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

The same way you’d get to know a friend. Hang out with them: plop them into an intriguing scenarioand see what happens. Or just listen to them talk: freewrite in their voice or from their point of view, and odds are, you’ll find them sharing their opinions, voicing their dreams, and confessing their secrets. None of it may make it into your project, but it will help you get to know your characters and understand their personalities—and the stories they have to tell.

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

I try to get the first line down—that sets the voice, tone, and scope of the story. Nine times out of ten, the first line I start with is the first line of the final piece. I also have an ending line in mind, so I have something to write towards—that sometimes shifts as the story develops, but I’m surprised how early that falls into place, too. Filling in the middle is the hard part.

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

My magic formula changes: for a while, I needed Cherry Coke and Swedish Fish to get started; in another period, a cup of Earl Grey seemed to be the key. The most foolproof thing I’ve found—so far—is that when I’m having trouble writing, I turn to my favorite cafes—Darwin’s in Harvard Square or Café Zing, inside my local indie bookstore, Porter Square Books. Something about being in a new space, and the coffee shop noise, gets me working.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you have received?

Something Ann Patchett said in her keynote address at the Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston a few years ago: “The muse is bullshit. Get your work done.” It’s a typically Patchettian, no-nonsense reminder to stop being precious about being inspired, or having the right pen or view or snack (see above)—sometimes, you just need to sit down and write.

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

My characters always seem to be standing in doorways, holding cups of coffee, and feeling things in their chests or throats at moments of strong emotion. And in my (almost) final draft, my agent pointed out that I started a lot of sentences with “But”—two or three times per page! Those are my nervous tics, and it’s a constant struggle to edit them out. Your bad habits will be individual to you—that’s part of developing your own voice—so figure out what words, phrases, and gestures you overuse, and practice weeding them out.


Everything I Never Told You is on sale Thursday, June 26th.

Beaks & Geeks

I’m so excited to announce that Beaks & Geeks, the new Penguin podcast, has launched! I live and breathe podcasts, so I feel so lucky to do one for work. Lindsay and I are co-hosts, and we’ve been busy interviewing some of your favorite authors.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and who you’d like to be a guest on the show! Tweet us: @penguinusa with the hashtag #beaksandgeeks

Start listening on our SoundCloud page here.



Most Dangerous Book

It’s been a very James Joycean work-week for me! Monday was Bloomsday, and I was lucky enough to interview author Kevin Birmingham – his new book is about the writing and publication of Ulysses. We had a great conversation about obscenity laws, literary piracy, and modernism. Today, Ulysses is considered classic literature, but its journey to publication was full of scandal and controversy. Luckily, some early champions of Joyce recognized the greatness of the novel. Birmingham said,

“For them it was powerful and it was dangerous and it was important and it was rebellious and that’s the sort of Ulysses that I want to recover in this book”

Listen to my interview with Kevin Birmingham, author of The Most Dangerous Book:



That same day, Symphony Space celebrated its 33rd annual Bloomsday on Broadway event, and the centennial anniversary of The Dubliners!

The event was a mix of musical performance and readings, featuring Cynthia Nixon, Malachy McCourt, Kelli O’Hara, Colum McCann.

Everyone was wonderful, but I especially enjoyed hearing “The Dead” read aloud- I’m planning on revisiting that story soon. Is there any great piece of literature you’ve been meaning to pick up again?



symphony space

Pictured above is the special anniversary edition of the book – I can’t stop looking at the gorgeous cover art.

Colum McCann wrote the introduction and is pictured here with Belinda McKeon at the event (photo credit: Symphony Space).

So glad I got a chance to see these talented readers and writers celebrating James Joyce’s life and work.

Have a great weekend, readers!


Wendy McCurdy 5

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.

As a Marketing Assistant for Young Adult and Middle Grade books at Penguin Young Readers and a former Children’s Library Assistant, Bri is well versed in giving book suggestions for any mood or situation. Here’s her list of recommendations for anyone who is up for more heartbreaking, beautifully written reads after they’re done with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

If I Stay

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

After Mia’s family is involved in a horrific car accident, she must make the ultimate choice: stay alive or let go. With spare prose and a heart wrenching story, If I Stay will break your heart—and put it back together again.






Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Clay receives a box of thirteen tapes from Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush that committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the tapes, Hannah reveals the thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life—and if Clay chooses to listen, he’ll find out why he’s one of them. Asher’s heartbreaking, emotional novel deftly explores the effect people can have on one another, in addition to finding hope in the aftermath of tragedy.




Impossible Knife of Memory

The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson

This compelling novel from a superstar YA author explores Hayley Kincaid’s struggle to balance the tumult of her father’s PTSD at home with her seemingly normal life at school. Anderson isn’t afraid to face difficult issues head on in this consideration of how one person’s illness can affect a family.





LIke No Other

Like No Other, by Una LaMarche

Devorah is a devoted daughter who has never challenged her Hasidic upbringing. Jaxon is a book smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls. Their chance meeting blossoms into a romance that neither expected. Devorah’s and Jaxon’s unconventional love story will convince anyone that love can sneak up on you, even when you’re least expecting it.





Hold Still

Hold Still, by Nina LaCour

After her best friend Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin is left behind with questions—along with Ingrid’s journal, left behind as a goodbye. Caitlin comes to realize that the journal doesn’t just provide solace, but a means of connecting with others who had been in Ingrid’s life. LaCour’s debut novel examines transformation in the wake of life-altering events with strong writing and an arresting story.





The Probability of Miracles

The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder

Cam, a girl who has spent most of her life in hospitals, has one last goal before the end of her relatively short life: move to Promise, Maine, a place famous for its miraculous events. Wendy Wunder’s first novel explores living life to the fullest in a way that’s both humorous and heartbreaking.






