After editing five crime anthologies, Rosemary Herbert joins the mystery-writing ranks with her first novel, Front Page Teaser (Down East Books).
Describe your book in one sentence.
Set in Boston, and following the adventures of a gutsy, underdog, tabloid newspaper reporter on the trail of a missing mom, Front Page Teaser: A Liz Higgins Mystery is not just a fast-paced puzzler, but a love song to the news reporting life.
What's the best writing advice you've ever gotten?
“Think tabloid.” My first editor at the Boston Herald told me this with a wink, because she did not mean to suggest that I write as if I were reporting for the National Enquirer. What she did mean was to cut to the chase, keep the pace lively, write with attitude and verve, and especially to get to the heart of the matter. When I was young, my creative writing teacher, Mr. Alfred Haulenbeek, told me to believe in myself and to “grow in the appreciation of fine language.” Put these pieces of advice together and you have a winning combination.
How would you earn a living if you weren't a writer?
As a librarian. I have worked as a reference librarian at Harvard University and as a children’s librarian in Maine. In fact, subplot in Front Page Teaser is drawn from my library experience. When my reporter-sleuth Liz Higgins asks librarians to reveal the reading habits of a missing woman, the librarians stand as bastions protecting the privacy of library patron circulation records. I added this to my book as a tribute to librarians and librarianship.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Being nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America for The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing. I served as editor-in-chief for this volume.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one fictional character, who would you want it to be?
Nancy Drew. I’m sure she would get us out of the desert island “scrape” with pluck and aplomb. Meanwhile, we could trade some clever sleuthing clues.
What are you reading now?
Tony Hillerman’s Landscapes (Harper) by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, with photographs by Don Strel. Because Tony Hillerman is not here to celebrate the recent paperback publication of our book A New Omnibus of Crime (Oxford University Press), I have been missing him. Anne’s book makes me feel closer to Tony and his work.
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge talked to Jonathan Franzen about his new novel, Freedom, in an interview scheduled for our September issue. As we count down the days until the novel's August 31 release, take a sneak peek at their conversation—and find a compelling argument for seeing the author on the road—below.
During my 2001 interview with Jonathan Franzen about his novel The Corrections, he spoke at length about how much he enjoyed doing public readings and the careful preparations he made to ensure that his readings were good events. This was just before the overblown contretemps with Oprah, after which at least some people judged Franzen to be an arrogant literary elitist (and therefore not interested in his readers) or a fool who was turning down a chance to broadcast his views to a wider audience (and who was, therefore, surely not interested in his readers).
When I interviewed Franzen about his new novel Freedom, despite a small dark urge, I did not bring the Oprah thing up. True, the controversy still lives vividly in the eternal archives of the internet. But it is really old, old, old news. And it is news (or should we call it ‘olds’ now?) that is simply dwarfed by Franzen’s achievements in Freedom.
To promote the new book Franzen will be doing an extensive book tour, and he spoke again about how much he enjoys that:
“I never seem to tire of doing readings,” he said. “I like the signing line. Those are very energizing things, because you actually get to have brief contact with people who actually care about books. I’m sure lots of mean, nasty people go to readings. But they sure don’t show up in the signing line. It’s basically just a stream of nice people who care about books. It’s just really energizing to shake hands with them.”
Somewhat later in our conversation, he returned to thoughts about his upcoming book tour:
“I feel lucky to be doing an old fashioned book tour, partly because I know what’s happening in the industry. But also, my dad traveled a lot for his various jobs, was out on the road for a week or two or sometimes even three at a time. Staying in hotels, getting up in the morning and moving on to the next city is a way of connecting with something I was never able to experience directly with him. The real work of writing is sitting, is pretty solitary. You get in a pretty weird state and you feel like some freakish sick child. [A book tour] makes me feel like I have a job and there’s a place for me in the world.”
Jonathan Franzen is a writer with towering literary ambition, and his masterful new novel Freedom largely lives up to that ambition. My experience is that a conversation with him is filled with surprises. So I highly recommend going to one of his readings. And joining the signing line.
Coming in October from Little, Brown—The Wolves of Andover, the prequel to the 2008 hit The Heretic's Daughter. Dallas novelist Kathleen Kent tells the story of Martha Allen and Thomas Carrier, who in her earlier novel experienced the Salem Witch Trials. Their courtship sounds equally daunting: Thomas, who played a significant role in the English Civil War, finds himself pursued by assassins sent to the New World from London, while Martha navigates the complicated world of a household servant.
Related in BookPage: Our review of The Heretic's Daughter.
