Author Essay

Good for Book Clubs

What makes a writer tick? How do they form the stories that change a reader’s life? From what they love to read, to their writing process, to ideas for their next book – you’ll get exclusive behind-the-scenes peeks at the literary life.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Music I Listen To While Writing

I love all kinds of music. I’m kind of a music nerd. I began my writing career, if that’s what you’d call it, as a music journalist, albeit a half-assed one. But I never used to listen to music while writing. That is, until a few years ago.

Chalk that change up to loosening up a bit, unbuttoning my proverbial collar. My regular go-to stuff, like The Fall and Spoon, is off the table, since I can’t listen to versus-chorus-verse songs with lyrics while writing. Too distracting. The rhythms have to be more freeform and organic.

Classical and jazz…I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t listen to too much classical or jazz. They leave me cold. I’m a philistine, I guess. Specific bands and artists I can listen to? Aphex Twin. Boards of Canada. Can. Fela Kuti. Emeralds. The Field. Kolsch. Stars of the Lid. Angelo Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch. The Bladerunner soundtrack. Some of the soundtracky records from the Italians Do It Better label.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

A Writer’s Journey

All my life, I’ve wanted to live and work as a writer, and now as I prepare for the publication of my fourth novel, White Collar Girl, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to see my dream realized. Like most authors I know, my road to publication was a pretty bumpy ride. I did just about everything wrong before I learned to do a few things right. I’m writing this today in hopes that someone out there will benefit from my experience.

But before I delve into that, let me back up and come clean on a few things: 1) I’m a painfully slow reader. 2) I seriously can’t spell my way out of a paper bag. 3) I believe I’m an undiagnosed dyslexic. 4) On top of all that, as a young girl and even as a teenager, I didn’t like to read. As you can see, these are all exceptional criteria for someone who wants to be a writer. And yet, from as far back as I can remember, that’s what I knew I wanted to be when I grew up.

So even though I wasn’t reading Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew, I was playing on my grandfather’s typewriter—an old 1930s model that I still have today. And in first or second grade, I had mastered four cursive letters—Es and Ls, Ms and Ns—and I wrote them over and over again on a chalkboard in our basement. Turns out that’s not sufficient training for a wannabe writer. But that didn’t stop me from diving in.

Meet the Author Good for Book Clubs

Reading With Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra’s new book, The Tsar of Love and Techno is, without a doubt, one of our favorite reads of 2015. Marra’s latest is an interwoven collection of short stories that reads like a novel; as each seemingly disparate chapter unfurls, you find its relation to the last through interlocking people, objects, and places.

Spanning decades in tumultuous Russia, the book tells stories of the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to create and appreciate art, even in the most dire circumstances. Anthony Marra paints a picture of humanity with honesty, grace, and humor (you’ll definitely laugh out loud in parts). We might love this book even more than his smash-hit debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, but it’s a close call.

You can imagine how excited we were to sit down with Anthony Marra, talk to him about his book, and ultimately convince him to read us a passage from the title story, “The Tsar of Love and Techno.” (If you’d like to read along, it’s on page 193.) Here’s Marra’s introduction to the passage:

“This describes the first date that a character named Kolya has with Galina. Both of them are main characters that weave through some of these stories. It describes their first date and I love it because they’re walking around this place called Lake Mercury. This lake is in a town that is big on nickel mining, and Lake Mercury is so polluted with exotic chemicals that it doesn’t freeze, even in the middle of February. It’s surrounded by smokestacks called the twelve apostles. It seems like one of the grimmer places on earth. I love this little scene because Kolya invites Galina for a walk around this lake for their first date, and despite being in this rather unromantic climate, there’s an ethereal moment they have together.”

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Sophie Kinsella Reveals The Shopaholic’s Favorite Reads

After a long hiatus, everyone’s favorite Shopaholic is back! Sophie Kinsella, the author of the ten titles in the wildly popular Shopaholic series—as well as fourteen other standalone novels—re-introduces fans to hilarious heroine Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) in her latest: “Shopaholic to the Rescue.” Here, we find Becky on a road trip, headed from Hollywood to Las Vegas, determined to locate her missing father. Along for the ride are beloved characters like her best friend Suze, daughter Minnie and husband Luke, her nemesis Alicia and of course, the notorious Derek Smeath. Gutsy as ever, Becky has found a new sense of maturity in her eleventh adventure, though she still—of course—loves to shop. Here, author Sophie Kinsella interviews her main character Becky Bloomwood Brandon about the books she loves to buy. (Psst: Click on the book jacket to shop the Shopaholic’s picks.)

Sophie Kinsella: So, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood), are you a book lover?

Becky Brandon: Oh I love books! I especially I love bookshops. We have a campaign where I live: ‘Support your local bookshop’, and honestly, I’ve been so supportive of that. The lovely thing about buying books is, you don’t feel guilty at all, however much you spend.

And that’s what I always point out to Luke, when my pile of bedside ‘to read’ books crashes down on the floor. (Which it does quite often.) Before he can even suggest that I tidy them away or don’t buy so many, I just give him a calm, even stare, and I say, ‘Luke, these are books. OK? Books.’

Also, books are amazingly good value for money, in my opinion. Because they give you hours of enjoyment. Hours. I mean, if you compare them to DVDs or film tickets, or theatre tickets, or, practically anything, then they totally win.

(OK, maybe they don’t win against handbags. But they win against everything else.)

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Muse of Music

Bestselling author Taylor Stevens on the music she listens to while writing.

There have been times that music didn’t feature heavily in my creative process, but those have been rare and far between. For the most part, music has been both a muse and a signal to my brain that playtime is over. Flip that music switch and the psyche knows it’s time to go to work.

Unfortunately, music has also been a double-edged sword because, while it has been integral to getting the writing done, it can also be very distracting. When I first started writing, I learned quickly that almost anything I loved to listen to throughout the day was disastrous when putting words on the page. For example, with a few exceptions, songs with lyrics had to get cut from the playlists. Movie soundtracks and classical music—which both seem like plausible alternatives—got the ax, too.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Why Bradstreet Gate?

Author Robin Kirman reveals the meaning of the title of her crime mystery novel.

A gate is a passage: it takes people from one place and lets them out, in an orderly fashion, in another; in some cases it also serves as a means of selection. The gates of heaven only open for the virtuous, the saved, and permit them into eternal paradise; the gates of our elite universities – and we can think of the whole college admission process as a metaphorical gate — select our nation’s most talented and hardworking youth for positions at the highest levels of society. So we like to think, at least, and the frenzy that accompanies that admission process suggests this is an idea we Americans take very seriously. If our faith in heaven’s gates has wavered, our faith in Harvard’s remains strong — maybe because we need to believe in some sort of system in a time when the path to prosperity feels especially uncertain.

Bradstreet Gate, the title of my debut novel, is also the actual name for the newest gate on Harvard Yard. Commemorated in ‘97, it was named after America’s first published female poet in honor of twenty-five years of women living on the old yard.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

When a Book Becomes a Calling

Forty years after the Fall of Saigon, and fifty years since our nation’s involvement in a conflict that became a long and bloody war in Vietnam, I began to reflect on the journey that has led me to tell the stories of those who serve.

“I ultimately located the parents of Jefferson Donald Davis in Tennessee and Daniel H. Petithory in Massachusetts,” writes bestselling author Eric Blehm. “They invited me to their homes. I spent a weekend sleeping in the bedroom where Dan had grown up, surrounded by the sad but proud memorabilia that honored his death in the line of duty, including the Silver Star and Purple Heart that had been presented posthumously. We sat at the kitchen table for hours. There were tears throughout days that began with coffee, shifted to beer, and ended with good whiskey.”

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Why I Love Bookstores (It’s Not What You Think)

Bookstores. One of my favorite places. Right up there with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, the gym, the doctor’s office, dry cleaners, and the DMV.

Can I tell you something? I love bookstores. I do. Not just because I’m a big reader—I loved Flowers in the Attic, Bonjour Tristesse, Anaïs Nin (all), Colette (again: all), Madame Bovary, Dangerous Liaisons . . . you get the idea. (Merci, France! You’ve taught me so much.) No, I love bookstores because they’re full of hot guys. You know what I’m talking about: the kind of guy who’s all scruffy and bespectacled and underfed, wearing corduroy pants and a dorky concert T-shirt, getting all excited over some Swedish poetry or six-hundred-page treatise on the nature of parks in urban landscapes? I love that guy.