NetGalley Author Interview: Amy Bloom

Watch our new author video interview, “15 minutes with… Amy Bloom” now! Here, we talk about her new novel, White Houses, how a First Lady overcomes challenges from her past to find love, and the many letters that inspired her writing. You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

White Houses: A Novel

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Pub Date: February 12, 2018
General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Published by Random House

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Dawn Tripp on Gender Bias, Strength, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lasting Legacy

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most remarkable artists in American history, but few know the intimate details of the woman behind the abstract masterpieces. In Georgia, author Dawn Tripp brings readers into O’Keeffe’s life and reveals the strength, ferocity, and drive this artist possessed. Earlier this year, Bookish editor Kelly Gallucci caught up with Tripp at the Newburyport Literary Festival to talk about the process of novelizing a true story, the importance of voice, and O’Keeffe’s legacy.

Bookish: In most novels, the author creates the events, the timeline, the plot points. When you’re capturing a real person’s life, however, those elements are dictated to you. Was it a challenge to work within the confines of a life already lived?

Dawn Tripp: It was a challenge because I felt very strongly that although this would be a novel, although it’d be written from O’Keeffe’s point of view, I wanted to stay as close as I could stay to the facts. I wanted to be able to explain or defend every choice that I had made in terms of what she said and what she imagined, and I wanted to be able to trace all of those pieces back to some element in the historical record. That wasn’t necessarily part of my original vision for the novel. But the more I moved into her story, the more deeply I began to understand the gender bias that she had faced and the gender politics she had to work through in order to define herself, her art, and her artistic vision on her own terms. It became more necessary and vital to me to be as true as I could be to what had transpired, to be as true as I could be to her story. My goal in writing this novel was really to bring more people to her remarkable life and her art.

Bookish: How did you go about crafting Georgia O’Keeffe’s voice in the novel? How did you decide which elements of recordings, letters, and memoirs were her authentic inner voice?

DT: I feel that voice—like artistic vision, like self, like the truth of who are are, what we want, what we come from, and where we’re going—is an evolution. We sometimes imagine that there’s one voice. If you go back through O’Keeffe’s letters you’d find that in one week she’d write a letter to Alfred Stieglitz and another to someone else and in those letters there are little tiny discrepancies. The are differences, sort of gradations, in those letters. She wrote two memoirs and the voice of those memoirs is so radically different from the voice in her letters from when she was younger. That was fascinating to me because we do imagine that voice is singular, but it’s kaleidoscopic, it’s multifaceted, and it’s continually changing according to where we are in our lives, what we’re opening to, what we’re closed to, and what we’re working to express.

As both a reader and a writer, I feel that voice is the most important element of a novel. It’s not something that I choose intellectually or analytically. Voice is instinctive; it’s visceral. Finding the voice is an excavation, not a constructed process. I spent an inordinate amount of time soaked in O’Keeffe’s words, historical anecdotes, and interview transcripts that she did in the 1920s. The voice came out of immersing myself in all of those different elements.

Bookish: You’ve said how the letters you read were “at odds with” the image you had in your head of who O’Keeffe was. What surprised you about her?

DT: Going in I knew that she was an incredibly strong woman. She made bold and innovative choices in her art and in her life. But she also understood that strength was about being open to the full range of human emotions and experience. During those years that she lived with Stieglitz, 1916 to 1933, I feel like she really opened to all of those complex dimensions of what it means to be a human being, a woman, and an artist. Her letters reflect vulnerability, anger, desperation, depression, elation, and hunger. I love all of those dimensions of her. That kaleidoscopic self is what it means to be strong. Like with voice, we imagine strength as just one thing: You’re either strong or you’re weak. I think that true strength transcends that binary.

Bookish: O’Keeffe believed she had lost her sense of self, and she reclaimed it in New Mexico. What about New Mexico did she connect with so strongly?

DT: We don’t think of O’Keeffe as a woman who would lose her sense of self. We think of strength being something intact and impenetrable, and strength is just much more complex. In my novel I describe how the instant she stepped off the train in New Mexico she felt that sense of her soul flaring off in all directions. What she discovered there, it wasn’t just the colors or the landscape or the light, it was also that sense of distance and vastness that’s really unique to that particular place. There is something transcendent about being in the middle of that expanse and I’d often wondered if it was almost like a sense of recognition when she met that place. As if she was meeting a place that was vast enough to hold that ferocity that she was.

Bookish: Was there any detail of O’Keeffe’s life that you decided to intentionally omit?

