constance_hardingDear Duchess,

I hope you will forgive me the impertinence of writing to you directly. Rest assured, I spent several hours consulting the Debrett’s Internet Website on the proper way to address you, even managing to resist, in the process, an advert for a spring planted basket in the shape of a windmill. You see I do loath it when newspapers take the liberty of calling you Kate, as if you were some actress or pop singer merely famous for your talent, as opposed to whom you married.

Doubtless you are inundated with mail, at least if this corner of Surrey is anything to go by. My neighbour, Miss Hughes, managed to triple the circulation of her quarterly Cats in Need charity newsletter just by getting her grandson to photoshop a distressed Siamese into the place of your beige LK Bennett clutch bag for the cover.

But Good Lord, I digress. I have just realised, to my horror, that I am three tenths of the way down this sheet of my best Watermarked Cream Wove writing paper, and I have yet to get to the point (my husband, Jeffrey, constantly berates me for going off on a tangent, which reminds me:  as soon as I have finished this letter, I must pick up his dinner jacket from the dry cleaners). You see, I am writing to give you some advice on motherhood, ahead of the much-anticipated happy occasion. As one Englishwoman to another, I couldn’t resist passing on the following words of hard-won wisdom:

1. Nothing gets rid of stretch marks entirely. Nothing. Accept them as a badge of honour, a lasting testament to the miracle of new life; either that, or try rolling in lard.

2. I trust Royal protocol will rule this out, but just in case: do not succumb to the horrible American trend for baby showers, or – I struggle even to write these words – “gender reveal” parties. One, because they are crass, and two, because they deflect from the true purpose of pregnancy, which is to get your own way.

3. Capitalise on your pregnancy. Capitalise on it for all it is worth. For example, I waited until I was six months pregnant with my first child to persuade Jeffrey that we should have the living room redecorated in a fetching Lilly of the Valley wallpaper, and to confess to my mother that I had broken her favourite ceramic owl. If you feel like being not only the Duchess of Cambridge, but of Cambridge, Canada and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, now is the time to ask.

4. If you have a little girl, why not name her Constance?

5. Make sure your children love you more than they love their nanny. This can be accomplished through devotion, patience, kindness, and making a fright mask of the nanny’s face topped off with Donald Trump’s hair.

6. Nothing tugs at the heart strings like sending your first-born off to boarding school: the hopeful, upturned face; the crisp uniform; the surge of maternal pride that your progeny is taking his first independent steps in the world; the momentary horror when you realise that he is taking them with a piece of jam on toast crammed into his pocket. To cope with any despondence you may feel afterwards, I recommend lying in a dimly lit room reading newspaper headlines – nowadays, I imagine the Website of the Daily Mail would suffice – until you have lost all sense of ordinary human emotion.

7. Do not walk past the Harrods Christmas Shop’s festive display of champagne flutes accompanied by a child carrying a plastic pirate’s cutlass.

8. You, of all people, need not be reminded of this, but in an age where emotional outbursts are rife, one can never be too careful:  you must teach your children the British way. To wit: they should keep a stiff upper lip; get back on their horse as soon as they have fallen off it; eat boiled vegetables with a cheerful smile; believe they are the best in the world but insist, with a slight stammer, that they are the worst; and, in later life, scoff at the idea of “therapy” and address any deep-rooted psychological problems with fresh air and gin.

9. If you have a little girl, it may be unwise to leave her alone  -  even for a mere ten minutes, or the time it takes to check if the housekeeper has hoovered underneath the sofa – with a set of poster paints, child-friendly scissors and unfettered access to your new summer wardrobe.

10. Buy a parrot. Inexplicably, my children do not visit as often as they could, but I have a faithful companion in my magnificent Eclectus, Darcy. Children may fly the nest, but parrots are forever.

And that is all. Wishing you health, happiness and, if I do not presume too much, the time to send a small cutting from the rhododendron in the gardens of Buckingham Palace by return of post,

Your humble servant,

Constance Harding

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Author Interview (1)
Author Interview Hand Me Down Melanie Thorne (Plume)

Excerpt (8)
Excerpt What Happened to Goodbye Sarah Dessen (Speak)
Excerpt The Real Skinny Katherine Brooking and Julie Upton (Tarcher)
Excerpt Baseball as a Road to God John Sexton (Gotham)
Excerpt The Company You Keep (movie tie-in) Neil Gordon (Penguin)
Excerpt Lover At Last J.R. Ward (NAL)
Excerpt Angelopolis Danielle Trussoni (Viking)
Excerpt The Famous and the Dead T. Jefferson Parker (Dutton Adult)
Excerpt Other People’s Money Charles V. Bagli (Dutton Adult)

