About Penguin Author

NYComiccon2WELCOME TO THE ONE AND ONLY New York Comic Con. Walking into the Javitz Center off 11th Avenue, I was not prepared for the plethora of fans bouncing off each other with pure adoration. The aura of Con was beaming with contagious excitement. From the moment I stepped in, I heard “can I take a picture with you?” This question was asked frequently with great admiration for all the costumes, fandom, and creativity. This question, of course, was never directed at me, as I was dressed in boring work attire. At one point, I bumped into someone and he turned and said “Sorry!” I looked at him to say, “don’t be silly, it was my fault.” When he looked me in the eyes, I jumped back. Those white-eyed contacts were jarring, especially with an endearing smile that revealed bloody fangs. Conclusions: Comic Con is another universe. Comic Con is cool, so cool. And Comic Con is the definition of togetherness. I couldn’t help but flip through my thoughts on what I would have dressed up as, and how I wish I had. Sailor Moon? Zelda? Daenerys? Maybe next year…

The first day, I was able to interview James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner for the Beaks & Geeks podcast. I must admit that I fangirled super hard as we chatted by the press lounge. Our interview went well, as did the others. Between Thursday and Sunday, we were able to speak with James, Daniel José Older, Amber Benson, Romina Russell, Myke Cole, and Patrick Rothfuss. Check it out, the playlist is embedded below!

parkslope

Last sunday was such a lovely fall weekend. My boyfriend and I strolled around Park Slope, enjoying the crisp mid-October weather. After a cozy brunch, complete with French press coffee, we went looking for a place to watch the football games. On the way, we found the farmer’s market. Dog and cat adoption trucks lined 5th Avenue in what had to be the cutest display of large vehicles I’ve ever seen. As obsessive animal lovers, we remained there for an unreasonable amount of time before heading into the market for some fresh pickles. Down the road I stumbled across this beautiful scene: autumn colored balloons caught in one of the trees lining the street. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the moment as much as we did.

Until next time.

Cheers,

Lindsay


neelyWhat writing techniques have you found most important or memorable?

Sitting down and bashing the keys. It’s not romantic. Sorry. But if you’re going to write a book of, say, 100,000 words, then you’re going to start out with a draft of, say 125,000 words, cut it back, add, subtract, wholly rewrite, edit, revise, and start over. Do you want to do this in one year or ten? Do you have a day job, a spouse, children, a drinking habit? You see where I’m going here. Time is precious. Creativity is a dream if you’re not bashing keys. If you’re not sitting at the keyboard for hours on end, then you’re just not a serious writer.

How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters?

Work from the outside in. This is contrary to basic acting philosophy. But the first thing we do with family, friends or strangers is see them. Their actions can be observed and witnessed. Therefore, those things have to be true on a certain level. Motive, you never really know. In fiction, you can make their physical tics and inflections and habits mean whatever you want. So you (put your palms together and twist) mash them up. Make them fit your story. Everyone from Mark Twain to Nora Ephron has done this. Second, let them talk. They’ll do it, all on their own. They’ll talk to…other people! Who appear on the page, as if by magic. Third, whenever your characters depart from the plot line in your head — in short, when they walk off the page and do what they want to do — follow that. They’ve taken a life of their own. Rewrite going forward as needed.

After developing an idea, what is the first action you take when beginning to write?

Storyboards.  Dividing a 300-page narrative into thirty ten-page chapters. It forces you to take your Great Idea and boil it into mechanical parts. It makes you say things like, ”yeah, then Rocky punches Apollo Creed out.” That’s great, champ. Wonderful. It’s also half of one of thirty chapters. You’ve got another ninety minutes in film, and another 295 pages in fiction, to go. And then you go, “oooohhhhh.” That said, once you’re about one hundred and fifty pages in to your outline…just let the characters take over and throw the rest of the outline out the window. Your characters will take you, and the readers, to better places than you imagined.

Is there something you do to get into a writing mood? Somewhere you go or something you do to get thinking?

Man, but I wish I did. Then it would be great. “Oh! Just get the blue pill! Then I can do it all!” Actually, the best thing I can do is go for a six or seven mile run without headphones. That makes me think, in terms of plot lines and development. It also makes me too tired to be restless, so I can sit still at the keyboard for the rest of the day. It quiets the mind. For me, the value of this can’t be overstated.

Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author?

Regrettably, I did. My mother has a two-page “book” I did when I was about six. My parents were extremely conservative (this is rural “Mizzippi” in the 1960s and early 1970s, so when i say “conservative,” that’s really what I mean) but they’d let me read almost anything. I clearly remember reading Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream when I was about twelve. God only knows why. When I was about fifteen, I was reading Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. As it happened, this was in a high-school journalism class, and I was supposed to be paying attention. But what I learned was that I loved that book…and it was accessible. I remember flipping to the back of the book, where it said the author was a schoolteacher in Maine. And I said to myself, “Well, damn, I could do that.” I have always loved King for that inspiration, and for those early books, which made me believe I could write, whether that was true or not.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

“Sit down, shut up and write,” which was said by my college j-school professor—the late, great Tommy Miller. I loved him from the minute I saw him. My life today would not exist without him. He made reporting and being curious about the world, then writing about it, seem like the best gig anyone could ever hope to find. When I learned he was terminally ill, I was driving home. I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped, and cried. It was the appropriate response.

What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself?

I am not good at many things but by God I can procrastinate with the best of them. I truly hate it about myself…and seem powerless to do much about it. Meanwhile, I’ll be listening to Tom Waits or classical or country and staring at the screen and telling my wife that I’m clicking along at about three thousand words per day. Really, hon, you can’t believe how well this is going.

 * * *

Neely Tucker’s journalism career spans twenty-five years, fourteen of which he’s spent at The Washington Post. His 2004 memoir, Love in the Driest Season, was named one of the Best 25 Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Born in Mississippi, Tucker lives with his family in Bethesda, Maryland.

Read more about Neely Tucker’s book, The Ways of the Dead.


1. Bath Time is Awesome. 

1

From the early days of washing them in the sink (or bucket or whatever other vessel is at hand) to experiencing their joyous splashing in the tub, nothing is more fun than bath time, and nothing in the world smells more heavenly than a freshly clean baby.  Even the parts after bath are awesome—wrapping them up in a cuddly towel like a big burrito, smelling their hair as you comb through it, and getting those adorably cute pajamas on for bedtime are all sensory gold.  In fact, the only time bath time is not awesome is when it’s been 2 hours and the kid still doesn’t want to get out of the tub.

 

2.  The only thing routine about bedtime routine is that it’s never routine. 2

Bedtime is an emotional roller coaster.  The first 15-20 minutes, when you’re tucking in, cuddling, reading stories, singing silly songs, are everything that is good about being a parent.  But beware—these calm moments will lull you into a false sense of security, multiplying your pain a thousand fold for the next one to three hours while your demon spawn is suddenly “NOT TIRED!” and demanding treats, water, 75 more stories—basically anything to keep them from getting the sleep you know they so desperately need.

 

3. Privacy is a thing of the past. 3

Curiosity and a complete lack of any sort of sense of boundaries means that you are going to be seeing a LOT more of your toddler (and vice versa) than you probably ever anticipated.

 

4.  The house will get trashed and your favorite things will be destroyed. 4

And this is ok.  Material possessions become less important when compared to the sheer joy of watching your child develop, and a great anecdote is always more valuable than a new coat of paint.

 

5. Tea parties can actually be fun. 5

As can Legos, fire trucks, dollhouses, digging for worms, and eating imaginary food for the millionth time. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that your opponent is ALWAYS going to cheat at Chutes n Ladders or that the tea party you’re currently attending is going to keep you from checking your email for the next 3 hours, it’s fun to just let go and enjoy these moments that will all too soon be nothing more than fond memories.

confessions

 

Dave Engledow is the author of Confessions of the World’s Best Father, a hilarious pictorial parody of a clueless father and his adorable daughter.

Happy Fathers Day!


