Bria Sandford with Do Over by Jon AcoffWhen I first heard that Portfolio was signing Jon Acuff, I was thrilled. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home, and Jon’s early book Stuff Christians Like had delighted me with its good-humored skewering of the quirks in Christian culture. My little sister was obsessed with another of his earlier books, and I knew she’d be over the moon to hear that Jon’s next book would be published by my imprint. It didn’t look like I’d be the editor, but I’d still get some bragging rights. Little did I know that I’d have the good luck of “inheriting” the book when Jon’s original editor left.

The spectacular Maria Gagliano started out working with Jon, and I followed the progress of the book with interest as the two of them produced a really stellar book. Based on his own hard-earned experience, Jon explains how to launch or prepare for a career Do Over by depositing in a “Career Savings Account,” made up of investments in relationships, skills, character, and hustle. He comes alongside the reader with kindness and humor (This guy is hilarious!), but he doesn’t pull punches—when I first read an early version, I winced a little at some of the real talk and began taking notes for my own career.

do-over-by-jon-acuff 2When Maria left, I began working with Jon. Most of the editorial work on Do Over was complete, but I get to be his editorial liaison and will get to work on his next book with us (He’s so nice, we signed him twice!). I couldn’t be more pleased, since he’s the real deal. He’s as pleasant as he sounds in the book, and everyone at Portfolio who has worked with him adores him. What’s more, his book is that elusive career book that is truly helpful to people of all ages and stages in their careers. I can’t wait to see how Do Over changes lives.

 

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Putnam Editor Sara Minnich answers “Three Questions for an Editor” about her work on David Joy’s Where All Light Tends to Go.  This highly praised debut novel is a savage and beautiful story of a young man seeking redemption. In the meth-dealing family at the center of the book, killing a man is considered a rite of passage, but when eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely botches a murder, he is torn between appeasing his kingpin father and leaving the mountains with the girl he loves. The world that Jacob inhabits is bleak and unrelenting in its violence and disregard for human life, and having known nothing more, he wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above it.

 

 

For a debut novelist, David Joy has a writing style that feels so natural and remarkably assured as he creates an off-the-grid world populated by authentic characters that are bound to cause readers to feel a wide range of emotions.  What were your thoughts and impressions as you read the initial manuscript for the first time?

I was hooked within the first few pages of Where All Light Tends to Go. Both the writing style and the voice of the young protagonist were raw and gritty, utterly real.  After promising opening pages, I was crossing my fingers in hope that the rest of the book would hold up – and it absolutely did.  Shortly into the story things take a shocking and violent turn, and the pace only escalates from there.  Mostly I remember being unable to put it down.  The manuscript needed some work, but I knew from the first read that I loved it and that David was the real deal.

 

How would you describe the scope of the editor/author process as Where All Light Tends to Go evolved into a finished book?

The first draft that I read was in fairly solid shape in terms of the plot, pacing, and writing.  The element David and I spent the most time revising over the course of three drafts was the relationship between the hero, Jacob McNeely, and his love interest Maggie.  Maggie’s character needed to be fleshed out, and David did a lot of work to find her voice and to help the reader understand the magnetism between her and Jacob.  Their relationship was fundamentally transformed from the first draft to the final book, in a way that brought a lot of heart and hope to a story that is ultimately quite dark.

 

This novel is not your traditional “book club” book, given the gritty nature of a lot of the stories that unfold in its pages, but it feels like a book that will spark a lot of discussions.  What kinds of readers do you think will be most attracted to Where All Light Tends to Go and why?

The novel falls firmly in the category of country noir, so would be perfect for readers of Daniel Woodrell and Larry Brown.  Fans of shows like “Breaking Bad” or “Justified” would also find much to enjoy – a strong sense of place, characters that leap off the page, a grim and intense story, and a relentless pace.

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Start Reading an Excerpt from Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy


Barry LIVE RIGHT photo NSNI first got to know Dave Barry about twenty years ago. By that time, he’d already won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and had more bestsellers than half the publishing houses I know, but he’d never tried fiction.

Then the Miami Herald approached him and several other South Florida writers, including Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, to write a serial novel; I bought the book rights; and I loved his chapter so much, I asked if he wanted to write a whole novel. He said, sure, great idea! It wasn’t until he signed the contracts that he realized that meant he actually had to write a novel, with characters and plot and, you know, a lot of words. It was a brutal awakening. I’m not sure he’s ever completely forgiven me….

