Claire Messud’s Favorite Books About Female Friendships

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

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

The Girls of Slender Means

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

Two Serious Ladies

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

How Should a Person Be?

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

Cat’s Eye

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

Neapolitan Novels

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

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

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

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was certainly my experience in writing The Cottingley Secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robinne Lee on Writing Outside the Box

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But there’s romance in it.”

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

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

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

“Hmm…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NetGalley Author Interview: Michèle Phoenix

Watch our new author video interview, “15 minutes with… Michèle Phoenix,” now! Here, we talk about her new novel , The Space Between Words, how her travels inspire her writing and her work with “Third Culture Kids”. You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

The Space Between Words

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Pub Date: September, 2017
Christian, General Fiction (Adult)
Published by Thomas Nelson

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“There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned.”

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered. “Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.

“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.

Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

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NetGalley Author Interview: Price Ainsworth

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Price Ainsworth,” now! Here, we discuss his latest release, A Minor Fall, how his profession as an attorney helped inspire some of the events and characters in this debut, and if you can expect a follow up to A Minor Fall. You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

A Minor Fall

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Pub Date: June 13, 2017
General Fiction (Adult)
Published by SelectBooks

Davy Jessie seems to have everything going for him. He’s a young personal injury lawyer working at a top Houston law firm. He has won a few cases on his own and has had the opportunity to work closely with the firm’s flashy senior partner – Tim Sullivan.

Sullivan is a brilliant lawyer. His undeniable gift for delivering an elegant turn of phrase, coupled with his bon vivant lifestyle, make him the center of attention wherever he goes. He’s a man of the world who travels through life with near-mystifying facility. His charisma, command, and poise make him a role model for everything that an aspiring attorney should want in life – at least in the impressionable young minds of the junior associates who are all too willing to overlook his glaring flaws. Is Davy Jessie also about to fall under his hypnotic spell?

As Jessie’s orbit draws nearer to Sullivan’s shining star, the inalterable forces of tragedy are set in motion. The two men will ultimately be set at odds while Jessie’s family, career, and life careen into a downward spiral.

A Minor Fall (Select Books) is a frightening, sometimes humorous, account of the emotional and moral paralysis that beset this well-intentioned young man when he is called upon to account for his actions and make a difficult decision. As the story unfolds, the book also contemplates such existential matters as the nature of law, the existence of God, and the virtues of single malt scotch.

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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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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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NetGalley Author Interview: Benjamin Ludwig

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Benjamin Ludwig,” now! Here, we talk about his debut release, Ginny Moon, how his daughter was a big inspiration for the book and what Ludwig wants to write next! You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Ginny Moon

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Pub Date: May 2, 2017
General Fiction (Adult)
Published by Harlequin

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See the world differently.

Ginny Moon is a recently adopted teenager with autism. She has a new home, new parents, and a new last name.

Before Ginny arrived at her new house, she spent years living in danger with her birth-mother. Her world is a much better, safer place now, and everyone tells her that she should feel happy. But Ginny is stifled. Her voice is pushed down. Silenced. Bottled up for too long now. It’s ready to burst.

Ginny is desperate to get back to where she came from, back to what she left behind. Because something heartbreaking happened there—something that only Ginny knows—and nothing will stop her from going back to make it right. She’ll even get herself kidnapped.

Ginny Moon is an illuminating look at one girl’s journey to find her way home. In this stunning debut, Benjamin Ludwig gives a voice to the voiceless, reminding us that often we only hear those who speak the loudest, and there’s much to be learned by opening up our ears and our hearts.

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NetGalley Author Interview: Marc Elsberg

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Marc Elsberg,” now! Here, we talk about his TedxBerlin talk, where the inspiration for Blackout came from and how we should all truly be thinking about what would happen if we experienced a full technology blackout in our world. You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017
General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thrillers
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark

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When the lights go out one night, no one panics. Not yet. The lights always come back on soon, don’t they? Surely it’s a glitch, a storm, a malfunction. But something seems strange about this night. Across Europe, controllers watch in disbelief as electrical grids collapse. There is no power, anywhere.

A former hacker and activist, Piero investigates a possible cause of the disaster. The authorities don’t believe him, and he soon becomes a prime suspect himself. With the United States now also at risk, Piero goes on the run with Lauren Shannon, a young American CNN reporter based in Paris, desperate to uncover who is behind the attacks. After all, the power doesn’t just keep the lights on―it keeps us alive.

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Exclusive Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

 

 

 

 

 

We’re excited to share this special Q&A with Jeff VanderMeer about his book, Borne, and something exciting he’s doing with Quarterly:

This quarter’s box is curated by Jeff VanderMeer, featuring an exclusive, annotated copy of Borne, already named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Chicago Reader, The Week, and Publishers Weekly. Also find in the box two more books, handpicked by VanderMeer that inspired him as an author, plus awesome bookish goods — perfect for book lovers. (Psst: Act fast, subscribe by April 21st to get this box and use the discount mentioned below.)

