Me and Tara Buck, Ginger the screaming waitress

Me and Tara Buck, Ginger the screaming waitress

Writers essentially work by themselves, for themselves, in rooms large or small, quiet or noisy . . . but empty of everything but the writer and her/his brain. Once a year I have the option to break that mold and do something that is, by any standard, glamorous. This year I exercised that option. My beautiful daughter and I attended the “True Blood” premiere held at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.

Any trip to Los Angeles has to be a working trip for me, but this time I had a lot of fun as well. We arrived a couple of days early to have dinner with some of the “True Blood” ladies: Kristin Bauer van Straten, Lauren Bowles, Janina Gavankar, Jessica Tuck, and Rutina Wesley. (You know them from the show as Pam, Holly, Luna, Nan Flannigan, and Tara.) Kristin has been making a documentary about elephants and poaching in Africa, and when she posted the dinner as a prize on Kickstart, I jumped at such a pleasant way to support a great cause. We closed down the restaurant. I couldn’t have had more fun with more entertaining company.

Beautiful Daughter shot her scene on “True Blood” on Monday. We both got a lesson in filmmaking; charlaineharris4her scene was scheduled to be right after lunch, and we left the studio at seven p.m. But we had a fascinating day, watching how the actual work is done, and came away impressed with the thought that goes into every scene. Though it was clear BD’s feet would never be visible, she wore heels and hose for her character. She’ll be in episode 8, looking authoritative in a lab coat. (We named her character Cornelia, the Sadistic Lab Tech.)

On Tuesday, after a meeting with APA (my left coast reps) we return to our hotel (the Peninsula – great staff!) to have lunch and prepare for the arrival of our hair-and-makeup woman, the diminutive Julie. We were much better looking after her intensive work, and dressed in our finery and with friend and scriptwriter Kam Miller, we climbed into our car to be taken by our driver to the premiere. Most TV shows don’t have a premiere, much less a red carpet, but HBO does things right. There is an actual red carpet, and actual press, and many lovely actresses and handsome actors there for the premiere dressed in their carefully selected outfits. It’s pretty darn glamorous, and I always feel strange in such company. But I did a little press and was photographed a bit (which always amazes me), and then I was VERY glad to get off my torturous heels and into the building.

My designated table at the Afterparty.

My designated table at the Afterparty.

I saw friends there from the show, like wardrobe head Audrey Fisher and Assistant Producer Christina Jocanovich, Alan Ball, Sam Trammell (Sam Merlotte) and his brother Paul, in town for the premiere.

I’m not going to spoil the first episode for anyone, but it’s really so good, and it was directed by Stephen Moyer. If the rest of the season is like the first episode, I think it’s going to be a very good year for “True Blood.”

I got to speak briefly with Alexander Skarsgard while we were waiting for our cars, and at the afterparty I had great talks with some fans of the books who were at the premiere. The

My agent and me flanking professional fangbanger Michael, in amazing body paint, which did NOT come off on my outfit.

My agent and me flanking professional fangbanger Michael, in amazing body paint, which did NOT come off on my outfit.

party was “decorated” with actors sprayed all red with giant red wigs, who introduced themselves as professional fangbangers and slithered all over in an atmospheric touch. The food was southern, the venue noisy and happy, and the “True Blood” T shirt clad waitstaff were cheerful and quick. It was amazing to get to talk to Dale Raoul (Maxine Fortenberry) and Tara Buck (Ginger, the Fangtasia waitress), and to congratulate Anna and Stephen on the season to come and (more importantly) their twins, now nine months old.

I’m relieved that BD and I are back to our regularly scheduled lives and facing ordinary problems (rather than, “Which restaurant for lunch?” or “Is this the right outfit for today?”). But it’s fun to go Hollywood once in a while!

— Charlaine Harris

victoryName: Jonathan Franzen, introduction to Three Novels of New York by Edith Wharton

Favorite Penguin Classics Title/Author: Victory, Joseph Conrad

Why do you love this Penguin Classic? For me, Penguin Classics were the portal to the great novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially the British. I could have chosen any of twenty titles as my favorite, but it’s hard to do better than Victory, which is probably the most accessible of all of Conrad’s novels; certainly one of the very most suspenseful and beautiful and moving.

