Julie-Strauss-GabelThe publication of Isla and the Happily Ever After is a journey that has spanned five years and taken me to Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, and, most especially, to Paris. But before I traveled the world with Stephanie Perkins and her three strong, smart, romantic heroines—Anna, Lola, and Isla—our story begins, uncannily, in my own hometown.

I was coming from an appointment and had just missed a train, keeping me longer in the town that had witnessed my own teen years. Stuck in that station, as I read the manuscript I was not just in the familiar geography of my adolescence, but also transported back to its awkward, exciting promise.

From that first manuscript, for Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins has realigned my thinking about contemporary romance for young adults. She is an author who understands her field so well, and she celebrates and then breaks the mold in subtle, smart, unexpected ways. It’s no surprise that Anna (and, after, Lola) quickly became a book so close to readers’ hearts. Only rarely do we get to discover a new talent both as comfortingly familiar and completely fresh as Stephanie.

Amazingly, we now find ourselves celebrating the publication of Isla and the Happily Ever After, the third book in this (very) loose trilogy. Fans have been waiting breathlessly to return to their beloved School of America in Paris, and to meet Isla at long last. Isla joins Anna and Lola to complete a triumvirate of incredible and vulnerable young women who find love and, most importantly, discover themselves.

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photoSome picture books begin with a submission from a literary agent. Some with an art sample mailed to an editor’s office.  Others, like Peanut Butter & Cupcake!, begin with a calendar and a bookstore and a blog.  I’d been a big fan of Terry Border’s blog Bent Objects for years. I’d laugh at his images of bananas cuddling (without their peels!) in bed and a packet of sugar holding a little umbrella over her head to stay out of the rain.  Then, in December of 2012, I went to a bookstore to buy myself a new wall calendar to hang in my office. I came across Terry Border’s 2013 Bent Objects calendar, with a little slice of bread covered in peanut butter handing a flower to a little slice of bread covered in jelly on the front.  The image made me smile, and I recognized the artwork from Terry’s Bent Objects blog, so I bought the calendar.  When work started up again in the new year, I push-pinned the calendar to my wall and showed it to my boss, Philomel’s publisher Michael Green.  He looked at the calendar, looked at me, and said, “Picture book?” “Oh!” I answered. “Yes! Picture book!”

So I did a bit of online research and found Terry, then found his agent, and discovered that Terry had been thinking about writing a book for kids for a while. He aged down that little slice of bread covered in peanut butter, and put him in a new town, on a quest to find a friend. Every sketch Terry sent over had me chuckling, and the final art was hilarious and clever and had me running to grab the rest of the Philomel editorial group to show them what had just arrived on my screen.  From Hamburger (who can’t be friends with Peanut Butter because he has to walk his hot dogs), to Egg (who cracks up), to Soup (who dips his spoon into himself to communicate), to French Fries (who’s running late and has to “catch up”), every little food object has a personality and a food pun all his—or her—own.  Of course, after Peanut Butter’s friendship overtures get turned down again and again, he finds one little food item who isn’t too busy to be his friend: Jelly.  (But let’s hope they don’t try to hug!)

I read an early proof of this book to my niece over Facetime, and she giggled each time Peanut Butter told the other kids that they’d “go together like peanut butter and….soup!” (Or egg or hamburger or French fries…) I have no doubt that kids and their grown-ups will enjoy this toast to friendship and food and fun.  Because, really, kids and funny stories?  They go together just like peanut butter and jelly.

Read More Posts From the Editor’s Desk.


JessicaselfieWhen I was a little girl, I used to watch West Side Story over and over. I had a strong sense of justice, and loved getting swept up in Maria and Tony’s rebellious romance, not to mention worked up over their communities’ totally lame and unfair objections to it. Later, as a teen, I was consistently attracted to boys for whom my parents harbored built-in disapproval: usually boys in bands, and boys who had been expelled from one or more high schools. Most nights were filled with hushed, flirtatious phone calls followed by blood-vessel bursting screaming matches with my mom, who just didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized parents’ disapproval of their teenage daughters’ romantic choices isn’t always about blind prejudice. More often then we’d like to think, it’s about the fact that teenage love is intense, and it tends not to end well.

Like No Otherby Una LaMarche is a forbidden love story not unlike Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, or West Side Story, for that matter: It begins when Devorah, a Hasidic Jewish girl, meets Jaxon, a second generation Caribbean-American boy, when the two are stuck in an elevator during a hurricane power outage. Now if you don’t know about the Hasidic faith, it’s an incredibly closed community and it is beyond taboo for an unmarried Hasidic girl to be alone with any boys, much less a boy outside her faith and race. Despite the fact that they wouldn’t speak to each other under normal circumstances, Devorah and Jaxon make an undeniable connection during their time in that elevator that changes their lives forever–embarking on a forbidden friendship that will soon blossom into first love, risking everything–family, faith, and friends–to be together.

