Penguin Online photo Yafa

Anyone who’s seen Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron on screen knows that both of the Oscar winners for Best Actress are the real thing. It’s not surprising, at least to me, that they have no patience for phony celebs or “pretend” foods. Theron won’t go near anything gluten-free: “It tastes like cardboard!” she exclaimed in a talk-show appearance. Lawrence told Vanity Fair that gluten-free diets are “the new, cool eating disorder.”

Real foods, to both women, do not perform bait-and-switch tricks like substituting tapioca for whole wheat flour in baked goods. Real foods contain whole grains that may or may not be fashionable at the moment, but still deliver proven value.  I’m reminded that our palate and digestive system subscribe to no dietary trends, and never have.  Our bodies dwell in a microbial universe where nutritive usefulness trumps the latest fad; muscles and ligaments along with the liver and every other internal organ thrive on minerals and vitamins, healthful bacteria, fiber and phytochemicals. They’re sublimely oblivious to pop culture’s demands for the newest, coolest, latest diet.

As the author of Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten I set out to discover for myself, as an investigative journalist, just how seriously I should take the campaign against gluten. Was this protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye, as William Davis claims in Wheat Belly, so injurious to our well-being that it has killed more people than all wars combined? Or were we yet again being subjected to unsubstantiated hyperbole—this time delivered by medical professionals, among others?

The gluten-free craze arrived in a thundercloud of hyperbole, like Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and warning if you fail to honor them, well, we’ll see you in hell. That’s the emotional foundation of screeds like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. Like scripture, they are unconditional—they don’t deal with shades of gray, so we don’t have to, either. It’s all fire and brimstone. Eat wheat and grow fat, while you rot your brain. Other diet fads—Zone, South Beach, Atkins, generally call for more protein and fewer carbs, and more thought.  Gluten-free is a one-stop one-shop silver bullet.

Reliable clinical studies indicate that only .63 to 6 percent of us suffer from definable symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and 1 in 133 from celiac disease. The vast majority of men and women who think they’re reacting to gluten— about 30 percent of the general population—fall into neither category.

A recent study at the University of Florida set out to probe people’s misconceptions about gluten. It followed 97 participants who tasted two food choices, one labeled “gluten-free” and one labeled “gluten.” The majority decided the non-gluten food was healthier, even though neither food actually contained gluten. As many as 32 percent of the study subjects thought eating gluten-free would bring about weight loss. Not true. It’s the elimination of junk food, the researchers point out, that makes all the difference.

grain-of-truth-by-stephen-yafa 2I discovered too that long fermentation, as in sourdough, is nature’s way of reducing the toxicity of gluten molecules while increasing its nutritive value and edible enjoyment. A surprise to me, and proof again that the best part of authoring a book is to learn what you didn’t know when you began.

 

Read more about Grain of Truth—The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten by Stepehn Yafa!


patricia-morrisroeHow do you choose what to write about?

I’ve written a biography of the controversial biography Robert Mapplethorpe, a book on sleep, and now a memoir about shoes.  On the surface, they would seem to have nothing in common, but each subject was very topical.  Mapplethorpe would soon become notorious as the man whose work resulted in the famous censorship trial in Cincinnati – the first time a gallery in the United States faced prosecution for the art it displayed.  From that standpoint alone, it was an important story, but Mapplethorpe’s life, from his early beginnings as a Catholic schoolboy in Floral Park, Queens, to reaching the top of the art world as he was dying of AIDS, was a powerful narrative.

I decided to write about sleep because I’ve long suffered from insomnia, and after spending a crazy night in a sleep clinic, I thought, “This is too good to waste.” At the time, there was a lot about sleep in the news, focusing on the bizarre side-effects of sleeping pills, such as “sleep eating, sleep driving,” etc.  So again, it was a topical subject that in this case touched me personally.

9 ½ Narrow: My Life In Shoes came out of a conversation I had with an editor who wanted to see if I was interested in doing a book on Alexander McQueen.  When you write about someone’s life, you really have to be willing to walk in his or her shoes, and among the last shoes McQueen designed were his 12-inch crustacean-clawed Armadillo booties.  They were terrifying, but it started me thinking about women and shoes, and how they provided a marker for the important events in our lives.

 

What does a typical writing day look for you?

 I’m a very regimented person, so after drinking a cup of tea, eating Greek yogurt with fruit, and reading the New York Times on my iPad, I usually start to work around 9:30 am.  I take a break around 1pm to pick up something for dinner and my all-important latte, and then I’m back writing around 2:15 or so.  I usually work until about 5:30.  I’m someone who can’t write after dinner because if I did my head would be spinning all night long, which it often does anyway, but then I’d never fall asleep, and since I’ve already written that book, it wouldn’t be productive.

