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.


Nancy PaulsenphotoWe are publishing Jacqueline Woodson’s gorgeously written memoir on August 28, which is the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. That is a perfect date for Brown Girl Dreaming to come into the world, because so many of the stories Jacqueline tells are stories of hope, dreams, and having a vision.

Woodson came of age in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. In stories that are poignant, funny, and memorable, she shows us how family, religion, and the civil rights movement shaped her. In South Carolina, she was surrounded by the love of her grandparents and got her early education eavesdropping on the front porch. But she also felt the realities of Jim Crow. In poems like “Ghosts,” she writes:

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Moving to Brooklyn and starting school opened Jacqueline up to a whole new world, and she shows us how a notebook and a pen held infinite promise to her. We feel her delight when she finally discovers a book in the library with a character that looks like her and realizes she, too, has a story to tell. On her journey she finds her voice and her purpose.

Everyone who has read this finds it brings them back to their childhood and awakens their memories. These evocative poems—about friendship, siblings, beloved grandparents and teachers, favorite foods, funky music, and wanting to join the revolution—give us a vivid glimpse of American history, and our history. They also show us why Woodson is such a brilliant, lyrical writer, as in verse after verse we see her winning curiosity and integrity shine brightly through, and her respect for the art of listening:

Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.

We are incredibly proud to be publishing this and hope it will speak to readers of all ages and touch them with its stories that celebrate courage, creativity, dignity, hope, and mindfulness.

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Start Reading an Excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

“Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.”—The New York Times Book Review


JillSantopoloThe concept of love is universal. And the idea of being free to love whomever you choose has been battled for centuries in many different countries on many different platforms. At its heart, that’s what Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is about—the freedom to love.

This book was inspired by many real events, but the reason it exists is because of a New York Times article published in July of 2011 called “In Afghanistan, Rage at Young Lovers.”  The article is about two teenagers from different ethnic groups who met in an ice cream factory and whose romance incited a riot of three hundred people that called for the teens’ death by stoning. Michael Green, Philomel’s publisher, came into my office with that article and said, “Have you read this?” (I had.) Then he said, “I think there’s a novel here. Do you know anyone who could write us a forbidden teen romance set in Afghanistan?” I figured the ideal person to write this kind of story was someone who was Afghan and who had spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan, but also grew up speaking English. And, of course, was a professional writer. Not necessarily the easiest person to find. I went through my mental rolodex and landed on Nick, a college friend who was then living in Islamabad and Kabul, reporting for ABC News. I thought perhaps he might know someone, so I sent him an email. He, in turn, sent an email to Atia Abawi. She was an Afghan-American journalist living in Kabul, reporting for NBC, and had been wanting to write a novel based on her experiences. Nick had found my ideal author for this project.

He connected me with Atia, and the result was The Secret Sky, inspired, in part, by the Times piece, but mostly inspired by the people and the villages that Atia visited during her five years reporting from Afghanistan. The story, which follows Fatima, a Hazara girl, and Samiullah, a Pashtun boy, as they fight their families, their village’s traditions, and the local Taliban to stay together, is not real, but it could have been. In fact, this past year, in March, The New York Times ran another article about forbidden love in Afghanistan, this one called “2 Star-Crossed Afghans Cling to Love, Even at Risk of Death,” which details a very similar story: two young people from a rural village whose declaration of love put them—and their families—in grave danger. 

What is most powerful about The Secret Sky is that it is so real. It captures, in beautiful, raw prose, what’s happening today, a fourteen-hour plane ride from New York City.  I’ve been editing books for the past decade, and I think Atia Abawi’s The Secret Sky is the one that has most changed me. It made me think—really think—about the privileges I take for granted every day and about how different my life would be if I had been born in a rural Afghan village.

I know this is a book about teenagers, written with a teenage audience in mind, but I think it will appeal to readers of all ages. As of the writing of this piece, The Secret Sky has already received a starred review pre-publication from Publishers Weekly and advanced praise from journalists and AtiaAbawi_TheSecretSkynovelists alike.  The power in Atia’s words has touched so many readers already. I’ll leave you with one of those reactions, from Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and anchor of Andrea Mitchell Reports. She said:

The Secret Sky brilliantly captures the magic and the heartbreak of Afghanistan as only someone rooted in its mystery can….This first novel by a top foreign correspondent has the authenticity of raw journalism and the poetry of a gifted writer.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Start Reading The Secret Sky here!



