Never heard of it. To get part that right, I had a friend of mine, a former high school long-distance runner, read the book and give me feedback.

I could have taken up running, sure. I could have done a PhD in sociology, too. How many lives do we get to live, though? I don’t have time to get a PhD in everything I want to write about and, if you want to read the books, neither do you. Plus, I’m rather impatient. I don’t read instruction manuals. Give me the headlines.

For The Day I Died, I spent only a little time on handwriting analysis, getting a general feel for how someone on that profession would notice and judge samples that appeared to her professionally and in daily life. What I cared more about was the protagonist’s relationship to her son, the protagonist’s relationship to her past, the protagonist’s ability to save herself and to let others save her. The research I did after the manuscript was complete had more to do with how a small town Indiana sheriff’s office functions. For that, I found an another expert to give me feedback.

Even as I write this, I’m starting to see where getting an expert read is my fallback. Does it seem like cheating? The truth is that I often don’t know what questions to ask an expert before I start writing. What I’m looking for from an expert reading my draft isn’t just error but missed opportunity—things I wouldn’t even know to ask about.

So what kind of research is the “right” kind? Anything that works, anything that thrills you, that keeps you writing, that keeps readers turning the pages. Anything that gives you the detail and texture of a life you haven’t lived, so that we all can.

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.


What Men Can Learn From Romance Novels

Originally published on, our sister company.

Good books are for everyone, regardless of genre. In fact, some of the most enlightening and exhilarating reading experiences can come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Julie Ann Walker, author of Wild Ride is definitely on our wavelength. Here, Walker writes about what men who read romance novels know. Men who avoid the genre you assume it isn’t for you: You could be missing out on something great!

They say romance novels are written by women, for women. While that’s true, while the books most often feature female protagonists, cover issues women are interested in, and celebrate women’s sexuality, that doesn’t mean men shouldn’t be picking them up and reading them cover-to-cover. Why? Firstly, because so many of them are darn entertaining reads. Secondly, because romance novels are windows into women’s wants and desires. Discerning gentlemen can use them as guidebooks for how to be a better partner.

And what will they learn in these “guidebooks”, you ask? Read on!

It’s the little things
So often men fall for the fallacy that what women need are wide, sweeping gestures to make them happy, like skywriting marriage proposals by biplane, trips to exotic lands, and candlelight dinners that cost more than a month’s rent. But the truth (and what most good romance novels show) is it’s the small, everyday things that women really appreciate. A man who takes out the trash without being asked, brews the coffee so it’s waiting for her when she gets up, and volunteers to walk the dog so she can take a long, lazy bath is a god. (And just FYI, men who do these things are often invited to join their lady in the bath when they get back from walking the dog. *wink, wink*)

It’s the big things, too
But what if a man wants to bring tears to his lady’s eyes with a sweeping romantic gesture? Whether it’s Kyle Rhodes renting out the top floor of the restaurant where he first saw Rylann Pierce “nine years ago on this very day” in Julie James’ About That Night or Ian Eversea using every last dime he’d saved to buy Tansy Danforth her childhood home in Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, romance novels are chock-a-block full of inspiration for grand gestures.  

The difference between being an arrogant a-hole and a charismatic, confident man
Yes, it’s true. We women love a self-assured man. But there’s a difference between confidence and egotism, between tenacity and imperiousness. Good romance novels show the way to toe that line.

How to approach a woman
Forget the pickup lines. Pick up a romance if you want to learn some techniques for getting a woman to notice you. From Cole Langston standing up for a harried counter-girl in Marie Force’s Everyone Loves a Hero to Dean Robillard pulling over to give a woman in a beaver costume a ride in Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, some of the most amazing meet-cutes can be found between the covers of romance novels. Read, relate, repeat, gents.

The dos and don’ts of bedroom etiquette
Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about what women like and don’t like, from how to kiss, how to unhook a bra, how to talk dirty, and far, far more can be found in a good romance novel. Want to be stellar in the boudoir? Pick up a romance novel and take notes.

Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of award-winning romantic suspense. She has won the Book Buyers Best Award, been nominated for the National Readers Choice Award, the Bookseller’s Best Award, the Australian Romance Reader Awards, and the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award. Her books have been described as “alpha, edgy, and downright hot.” Most days you can find Julie on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission.


Originally published on, our sister company.

