Malice 2014 me and teapot 2“Where do you get your ideas?” a reader asks, at nearly every book event. “From my characters,” I say, aware that this makes me sound like a crazy woman. But before you call the men in the white coats, let me explain.

The heart of every story is the characters. Even in a mystery or a thriller, where plot is critical to a story’s success, the characters are the key. When someone raves to you about a book, they don’t say “it’s about a bomb ….” They say “it’s about a woman who ….” When readers fall for a series, they remember the characters as much as the individual plots—sometimes even more.

Character is both a person and a person’s essential nature, revealed by decisions and choices, especially those made under stress. It is those choices and decisions that create the plot.

And so, for me, it’s crucial to get to know my characters before I start writing their story. Because I write series, I know my recurring characters, but they are always surprising me. I knew that Pepper Reece, the main character in my new Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, got her nickname not from the shop but from her baseball-crazy grandfather, who dubbed the fiery three-year-old “Pepper” after the legendary Pepper Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals. But not until her mother Lena returns from Costa Rica for a visit in the third book, which I’ve just begun, did I know for sure what her real name is. (And no, I’m not going to tell you until then!) I knew she was raised in a communal household along with Kristen, her BFF and part-time employee. But I had no idea that in their early forties, these closer-than-sisters friends would discover that each had kept a secret or two.

Turns out that secrets are a theme to this series, as are questions about identity and the fine line between protecting someone and interfering. In Assault and Pepper, the first installment, Pepper finds a homeless man named Doc dead on the Spice Shop’s doorstep. The discovery rocks Pepper right down to her bay leaves. Nothing in her first year selling spice or her fifteen years managing staff HR at a giant law firm prepared her for the shock—or the consequences.

(Although being a cop’s wife for thirteen years did expose her to the seamier side of life. Especially when she discovered her husband and a meter maid—she still can’t say “parking enforcement officer”—in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters when he was supposed to be working a shift for a friend. Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s the bike cop on the Market beat.)

What’s even worse is when the homicide detectives—Spencer and Tracy, and yes, they’ve heard the jokes, and no, they’re not amused—focus on one of her trusted employees. She considers herself a good judge of people; after all, in both HR and retail, her livelihood depends on it. How could she have been so wrong? The only other suspects seem just as unlikely. Pepper investigates in part because she can’t believe her employee is guilty—or that the young woman would withhold the truth from her. The investigation forces her to confront the limits of her own judgment and her ability to work with other people. In the process, she learns new skills and draws on internal resources she didn’t know she had.

Plot unfolds when one character acts and another responds. And so as a writer, I ask my story people to tell me what they most want out of life. To show me their struggles, internal and external. To reveal how they respond when someone stands in their way. In the planning phase, I sometimes struggle until I identify the core conflicts between the victim and the killer—but also between the victim and other characters who fall under suspicion, and between the sleuth and those who would stop her. Ultimately, the characters’ actions and responses come together like the channels of a braided river.

Assault-and-Pepper-Leslie-Ann-BudewitzGetting there can be messy. It’s a kinetic process, always changing until I reach “the end” for the last time. It’s a lot of fun. I hope that it flows on the printed page, that it keeps you reading and asking questions. I hope my stories introduce you to a cast of folks you want to know, who show you a little something about life—and character.

Discover more about Assault & Pepper by Leslie Ann Budewitz!


Brooke_Davis_cAilsaBowyerI grew up on ten acres in a quiet bush town called Bellbrae. It was pretty idyllic: the air smelled of eucalyptus, we were friends with all our neighbours, and we had the space and time to play and imagine and create. My mum was always a great reader, and my dad became one when he had kids. I have lovely flashes of book-related memories that I sometimes catch as they float by: being read to by my parents, reading on long car trips and trying not to give into car sickness, being told off by Mum for reading in the dark, the treat of visiting a bookshop, reading well-loved books over and over. I was so proud to own books and would always ‘borrow’ my mum’s and put them on my bookshelf. She’d take them back without telling me, and I’d do the same. It became this silent, funny, ping-pong kind of game that we had with each other and didn’t acknowledge.

