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.



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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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.



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.

ZODIAC_EditorsDeskPhotoEvery morning at seven on the dot, an astrology website sends me an automated email containing my daily horoscope. Rare are the days when my fortune doesn’t begin with a caveat reminding me that, as a Sagittarius, I’m “known for [my] outspoken views and habit of saying exactly what’s on [my] mind,” or that I’m “the one who normally tells it like it is, regardless of others’ sensitivities,” or that “truth arrows are [my] negotiating tools.”

Well, I’d like to think that I’m more conscientious and have better self-control than my team of Internet astrologers seems to suggest, but when it comes to Zodiac by Romina Russell, I can’t help but be blunt. So, here’s a truth arrow for you:  Zodiac is breathtaking. And its debut author, Romina Russell, is a force to be reckoned with. The first novel in an epic YA series that reimagines the twelve zodiac signs as a galaxy divided into twelve distinct solar systems, Zodiac takes everything I love about astrology–the fun personality tidbits and dishy discussions about good fortune, bad omens, and romantic pairings both heaven-sent and disastrous–and marries it to thrilling sci-fi suspense and drama of big-screen blockbuster proportions. Add a quirky, charismatic cast of characters who hail from gleaming courts of Libra to the hot and happening streets of Aries, a mystifying villain, and a crazy-swoon-worthy yet completely out-of-the-box love story, and I’m in the biggest, coziest wingchair in Editor’s Heaven.

There’s so much that I, an unabashed astrology nerd with a weakness for adventures set in space, love about the Zodiac concept, but my favorite aspect of Romina’s stellar debut has got to be its heroine: the complex, compassionate, and exquisitely fallible Rho, a sixteen-year-old Acolyte from House Cancer. Rho has an unusual way of reading the stars–instead of calculating their positions to make practical predictions about her world, she looks to them the way a poet might, weaving stories out of the swishes of comet tails and using stardust patterns and pulsars to tell fortunes for her friends.

A true representative of House Cancer, which embodies such traits as nurturing, intuition, and loyalty, Rho thinks with her heart and acts from love. She’s a generous and open-minded friend (her bestie is an outgoing firecracker from House Sagittarius), and would do anything to help her home and her people. Still, softie though she is, Rho harbors haunting memories of a childhood marred by the sudden and unexplained departure of her mother. So instead of wearing her heart on her sleeve like the rest of her kind, she’s formed a shell to protect her sensitive soul–just like the Crab that rules her constellation. But when the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend returns to exact revenge on the Galaxy, the stars call upon Rho to lead House Cancer, and our girl rises to the occasion, hunting down evil with passion rather than wrath; instinct instead of instruction manuals. And guess what? In the end, she messes up. She messes up big time, and boy are there are consequences, and if I were to say more I would need to insert a big red SPOILER ALERT right about here. All I can say is that that Rho–a naïve and fallible dreamer from the most conflict-averse constellation in the Galaxy–is not your average heroine.

And then there is Romina. Romina and I actually first met as undergrads at Harvard, in a huge lecture class that may as well have been called “Math for English Majors,” back when Zodiac was still just one tiny twinkle in the constellation of Great Novel Ideas. Out of the couple hundred kids in that class, Romina–an infectiously charming and completely adorable young woman with a big smile and a razor-sharp wit–was randomly assigned to be my partner for a final group research project. We instantly hit it off, and it didn’t take long to decide on the irresistibly juicy human interest topic of Trends in Online Dating. And it turned out, we made a great team. Romina, a meticulous and ultra-organized Virgo, was the yin to my shoot-from-the-hip, incurably optimistic Sagittarian yang, and as we spent hours together interviewing couples, recording their personality types and measuring their predicted compatibility scores against their actual compatibility scores, a beautiful friendship was born.

ZodiacSeveral years later, a beautiful book was born. Romina presented me, armed as always with my quiver of truth arrows, with a stunning story about a girl from the galaxy of my dreams. And then something in the universe just clicked.

Start Reading an excerpt from Zodiac by Romina Russell!

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





wanderingThe Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

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

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

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




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

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




ForgottenForgotten Country, by Catherine Chung

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






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

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





Find more books on the Literary Fiction page!

See Staff Picks for all our categories! 

photoThe secret to reading Ulysses for the first time is letting go. You’re not going to understand every allusion, every historical reference, every inside joke. So put that annotated guide away. Accept that you will be confused, probably often and profoundly. You’re supposed to be. Read on. Don’t let its reputation as modern literature’s Everest get in your way. It wasn’t always widely read, universally praised, relentlessly pored over and taught.

If you can do this, if you can let go, you’ll see that Ulysses is really a simple story about a man, out for a walk, trying to distract himself. (Of course, it’s also about Everything Else in the Universe, but that can wait until your second or third or fourth reading.)

It might also help to read Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. A former Dublin bartender and current Harvard history and literature lecturer (two jobs that make him uniquely qualified to write this book), Kevin has set out to write a biography not about James Joyce, but about Ulysses. And by doing so, Kevin reminds us that it was written in the same way every other book is written: by a human being and sentence-by-sentence.

It’s easy now to picture Joyce at his desk, watching confidently as the words poured from his pen, but the reality was much different. Joyce struggled for years on each scene, writing and re-writing and re-writing again. It’s easy now to picture the millions of readers cheering him, begging him to finish, but Joyce was a relative unknown, a destitute and failed writer who could barely support his young family. And even if the book was finished, there was no guarantee that anyone would read it – in fact, if the few published chapters were any indication, the only guarantee was that it would be censored around the world. It’s easy now to think of Ulysses as a given, but it wouldn’t exist without the support (financially, legally, and otherwise) of a ragtag group of booksellers, publishers, poets, lawyers, literary magazine editors, and readers.

The Most Dangerous Book is first and foremost wonderfully entertaining. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, and it’s even kinda raunchy. But what I love about it most, as someone who works in publishing, is that it celebrates the unsung heroes of the book world. Without Sylvia Beach at Paris’s Shakespeare and Company bookstore, without Margaret Anderson at The Little Review, without Bennett Cerf and his lawyer Morris Ernst at Random House, Ulysses may not have been read at all. These people, and many others, believed in the power of words, story, art, and they fought large institutions that wanted to repress and control freedom of expression. The stakes were high – many served time in prison and many were ruined financially – and the struggle must have seemed to them unending. But ultimately, spurred by a federal judge who was unexpectedly moved by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of the book, art beat censorship. Ulysses was finally published.

That reminds me: Molly Bloom. Push through. Get to the Molly Bloom section. That’s when you may realize that Ulysses is not an abstract, literary puzzle; it’s a book about people – their flaws, their uncertainties, their love, and especially their bodily functions. Oh, and when you get stuck, it helps to have Guinness nearby. (This is good advice for any book, really.)

Read Biographile’s article on James Joyce’s Ulysses and its debt to feminism here.