IMG_3238American publishers often hear the grousing that we bring out vanishingly few novels in translation.  While I think things are getting better thanks to the inspired work of outfits like Dalkey Archive, Europa and New Directions, and while I know that in fact some of my own defining editorial experiences have been with fiction in translation, including W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, let’s face it, there’s some truth to the problem.  Not that it’s a mystery as to why.  We’re a fairly monolingual lot, or at least I certainly have no faith in my literary discernment through the haze of my schoolboy French and Spanish.  Publishing debut fiction, period, is hard enough, and falling in love is everything.  How do you know?

In the case of Daniel Galera’s Blood-Drenched Beard I had some help.  First, John Freeman, then editor of Granta and a reader of beautiful taste, curated a Granta “Best of Young Brazilian Novelists” issue, and he led the issue with a story that was in fact the first chapter of this novel.  It made the skin on my arms stand up: a father has called his son to his side to say that he’s literally sick to death of his lingering illness and is going to end his own life; and so he needs his one obedient child to look after his beloved old dog.  Our narrator cycles through emotions from incredulity to outrage to sorrowful acceptance.  And then his father drops his final whopper: his own father didn’t die of natural causes in the beach town of Garopaba: he was murdered, in effect lynched by the town.  Oh, and, we figure out soon enough that our narrator suffers from face-blindness – he is incapable of remembering who people are by sight.

So begins one of the wildest, coolest, slinkiest, most moving existential mystery novels you’ll ever experience.  It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. If there is a love triangle in this novel, it is between a man, his dog and the ocean, and “oceanic” is the word that comes to mind to describe its power.  The novel’s protagonist is isolated from other people in such a way that every human connection touches us to the quick.  And the novel builds to a furious climax that left me reeling.  Talking sweepingly about national characteristics of prose invites ridicule, usually deservedly – what do “Americans” write like? – but at the same time I have to say that there is a sensuous musicality to Galera’s voice, a velvety toughness, both sophisticated and laced with physical menace, that, while it’s certainly all about the genius of Daniel Galera, somehow also makes me feel connected to the novel’s setting in the way only very special fiction can.  Part of the credit goes to the great talent of translator Alison Entrekin, translator of City of God, and of Chico Buarque, and many other Brazilian novelists.

Speaking of translators, another thing that gave me heart was that Daniel himself is one of Brazil’s most famous literary translators, translating Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer and others into Portuguese.  It’s not that this is dispositive of anything in terms of his own fiction in any obvious way, but it’s a good augury on a number of levels.

9781594205743HOur publication also has to do with the trust and friendship Ann Godoff and I feel for Daniel’s Brazilian publisher, the great Luis Schwarcz, the founder and head of one of the world’s most indispensible publishing houses, Companhia Das Letras.  Luiz told me in no uncertain terms that this was going to be one of the best novels he’s ever published, and Daniel a truly giant talent.  And lo and behold, he was exactly right.  I envy anyone the experience of reading Blood-Drenched Beard for the first time.

 

Start Reading an Excerpt!


photoIt was during the ambiguous time before the impending holiday office closure that I first heard about Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski. I was at a holiday party, in fact, standing in a small circle chatting with friends when I was introduced to a new face—a literary agent who, as it turned out, was someone I’d for months been trying to schedule lunch. How serendipitous. We made small talk about holiday plans and promised to see each other in the New Year. As I moved away to say hello to some other friends, he casually mentioned a novel he was getting ready to send out. Would I be interested in seeing it? His pitch was The Wire meets Winters Bone. How could I say no?

The next morning my inbox greeted me with an email containing the promised manuscript. I began reading that day and was hooked within the first five pages. Very early on in Watch Me Go, the reader learns about a sealed oil drum whose contents weigh enough and smell bad enough to contain a human corpse. One of our main characters, Deesh, is headed with two buddies up the New York State Thruway, far north of their Bronx hometown, to take on a seemingly standard junk-hauling job—to dispose of this oil drum. It’s only after they collect their $1,000 and dump the drum in an empty field that they begin to suspect there may have been a dead body inside that steel barrel. It’s from there that Deesh’s life begins to spiral out of control: After a fatal confrontation with a police officer, he’s on the run, the prime suspect of two homicides.

