Our month-long celebration of debut fiction may be ending today, but there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Read on for some of 2015's remaining First Fiction highlights.
The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo (Harper)
When you’re down on your luck, sometimes you have to look to the past for answers. At least, that’s the plan for Mattie Wallace, the resilient heroine of this sparkling debut.
A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson (Viking)
This debut from the cofounder of a British comedy website (The Poke) follows a man with some serious trouth issues as he tries to outrun his past mistakes in Venezuela.
The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry (Dutton)
Set during the legendary Qing dynasty, this historical novel tells the story of a real-life Chinese courtesan whose world opened up after a scholar chooses her as his concubine. Suddenly Jinhua has the opportunity to travel the world, something rarely afforded to Chinesewomen—or indeed, many men—in the 1880s.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press)
Already longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this debut from literary agent Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) is a scorching depiction of a community's grief after a life-changing event.
The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (Putnam)
A grieving mother starts experiencing visions after the death of her son, and wonders if she can solve a long-cold missing child case, in this Southern Gothic debut.
The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Fourutan (Ecco)
The fortunes of a wealthy Iranian-Jewish family are explored in this poignant, accomplished and cinematic first novel from a recipient of the PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (HMH)
When civil war breaks out in Nigeria, Ijeoma is sent away to safety and finds love—but with someone who is not only of a different ethnicity, but also another girl.
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (Simon & Schuster)
An I Don't Know How She Does It for this digitally plugged-in decade, Egan's playful and provocative meditation on what it means to “have it all" is one of the fall's most charming releases.
After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (Scribner)
This gentle midlife coming-of-age story follows a gay man after the collapse of a nearly 20-year relationship who goes on a redemptive journey to his hometown.
Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman (Berkley)
Apartheid South Africa forms the backdrop of this powerful story of a mother and daughter who are caught up in the racial tensions of the day.
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday)
An elaborately designed novel that weaves a 19th-century manuscript into its pages, this story of a future dystopia created through an alternate past (Texas gained independence, for one) is an original and thrilling ride.
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman (Little, Brown)
Did you know Cleopatra had a little sister? Neither did we, but this historically detailed exploration of life on the Nile during the Ptolemy dynasty feels like a breath of fresh air after the "Downton"-inspired wave of 20th-century historical fiction. Fans of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles should take note.
City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Random House)
This is probably the fall's most buzzed-about debut, and at more than 900 pages, it demands a significant time investment. But early word has it that the story, set in 1970s New York City and told by multiple narrators, is one that's worth getting lost in. Hallberg, a longtime contributor to the Millions blog, sold the manuscript for seven figures.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead)
Watkins, whose short story collection, Battleborn, was highly touted in 2012, is finally releasing a work of full-length fiction. Set in a near future where water has nearly vanished from the American West, it's a story of survival, weakness and cults.
The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen (Thomas Dunne)
A former therapist makes her fiction debut with a smart story of Atlanta 30-somethings coming to terms with life, careers and love.
Our final debut of the week is Erin Duffy's Bond Girl. Duffy spent years on the floor as a trader, and she knows the world her book is set in well.
I must confess to panicking when I glimpsed the shiny black Louboutin stiletto embellishing Erin Duffy’s debut novel, Bond Girl. Call me a snob, but I have no interest in reading anything remotely resembling an homage to "Sex and the City." Thus I was delighted to discover that Duffy’s maiden literary voyage has steered clear of the silly and sordid clichés of so-called “chick lit,” and instead delivers a delectable tale of a plucky female bond trader whose Wall Street escapades just happen to coincide with the economic Armageddon of 2008.
Read our full review here.
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)
A heartbroken widower resolves to make the best of the life that remains in this poignant and deeply felt novel, written by a former dean of Columbia College.
In Peter Pouncey's multilayered debut novel, Rules For Old Men Waiting, it's clear from the opening that regulation play for retired professor and former rugby player Robert MacIver ended when his beloved wife, Margaret, died.
