Author Essays

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.

O, Africa! is an epic tale of self-discovery, the constraints of history and prejudice, and the stubborn resolve of family and friendship in the face of tragedy.

In the summer of 1928, twin brothers Micah and Izzy Grand are at the pinnacle of their movie-making careers. From their roots as sons of Brooklyn immigrants, they have risen to become kings of silent comedy – with the brash, bloviating Micah directing and calling the shots, while his retreating brother skillfully works behind the lens. But when Micah’s penchant for gambling, and his interracial affair with Rose, a sharp-witted, light-skinned black woman from Harlem, combine to threaten his livelihood and his life, he finds himself in need of a quick escape.

“My novel Bittersweet is my attempt to write the kind of books I love to read when I’m on vacation,” says Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.

“My favorite beach reads mix high and low, they contain beautiful language and juicy plots, and they almost always contain some kind of central mystery, even if it’s not a traditional ‘whodunit’; I love a ‘what happened?’ (the darker the better, as far as I’m concerned!).”

Here are five of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s favorite books to read in a deck chair.

Suddenly, at 40 years old, I moved to Luxembourg for my wife’s job. For the first time in the quarter-century since graduation, I had zero friends.

I needed to make new friends. It had never occurred to me that this would be a problem, because this had never been my problem. But now I apparently needed to walk into a roomful of people I didn’t know, stride up to one—any one—and say, “Hi, I’m Chris.”

I smiled far more frequently and insincerely than I wanted to. I joined a tennis club. I went to French classes, cooking classes, wine tastings. I became a class parent and spent far more than the necessary amount of time at my kids’ school.

The anecdotes about my mother in my book are pitched from my perspective. What I wanted to do is give her the opportunity to offer her perspective.

“My mother and I sat down together in her house in Illinois in the days right after Christmas,” remembers Sara Barron.

“The whole thing should’ve gone off without a hitch, but it did not. And that is because in the half-hour prior to the scheduled interview, we got into an argument about what I perceive as my mother’s eating disorder versus what my mother perceives as her own healthy approach to eating.”

As a writer, I’m always thrilled when a character shows up in my head, demanding that I write a story about her.

“The point is that you breathe life into these characters who show up and agree to talk to you,” says Maddie Dawson, author of The Opposite of Maybe, “and then—just like with the real humans you raised—there comes a time when you have to listen to them.

We read to be intrigued, delighted, and to find out what happens next—and sometimes, it turns out, writers are just as surprised as readers by what our characters decide to do.”

The novel you’re about to read is truly extraordinary.

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, New York Times Bestseller, and National Book Award Longlist Selection, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound.com, New York Magazine, NPR, Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star, GQ, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, and Library Journal.

Wow, right? Dive into the read and check out our bonus book material – to continue your reading journey and to start a lively book club discussion!