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What better place for inspiration to strike than at your local Midas? So it was for bestselling author Katherine Howe. In the autumn of 2012, as she was waiting for her car’s broken taillight to be fixed, half-listening to the local news on the waiting room’s television, she heard something that caught her attention. The anchor reported that doctors had finally concluded what really happened to the girls of Le Roy, New York.

That previous spring, sixteen high school classmates in upstate New York came down with sudden and strange symptoms, including uncontrollable tics, hair loss, and disordered speech. The story captured the attention of local media, and soon the small town had made national and international news. Experts from across the country came to investigate and to offer their own assessments—the girls were diagnosed with everything from PANDAs to Tourette’s. The HPV vaccine was to blame. Or maybe it was the polluted groundwater.

Meanwhile, as these girls were suffering through a very strange and very public ordeal, Katherine was just miles away, teaching The Crucible to a group of college students in her sophomore historical fiction seminar. As Katherine tells us, she was “eager to discuss the parallels between the ‘afflicted girls’ at Salem and these teenagers that lived so close. To my surprise, my students didn’t see a parallel. After all, the girls in the past were just crazy, whereas the girls in Le Roy had something really wrong with them. The more I watched the story unfold, however, the more struck I was by the disjuncture between what the Le Roy girls thought about their own experience, and what the assorted ‘experts’ brought in to comment on their situation had to say. I reflected at length about the Salem girls, and specifically about Ann Putnam, who was at the very center of the accusations in the Salem panic, who really did issue an apology (which is reproduced verbatim in this story) and who had been effectively written out of the most popular fictional account of that period in American history, The Crucible. In the past, as in the p

resent, the experts had one story to tell about this unique and frightening experience, while the girls, I suspected, had an experience all their own, that no one but them could fully understand.”

Conversion is very much a work of fiction, a novel set in a contemporary all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts, as well as in seventeenth-century Salem Village, but the story is grounded in exhaustive research and true-life details. What Katherine has created by weaving together these two narratives is an exciting and unsettling mystery. Working alongside Katherine, I marveled as she wrote, in a seemingly effortless way, a story that is both incredibly fun and a very thoughtful look at the pressures that modern-day high schoolers are under.

In the end, the girls of Le Roy were diagnosed with Conversion disorder, a condition in which the body “converts” psychological stress into physical symptoms. Is that what happened to the girls during the Salem panic?  To our young heroines in modern-day Danvers? Are they truly ill? Crazy? Faking it? Thank goodness for the long wait at Midas—it’s given us a perfect, chilling summer read.

 


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Every editor has worked on books that he or she looks back on with particular pride. Sometimes they are gifts from the cosmos—manuscripts that simply landed on one’s desk in perfect or near-perfect condition. But sometimes they are books with a different kind of genesis, one that is more collaborative.

At the end of 2012, I was a huge “Downton Abbey” fan, having binge-watched the first two seasons over the holiday break. As probably every other editor in New York was doing, I tried to think how I could find a novel to publish that would appeal to the same audience. I thought of several excellent historical fiction writers that I’d worked with over the years, but one stood out. Years before, I had worked with Elizabeth Cooke at a different publisher when she had been writing as Elizabeth McGregor, and I had never forgotten the beauty of her writing. She was also British—definitely in keeping with the “Downton Abbey” spirit—and a highly regarded British historian at that. She had taken a break from writing novels for many years, and it struck me that possibly she needed just the spark of a new idea to get her back into writing.

rutherford_parkA few weeks later, following several phone calls, emails, and a very happy lunch with Liz’s New York agent, a proposal arrived on my desk. This proposal was an editor’s dream. It turns out that Liz’s grandfather had been the stablemaster at Kiplin Hall, one of England’s country estates–very much like the fictional Downton Abbey–and she had grown up with the stories of his time there.

Here is how the proposal opened:

One of the first stories I ever remember hearing was of a great Shire horse. It was born in the stables of Kiplin Hall in North Yorkshire in 1906, and the imprints of its hooves were so massive that the farmhands would walk behind it through the snow, placing their feet where the horse had trod. My grandfather knew that horse: he saw it being born, and in time he worked Kiplin’s hay carts and the delivery carts with it, and, after that first hard winter, it was he who re-named it Wenceslas.

wild_dark_flowersLiz went on to describe the day in late 1914 when Wenceslas was drafted to pull artillery guns in France. “My grandfather followed it in tears down the great beech-lined drive, and stopped to lean on the door of the gatehouse as the horse was walked on.”

I was completely hooked.

That was how Rutherford Park came to be born, a gorgeous novel published last summer, which received wonderful praise from Natasha Solomons (“Beautiful”) and Kate Furnivall (“A breathtakingly beautiful book”) among many others.