Having found himself alone in life's overtime, MacIver initially concedes defeat. Then the Scots warrior gene that served him so well during his college rugby career kicks in, and MacIver sets himself a new path.
Read the rest of our review here.
Discovering a new voice that speaks to you is one of the most exciting things that can happen to any book lover. Here, we're highlighting the best 12 debuts of the year (so far). Share your favorite in the comments!
This sweet, alluring first novel follows an elderly woman as she leaves her home to trek across Canada by foot and see the ocean for the first time. As Etta walks across the countryside, she reminisces about her past and the two men who meant the most to her.
Fans of Southern noir will thrill to Cooper's dark, enticing story of corruption in the Louisiana bayou after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, where folks who live on the fringes struggle to eke out a living in ways that just might push the boundaries of legality.
This sharp and insightful social satire is an all-too-timely look at race relations in America, as three ostensibly liberal and definitely privileged Berkeley students from various backgrounds travel with a friend and classmate to his home in rural Georgia—just in time for a Civil War re-enactment.
Australian author Davis takes on the tricky subject of recovering from loss—whether you're 7 or 87—in her winsome first novel, which finds an abandoned young girl embarking on a road trip with very unlikely companions.
Eli Goldstein idolizes his uncle Poxl, a Czech Jew who served in Britain's Royal Air Force. But does Poxl's best-selling memoir really tell the whole story? Torday's tour-de-force of a novel puts a fresh spin on World War II (yes, really) in a page-turning tale of truth, lies and forgiveness.
Freeman's rabble-raising debut, set in the rough-and-tumble world of 1800's prize-fighting, features two memorable and very different heroines who push the limits for women of the day to fight for a better future. Fans of Sarah Waters or Michel Faber, meet your new favorite author.
What makes a home? This question is pondered (and argued about) by the 13 Turner siblings and their children in this tender family saga as they must decide whether to sell the Detroit house that has been home to three generations over 50 years. Flournoy paints an impressively realistic portrait of sibling bonds and a city in decline.
At just 28 years old, Nović has written an insightful first novel that will appeal to fans of Anthony Marra and Téa Obreht. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, Girl at War follows Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States.
Librarian Simon Watson is barely holding his life together when a mysterious book appears on his doorstep. Could this journal be the key to understanding his mother’s death—and saving his sister from a similar fate? Fans of magical stories like The Night Circus will flock to this ambitious debut.
Plum Kettle is sure that bariatric surgery will change her life. But when she crosses paths with a mysterious young woman, Plum ends up involved in a full-on riot grrl ride to a feminist awakening. Walker's first novel is a fierce and fiery look at the struggles women face in today's world—and it's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Finding out your father cheated on your mom? Bad. Finding out by reading his dirty emails to the other woman when you're just 11 years old? Even worse. Pierpont’s debut makes this common premise feel fresh thanks to character-enriching details (Kay copes by writing smutty “Seinfeld” fan fiction, for example) and a willingness to shake up her narrative structure.
Food and family combine in this vibrant first novel, which hopscotches through the life of Eva, a Minnesotan who has risen to become one of the country’s best young chefs. When the mother who abandoned her returns, Eva must decide if they can repair their relationship. The unusual setting, embraceable characters and mouthwatering recipes add up to a can’t-miss debut.
This week's debut is Joe Schreiber's heart-pounding Chasing the Dead, a horror-filled road trip that goes from 0-60 on the first page and doesn't let up until the final one.
Joe Schreiber's brilliantly creepy debut novel will have discerning horror connoisseurs everywhere comparing it to terror-inducing classics like Stephen King's Pet Sematary and Peter Straub's Ghost Story. Equal parts supernatural horror and psychological thriller, the majority of Chasing the Dead takes place during one nightmarish 14-hour period.
Scared yet? Read the rest of our review here.