DT: There was an incident, and it still kind of haunts me, that took place shortly after she had been hospitalized for her breakdown. Her younger sister had a show in New York, and O’Keeffe wrote her an absolutely brutally, scathing letter. And her sister never painted again. In her life, there were things that O’Keeffe did or said that were so irretrievable. And I wanted to allude to that. There is a scene in the novel where her great niece says, “How do you do, Aunt Georgia?” and O’Keeffe slaps her across the face and says, “Don’t ever call me Aunt.” And that’s part of the historical record. But that was the only one of those moments that I felt like I could seam into the book in a way that I wasn’t going to upset the whole balance. Those instances didn’t happen all of the time, but when they happened they were so stunningly heartless and heartbreaking at the same time. I couldn’t quite grasp how to integrate the immensity of that and still not lose the driving force of the story. Moments like that demand a level of weight and attention that felt like a gravitational pull, moving the story too far away from the trajectory. The thing about fiction is that it can capture real life, but it has to feel as true or more true in order to be alive on the page.

Bookish: You’ve said that you believe fiction can capture truths that nonfiction can’t. What is one of the truths that you hoped to capture about O’Keeffe in this book?

DT: The most leveling understanding was that the years 1916 to 1933 were a crucible for her. Those were the years when her art was discovered, when she fell in love, craved a child, and nearly lost what mattered to her most. She made unthinkable sacrifices in her life and in her marriage, and she was also making key innovations and bold choices in her art. Those years forged her greatness. They took the strength and willfulness that young O’Keeffe had brought to New York and forged it into something more enduring. But as an older woman she didn’t want to talk about that time. She wanted to distance herself from it. I was working to reconcile the older O’Keeffe that we know with the younger O’Keeffe to find those strands of ferocity in both and how that kind of fierceness had changed.

Bookish: Your son is a very talented artist. Did watching him hone his skills give you any insight into capturing the mind of an artist on the page?

DT: It’s interesting you ask me that. I did go into my boys’ art room and play around with all of his different paints that he had in there. I also watch him work sometimes, and I would notice the way he would work and rework and rework a sketch until he had the composition right. That gave me insight into the way a visual artist would approach that blank page. In order to bring those scenes to life, I had to find points of connection and points of disconnect in the process of a visual artist and my process as a writer. As a writer, you’re always using words and language, which have an analytic dimension. But the best work you do is often when you’re completely open to the voice and the life of the work.

Bookish: Do you have a favorite story or tidbit that you learned about O’Keeffe when researching this book?

DT: My favorite tidbit about O’Keeffe is in the novel. It’s a scene towards the end when she’s tracing her nephew’s face when she’s lost her sight. For me, that was a really critical moment. A number of the biographies I read described an exchange O’Keeffe had with her manager Doris Bry that took place in the early ’70s when O’Keeffe was beginning to lose her vision. She called it holes in her seeing. They were planning a massive retrospective and looking at those early abstractions that she had done and hasn’t seen for decades. And O’Keeffe said, “We don’t have to have the show because I never did better.” I remember reading that and thinking, I don’t know if I can write this book if that’s where we end. Then I read an early biography written by Roxana Robinson that was done in cooperation with O’Keeffe’s family three years after O’Keeffe died. And Robinson described a visit from her great nephew. They spent a day together, and when he’s getting ready to leave O’Keeffe brought him over to the light, but she couldn’t see his face, so she traced it with her hands. I wanted to put myself right into that moment. What was she coming to terms with? That scene, for me, that moment of incredible human connection became the scene I knew I would be writing towards.

Bookish: O’Keeffe assumed, at first, that the intent of her work would be clearly interpreted, and instead her art became linked with her gender. Have you ever had that experience as an author, where your intentions were misinterpreted?

DT: I think that when you are a woman, you are almost always classified as a female writer, or female artist, female CFO, female CEO, etc. with few exceptions. There are subtle assumptions made about your opinion, the value of your opinion, and the weight of your work because you are female. This is not unique to art or publishing. It’s an embedded part of the sexism in our American culture. There’s implicit bias around gender, and we don’t have to look far to see it. It’s something we need to examine, and redress. The older I get, the clearer that is for me. I work to call out implicit bias when I see it, or experience it, and I believe it’s important to do that.

Bookish: This book was inspired by the fact that O’Keeffe never received recognition for her work in abstract art. Have you seen that change at all since publication? Do you think it ever will?

DT: There are still people who have an understanding of O’Keeffe only as the person who painted those sexualized flowers, but she’s so much more. O’Keeffe scholars understand that the body of her work is what is so profound. What’s underappreciated about O’Keeffe is not any given work but the force, range, and scope in what she was doing in art.

In the summer of 2016, the first major retrospective of O’Keeffe’s work went up at the Tate museum in the U.K. The first! A hundred years after she was first exhibited in New York. The goal of the exhibit was to reassess her place in the canon of art. There were periods of criticism through the 20th century where she was denigrated and dismissed as not having the level of importance and influence that she really had. The thing that I found so meaningful about the Tate show is that it reassess her influence on generations of artists, and that matters.

Bookish: Is there anything you learned from O’Keeffe that you hope to incorporate into your own life?