There is something incredibly relaxing about sitting down with a book and enjoying a nice cold beer. The only thing better would be actually sitting down for a drink with the author who wrote it, or maybe even your favorite character. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we asked nine writers to share with us their ideal literary drinking buddy. Let us know in the comments which author or character you’d want to cheers with this year!

Pia Z. Ehrhardt, author of Famous Fathers and Other Stories
Drinking Buddy: Rosie Schaap

“I’d like to drink Manhattans—no more and no fewer than two—in Manhattan with Rosie, because she wrote a memoir about drinking by herself in bars, something I can’t make myself do. Because while I sit there, where do I look? At my phone? At the book I brought in as company? Why do I need a prop? I’ve always wanted to tend bar, fix drinks, look in on the drinkers. And I’ve always wanted to be a regular, to belong. Rosie is at ease on both sides of the rail. I’d like to sip my Maker’s Manhattan, rocks, and talk to her about the difference between being lonely and being alone.”

Aubrey Hirsch, author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar
Drinking Buddy: 
Ford Prefect

“Of all the literary characters I’ve come across, the one I’d most like to have a pint with is Ford Prefect from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. He combines charming curiosity about Earth customs with gritty wisdom that comes from traveling the universe on his Electronic Thumb. He’s smart, funny, cares deeply for his friends and, most importantly, he always knows where his towel is. A nice, muscle-relaxing beer is the perfect beverage to share with Ford, since you never know when you might need to hop aboard a Vogon ship to avoid being destroyed in service of a new hyperspace bypass.”

Sherrie Flick, author of Whiskey, Etc. Short (Short) Stories
Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door
Drinking Buddy: 
James Baldwin

“We’d meet in a crowded bar, a slouching jazz band playing softly in the corner. He’d say, ‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’ I’ve heard James Baldwin liked to drink whiskey. I like to drink whiskey, too. But that isn’t why he’s the author I’d like to have a drink with right now. He’d say, ‘The truth which frees black people will also free white people, but this is a truth which white people find very difficult to swallow.’”—Sherrie Flick

“I’m always in awe of James Baldwin’s ability to be incisive, compressed, and nuanced—all at once. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps certain people away from political expression, and I think it comes out of the worry that they have to reproduce a kind of received language, and they’re not going to get it right, not going to sound like they wholly believe it. Can you blame them? Baldwin is a great guide for finding a political voice that’s organic and self-attuned, which is important not just for talking to others but for keeping ourselves awake and evolving. Just to sit across the table from that mind! And those famous pictures of him with Nina Simone! You just know that this was a person of mischief, high spirits, and fun. Maybe unpredictable but so alive and smart and worth every minute.” —Paul Lisicky

Claudia Zuluaga, author of Fort Starlight
Drinking Buddy: 
Mary Lennox

“In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox arrives at Misselthwaite Manor rude and sour, ten years old, never having known cold weather or love or kindness. When she finds both, she blossoms. I want to sit with the adult Mary Lennox in a cozy bar, neither of us pressed for time. I’ll tell her I admire her strength, how, having known nothing but loneliness and despair, she was able to open herself up to growth and possibility and to help heal others. We will drink enough that I will ask her if it’s still part of her, that smoke-colored emptiness of those first ten years, if the pain hides inside of her like an inactive, dangerous virus, the way it does in me.”

Sarah Yaw, author of You Are Free To Go
Drinking Buddy: 

“A sidewalk table in Colette’s French sun. Time is relative. We drink champagne.

‘What do you need?’ she asks.

‘A psychic told me you helped with my first book.’

She squints old eyes. Won’t confirm or deny anything.

‘I saw myself in My Mother’s House and Sido,’ I say. ‘The home, the gardens. The animals. We had a red Dodge named the Diplodocus.’

‘Diplodocus was the name of our cat,’ she says.

There’s a hundred years between us and one of us is dead, yet we both nod at the coincidence.

‘I became a writer because I saw my life in that book. I always had the weird feeling the psychic was right. You were there. Were you?’

Colette’s distracted by a bird hopping in the branches of a tree. She was a girl who read Zola hidden in tree branches. She was a mime. I think she nods but I can’t be sure.

‘I’m writing another one.’

‘I know,’ she says. Sweat beads on her lip. Is sweat uncomfortable for the dead? She drains the champagne flute, calls the garçon. ‘I miss champagne,’ she says.”

Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The House on Primrose Pond 
Drinking Buddy: 
Francie Nolan

“My St. Patrick’s Day drink would be with Francie Nolan, the protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I must have read this novel 20 times in my youth, and Francie became a beloved friend, a kindred spirit. Though the book was set in a time decades before my own, the Brooklyn depicted in its pages—a provincial, sleepy backwater, like a perpetual Sunday afternoon in August—felt so familiar. Yet Francie assumed an ownership of this place that I too had felt—we were two Brooklyn girls walking those somnolent streets, urban sisters under the skin. And she adored her father despite—or perhaps because of—his faults. I too had a charming but feckless father, so this was yet another reason to love her.”

Bill Roorbach, author of The Remedy for Love
Drinking Buddy: 
Lady Brett Ashley

“I would like to have a drink with Lady Brett Ashley, or probably six drinks, four bottles of wine, and an aperitif or two. I fell in love with her reading The Sun Also Rises in one sitting in college, while I sat on the steps of the student union. I still haven’t gotten over her. Yes, I have grown more sophisticated since, and I know that Ernest Hemingway has fallen out of favor for his bluster and misogyny and boozy, insecure caricature of manhood. But I know Lady Brett would like me. And I just want to hear her say ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’ right before we walk off together, and leave Jake on the steps. Poor Jake.”

Ron Currie, author of The One-Eyed Man
Drinking Buddy: 
Andre Dubus

“In late summer 1998, I took a bus from Rhode Island to Maine. I was, at 23, trying to figure out how to be a writer, typing one shitty and derivative short story after another, occasionally writing a line or two with some genuine heat, but mostly just failing. I didn’t believe—because I had no reason to—that I’d ever write anything worthwhile, but I was driven by the books I read to keep trying. I’d been introduced to the short stories of Andre Dubus a couple years earlier, and had the good sense to become obsessed with them—little masterpieces of tempo and tone, his best stories seemed to reach into my chest, rip out my heart, and put it on display, still pumping, right in front of my face. Because I was obsessed with the writing, I’d also become obsessed with the man—I knew he was a hard-drinking ex-Marine, a gruff and unmistakably flawed man who had somehow managed to produce these flawless narratives. Dubus was the kind of writer I wanted to be—the imperfect man who writes perfect stories. Such are the preoccupations and enthusiasms of youth, I guess.

“Anyway, there I was on the bus, despairing of ever being able to write anything worth a shit, and I noticed that we’d just passed into Haverhill, Massachusetts. Haverhill, where Dubus had lived and taught for decades, and where he still lived now, stuck in a wheelchair after losing a leg in an accident when he stopped to help a pair of stranded motorists on the highway at night. Suddenly I had this crazy idea: I could get off at the next stop, hitchhike back to Haverhill, and just show up at Dubus’ door. I shudder to think about it now, but I imagined that Andre would welcome me in, not thinking it at all weird or intrusive for a strange young man to appear unbidden on his front porch, and we would drink whiskey and trade stories and be men. We would become the best of friends in no time, and he would recognize in me some latent genius, and upon such recognition he would offer me the two or three secrets to writing sublime fiction. And then, with regret, I would be on my way once more.

“Alas, the bus didn’t stop again for another 30 or 40 miles, and thank god—otherwise I might have actually followed through and harassed an old man who almost certainly just wanted to be left alone. Instead I went home, kept plugging away at my own stories, eventually wrote some that weren’t too bad. Dubus, though, had pretty much written everything he was going to—six months later, in early 1999, he died of a heart attack. We never met, goes without saying. I’m glad, ultimately, that I didn’t go to Dubus’ house that day. But I do regret that we never had a chance to share a drink in a different context, when I might have been a little less needy, a little less of a greedy sycophant, and I might have been able to just enjoy the company of a big-hearted man who happened to write fantastic stories.”


It’s Women’s History Month, and we could not be more excited about it!

To celebrate, our friends at Bookish put together a collage that highlights some incredible books written by favorite female authors.

Let us know in the comments if you see (or don’t see) any of your own favorites below:


Bookish Valentines for Your Literary Sweetheart

*Brought to you by Bookish (a NetGalley sister company)!

Can’t find the words to express your love to your bookish valentine? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are ten Valentine’s Day cards that will make the literature lover in your life swoon.

Inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey.

Inspired by Sarah Crossan‘s One.

Inspired by Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

Inspired by V.E. Schwab‘s A Gathering of Shadows.

Inspired by Beverly Jenkins’ Forbidden.

Inspired by W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues.”