9781592408177MOn the afternoon of June 8, 2005, a librarian at Yale University Library was shocked to discover an X-acto knife blade on the floor of the reading room. Library staff traced it to a bespectacled, silver-haired dealer in antiquarian maps who was looking at rare books and atlases that day. When he was followed out of the library, E. Forbes Smiley III was found to have four maps stolen from the books he looked at there. After an FBI investigation, Smiley eventually admitted to stealing 97 maps worth more than $3 million from libraries around the country. The question is, Why did he do it? That’s the question I set out to explore in my new book, The Map Thief, published by Gotham Books this week. Along the way, I discovered many new facts about the case, and about maps themselves. Here are five:

1) Maps are much easier to steal than art

Works of art are generally one-of-a-kind pieces that hang in museums where everyone knows where they are. It’s hard enough for thieves to break and in and try and steal one; but it’s even harder for them to try and sell it. For that reason, most art thieves are apprehended soon after their crimes—or else, the art goes underground for decades. Rare maps, meanwhile, may be printed in thousands of copies—of which a dozen or even a hundred may have survived over the centuries. Most of those copies exist in libraries, contained in books or in folders full of similar maps that are often poorly catalogued and sometimes poorly guarded. Once a thief walks out with one, he can sell it for thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands of dollars, to dealers or collectors who may never even suspect it is stolen—and may hang it in public view without anyone else suspecting it either. Smiley got away with this kind of theft for at least four years, and would have gotten away with it for longer had he not carelessly dropped the blade on the floor.

2) Most maps are bad—but bad for a reason

It’s hard to put ourselves back in time to the way the world was before Google Maps and satellite technology, back when mapmakers had to rely on primitive instruments and dubious travelers’ reports to sketch the border and coastlines of the world. But hundreds of years ago, cartographers introduced all kinds of errors into maps, some mistakenly and others intentionally. A misjudgment by explorers in the 17th century, for example, led to California being drawn as an island for over a hundred years. But other mistakes were politically motivated, such as the inclusion of a Northwest Passage on Dutch and English maps for centuries; or the introduction of fictitious towns and cities onto areas a particular country was trying to colonize. During the 18th century, France and England battled over North America for years with maps that drew boundary lines in different places before they ever fired a shot in an actual war over the continent. Oftentimes these mistakes, intentionally or not, increase the value of maps, prized by collectors for the stories they tell about the area during a certain time period.

3) Map dealing can be a cutthroat business

Far from the image of map collecting being a rarified pursuit followed in a gentlemanly manner, serious map dealing can be competitive and cutthroat, with a small number of dealers battling it out at auctions over a limited number of rare and valuable artifacts. In the 1990s, the value of maps soared when they became popular for decorating by the rich and famous. Map dealer Forbes Smiley found it difficult to compete, even though he was one of the most knowledgeable dealers in his field. Always a bad businessman, Smiley began getting squeezed by other dealers better at competing at auction and sewing up valuable clients. He began falling further and further into debt, until he began to desperately look at theft as a way out of his predicament.

4) The roots of Smiley’s thefts were laid in a small town in Maine

Forbes Smiley always loved New England history; he grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and always lamented the way it became overrun with commercialization. In college, he fantasized about creating a utopian village with his friends that they could design to their liking. Years later, he actively sought to create that town in the small hamlet of Sebec, Maine, where he bought the post office and a restaurant and general store and sought to create the perfect New England village. Unfortunately, not all residents shared his vision, and he ended up getting in a legal dispute that cost him money and prestige—eventually leading him in part to steal maps to make up for his losses. While some of the money from the maps he stole went into nice clothes, fancy meals, and plane trips, the vast majority went into his grandiose scheme in Sebec.

5) Smiley didn’t admit all of the maps he stole

In an interview, Smiley told me that he didn’t know of a single map he stole that he didn’t admit to authorities. Yet, in my research, I uncovered nearly a dozen maps that libraries were able to recover after the FBI had given up their own hunt. The libraries relied on physical evidence such as smudges or impressions on the paper in order to identify and claim the maps they did; but many of them also have circumstantial evidence pointing to even more maps that Smiley stole. For example, some libraries are missing copies of maps that Smiley admitted taking from other libraries, and in other cases, he sold extremely rare maps to dealers that existed in only a few copies. Without definitive proof, however, the libraries weren’t able to recover them. Never a good businessman, Smiley may be telling the truth when he says he can’t recall all of the maps he stole. But either way, we may never know for sure how many maps he got away with taking.


mistakesFirst, open a Twitter account.  Sit on a chair outside of your daughter’s room at night, because she insists.  This lack of personal freedom is the reason that you were able to complete an entire book in nine months.  Now she’s asleep but you stay there, hands hovering over the keyboard.  Know that you MUST TWEET.  The pressure is overwhelming.  No witty quip will be witty enough, so decide to write about politics. Think about politics and draw a blank.  Close Twitter and open the NY Times. Go to “most emailed articles,” where number eight is a piece on making green smoothies. Become deeply absorbed.