Podcast (1)
Podcast Breaking PointC.J. Box (Putnam)

Reading Group Guide (1)
Reading Group Guide Astonished Beverly Donofrio (Viking)

Video (6)
Video Otis and the Puppy Loren Long (Philomel)
Video A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki (Viking)
Video The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards Kristopher Jansma (Viking)
Video Bunker Hull Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking)
Video Harley Loco Rayya Elias (Viking)
Video Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles Ron Currie, Jr. (Viking)

Posted by: Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator

fever_tree1. Don’t quit your job before you have a book deal. Very sensible advice that I spectacularly failed to follow. I left my job as a literary agent and stepped into the terrifying world of no salary, no professional support and no real hope of achieving what I was setting out to achieve. It was a very rocky ride.

2. Do join a writing group – they will keep you sane, help you to stay on track, and remind you that there are other people in the world crazy enough to be battling all day with words on paper.

3. Don’t divulge your plot, or writing problems for that matter, to friends at dinner – they’ll say very unhelpful things like: Isn’t that a bit predictable? How can you not know what’s going to happen at the end? And – most grueling of all – hasn’t Wilbur Smith written a novel just like that?

4. When you’re writing sex scenes, don’t imagine your parents looking over your shoulder – a passionate kiss will quickly disintegrate into a prudish peck on the cheek.

5. Don’t obsess over the perfection of other novels. Read them, learn from them, but don’t let them cast your own into shadow. I always wanted my protagonist to be as dynamic and real as Cathy or Emma, but it wasn’t until I had reached the end of her story that I felt I really knew her.

6. Don’t let yourself imagine all the unpublished authors in the world being turned down by agents, like the millions of lost souls waiting at the gates of heaven. If you have written something good, then someone will spot it – you just need to have faith and determination.

7. Don’t be your own judge. After I had written my novel I shelved it in despair, convinced that it was worthless. It was only by some stroke of luck – a chance meeting with a literary agent – that I was convinced to send it out into the world. Thank goodness I did.

8. Don’t demonize the agents who reject you. More than likely your manuscript fell into the hands of some poor, unpaid 17 year old intern with a hangover, desperately trying to reduce the size of the slush pile. Wait a few months, and send it in again. I was offered representation by an agent who must have afterwards let my manuscript fall into the slush pile. A month later I received an earnest typed letter from the agency: “Dear Miss McVeigh, many thanks for sending in your manuscript. I’m very sorry to inform you that…”

9. Once you are published – in the interests of sanity – try not to check your sales rankings more than twice (OK – that’s not realistic – perhaps 5 times) a day. If sales are good your publisher will tell you, and a shift from 3050 to 2095 is almost certainly meaningless.

10. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve got one novel behind you, the second will be easier. It won’t. Sweating over a novel is part of what makes it brilliant. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I do have a very frustrating writer friend who keeps telling me that her second novel is a breeze…

constance_hardingDear Internet Readers,

Since Penguin has kindly invited me to introduce myself, I thought I would tell you about a typical day in my life. Of course, there is no such thing as a typical day, since my activities can oscillate wildly between, say, going for a stroll and decluttering the bathroom cupboard. The only predictable thing is unpredictability itself, as my neighbour Miss Hughes told me when I once arrived at bell-ringing practice one minute and thirty two seconds late.  But I digress. I hope the below account will suffice to pique your interest.  Should you go on to purchase my book, I would be most grateful, provided you only handle it while wearing silk gloves.

4.32am: Wake to the sound of Jeffrey muttering something in his sleep that sounds like “Yeeha”. Torn between instinct to lie there watching the way his dreams play across his handsome, achingly familiar features, and to stifle him with a pillow.

7.15am Alarm sounds. Allow myself to bask in triumph that it is my real, windup alarm clock that wakes us, and not the one on Jeffrey’s mobile phone, which he set to Wild Thing shortly after his 52nd birthday

7.20am Tea.

7.30am Breakfast. I attempt to tell Jeffrey all about my own dreams, which featured wedding bells for our son Rupert, a magnificent new hat for me and a chicken dancing the macarena, but he erects the Financial Times between us like a giant peach windbreak. Inexplicable.

8am Tea.

8.30am Tea.