I look at all my childhood books now and I can feel the magic of that time, the feeling they gave me. I can’t remember not feeling like books were important. I don’t think this is something I could have explained as a kid—now I can attach language to the feeling, and suggest that perhaps it was something to do with the way reading tapped into my imagination and my love of learning and the need I might have felt to develop an understanding for the way people are. But as a kid, it felt natural and I loved it and I didn’t know why. It was just something I thought everyone did, like the way we all did colouring-in, and played the recorder, and dressed up in Mum’s old bridesmaid dress and glittery shoes. It was all play to me.

Roald Dahl was my all-time favourite, and still is. His stories were funny, imaginative, rude, and pretty violent, in a cartoonish way, and it seemed like my parents shouldn’t be encouraging me to read them. I didn’t feel like I was being patronised when I read Roald Dahl. I also loved Judy Blume, Robin Klein, John Marsden, Emily Rodda, Katherine Paterson and L.M. Montgomery. Their writing felt honest and real—even when it was wildly imaginative. I was also really taken with Tim Winton’s ‘Lochie Leonard’ books—he captured the sound of the Australian accent so beautifully and I hadn’t realised you could do that in writing, that you could give a character the sound of your own voice.

I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’ And then, when I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest. My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of my writing giving people pleasure. I wanted more of that feeling.

Lost-&-Found-Brooke-Davis

 

Brooke Davis is the author of Lost & Found, her debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens when no one else is looking.


1weird_thesecretMany people struggle to be creative. We see creative people and their work around us and compare ourselves. We don’t know how to be creative, or worse, we did once, and now we’re feeling blocked, bored or unsure. Tired of this happening to you?

Hi. I’m Adam J. Kurtz, and my new journal, 1 Page at a Time, can help. A daily creative companion, this book will assist in the journey back to your creative self. Through exercises and challenges “proven” to help, you too can harness your mind. You too can feel the guiding light of creativity as it pushes you to accomplish incredible feats of “ART” in the workplace, and in your personal life. You’ll write! You’ll cry!

For a limited time, all this is available for only — say it with me: 1! PAGE! AT A TIME!

The Endless Journey

The Endless Journey

If only it were that easy. A single book that could change everything, a quick fix, a ten-step program that could make the difference. The bad news is that creativity, like most things, is a journey. The good news? You’ve already started. As a living, breathing human being you are already creative. Congratulations! Simply processing the world around you is a creative feat. Getting dressed. Choosing lunch. Everything is creativity, everything is art, and you have everything you need. Your way of looking at things, the way you consume and digest all play a role.

When we think of creative accomplishments, we tend to think of the end result. The completed manuscript, mastered files, or framed piece. We get so caught up in that tangible end goal that we might not even see the creativity itself: the emotions, thinking, sketches and planning that led to that final output.

Creative Switch

Creative Switch

There’s no quick fix because there can’t be. There’s no switch to flip because your creativity is constantly flowing, you just might be letting it slip by. So instead of rushing forward, slow down. Take a deep breath. What are you thinking right now? What is the root of that emotion? Let’s talk about something else. Where have you traveled before? What would you write in a letter to a seven-year-old? Get up and walk away. Staring a problem in the face isn’t going to solve anything. Staring yourself in the face might. Write everything down and look at it. Make a couple of lists. Have some water, swish it around your mouth until it’s lukewarm, then swallow it. Okay, where were we, and where do we stand now?

Harness a small bit of yourself every day. A tiny piece. Something that feels irrelevant or useless. Put it to paper, then come back tomorrow. Our goals can be so daunting that we forget all the good advice we already know. “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” “Slow and steady wins the race!” Take small steps to accomplish your larger tasks. Follow your gut or your heart or whichever parts make your decisions. Remember that nothing really matters, no matter how important it might seem right now. Life moves on. The universe does what it wants. Have a little faith or take the whole leap. Your only job is to keep moving on. That’s creativity. It’s not a painting, it’s continuing to process, progress, and enjoy your life as you make it through.