But I digress. Since then, we’ve done many books together, both fiction and nonfiction, but I have to say I think his new one may be my favorite: Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry.

It’s a collection of all-new essays about what one generation can teach to another – or not. Two of the centerpieces are letters to his brand-new grandson and to his daughter Sophie, who will be getting her Florida learner’s permit this year (“So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.”). Another explores the hometown of his youth, where the grownups were supposed to be uptight Fifties conformists, but seemed to be having a lot of un-Mad Men-like fun – unlike Dave’s own Baby Boomer generation, which was supposed to be wild and crazy, but somehow turned into neurotic hover-parents. Yet another conjures the loneliness of high school nerds (“You will never hear a high-school girl say about a boy, in a dreamy voice, ‘He’s so sarcastic!’”).

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All of them are extremely funny, but they also have the essence of humor: real heart. They make you not only laugh (a lot), but think and feel, and I promise you will be reading a lot of it aloud to people you love, and even to random strangers. Perhaps over a beer. Here’s to you, Dave.

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“Mark wants to write his next book about Atlantis.”

JessRenheim_photoEven though it’s been almost four years now, I remember that moment with remarkable clarity. In the summer of 2011, we had just published Mark Adams’ second book, Turn Right at Machu Picchu. It became both a critical success and a New York Times bestseller, and the book to buy if you planned on visiting Machu Picchu, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. So when it came time for Mark to submit his next book idea, I was pretty much ready to be excited about anything. Mark could write about java script updates and somehow turn it into a smart, funny, and engaging story. But even I was slightly taken aback when the proposal landed in my inbox.

Before reading Meet Me in Atlantis, my cultural reference points for the legendary lost city could be summed up as follows: an island that had sunk beneath the ocean, alien conspiracy theories, and a vague awareness of a tropical resort bearing the same name. It turns out that the actual history and source of the Atlantis story is far more fascinating and surprising.

For starters, everything we know about Atlantis comes from two dialogues written by the Greek philosopher Plato, dialogues packed with details about the sunken island. The information is abundant, but just vague enough that the specific location of Atlantis is never quite made clear. Today, most academics dismiss the tale as pure fiction, but Mark quickly learned that there is an entire global sub-culture of enthusiastic amateur explorers actively searching for the lost city based on the clues Plato left behind. For them, Atlantis was a real place, rooted in history, and waiting to be found.

What begins as one man’s skeptical inquiry into why people believe they can find the world’s most famous lost civilization becomes a full-blown quest that spans the globe to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries. In the process of investigating the top five possible sites where Atlantis might have once existed, Mark introduces readers to irresistible characters and locales. He unpacks an incredible wealth of history, philosophy, math, and myth into an absorbing narrative that sings along and captures the curiosity of even the staunchest of skeptics (I considered myself to be one of them), making you hope that Atlantis once existed beyond the imagination of Plato, that some of history is actually coded in the popular ancient myth, and that Mark Adams—driven by an insatiable and infectious curiosity—will lead you to rediscover a lost world.

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Meet Me in Atlantis is Adams’s enthralling account of Mark Adams quest to solve one of history’s greatest mysteries; a travelogue that takes readers to fascinating locations to meet irresistible characters; and a deep, often humorous look at the human longing to rediscover a lost world.

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IMG_0918A couple years ago, I asked Patricia Briggs to write a novella for our anthology On the Prowl. We wanted something either about Mercy Thompson, the car mechanic coyote shifter heroine of her urban fantasy series, or set in Mercy’s world. But when she said, “I think I’m going to write about Charles,” it took me a moment to place Samuel Cornick’s half-brother, a werewolf of few words who makes a brief appearance in Moon Called.

Well, after reading “Alpha and Omega”, I never forgot who Charles was again. In fact, I fell so in love with him and his mate, the werewolf Anna Latham, that I asked Patty if she would want to write more stories about Charles and Anna. And thus, the Alpha and Omega series was born–an action-packed urban fantasy series that is also the heartfelt story of Charles and Anna’s relationship.

With Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer, they tend to be trouble shooters, called in to deal with problems, and rarely catch a break. In Dead Heat, Charles and Anna travel to Arizona for personal reasons…or at least it starts out that way. Soon, they find themselves in the middle of a whole lot of trouble. The cold war between the fae and humanity is about to heat up, and the werewolves may have to choose which side they’re on.

I freely admit that I have a thing for werewolves. The pack structure, the human / animal dichotomy…it’s a concept that that is ripe for storytelling. And Patricia Briggs writes some of my absolutely favorite werewolves, who may be able to change their shape, but are always human.

Dead-Heat-Patricia-BriggsIt’s a pleasure to share Dead Heat with you, and I hope you fall in love with Charles and Anna the way I have.

Explore the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs!


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Ann Godoff, President and Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Press, offers insights into It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario. This book is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped Addario’s life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It’s her work, but it’s much more than that: it’s her singular calling.

 

 

 

What was the genesis of this project and how would you describe the editor/author process involved in honing the narrative voice and selecting the photographs with Lynsey?

Lynsey wanted to write a book that inspired young people, particularly young women, to follow a path that might make sense only to them. She thought her story could serve as a good example of how dealing with fear head on is a creative act. That’s where we started. Naturally her storytelling is visual first so we worked from there. It’s a memoir and the time line of her life provided the structure, but what was most important to me was that her voice be captured on the page. It’s such a positive voice, such a positive spirit, that I knew when the reader understood that Lynsey was happy in the middle of a war zone because she was able to do the work she was destined to do then everything about her would fall into place.  My job was to encourage her not to hold back or place the written word on too high a pedestal, and hold her storytelling on the page to the same standards she would if it were a photograph.

 

There are a number of harrowing events described in It’s What I Do that graphically portray the horrors of war, how Lynsey chronicled all, and the toll this took on her and those around her. There are also intensely personal revelations about her life, career, loves and fears. In what ways did you help her identify the most compelling ways to weave everything together?

It’s What I Do is intensely personal but then Lynsey is by nature totally candid about everything in her life. If she’s writing about a love affair that takes second, or third place, to an assignment half way around the world you understand that decision from her point of view. It’s not something men feel the need to apologize for, leaving a lover behind in the hope of a good story, and she doesn’t apologize. So when she falls in love with a man who understands her passion for her work and she is changed by the depth of their relationship we’re prepared for that shift. War zones create a special intensity for the creative artist and I asked her to conjure with that too. Making the decision to put yourself in harm’s way when it is your choice to do so and then dealing honestly with the consequences is at the heart of Lynsey’s book.

 

What aspects of this book do you hope will resonate most powerfully with readers?

Courage comes in small packages and in unexpected places. I think what will resonate most with readers is Lynsey’s determination that fear isn’t going to be the thing that gets her to no; in fact, It’s What I Do is all about Lynsey’s embrace of life, it’s all about yes.


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Kendra Levin, Senior Editor

I have a confession to make:  reading isn’t my favorite part of being an editor.

As much as I love discovering a wonderful manuscript, my favorite part of this job isn’t the books—it’s the authors.  I relish getting to know such a varied range of talented, creative people.  And they never fail to surprise me with their insights, their perspective, and the stories behind their stories.

Karen Bao intrigued me before I even met her.  I had just read Dove Arising, her debut young adult novel, and was struck by its preternaturally confident voice.

I had so many questions.  Had this chilling vision of the future really been woven by an eighteen-year-old?  How did she write a book this sophisticated—and during her senior year of high school, no less?  I’d been told she was also a concert violinist and was now at an Ivy League college studying biological sciences.  The book takes place on the moon, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Where in the universe did this teenage, hyper-achieving, deft writer come from?

But when I first met Karen, it was clear she had both feet firmly planted on Earth.  Though she continued to shock me with her accomplishments (You wrote Dove Arising while waiting to hear back from colleges to take your mind off the anxiety?  This summer you read Anna Karenina for fun?), she was clearly, in many ways, a typical college student—hoping to get a good housing assignment, worrying about exams, and hanging out with her friends.

And the better I got to know her, the more I got to peek behind the curtain and see the inspiration for the book.  Set on the moon a few centuries from now, Dove Arising is filled with technology and scientific principles pulled directly from Karen’s academic studies.  But the connection between real life and fiction goes even deeper than that.