9.15am My housekeeper Natalia emerges just as I have finished clearing away the breakfast dishes. Not only is she late, but she has also, once again, left her underwear to dry on the radiator in Jeffrey’s study. No wonder the poor man looks so distracted: cluttered house, cluttered mind.

9.30am Tea.

10am -11.30am Continue attempts to teach my parrot, Darcy, to recite all the words to the hymn Jerusalem. Progress sub-optimal. He shifts from one foot to the other, looks at me, then squawks something hoarse and unintelligible, causing me to spill my tea. Either he has bird flu, or Natalia has been teaching him Lithuanian.

11.45am Tea.

12.30pm Attempt to contact my son Rupert, who works in the IT industry, by email, text message and voice mail on both his mobile phone and his work extension to remind him of the importance of taking a proper, uninterrupted lunch break.

2pm – 3pm Take a brisk stroll around the village. The advantages are twofold: healthy exercise, and the opportunity to check that my flower beds are still superior in colour, range and vigour to those of Miss Hughes.

3.05pm Tea.

4pm Attempt to interest Natalia in a slice of poppy seed cake. She declines, patting her shapely bottom. I don’t know why she is so worried about her figure when there are so few young men in the village to admire it. I worry she must be lonely here, as I often tell Jeffrey, who takes a close and compassionate interest in her plight.

4.30pm Tea.

5pm Sherry.

6.30pm Dinner.  It is burnt. I would remonstrate with Natalia, but there is no time, since I must be punctual for bell-ringing or Miss Hughes will give me one of those looks which shoots lasers from her eyes and reminds me of a bull dog swallowing a wasp.

7.30pm – 9pm. Bell-ringing. Coordination and morale much hampered by Gerald, who has never quite been the same since his wife Rosemary left him to join a trapeze act with the travelling circus. I had tried to persuade her not to go, but she told me that the circus was quite peaceful compared with the Surrey branch of the Women’s Institute. When I pointed out that performing a trapeze act would be terrifying and dangerous, she calmly assured me that she would get the hang of it.

9.30pm. Tea and toast.

10pm Bed. I fall asleep immediately, hoping to dream of hats.

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zeusSo why waste time reading mythology when you could be getting laid or learning math or something?

Well, that’s a good question. Besides the fact that my myths are incredibly entertaining, there’s a couple other things to consider. Let me explain, starting with a little story:

Let’s pretend you and me are a primitive society. We’ve got this really sweet story about how the world is a giant papaya hanging from the tree of heaven (I don’t think this is an actual creation myth, but it’s about as plausible). So years pass, and we’re all hanging out on our giant papaya in the sky, when all of a sudden someone comes up to us like “Hey, there’s no way we’re actually living on a giant papaya hanging from the tree of heaven, because papayas rot pretty fast, and it’s been years now and the world has not gotten significantly stinkier.”

So that’s a huge blow to our worldview right there. Probably we’re not going to want to believe it. But say this papaya skeptic offers us a more believable story, like that the world is a rubber ball tossed into the air by some god a million years ago, and when it lands in another million years we’re all going to die. We are pleased with this new explanation, it’s got a nice kind of poetry to it. It also explains some things the old story didn’t, like why the sun and the moon move across the sky for example. So that becomes the new religion.

It turns out that this is pretty close to how Western science first developed. A bunch of Greek dudes back in 600 BCE called the Presocratics (because they predate Socrates) basically spent their whole lives offering ridiculous explanations for the world and the things in it, and then tearing down each others’ explanations and making better ones. And just like the first tadpoles crawling out of the primordial sea and onto land (if you believe in that kind of thing) those theories began to take shape under the weight of all that criticism, and we began to get things like math and astronomy.

Let’s skip ahead.

We’ve gotten to the point now where it takes a lifetime of study just to update one or two of the stories that already exist, but the way we understand those stories hasn’t changed. Think of how you would describe the Big Bang, or evolution. These are our generation’s myths, and science is possibly our generation’s most powerful and influential religion.

People get mad at me when I say this, and I see why. There’s this belief out there that religion equals irrational, closed-minded, unwilling to change. But that’s a very short-term view. The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest abandoned their tribal beliefs for Christianity in the 1800s because Christian settlers brought with them medical technology far more effective than their own. These days, many Tlingit people are moving back to their original religion because it gives them a more satisfying sense of their own identity. And many people all over the world are just straight up dropping out of religions like Catholicism because they find that these religions don’t offer them a robust enough explanation of the world and how to navigate it. Depending on who you ask, we’re either “outgrowing” religion or losing our way.