Hilary Liftin is the author of more than 15 fiction and nonfiction bestsellers—but she's just released her first novel. How? Well, Liftin's previous works bore the name of other people: She's been working as a ghostwriter for more than a decade. In a guest post, Liftin talks about what it's like to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
My first novel, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, was published in July. It’s been strange for me to see this book into the world. I should feel like a pro. After all, I worked in publishing for 10 years, published two nonfiction books under my own name, and, as a professional ghostwriter, have so far collaborated on more than 15 books with a wonderful collection of celebrities and experts. But I never considered myself a fiction writer. For all the writing I had done, I’d never made anything up! In fact, that’s what I’ve always said I like most about ghostwriting. The raw material is pretty much handed to me.
Then I had the idea for Movie Star. Like any ghostwriter, I have to wait, sometimes impatiently, for the right projects to come along. I read gossip magazines and fantasize that various stars will want my services. So one day I decided I would take the bull by the horns and write a fictional celebrity memoir—the tell-all of my dreams.
Because the form was familiar to me, this was a baby step into fiction. I knew I wanted to delve into my Hollywood heroine’s struggle in her marriage to a megastar, and I wanted to let readers experience what it might be like if a tabloid darling held nothing back. I’ve written enough memoirs to have a sense of pace and scope. But actually plotting out the story was completely new to me. So I did something that may be unusual for novelists but felt perfectly natural to me as a collaborator—I called upon two of my writer friends to help me do what screenwriters call “breaking the story.” At least with an outline in hand I felt more confident facing the blank screen. Nonetheless, along the way I took some wrong turns, wrote myself into corners, and had to throw out hours of work. But in this process I was bolstered by another attribute acquired through ghostwriting—I had a sense of what I might call caring detachment. I knew exactly what the book wanted to be, and I was willing to scrap anything that didn’t serve it.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this process for me was not the writing, but the publication itself. Once my ghostwritten projects make it through the editorial process, I’m out. I have zero to do with publicizing the book. I just watch from the sidelines, like a proud relative at a graduation ceremony. When Movie Star came out, there was so much to do! The publisher had questions for me. Features and reviews had my name in them. The full spotlight was on me. To be honest, I would have loved to hire a ghost-self-promoter to pull it off with more finesse than I. I still love ghostwriting—the collaboration, the form, and not least the freedom to hide in the shadows—but Movie Star is my baby, and it’s proven fun to nurture it along.
Falling in love with a debut novelist is scary. Will they write again? Will the second novel be as wonderful as the first? Most first-time writers probably struggle with those same questions. Here are a few authors who hit it out of the park the first time around—and whose second novels we're still hoping to read one day. (Hey, if it can happen for Harper Lee...)
Golden's 1997 smash hit was a cultural phenomenon and earned him an invite to the White House. But his second novel, set in 1860s Amsterdam and sold to Knopf in 2002 for seven figures, has been a long time coming. A 2013 interview suggested a fall 2014 publication date, but two years later, no announcement has been made.
Almost 20 years after the publication of her first and only novel—which won the Booker Prize and is still one of the biggest touchstones for Indian fiction— Roy has involved herself in activism, leading many to assume that novel-writing is on the back burner. Despite 2007 rumors of a novel-in-progress, readers are still waiting.
Jones' poignant and beautiful exploration of the life of a black slave owner won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle award. Since then, he's published a short story collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children, but no full-length work has yet been announced.
Readers have been waiting since 2004 for another novel-length glimpse into the magical imagination of Clarke, whose nearly 1,000-page opus about the titular frenemy magicians' antics in Napoleonic-era England was a dark horse bestseller. In the wake of the (excellent) BBC miniseries that aired this summer, there's only likely to be more demand. News soon, please?
While Diaz's 2012 short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, was wonderful, we're still eager for another novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner, whose recent self-aware remarks on the pitfalls of men writing about women only made us love him more.
A pick for Oprah's Book Club, this coming-of-age story starring a protagonist with an affinity for dogs—and based on Shakespeare's Hamlet—shot up the bestseller list. In December 2008, Wroblewski sold a prequel to Lee Boudreaux and Daniel Halpern at Ecco, in a deal that mentioned a planned trilogy about the Sawtelle clan. Boudreaux left Ecco in 2014 to form her own imprint at Little, Brown, and it's unclear if Wroblewski went with her. Either way, there's been no word on another Sawtelle story.