Yes, this book has all the swoon-worthy, drama-filled, heart-pounding romance I couldn’t get enough of growing up, but it also has perspective. It shows the powers and the pitfalls of family, tradition and faith. It shows the highs and lows of first love. But most remarkably, it cracks open a door of possibility beyond first love (I mean, it’s called first love for a reason), reminding readers that the future is out there, it’s longer than you think, and it’s all yours.

Sometimes I look back on my teen love interests and wonder if my parents were right. They were right to worry about my heart. All good parents should. They were wrong to think they could stop it from loving boys in bands. (I’m marrying one next month.) First love is not the be-all-end-all that it feels like in the moment, but it is the start of something exquisite that never really does go away.

Thank you, Una LaMarche, for capturing this and reminding me.

Read More Posts From the Editor’s Desk.


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What better place for inspiration to strike than at your local Midas? So it was for bestselling author Katherine Howe. In the autumn of 2012, as she was waiting for her car’s broken taillight to be fixed, half-listening to the local news on the waiting room’s television, she heard something that caught her attention. The anchor reported that doctors had finally concluded what really happened to the girls of Le Roy, New York.

That previous spring, sixteen high school classmates in upstate New York came down with sudden and strange symptoms, including uncontrollable tics, hair loss, and disordered speech. The story captured the attention of local media, and soon the small town had made national and international news. Experts from across the country came to investigate and to offer their own assessments—the girls were diagnosed with everything from PANDAs to Tourette’s. The HPV vaccine was to blame. Or maybe it was the polluted groundwater.

Meanwhile, as these girls were suffering through a very strange and very public ordeal, Katherine was just miles away, teaching The Crucible to a group of college students in her sophomore historical fiction seminar. As Katherine tells us, she was “eager to discuss the parallels between the ‘afflicted girls’ at Salem and these teenagers that lived so close. To my surprise, my students didn’t see a parallel. After all, the girls in the past were just crazy, whereas the girls in Le Roy had something really wrong with them. The more I watched the story unfold, however, the more struck I was by the disjuncture between what the Le Roy girls thought about their own experience, and what the assorted ‘experts’ brought in to comment on their situation had to say. I reflected at length about the Salem girls, and specifically about Ann Putnam, who was at the very center of the accusations in the Salem panic, who really did issue an apology (which is reproduced verbatim in this story) and who had been effectively written out of the most popular fictional account of that period in American history, The Crucible. In the past, as in the p

resent, the experts had one story to tell about this unique and frightening experience, while the girls, I suspected, had an experience all their own, that no one but them could fully understand.”

Conversion is very much a work of fiction, a novel set in a contemporary all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts, as well as in seventeenth-century Salem Village, but the story is grounded in exhaustive research and true-life details. What Katherine has created by weaving together these two narratives is an exciting and unsettling mystery. Working alongside Katherine, I marveled as she wrote, in a seemingly effortless way, a story that is both incredibly fun and a very thoughtful look at the pressures that modern-day high schoolers are under.

In the end, the girls of Le Roy were diagnosed with Conversion disorder, a condition in which the body “converts” psychological stress into physical symptoms. Is that what happened to the girls during the Salem panic?  To our young heroines in modern-day Danvers? Are they truly ill? Crazy? Faking it? Thank goodness for the long wait at Midas—it’s given us a perfect, chilling summer read.

 


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Every editor has worked on books that he or she looks back on with particular pride. Sometimes they are gifts from the cosmos—manuscripts that simply landed on one’s desk in perfect or near-perfect condition. But sometimes they are books with a different kind of genesis, one that is more collaborative.

At the end of 2012, I was a huge “Downton Abbey” fan, having binge-watched the first two seasons over the holiday break. As probably every other editor in New York was doing, I tried to think how I could find a novel to publish that would appeal to the same audience. I thought of several excellent historical fiction writers that I’d worked with over the years, but one stood out. Years before, I had worked with Elizabeth Cooke at a different publisher when she had been writing as Elizabeth McGregor, and I had never forgotten the beauty of her writing. She was also British—definitely in keeping with the “Downton Abbey” spirit—and a highly regarded British historian at that. She had taken a break from writing novels for many years, and it struck me that possibly she needed just the spark of a new idea to get her back into writing.

rutherford_parkA few weeks later, following several phone calls, emails, and a very happy lunch with Liz’s New York agent, a proposal arrived on my desk. This proposal was an editor’s dream. It turns out that Liz’s grandfather had been the stablemaster at Kiplin Hall, one of England’s country estates–very much like the fictional Downton Abbey–and she had grown up with the stories of his time there.

Here is how the proposal opened:

One of the first stories I ever remember hearing was of a great Shire horse. It was born in the stables of Kiplin Hall in North Yorkshire in 1906, and the imprints of its hooves were so massive that the farmhands would walk behind it through the snow, placing their feet where the horse had trod. My grandfather knew that horse: he saw it being born, and in time he worked Kiplin’s hay carts and the delivery carts with it, and, after that first hard winter, it was he who re-named it Wenceslas.

wild_dark_flowersLiz went on to describe the day in late 1914 when Wenceslas was drafted to pull artillery guns in France. “My grandfather followed it in tears down the great beech-lined drive, and stopped to lean on the door of the gatehouse as the horse was walked on.”

I was completely hooked.

That was how Rutherford Park came to be born, a gorgeous novel published last summer, which received wonderful praise from Natasha Solomons (“Beautiful”) and Kate Furnivall (“A breathtakingly beautiful book”) among many others.

Now on July 1, 2014, The Wild Dark Flowers will continue the compelling tale, told on an epic scale, of a privileged British family on the precipice of catastrophic changes.

I am happy to report that Wenceslas has made it into the story, although his ultimate fate is yet to be revealed…


photoThe secret to reading Ulysses for the first time is letting go. You’re not going to understand every allusion, every historical reference, every inside joke. So put that annotated guide away. Accept that you will be confused, probably often and profoundly. You’re supposed to be. Read on. Don’t let its reputation as modern literature’s Everest get in your way. It wasn’t always widely read, universally praised, relentlessly pored over and taught.

If you can do this, if you can let go, you’ll see that Ulysses is really a simple story about a man, out for a walk, trying to distract himself. (Of course, it’s also about Everything Else in the Universe, but that can wait until your second or third or fourth reading.)

It might also help to read Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. A former Dublin bartender and current Harvard history and literature lecturer (two jobs that make him uniquely qualified to write this book), Kevin has set out to write a biography not about James Joyce, but about Ulysses. And by doing so, Kevin reminds us that it was written in the same way every other book is written: by a human being and sentence-by-sentence.

It’s easy now to picture Joyce at his desk, watching confidently as the words poured from his pen, but the reality was much different. Joyce struggled for years on each scene, writing and re-writing and re-writing again. It’s easy now to picture the millions of readers cheering him, begging him to finish, but Joyce was a relative unknown, a destitute and failed writer who could barely support his young family. And even if the book was finished, there was no guarantee that anyone would read it – in fact, if the few published chapters were any indication, the only guarantee was that it would be censored around the world. It’s easy now to think of Ulysses as a given, but it wouldn’t exist without the support (financially, legally, and otherwise) of a ragtag group of booksellers, publishers, poets, lawyers, literary magazine editors, and readers.

The Most Dangerous Book is first and foremost wonderfully entertaining. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, and it’s even kinda raunchy. But what I love about it most, as someone who works in publishing, is that it celebrates the unsung heroes of the book world. Without Sylvia Beach at Paris’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore, without Margaret Anderson at The Little Review, without Bennett Cerf and his lawyer Morris Ernst at Random House, Ulysses may not have been read at all. These people, and many others, believed in the power of words, story, art, and they fought large institutions that wanted to repress and control freedom of expression. The stakes were high – many served time in prison and many were ruined financially – and the struggle must have seemed to them unending. But ultimately, spurred by a federal judge who was unexpectedly moved by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of the book, art beat censorship. Ulysses was finally published.

That reminds me: Molly Bloom. Push through. Get to the Molly Bloom section. That’s when you may realize that Ulysses is not an abstract, literary puzzle; it’s a book about people – their flaws, their uncertainties, their love, and especially their bodily functions. Oh, and when you get stuck, it helps to have Guinness nearby. (This is good advice for any book, really.)

Read Biographile’s article on James Joyce’s Ulysses and its debt to feminism here.


photo 2I don’t publish a lot of fiction, so when I do, I want it to be extraordinary: surprising,  engrossing, memorable – in short, a special book you’ll remember long after you’re doing reading it. Sundance by David Fuller is all of that – and much more.

Sundance is the story of Harry Longbaugh, a bank robber in the early 20th century better known to the world as the Sundance Kid. Legend has it that Sundance was killed with his partner in crime, Butch Cassidy, in a gun battle in Bolivia in 1908. Sundance imagines a different scenario. Instead of dying in South America, Harry was imprisoned in Wyoming under his real name and is released in 1913 with one goal in mind: To find his wife, Etta, who stopped visiting him in jail several years before.

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Harry’s search for Etta leads him from the stark emptiness of the Old West to the bustling chaos of New York City at a time when cultures and classes were clashing. From suffragette protests to the rise of the Black Hand to the digging of the New York City subway system, New York was a place of dizzying change – and unexpected danger.

Sundance is equal parts historical novel, literary thriller, and rollicking adventure story, and it calls to mind books as varied as The AlienistThe Death Instinct, and the novels of C.J. Box and Larry McMurtry.  The author, David Fuller, is both a talented writer and a wonderful storyteller, and he brings his characters to vivid life in the pages of this terrific novel.

Start Reading and excerpt from Sundance.

Read Sundance author David Fuller’s essay on the wife of “The Sundance Kid” and discover more new westerns.


Becky Saletan with CREATIVITYI first had the opportunity to work with Philippe Petit back in 2001, when, shortly after the destruction of the Twin Towers, he wrote a book about his world-famous 1974 high-wire walk between them – what better commemoration could there be? The book was titled To Reach the Clouds, and it became the basis for the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire (and the tie-in edition was retitled to match). At our very first meeting, I said, “You should know before you consider whether you want to work with me that I suffer from terrible vertigo.” Philippe’s eyes went wide and he responded, with what I would come to know as characteristic vehemence, “So do I!” While I knew that the walk had been decades in the planning, it had never occurred to me that this seemingly fearless creature had had to overcome any internal obstacles to perform his superhuman feat.

We had a tremendously exhilarating time working together on that book, and after it was published I stayed in touch, mesmerized by this practitioner of an ancient art form (wire-walking dates to the Middle Ages) and so many others – drawing, magic, carpentry, street-juggling, and of course, writing. I was impressed not only by the amazing number of forms Philippe has mastered but by his unique approach to the creative process, and his exceptionally original insights into it, from how he develops his ideas to how he deals with problems and setbacks to how he executes a finished performance or work of art. I was also struck by how broad an audience the book could apply to, since Philippe himself puts his principles to work in both his performing and nonperforming arts – indeed, lives by them. Most of all, I experienced how much simply being around him and catching his enthusiasm had encouraged me to take on challenges in my own life, to push myself to tackle the im-pos-si-ble (that’s how he saw the word, its syllables stretched between the towers, when he first snuck up to the top of the still-under-construction World Trade Center). And so I suggested to him that he write a book about creativity – which to me was a little like suggesting to Julia Child that she write a book about French cooking, or to Gabrielle Garcia Marquez that he write a novel, an idea so obvious as to be a no-brainer. My husband, however, gets credit for the subtitle, “The Perfect Crime,” which he thought would appeal to Philippe’s iconoclastic personality – and captures beautifully the outlaw sensibility Philippe has cultivated.

I’m incredibly excited about the book that has resulted, which I see as appealing to readers who loved Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – it’s of that family, so to speak, and at the same time utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read about creativity before. And it contains incredible original drawings by Philippe, which intensify the feeling that you’ve been invited inside the vision of one of the most amazing creators of our time.  


Good_Morning,_Mr._MandelaAs an editor, I am drawn to books that recreate a time and a turning point in history, and especially to witnesses that take us deep inside the moment. The world watched – and changed — when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, and Zelda la Grange takes us back to that turbulent time in South Africa, and helps us understand how it looked from inside a frightened white community. “I was fearful of so much twenty years ago—of  life, of black people, of this black man and the future of South Africa-and I now was no longer persuaded or influenced by mainstream fears. He not only liberated the black man but the white  man too…“Prior to the elections we expected black people to take over the country. We expected revenge. But we all woke up the next morning, went back to work and the normal way of life. Nothing was there to indicate that soon the very foundations of my life, my ignorance, my beliefs, my values were to be shaken up and tested. Little did I know that I would emerge from that paranoid, white cocoon of fear and denial and that the man who would lead me out of that – gently holding my hand – would be Nelson Mandela.”

There is probably no one figure on the global scene in the last twenty years who was more admired, more treasured, and more recognizable than Nelson Mandela. And yet for all the thousands of pages that have been published about him, very few who have written about him were personally close to the great man, or can testify to what he was like off stage, when the cameras were turned off. Zelda la Grange is that witness for us; she was his personal assistant and aide-de-camp for almost two decades. She traveled with him, managed his office after he stepped down from the presidency, and came to regard him as family.

But what is startling about this story, and one of the things that drew us at Viking to take on this book, is that Zelda herself is a white Afrikaner, who grew up in a conservative family in South Africa and who was taught as a child to think of Mandela as the enemy. Her journey from prejudice to acceptance, from fear to love, makes her new book, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, both unexpected and moving.

She then gives us a wonderfully rich and warm portrait of the man she came to call “Khulu” – grandfather. He is wise, moral, and direct, but with a teasing sense of humor and personal quirks – in other words, an actual human being.

Penguin imprints around the world are going to be publishing this book all together at the end of June, and it’s exciting to be involved in such a special global project together.