Build Slowly

Build Slowly

But what do I know? I’m just some guy on the internet.

1 Page at a Time is a lot of things. It’s a diary. It’s a sketchbook. It’s a rulebook, a guidebook, a playbook and a yearbook. It’s whatever you want, with a healthy dose of optimism. And cynicism. It’s human. And it’s going to push you along your creative journey in the same way it helped me on mine.

Photo Credit: Ryan Pfluger

 

Adam J. Kurtz is a graphic designer, artist, and serious person. He is primarily concerned with creating honest, accessible work, including a range of small products and the self-published “unsolicited advice” calendar series. He is the author of no other books.

He currently lives in New York City. Visit AdamJK.com, @AdamJK, & jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk.com (or don’t!).



TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.


Ali

Ali Cardia is an Assistant Editor at Riverhead Books. She acquires and edits narrative nonfiction and memoir, like Jen Doll’s hilarious and insightful memoir Save the Date.

 

 

 

 

wanderingThe Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

Fiction has this incredible ability to transport us to places we’ve never been, and really good fiction can open up the world.  This brilliant novel about the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan follows Tor Baz, a young boy descended from both chiefs and outlaws, as he becomes the Wandering Falcon, travelling the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This book is notable for a number of reasons: it offers a glimpse at a world that remains foreign and mysterious to many American readers; it’s heartbreakingly beautiful; and, amazingly, it was author Jamil Ahmad’s debut—published when he was 80-years-old. Ahmad passed away recently, and I’ve been thinking about how much I love this book, and how much I hope others will pick it up and fall in love with it, too. (Bonus points: it remains one of my favorite book jackets.)

9781594632334How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

This book left me speechless. And then, when I found speech again, the first thing I did was tell everyone in my immediate vicinity that they must read it immediately. RIGHT NOW. The book takes the form of a business self-help book—each chapter is a “lesson”—and follows a man from impoverished child to water mogul. But at its heart, this is a love story, and who doesn’t love those? This book hooks you and it does not let go—and at only 220 pages, it’s ok, because you don’t have to put it down! Just find some hours and go, go, go.

 

 

 

we are allWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

If you like novels that are: fun, clever, unexpected, funny, tragic, and full of useful new vocab words (the narrator tells us right at the start that she loved words as a young girl: “When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three.” Genius.), then We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is for you! Bring this book on vacation; it is a pure joy.

 

 

 

ForgottenForgotten Country, by Catherine Chung

Catherine Chung is the real deal. Her writing is smart, striking, and hits at a deep, emotional place. This book is about sisters—there is a more-than-good chance you will love this book if you have one of those—and also about family, history, tradition and loyalty.  Cheryl Strayed felt similarly and said this book had her “spellbound from page one,” so maybe I’ll leave it at that.

 

 

 

 

 

chang-rae 2On Such a Full Sea, by Chang-rae Lee

This book is creepy—you should know that going in—but it’s weird and unsettling in the best possible way (it’s written by the phenomenal, award-winning Chang-rae Lee, after all). The novel is set in a dystopian America, and the story follows a kick-ass young woman, Fan, who becomes a legend in her own time when she does the unthinkable: set off on her own to find her boyfriend, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Lee is an amazing story-teller, and there are so many great stories from Fan’s journey, ones that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading the book.

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Michael

Michael Barson has worked in the Putnam Publicity department since April 1994, and has worked in book publicity since 1984. He has a PhD in American Culture from BGSU, and now lives in Glen Ridge NJ with his wife, their big dog, and three bedrooms formerly occupied by sons. His hobbies include beer, pickup basketball, old crime movies, and more beer.