NetGalley Author Interview

Pub Date: April 25, 2017
General Fiction (Adult)
Published by MCD/FSG

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Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It all kind of started with bird watching. I kept a bird list in Fiji, where I spent four or five years of my childhood. Kingfisher! (For example.) But I got bored with that, so I started a personal diary in the journal instead (although I never gave up bird watching!). I think I was seven or eight. But I got bored with that, too, so I started writing poems, which since I was so young were titled things like “Oh, how I love the sea!” And I also wrote down little fables, sometimes actually rewriting Aesop’s fables. At that same time, my parents were reading me things like William Blake’s Tyger Tyger Burning Bright and giving me classics new and old. From that moment on, I didn’t really think about it–I just felt like I was a writer and although I was briefly dazzled by the idea of being a marine biologist, it turned out I just loved looking into tidal pools.

In my teens I wrote and published a lot of poems, some short stories, started and edited a literary magazine, ran a community reading series, and wrote two terrible fantasy novels based on my love of Patricia McKillip and others. This all helped me very early, by about sixteen, to have a good lay of the land. I was also lucky enough to be mentored by people like the poet Enid Shomer, the novelists Jane Stuart and Meredith Ann Pierce, and in general to get a good start on a lifelong devotion to writing fiction.

How did the idea for Borne come about?

Just as with Annihilation I had put into the back of my head years earlier, “I want to write in some way about Florida,” I had also put in my head “I want to in some way write about my childhood.” But that wasn’t as easy a proposition because I had a kind of block in that direction, I think because I instinctively knew that I needed more distance and that, you know, even though I lived in Fiji, I wasn’t from there. This actually created a lot of angst early on in how to write fiction because I felt like I’d been everywhere but belonged nowhere.

But then one day I had this sudden inspiration, an image in my mind of the flank of a giant bear and entangled in it something that looked a little bit like a closed-up sea anemone…and a woman named Rachel who found it…and realized it was something more than what it looked like. And I knew that Rachel didn’t belong in the city–that she had come from somewhere else, and that, although, it’s never named in the novel, that place was the South Pacific. And suddenly, I could write about the places I knew as a child, as part of her backstory.

How has it changed since you first began writing it?

I don’t seriously start to put words on the page until I’ve thought about a novel for a long time, so that when I do most of what changes is at the level of scene or paragraph, and sometimes, of course, structure will change as a result, but not always. The story I wanted to tell didn’t change, but as time went on the relationship between Rachel and her boyfriend Wick deepened and grew and the character of the Magician, Wick’s rival, came into focus in interesting ways. But Rachel’s voice always came very naturally to me.

Do you have any specific or strange writing rituals that get you into a groove?

I used to need special pens and pencils and journals. No more! These days, I’m just as happy to scribble an idea or scene fragment on the back of a leaf while I’m hiking. I also don’t really care what time of day I write, although some books feel like night-time narratives and so I might write late at night for something like the novel I’m working on now, Hummingbird Salamander. But the key things that never change is that I write my drafts long-hand and that I get my best ideas while hiking out in the wilderness or while lifting weights in the gym. That probably has to do with having to live in the moment and not be distracted, which gives my subconscious and imagination room to operate.

Do you have a favorite character from Borne?

I know that Borne himself–shape-shifting and spectacularly tentacular!–is a big draw, as is Mord, the giant psychotic bear. But my favorite character is Rachel, the narrator, who just simply keeps keeping on and trying to do her best as she navigates a landscape both physical and ethical that’s complex and difficult. I feel immense sympathy and love for her.

What is your favorite novel of all time?

I wish I could answer this question, but there are too many. So instead I’ll tell you an anecdote about one of my favs, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Recently, as guest speakers at a Sigma Tau Delta conference, my wife Ann and I snuck out long enough to get some shopping in and in a men’s consignment shop, the owner (Hank Bullitt–great name!) found out I was a writer and asked what my favorite book was. For some reason I was thinking of meeting Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church on Bondi Beach, and how he’d had a battered copy of The Master and Margarita, so that’s what I said was my favorite. And Hank Bullitt just about jumps out of his skin and tells us that his late cousin was the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and knew Bulgakov and was the inspiration for a character in the novel and told us a lot of interesting stuff about that time period and his cousin. Talk about an odd coincidence!

Which three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

From any time period? Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, and Amos Tutuola. Now that would be a party!

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Go with your heart. Write what is personal to you and that you’re passionate about. Never worry about trends and be true to yourself. No trend is worth chasing and the landscape changes so frequently anyway that the most important thing is that you are happy with and proud of your writing. When you achieve success, you want it to be on your own terms.

Do you read multiple books at a time or do you focus on just one?

Usually, I focus on just one, but it just depends. If I find two novels different enough or a novel and a nonfiction book, I’ll read more than one. I was just reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan and Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction at the same time, alongside Wendel Berry’s The Mad Farmer Poems.

What is your favorite thing that you have received in the mail?

Gosh, this is tough. For years, because of a prior novel, I got pounds and pounds of dried squid in the mail. I wouldn’t say that was a favorite, but it was a thing that happened. I’ve also received a stuffed-animal meerkat head glued to a plate in the mail because of another novel, along with lots of fan art over the course of my career. I guess, honestly, the heartfelt letters from readers who appreciated some aspect of my fiction have been the best, especially where it’s clear that something therein made them happy or took away their stress or in another way were of use.

Also, I’m really looking forward to getting a woodcut in the mail soon from the artist Theo Ellsworth–a 2-foot-tall illustration of Mord.

Click here to get Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction Box, complete with an exclusive, annotated copy of Borne! (Plus! As a NetGalley member, you get an exclusive 10% discount! Just enter the code: NETGALLEY10 at checkout – expires April 21st.)

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