It’s always a treat to have the opportunity to speak with authors after you’ve read their books. So I was thrilled to interview Emily Giffin about her latest novel, Heart of the Matter, for our May issue.
We mostly talked about Heart of the Matter, of course, but I was delighted as our conversation veered off-course a few times. I couldn’t include all of the great content in my print interview, so here's the dish on Giffin’s writing process, how she balances a full-time writing career with raising three young children and—gasp—some then “off-the-record” (and now public) details on the upcoming movie version of her debut novel, Something Borrowed.
We’ve heard the good news that Something Borrowed (and Something Blue) are being adapted for film. Something Borrowed is slated to begin filming this summer. What can you tell us about that experience?
It’s been totally thrilling and I’ve been very involved with the details and become very close to both producers and the director. It’s been such a positive experience. I’ve heard that it can be a very negative experience for writers and they can be completely not involved and hate the direction. They have listened to my thoughts, and they don’t always agree with what I say—which is fine, because I’ve always viewed it as a separate project—but they listen and they are just great people. So it’s been awesome. Ginnifer Goodwin has been cast as Rachel—she’s perfect. So sweet. And John Krasinski is in for Ethan.
[This is where Abby devolved into total celeb geek mode and Emily and Abby discussed all the casting options and possibilities. Recently, more of the cast has been revealed (and even seen on set the week of April 19), including: Kate Hudson as Darcy, Colin Egglesfield (from the new Melrose Place) as Dexter and Steve Howey (who co-starred with Hudson in Bride Wars) as Marcus. Giffin said the movie is slated for release in early spring 2011, and you can bet I’ll be first in line at the theaters.]
So will you get to be on set and meet all these fabulous people?
My book tour starts May 11 and filming starts April 27 and I’m like, 95% of my life is totally boring, why do these two things have to happen at once? But I should be able to get up there a few times. And technically, in the contract, I’m supposed to have a small speaking part.
How does your creative process work? What comes to you first? The characters? The situations?
It’s pretty much worked the same with all of my books. It’s more of a very general premise. What would happen if a woman fell in love with her best friend’s fiancé, or what would happen if a couple got married and then, a few years into their marriage, one changed their mind about something that was fundamental to their marriage? Or what would happen if you ran into your “one who got away” and suddenly you realized that being with him was an option. I think I always start with that scenario, and I try to make it very relatable. Most everyone has someone from their past who they wonder about; and most of us have a friendship that is not 100% pure, marked by an undertone of insecurity or competitiveness, or something toxic about it. I think women—people—of all ages can relate to that. So the situation comes first and then the characters emerge from that. And then as I get to know the characters and write about them, the plot comes after [that]. It’s a very character-driven process for me.
Do you outline and plan it all out?
No, I don’t. I haven’t for any of my books. I have a very general sense of beginning, middle and end, but I don’t outline any scenes or specifics. I just think to myself, “Ok, this is where they’re starting out, this is where they’re going and this is where I think they’ll end up.” But in many cases they don’t end up where I think they will because as I get to know them, I think to myself, “Well, that’s not actually what this person would do.” You get to know the characters as you spend time with them, and sometimes I’m very surprised. For me, it’s a lot more fun to write that way. It’s inefficient, but I enjoy the little surprises along the way.
How do you balance a full-time writing career with raising three young children?
I think it’s interesting that people often ask that question. In a way, I think it gives me too much credit. I think every time we go into a bookstore, Harriet that she’ll have a role model—someone who does both.
You initially tried to break into publishing by writing a YA novel. Do you ever think of revisiting that genre and writing anything for a younger audience now that you’re a best-selling author?
Occasionally. If I had more time, I definitely would. I have been writing the screenplay for Baby Proof and I’ve been thinking about young adult books. I just wish I had more time because there is so much I would like to do. But I have to prioritize because I do have small children and I don’t have all the time in the world to work. So I think I’m going to stick with what I’m doing, for the most part.
Are you working on your sixth novel? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’ve started it. But it’s a little too new to get into what it’s about.
Read the complete interview with Giffin on BookPage.com.
BookPage is proud to present our first video author interview: a Q&A with Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture. His 2007 Washington Post column on the pernicious effects of hip-hop culture on African Americans was based on his own experience, and the book is both personal and universal as it chronicles Williams' youthful struggle between the worlds of street cred and college credits.
Friend of BookPage Stephenie Harrison came up with a few brilliant questions for the Penguin Press publicity department to ask Williams during a visit to their NYC offices. His answers are sure to make you think.