Now on July 1, 2014, The Wild Dark Flowers will continue the compelling tale, told on an epic scale, of a privileged British family on the precipice of catastrophic changes.

I am happy to report that Wenceslas has made it into the story, although his ultimate fate is yet to be revealed…


photo 2I don’t publish a lot of fiction, so when I do, I want it to be extraordinary: surprising,  engrossing, memorable – in short, a special book you’ll remember long after you’re doing reading it. Sundance by David Fuller is all of that – and much more.

Sundance is the story of Harry Longbaugh, a bank robber in the early 20th century better known to the world as the Sundance Kid. Legend has it that Sundance was killed with his partner in crime, Butch Cassidy, in a gun battle in Bolivia in 1908. Sundance imagines a different scenario. Instead of dying in South America, Harry was imprisoned in Wyoming under his real name and is released in 1913 with one goal in mind: To find his wife, Etta, who stopped visiting him in jail several years before.

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Harry’s search for Etta leads him from the stark emptiness of the Old West to the bustling chaos of New York City at a time when cultures and classes were clashing. From suffragette protests to the rise of the Black Hand to the digging of the New York City subway system, New York was a place of dizzying change – and unexpected danger.

Sundance is equal parts historical novel, literary thriller, and rollicking adventure story, and it calls to mind books as varied as The AlienistThe Death Instinct, and the novels of C.J. Box and Larry McMurtry.  The author, David Fuller, is both a talented writer and a wonderful storyteller, and he brings his characters to vivid life in the pages of this terrific novel.

Start Reading and excerpt from Sundance.

Read Sundance author David Fuller’s essay on the wife of “The Sundance Kid” and discover more new westerns.


in_falling_snowHandwriting is a skill we no longer need in a texting, emailing, wordprocessed world, so it’s hard to argue why we keep teaching it to children. And yet we do teach it to them, sort of. What’s worse, I find myself hoping we won’t stop any time soon, we might even rediscover handwriting, we might see a “slow page” movement like slow food, leading us to enjoy the moment of writing itself.

The teaching of cursive writing, the writing we each develop into a unique handwriting style, is already being phased out in elementary schools in the US, replaced by keyboarding proficiency. In Australia too, increasingly handwriting is being dropped from curricula under pressure from other learning areas. And even when it is taught, in Australia at least handwriting is now more likely to be printed letters joined together. It’s not handwriting at all as most of us know it.

We called it running writing when I was at school. You learned it after printing, like a new language. We practised it a lot as I recall. I was never any good at it but I love it still, the capital D that looks like it was made for words like “Delight” and “Delicate”, the beautiful S with its supreme loopiness and potential for curlicues, those hills of small ns and ms that could just keep going. Oh God, I am starting to sound nostalgic. Quick, put on Radiohead and get out the iPad.

I confess I have a conflict of interest when it comes to handwriting; I write novels by hand. Not in a beautiful script, mind. I look at anything written by my grandfather, who was taught in an English public school, or my son, who’s taught himself various styles of writing, and it’s art. My writing is not art; it remains cramped, small, illegible even to me at times. I could have been a doctor with writing like mine. And I didn’t always write by hand. I typed my first novel on an Apple Classic II. Quite the techo, I didn’t even print it until I had a finished manuscript. But I soon found a computer file too linear for the way I work.

Since that first novel, I have written three more, all by hand, initially on cards of different colours, which had the advantage that you could shuffle them when totally lost as to what to do, now in a particular kind of notebook that I love for its narrow lines and plain cardboard covers. I write with a fountain pen. My favourite is a Waterman in a burgundy lacquer covered in little gold squares, given to me when my first novel was published. It only has one drawback – it no longer writes. I had an efficient little Montblanc that came with a leather notebook case, but I left it on a plane and like everything left on planes, it immediately vapourised. My day-to-day pen now is a lovely big Visconti made with cellulose using a refound technique – given me when I was researching In Falling Snow. In my hand, it feels like a pen that will never let me down. I am also coveting a vintage Waterman, to replace the one that doesn’t work, although you really only need one pen to write and the more I focus on which pens I might buy, the less I focus on getting a novel written.

I can’t say why I handwrite, in an age where handwriting has all but disappeared from our lives. I can type faster than most people can talk, I was using email before anyone had heard of it except my computer room colleagues (one of my first jobs was as a computer operator), and I mess about on the internet in favour of just about any real job. But I can say that for my novels, handwriting feels about the right pace. Even Scrivener, which I love later in a project, is too structured early on. I write little sketches and scenes and eventually they coalesce into a novel.