Your sister-in-law has generously, patiently followed you around with her fancy camera, taking photos against backgrounds that might make you look like an author.  The pillars of Smith College; a lovely tree beside an academic building that – when you check the camera’s small bright screen – looks like it’s growing out of your head. Finally, you lead your sister-in-law back to your own office and stand against the bright red wall that makes everyone look good.  Click.  The picture pops up over and over when you post media interviews with YOU on Facebook.  Finally, a guy in Florida messages you saying he likes the way you look. “Ick,” says your husband. “Erase it.” Feel put-off and quite flattered.  Wonder if this is what it would be like to online date.  Refresh Facebook every ten minutes to see all of the likes. Smile.

The night before your book is actually published, leave your phone by your bed.  Check email at 1:00 am, 3:00 am and 5:00 am. Imagine bookstore owners around the country tearing into brown cardboard boxes filled with copies of your book, lifting those copies to the light and air.  Cue religious music – you’re Jewish, but this is Christian music, sweet voices of altar boys echoing in a cathedral where the windows are your book cover design made out of stained glass.  No reviews have come in by 5:00, so you rise and eat a nice bowl of pub day oatmeal.

Get your hair streaked with gold.  Wear bright red pants.  It’s the day of your son’s flute recital and so you walk over to the concert hall in this get-up.  This is a small town filled with students who wear pajamas to class and out into the street; this is a town where everyone knows you didn’t have gold streaks before you wrote a book; everyone knows you didn’t own red pants.  Decide not to care. Put on sunglasses to complete the look.  Feel like a show-off.

Wear your show-off outfit to the local bookstore, which has sold-out of the one copy of your book it had in stock – purchased by your colleague.  Talk to one of the booksellers, a tall, placid man with gray hair and the furrowed brow of a serious reader. Imagine that your book isn’t serious enough for him. Follow him around as he shelves novels written by other people, and offer phrases like, “I’m wondering,” and  “it would be great” and “I’d be happy to.”  Finally, he will turn to you and make eye contact, saying a box of your books is due in soon. Refrain from making yourself a total fool by asking – as he turns from you and continues shelving – if he’d like you come back and sign them.  Leave feeling like you have done well because you didn’t jump onto the counter and cry, “Am I not a local author? If you prick me, do I not bleed?”

When your publisher asks you to write for the new Penguin blog, consider the assignment and realize that writing about “anything” is hard. Does this mean you’re not a real writer? Maybe. Open Twitter, and notice that several male crime novelists are now following you. Wonder if this is creepy or nice.  Check Facebook again.  Realize that you’re hungry. You will need something, maybe green smoothie, before starting to do any real work.


mistakesAt the graduation reading for my MFA in Writing program, an admired professor noticed that I’d refused the cheap white wine and was having seltzer instead.  “I’m pregnant,” I told her, a hand on my still-small belly.  She shook her head and said, “Oh, you’ll never write again.” It may have been an attempt at a joke, but she said it with a straight face.  I took a moment to concentrate on arranging my features into some semblance of nonchalance – but inside, I was devastated.  Somehow, because she was saying it, I thought it must be true.

It was like she had put a lazer focus on the secret, ambivalent part of me that really wasn’t sure if I could be a writer or even WANTED to be a writer.  Indeed, part of me giddily anticipated the baby as a “get out of (writing) jail free” card.  It was an excuse to slow down and take naps, to set aside my ambitions and the waves of inadequacy that came with them.  Because even the thought of having a baby was so consuming that there was only room in my brain to read snippets of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Dr. Sears and other bland tomes that would tell me what to do.

Then my son was born and it was harder – much harder than I’d imagined – to nurse him.  When that painful ordeal was over and he’d “latched-on,” I found myself wanting to write about it, and published an essay in our local paper.  Neighbors saw it and congratulated me, and it was a bit like a “coming out.”  I was encouraged.  As my infant son cried less, I wrote more, and as life became full of taking care of someone who was not me, I was grateful for writing as a retreat to an internal landscape.

I’ve since had a daughter, too, who’s now five and asked yesterday, “Why do people keep saying they’re excited to read your book?” She doesn’t understand the thrill of finally being a published author – published by a big house like Penguin – but my nine year old son completely gets it.  He couldn’t wait for me to return home from work on the day when my first box of books arrived.  He was so excited to see the finished product, and wanted a copy of Mistakes I Made at Work for himself.

That night, he took it to bed.  As I sat nearby, reading a bedtime story to his sister, he lay on his stomach, the book light shining down, and opened to the first page.  After a few seconds, he interrupted us and said, “I like this way you describe ‘a low hum of anticipation.’ That’s good! You’re a really good writer, mommy!”

I wish that I could go back to my writing professor, who probably just thought she was being funny and had no idea that I’d take her seriously.  I wish that I could tell her about how having kids has actually helped me to prioritize my time, to become increasingly efficient, and to crave the wonderful feeling of having my own creative projects.  But I also just love being able to share the excitement of a first book with my son, and the knowledge that – at least for now – he is one of my biggest fans.

Check back Thursday, 5/15 for the next post in this series.


AM_Homes0
I come to you as a writer, a mother, a daughter, a woman who suffers from over-volunteerism as in all of the above, who has been officially banned by her family from taking on anything more.  It’s enough they say, you’re never home anymore. And so I am here, at home, while my daughter is at school and my mother is at her book group—thinking about Mother’s Day.

It seems odd that given all that mothers do for us on a daily basis that we’ve given them only one designated day a year when they are celebrated. So first off, I move to have something called Mother’s Hours. These are times of the day, designated by mothers where we must be left alone. Ok, so maybe it doesn’t need to be HOURS, maybe it could just be fifteen minutes. But you know that dull drab look we get; that vacant expression, the head nodding but we have no idea what you’re saying. The pallor and cardio fitness of someone who meant to go to the gym but instead baked cupcakes for the class or sewed name-tags into camp clothes, the dull whine of the woman who meant to get a hair cut but instead cleaned the hamster cage, the bird cage, and cleaned the spots where the dog did various things that went unnoticed by everyone else. Mothers Hours, for mothers who drink tea, or white wine, or just need a moment to themselves, mothers who do it all and then some—mothers who don’t even have time to be reading this.

Let’s pause to consider the working mother who comes home fried, having been up since five am, first organizing the family, making breakfast, somehow getting everyone dressed and out the door and then dealing with her job, her superiors, her subordinates, her competitors—and the guy next to her doing a lot less and earning a lot more. She comes home and is the lightening rod, she is ground zero for everything including meltdowns—who else would put up with it? As soon as she’s in the door, she’s met with sobbing children, the litany of misunderstandings that our kids hold in all day and then deliver back to us.

This is when I start eating chocolate. I can be preparing dinner and nibbling on what’s left of the kid’s chocolate bunny which I supposedly hid to save her from the sugar and calories—but which you could equally argue I hoarded for myself.

Mothers are the one soup to nuts relationship in your life; you’ve got them from beginning to end, and so I am all about celebrating it. There are things about the mother/child relationship that should not be unique to that intimate bond but in fact should be part of our culture, the way we live–think about compassion, acceptance, the idea that you matter, your needs, desires and dreams have a place here. Wouldn’t it be nice if the world could be a little more like a “good-enough” mother?

The funny thing is this—I didn’t always get along with my mother; the running joke is I was the worlds worst kid only its not a joke and it’s not funny. I was an angry and unhappy creature of a child, at war with the world. I grew up adopted and with a giant chip on my shoulder. In the seemingly perfect world of Chevy Chase Maryland, where hair was brushed and shoe laces were tied, I was an outright freak. My mother and I would fight; she would get exasperated and throw her arms up and say, “I hope one day you have a little girl just like you.” And I’d cross my arms over my chest and say, “I hope I do!  That dream came true for both of us and I have a wonderful, funny, handful of an eleven year old, who is just like me—for better and worse.

But despite the fighting, when I left home, I always called my mother. I called her every day all through college and graduate school and into my adult life. I sometimes called her twice a day, once in the morning before she left for work and once in the early evening before dinner. People thought I was weird, “You talk to your mother every day?” It seemed stranger to me that people didn’t talk to their families, but rather made appointments for when they would talk—Sundays at 5pm. And when they showed up for their appointment what did they talk about? Did they file a report on the week? Take attendance? The truth is I love the sound of my mother’s voice.

The only other thing I love as much is what happens at 3.30 every afternoon when I hear the front door open and a youthful mini-me calls out, Hi mom, I’m home. When my daughter grow up and gets a place of her own—I hope we won’t have to make an appointment. In fact, my plan is that I’m going to treat her to something special–a landline. I’ll buy her a princess trim line phone or maybe a wall mount with one of those long curly cords and hope that in the evenings when she’s making dinner, she’ll give me a call.

So what am I doing for Mother’s Day, I’m running away from home and going to Australia… but first I’m calling my mother.

A.M. Homes is the author of the novels, May We Be Forgiven, This Book Will Save Your Life, The Mistress’s Daughter, Music For Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, and Jack, as well as the short-story collections, Things You Should Know and The Safety of Objects, the travel memoir, Los Angeles: People, Places and The Castle on the Hill, and the artist’s book Appendix A:

A.M Homes has recently been named one of the 50 Most Powerful Moms of 2014 by “Working Mother Magazine.”

 
 


insanecityWhen the snow is falling and the wind howls, there’s nothing I’d rather do than curl up by the fire with a book.  I always look forward to winter because there’s something so satisfying about feeling safe and cozy indoors while I lose myself in someone else’s story.

I adore a white Christmas and always look forward to the brilliant blue skies in January, made even brighter by the mounds of fresh white powder, as far as the eye can see.  I live in the Midwest specifically because I relish all four seasons and can’t imagine ever seeing in the New Year clad in shorts and a pair of flip flops.

My point is, I love winter.  I really do.

But as I gaze out my window and see the fluffy piles I love so much still banked four feet high on either side of my front walkway, I sort of want to kick a lung out of someone.  I find myself repeating, “Go home, winter.  You’re drunk,” every time I have to layer up to leave the house or pay a gas bill.

Fortunately, there’s no better escape from the winter doldrums than a great book, so I’m delighted to share my Spring Is Coming (Because It Has To, Eventually) book picks!

My first recommendation for a great escape is Dave Barry’s Insane City.  For almost a quarter of a century, Barry was on the scene for the Miami Herald, documenting the truly bizarre, the outrageous, and most importantly, the hilariously true stories in his weekly diatribes.  Deemed The Funniest Man in America by the New York Times, Barry’s always been at his best when employing his catchphrase, “I am not making this up.”

Yet he’s equally as skilled when he does, indeed, make it up.

His novel Insane City, neatly answers the question, “What if a Pulitzer Prize winner interpreted The Hangover in book form?”  We open with hapless Seth Weinstein on his way to his wedding in Miami with his Groom Posse, three men who are “connected by the bond of college, as well as the bond of being unsuccessful at everything they had tried since.”

After an airport kerfuffle, the Posse arrives in South Florida and things quickly go awry.  Wedding rings (and pants) are lost, replaced by a Haitian refugee family, a large jewel-encrusted-bikini wearing stripper named LaDawne, and an eleven foot albino python.

Complicating matters are Seth’s affianced bridezilla, an amorous orangutan named Trevor in possession of said lost ring, and an entire wedding party who inadvertently get stoned to the bejesus due to a misplaced batch of pot brownies.  But it’s not until billionaire guest Wendell Corliss discovers the one thing his money never bought was fun that the action truly begins.

The laughs generated from Insane City will absolutely shake the chill from your bones.

tfiosNext up is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Do yourself a favor and read this book before the movie comes out, because no matter how fine the film may be, it won’t hold a candle to the magic and nuance that is Green’s writing.  The way he’s able to capture and articulate his characters’ thoughts and feelings is nothing short of masterful and this book is destined to become an American classic.

I had the privilege of meeting the author a few years ago and I had to ask him, “At what point in your life were you a fifteen year old girl with cancer?  Because clearly this book is too real for you not to have personally lived this.”  Green attempted to convince me that he was, in fact, never a fifteen year old girl, but I was having none of it.  At no point did I ever consider the fact that characters Hazel and Augustus weren’t living human beings; Green has breathed so much life into them that they simply can’t not exist.

One of the myriad reasons that this book moved me so much is because Green possesses a rare gift and that’s the ability to take the teenage experience and make it relatable to those of any age.  (Please don’t be dissuaded by the Young Adult label!)  Filmmaker John Hughes had this gift, too – the ability to look at teenagers and take their hopes, thoughts, and dreams and translate them to a broader audience, without mocking or minimizing the experience.

I recommend The Fault in Our Stars as a spring pick-me-up because even though there are so many heart-breaking moments in the tale of two cancer-surviving teens finding love, it’s one of the most uplifting novels I’ve ever read and it will warm you to your core.

bungalowMy final pick is Sarah Jio’s The Bungalow.  Although this wasn’t her first novel, it’s the one that introduced me to her work and now she’s one of my all-time favorite authors.

I’ll be honest – I grabbed this particular book because I was attracted to the cover.

I know, I know.

In my defense, I was in the middle of another bitter Chicago winter and when I saw the ocean backdrop and thatched hut, all I could think was, “I want to be there.”  So I opened the book for the cover, but Jio’s writing captured me instantly, brilliantly weaving a tropical tale of the past and present into a powerful narrative.  Jio’s work embodies everything I love about contemporary women’s fiction.  I’m not sure I can do the story justice, so here’s the description in her own words:

A sweeping saga of thwarted love, murder, and a long-lost painting… In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world–until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war. A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life and, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.

As I read, I could practically taste the salt in the air, with the trade winds gently mussing my hair.  Granted, the salt was likely from my icy walkway and the wind from a faulty fireplace damper, but for the time I spent reading this book, I had completely and utterly escaped the clutches of winter.  And for that moment in the snow and the slush of 2012, it was enough.

So, even though Mother Nature may not have had the last word yet, we’ve definitely broken the back of winter.

Spring is coming, and with the help of a good book, likely sooner than you think.

Jetwistedsistersn Lancaster is a New York Times bestselling author. Read an Excerpt from her latest novel: Twisted Sisters.


KenFollettI’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the Middle Ages, and I know readers have been intrigued too, but it’s not the only fascinating period of history. I wanted to give readers a similar experience with an era that their own grandparents and great-grandparents lived through. In a way, Fall of Giants is about understanding ourselves and where we all come from.

Several real historical characters appear in these pages, and readers sometimes ask how I draw the line between history and fiction. It’s a fair question, and here’s the answer.  In some cases, for example when Sir Edward Grey addresses the House of Commons, my fictional characters are witnessing an event that really happened. What Sir Edward says in this novel corresponds to the parliamentary record, except that I have shortened his speech, without, I hope, losing anything important.

Sometimes a real person goes to a fictional location, as when Winston Churchill visits Tŷ Gwyn. In that case, I have made sure that it was not unusual for him to visit country houses, and that he could well have done so at around that date.

When real people have conversations with my fictional characters, they are usually saying things they really did say at some point. Lloyd George’s explanation to Fitz of why he does not want to deport Lev Kamenev is based on what Lloyd George wrote in a memo quoted in Peter Rowland’s biography.

My rule is either the scene did happen, or it might have; either these words were used, or they might have been. And if I find some reason why the scene could not have taken place in real life, or why the words would not really have been said—if, for example, the character was in another country at the time—I leave it out.

Early in Ken’s career, he was known primarily as a thriller writer, but made the transition to historical fiction with The Pillars of the Earth, which became his most popular novel of all and his own personal favorite. With the Fall of Giants, the first book in his Century Trilogy, he moved into modern history.

Edge of Eternity publishes September 16, 2014.


Steinbeck Leather Bound 1Born and raised in Oklahoma, I grew up with the distant ghosts of the dust bowl.  As a twenty-one year-old-graphic artist, I too, left Oklahoma for the romance and opportunities of California.  Luckily, unlike the Joads, California greeted me with open arms—lapping waves, palm trees, exciting new ideas, food, glorious weather and refreshing open-minded attitudes—clearly, a different era.  Forty years later, I am still embracing California and all of her opportunities and natural beauty.  Proud of my Oklahoman roots, I feel honored and grateful to contribute to this historic edition of The Grapes of Wrath

Michael Schwab is a Graphic Artist. His studio designed the end papers that are in both the hardcover and the limited edition, as well as the cover of the limited edition.

Click here for more photos of the 75th Anniversary Edition.