Find more books to read here.

neelyWhat writing techniques have you found most important or memorable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

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

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


Every 4 years, the world is treated to the ultimate sporting event. No, we’re not talking about the Olympics; we’re talking about The World Cup! The beautiful game has been long celebrated in literature, from Nick Hornby’s ode to his beloved Arsenal in Fever Pitch, to Bill Buford’s examination of hooligan culture in Among the Thugs. The history, pageantry, competition (and occasionally incredible soccer hair) all lend themselves to fine writing, so it’s no wonder we took this opportunity to ask a few of our authors these pressing questions in Penguin’s Seven on Soccer.

Author of Golazo!, Andreas Campomar, weighs in.

Have a favorite book about soccer? Let us know about it in the comments below.


1. Who are you supporting in the World Cup? Uruguay

    Part B. Predict the winner. Argentina

2. Tell us your club team: Peñarol

3. Why soccer? Why not? It is, after all, the most sublime of games.

4. Who is your favorite all time player? No Pele’s allowed. You can do better. Enzo Francescoli

5. What is your favorite book or piece of writing on the beautiful game? Dios es redondo (God is Round) by the Mexican novelist, Juan Villoro

6. Put 4 books into a group of death and tell us who finishes on top. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez), The Labyrinth of Solitude (Octavio Paz), Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges), Pedro Páramo (Juan Rulfo). Top = Ficciones (Fictions) by Jorge Luis Borges.

To see Part 1 by Rosie Schaap, author of DRINKING WITH MEN, click here.

To see Par 2 by Chris Anderson, author of THE NUMBERS GAME, click here.

1. Bath Time is Awesome. 


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


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

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


3. Privacy is a thing of the past. 3

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


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

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


5. Tea parties can actually be fun. 5

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



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

Happy Fathers Day!


Every 4 years, the world is treated to the ultimate sporting event. No, we’re not talking about the Olympics; we’re talking about The World Cup! The beautiful game has been long celebrated in literature, from Nick Hornby’s ode to his beloved Arsenal in Fever Pitch, to Bill Buford’s examination of hooligan culture in Among the Thugs.  The history, pageantry, competition (and occasionally incredible soccer hair) all lend themselves to fine writing, so it’s no wonder we took this opportunity to ask a few of our authors these pressing questions in Penguin’s Seven on Soccer. First up, The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong author Chris Anderson.

Have a favorite book about soccer? Let us know about it in the comments below.


1. Who are you supporting in the World Cup?

USA, Germany, England (I am American and German and I live in England)

Part B. Predict the winner.

Completely unscientifically, I’d say Germany.

2. Tell us your club team:

Don’t have one.

3. Why soccer?

It’s the most democratic and most global of all sports. Anyone can play, anywhere, any time with minimum equipment.

4. Who is your favorite all time player? No Pele’s allowed. You can do better.

Lev Yashin.

5. What is your favorite book or piece of writing on the beautiful game?

Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics (Jonathan Wilson)

6. In the battle of the Manchesters—are you City or United?

Neither. If you’re not from Manchester, you really shouldn’t be either.

Part B. Take it to Spain–Barcelona or Real Madrid?

See above.

7. Best hair–entire Italian national team or Rooney’s implants?

Italy, hands down.

8. Give Jose Mourinho a new nickname:


9. Predict the star of the 2014 World Cup–Ronaldo, Messi, Ozil or Suarez? Other candidates allowed.

Eden Hazard & Romelu Lukaku

10. If you had the power to relegate one team, club or international, who goes?

The 1998 France team.

11. Issue a red card to one player for all of eternity.

Everyone deserves a second chance.


To see Part 1 by Rosie Schaap, author of DRINKING WITH MEN, click here.

Look out for Part 3, tomorrow 6/11.

Wow, what a week it has been here at Penguin headquarters. Between the 3 days of Book Expo America (BEA) and The Fault in Our Stars premier last night, the office has been buzzing with excitement.


This past weekend, at BEA and BookCon 2014, Amy and I sat down with fourteen authors in attendance. Recording device and microphone in hand, we asked your favorite authors all things books, writing, hobbies, and more. Jonathan Tropper, Lev Grossman, and Deb Harkness are a few of the many authors we were able to chat with last week.  We’re in the process of wrapping up our editing for the Penguin podcast. After a few suggestions, we decided to name our show “Beaks and Geeks.” Do you guys like it? Comment and give us your feedback. As for the logo reveal for the new podcast, you’ll have to see that for yourself, this Monday, 6/9, when we launch our newest endeavor. Stay tuned!

Another really exciting BookCon event was Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You panel. This Is Where I Leave You is the hilarious novel that was adapted into a film starring Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, directed by Shawn Levy (pictured above). Fortunately for fans of his work, Tropper wrote the screenplay. The event hall was full of laughter while watching clips of the movie. Tina and Jason have perfect comedic chemistry as brother and sister. I can’t wait for this movie to premier in September of this year.

photo 1On the note of cinema, last night I attended The Night Before Our Stars, an event premiering The Fault in Our Stars and a live post-movie Q&A. What a beautiful movie–and it remained true to the story. An adapted film that satisfies the fans of its book is truly a special work of art. While I read the The Fault in Our Stars, I was not mentally prepared for the feels being felt. Did I use plenty of tissues? Yes. Did my glasses fog up? Maybe. Was I smiling and crying at the same time? It’s possible. But I also found it difficult not to laugh at the sobbing, alien noises being projected throughout the audience. TFIOS movie is truly a roller coaster of deep emotions, just like its original story. What I’m saying is, go see it. And if you haven’t read John Green’s novel, I suggest you do immediately.

Enjoy your weekends!

Signing off,