But we will never outgrow our need for explanations, and right now Science has a lot of those. It doesn’t have as much nudity and incest as our old explanations, and it doesn’t do much to explain the human spirit (yet), but it’s got loads of explosions, and those are almost as good. Even our modern physics, though, are just the best guess we’ve managed so far. We’ll keep telling new and better stories ’til our giant rubber ball hits the bottom of the universe and we all die. In the meantime, read some mythology. You’ll be surprised by how little we’ve actually changed.

zeusSo I talked a couple days ago about how maybe I’m murdering all culture. I think that raises an interesting question to try and get into: is culture dead, and if so, who’s killing it? But the weird thing about culture is that it’s one of those things that’s very hard to look at from the inside, much like a fur-suit or a nice butt. You’ve got to kind of bounce your cultural radar off of whatever is in the vicinity and see what comes back (This is possibly where the butt metaphor breaks down.)

I’m a myths guy, so I’m going to talk about culture in terms of myths. Specifically I’m going to talk about hero myths, because (as Joseph Campbell has already explained so well in “Hero With a Thousand Faces”) those types of myths arise out of a deep, shared psychological journey that pretty much every person has to deal with at some point. Hero myths get told all over the world in incredibly similar ways because the people who are telling them are all dealing with the same problems in their brains. If that’s true, we should be telling just as many new myths today as we were telling a thousand years ago.

So why is it that when I ask you to name me a myth, nine out of ten of you will give me a Greek one? If I ask for a legend, is it presumptuous of me to guess that you’re probably thinking of King Arthur? Where’s our mythology? Time was, everybody in town went to the same church, or shaman, or ritual orgy. They bonded over a mythology that were uniquely theirs, despite its universal themes. Maybe the reason we don’t seem to have a cultural mythology anymore has to do with the size of our cities, or the internet. It’s hard to keep a legend cohesive across that many people. It’s hard to bond with all of New York City.

But I think the real problem is that we know too much now. It’s hard to write a good-old-fashioned hero legend when everybody’s already sick of how the old ones end. We’ve become too classy, too embarrassed to tell the kind of un-subtle, crude, unabashedly optimistic tales our ancestors grew up on. But that doesn’t mean the stories don’t still exist inside us. The brain-problems still exist, so the stories must exist too. They bubble around under the surface and explode out of us whenever they find an opening.

Take a look at the Lincoln Memorial and tell me that’s not a temple. Look at comic books. Look at sports stars and pop stars and Elvis god-damn Presley. Look at John Henry (a real man immortalized in ballad) and Paul Bunyan (a folk-hero originally created as part of a Canadian ad campaign). Hell, look at Scientology. Mythology has gone underground, but it’s still there, and we’re still telling it in our own self-conscious ways. That’s why I’ve stuffed some American myths into my book alongside the Greek and the Sumerian. It’s my way of saying “Hey, look! I haven’t murdered culture at all! It’s right over here, under all these guns and hamburger wrappers!”

Audio Excerpt (5)
Audio Excerpt Angelopolis Danielle Trussoni (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Unintended Consequences Stuart Woods (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Die Trying Lee Child (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Tripwire Lee Child (Penguin Audio)
Audio Excerpt Running Blind Lee Child (Penguin Audio)

Excerpt (16)
Excerpt Blood Trade Faith Hunter (Roc)
Excerpt Iron Kin M.J. Scott (Roc)
Excerpt Mom’s List St. John Greene (Plume)
Excerpt True to the Law Jo Goodman (Berkley)
Excerpt Code Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs (Putnam Juvenile)
Excerpt Crossed Ally Condie (Speak)
Excerpt Otis and the Puppy Loren Long (Philomel)
Excerpt Throwing Strikes R.A. Dickey (Dial)
Excerpt Appalachian Overthrow E.E. Knight (Roc)
Excerpt River of Stars Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc)
Excerpt Assassin’s Gambit Amy Raby (Signet)
Excerpt Only Lycans Need Apply Michele Bardsley (Signet)
Excerpt The River of No Return Bee Ridgway (Dutton)
Excerpt Mistrial Mark Geragos and Pat Harris (Gotham)
Excerpt Fever  Maya Banks (Berkley)
Excerpt Focus Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins (Hudson Street Press)

Playlist (1)
Playlist Harley Loco Rayya Elias (Viking Adult)

Q&A (1)
Q&A Harley Loco Rayya Elias (Viking Adult)

Reading Group Guide (2)
Reading Group Guide The Wisdom of Hair Kim Boykin (Berkley)
Reading Group Guide The Fever Tree Jennifer McVeigh (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)