 

You’ve also written for New York magazine and Vogue.  How does writing a book differ from journalism?

The obvious answer is that writing a book takes much longer and represents a huge emotional investment.  There isn’t the immediate gratification of seeing your name in print and getting quick feedback from editors and readers.  With a book, you have to be sure that you’re fascinated enough in the subject that it will keep you going for at least several years.  With magazines, even if you’re not completely in love with the topic, you know it’s not forever, and with some books, it can seem like forever.  But of course in the end, you have a book.  They may not be forever, but they’re usually around longer than a magazine piece.

 

What surprised you most about writing 9 ½ Narrow?

My mother died two months before I signed the book contract, and my father died two months before my publication date.  They acted as bookends, as it were.  I’d started out writing a humorous memoir about shoes.  I knew it wouldn’t be without its poignant parts.  Friends died along the way, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the death of a parent.  Throughout the book, my mother acts as my sparring partner and foil.  She’s both hilarious and frustrating, but her voice helped move the book along.  Shoes, as everyone who’s ever read a fairy tale knows, provide the perfect metaphor for life’s journey.  I didn’t know where 9 ½ Narrow would take me, or how I’d end it, but my mother got me there, and in doing so, provided the book with an added depth, for which I am grateful.

 

What do you hope readers will gain from the book?

I hope they will laugh and cry and recognize a little bit of themselves in my story.  For me, writing this book was enormously fun and at times very sad.  Some weeks I’d find myself smiling, other weeks, I’d be writing with tears rolling down my cheeks.  In a way, this book saved me during a difficult time in my life.  So I’d love for readers to enjoy the full scope of my story, and then, with my blessing, go out and celebrate their own lives with a new pair of shoes.

 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t do it unless you really love it, because it’s a difficult profession, and getting more difficult.  I could say don’t get discouraged by rejections, but everyone gets discouraged.  Moving on after the rejections is the important thing.  Set up a schedule and stick to it.  I once interviewed Raymond Carver and I remember him telling me that he used to get up early in the morning to write in his car.  Don’t try to mimic another writer’s voice.  Find your own.  It will take time, but once you do, you’ll realize it was there all along.   Pay attention to the way you talk and bring that distinct rhythm into your writing.  And, as clichéd as it sounds, it’s really all about the pleasure of the process.

 

9-12-narrow-by-patricia-morrisroe

A funny, poignant coming-of-age memoir told through the shoes that she wore.

Morrisroe’s “coming-of-age” is, at its heart, the story of a generation of women who’ve enjoyed a world of freedom and opportunity that was unthinkable to their mothers. Spanning five decades and countless footwear trends, 9 ½ Narrow is, like Love, Loss and What I Wore, about how we remember important events through a coat, or a dress, or in this case, a Beatle boot or Confirmation “wedgie.” 

 

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Simon MajumdarI was genuinely delighted when Penguin Random House agreed to publish my latest food and travel adventure, Fed, White, and Blue.  Not just because they are, of course, one of the finest publishers in the world, but also because it felt very much like I was coming home.

A little under thirty years ago, after the good Lord and I both decided that a life in the Episcopalian clergy was not for me, my first “proper” place of employment was as a sales associate in a small, short lived chain of bookshops owned by Penguin Books.  It began a happy ten year association with the publisher that saw me move up through the ranks until I had gained the heady title of “Special Sales Manager,” a position which earned me my own little office, with its own coveted little window, in their London headquarters.

The majority of my time during that decade, however, was spent out on the road, as a sales representative for the Penguin Paperback list. It was a period which, even given some of the extraordinary adventures I have experienced in the last few years of travel around the world, still remains one of the most enjoyable of my career, and I still retain the fondest memories of my years servicing a select group of large bookstores in central London.

It was a job which not only tested my ability to consume gallons of tea (or “English Penicillin” as we call it back in Blighty) every day as I met with the managers of the book stores, but also gave me a true insight into the sharp end of the book business, which I think has served me well in my second life as an author.

As a sales person for Penguin, the notion of “author care” was drummed into me from the very beginning. My list of new books to sell each month was sizeable, but I was always well aware that every title I offered up to my customers represented the heart and soul of the author, and often years of hard work to bring the book to fruition. It was a mindset that I never forgot, whether I was selling a new title from a blockbuster author or a niche work from a specialist that would find its home in our midlist. I can promise that I always gave every effort to sell every book, and it is a mindset that I am delighted to say seems to be very much at the heart of the Penguin Random House philosophy today.