Many things we don’t need in life fade from view. If handwriting is dying as an art, perhaps I shouldn’t mourn its passing. I imagine the rationale is that it’s hard enough to teach children one set of letters, let alone two. And since few of us end up with a hand that even vaguely approximates that beautiful script we were taught, why try to teach it at all? Joined up printing will do.

But before we altogether consign handwriting to the land of outdated technologies, we should take a moment to consider this small fact of history. The very first Macintosh computer, not the one I typed my novel on but the one that preceded it, was a winner, its creator Steve Jobs said later, because of its beautiful typography, which was unlike any other computer before it. Jobs had sat in on a calligraphy course on the way to dropping out of college and had seen the art of handwriting, the art in the science, he called it, which had inspired him.

So every time I type an email, thumb a text, or flick a page, I try to remember the technology I’m using, the technology with which we are fast ridding the world of writing by hand altogether, is only available because the person who dreamed it up was in love with handwriting.

 

Visit Mary-Rose MacColl’s website.

 


mortal_artsSometimes the plot of a story develops out of a character’s development. Sometimes it comes from a picture or an article or a real world event. Sometimes it arises from the setting itself. And sometimes it grows from one single, vivid scene that the author simply can’t get out of their head.

When I began working on the plot for the second novel in my Lady Darby Mystery Series, Mortal Arts, I already had several elements in place. I knew I would be continuing Kiera, Lady Darby’s journey, as well as that of the other characters, and I knew where I wanted their development to take them in the second book. I knew I wanted Kiera to travel to Edinburgh, and I knew I wanted her to team up again with gentleman inquiry agent—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage. I had also decided I wanted art to play a major role in the second novel, as Kiera is a gifted portrait artist. But beyond that, I was stumped for ideas as to what I wanted the actual mystery to be.

I researched the history of the area at that time for interesting events, but nothing leaped out at me. It also seemed important not to rehash the same elements of the first novel in the series, so that restricted by natural temptation to delve into the aftermath of the Burke and Hare murders.

And then it came to me. This one emotionally intense scene I could see so clearly. I knew immediately I had to use it, but to do so I had to figure out what was going on. Where was this room that looked like a bedchamber? Who was the man in the corner, and why was he drawing on the walls? What was Kiera’s connection to him? And why was the scene filled with such sadness and despair?

As I began to answer these questions, my story developed. I learned of Kiera’s childhood friends, the Dalmays, and how the oldest son William acted as her art tutor one summer. I discovered how William had been damaged by the war with Napoleon, and how his own father had him locked up in a lunatic asylum. And I met the younger brother, Michael, who managed William’s release, but worries that perhaps his brother should not be out. That perhaps not everyone is safe with him allowed to roam free.

That is where Kiera and the estimable Mr. Gage step in—to find the missing girl everyone is so concerned about, and to prove William’s guilt or innocence, once and for all.

Whether it starts with the character development, or the setting, or a single scene—it is always the questions that drive the story, for the author and the reader. The who, what, when, why, how of our characters, and the crimes they may solve or commit.

Read an interview with Anna Lee Huber on the Penguin website.


It’s not summer without a rom-com in theaters and with Austenland opening in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, Keri Russell embodies all our less-than-secret Janeite ambitions: to live in an Austen novel. Even if the idea of wearing a corset or being without a smartphone is unappealing, it’s not hard to imagine how fun it might be to watch others grapple with these issues.

Austenland is based on a book by Shannon Hale, which is part of the genre I like to call “Jane Austen fan fic”. While some books are direct riffs on Austen novels, others include characters who suddenly find themselves in an Austen novel. Or, in the case of Bridget Jones, in a love triangle that is remarkably like Pride and Prejudice (Austenland follows a similar path). And then there are the “how-to” books with important lessons we can learn from Jane Austen, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. Ever since Jane Austen first wrote Mr. Darcy into existence, people have been getting lost in her work…and then writing their own takes on her world.

 

Living in a Jane Austen Novel

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Lost in Austen, Emma Campbell Webster

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Laurie Viera Rigler

 

New, previously undiscovered Jane Austen Novels

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Dear Mr. Darcy, Amanda Grange

The Confessions of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mary Street

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James

 

A Little Help from Jane Austen

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Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith

Dear Jane Austen, Patrice Hannon

Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift, Kathleen Anderson

 

Austen-Influenced Non-Fiction

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Jane Austen’s England, Roy and Lesley Adkins

A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt

The Making of Pride and Prejudice, Susie Conklin

 

The Modern Jane Austen Heroine

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Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, Karen Doornebos

 

- Posted By: Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator