Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Freebie: Summer of Lovin’ Books Giveaway

Congratulations to John Smith, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Fen by Daisy Johnson.

This week’s contest is another of those clear-the-shelves-and-dump-everything-into-a-big-box giveaways. I’ve put together a shelf of eclectic books, ones which have been waiting (im)patiently for the right Friday Freebie to come along. There should be something for just about everyone in this stack. Will you be the ONE lucky reader to win ALL of the following books? You can’t win unless you play...

Dinner With Edward by Isabel Vincent: When Isabel meets Edward, both are at a crossroads: he wants to follow his late wife to the grave, and she is ready to give up on love. Thinking she is merely helping Edward’s daughter--who lives far away and has asked her to check in on her nonagenarian dad in New York--Isabel has no idea that the man in the kitchen baking the sublime roast chicken and light-as-air apricot souffle will end up changing her life. As Edward and Isabel meet weekly for the glorious dinners that Edward prepares, he shares so much more than his recipes for apple galette or the perfect martini, or even his tips for deboning poultry. Edward is teaching Isabel the luxury of slowing down and taking the time to think through everything she does, to deconstruct her own life, cutting it back to the bone and examining the guts, no matter how messy that proves to be. Dinner with Edward is a book about love and nourishment, and about how dinner with a friend can, in the words of M. F. K. Fisher, “sustain us against the hungers of the world.”

Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman: It was just one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples that are still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young Israeli soldiers charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that would change them forever, wound the country in ways large and small, and foreshadow the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Pumpkinflowers is a reckoning by one of those young soldiers now grown into a remarkable writer. Part memoir, part reportage, part history, Friedman’s powerful narrative captures the birth of today’s chaotic Middle East and the rise of a twenty-first-century type of war in which there is never a clear victor and media images can be as important as the battle itself. Raw and beautifully rendered, Pumpkinflowers will take its place among classic war narratives by George Orwell, Philip Caputo, and Tim O’Brien. It is an unflinching look at the way we conduct war today.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist: One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what? The Unit is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care.

Most Dangerous Place by James Grippando: Defending a woman accused of murdering the man who sexually assaulted her, Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck must uncover where the truth lies between innocence, vengeance, and justice in this spellbinding tale of suspense—based on shocking true-life events—from the New York Times bestselling author of Gone Again. According to the FBI, the most dangerous place for a woman between the ages of twenty and thirty is in a relationship with a man. Those statistics become all too personal when Jack Swyteck takes on a new client tied to his past. It begins at the airport, where Jack is waiting to meet his old high school buddy, Keith Ingraham, a high-powered banker based in Hong Kong, coming to Miami for his young daughter’s surgery. But their long-awaited reunion is abruptly derailed when the police arrest Keith’s wife, Isabelle, in the terminal, accusing her of conspiring to kill the man who raped her in college. Jack quickly agrees to represent Isa, but soon discovers that to see justice done, he must separate truth from lies—an undertaking that proves more complicated than the seasoned attorney expects. Inspired by an actual case involving a victim of sexual assault sent to prison for the death of her attacker, James Grippando’s twisty thriller brilliantly explores the fine line between victim and perpetrator, innocence and guilt, and cold-blooded revenge and rightful retribution.

Dimestore by Lee Smith: Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. When she was sent off to college to gain some “culture,” she understood that perhaps the richest culture she would ever know was the one she was leaving. Lee Smith’s fiction has always lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story. Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Together, they create an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan: The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths. Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes. But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Little Boy Lost by J. D. Trafford: Attorney Justin Glass’s practice, housed in a shabby office on the north side of Saint Louis, isn’t doing so well that he can afford to work for free. But when eight-year-old Tanisha Walker offers him a jar full of change to find her missing brother, he doesn’t have the heart to turn her away. Justin had hoped to find the boy alive and well. But all that was found of Devon Walker was his brutally murdered body—and the bodies of twelve other African American teenagers, all discarded like trash in a mass grave. Each had been reported missing. And none had been investigated. As simmering racial tensions explode into violence, Justin finds himself caught in the tide. And as he gives voice to the discontent plaguing the city’s forgotten and ignored, he vows to search for the killer who preys upon them.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman: Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention--meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who’s so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn’t even realize she’s had a heart attack. Surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: she packs a bag and leaves. But, as is often the case, once we get where we’re going we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from herself and those she loves. With bighearted characters--husbands, wives, friends, and lovers--who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature. She has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head on and asks, what happens when a grown woman runs away from home?

The Legend of the Albino Farm by Steve Yates: The Legend of the Albino Farm is a horror story turned inside out. What if a thriving family were saddled with an unshakable spook tale? And what if that lore cursed them with an unending whirlwind of destruction from thrill seekers, partiers, bikers, and Goths? Hettienne Sheehy is about to inherit this devouring legacy. Last child to bear a once golden name, she is heiress to a sprawling farm in the Missouri Ozarks. During summer, childhood idylls in the late 1940s, Hettienne has foreseen all this apocalyptic fury in frightening, mystifying visions. Haunted by a whirling augury, by a hurtful spook tale, and by a property that seems to doom all who would dare own it, in the end, Hettienne will risk everything to save the family she truly loves. The Legend of the Albino Farm has haunted two generations of Sheehys and marred all memory of the family’s glory days. Worse, this spooky lore now draws revelers, druggies, motorcycle gangs, hippies, and later Goths to trample the land, set bonfires, and vandalize its structures, all while Hettienne’s aged aunts cling to privacy, sanity, and a rapidly deteriorating thirteen-room mansion.. From her youth, throughout her marriage and her rearing of her children, the Legend of the Albino Farm and the curse of the Sheehys drag at her and her family like a vortex. Haunted by a whirling augury, by a hurtful spook tale, and by a relentlessly judgmental Ozarks city, in the end, Hettienne believes she must make decisions that might compromise her family’s financial security but will severe them from an ever more dangerous legacy.

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf: Manderley Resort is a gleaming, new twenty-story hotel on the California coast. It’s about to open its doors, and the world--at least those with the means to afford it--will be welcomed into a palace of opulence and unparalleled security. But someone is determined that Manderley will never open. The staff has no idea that their every move is being watched, and over the next twelve hours they will be killed off, one by one. Writing in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, and with a deep bow to Daphne du Maurier, author Gina Wohlsdorf pairs narrative ingenuity and razor-wire prose with quick twists, sharp turns, and gasp-inducing terror. Security is grand guignol storytelling at its very best. A shocking thriller, a brilliant narrative puzzle, and a multifaceted love story unlike any other, Security marks the debut of a fearless and gifted writer.

Said Not Said: Poems by Fred Marchant: In this important and formally inventive new poetry collection, Fred Marchant brings us into realms of the intractable and the unacceptable, those places where words seem to fail us and yet are all we have. In the process he affirms lyric poetry’s central role in the contemporary moral imagination. As the National Book Award winner David Ferry writes, “The poems in this beautiful new book by Fred Marchant are autobiographical, but, as is always the case with his poems, autobiographical of how he has witnessed, with faithfully exact and pitying observation, the sufferings in the lives of other people, for example the heartbreaking series of poems about the fatal mental suffering of his sister, and the poems about other peoples, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, written about with the noble generosity of feeling that has always characterized his work, here more impressively even than before.” Said Not Said is a poet’s taking stock of conscience, his country’s and his own, and of poetry’s capacity to speak to what matters most.

Stick a Fork in Me by Dan Jenkins: Pete Wallace, a good old boy from Texas, paid his dues coaching football on obscure campuses in the boondocks of America until he landed the athletic director's job at Western Ohio University. For 15 years, he has steadily and skillfully guided the school into the high society of major college sports. But now Pete, fed up with politically correct campus culture and babysitting fragile egos, is retiring from the "arms race." As he waits for the university's board of trustees to act on his early retirement package, he reflects on his career, the people he's come across, and what life will be like in retirement. Pete's story is told in Jenkins's unmistakable, raucous, old-school style, and it's full of colorful, absurd, and downright crazy characters--from clueless trustees and busybody protestors to prima donna football coaches and booster club pests.

Anton and Cecil: Cats Aloft by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin: Tuckered out from a journey across the Wild West, cat brothers Anton and Cecil are ready to head east for home--until a minor stop to change trains in Chicago turns into a major adventure. A bloodhound detective recruits the brothers to help solve a case: puppies are disappearing right off their leashes! Anton and Cecil’s search takes them deep into the heart of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where they befriend exotic animals, ride the newly invented Ferris Wheel, and look for clues amid the crowds of fairgoers. Just as they close in on the culprit, Cecil is carried away in a giant flying balloon and Anton is left behind. Can the cat brothers find the puppies and each other in this big, busy city? Fans of classic animal adventures such as A Cricket in Times Square and Poppy will love Anton and Cecil’s world, brimming with action and rich, true-to-life detail.

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin: What would you do if your four-year-old son claimed he had lived another life and that he wants to go back to it? That he wants his other mother? Single mom Janie is trying to figure out what is going on with her beloved son Noah. Noah has never been ordinary. He loves to make up stories, and he is constantly surprising her with random trivia someone his age has no right knowing. She always chalked it up to the fact that Noah was precocious―mature beyond his years. But Noah’s eccentricities are starting to become worrisome. One afternoon, Noah’s preschool teacher calls Janie: Noah has been talking about shooting guns and being held under water until he can’t breathe. Suddenly, Janie can’t pretend anymore. The school orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation. And life as she knows it stops for herself and her darling boy. For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has already stopped. Diagnosed with aphasia, his first thought as he approaches the end of his life is, I’m not finished yet. Once an academic star, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw everything away to pursue an obsession: the stories of children who remembered past lives. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he never stopped believing that there was something beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for a case that would finally prove it. And with Noah, he thinks he may have found it. Soon, Noah, Janie, and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years. When that door opens, all of their questions will be answered. Gorgeously written and fearlessly provocative, Sharon Guskin’s debut explores the lengths we will go for our children. It examines what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between.

Great Books of China by Frances Wood: Great Books of China invites readers to discover—or rediscover—some of the major achievements of Chinese culture and civilization. The literature of China remains largely unknown in the West, yet it offers much insight into Chinese life. The long continuity of Chinese culture means that texts created more than two thousand years ago are still part of the education and background of today's China. Great Books of China introduces outstanding works of various genres, from fiction, drama, and poetry to history, science, and travel; they were written by philosophers and artists, government officials and scholars, by men and women across many centuries and from every part of China. These great books are presented in their historic, cultural, and social context, with a focused summary of content and author. Beginning with some of the Confucian and Daoist classics and ending with modern fiction, Great Books of China features famous novels including The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), Journey to the West (Xiyou ji), and Dream of the Red Chamber (Hongloumeng); celebrated dramas such as The Story of the Lute (Pipa ji) and The Peach Blossom Fan (Taohua shan); poetry from ancient times and the “golden age” of the Tang to the last years of imperial China; renowned historic manuals on Chinese painting, on the construction of Chinese gardens, and on a carpenter’s varied tasks; major texts describing Chinese history, the military exploits of ancient generals, and the legendary journeys of Buddhist monks; and works by a number of modern writers including Lu Xun, Ding Ling, and Lao She. Concise, provocative, and illuminating, Great Books of China introduces the literature of one of the world's most significant cultures and helps us understand the China of the present and the past.