I can also say that my time on the road has definitely helped me become a more involved author.  Each new book I write is like my new baby, and I, of course, want everybody to admire it and for it to reach the widest audience possible. However, having spent so much time on the front line of book sales, I am also aware what a tough battleground it can be and that there are thousands of new books each month are fighting for the attention of customers.

fed-white-and-blue-by-simon-majumdar 2I also know, after spending nearly twenty years of my life in the business, just how much the publishing landscape has changed. Now, more than ever, making a book a success depends on a joint effort between the authors, editorial, marketing, publicity and the sales teams. It takes, as they say “a village” to produce a good book, and I am thrilled that, with the publication of Fed, White, and Blue I am allowed to be a resident of one of the best villages in the business.

Like I said, it feels like coming home.

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credit Fiona Saunders

Seventeen years ago, right out of college and the Radcliffe Publishing Course, I moved to New York and went to work for the charismatic group of editors who founded Riverhead Books. Over the next four years, as an editorial assistant, I would answer phones, make photocopies, mail books and schedule lunch dates in exchange for a master class in the art of being an editor.

I had always wanted to be an editor. I imagined being left alone in a spacious office with a lot of books and papers. It didn’t take a week to realize that the reality of being an editor was very different—and much more exciting—than my fantasy. What I could not have anticipated before witnessing the chaos, the constant interruptions, the endless phone calls and multi-hour meetings around which those editors’ work days revolved, was how captivating the authors would be. I was star-struck by some of them, a little bit in love with others, and scared to death of one or two. But they were never, ever boring, and no two hours, let alone days, with them were alike. I was forced to overcome my natural introversion again and again to find ways to help, to please, to cajole and to befriend these enigmatic creatures.

When I became an editor myself, I realized just how intense and emotional these relationships could be. The authors I chose to work with changed my life. I helped them to make the most of their work, promoted their books both inside and outside the company, and faded into the background when it was their time to shine. I learned a lot by watching them, but I never wished to be one of them. They spent years writing books in private that would become suddenly public, up for judgment. It was exhilarating but terrifying. They nurtured their hopes, but they couldn’t know what publication day would bring.

While I delivered more than my share of good news over the years—got to tell some authors that their books had made the New York Times bestseller list, to enthuse over publicity coups and take them out for celebratory dinners after their Manhattan readings—I felt their disappointment acutely when things didn’t go so well: a bad review, a too-quiet launch, missed flights and poorly attended readings on tour. I loved being their behind-the-scenes support from the relative safety of my office at 375 Hudson Street, where my good friends and I gossiped and celebrated one another’s birthdays with conference room cupcakes.

A writing life would have seemed too messy and risky to the person I was then. I used to tell friends and family who aspired to write books that it was a terrible way to make a living, that if they could imagine doing anything else—ANYTHING—they should go and do that instead. I stand by that advice, and yet my book, That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us, is about to be published by Gotham.

After I‘d been working for Penguin for ten years, my husband and I had the opportunity to reinvent our lives in London—an offer too exciting to pass up. We started a family. I did some freelance editing and ghost-wrote a couple of books. Then I started looking around for a new challenge… and let’s face it, there’s nothing like a couple of little kids to help you get used to mess and risk. When one of my former authors (none other than the brilliant Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves) gave me the idea to write a book about the differences between English and American culture through the lens of language, I really wanted to try it.

I spent months doing research and digging up intriguing little stories and bizarre bits of history. It was enormous fun finding my own voice after channeling other voices for so long, but the best part was imagining readers having the same thrill of discovery that I’d felt while working on the book. There are a lot of people out there who love to travel, explore other cultures, and talk about language—this book is for them. It is also for American and English expatriates going through the tortuous process of partial assimilation that I went through (and am still going through). Writing That’s Not English helped me find the humor in this experience.

I could never have imagined how satisfying work could be on the other side of the desk. There are things I miss about being an editor, though—like my colleagues. I want to say that I missed those smart and funny Penguins so much, I just had to work with them again. But the truth is, they rarely call me. Most days I am left alone in the library with a lot of books and papers, nurturing my hopes and wondering what publication day will bring.

 

thats-not-english-by-erin-moore

 

American by birth, Erin Moore is a former book editor who specialized in spotting British books—including Eats, Shoots & Leaves—for the US market. She’s spent the last seven years living in England with her Anglo American husband and a small daughter with an English accent.

That’s Not English is the perfect companion for modern Anglophiles and the ten million British and American travelers who visit one another’s countries each year.


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.

 

 

 

 

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