As I turned the figurative pages of my old e-reader, I realized that I’d read only a hundred pages. I was barely knee deep into Deesh’s heart-pounding story and I already had that exhilarating feeling that this was one I had to have. This bold, gritty novel really got me! When it comes to fiction, I look for books that will make you forget what you’re doing—whether it’s because of the beautiful writing, the power of the story, or the lasting impact of the characters, and in a perfect world it’s all three of these. So by the time I got to the end of Watch Me Go the following morning, I knew I’d just read a novel that brilliantly mixed all the elements the best fiction is made of. Watch Me Go perfectly blends suspense, family drama, and love story, while movingly speaking to today’s important issues like racism and social inequality.

WatchMeGoIt didn’t hurt that Mark Wisniewski is a Pushcart prize, Tobias Wolff Award-winning writer who’s been in the literary scene for decades. After an unforgettable initial conversation with Mark, I learned that the genesis for Watch Me Go was a short story he wrote a few years back that received such amazing praise, Salman Rushdie chose it for 2008 Best American Short Stories, calling it “irresistible.” I sure couldn’t resist Watch Me Go and I bet you can’t either!

 

 

Watch Me Go is an edgy, soulful meditation on the meaning of love, the injustices of hate, and the power of hope.

Start Reading an Excerpt from Watch Me Go!


JanStaffPicksWelcome to a shiny new year, readers! It’s a time for resolutions, reflection, and goals for 2015.

If you’re resolved to read more or branch out into new genres, look no further. Nine Penguin employees picked their favorite books from all different genres. This month is especially good – I’m always getting intrigued by new titles I hear about through this feature.

 

 

 

 

girl

In fact, over the holidays, I read THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, just because the last two lists of Mystery/Suspense Staff Picks included it. I don’t even read mysteries! I ended up really enjoying it, and gobbled it up in just a couple days. The writer is quick and sharp and smart, the storyline keeps you guessing, and the characters each get a rounded-out voice and point of view. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN comes out this month if you’re looking for an exciting read.

 

 

 

 

I try not to be too strict with myself with reading goals, but last January I decided to keep track of every book I read in 2014. It’s just a simple grid, no ratings, no long responses or notes, but it’s almost like a diary: I remember parts of the year based on what book I was reading at the time. I think I’ll keep it up this year too – what about you? Do you note down what you read?

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 3.39.29 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you looking forward to reading this year? I’m excited for THE HALL OF SMALL MAMMALS, MEET ME IN ATLANTIS, and THE TUTOR.

atlantistutorhall

Happy reading!


Meredith Dros

Executive Managing Editor/Publishing Manager: I am responsible for coordinating the editorial, production, copyediting, art, and design processes for seven imprints here at Penguin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

godsofgotham

The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye

Set in 1845 as new York City is forming its first police force, this is a detective story that has been compared (with good reason) to The Alienist. The story and the writing are that good.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

yardThe Yard, by Alex Grecian

It is the late 1880s in the newly formed Scotland Yard in London. A group of homicide detectives dubbed “The Murder Squad” must solve a bizarre string of crimes, where the latest target is one of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

girlonthetrain

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Stop what you are doing and read this book. Do it now. This is such an exciting, twisty, must-get-to-the next-page-to-see-what-happens novel. It starts with Rachel, who sees something terrible one day on her daily train commute. I’m not going to tell you anything else; you’ll see why.

 

 

 

 

 

brokenharbor

Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Everyone has their own favorite Tana French novel, and this is mine. The setting is a half-finished development in the suburbs of Dublin left abandoned in the global economic crisis where a family is found murdered, and what looks like it should be an open-and-shut case turns out to be way more complicated.

 

 

 

 

 

littlestranger

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is on fire right now with her wonderful novel, The Paying Guests. I would invite you to take a stab at The Little Stranger. It is one of the creepiest, most mysterious books I have ever read.