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen: Forty-four writers, dancers, actors, and artists contribute essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction. Together, they share diverse perspectives on and insights into what feminism means and what it looks like. Come on in, turn the pages, and be inspired to find your own path to feminism by the awesome individuals in Here We Are. “[Jensen’s] strength is on full display in this dynamic collection of essays, interviews, comic strips and more, which brings together a chorus of diverse viewpoints, from women and men, to help teens understand, broaden and visualize their own definition of contemporary feminism.” (Chicago Tribune)

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez: Every night, tiny stars appear out of the darkness in little Sandy’s bedroom. She catches them and creates wonderful creatures to play with until she falls asleep, and in the morning brings them back to life in the whimsical drawings that cover her room. One day, Morpie, a mysterious pale girl, appears at school. And she knows all about Sandy’s drawings. Nightlights is a beautiful story about fear, insecurity, and creativity, from the enchanting imagination of Lorena Alvarez. “Readers will cheer...The beings that inhabit Sandy’s nighttime world are simply delightful. The album size, cloth spine binding, and spot gloss on the cover are the icing on the cake of this beautiful graphic novel.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Audubon: On the Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau and Jeremie Royer: At the start of the nineteenth century, John James Audubon embarked upon an epic ornithological quest across America with nothing but his artist’s materials, an assistant, a gun and an all-consuming passion for birds...This beautiful volume tells the story of an incredible artist and adventurer: one who encapsulates the spirit of early America, when the wilderness felt limitless and was still greatly unexplored. Based on Audubon”s own retellings, this graphic novel version of his travels captures the wild and adventurous spirit of a truly exceptional naturalist and painter. “Everything feels rich and strange and unrestricted, much like the continent must have felt in the early 19th century, when Audubon set out on his journeys. In other words, On the Wings of the World wants to do cataract surgery on your impressions of the time, the place and central figure, and it succeeds beautifully.” (Paste Magazine)

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church: n her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era. In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly. Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken. Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.

Fifty-Six Counties by Russell Rowland: Montana has a long and celebrated tradition of artful, reflective nonfiction. From Joseph Kinsey Howard’s Montana: High, Wide, and Handsome to K. Ross Toole’s Montana: An Uncommon Land, we’ve been gifted with a series of erudite and sharp-eyed guides to help show us who we are. To this eminent list we can now add Russell Rowland’s Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey. A native Montanan and an applauded novelist (In Open Spaces, High and Inside), Rowland spent the better part of a year studying and traveling around his beloved home state, from the mines of Butte to the pine forests of the Northwest, from the stark, wind-scrubbed badlands of the East to the tourist-driven economies of the West. Along the way, he considered the state’s essential character, where we came from, and, most of all, what we might be in the process of becoming.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan: In his latest historical novel, bestselling author Robert Morgan brings to full and vivid life the story of Jonah Williams, who, in 1850, on his eighteenth birthday, flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born a slave. He takes with him only a few stolen coins, a knife, and the clothes on his back--no shoes, no map, no clear idea of where to head, except north, following a star that he prays will be his guide. Hiding during the day and running through the night, Jonah must elude the men sent to capture him and the bounty hunters out to claim the reward on his head. There is one person, however, who, once on his trail, never lets him fully out of sight: Angel, herself a slave, yet with a remarkably free spirit. In Jonah, she sees her own way to freedom, and so sets out to follow him. Bristling with breathtaking adventure, Chasing the North Star is deftly grounded in historical fact yet always gripping and poignant as the story follows Jonah and Angel through the close calls and narrow escapes of a fearsome world. It is a celebration of the power of the human spirit to persevere in the face of great adversity. And it is Robert Morgan at his considerable best.

And, to cap it all off, I’ll throw in an advance copy of Brave Deeds by Yours Truly....

If you’d like a chance at winning ALL THE BOOKS, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 29, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 30. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My First Time: Anne Corlett

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Anne Corlett, author of the new debut novel The Space Between the Stars. She lives in a village near Bath in southwest England with her partner and three young sons. Her short fiction has been published in various magazines and anthologies, and she is currently working on a second novel.

My First Time Reading in Public

Before I was a writer, I was a criminal lawyer.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I always wrote, from first being able to hold a pen, and by my late teens, I was certain that I’d finish up working as a writer, or in publishing, but somewhere along the way I got distracted and became a lawyer.

I’m still not quite sure how that happened.

By the time I started taking my writing seriously again, I had ten years as a criminal lawyer and High Court Advocate under my belt. Over that decade, I stood up and talked in front of judges, juries, defendants and their families, fellow lawyers, the press, and members of the public. After the first couple of hearings, I don’t remember ever finding it particularly difficult or nerve-racking. So when I got the news that an extract from my first novel, Telemachus, had been selected for the “Friday Night Live” final at the York Festival of Writing, I was fairly blasé about that side of things.

I read through my piece a couple of times, smoothing out a few clunky sentences, and getting a sense of the rhythm and shape of the extract. I tried out the dialogue, and came to the reluctant but sensible conclusion that I could not do voices, and should probably stick to just reading it straight. But overall, I was fairly comfortable with the idea of reading in public.

Then someone suggested that I video myself, to see how I sounded, and to work out if I needed to slow down or speak up, or vary my pitch or pace a bit more. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea, so I propped up my camera on the mantelpiece, hit record, sprinted back to the other side of the room, and launched into my reading. It went fairly well, I thought.

And then I played the footage back.

On viewing it, I was immediately hurled into a state of complete and utter panic. I appeared to have a whole host of nervous twitches and bad habits. I watched the video several times, with ever-growing horror. Had I been gurning and fidgeting my way around the courts of London for the last ten years? Was I notorious in the judges’ corridors as “that one who flicks her papers back and forward with her thumb and touches her face every three-and-a-half seconds”? Did I generally stand on one leg while addressing the bench? And what was I doing with my face?

This was the day before the festival. I spent the next few hours ruthlessly drilling myself out of all the bizarre habits, until I was confident that I could deliver a performance that wouldn’t have the audience making subtle “how much has she had to drink?” gestures at one another.

When I boarded the train the following day, I had started to feel fairly good about the forthcoming reading. Unfortunately, somewhere between London and York, I managed to put my neck out, and by the time I arrived at the festival, the only way I could look at anything to either side of me, was to rotate my entire body through ninety degrees, keeping my head and torso in strict alignment.

Whatever the opposite of an owl is, that’s what I looked like.

The evening came round, and with it, the gala dinner and Friday Night Live. I did my strange robot-like walk up onto the stage, apologized to the audience for appearing to ignore the very existence of ninety-nine percent of them, while staring at the one percent directly in front of me in a rather fixed and sinister manner, and somehow delivered a reasonably competent reading.

Well, I assume it was reasonably competent. My piece won the judges’ vote, although not the final audience verdict, and immediately afterwards (although not before I’d managed to hurl a large glass of wine down my throat), my now-agent, came and introduced herself. I don’t think I was making much sense by that point, but fortunately we had a meeting scheduled for the following day, where I was able to give a slightly more coherent account of myself. A few days later, after reading my full manuscript, she offered representation.

That novel garnered some interest, but ultimately no offers of publication. My second one did better, getting as far as an acquisitions meeting, before falling at the final hurdle. It was the third one that made it to the finish line. The Space Between the Stars has just been published by Berkley in the US, and Pan Macmillan in the UK.

The story of my first public reading isn’t a tale of overnight success. It took three-and-a-half years before I got that first yes from a publisher. There were smaller “firsts“ along the way–first short story acceptance, first competition win, first serious interest in one of my novels–but that Friday night at the York Festival was where it all started.

I never did work out whether I’d spent the best part of a decade standing on one leg in courts all over London. Someone would have told me.

Wouldn’t they?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

A good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Freebie: Fen by Daisy Johnson

Congratulations to Susan Dunlap, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison.

This week’s contest is for Fen by Daisy Johnson. Here’s what The Rumpus had to say about Johnson’s collection of stories: “As a reader, the world of Fen won’t leave you. That is Johnson’s power as a writer―she creates a dark, self-aware world that feels heavy and gray and covered in mist. In her universe, if you’re lonely, you can befriend a fish. Words don’t just cause emotional pain, but they form burns and welts. The ones you love can come back from the dead. To read Johnson’s stories is to live in dreams, at once both disturbing and comforting.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...

Daisy Johnson’s Fen, set in the fenlands of England, transmutes the flat, uncanny landscape into a rich, brooding atmosphere. From that territory grow stories that blend folklore and restless invention to turn out something entirely new. Amid the marshy paths of the fens, a teenager might starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl and grow jealous of her friend. A boy might return from the dead in the guise of a fox. Out beyond the confines of realism, the familiar instincts of sex and hunger blend with the shifting, unpredictable wild as the line between human and animal is effaced by myth and metamorphosis. With a fresh and utterly contemporary voice, Johnson lays bare these stories of women testing the limits of their power to create a startling work of fiction.

If you’d like a chance at winning Fen, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 22, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 23. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Marriage of Books: Sarah Moriarty’s Library

Reader:  Sarah Moriarty
Location:  Brooklyn, NY
Collection size:  About 700
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue:  Timing a Century: A History of the Waltham Watch Company by Charles Moore. Moore, my maternal grandfather, wrote business histories. He was a weekend farmer, a devout Quaker, a disciplinarian, and died when my mother was just sixteen.
Favorite book from childhood:  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier or Seaward by Susan Cooper.
Guilty pleasure book:  Be Here Now by Ram Dass or The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (This combination summarizes my personality).

The first time I lived with a boyfriend I knew the relationship was over when I started writing my name in all my books. I had internalized the advice from When Harry Met Sally. Harry tells his newly cohabitating friends to do so in order to avoid inevitably spending a fortune at the firm of “that’s mine, this is yours.” Apparently, the home library of a couple is a barometer for their relationship.

Now I have been married for eleven years to a man I’ve known for two decades, and our collections are seamlessly merged. Of course, there are some obvious distinctions between our books, but that is the nature of our very different tastes. His run to mythology, sci-fi, nonfiction, Modernism, and Buddhism. I am all fiction, creative nonfiction, YA, yoga, parenting, Victorians, Feminism, and Sufism. We overlap most in poetry, and here our collection has no sides or margins or borders or divisions. My Anne Sexton mingles with his e.e. cummings. We have gotten rid of duplicate copies of The Rattle Bag, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Lowell.