Unsettling and provocative, Galchen's 2008 literary debut about a man who is certain his beloved wife has been replaced by another woman, was assured and accomplished. It won her the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and a spot on the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list in 2010. Galchen published a short story collection, American Innovations, in 2014, but there's been no news of a sophomore novel.
This 2010 surprise bestseller was a charming and engaging story of British country life in East Sussex, where a very English retired Major forms a surprising relationship with a Pakistani shopkeeper. In 2011, Simonson sold her second novel to her original publisher, Random House, but no publication date has been set. However, German rights to novel #2, tentatively titled The Summer Before the War, were sold in June—perhaps an announcement is on the horizon?
Is there a debut novelist who has you eager for book #2? Let us know in the comments!
Two Across by debut novelist Jeff Bartsch is the story of two spelling bee champions connecting over words and, of course, a sham wedding. Our reviewer writes, "As Bartsch unravels Stanley’s charades and how they affect people around him, he weaves in enough crossword clues to keep any puzzle fans curious." (Read the full review.)
We asked Bartsch to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately.
I’ve been a fan of Gary Shteyngart since his first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. He’s a hilarious writer with a very inviting—I would even say gregarious—style, as if you’re in conversation with him rather than reading a book. It’s clear from his novels that the life he’s lived has given him a rich perspective, so I was eager to read his memoir the moment it came out. It is indeed an interesting journey he’s been on, and he describes it so well. His self-deprecation and wit are awesome to behold, and there’s something very life-affirming about his quest for happiness amid this mess that is life. From his Russian childhood through his struggles to assimilate in Queens, then at Stuyvesant High School and again at Oberlin, his funny yet touching take on his life reminds us that we’re all always striving to fit in, in one way or another. Read this book, but read his novels first.
I had read and enjoyed Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s 2001 novel Gould’s Book of Fish, and for some reason I felt like I was the only one on the planet who read it. It’s a very unusual book and I thought the writing was excellent, but I think my opinion of it was tainted, strangely enough, by the exuberance of its design: it was printed with purple ink on colored paper and bound in a narrow format. It left me with the lingering notion that the book seemed a bit light. So I was surprised to see that his latest novel won the Booker Prize. My initial impression of his writing was confirmed by this brilliant book. The story moves back and forth between the protagonist’s present and his past as a POW in a Japanese WWII prison camp. This back and forth can feel a bit ragged at times, but that was the only negative for me. His writing is beautiful, smart and original. He conveys emotion with subtlety and honesty. If you can handle a story that’s rather dark, I highly recommend this master craftsman’s work.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Whenever I’m working on a writing project, I keep a book in the rotation that reminds me what the human imagination is capable of, something that makes me feel both humble and inspired. Calvino’s work is one of those sources of spiritual refreshment. I’m making my way through this mind-blowing creation for the third time, like a starving man at a gourmet-food tasting. The book is composed of short vignettes, some only a page, each a wonderful little appetizer describing in gorgeous prose a city of fantasy, a city whose design speaks to an aspect of the human condition. I’m a lover of lists, and Calvino is a genius list maker, layering traits upon his cities that make a reader gasp at the strength of his descriptive abilities. Like all his work, it’s a highly conceptual book with flawless execution—a treat to savor.
Thank you, Jeff! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo Jon Davis)
Though Upstate was published in 2005, its themes and storyline remain sadly relevant in today's world (and will no doubt appeal to readers whose appetite for tales of prison life have been whetted by "Orange Is the New Black"). Kalisha Buckhanon's heartbreaking debut is an epistolary novel about two teenagers in love, but separated when one of them is arrested and jailed.
Upstate explores the myriad trials that afflict the poor, especially the African-American poor: fatherlessness, abuse, drugs, homelessness and the appalling rate of incarceration of its young men ("upstate" is where most of the prisons are in New York). On top of this, there's the universal sadness of a young love that's doomed even though its young lovers, thankfully, aren't.
Read the entire review here.