Video (8)
VideoDead Ever After Charlaine Harris (Ace)
Video Six Years Harlan Coben (Dutton)
Video Love Irresistibly Julie James (Berkley)
Video The Madness Underneath Maureen Johnson (Putnam Juvenile)
Video Born Wicked Jessica Spotswood (Speak)
Video Out of the Easy Ruta Sepetys (Philomel)
Video Prodigy Marie Lu (Putnam Juvenile)
Video Nest of Serpents Curtis Jobling (Viking Juvenile)

Posted by: Lindsay Jacobsen, Online Content Coordinator

zeusSo I wrote a book of mythology and you are going to buy it. You are going to buy it because unlike other books on mythology – which make you want to curl up and take a nap next to a bonfire composed of books on mythology – my book is a furious hurricane of swears and incest, interspersed with classically inspired illustrations that I have gone and drawn dicks all over.

It is, basically, the death of all culture.

I have a website where I do this kind of thing all the time, and I’ve drawn criticism because some people believe that by making Zeus talk in all caps and by inserting disco balls into Native American creation myths, I am disrespecting the founding beliefs of cultures I have no right to disrespect. Here’s the thing, though, and it’s a thing that all teachers and students of mythology would do well to remember: Myths are supposed to be ridiculous.

Here’s what Joseph Campbell – pretty much the god of talking about myths – has to say about humor:

“Humor is the touchstone of the truly mythological … The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them.”

That is to say, if you want to communicate some seriously cosmic knowledge, it helps to warm the crowd up with a couple jokes. The problem is that in our centuries of academic analysis, we’ve completely forgotten what makes the jokes funny. We’ve let the languages get out of date, and the pop culture references don’t make much sense anymore.

This is where I come in.

I come from a proud lineage of bards and vagabonds; the guys who lived or died on whether they could entertain a hall full of drunken barbarians. I come to you from a time before copyright law, where it wasn’t so much what you told, as how you told it. Think of me as a modern-day Shakespeare, except more attractive, less British, and on the internet. This is not the death of culture. It’s the zombie apocalypse.


undauntedI’ve done dozens of interviews since Undaunted launched in early February and am occasionally asked: Why in the world would a woman want to go into combat?

The question always surprises me since the answer seems obvious, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been around military people all my life. The military is a traditional place. Throw into the mix nonconventional women and things get interesting.  These women believe they can fight, lead and defend, despite conventional wisdom.

I answer the question by pointing out women serve for the same reasons as men, which ranges from patriotic duty, family tradition, money for college, or simply because it’s a steady paycheck in a poor economy.

The performance of this generation of servicewomen is not only revolutionizing the military, but as evidenced by my talk radio discussions, is testing social views of traditional gender roles and norms.

It helps to keep society’s broader context in mind. A century and a half ago married women couldn’t own property in America. They achieved the right to vote only 93 years ago. The first female didn’t become CEO of a Fortune 500 company until 1972, and two years before that women finally obtained the right to have credit cards in their own name.

Meanwhile, in the military, women couldn’t exceed 2 percent of the armed forces and couldn’t be promoted beyond the ranks of lieutenant colonel or commander until Congress changed the law in 1967.

By 1973 the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law that denied servicewomen’s dependents (her children and spouse) basic benefits such as housing and medical care—all the things authorized to military men’s families. And by 1975 pregnant women were no longer kicked out of the service.

We’ve come a long way as a military and a society.

Yet, being asked on live radio why any woman would want to join the combat arms branches is a reminder that societal gender norms aren’t always in line with official policy changes.

It’s not unusual for the pushback to come from other women. Since the book came out, one of the main subjects in Undaunted, Major Candice O’Brien, has been accused by some for putting her career before her family.

A few days ago while visiting Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I met a female officer who shared a similar story. A neighbor felt it was her business to tell the major: “You’re failing your kids.”

How did she respond?

With more tact than I could have mustered. She told the woman she saw herself as a role model for her children, a person they could look up to and admire, knowing that they, too, through hard work, could aspire to achieve and be whatever they set their minds to accomplish.

Such scrutiny is a reminder of just how courageous these women have to be off the battlefield.

The challenges, choices, and successes encountered by women throughout their military careers, from issues of discrimination to juggling family and a job, have far-reaching implications for all women in contemporary American society. Women in the military are on the cutting edge of gender debates. Their struggles and triumphs and the price they pay may point the way to the future.