 

 

 

 

 

rulesofprey

Rules of Prey by John Sandford

I love John Sandford. In 2015, we will publish his 25th “Prey” novel, so I decided to go back and read the first one in the series where we first meet Minneapolis detective who plays by his own rules, Lucas Davenport. Rules of Prey is so scary because we get our hero’s point of view as well as the killer’s. Sleep with the lights on after reading this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


tomcolgan

Tom Colgan is an Executive Editor at Berkley Books. When he’s not reading for pay, he’s reading for play, and when he’s not doing that he’s sleeping. If your threshold for nonsense is high you can follow him on twitter @tomcolgan14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

lesserdeadThe Lesser Dead, by Christopher Buehlman

I’m probably stretching the definition of suspense to include this one, but I’ve been in love with Chris Buehlman’s writing since reading his first novel, Those Across the River. Like that book, The Lesser Dead, is a story of horror set against a historical backdrop. Since the setting here is 1970’s New York City, it’s the first historical novel set in an era of which I have first hand knowledge. Although, at the time the worst thing I had to deal with was the subway not vampires.

 

 

 

 

nightofwhite

Night of the White Buffalo, by Margaret Coel

Margaret Coel has written 18 mysteries about Jesuit priest John O’Malley and Arapaho attorney, Vicky Holden set against the backdrop of Wyoming’s Wind River reservation. The writing is so enthralling, the descriptions of the area so evocative and the characters so intriguing that several years ago when my family was planning a trip to the west I confessed to Margaret, “I started thinking about visiting my friends on the Wind River reservation only to realize, I don’t know anyone there.” I guess there is a (small) downside to writing this good.

 

 

 

suspect

Suspect, by Robert Crais

The rules force me to pick one book per author so I’ll go with the latest from Robert Crais, but, really, you should read all of them (even the non-Penguin ones). He’s a master of suspense who never fails to deliver memorable characters and intense action.

What makes SUSPECT stand out from his other titles is that this time around his protagonist isn’t human. Maggie is a German Shepherd who lost her handler to an IED in Iraq and has been sent home with PTSD. Now with the LAPD, she’s labeled as unmanageable until she meets Scott James, an officer who was wounded in an attack that killed his partner. Now both he and Maggie are looking for a second chance, but they may be getting too close some very dangerous men. Dogs don’t have nine lives.

 

devil'sworkshopThe Devil’s Workshop, by Alex Grecian

As a former history major, I’m a big fan of historical thrillers, and, boy, they don’t come any better than Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad books. Set in Victorian-era Britain, these are tales of the early days of Scotland Yard and the fledgling science of criminal investigation. The first book, THE YARD, was great, but you could just feel the author building steam as he moved through the series. In THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP a group of gentlemen vigilantes stage a prison break in order to get their hands on some particularly heinous criminals. However, things go badly wrong and instead of justice they get terror when they unexpectedly free the greatest evil Britain has ever seen, Jack the Ripper himself.

 

 

bookclubbedBook Clubbed, by Lorna Barrett

I can’t let you go without recommending a couple of good cozy mysteries. First up is BOOK CLUBBED by Lorna Barrett. Stoneham, New Hampshire is heaven for any bibliophile. It’s a booktown, a quaint village that has revitalized its tourism industry by turning empty storefronts over to used bookstores. People come from all over to browse, buy and eat at the various restaurants. Oh how I wish it was real!

It certainly feels like a visit to a familiar place when you are reading one of the charming Booktown mysteries from Lorna Barrett. Over the course of eight books, she’s introduced us to the quirky inhabitants of Stoneham which for all its appeal is murder on its residents. BOOK CLUBBED centers on something I’ve never come across before, murder by bookcase.

 

scorchedScorched Eggs, by Laura Childs

When it comes to cozies, you have to think of Laura Childs. She’s the author of not one, not two, but three bestselling cozy mystery series. Scorched Eggs is the sixth in her Cackleberry Club series. The small Midwestern town of Kindred is the home of the club, a combination café, bookstore, knitting shop and quilting supply store. That’s a lot to pack into one series, but Laura is adept at creating charming characters and placing them in jeopardy while keeping the story rollicking along.

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Katie Grinch

Katie Grinch is an Assistant Director of Publicity at Putnam.  She’s been with the company for 10 years (11 if you count her college internship).  She has a passion for pop culture, world travel and her cat named Wanda.

 

 

 

 

 

thestolenones

The Stolen Ones, by Owen Laukkanen

Owen Laukkanen is an amazing writer who always grabs me with his nuanced ability to take ordinary, everyday people and make them the center of terrifying actions.  This is the fourth thriller starring Kirk Stevens and his partner in the new joint BCA-FBI violent crime task force Carla Windermere.   Together, they find themselves on the trail of a massive international kidnapping and prostitution operation. Before they are done, they will have travelled over half the country, from Montana and Nevada, to New York and New Jersey, and come face to face not only with the most vicious man either of them have ever encountered––but two of the most courageous women that readers will find themselves truly rooting for.

 

girl on the train

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Rear Window, this is a British gem of a psychological thriller that I want everyone to read, so we can talk about and all the twists and turns at the water cooler.   Told from the point of view of three different characters – Rachel really strikes a note as the unreliable narrator battling her demons.  She becomes entangled in the disappearance of a local woman she observes every day from the train window.  Her interest in the case reaches the point where you question why she’s so invested and if she knows more than meets the eye.  The mystery that unravels kept me reading nonstop.

 

 

strangler

The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter

A brilliant historical thriller set in Calcutta in 1837 written by established historian and biographer MJ Carter. The British East India Company rules India, or most of it. Its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing on an expedition to track down the Thugs, the murderous sect of native Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travelers by the roadside. William Avery, a young soldier joins forces with a secret political agent gone native become and the unlikely duo is drawn deeper into this mystery and the dark heart of colonial India.  Not only a captivating read, but I learned so much about the time, place and the mysterious Thugs.

 

 

forsaken

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

Atkins demonstrates why his Quinn Colson series has met with such popular and critical success, and why Michael Connelly has called him “one of the best crime writers at work today.”  Since the start, all of Ace Atkins’ novels have had roots in a true story.   The plot has ties to a 1975 cold case in Statesville, North Carolina. Two young girls were abducted, one survived to tell the story and in the wake of the horrific crime, another murder occurred.

 

 

 

lost key

The Lost Key, by Catherine Coulter and JT Ellison

I was so excited when Putnam started doing a second series (A Brit in the FBI) with Catherine Coulter and she has found the perfect partner in crime with JT Ellison.  This is an electrifying an international manhunt that begins when freshly-minted FBI Agent Nicholas Drummond, barely out of his Quantico training, and his partner are investigating a stabbing on Wall Street. Their investigation, however, yields more questions than answers and a plot twist that dates back to WWI.  This series is pure fun and excitement that should draw in fans of Coulter as well as new readers.

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Fall ColorsNothing says fall in New York like the changing of the leaves… well that and apple picking, pumpkin picking, roasted corn, crisp mornings, Pumpkin spiced lattes (or Pumpkin Spiced anything), cider, donuts, the beginning of baking season, sweaters, boots, and scarves! I could go on (trust me) and make a LONG list of all of my favorite fall things, but I will leave you with the abridged version. The short of it is that Fall has arrived in NYC, and while we may still be having 80 degree days, the trees are beginning to tell a different story.

Reading on Deck

To celebrate my love of fall, I took a weekend trip north of the city up to the Adirondacks for a little reading, relaxation, and to take in the changing of the seasons. My first morning I decided to relax on the deck and enjoy the the view. I sipped my coffee and read a bit of the latest book to cross my desk Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little. Dear Daughter is the Penguin Twitter Book Club Pick of the Month for October. Please join our chat on Tuesday, October 7th and 21st from 2-3PM. You can follow along and ask questions using #ReadPenguin. I am not a big mystery fan, but I am really enjoying this one! Start Reading an Excerpt!

reading lake

After a nice leisurely morning with a cup of coffee and my book, I decided to go for a hike around the lake. I brought my book (naturally), because I don’t go anywhere without one as a rule. You never know when you are going to come across a nice spot to sit and read! Bringing it along turned out to be a good decision, because I think I may have found my new favorite reading hideaway. Not a bad view, don’t you think? It turned out to be less of a hike, more of a walk through the woods. I spent a long time reading on this rock overlooking the lake. Overall I think it was a success.

The rest of the trip was spent apple picking, donut eating, barbecuing, and enjoying a little peace and quiet. It was nice to have a few days away from the city and it gave me a chance to take a deep breath and unwind before jumping back into the work week. October is here and we are busy as ever! New York Comic Con is right around the corner, stop by the Penguin Booth and say hi! We are gearing up for our Holiday promotions and have a number of exciting sweepstakes coming out weekly on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And on top of all of that we have lots of new and exciting books coming out (there never seems to be enough time to read them all!) But enough about me, what are you up to this fall? Any weekend vacation suggestions or favorite Fall activities? We would love to hear about them in the comments!

Happy Fall and thanks for reading! Until next time,

Shelby


carries

Carrie Swetonic is the Director of Marketing for Dutton.  When not reading on creating killer marketing campaigns, she can be found rangling her toddler, her dog, or both, or sharing the latest picture of either.

 

 

 

 

untilshecomeshomeUntil She Comes Home, by Lori Roy

Until She Comes Home is a haunting suspense novel in which a pair of seemingly unrelated murders shatters a 1950s Detroit neighborhood.  I love a novel that transports me to another era and one that makes me feel entwined in the lives of the characters and this book did just that with its beautiful writing.  Plus, it had me guessing until the very end.  Lori Roy is a very clever writer and she just gets better and better with every book. Look out for LET ME DIE IN HER FOOTSTEPS, coming June 2015!

 

 

 

suspicionSuspicion, by Joseph Finder

Joseph Finder has a real talent for telling intriguing and original stories centered on an ordinary character who gets wrapped up in extraordinary circumstances—while managing to stay completely believable throughout.  SUSPICION is one of those novels where you continuously ask yourself “what would you do?”  When Danny Goodman, desperate to keep his daughter in the school she loves, accepts a tuition loan from Thomas Galvin, the wealthy father of his daughter’s best friend, his life changes forever. Just who is Thomas Galvin and how in over his head has Danny become?  As in many great suspense novels, the truth is more complicated than it seems.  The tension steadily builds throughout this novel and it’s especially impossible to put the book down during any of the incredible scenes between Danny and Thomas.

To say Elizabeth George excels at character development is a huge understatement.  This was the first Elizabeth George novel I ever read.  A long book, and yet every page is absorbing. Not a standard mystery, this is a more a story of the secrets and lies within a highly dysfunctional family.  The plot is multilayered and the writing is thoughtful and elegant.  This book has made me an Elizabeth George fan.

 

 

 

 

likeness

The Likeness, by Tana French

This novel has it all:  Gorgeous writing, memorable and very interesting characters, psychological thrills, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.   It had me riveted from beginning to end and made every new book from her a definite must-read for me.  She’s every bit as good as they say. Her latest, THE SECRET PLACE, is next on my nightstand.

 

 

 

 

keeperThe Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The flawed, darkly funny protagonist– disgraced police detective Carl Morck will draw you in. Add to that a fascinating cold case and a quirky, mysterious sidekick and you’ve got one incredibly entertaining book.   I love how the characters become even more interesting as the series evolves as more is revealed about them. Simply an excellent book and the start of an excellent series

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Staff Picks Pic

Meaghan Wagner is an Assistant Editor and has been with Penguin since 2010. She is definitely the MVP of the Penguin Random House Downtown softball team, despite rumors you might have heard to the contrary.

 

 

 

 

 

wherelight

Where All Light Tends to Go, by David Joy

Admittedly this is more of a story that has crime and thrills in it, rather than your more traditional thriller, but since it is hands down the upcoming title I am most excited to see coming up, I must include it. David Joy so beautifully etches out the internal struggle between family loyalty and the personal hope for something better against the evocatively etched backdrop of the North Carolina meth trade.

 

 

 

 

naked

Naked in Death, by J.D. Robb

So this whole series really could go in here, but I figure it’s best to start at the beginning. This is the first series I obsessively collected – starting with the first 10 at a library book sale in 8th grade. I immediately fell in love with tough-as-nails Eve Dallas (and even contemplated getting a copycat tattoo of her famous rose) and her bad-boy Roarke. Robb (the alias for Nora Roberts) has a way of keeping every case fresh and fun and I look forward to the new book’s release *every* year.

 

 

 

doubleplay

Double Play, by Robert B. Parker

Double Play has everything about a classic Parker- snappy, clever dialogue, great characters, villains you love to hate, intricate mystery – but set around baseball and, of all people, Jackie Robinson.  The plot crackles and seeing Jackie fictionalized is endless fun for a baseball fan like me. With great flashback interludes, it one of the best-written Parker novels I’ve ever read (and that, my friends, is saying something).

 

 

 

 

loyalty

Loyalty, by Ingrid Thoft

This book has a special place in my heart – it was the first one I recommended Putnam acquire that we actually bought. After years mired in submission after submission, getting acquainted with Thoft’s tough-but-tender P.I. Fina Ludlow and her unbelievably dysfunctional family was a breath of fresh air. The second book in the series – Identity- came out this summer and the third will follow in 2015. Keep a lookout for Fina!

 

 

 

 

Find more books on the Mystery & Suspense page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 


Credit: Gabriel Lehner

Lyndsay Faye

At BEA I sat down with Lyndsay Faye, author Seven for a Secret, newly released in paperback. Voted one of The Wall Street Journal’s Ten Best Mysteries of the Year!

 

How do you get in the writing mood? Do you have a certain place that you go, do you have music that you like to listen to?

That’s a cool question, never been asked that question before. How do I get into the writing mood? I get into the writing mood by reading authors I admire. You know maybe I’m going to be reading it for ten minutes, maybe I’m going to be reading it for twenty minutes, and I am going to be sort of just absorbing awesome styles and brilliant techniques and ridiculously cool characterizations as I read them. And then if I’m lucky I’ll manage to make myself stop and actually sit down and write something. So you know, I’ll pick up – it’s easiest to make yourself stop and do it a little bit more piecemeal with poetry. So you know I’ll read Richard Siken poetry, I’ll read T.S. Elliot for a minute, because I like to use very strong metaphors and I like to use vivid language, and so often reading a couple poems for a few minutes before I start writing is nice, because I can read a phrase that I think has great imagery and I can just sort of get into the feeling that way. So that’s what I often do to get in the writing mood.

 

Would you say poetry is your genre of choice then?

I think any artist who uses poetic language and I mean any medium literally. So for instance like one day I might be listening to The National, uh you know, some song off High Violet, like I’ll listen to Lemon World three times and that is beautiful poetry. You know if you write the lyric ‘lay me on a table, put flowers in my mouth, and we can say that we invented a summer love and torture party’ that is poetry at the same time that I would also like to sit down and read ‘let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table’ from T.S. Elliot. Or I might you know pick up Raymond Chandler and read a few passages from The Big Sleep or something along those lines. So yeah, any medium, any genre, just as long as the language is really rich. I like a big slab of chocolate cake in language form right before I start writing.

 

That is a great image! (laughs) Oh I’m going to steal that one. Don’t worry I’ll always credit you.

No you can take it, you can take it. I always do eat that slice of chocolate cake and you know it could be lyrics it could be poetry it could be prose but, you know just as long as it’s really rich language I always read that first. And sometimes I have it open in tabs on the internet, like I’ll have a poem open in a tab and if I get to a place where I just want to bang my face against the keyboard until my nose goes flat (laughs) then I’ll read the poem for a second and it feels better.

 

What is your most unexpected or strangest hobby or talent?

Wow, um, I am the only person I know who can put vibrato in a kazoo. I am a really amazing kazoo player. I have a pretty strong vibrato anyway and I was trained in musical theater, but I can take a kazoo and I can, you know, actually put that vocal spin in it. And um, if you’d ever like to hear me play Amazing Grace on the kazoo, I can do that for you. I’d be willing to do that but I don’t have my kazoo with me. It’s in my other pants right now. The other thing I could do for you, that’s a strange talent of mine I can demonstrate right now. (Puts tongue all the way in her nose) So if you can get your tongue all the way into your nose that is like, not something everyone can do. I can pick my nose with my tongue and I can put vibrato in a kazoo. Two things, two things that I can do that are not perhaps expected.