Dove Arising is the story of an introverted girl who gets thrust into the spotlight when her mother is arrested by the moon’s oppressive government. Karen told me she drew inspiration for the government of the Lunar Bases from her mother’s stories about her father, Karen’s grandfather.  When her mother was a young girl in China, her father, an academic, was sent to Mao Zedong’s “reeducation” camps for several years.  He came home a different man, and it forever changed their family.

Karen’s mother shared this with her when Karen was a teen, and the story made a lasting impression.  And, as so many powerful emotions often do, it found its way into her fiction.

This story moved me as much as the book itself.  And I thought, what an incredible tribute to Karen’s grandfather, for her to share his story in this fictitious format—to express herself in a way he was never permitted to, and use this novel to honor the very real-life battles that so many people have fought against oppression in our world.

Hearing authors’ stories is a privilege, one that makes me feel so grateful to have this special job of being an editor.

I’m thrilled to see Dove Arising take flight, but right now, Karen and I are focused on what’s next for us both:  editing the sequel!

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Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her father died in an accident nine years ago. When her mother is arrested, the only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar bases and protects them from attacks by desperate Earth-dwellers. Training is brutal, but it’s where Phaet forms an uneasy but meaningful alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider. Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom: that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble…

Start Reading an excerpt from Dove Arising!


IMG_3238American publishers often hear the grousing that we bring out vanishingly few novels in translation.  While I think things are getting better thanks to the inspired work of outfits like Dalkey Archive, Europa and New Directions, and while I know that in fact some of my own defining editorial experiences have been with fiction in translation, including W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, let’s face it, there’s some truth to the problem.  Not that it’s a mystery as to why.  We’re a fairly monolingual lot, or at least I certainly have no faith in my literary discernment through the haze of my schoolboy French and Spanish.  Publishing debut fiction, period, is hard enough, and falling in love is everything.  How do you know?

In the case of Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard I had some help.  First, John Freeman, then editor of Granta and a reader of beautiful taste, curated a Granta “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” issue, and he led the issue with a story that was in fact the first chapter of this novel.  It made the skin on my arms stand up: a father has called his son to his side to say that he’s literally sick to death of his lingering illness and is going to end his own life; and so he needs his one obedient child to look after his beloved old dog.  Our narrator cycles through emotions from incredulity to outrage to sorrowful acceptance.  And then his father drops his final whopper: his own father didn’t die of natural causes in the beach town of Garopaba: he was murdered, in effect lynched by the town.  Oh, and, we figure out soon enough that our narrator suffers from face-blindness – he is incapable of remembering who people are by sight.

So begins one of the wildest, coolest, slinkiest, most moving existential mystery novels you’ll ever experience.  It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. If there is a love triangle in this novel, it is between a man, his dog and the ocean, and “oceanic” is the word that comes to mind to describe its power.  The novel’s protagonist is isolated from other people in such a way that every human connection touches us to the quick.  And the novel builds to a furious climax that left me reeling.  Talking sweepingly about national characteristics of prose invites ridicule, usually deservedly – what do “Americans” write like? – but at the same time I have to say that there is a sensuous musicality to Galera’s voice, a velvety toughness, both sophisticated and laced with physical menace, that, while it’s certainly all about the genius of Daniel Galera, somehow also makes me feel connected to the novel’s setting in the way only very special fiction can.  Part of the credit goes to the great talent of translator Alison Entrekin, translator of City of God, and of Chico Buarque, and many other Brazilian novelists.

Speaking of translators, another thing that gave me heart was that Daniel himself is one of Brazil’s most famous literary translators, translating Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer and others into Portuguese.  It’s not that this is dispositive of anything in terms of his own fiction in any obvious way, but it’s a good augury on a number of levels.

9781594205743HOur publication also has to do with the trust and friendship Ann Godoff and I feel for Daniel’s Brazilian publisher, the great Luis Schwarcz, the founder and head of one of the world’s most indispensible publishing houses, Companhia Das Letras.  Luiz told me in no uncertain terms that this was going to be one of the best novels he’s ever published, and Daniel a truly giant talent.  And lo and behold, he was exactly right.  I envy anyone the experience of reading Blood-Drenched Beard for the first time.