 

 

 

 

shots fired

Shots Fired, by C.J. Box

Stories from Joe Pickett Country, by C.J. Box – This new collection of ten crime stories set in the west—mostly in C.J. Box’s native Wyoming—is a real treat for fans of the Joe Pickett series, which Putnam has published from the start (OPEN SEASON came out in 2001). Three of the stories feature Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, one stars Joe’s renegade friend, the very lethal Nate Romanowski, and the othersix feature stand-alone characters and situations. Several of the non-Joe stories are truly excellent, my favorite being “Pronghorns of the Third Reich.” C.J. Box has had seven consecutive national bestsellers, and it would be great if SHOTS FIRED made it eight in a row.

 

robert

Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot, by Reed Farrel Coleman

A Jesse Stone Novel, by Reed Farrel Coleman – when Robert B. Parker died in January of 2010, it was a huge loss for the world of crime fiction, and for Putnam books as well, which Parker had called his home since the late ‘80s. Beginning in 2012, Ace Atkins took over the primary Parker series, starring Boston P.I. Spenser, with positive results. But now Reed Coleman has done an equally fine job of making the Jesse Stone character his own in his first turn on that series, BLIND SPOT, which pubs on September 9. In fact, the story is much more detailed and layered than many of Parker’s own Jesse Stone  tales, and I expect the critics to take note of this when the reviews start arriving in September. An impressive debut by Coleman, who has won many mystery awards over the course of his 20-year career.

field of prey

Field of Prey, by John Sandford

Over the course of more than twenty of the hard-boiled PREY thrillers by John Sandford, Minneapolis detective/investigator Lucas Davenport has faced off against every sort of criminal, from an armed robbery team to a female hit-woman. But my favorite villains in the PREY series are the serial killers, and Lucas has matched wits with some doozies. FIELD OF PREY is one of those. Of the earlier books, I remember MIND PREY being especially creepy. Sandford is just a great writer, in addition to being a #1 bestseller for Putnam, where the PREY series began in 1989. But you do have to be able to handle the violence quotient in these—Sandford isn’t kidding around.

 

a man without breath

A Man Without Breath, by Philip Kerr

The Bernie Gunther series, which Putnam publishes in hardcover, has been described as plunking down private eye Philip Marlowe in Nazi Germany instead of 1940s Los Angeles. That does give you the flavor of these extremely well-crafted historical thrillers. Penguin Books has nine of these Philip Kerr titles in their backlist, and they range from really good to unbelievably great. Philip Kerr is simply one of today’s very best crime writers—in the top five, for my money. (Even if I do get these for free.)

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 




photoAt BEA I sat down with Azar Nafisi, author of The Republic of Imagination to discuss her book, her writing style, and more. Azar Nafisi is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About. She is a passionate advocate of books and reading, and currently lives in Washington, D.C.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about how you get in the writing mood? Do you have a certain place that you like to write? Do you listen to certain music?

First of all I get very excited about it, you know and the idea doesn’t leave me. So my first attempts at writing come through writing on these notes that I carry everywhere I go. Like I’m sitting on the metro, I’m going to—even sometimes in the middle of grocery shopping, I put my cart to one side and start writing, so that is how it all starts. Then when the quote unquote–I think this is very serious–but when serious writing starts, I work in my office which is at home. Because if I go to my office at work I won’t be able to. I don’t like to have people whom I know around me. A lot of times I go to the museum’s coffee shops, like Phillips Museum is one of my favorite coffee shops or National Gallery in Washington. I go and write, and then I go watch my favorite pictures and then come back to writing. I like to be writing in a public place where nobody knows me, so that I have life around me, but you know, so that is how I write. It’s fun! You know I really wish that we had more wonderful coffee shops. But there is one coffee shop, one Starbucks on the waterfront that I like, and I like the people there, we all get to know one another. So it is really enjoyable and painful (laughs).

 

Do you have any specific writer inspirations, any passages from other authors or from literature that really stick with you?

Oh yes, I mean right now because I’m writing this book for example, certain quotations or words by some authors become so intimate, that sometimes I say it as if they’re mine. You know I cannot–this happened when I was writing this book I had been giving talks and writing about Saul Bellow. And I kept saying ‘as Saul Bellow says, those who survive the ordeal of the holocaust, will they survive the ordeal of freedom’. And then the copywriter says we can’t find this quote (laughs). And I realized that I have just made it my own, I had taken the ordeal from him and the sufferings–I mean you know I had taken the concept and you know created my own. But other writers, their words become like your flesh and blood. And that is why language is so important, you know it is the way they connect you. There is that inspiration, sometimes one quotation gets you to investigate, and that is what happened with Baldwin. I first started with all these amazing quotations Baldwin had about literature’s meaning as freedom, and taking risk with writing or reading stories. And by and by, I wrote on Baldwin.

 

I know that your current book was inspired by a comment someone made. Can you tell me a little bit how that turned into a full-on book?

You know it didn’t start so much with a comment; it started with an idea that kept obsessing me. And it started with when I was in Iran. My students in Iran, because we lived in such a limited world at that time, their idea of the Western America was really–‘we want to go there,’ you know ‘we want to be there’. And I felt they’re not getting everything, they’re not getting the complications and the paradoxes. The ordeals of freedom, you know? So over there I taught them Saul Bellow’s Dean’s December, which was about the ordeals of living in a tyranny and the ordeals of living in the west. And that idea was in my mind, and I came here and I wrote Reading Lolita and the idea came back because I thought–so many people told me ‘oh you were living in this condition and that is why you loved to read. In a democracy, you know, books are not that central’. And that bothered me, that comment bothered me. Does a democracy not need imagination? And that started it. I started responding to that question—can a democracy live without a democratic imagination? That’s how it started.

 

Can you tell me in terms of your friends, the people who you like to spend time with, what is the most important value in a friend for you?

I mean especially since I went back to Iran and then I came here. There is good people whom you feel very close to, it’s like with books. There is that initial instinct that you connect and you don’t know why. I mean I can tell you what I value most in a friend, but it doesn’t happen that way. You know and a lot of times your friends are the ones that–actually my friends are the ones whom I am most comfortable revealing myself to. I am not scared of them seeing all the warts (laughs). And there is a deep empathy where you accept critically because the love is strong enough to carry it. And since I have been living between two cultures, I realized that my best friends become the ones who have something of both cultures in them. And necessarily your friends don’t have to be like you. Because they have to complement you, not to affirm you. I don’t like someone who doesn’t question me, and that is why, for the chapter on Huck Finn, this woman I talk about she was my best childhood friend. And we were not alike; you know she was very pragmatic, very serious. And I was very flighty and you know very—but you know we loved the sparring. So that is the kind of friend.

 

Do you have a guilty pleasure or a favorite movie or book?

Well you know, the only guilty pleasure I have, which I constantly talk about, is of course eating ice cream. But—coffee ice cream—but the point with books are that—I am very promiscuous with works of art. I don’t feel elitist at all about it because I am in love with mystery tales and I am in love with quote unquote very serious ones. So from Flaubert and Dante and Shakespeare, to Chandler and Ian Rankin or Sara Paretsky, I read the ones that are good and I enjoy it. I don’t know if that counts as a guilty pleasure? But unfortunately it is an open guilty pleasure. And I make a point of saying it because I don’t like formulas for art. You know, American movies, the best were Marks Brothers—In  Iran we got to watching old movies. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Those were fantastic, as are the very intellectual films, I love Woody Allen and I love Jean Godard or Renoir.

 

If you were to describe why you think reading is important, in one sentence, what would you say?

Reading is breathing.

AzarNafisi_TheRepublicofImagination

 

In The Republic of Imagination, taking her cue from a challenge thrown to her in Seattle, where a skeptical reader told her that Americans don’t care about books the way they did back in Iran, Azar Nafisi energetically responds to those who say fiction has nothing to teach us. Blending memoir and polemic with close readings of her favorite American novels—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among others—she invites us to join her as citizens of her “Republic of Imagination,” a country where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.