DT: Usually when I’m finished with a novel I’m done. I don’t think about the characters; I’m just done. I haven’t felt that with this book. Not that I’d go back into it or write about her story again, but I feel like the work of spending time in her life and really exploring and translating the challenges that she faced has been such an inspiration for me in my own life. We sometimes imagine that bold choices are what we make in our 20s or early 30s. The thing that I love so much about O’Keeffe and the thing that is still continuing to impact my life, my psyche, my choices as an artist and as a person, is how critical it is to make bold choices throughout your life, to keep making bold choices. I learned how to surf when I was 44 because of O’Keeffe. I learned how to skateboard when I was 46. There’s no such thing as now or never. It’s just now.

Dawn Tripp’s fourth novel Georgia is a national bestseller and was a finalist for the 2016 New England Book Award and winner of the 2017 Mary Lynn Kotz Award for Art In Literature. Tripp is the author of three previous novels: Game of SecretsMoon Tide, and The Season of Open Water, which won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction. Her essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review and NPR, among other publications. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and lives in Massachusetts with her family.

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Adapting One Historical Novel to Another: How to Make It Work

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

We’ve all been there: We read a novel, and wonder “How did the author do that?!” Sophfronia Scott has written just such a novel. Her book Unforgivable Love is a retelling of Dangerous Liaisons that will enchant and entertain readers with its historical flair. Here, she tells Bookish readers just how she went about adapting the original.

Ideas are a dime a dozen—they exist in multitudes and any creative thinker knows there is no shortage of good ideas. Still there’s a fascination with ideas and they are considered scarce—that’s why authors consistently get asked how they found the idea for their latest work. But the idea is only the beginning. Two writers can start with the same basic idea and create entirely different products. I think that’s a much more interesting question: How did the writer bring the idea to life?

My latest novel, Unforgivable Love, is a retelling of the 18th Century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The original was an epistolary novel, written in 1782, and told a story of seduction and betrayal among the aristocracy. I set the tale against the glamorous backdrop of 1940s Harlem, with two wealthy people playing games of sexual intrigue to feed their sense of ego and power.

Essentially I took one historical novel and turned it into another historical novel. How did  I make it work?

It’s all about the elements: understanding what makes a good story and building an interesting world in which the story can unfold. In order to do this, I couldn’t just retell the story. I had to create a new one.

Creating a story begins with characters. I chose to tell my story in close third person, giving voice to four characters and their inner lives.

Marquise de Merteuil became Mae Malveaux. Both characters are wealthy but they are also restricted by the conventions of their times. They act out accordingly. For Mae, I added aspects of her having felt something like love in her early years.

Vicomte de Valmont became Valiant “Val” Jackson. I sensed a vulnerability in this character that I wanted to explore. What makes him prone to fall in love? His story explores themes of race and class as well.

Madame de Tourvel became Elizabeth Townsend. My Elizabeth is just as virtuous as Madame de Tourvel but she also has a sense of not being complete somehow as a person, as a human being. She’s looking for meaning in her life.

Cecile de Volanges became Cecily Vaughn. This character, I think, has been given short shrift in the various adaptations of this novel. She’s often portrayed as clownish and awkward, but she’s also a character who makes a full journey from innocence to experience. I wanted to see how Cecily behaved once she began to act with agency.

Once I had my characters I had to create the world in which they lived their lives. For Unforgivable Love, I created social circles to suit the time and the African-American community.

Church: I had no doubt in my mind that the main social setting of this book would be in a church, especially since morals and virtue were going to be important themes. I modeled Mount Nebo Baptist Church, in size and influence, after the granddaddy of Harlem churches, Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Jazz music and night clubs: I used the setting of two clubs to illustrate the different classes. The Savoy Ballroom inspired the Diamond, Val Jackson’s club in my novel. The fact that the Savoy was crowded with people from all walks of life made me think about how Mae Malveaux wouldn’t be caught dead in such a place. That led me to create the Swan, a more refined setting for Mae and her cohort.

Fashion: I used fashion as another way to set Mae apart. I was particularly inspired by the designer Christian Dior’s “New Look” that was introduced during the time of my novel. The look was defined by a narrow waist, full skirt, and dramatic hats. One outfit with a yellow jacket reminded me of a costume worn by Glenn Close in the film Dangerous Liaisons and I knew I had to describe Mae wearing that Dior ensemble.

This is also a story about sexuality and how the way we wield it can be the deepest expression of our human nature. What happens when we take ownership of our sexuality? This question, I think, is why the story of Dangerous Liaisons is still so captivating today. We are still on this quest when it comes to exploring sexuality. It is the foundation that grounds Unforgivable Love, giving the reader a place to stand while at the same time launching him or her into this other world.

Sophfronia Scott hails from Lorain, Ohio. She was a writer and editor at Time and People magazines before publishing her first novel, All I Need to Get By. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and son.

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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 5, 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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