 

Start Reading an Excerpt!


photoIt was during the ambiguous time before the impending holiday office closure that I first heard about Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski. I was at a holiday party, in fact, standing in a small circle chatting with friends when I was introduced to a new face—a literary agent who, as it turned out, was someone I’d for months been trying to schedule lunch. How serendipitous. We made small talk about holiday plans and promised to see each other in the New Year. As I moved away to say hello to some other friends, he casually mentioned a novel he was getting ready to send out. Would I be interested in seeing it? His pitch was The Wire meets Winters Bone. How could I say no?

The next morning my inbox greeted me with an email containing the promised manuscript. I began reading that day and was hooked within the first five pages. Very early on in Watch Me Go, the reader learns about a sealed oil drum whose contents weigh enough and smell bad enough to contain a human corpse. One of our main characters, Deesh, is headed with two buddies up the New York State Thruway, far north of their Bronx hometown, to take on a seemingly standard junk-hauling job—to dispose of this oil drum. It’s only after they collect their $1,000 and dump the drum in an empty field that they begin to suspect there may have been a dead body inside that steel barrel. It’s from there that Deesh’s life begins to spiral out of control: After a fatal confrontation with a police officer, he’s on the run, the prime suspect of two homicides.

As I turned the figurative pages of my old e-reader, I realized that I’d read only a hundred pages. I was barely knee deep into Deesh’s heart-pounding story and I already had that exhilarating feeling that this was one I had to have. This bold, gritty novel really got me! When it comes to fiction, I look for books that will make you forget what you’re doing—whether it’s because of the beautiful writing, the power of the story, or the lasting impact of the characters, and in a perfect world it’s all three of these. So by the time I got to the end of Watch Me Go the following morning, I knew I’d just read a novel that brilliantly mixed all the elements the best fiction is made of. Watch Me Go perfectly blends suspense, family drama, and love story, while movingly speaking to today’s important issues like racism and social inequality.

WatchMeGoIt didn’t hurt that Mark Wisniewski is a Pushcart prize, Tobias Wolff Award-winning writer who’s been in the literary scene for decades. After an unforgettable initial conversation with Mark, I learned that the genesis for Watch Me Go was a short story he wrote a few years back that received such amazing praise, Salman Rushdie chose it for 2008 Best American Short Stories, calling it “irresistible.” I sure couldn’t resist Watch Me Go and I bet you can’t either!

 

 

Watch Me Go is an edgy, soulful meditation on the meaning of love, the injustices of hate, and the power of hope.

Start Reading an Excerpt from Watch Me Go!


Editor's desk photoOne of the greatest pleasures of my editorial career was introducing Mark Greaney to Tom Clancy. I knew that Tom needed a new co-author, and I was absolutely sure that Mark was the best fit. He is a dedicated researcher, brilliant writer and, not incidentally, a huge Clancy fan. I knew they would be a good match both professionally and personally. Indeed, they hit it off so well at their first face to face meeting that what was supposed to be a short meet and greet turned into a three hour conversation.

Their pairing led to three #1 New York Times bestselling novels. Rarely have I been this right about something. (Just ask my wife and kids).

So when, after Tom’s untimely passing, his family decided to continue the Jack Ryan saga, I knew that Mark was the right man for the job. While I had faith in him, I recognized that this was a daunting task. It’s one thing to work with the master, but striking out on your own with a character as iconic as Jack Ryan is a formidable challenge.

Once again, I’ve been proven correct (Take that wife and kids!). Full Force and Effect is a worthy successor to Tom’s own books. It’s a sprawling story of international intrigue with plenty of high tech action and a shockingly personal twist.

A new young leader has arisen in North Korea. Like his predecessors he plans to build his nation’s nuclear program, but unlike them he has an edge. A recent discovery of mineral wealth has given the Hermit Kingdom the money it needs to accelerate those efforts. In the Oval Office, President Jack Ryan recognizes both the danger posed by a nuclear armed Korea and the limits of his ability to respond without adequate intelligence. But how does one place an agent in the most closed society on Earth?

FullForce&EffectWe may have started this project with some trepidation, but Mark Greaney has more than risen to the challenge. His great respect for the classic characters of Tom Clancy shines through in this mesmerizing thriller. It’s my absolute pleasure to share it with you.