What should I read next? Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, perhaps. If you want to know Brontë as a novelist, you can read Jane Eyre, but if you want to know her as a person and as a novelist, Villette’s the book for it.

demonsName: Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Artist of the Floating World

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Demons (aka The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?  Every character in this massive book is completely and fascinatingly insane.

What should I read next? Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Excerpt (4)
Excerpt May We Be Forgiven A. M. Homes (Viking Adult)
Excerpt The Great Degeneration Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press)
Excerpt The Man from Mars Fred Nadis (Tarcher)
Excerpt The Watchers Shane Harris (Penguin)

Podcast (1)
Podcast The Tao of Martha Jen Lancaster (NAL)

Reading Group Guide (5)
Reading Group Guide The Last Camellia Sarah Jio (Plume)
Reading Group Guide One Last Thing Before I Go Jonathan Tropper (Plume)
Reading Group Guide Sweet Nothings Janis Thomas (Berkley)
Reading Group Guide Names of our Tears P. L. Gaus (Plume)
Reading Group Guide The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn Books)

Video (2)
Video The Signature of All Things Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking)
Video W is for Wasted Sue Grafton (Marian Woods Books)

callthemidwifeI am obsessed with the PBS show Call the Midwife. When it first aired, I wasn’t sure that I really cared about babies and nurses. But I quickly realized, Call the Midwife, like Downton Abbey, is a soapy drama with costumes. There’s really nothing to dislike…except the appalling living conditions of the slums of London’s East End in the 1950s.

Jennifer Worth, whose memoirs the show is based on, says in her introduction that she wrote Call the Midwife because there was a lack of books about midwifery in the world. As a registered nurse, who worked with a group of nuns (and who doesn’t love nuns?) she certainly has many stories to tell.

While Downton Abbey appeals as a tale of the English aristocracy in decline, Call the Midwife is an intercity story. In the United States, the 1950s were a period of post-war prosperity, but much of Europe was still recovering from the war. Worth mentions children playing in bombed out buildings and many of the tenements had no running water. Worth goes out of her way to explain that people in the slums didn’t really know anything else but she doesn’t hide or shy away from her culture shock, which the readers experience with her.

The story is told from Worth’s point of view and it reads more like a first person narrative than a memoir, which I’m sure is on purpose, and no doubt the companionable tone helped it to become a TV show. But let’s get to the questions on everyone’s minds (or at least the ones on mine when I picked up the book) how similar is the book to the TV show? Are the characters the same? Is Chummy there??

Yes, yes she is. Of Chummy, née Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, Worth writes, “The first time I saw [her], I thought it was a bloke in drag.” If anything, Chummy’s more endearing in the book because she says things like “old bean” and “jolly good show, what”, as if she’s some P.G. Wodehouse character.

All in all, Call the Midwife is a great light non-fiction read for the summer. If you don’t watch the show, you will probably want to as some scenes from the book are painstakingly recreated in the show (such as the cake incident when Jenny first meets Sister Monica Joan). And if you love the show, this book is the best cure for Call the Midwife withdrawal.

- Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator

1984v3.inddName:  Philip Kerr, author of A Man Without Breath

What is your favorite Penguin Classic? My favorite Penguin Classic is 1984 by George Orwell; when I was school kid / student I used to read it once a year and always during exams. I suspect it had something to do with the idea that I was myself pitted up against a faceless Big Brother in the shape of the student examination board.

Why do you love it? This book is bristling with great ideas many of which are now in common currency. But who would have thought that all of us were Big Brother? Because we most certainly are. Every mistake we make or say is very likely to be broadcast on someone’s iPhone camera. We’re all watching each other which is almost worse than the dystopian future that Orwell imagined.

What Penguin Classic title would you suggest one should pick up to read next? Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It’s his best I think. And I love first person narrative. But he should never have changed the end in deference to Bulwer Lyton. Never change your end.

art_of_doingCongratulations, after running on fumes for years—pulling all nighters and cramming for your exams—you’ve finally made it. You’ve finished school and earned your degree. But before you’ve even had a chance to catch your breath everyone’s asking, “So, what’s next?”