There are so many books: books for work, for self-improvement, for career development, for laughs, for cries, uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, gifted books, books written by friends, books about friends, books about books. We settled on an organizational scheme that combines two approaches: the books are separated into categories—poetry, fiction, religion, parenting, writing, education, art, mythology, feminism, young adult, and travel. Each category is then organized by color.

In doing so, I’ve noticed some trends. Often male authors’ titles are in blacks and dark blues, as are the classics and the anthologies. Female authors, like their suffragette sisters, are often in white, along with all the galleys and ARCs (this parallel is a whole other post in and of itself). Many contemporary titles come in vibrant reds and yellows and multiple stripes (Meg Wolizter!). Then there are the horrible primary colors of parenting books, the large spines and looping letters of religion and self-help titles in creams and sepias. There are, interestingly, very few greens (some Sagas, Norse, of course). Also very few pink.

But my library isn’t just a portrait of my relationship (or our society’s perceptions of color), but also of my career. Right after college I moved from Boston to New York and began my internship at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. It was the final years of Roger Straus. The Corrections had come out the year before, and the paperback was released while I clipped articles from magazines for the publicity circulation. From my days in the mines of the publicity department of FSG, I absconded with some of my favorite books like Joseph Brodsky’s Nativity Poems, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and MFK Fisher’s Serve It Forth.

When I moved on to W.W. Norton and Company, I started to bring home books in earnest to build a collection and keep a record of those I had worked on, even in my peripheral capacity as an editorial assistant. So much flap copy. So many press releases. This explains the slew of galleys on my shelves. While working at Norton I got to meet Vikram Seth, the author of one of my all time favorite books. I was charged with meeting him in the lobby and bringing him up to the 16th floor. In the elevator I rambled on about The Golden Gate. He replied, “that was a long time ago,” by which I think he meant it was not at all the book I ought to be rambling about. The elevator sped on until I realized we had passed our floor. In my fan girl blather I had forgotten to press the button.

Over time I became devoted to other Norton authors like Alice Fulton, Ann Hood, Audre Lorde, and Nick Flynn. Reading these authors convinced me that I needed to be on the other side of the desk and relieved of any public relations responsibilities.

Even the shelves of these great publishing houses paled in comparison to a place I acquired many of my books: the Saint Ann’s School book room. Yes, the pubescent Lena Dunhams of the world have some seriously good book stock. A school that focuses on classic books has all the heavy hitters I had ever meant to read in the bowels of their school basement between the boiler room and the woodshop. I wasn’t sure if I was dizzy and overheated from the joy of being surrounded by the great tomes of literature, or from the poorly ventilated boiler fumes. It was the kind of empty, silent place where probably a murderer was waiting for me around the stacks, but I didn’t care because I was already carrying more books than I could possibly bring home on the subway.

There I truly indulged my obsession with YA books and my devotion to classics: Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Boy, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Annie John, and oh so much Shakespeare. Every few weeks I brought home another armload under the guise of “research” and “context.” These books now form a substantial section of my teaching library.

My own YA section is sacrosanct, still devoted to those precious volumes I read when I was young, which hold all the joy of true escape: summer reading. These books—Watership DownThe Dark is Rising series; The Diamond in the Window; The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring; Jacob Have I Loved; The Book of Three series—fueled my obsession with imagery, narrative depth, and complex characters. These are not just books, but talismans. They have given me power and solace. I think that is what all books are meant to do.

Sarah Moriarty is the author of the new novel North Haven, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and various fauna.

My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email for more information.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trailer Park Tuesday: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

       “If there was a murder, then there was a murderer. The murderer is with us...and every one of you is a suspect.”
       “And who are you?”
       “My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.”

That’s right, my little grey cells, the Belgian puzzle-solver is back on the big screen. By my reckoning, the last theatrical release featuring Agatha Christie’s beloved creation was 1988’s Appointment With Death, starring Peter Ustinov. We’re long overdue for a big, splashy Hollywood production—the kind they used to make in the 1960s and 70s where the lobby posters featured the faces of nearly-overripe actors just one disappointing opening weekend away from guest starring on The Love Boat. In the interim, of course, H. P. has been doing plenty of sleuthing on the small screen—most admirably by David Suchet, who sets such a high standard for the character that it will be hard to topple him from that pedestal. If anyone can refresh Poirot, however, it is “probably the greatest actor in the world,” Mr. Kenneth Branagh. As we see in this terrific trailer for the new movie version of Christie’s 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh not only has the accent down—not too thick, not too thin—but his upper lip also bears those famous “moustaches,” here in fuller bloom than we’ve seen before. Just as in the 1974 theatrical release (starring the Oscar-nominated Albert Finney), the 2017 movie is stuffed with an all-star cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi and Josh Gad. I can’t wait to climb aboard and start gathering clues when the Orient Express leaves the station in November.

Trailer Park Tuesday is a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My First Time: Sarah Moriarty

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Sarah Moriarty, author of the new novel North Haven. Sarah received her MFA from The New School and has worked as a writer and editor for A Child Grows in Brooklyn, What to Expect, and Lost magazine, among other digital publications. She taught writing and literature at the College of Staten Island and Saint Ann’s School, where she strived to prove to her students, and herself, that writing is worth the work. Sarah lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

My First Residency

In 2008 I arrived at the Vermont Studio Center with a good idea and forty pages. On the wall of my studio I tacked a piece of paper where I hurriedly wrote in all capitals, “NO FEAR, NO EXPECTATIONS, NO JUDGEMENT.” Only I misspelled judgment. It took everything I had to leave that paper there and not edit out the extra E.

To call Johnson, Vermont a hamlet would only be appropriate if I were a 19th-century aristocrat or a real estate agent. But it is picturesque: the church with its broken clock tower; the old, red mill building that is the heart of the Studio Center; the coffee shop in the first floor of an old Victorian where you can sit on the porch with its scroll-work trim and drink coffee from mismatched mugs. The bookstore is a small, brick colonial house on the corner of the one of the only intersections in town, where we all dream of having our books one day. It is the kind of town that feels tucked in, houses close, but hidden behind copses. The yoga studio is in a converted barn (of course), the mediation cottage at the Studio Center was once a chicken coop. Instead of calming the monkey-mind you must subdue your inner clucking.

At the other end of the spectrum is the strip mall with the grocery store and the laundromat, the abandoned school that looks like it should be the set of a horror movie. The studio center has multiple buildings, one an ancient clapboard house with a cupola, which is clearly haunted by the long-dead factory workers who slowly suffocated in their sleep from inhaling too many cotton fibers. Other buildings are newer like the drawing studio with angled skylights where intrepid residents posed nude for one another. I wondered if in such a small town it was difficult to find people to take off their clothes for these art tourists/visitors/ interlopers/economy sustainers. We were exactly that, tourists, but our destination was internal, in a fugue state much of the time emerging only to be reborn in the river, to be baptized by the bonfire. While there I learned three essential things.

First, I was reminded that I instinctively place my self on the outside of any group, even one to which I should ostensibly belong. This trait had been easy to forget when I was wrapped up in teaching and friends and my husband. But when I arrived at what, for many, is essentially sleep away camp for grown ups, I found that my knee-jerk social strategy was still strongly in place. I lay back in the cut.

Ironically, one of my closest friends was already there, and this was not my first visit to Johnson. My partner in crime from our high school days, Lissa, was from a nearby mountaintop, and I had been to Johnson twice before with her. During the residency she was living in Burlington but often came back to see her parents. She lent me a handmade quilt for my bed. My studio, number 5, was on the ground floor and, like all of them, faced the river. Lissa would periodically appear at my studio window. Standing in the grass between the window and the river we’d talk through the screen. She took me out to a distant roadside bar to meet her new boyfriend. The three of us sat out behind the bar on top of a splintering picnic table. Her new man, of whom I was already wary because of my utter devotion to her ex-girlfriend, turned out to be amazing. A renaissance man, James was a graduate professor, who in his spare time raised and slaughtered his own sheep. Ah, Vermont. A friend of theirs joined us, a grizzled dairy farmer, who, when I asked a very Brooklyn question about the wonders of raw milk, replied, “Oh I don’t drink milk! I’ve seen those vacuums pop off a tit and suck up everything, no way. No milk.”

I was more comfortable with this band of outsiders than with the majority of the residents. I wasn’t the youngest, just 32 at the time. The younger set treated the experience more like an all-inclusive literary spring break. I did envy them for their lightness, their ease. But I felt an urgency that kept me from forging my way into their circle. I felt a longing to work, and was blissfully lost in it, the way you try to get lost in a foreign city to let serendipity take over. It was in those serendipitous moments that I found Anne and what my book was truly about.

As I inevitably and unconsciously always do, I found myself bonding to one of the few queer ladies at the residency. Maybe that tendency is a function of being raised mostly by gay women, but I gravitate toward the queer community like a flower turns to the sun. As Anne and I lay in the sun beside the river together, we talked about her partner, and both the fluidity and specificity of sexuality. We talked about her preference for transgender dudes who hadn’t fully transitioned. And I thought how magical and wonderful that our world has created space (however fraught and fought for and constantly at risk) where the niche in her heart could be filled. Maybe it was those conversations or the way they made me think about my childhood, my marriage, my own sexual awakening, but suddenly my novel about a summerhouse family drama became a book about sexuality, and was all the better for it. I didn’t go there for friends, but they found me, hanging out at the edges, peering in from doorways and riverbanks, from the cozy kitchen where on breakfast duty I stirred a giant vat of oatmeal or sorted through questionable salad greens.

Second, though I didn’t bond with many people there, I found that just being surrounded by artists was enough. I felt a connection with everyone purely through the act of creating. In that open, vulnerable state, every conversation I had, learning over the salad bar, struggling through the reeds at the end of someone’s yard to find to the hidden path to the river, stayed with me. My senses were heightened, sounds were crisp and everyone’s word choices and facial expressions were a new insight. Like I’d been bitten by a radioactive spider (or maybe a leech). I absorbed the passion in others’ work and it lit me up.

The river curls around the town center bordered by the old mill, by fields and rocks, and backyards. It is a secret passage, like railroad tracks hidden behind houses. The river has leeches. I never got one, but still carried packages of salt with me just in case. I always felt as if the river, and maybe the leeches too, saw me as one of their own. My devotion to the water was complete and I never felt truly threated by those bloodthirsty slugs. I swam every day at a deserted bend in the river, not the crowded swimming hole near the waterfall up stream. I preferred the swirling eddy edged by pebbles on one side and large flat rocks and long grass on the other.

One night at dinner, I told my fellow diners that I was feeling some guilt about my daily swims. A painter told me that she had spent the entire day sitting in a lawn chair in a shallow, gravelly spot in the middle of the river, the water looking amber in the sunlight. That was her process for the day. This was a revelation. You mean I don’t have to bang my head against the grindstone every second to eke out ideas? Shocking! Honoring my process had to be paramount. The process, at least for me, couldn’t always be in the chair, at the desk, hands on the keys. Writing is observing, interpreting, imagining, unraveling, this can’t always be inspired by a blank word document. Julia Cameron says we must consistently “fill the bank,” and I was finally able to internalize that philosophy because I began to look at the creative process not as a linear progression but an amorphous experience.

Third, at the time of my arrival at the residency I had never published anything. I was the queen of glowing rejections. The recognition of being accepted, of being brought into a community of writers (no matter how socially reluctant I might have been) helped me own that label. But being there also let me move past it, expand beyond it. This was another benefit of being surrounded not only by writers, but by artists of all types. Yes, I am a writer, words are my medium, which is only a fine slice of the larger picture of my whole identity. There, in the constant flowing waters of the Gihon River, I understood I am an Artist. Capital A. I also learned to make breakfast for 80 people in 20 minutes (hooray for quick oats and yogurt). Who says artists don’t have real world skills?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

He was young, blond, tall, broad, sunburned, and dressy, with the good-looking unintelligent face of one who would know everything about polo, or shooting, or flying, or something of that sort—maybe even two things of that sort—but not much about anything else.
The Dain Curse
by Dashiell Hammett

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Freebie: A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison

Congratulations to Anna Dockter, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin.

This week’s contest is for A Really Big Lunch by the late, great Jim Harrison. In addition to being a master maestro with fiction (Legends of the Fall, Returning to Earth, et al), Harrison was a renowned gourmand (a “roving” one according to the book’s subtitle). In his introduction, Mario Batali writes of the very first time he met Harrison--they had a fifteen-course meal together: “Jim was hungry, thirsty, joyously friendly, and characteristically overeager for the first course to come out of the kitchen.” In these pages, Harrison lays it all out on the table (so to speak). The New York Times Book Review called A Really Big Lunch “A culinary combo plate of Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Julian Schnabel, and Sam Peckinpah.” Dig in, my friends...

New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison was one of this country’s most beloved writers, a muscular, brilliantly economic stylist with a salty wisdom. He also wrote some of the best essays on food around, earning praise as “the poet laureate of appetite” (Dallas Morning News). A Really Big Lunch, published on the one-year anniversary of Harrison’s death, collects many of his food pieces for the first time--and taps into his larger-than-life appetite with wit and verve. Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in A Really Big Lunch. From the titular New Yorker piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from Brick, Playboy, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews, A Really Big Lunch is shot through with Harrison’s pointed apercus and keen delight in the pleasures of the senses. And between the lines the pieces give glimpses of Harrison’s life over the last three decades. A Really Big Lunch is a literary delight that will satisfy every appetite.

If you’d like a chance at winning A Really Big Lunch, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 15, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 16. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Finish What You Start: A Conversation with Alex Segura

Interview by Andrew Scott

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of three Miami crime novels featuring Pete Fernandez—Silent City, Down the Darkest Street, and Dangerous Ends—published by Polis Books. By day, he works at Archie Comics. He lives in New York City.

Tell us a little about Dangerous Ends, your new novel.
       Dangerous Ends is my third novel, and the third in a series starring Miami PI Pete Fernandez. Pete debuted in Silent City, which introduced us to the drunk, washed-up journalist who had just returned home after flaming out on his investigative sports reporting gig in New Jersey. He’d also just lost his father and his fiancée had just left him. Not an ideal moment for him. Since then, Pete’s evolved—he’s solved a few major crimes (as detailed in the first book and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street), decided to make the leap into being an official private eye, gotten his drinking under control and managed to cobble a life together. That’s where we meet him at the beginning of the new book—dealing with the more mundane aspects of PI work and trying to keep his head down and his life simple. Unfortunately for Pete, it doesn’t work out that way. His partner, Kathy Bentley, drags him into a controversial case involving an ex-Miami Narcotics officer named Gaspar Varela. Varela’s serving life in prison for the murder of his wife. The case has been a hot-button topic in Miami for almost a decade—debated, dissected and the subject of myriad books and even a documentary. Varela’s daughter, Maya, hires Pete and Kathy to discover any bit of evidence that might lead to a new trial for her father, and perhaps grant him his freedom. At the same time, Pete and Kathy find themselves in the sights of a deadly Cuban street gang known as Los Enfermos, who have some mysterious ties to Cuba, Fidel Castro and perhaps Pete’s own past.

What is it like coming back to the same protagonist for multiple projects? What is the benefit to you, as the author, and how is this a challenging decision?
       There’s a comfort level there—dealing with the same world, characters and general conflicts. But the appeal, to me, isn’t in the static. It’s about showing how these characters—specifically Pete, Kathy and their FBI agent friend Harras—evolve from book to book. I’d get bored if it was more about the case and they remained the same. I’m not into writing that kind of book. I want the characters to change and be in a different position at the end of the book. So, for me, it’s about Pete’s arc as much as it is about the mystery or whodunit aspect. The challenge there, though, is that you have to make each book feel open—so anyone can pick it up and not feel like they’re completely lost. The other side of that, though, is that you have to also make it worthwhile for the people who’ve been around since the first book and want those Easter Eggs and hat tips to what came before. It’s a balancing act. That’s part of the challenge and the fun of writing a series.

Many authors who write a series of books about the same character seem to find a real groove during the stretch you’re in now—the third book, the fourth book. Do you have plans to write many more Pete Fernandez novels?
       I’d like to. When I first wrote Silent City, I didn’t know what I was doing or where it was going. Toward the end of writing that one, I knew I could do one more, maybe two. I thought three would be it. But now it feels like I get a new Pete idea every other day. I think I could definitely write a couple more and keep him on his toes, they’d just have to feel like stories that had to be told. I don’t want to crank them out just to do them.

Miami is, obviously, such an important part of your work. I know it’s your hometown, and you bring it to life vividly on the page. Did you always plan to write a series in Miami, or did you suddenly find yourself writing that story one day?
       Writing about Miami went hand-in-hand with deciding to write a PI novel. I wanted to showcase my hometown and present it through my eyes, as opposed to the way I’d seen it portrayed on TV or in movies. There’s so much more to it than the surface stuff most people see. It’s a big, sprawling city with corners and neighborhoods that are extremely different—from inner cities to suburbs. I wanted to show that, and have Pete explore those areas for the reader. Now, as I enter my 11th year as a New Yorker, the work of writing about Miami becomes more research-intensive. I visit a lot—at least twice a year for extended periods—but it’s different. So I find I have to spend more time making sure the facts are straight. Which is a long-winded way of saying I could see myself writing a book set elsewhere, if the idea struck at the right time.

In a recent interview, you said that you thought you would write literary fiction. How did you get started as a writer? And how did you find your way into your current genre?
       When I first started writing—short stories, poems, that sort of thing—I was in college and I wanted to be the next Michael Chabon. I wanted to write these deep, literary tales. I still love literary fiction, though I kind of cringe at that genre label, but I have to laugh at my younger self. I hadn’t really lived much yet, so I don’t know if I would have had any stories to tell. I think it just felt like that’s where you went, work-wise, if you wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t have a passion for that kind of writing. It wasn’t until I started embracing the kind of books that I read for visceral pleasure, the mysteries, true crime books, pulp novels, that I realized I could combine passion with craft. Then I dove in head-first. Because I now had the spark to go with the direction. The turning point, for me, was reading more modern hardboiled fiction. Books like Queenpin by Megan Abbott and White Jazz by James Ellroy. Novels that crackled and felt sexy and rough all at once. They showed me that you could do a lot within the crime genre, perhaps you could do more inside the genre than outside, because you get so much cloud cover by being a “genre” or “mystery” writer. It really lets you do anything.

What is the most difficult thing about writing for you? Not the writing life, but actually putting words on the page and bringing a fictional world to life?
       I think the challenge is always in making time. I have a family, a full-time job, other writing—we live in a world where excuses are everywhere. So the challenge for me is to get into that routine, even if the routine is not “wake up at five each morning and write,” because that’s not realistic for me. My “routine” is more about being aware enough to jump on found time when it appears, and maximizing it to create the words I want each day. I’m not a word counter, though it’s fine if people are. I do try to, when I’m actively writing a novel, write every day for at least a few hours. I feel like you need that momentum pushing you from one day to the next, and when it stalls, you run the risk of losing the whole thing.

If other writers are thinking of “crossing over” into your genre, what are the five crime/mystery/detective novels you would recommend they read first?
       Oh, great question. Off the top of my head:
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
The Galton Case, Ross Macdonald
Beast in View, Margaret Millar
       These aren’t my top five overall, but I do love each of these books. It’s a good starter kit, though, which is I think what you were asking. It’s a good cross-section, and you get a taste of different takes on crime books. If I had to list the five books that got me, someone who was thinking of writing a crime novel, they’d be:
A Firing Offense, George Pelecanos
Darkness, Take My Hand, Dennis Lehane
Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman
The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy
       I cheated on this question. Forgive me.

As a writer of comics, you’ve tackled Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets Ramones, as well as Archie’s “Occupy Riverdale” storyline. What skills as a prose writer translate easily, and what’s challenging or more difficult in writing for the comics medium?
       Prose is a solitary endeavor. You’re the be-all, end-all. You may have an editor or beta reader or what have you, but by the time they look over your work, you’re done with at least a draft, which is a huge undertaking. Comics are much more collaborative. You give your script to an artist, they interpret your direction and then it moves on down the line, each person, from inker to colorist to letterer, adding their take on the script. The final product is always different from what the writer envisioned and the hope is that it’s better. It usually is, if you’re working with skilled people. But that’s extremely different from prose, where you have to do everything, at least in terms of how you communicate with the reader. In comics, you also have to be more compact with your words—which, honestly, you should be in anything you write. You have only so much space and you don’t want to cover the pretty art with words. It’s a visual medium and it should be embraced.

I’ve known you for a while now—first as a publicist for DC Comics, then as a publicist for Archie Comics and editor of Dark Circle Comics, an imprint of titles that includes The Black Hood written by Duane Swierczynski. You’ve written three Pete Fernandez books. You also have a small child. What does your average work day look like? How do you manage to stay productive? Do you own stock in a coffee company yet?
       We have known each other a while! Time flies.
       I don’t have an average day, which I like. At least in terms of the work I do. It can range from writing press releases or generating PR to collaborating with a creator I admire on a new or established Dark Circle book. Most days, I wake up, go to work, come home, make dinner and write. My family is important to me, so I try to maximize my time with them. Those are the broad strokes. But there’s a lot of room in there to allow for other things, like teaching a LitReactor class, editing a line of books or running a PR department, not to mention writing novels and comic scripts. I like to keep active, so this works out. But yes, coffee helps.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about writing and one piece of advice about life, what would you say?
       Work hard, be kind, stay humble and finish what you start.

Andrew Scott is the author of Naked Summer, a story collection. His fiction and nonfiction credits have appeared in Esquire, Indianapolis Monthly, Glimmer Train Stories, The Writer’s Chronicle, and other outlets. He is a Senior Editor at Engine Books and lives in Indianapolis.