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 Art of the Cliffhanger

Peter Clines, author of the science fiction graphic novel series Ex-Heroes, reveals his secrets for writing the perfect cliffhanger.

I love a good cliffhanger. One of those moments when you leave the audience dangling with nothing but their own guesses to explain what happens next. I like writing them, reading them, and watching them. A well-done one is wonderful on a bunch of levels.

As my own writing style’s developed, I’ve kind of become a fan of what you could call the “sliding-up-to-the-cliff” cliffhanger, where the reader’s given all the clues and facts and left on their own to make that last, inevitable step.

All that being said, when someone recently asked me about cliffhangers, my mind immediately went to the obvious place. And that place was Doctor Who.

This isn’t much of a shock, in retrospect. While lots of you know the newer show, the original had a very different format. Back in the olden times—when I counted my age in single digits and British sci-fi only came to us through the Boston PBS station—Doctor Who tended to be two hour stories broken up into four half hour episodes. And each of these episodes would end on a big cliffhanger with a shrieking musical stinger.

It didn’t take me long (well, okay, maybe a year or two—again, barely stretching into double digits) to recognize a certain pattern. You could call it a good ground rule for a cliffhanger—our first point. Pretty much every episode would end with things suddenly getting somehow worse. The disintegrator ray makes the robot grow for some reason. The Doctor attempts to distract Sutekh and finds himself severely outmatched. One of my favorites had the Doctor delivering the ominous closing line “I thought I’d locked the enemy out. Instead I’ve locked it in… with us.”

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

A Writer’s Retreat

Like most writers, Manchester-born and London-based author Howard Jacobson is very particular about where he writes. Jacobson, who is the author of five works of nonfiction and several novels, elects to write in a glass-enclosed space that looks out at London’s rooftops. It is here in this retreat, surrounded by books, that he has penned novels like J, a darkly funny love story set in a dystopian landscape, and most recently, Shylock Is My Name, a modern reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which will be released in the U.S. on February 9. Here, Jacobson welcomes Read It Forward for a behind-the-scenes look at his writing space.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

The Accidental Memoir: On Writing, Grieving and the Virtues of Navel-Gazing

Approaching middle age, Deedra Climer experienced an unimaginable tragedy―the death of her only son, Joshua, in a motorcycle accident. The spiral of grief that followed reopened ugly wounds that had never fully healed: being raised by a mentally ill and drug-addicted mother, the struggles she faced as a young single mother, and the guilt from exposing her children to one toxic boyfriend after another. Stripped bare emotionally, Deedra is forced to face who she is and where she came from. In sifting through the stark pain of the past, she is finally able to piece together her own sense of self and begin to imagine an unburdened future. Told with crushing honesty and an unflinching eye, Wailing Wall shares one woman’s struggle to make sense of her shattered life in the year following her son’s motorcycle death, weaving social media, poetry and fiction to expose her tragic past and the contours of the new American South. Framed by the devastation of loss, Deedra’s story reaches beyond heartbreak to show the strength of her spirit, illuminated by the persevering hope of redemption.

I didn’t mean to write a memoir.

When I started writing Wailing Wall on the back of an envelope on the way to bury my son, Joshua, all I knew was that I had to write.

My life depended on it. Transforming what was in my mind into words on the page was a confession of sorts, and I trusted those words to bring me through the darkness that slithered around me and wrapped my body so tightly I forgot to breathe.

Memoir saved my life.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Three Authors, One Book: On Writing Together

We know how difficult it is for one author to write a book—but three authors writing one book together? Well, that seemed nearly impossible to us. New York Times bestselling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig recently collaborated on The Forgotten Room—a rich, multigenerational novel of love and loss that spans half a century.

The book opens in 1945, when wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Young doctor Kate Schuyler is drawn—through clues left in a painting and a ruby pendant—into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion. In her pursuit of answers, she finds herself pulled into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known. Set in alternating time periods, The Forgotten Room is a decadent treat of a novel told by three incredible storytellers.

Read It Forward sat down with Karen, Beatriz and Lauren and interviewed them about the secrets behind their writing collaboration.

Read It Forward: How did you build these characters together? When an author sees a character in her minds’ eye, how can that minds’ eye vision be shared with others?

Lauren: We built these characters on tea and scones. Well, sort of. The characters took shape at Alice’s Tea Cup on 64th Street in New York City as we drank innumerable pots of tea and fleshed out the characters together, exclaiming and interrupting each other as these people came to life for us. By the end of that very long tea, it felt like we were gossiping about old friends we’d known for years. You know, “Oh, OLIVE, of course she’d do that!” Right, Beatriz?

Beatriz: Exactly! I think it really helped that the three of us had already built this wonderful friendship—that’s why we wanted to write a book together in the first place—so we really had a huge amount of fun (and tea) bringing the characters to life together. So much fun that I sometimes wonder whether Karen was spiking the pot with a little something extra during bathroom breaks.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets for Making Your Resolutions Stick

Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin shows us how to actually commit to those pesky New Year’s resolutions we all made a few days ago…

It’s January, the season for resolutions. Almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I certainly always do.

New Year’s resolutions often involve a change in a habit—usually, one that falls into the Essential Seven:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save and spend wisely (pay down debt, donate to worthy causes)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (enjoy the moment, stop checking email, spend less time in the car)

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Getting My Movie-Obsessed Friend Back Into Books

A close friend admitted to me this week that she has fallen out with reading. This is a disaster, obviously. How can I tempt my friend to pick up a book, or two?

I know she loves cinema so here’s my strategy:

I’ve spent an evening scouring recent and forthcoming movie releases for those specifically based on novels. If I can persuade my friend to read a piece of fiction related to a big-screen production, then we can start a conversation about the novels that adapt well, and those that don’t. Or we can discuss why one adaptation is better than another, for the same novel. I’ve sought out adaptations of classic novels, riffs on classics, and contemporary works of fiction.

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Teaching Like A Writer

Last year I taught a continuing education workshop in the basement of a Brooklyn bookstore. I like teaching in a bookstore, as it makes me feel like I’m a writer in a movie, and every Tuesday evening when I’d take the steps down to the subterranean level (where writers belong), I was filled with a decent, quiet light. It’s a pleasure to spend a few hours hammering out thorny issues of craft with people who spend their days in other industries.

It was toward the end of my time with this particular class. It was the first workshop experience for one of the women, who I’ll call Agnes, and while she handled her fellow student’s work with care, at times she seemed suspicious of the workshopping process in general. I watched her frustration grow over the semester, especially, I noted, when the work of an experimental writer was being discussed.

During the final class we discussed the work of who I’d say was the most surrealist writer. Another student suggested she explain the background of one of the characters. It was the kind of note that can be common in workshops. I want to know more about so and so, being used in place of what is normally the deeper issue: details you are deciding to include are not specific enough. With the particular empathy of a teacher, I could feel Agnes’s blood heat until, it seemed, she could no longer take it.

She launched into an impassioned monologue that mostly revolved around the idea of workshopping being anti-art. That it chokes the creative sense.

When she finished, every head in the room swiveled to me. It was my job to massage the shoulders of everyone’s ideas and feelings, to push forth whatever the “right” idea was. The room, its stultifying air, the unfinished bookshelves stuffed with remainders. It was as if every single object in that room had a face, looking at me to correct the atmosphere.

Hundreds of thoughts occurred to me simultaneously, most of them variations on how to bend this moment into a teachable one. Then, almost as quickly, all thoughts were overruled by one question: Do you, as the human being called Marie, agree with this person?

Author Essay Good for Book Clubs

Dean Koontz on Cultivating Story Ideas

Bestselling author Dean Koontz shares how he developed the idea for his latest thriller Ashley Bell.

When asked where I got my ideas, I used to say from an idea shop in Syracuse, which had been owned by the same family for six generations.

I was a smartass then. I’m much sweeter now.

In truth, story ideas come at me from all directions and at speeds ranging from snail-crawl to speeding bullet.

The premise behind Ashley Bell didn’t pop into my head full-blown, but it didn’t take days to develop, either.