To arm you in the coming struggle to pursue your post-graduate goals it may help to take a look at some proven practices from real life.

LEARN FROM FAILURE: You may not realize it but you will fail. And fail frequently. You’ll fail more than you’ll succeed. And the higher you set your sights the more you’ll fail. But failure is the best teacher. Ask Bill Gross a serial entrepreneur who has made a science of learning from failure. Gross is founder of Idealab, a business incubator that has started nearly a hundred companies with earnings of over a billion dollars. Gross told us the story of how he created eToys, an online toy store, in 1997. Within a couple of years, eToys was experiencing explosive growth. By 1999, sales were projected to increase by 800 percent to $300 million. Except that they didn’t. The tech bubble burst. Although eToys sales were phenomenal, they were only half of what had been projected. And since the company had overspent so wildly in anticipation of the holiday season, the business went bust. But Gross learned a valuable lesson. Markets can change on a dime, so no matter how rosy the future may look, don’t overextend yourself financially or you may not make it though the next business cycle. Of course, since then, Gross has gone on to see his fair share of start-up failures mixed in with the successes. But with each failure he learns about what didn’t work and makes sure that he does not repeat the same mistake. Whether you go into business, law, sports or the arts, one of the greatest courses you will ever take will be taught to you by the failures of your life. And if you have the courage to pay attention, these lessons will stick with you forever.

BUILD A COMMUNITY: In order to achieve success, you’ll need to reach out to others and rely on them. So, get over your pride. Whether you’re starting a business, a rock band or going for an entry-level job, tap anybody and everybody to find contacts in your field. Build your connections. Cultivate relationships that could lead to mentoring. Each superachiever we spoke to described a community of people that they had built up, that was unique to their particular endeavor. These communities might include friends, mentors, investors, colleagues, customers, fans, sometimes even, competitors. You can think of a community as a group of people who will have a stake in your success. Jessica Watson was only 11-years old when she first got the idea to sail around the world—alone. She told us that she had no connections, no experience, no family funding and even described herself a “fraidy cat.” But at an age when most tweens are concerned with getting the latest smart phone or planning the next slumber party, Watson understood that in order to make her dream come true, she’d need help. A lot of it. She wrote to newspaper reporters to spread her story. Each mentor she found connected her to others. She went to boatyards and marinas to find sailors and boat owners, willing to teach her and take her on board to work for free to learn about sailing, rigging, navigation and meteorology. As her journey became more of a reality she needed to find sponsors to buy her a boat and equipment. Because of this young girl’s ability to bring together friends, family and strangers to donate time, expertise, and emotional support, she was able to make her 7-month solo journey around the world at 16. No man (or 16-year-old girl) is an island. And there’s no better time than now to start building a community to help you get to where you want to go.

TELL YOUR STORY: Unless you’re already a YouTube sensation not many people know who you are. So what will make you stand out among the bazillions of other people vying for the same job or grant or whatever you’re pursuing? Numerous studies have shown that a well-crafted and compelling story engages the reader (or viewer or listener) far more than a set of facts. To tell your story, you first need to clarify who you are, what it is you want and what you have to offer. Once you know this, you can shape that information into a compelling story that can help you get the attention of whoever you’re approaching, whether it’s a potential mentor, employer or group of Kickstarter contributors. Take the power pop band OK Go. Their dream was to make it big. But after some early success, their record sales were floundering. Rather than to continue to communicate with their fans through their record company’s outdated mode of publicity, they decided to tell their story their own way. They created a DIY, one-take music video of themselves, dancing on treadmills for their song, “Here We Go Again.” It was the first intentionally viral YouTube video. It got millions of hits, won them a best video Grammy award and captured the public’s attention. And OK Go keeps upping the ante. They have gone on to create many multi-media collaborative art projects and mind-bending videos that tell the story of the band and their music to the public. The takeaway? Find creative and compelling ways to shape your story to communicate to people who can help you along your path.

MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS: Early on in your professional life, you can be derailed by the emotional ups and downs. You might be freaked out by financial insecurity or harbor resentment for being the office coffee fetcher with an Ivy League education. You may feel anger, frustration or despair on a daily basis. But overcoming emotional struggles, we found, was key to the success of the high achievers we spoke with. Whatever they felt— anxiety, hubris, insecurity, shame, disappointment or pride—they didn’t allow their emotions to trigger actions that would compromise their goals. Instead they had the commitment to examine those emotions and figure out effective ways to cope with them. Gary Noesner, a former FBI chief negotiator, told us about the vocational life of a hostage negotiator. Imagine facing off with a cold-blooded killer or a murderous cult leader. Suppose the only thing standing between these violent crazies and innocent lives were you. Noesner told us that under those condition the most important trait of a negotiator is not to be a militaristic die-hard but to exercise emotional self-control. In fact Neosner’s job involved building empathy and rapport with irrational hostage takers in order to help them figure out what they were feeling. Why? Because that was the surest path to Noesner’s goal of a non-violent resolution. Although you may sometimes feel like the people you are dealing with are as crazy as Noesner’s criminal counterparts, learning to observe your emotions objectively and monitor them effectively even when faced with a maddening boss, malicious co-worker or bumpy career path can put you at a tremendous advantage.

PURSUE YOUR PASSION: Studies have shown that being happy in a job can make you more productive. And so it was for the extraordinary people that we interviewed, who explained that happiness itself wasn’t their goal, it was the pursuit of happiness that actually made them happy and productive. One of the greatest examples of this was Ken Jennings, the winningest game show contestant in history, who won millions of dollars on Jeopardy!. Jennings, a self-described trivia nerd, had a lifelong dream of being on the show. But he told us that when he first graduated from college with an English Lit degree and a dream of writing, he believed that no matter how much you loved something, it wasn’t worth pursuing if it wasn’t going to pay the bills. So he got a job as a computer programmer. He didn’t audition for Jeopardy! until he was nearly 30. Once on the show, Jennings had an epiphany. Being a contestant on Jeopardy!, made him feel for the first time like someone who actually loved his “job.” And the passion that came from that not only contributed to his winning game after game but helped him see that “doing something you love really can change your life.” After his winning streak (the longest in Jeopardy! history), Jennings pursued his dream job of becoming a writer. “Now,” he told us, “I love what I do every day.” Anything you pursue in life will involve struggle, hardship and sacrifice. But if that thing you are chasing is what you love, you will have the motivation to get through the tough times. And of course like Jennings and all of the other superacheivers we spoke to, you will have the deep satisfaction of loving what you do every day.


themanwhowouldbekingName: Peter Wortsman, editor-translator of Tales of the German Imagination: From the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: The Man Who Would Be King: Selected Stories by Rudyard Kipling

Why do you love this Penguin Classic? There are few storytellers in any language who tap the elemental thrill and terror of experience quite as profoundly as Rudyard Kipling, particularly in his early Indian tales. Though the son of colonials, Kipling manages in these early narratives to transcend his own cultural and racial prejudices and peel away the pretense of the occupier to tap the insights of the occupied. And of all the tales in the book, there is none quite so chilling and thrilling asThe Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes.” Given the current vogue of zombies, I am waiting for someone to make a movie of this journey to the land of the living dead.  

What should I read next? If I were you, dear reader, after dipping into the pages of my own Tales of the German Imagination, I’d hightail it next to another Penguin Classic, The Red Cavalry and Other Stories, by the Russian master of the concise, Isaac Babel.

sometimes_a_great_notionName: Stewart O’Nan, author of The Odds

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?  From the very beginning, Kesey roars forth with that opening description of the river, letting us know we’re in for a full-throated, big-hearted novel set in country that’s still wild.  The land’s more than just the setting, it’s the underlying spirit of the book, and of the Stamper family.  Like Cuckoo’s Nest, Sometimes a Great Notion is about Freedom and the individual crashing against the system.  It’s an American tragedy, but written with manic energy.

What should I read next? Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. From the wild country to the tamed smalltown.  Lives of quiet desperation.

dublinersName: Chang-rae Lee, author of Native Speaker

Favorite Penguin Classic Title/Author: Dubliners by James Joyce

Why do you love this Penguin Classic?  Exquisite stories in Joyce’s early lapidary style — essential reading for language lovers.

What should I read next? The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.