 

That was excellent! Thank you for sharing that one. So going back to writing… How did you get started as a writer?

I got started as a writer because I had been an actor for a really long time, and I’d been obsessed with the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries since I was ten. And I was working in a restaurant, as you do when you’re a writer. And I picked up a book that was one of many, many, many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders, there’s countless versions of this. But I picked it up at the Barnes and Noble across the street from the restaurant I was working at, just you know on my lunch break. And I was reading it and I am so obsessed with Sherlock Holmes that every little thing that was wrong with it stood out to me. And you know, it’s actually really well written and I’m not faulting the author at all, the author had clearly done a lot of research etcetera but I’m reading it and I’m like ‘this is just not how I would do it’. There’s a tendency when writing fiction involving Sherlock Holmes particularly, that you’re going to throw in – well and also Jack the Ripper – There’s this tendency to throw in, they’re like ‘And then were going to do also vampires and Satanists, and they live in an interconnected series of underground caves in Transylvania and uh space aliens actually are the ones who infected their minds’ so like they throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. So my problem with that was that what I wanted to be reading was Sherlock Holmes solving the Jack the Ripper murders written by Caleb Carr, essentially. With forensic evidence that was true to the actual events with, you know, a certain amount of historical verisimilitude when it comes to the absolute abject poverty these women were living in in Whitechapel. And I thought it was a little bit of a disservice to the Sherlock Holmes character and to the women who actually were subjected to these horrific crimes that everything but the kitchen sink was being thrown at the narrative. I thought ‘why shouldn’t it be frightening enough that a serial killer is stalking the streets of London and no one knows who this is and at any moment you could be brutally murder and then eviscerated’? I figured that was scary enough, and so I wanted to do one without all the bells and whistles and supernatural etcetera. In an act of enormous hubris I sat down and I actually started writing it which was crazy, I’ve never taken a creative writing class before, I was an English major but it was all analytical type stuff. And then after getting a little ways into it I kind of put it down for a minute because you know you don’t realize that you can actually write a book until you finish writing an entire book, it’s an enormous enterprise. And then the restaurant I was working at was knocked down with bulldozers because they sold it to create an apple store. So then I was on six months of unemployment, and I said ‘you know what you’re probably going to get one shot at finishing this, so just tell yourself six months of unemployment is enough time to write a novel’. And since I’d already done all the research, I’d finished my research into the ripper killings, it was enough time. And I finished it, while I was, you know, out of work. And after that everything got crazy because I didn’t ever think it was ever going anywhere, I thought maybe a Sherlockian small press would maybe, I don’t know, do an e-book of it or something along those lines. I was blown away when I got an agent, and I was even more blown away when I sold it to Simon and Schuster. So that was how I got into and it was all very gratuitous but it was crazy. And I often think to myself ‘why are people letting me do this for a living’ like ‘this is not a regular job’ but that’s how it works.

 

So that was for your first book, and how did you then make the transition to your second?

Yeah that was a can of worms. I have a few lost novels between Dust and Shadow and The Gods of Gotham. And I still work on them and I still love the concepts, but I didn’t know what I was doing, is the problem. Because if you’re writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche you have a lot of template laid out for you. You already have the characters and they’re already beloved characters so there’s a certain shorthand you can enter into. You’re not introducing a new character and trying to involve the reader in their lives and make the reader feel affection for this person, they already feel affections for Sherlock Holmes or they wouldn’t have the damn book in the first place. So additionally with the Ripper murders, what you have is a series of extremely specific crimes that I wanted to represent as accurately as possible. So I essentially had a historical outline written for me. And that was great too, but that doesn’t actually teach you how to write a book. So I wrote a few more books, wrong. And then I decided to become a long-haul truck driver, and my husband said ‘no, you should probably not be a long-haul truck driver’. And I was like ‘what about ice fishing?’ And he was like ‘no, that’s probably not a good idea either’. I just didn’t want to go back – acting had burned me out a little bit and I didn’t want to go back to the restaurant work. And then I sat down and I said OK here’s one more try, one more try, I want to write – and here’s the difference between those books that didn’t work and the one that did – I was trying to write – this is going to sound ridiculous – I was trying to write a literary book. I was trying to write a book that had literary value and artistic merit and had all these sorts of exciting moments and historical significance etcetera. And I wanted to do all of those things, but what I wasn’t sitting down and writing – I wasn’t putting my guts on the page. I was trying to be artistic about it, I was trying to say like you know ‘this is an artful sentence, there you go’. Writing artful sentences is bullshit. What I needed to do was take all of my feelings of you know, like, social injustice and failure, what I myself was doing, and dissatisfaction with the world of politics in general, and all of the things I was actually feeling. And I needed to put my own guts on the page and thats was what I was not doing. Because I was being timid and I thought that professionalism was, you know, being intellectually rigorous, but I was in fact just being cowardly about taking my own feelings and just, you know, like finger painting with them in words. So in The Gods of Gotham I said ‘fuck it’, Timothy Wild has just lost everything. He is a dude who walks around with his heart absolutely on his sleeve. And I know all sorts of men who are very sensitive kittens so that was not a problem to write. And he’s in love with a girl who doesn’t love him back, and he has a terrible relationship with his only sibling. And I just piled things on and on and on because I was very frustrated at the time. And Tim is a ridiculous little angst kitten, but he is way more a reflection of my actual, you know, like, style and self etcetera, and I figured at a certain point I am just going to actually be risky and put myself out there, and see if anybody wants to read that. And bizarrely it turns out they do (laughs). So um, me being artistic is not as effective as me being honest, and I didn’t know that, because no one had ever taught me how to write a book before. So I had to practice.

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

I think that you should read so – If we don’t read how can we possibly understand each other. And, you know, if that’s the one sentence, great, if we don’t read how could we possibly understand each other. But I would add to that how could we possibly understand ourselves if we’re not reading, because reading is such a touchstone for people. It enlightens us not only in the sense of ‘Oh that’s how that life felt’ that someone else has written. But the perfect metaphor that captures exactly how you were feeling and you didn’t really know, and it was this sort of just amorphous miasma of ‘ughh, I feel like this this, but I don’t know how to say it’. Naming things is very powerful, and I think that putting concrete words onto emotions, onto experiences, onto settings onto times of day, you know, like, nailing those down and saying that – there’s this beautiful sentence at the beginning of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler right, that still boggles my mind. The phrase he inserts into the sentence is ‘with the sun not shining’ and this is in Los Angeles, ‘with the sun not shining’ doesn’t mean the same thing as that it was cloudy, it’s like this haze right, and so you know from reading that, OK it was this sort of day, and I can picture it. And I think you can do the same thing with people’s feelings, people’s, you know, struggles and their inner turmoil if you put the words together in a row the right way and I think that everyone should read because otherwise we’re just going to keep blindly bumping into walls.

And then just to finish up with one fun question, what is your guilty pleasure at the moment? Whether it be movies or books or food.

I don’t have guilty pleasures. I mean I don’t think people should have guilty pleasures, like – that is a fun question – But I think that people should have pleasures, you know, we’re such puritans (laughs) like we’re such puritans, screw that I mean go eat a pickle straight out of the pickle jar, like go read some fan fiction, go, you know, watch Godzilla. Do what you do man (laughs). Go for it, die your hair blue, whatever. I mean the older I get the more I feel like guilty pleasures are standing in the way of forward progress (laughs). If I were to come up with one, I guess, I am obsessed with Star Trek the Next Generation. But it’s not guilty. I just got into that. I watch star trek when I’m sad, and when I’m happy, and when I’m bored, and all the time in between. I don’t know whenever I try to think of something that’s a guilty pleasure, it’s like ‘well yeah I mean yes I really love cheesy 80’s pop music’ but I think everybody does, you know, it’s like guilty pleasures are the same as pleasure pleasures they just mean that you aren’t owning it.

LyndsayFaye_SevenforaSecret

From Edgar-nominated author Lyndsay Faye comes the next book in what Gillian Flynn calls “a brilliant new mystery series.”

 

Start Reading an Excerpt of Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye!