Simon MajumdarI was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue.  Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.

A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books.  It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.

The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.

It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.

As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.

I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author.  Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.

fed-white-and-blue-by-simon-majumdar 2I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.

Like I said, it feels like coming home.

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Christine DonougherLes Misérables is a novel whose themes have a universal and very topical resonance, but they are themes that emerge from a narrative that is very specifically related to a particular time and place –post Revolutionary France. My translation attempts to preserve that specificity of time and place, so I was anxious not to contaminate the text, as it were, with a vocabulary or with expressions freighted with connotations from a later era or a radically different environment that would sound inappropriate or jarring.

I was also anxious not to adopt a style that was unduly mannered or artificial, not to create any sense of the ‘costume drama’. I wanted the text to read as if it was written in a living language, but not in an aggressively twenty-first-century idiom.

My approach was to view Les Misérables not from the perspective of the present, as a nineteenth-century classic, but rather to see it as the modern phenomenon that it once was, reflecting, as it did when it was published in 1862, a modern view of recent history, written by an author who was regarded–in literary terms, in his political views, in his own private life–as something of an iconoclast, a radical, a rule-breaker, a trail-blazer, but who also respected more conservative views and values, and who had contrived by the end of his life to become an establishment figure par excellence.

Hugo had a seemingly effortless mastery of French versification and had published a huge body of poetic work by the time that he was revising and completing Les Misérables in the early 1860s. He was steeped in the classics, and he knew his La Fontaine inside out. He lived in a world of political upheaval, of scientific inquiry and technological innovation, and his writing reflects all these elements.

To bring out these aspects of his writing I relied not only on translation but also on footnotes to illuminate textual features of a linguistic nature–puns, quotations in foreign languages, literary allusions etc–and endnotes to explain factual and historical references, and my hope is that this editorial apparatus is not intrusive but supportive. (While I was working on the translation I became aware of the internet community of fans of Les Misérables whose detailed knowledge of Hugo’s text and their readiness to exchange information about it are remarkable.)

I was intrigued, for instance, by Marius’s tribute to Monsieur Maboeuf, to whom he is indebted for telling him about his father: “He removed my cataracts.” The more clichéd expression would be, “He opened my eyes,” but in 1752 the French surgeon Jacques Deviel published an account of his revolutionary procedure of cataract removal, which laid the foundations for the method used right up until modern times.

I was also struck by how Les Misérables seems to have anticipated so many of the now familiar elements of later novels, thrillers and films, from the literary–there are strong echoes of Jean Valjean’s dream in the South American writer Juan Rulfo’s ghost town in his short novel Pedro Paramo, which Garcia Marquez and Borges revered as a masterpiece–to the mass market bestseller–the long, so-called digressions being not very far removed from the detailed background research incorporated into the modern techno-thriller. The chase through the sewers is memorably reprised in Carol Reed’s film noir The Third Man, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, and the Champmathieu Affair is a forerunner of many later court room dramas.

les-miserables-by-victor-hugoSo, bearing all these considerations in mind, this translation aims to convey as directly and as unobtrusively as possibly the enduring and timeless appeal of Hugo’s great novel.

 Start Reading an Excerpt


credit Fiona Saunders

Seventeen years ago, right out of college and the Radcliffe Publishing Course, I moved to New York and went to work for the charismatic group of editors who founded Riverhead Books. Over the next four years, as an editorial assistant, I would answer phones, make photocopies, mail books and schedule lunch dates in exchange for a master class in the art of being an editor.

I had always wanted to be an editor. I imagined being left alone in a spacious office with a lot of books and papers. It didn’t take a week to realize that the reality of being an editor was very different—and much more exciting—than my fantasy. What I could not have anticipated before witnessing the chaos, the constant interruptions, the endless phone calls and multi-hour meetings around which those editors’ work days revolved, was how captivating the authors would be. I was star-struck by some of them, a little bit in love with others, and scared to death of one or two. But they were never, ever boring, and no two hours, let alone days, with them were alike. I was forced to overcome my natural introversion again and again to find ways to help, to please, to cajole and to befriend these enigmatic creatures.

When I became an editor myself, I realized just how intense and emotional these relationships could be. The authors I chose to work with changed my life. I helped them to make the most of their work, promoted their books both inside and outside the company, and faded into the background when it was their time to shine. I learned a lot by watching them, but I never wished to be one of them. They spent years writing books in private that would become suddenly public, up for judgment. It was exhilarating but terrifying. They nurtured their hopes, but they couldn’t know what publication day would bring.

While I delivered more than my share of good news over the years—got to tell some authors that their books had made the New York Times bestseller list, to enthuse over publicity coups and take them out for celebratory dinners after their Manhattan readings—I felt their disappointment acutely when things didn’t go so well: a bad review, a too-quiet launch, missed flights and poorly attended readings on tour. I loved being their behind-the-scenes support from the relative safety of my office at 375 Hudson Street, where my good friends and I gossiped and celebrated one another’s birthdays with conference room cupcakes.

A writing life would have seemed too messy and risky to the person I was then. I used to tell friends and family who aspired to write books that it was a terrible way to make a living, that if they could imagine doing anything else—ANYTHING—they should go and do that instead. I stand by that advice, and yet my book, That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, is about to be published by Gotham.

After I‘d been working for Penguin for ten years, my husband and I had the opportunity to reinvent our lives in London—an offer too exciting to pass up. We started a family. I did some freelance editing and ghost-wrote a couple of books. Then I started looking around for a new challenge… and let’s face it, there’s nothing like a couple of little kids to help you get used to mess and risk. When one of my former authors (none other than the brilliant Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves) gave me the idea to write a book about the differences between English and American culture through the lens of language, I really wanted to try it.

I spent months doing research and digging up intriguing little stories and bizarre bits of history. It was enormous fun finding my own voice after channeling other voices for so long, but the best part was imagining readers having the same thrill of discovery that I’d felt while working on the book. There are a lot of people out there who love to travel, explore other cultures, and talk about language—this book is for them. It is also for American and English expatriates going through the tortuous process of partial assimilation that I went through (and am still going through). Writing That’s Not English helped me find the humor in this experience.

I could never have imagined how satisfying work could be on the other side of the desk. There are things I miss about being an editor, though—like my colleagues. I want to say that I missed those smart and funny Penguins so much, I just had to work with them again. But the truth is, they rarely call me. Most days I am left alone in the library with a lot of books and papers, nurturing my hopes and wondering what publication day will bring.

 

thats-not-english-by-erin-moore

 

American by birth, Erin Moore is a former book editor who specialized in spotting British books—including Eats, Shoots & Leaves—for the US market. She’s spent the last seven years living in England with her Anglo American husband and a small daughter with an English accent.

That’s Not English is the perfect companion for modern Anglophiles and the ten million British and American travelers who visit one another’s countries each year.


Malice 2014 me and teapot 2“Where do you get your ideas?” a reader asks, at nearly every book event. “From my characters,” I say, aware that this makes me sound like a crazy woman. But before you call the men in the white coats, let me explain.

The heart of every story is the characters. Even in a mystery or a thriller, where plot is critical to a story’s success, the characters are the key. When someone raves to you about a book, they don’t say “it’s about a bomb ….” They say “it’s about a woman who ….” When readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes even more.

Character is both a person and a person’s essential nature, revealed by decisions and choices, especially those made under stress. It is those choices and decisions that create the plot.

And so, for me, it’s crucial to get to know my characters before I start writing their story. Because I write series, I know my recurring characters, but they are always surprising me. I knew that Pepper Reece, the main character in my new Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, got her nickname not from the shop but from her baseball-crazy grandfather, who dubbed the fiery three-year-old “Pepper” after the legendary Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals. But not until her mother Lena returns from Costa Rica for a visit in the third book, which I’ve just begun, did I know for sure what her real name is. (And no, I’m not going to tell you until then!) I knew she was raised in a communal household along with Kristen, her BFF and part-time employee. But I had no idea that in their early forties, these closer-than-sisters friends would discover that each had kept a secret or two.

Turns out that secrets are a theme to this series, as are questions about identity and the fine line between protecting someone and interfering. In Assault and Pepper, the first installment, Pepper finds a homeless man named Doc dead on the Spice Shop’s doorstep. The discovery rocks Pepper right down to her bay leaves. Nothing in her first year selling spice or her fifteen years managing staff HR at a giant law firm prepared her for the shock—or the consequences.

(Although being a cop’s wife for thirteen years did expose her to the seamier side of life. Especially when she discovered her husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working a shift for a friend. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s the bike cop on the Market beat.)

What’s even worse is when the homicide detectives—Spencer and Tracy, and yes, they’ve heard the jokes, and no, they’re not amused—focus on one of her trusted employees. She considers herself a good judge of people; after all, in both HR and retail, her livelihood depends on it. How could she have been so wrong? The only other suspects seem just as unlikely. Pepper investigates in part because she can’t believe her employee is guilty—or that the young woman would withhold the truth from her. The investigation forces her to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people. In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.

Plot unfolds when one character acts and another responds. And so as a writer, I ask my story people to tell me what they most want out of life. To show me their struggles, internal and external. To reveal how they respond when someone stands in their way. In the planning phase, I sometimes struggle until I identify the core conflicts between the victim and the killer—but also between the victim and other characters who fall under suspicion, and between the sleuth and those who would stop her. Ultimately, the characters’ actions and responses come together like the channels of a braided river.

Assault-and-Pepper-Leslie-Ann-BudewitzGetting there can be messy. It’s a kinetic process, always changing until I reach “the end” for the last time. It’s a lot of fun. I hope that it flows on the printed page, that it keeps you reading and asking questions. I hope my stories introduce you to a cast of folks you want to know, who show you a little something about life—and character.

Discover more about Assault & Pepper by Leslie Ann Budewitz!


Brooke_Davis_cAilsaBowyerI grew up on ten acres in a quiet bush town called Bellbrae. It was pretty idyllic: the air smelled of eucalyptus, we were friends with all our neighbours, and we had the space and time to play and imagine and create. My mum was always a great reader, and my dad became one when he had kids. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark, the treat of visiting a bookshop, reading well-loved books over and over. I was so proud to own books and would always ‘borrow’ my mum’s and put them on my bookshelf. She’d take them back without telling me, and I’d do the same. It became this silent, funny, ping-pong kind of game that we had with each other and didn’t acknowledge.

I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time, the feeling they gave me. I can’t remember not feeling like books were important. I don’t think this is something I could have explained as a kid—now I can attach language to the feeling, and suggest that perhaps it was something to do with the way reading tapped into my imagination and my love of learning and the need I might have felt to develop an understanding for the way people are. But as a kid, it felt natural and I loved it and I didn’t know why. It was just something I thought everyone did, like the way we all did colouring-in, and played the recorder, and dressed up in Mum’s old bridesmaid dress and glittery shoes. It was all play to me.

Roald Dahl was my all-time favourite, and still is. His stories were funny, imaginative, rude, and pretty violent, in a cartoonish way, and it seemed like my parents shouldn’t be encouraging me to read them. I didn’t feel like I was being patronised when I read Roald Dahl. I also loved Judy Blume, Robin Klein, John Marsden, Emily Rodda, Katherine Paterson and L.M. Montgomery. Their writing felt honest and real—even when it was wildly imaginative. I was also really taken with Tim Winton’s ‘Lochie Leonard’ books—he captured the sound of the Australian accent so beautifully and I hadn’t realised you could do that in writing, that you could give a character the sound of your own voice.

I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’ And then, when I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest. My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of my writing giving people pleasure. I wanted more of that feeling.

Lost-&-Found-Brooke-Davis

 

Brooke Davis is the author of Lost & Found, her debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens when no one else is looking.


Tim Dowling, author of How-to-be-a-Husband-Tim-DowlingHow to be a Husband shares his suggestions on what Husbands should be reading this Valentine’s Day!

For the most part my experience of being a husband cycles around repeated failures to measure up, followed by sincere attempts to address these failings and to fail better next time, starting with my whole approach to recently used towels. The secret of being a good husband, I find, is taking the time to point out to one’s wife that she could, in fact, do a whole lot worse. That, in part,  is what the following books can do for you. Read them first to make sure you are actually a better husband than the ones featured, and discard from the pile as necessary.

 

Babbitt-Sinclair-Lewis

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

I was first made to read this in high school, at a time when this savage portrait of the morally bankrupt of George F. Babbit, family man and establishment stooge, didn’t mean much to me. Obviously I get it now. And how.

 

Revolutionary-Road-Richard-Yates

 

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

As bleak a portrayal of married existence as you’re likely to encounter, although when I saw the movie I came over all nostalgic because they’d so faithfully recreated the suburban Connecticut of my childhood. I kept wanting to shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way! Get some ice cream! Play some tennis!” I had a similar problem with The Ice Storm.

Abbott-Awaits

Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder

An extraordinary book: funny, dark, often transcendent. It charts tiny, in-between moments – through a series of very short chapters  – in the life of Abbott, a college teacher with a small child, a pregnant wife and a tenuous grip on the point of it all. If you’re married with kids he will remind you, often painfully, of you. Fortunately this sort of book isn’t my wife’s cup of tea at all.

The-Wife-Meg-Wolitzer

 

The Wife by Meg Wollitzer

A look at marriage from the other perspective, that of the long-suffering wife of a celebrated author. It’s not a happy prospect – she’s planning to leave him on page 1 – but how it makes you feel about your own record as a husband will probably depend on your personality. I was heartened and chilled by turns.

The-Diary-of-a-Nobody

 

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith

Charles Pooter, the suburban householder diarist of the title, is such a byword for a certain kind of unknowing self-importance that in Britain he’s an adjective: pooterish. Although it was written in the late 19th century, this comic masterpiece remains a great key to understanding the English, their humour and their preoccupations. I re-read it often, and each time it makes a little more sense.

Mr-Bridge-Even-Connell

 

Mr Bridge, by Evan S. Connell.

This chronicle of a distant, repressed husband living between the wars in Kansas City came out a full 10 years after Connell’s debut novel, Mrs Bridge, which covers the same ground but with the wife as the protagonist. The two books were later amalgamated and adapted for the screen as Mr and Mrs Bridge. They’re both great, but if you’re a husband this is the one that will keep you up nights.


DirtyChick_photo credit_AC Photography, WhangareiAs a city person living on a farm in New Zealand, it seems I’m always trying new things. I suppose this is honorable: I’m expanding my horizons and acquiring skills. The problem is that novelty so frequently ends in disaster.

There was the “let’s try raising a rooster” phase, resulting in an 18-inch bird pecking furiously at my legs. There was the earnest attempt to “get this cow back in her paddock,” ending with the cow in a neighbor’s garden, eating roses and (I am certain) having a laugh.

After various misadventures with animals, I decided this year to start vegetable gardening, and now it is clear I may die by zucchini. Not realizing just how fertile these sluts of the squash world can be, I planted six varieties and sat back hopefully, anticipating summer luncheons of ratatouille and zucchini tarts.

The resulting zucchini torrent brought me to the brink of collapse. They surged from the garden, some slender and demure, most wide and menacing as a cudgel. We baked, grilled and fried them, and when we could eat no more we tried feeding them to the cow, who glanced up critically but refused to cooperate. They sprang up overnight, sometimes a dozen in a day. At night I lay awake, certain I could hear them growing then slithering, Triffid-like, in the dark.

Then there was the matter of the sorrel. I planted this weed with fond thoughts of France, remembering a classic soup from childhood. I’d blend it with stock from the turkeys we’d raised, and smooth it with eggs from our chickens. I imagined the soup bright green, bursting with sunlight and flavor from the garden I’d planted myself.

Just picked, the leaves were beautiful, as springy and vibrant as I’d remembered. But in contact with heat they faded, the green leaves surrendering to grey, then capitulating to the muddy consistency of pudding.

I persevered, straining the soup, tempering the cream, smoothing and correcting the seasoning. And though the resulting flavor wasn’t too terrible, pleasantly citrusy if a bit strong, I couldn’t get past the look of it. This soup just looked like a swamp.

“That’s all right, I’ll feed it to the chickens,” I thought, comforting myself with the wisdom that nothing is wasted on a farm, that the chickens would turn this culinary failure into good eggs for our family.

But even the chickens wouldn’t taste my crappy soup, and the next morning I found the bowl untouched in their enclosure, while my hens pecked for beetles in the grass.

Meanwhile, I’d turned my back on the garden for an entire day, and the result was zucchini anarchy. These plants have oversize leaves, large enough to hide a toddler or, in this case, the most perversely large squash I had ever laid eyes on.

Antonia in her garden

Antonia in her garden

This zucchini was nearly four feet in length, far beyond the pornographic specimens I’d contended with in the past. When they get that large, they’re not even called zucchini, but rather “marrow,” reminding me uncomfortably of the human bones they might suck if they ever grew teeth.

A New Zealand friend named Zane came round to commiserate, and when he saw my marrow he laughed out loud. “You can’t eat that,” he told me pointlessly, as though I would have dared to attempt such folly. “You can make a rum, though.”

At this, my ears perked up. “Make rum? To drink?”

“Yep, my grandmother did it, when times were tight. Hollowed out the inside of the thing and packed it with sugar, then hung it in an old stocking over a bucket. Stuff that drips out is a real strong alcohol. Marrow rum, they called it.”

Every now and then, as I try out new things, I learn something great: like how to turn a monster into a cocktail. And so I no longer pick my zucchini. Instead, I let them grow large and luxurious, ballooning out into the glorious rum vessels I now know them to be. Come fall, I’ll hang them from the rafters, each packed with sugar, until they release their essence, drip by delicious drip.

And in a few months, I’ll have marrow rum, enough to make everything better—the angry rooster, the obstreperous cow, this life in the country where we constantly stumble and fall. Maybe, if I drink enough of it, that marrow rum will improve the taste of sorrel. Or at least, I won’t worry about it, one way or the other.

DirtyChick

 

Read more faming life woes in Dirty Chick, which chronicles Antonia’s first year of life as an artisan farmer. Having bought into the myth that farming is a peaceful, fulfilling endeavor that allows one to commune with nature and live the way humans were meant to live, Antonia soon realized  that the reality is far dirtier and way more disgusting than she ever imagined. Part family drama, part cultural study, and part cautionary tale, Dirty Chick will leave you laughing, cringing, and rooting for an unconventional heroine.


1weird_thesecretMany people struggle to be creative. We see creative people and their work around us and compare ourselves. We don’t know how to be creative, or worse, we did once, and now we’re feeling blocked, bored or unsure. Tired of this happening to you?

Hi. I’m Adam J. Kurtz, and my new journal, 1 Page at a Time, can help. A daily creative companion, this book will assist in the journey back to your creative self. Through exercises and challenges “proven” to help, you too can harness your mind. You too can feel the guiding light of creativity as it pushes you to accomplish incredible feats of “ART” in the workplace, and in your personal life. You’ll write! You’ll cry!

For a limited time, all this is available for only — say it with me: 1! PAGE! AT A TIME!

The Endless Journey

The Endless Journey

If only it were that easy. A single book that could change everything, a quick fix, a ten-step program that could make the difference. The bad news is that creativity, like most things, is a journey. The good news? You’ve already started. As a living, breathing human being you are already creative. Congratulations! Simply processing the world around you is a creative feat. Getting dressed. Choosing lunch. Everything is creativity, everything is art, and you have everything you need. Your way of looking at things, the way you consume and digest all play a role.

When we think of creative accomplishments, we tend to think of the end result. The completed manuscript, mastered files, or framed piece. We get so caught up in that tangible end goal that we might not even see the creativity itself: the emotions, thinking, sketches and planning that led to that final output.

Creative Switch

Creative Switch

There’s no quick fix because there can’t be. There’s no switch to flip because your creativity is constantly flowing, you just might be letting it slip by. So instead of rushing forward, slow down. Take a deep breath. What are you thinking right now? What is the root of that emotion? Let’s talk about something else. Where have you traveled before? What would you write in a letter to a seven-year-old? Get up and walk away. Staring a problem in the face isn’t going to solve anything. Staring yourself in the face might. Write everything down and look at it. Make a couple of lists. Have some water, swish it around your mouth until it’s lukewarm, then swallow it. Okay, where were we, and where do we stand now?

Harness a small bit of yourself every day. A tiny piece. Something that feels irrelevant or useless. Put it to paper, then come back tomorrow. Our goals can be so daunting that we forget all the good advice we already know. “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” “Slow and steady wins the race!” Take small steps to accomplish your larger tasks. Follow your gut or your heart or whichever parts make your decisions. Remember that nothing really matters, no matter how important it might seem right now. Life moves on. The universe does what it wants. Have a little faith or take the whole leap. Your only job is to keep moving on. That’s creativity. It’s not a painting, it’s continuing to process, progress, and enjoy your life as you make it through.

Build Slowly

Build Slowly

But what do I know? I’m just some guy on the internet.

1 Page at a Time is a lot of things. It’s a diary. It’s a sketchbook. It’s a rulebook, a guidebook, a playbook and a yearbook. It’s whatever you want, with a healthy dose of optimism. And cynicism. It’s human. And it’s going to push you along your creative journey in the same way it helped me on mine.

Photo Credit: Ryan Pfluger

 

Adam J. Kurtz is a graphic designer, artist, and serious person. He is primarily concerned with creating honest, accessible work, including a range of small products and the self-published “unsolicited advice” calendar series. He is the author of no other books.

He currently lives in New York City. Visit AdamJK.com, @AdamJK, & jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk.com (or don’t!).


playingbig

Tara Mohr’s new book, Playing Big, is a guide for women to find their calling and make practical steps to dream bigger and achieve their goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. What do you think has been missing from the women & work conversation?

A lot! There’s been an oversimplification in the discussion of “internal” vs. “external” barriers to women’s advancement. The usual conversation treats them as totally independent from one another, and also confuses acknowledging the internal barriers (self-doubt for example) with “blaming women” – as if any internal barriers are women’s fault and therefore women’s responsibility. We miss the context: Women grapple with those internal barriers because of cultural and historical factors. Centuries of women’s marginalization and exclusion from professional, public and political life left a societal legacy, but it also left a legacy in us, impacting how we see ourselves. Looking inward to address the internal barriers to our own empowerment is – in my view – a wise response to that legacy. It’s part of the work women in our time need to do to claim our power, and our new freedoms, fully.

2.What compelled you to write Playing Big?

All around me, I saw brilliant women playing small. I was seeing it in my coaching clients, my colleagues, my friends and in myself. We were turning away from sharing our ideas, from truly going for our career dreams. We weren’t playing as big as our ideas, our talents, and our capacity for leadership merited.

3.You say that all contemporary women “have been hired for the transition team” – what do you mean by that?

The past was a world defined, designed and led largely by men. The future – we hope – will be a world defined, designed and led by women and men. The present is the transition. By dint of our birth into this historical moment, we’ve been “hired for the transition team.”

When women can start to see themselves as a part of a global, revolutionary transition team, we can more compassionately and wisely understand what’s not working in our institutions and culture right now. And can be buoyed by the understanding that whatever we do in our communities, companies and families to bring forward women’s voices – including our own voices – is connected to something much larger and much greater, something we are a part of.

4.What are the major blocks women have get in the way of their playing big?

That delusional inner critic voice, and not having the tools to deal with it. Also, paradoxically, often our good student habit and good girl behaviors get in our way. These habits are very helpful up to a certain point in our careers – they help us be good worker bees, solid contributors –but they then get in the way of our leading and shaking up the status quo. Some faulty beliefs also tend to get in our way – that we aren’t expert enough, that we need one more training or degree or a few more years experience. And of course, there are also many external barriers – unconscious and conscious bias, the double-bind, the dearth of female leader role models and mentors.

5. Part of this book is about callings – how can a woman figure out what her calling is?

Yes, I find most women don’t truly feel they are playing big until they play big not just in their careers, but in whatever pursuits they feel most called to. Those pursuits might happen through their jobs, but they might also happen through volunteer work, activism, family life or a creative passion. There are eight common patterns I see in how callings tend to show up in our lives – and usually we can recognize a calling because it meets at least a few of these criteria –

How do you recognize a calling? Look for one or more of these clues:

  1. You feel an unusually vivid pain or frustration around the status quo of a particular issue or topic. You strongly feel or clearly see what’s lacking.
  2. You see a powerful vision–vague or clear–about what could be. That vision keeps filling your mind or tugging at your heart.
  3. You feel inspired or even compelled to act. You have a mysterious, felt sense of “This work is mine to do.” You feel as if you’ve received an assignment, rather than that you chose the particular task or cause.
  4. You find that actually doing the calling is a magical, strengthening process. While your inner critic might show up now and then, and while it’s hard work, you receive energy and a sense of meaning, and rightness, from doing it. You feel a kind of flow while working on it.
  5. Satisfaction comes not when the end goal is achieved, but much earlier – when you give yourself full permission to work on the calling. And… (these are the most important — and most surprising qualities of a calling)
  6. You feel huge resistance. A part of you wants to run the other direction. You feel like the task is huge, and you just couldn’t possibly be up to it. It feels like this upends your plans, and doesn’t quite fit with what is convenient in your life. Keep this in mind: in the archetypal hero’s journey, step 1 is “hearing the call”. Step 2? “Resisting the call.” It’s normal. It’s part of the process. The key is eventually surrendering that resistance and stepping into the calling.
  7. You don’t — yet—have everything you need to have to complete it. It’s not just irrational fear talking. It’s the truth. You don’t have everything you need. There is work to do, resources you will need to gather, and things you will need to make happen. That is a part of the beautiful stretch of the calling.
  8. You aren’t — yet — the person you need to be to complete the calling. It’s true. It’s not just your inner critic. You aren’t quite up to the task. You don’t have all the qualities and strength you’ll need. And you’ll get them by doing the calling. Callings always grow us in some meaningful way. You will have to evolve, develop new capacities, and show up to life in new ways.

I see no evidence that we each get a single calling. Most women experience many over a lifetime, and even many at once. The question isn’t “what’s my calling?” It is “what callings am I receiving right now?” The goal isn’t to find the one final perfect calling and devote the rest of one’s days to it. Rather, the goal is to become a woman more able to recognize her callings and respect them. Often this is where we get stuck – respecting and taking seriously our callings.

6. You talk a lot about the inner critic and the inner mentor – what are those inner voices and why are they so important?

The quality of our lives and the quality of our leadership depends on whether we listen to the wisest part of ourselves or the most fearful part of ourselves.

All of us – women and men – have a vicious and strong inner critic voice, a voice that talks to us about how and why we don’t measure up. When women listen to the inner critic, or think it’s voice is just “who they are,” they get stuck playing small. And yet, one thing that women often get wrong is that they think they have become “confident” – that they have to get rid of self-doubt. We don’t! Our self-doubt isn’t going away. We do, however, need a new way of relating to it. We need to learn how to recognize the inner critic voice, hear it, acknowledge it, but not take direction from it.

One of the most powerful things a woman can do is discover what I call “the inner mentor.” When I was being trained as a coach, I was taught a simple, guided meditation I could use with my clients to help them envision and older, future version of themselves – themselves twenty to thirty years out into the future. What I found was that when people did this guided meditation and truly accessed that vision, it wasn’t just an “older” version of themselves they encountered, but rather a wiser, calmer, more fully expressed version of themselves. I came to call this the “inner mentor” because it functioned like a mentor women could call upon for guidance when they were facing a challenge or dilemma. Its answers were always surprising, profound, and unfailingly wise. Playing bigger from the inside out, is, in larger part, about becoming more and more like that wiser self – growing into her, so to speak.

There’s so much advice today for women to find mentors.  Mentors can be great for support, tactical information, and help navigating a particular company or field, and yet, there are so many instances in which a woman’s best answers will come from within herself – and when only she can know what the right course for herself is.

7.You are skeptical about all the positive hype about girls’ success is school – why?

Of course, it’s not a bad thing that girls are succeeding in school, but I do think we need to look more critically at what they are succeeding at when they do so. Often, the core skills that school teachers are 1) how to adapt to what an authority figure (the teacher) wants 2) how to learn information from the outside (a book, a lecture, etc.) and then memorize or apply it 3) how to prepare well – how to study for a test, or prepare for the next day’s discussion in class. These skills help us in certain ways in our careers, but to lead, to innovate, to be changemakers, and to do work that we find personally meaning in, we need a different skill set:

  • challenging authority and standing in our own authority – not just adapting to authority
  • trusting what we already know – not just learning information from the outside
  • improvising as well as preparing

I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that girls’ success in school is adequately preparing them to be the leaders and change agents we need them to be!

Read more about Playing Big here.

Visit Tara Mohr’s website here


TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.