BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on a common thread among his three most recent interviews: Starbucks.
As a standard-issue Berkeley resident, I am a fierce loyalist of Peet’s Coffee. French Roast, to be exact. So of course I look with snifty disdain on the thin brew served at a-Starbucks-on-every-corner.
But credit where credit’s due. In the past three months, every novelist I’ve interviewed has mentioned writing some chunk of her novel at a local Starbucks.
Téa Obreht, whose remarkably assured first novel will be featured in next month’s issue of BookPage, usually writes on a desk she’s carted around from house to house over the last five years. But, she says, a portion of The Tiger’s Wife was composed at a corner table in the local Starbucks in Ithaca, New York.
Lisa Genova, who was interviewed about her second novel, Left Neglected, last month, has a “beautiful writing room. It’s the sunroom of the house. It’s all windows and we overlook a saltwater creek that leads out to the ocean.”
But as a mother of young children, she says she can’t write there. “There are too many distractions. I think, I’m home, I should throw in a load of laundry. I should call the repair guy. Household duties loom heavy over me when I’m here.” So what does she do? She goes to the local Starbucks in Chatham on Cape Cod. “There’s nothing else to do there but write the book.”
And then there is the very funny Karen Russell—author of Swamplandia!, and, like Téa Obreht, one of the exceptionally talented young writers named to the New Yorker’s 20 best writers under 40 list. Russell says she has to leave her apartment to write because it’s so teeny, tiny. So a lot of her debut novel was composed at a Starbucks on 181st Street in Manhattan.
A year ago she won a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, where they gave her “this beautiful office space to write in. It was like getting this amazing promotion. I think I embarrassed everyone. I was like, ‘look at this! The drawers open soundlessly!’ They looked at me like they were wondering if I’d been homeless or something.” Now she’s back writing at her Starbucks again. “I was away for a year writing in my fantastic library office and now I’m back. We never exchange words but I just feel like the vibe is ‘Oh, look who has come crawling back. Guess it didn’t work out so well, so you’re drinking your vente in the corner again.’ ”
So credit to Starbucks. But a query: Whatever happened to that old, ideal image of the writer in his garret or a room of her own? What could it mean that so many writers now prefer to work out there in public, in front of everyone?
In case you didn't know it, Christie Ridgway not only manages to review multiple books a month for our romance column, but also writes best-selling romances herself. Her latest series is set in a winery in Napa Valley, and like Tasha Alexander, Ridgway manages to make us all wish we had some research to do. Here's a writer's take on touring California wine country.
I’m a California native and it seems natural to use my home state as a jumping-off point for my stories. I’ve geographically taken my single title contemporary romances up, down and sideways, from Big Sur to San Diego to a fictional island just off the coast (modeled on Catalina). This time, I’ve written a trilogy of stories set in the Napa Valley—the wine country. The action centers on a failing winery named Tanti Baci (Many Kisses), and the three Baci sisters, who find love as they struggle to keep their 100-year-old legacy afloat. The second in the series, Then He Kissed Me, is out this month. [Read an excerpt]
What’s a writer to do when the setting for her stories is not only romantic, but also just a short plane ride north? Research, of course!
In honor of our wedding anniversary, my husband and I spent a long weekend at a B & B in the middle of a vineyard, soaking up atmosphere and, uh, fermented grape juice (you know, wine!). During those few days, we learned a lot about a tasting getaway.
The tasting rooms generally open at 11 a.m. This turns out to be way too early for me to start drinking, though a tasting pour is 2 oz. and it’s perfectly acceptable to spit. However, you usually are presented with several tastes at each location and then if you visit several wineries… We found that tasting after lunch suited us better and we didn’t drink at every place we stopped. Our last day, we ran into a couple who said they take a day off from tasting for every two they imbibe.
Awesome food everywhere! And even the historic hamburger stand in St. Helena (Taylor’s Refresher) has an amazing wine list. Crusty bread, good cheese, yummy cookies in every deli. Sidewalk cafés by the dozen.
I confess, tasting in the afternoon made me sleepy by 5 p.m. We’d booked reservations at a renowned place for our anniversary dinner and were so drowsy we didn’t think we’d truly appreciate it. Instead, we bought a bottle of wine at the local market, a roasted chicken, and a couple of deli salads and picnicked on our patio overlooking the vineyard. Romantic enough!
If you can’t visit California’s wine country
Plan a tasting party at home! To establish the right mood, watch the movie Bottle Shock, which tells how the Napa Valley became famous for wine. Or read a nonfiction book about the area and the industry like James Conaway’s Napa or A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma by Alan Deutschman. Of course, if you really want to romance the vine, imbibe in my Three Kisses trilogy, which begins with Crush On You and continues with Then He Kissed Me.
Thanks, Christie! You can find out more about Christie and the Three Kisses Trilogy on her website. Read all the reviews Christie has written for BookPage.
Today the Book Case welcomes author C.J. Lyons, whose Angels of Mercy series (Jove) has added a jolt to the genre of medical suspense. The conclusion to the four-book series, Critical Condition, hits stores December 7, 2010, and Lyons stopped by to tell us a little bit about the difficulty of letting go of characters she—and her readers—had come to love.
When I sat down to start writing the final book in my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series, I had a play list running through my mind, filled with sad songs of goodbye, everything from Motown to Staind. After all, I'd spent three years with these four ladies. I'd watched them grow, fall in and out of love, save patients, dodge bullets, make mistakes, and fight for their lives. And now it was time to say goodbye.
When I began the first in the series, Lifelines, I had no idea how the book would end, much less the entire series. By book #2, Warning Signs, I had an idea, but it turned out to be wrong. Then I wrote book #3, Urgent Care, and it had an ending that surprised even me, one that totally changed how the series would conclude.
I began writing Critical Condition knowing only who would be left standing in the end. But I had no idea how they all would get there—and the main character, Gina, had a heck of a lot of growing up to do to earn her bittersweet happy ending. The only other thing I knew was that Critical Condition was, just like Gina's life, going to be an adrenalin-rushed hyper-driven thrill ride. Think Die Hard in a hospital.
So I wrote the book backwards. Literally. Wrote a scene, knew who was still alive in the scene, and figured out how they got there in order to write the next scene (which was really the previous scene, if that makes sense). The book ended up being so tightly paced that it reads in "real time" with the entire action taking place in five hours.
It didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to the women of Angels of Mercy Medical Center, but starting with their "happily-ever-afters" as I wrote Critical Condition, helped.
From the amount of fan mail I receive, I'm sure these women will continue to live on in the hearts of my readers for a long time to come. Who knows? Maybe they'll return someday to save their world again.
If so, I'll be ready and waiting, humming some Motown to welcome them home. Because, as a writer, you never really say goodbye to your characters, they become a part of you.
Thanks, CJ! We can't wait to see what you come up with in the new series you'll be writing with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, visit her website.
Today’s guest post, in honor of Black Friday, is from Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. For more than 20 years, the book store has offered personalized in-store service. Now it's available online via Just the Right Book!, a program which will send books to the person of your choice based on their personal tastes and interests at regular intervals—call it a tailor-made “book of the month” club. Roxanne stopped by the blog to give readers a few ideas for difficult-to-buy-for folks.
I always hear from people that they’d love to give a book as a gift to lots of people on their list. It’s more fun, it’s more thoughtful and it’s more lasting. That’s the easy part. What’s the tough part? Figuring out which book to give.
We’re already on the fast track for holiday shopping, so it seemed like a good time to help you find books for people on your list. These ideas might help get you started:
For the New Yorker-loving, learn-for-the-sake-of-learning types, who have probably read most of the Classics:
Happy reading! For more ideas check out Just the Right Book!, your holiday helper.
Maryglenn McCombs is a local book publicist and a great friend to BookPage. Maryglenn emailed us with a great story this morning, and we just had to share:
Those of you who know me probably know that I love dogs—especially my beloved and humongous Old English Sheepdog, Garcia. Some of you have any suggested that I am obsessed with Garcia. (Note the absence of denial.) Most of you probably also know that I am, by trade, a book publicist who loves books. I am writing to share a story about the unusual collision of my love of dogs and love of books.
Please let me introduce one of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Don Bruns (www.donbrunsbooks.com) with whom I have worked for years.
When Don came to me with the idea for his ninth novel, I asked (okay, begged) that he consider including Garcia, in all his Old English Sheepdog glory, as a character in the book.
Well, he did.
And much to Don’s surprise, Garcia wound up “taking over” the plot and ultimately becoming a major character in Don’s new novel, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, which Oceanview Publishing will release in hardcover and eBook on December 6, 2010. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is a hilarious mystery about two stumbling, bumbling amateur detectives who get mixed up in investigating a crazy traveling carnival show—and nearly lose their lives in the process of contending with a cantankerous cast of carnies who don’t take kindly to the investigation.
Today we celebrate Veterans Day (also known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day), a time to look back at the sacrifices members of the military and their families have made. In honor of the holiday, we have a special "Behind the Book" essay from Robert Coram, whose appreciation for his own father's sacrifice was some 50 years in the making—discovered only after Coram had become "a troubadour for America’s greatest heroes, the men and women who wear the uniform of this country."
His second military biography, Brute, comes out tomorrow and tells the story of Victor "Brute" Krulak, a Marine whose 34-year service included tours in Korea and Vietnam.
You can find an excerpt of the book here.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Writer Tasha Alexander and her Victorian-era novels featuring the intrepid, ahead-of-her-time Lady Emily should be well-known to BookPage readers—see our reviews of them here. The fifth in the series, Dangerous to Know, came out last week. Here, Alexander gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of the research required for Dangerous, making us even more jealous of the life of an author!
I spent much of last summer housesitting in rural Normandy, writing and doing research for my latest book. It was heavenly. The landscape is extraordinary, like walking through an Impressionist painting, and the food is everything you’d expect from France. I’d do just about anything right now for the village boulangerie’s still-hot croissants. Spending a significant amount of time in the place your novel is set enriches the story in ways you can’t anticipate—and in ways that would be impossible if you limited your research to reading.
But the thing that surprised me the most about my time in France was driving. Or navigating, really. And that was something that couldn’t go into a novel set in 1892.
To start, let me say, for the record, that I absolutely adore France and the French. Always have, always will. Until I came to Normandy, I’d not spent much time in France outside of Paris (it’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Paris), and I was looking forward to exploring the coast, the crumbling châteaux, and the lush countryside. Armed with directions printed from Google Maps, I set off for my first excursion, to the seaside town of Étretat.
Within about half an hour, I was hopelessly lost.
Google Maps, you see, doesn’t quite fit with France. I was approaching the trip like an American—an American planning to follow numbered highways to numbered exits.
Now. The French have both numbered highways and numbered exits. But to get to them isn’t quite so easy as you might think. It requires a different frame of mind. You don’t want to look for the number—instead, you need to go through each roundabout in the direction of the next village that’s on your way to your final destination. Knowing you need the N15 or the D8 isn’t enough. From that day on, I abandoned Google for a real, hard copy map, and made lists of towns before setting off. In the end, it made for much more pleasant excursions. How lovely to look for Pierrefiques or Fauville-en-Caux, wondering what you’ll see there, rather than fixating on numbers. Sure, you may eventually wind up on the N15, but more likely, you’ll never see the entrance and will spend a gorgeous afternoon meandering through charming places you’d never have seen otherwise.
Once you get accustomed to it, switching back to taking I-80 to exit whatever seems pedestrian and crass. I’m already looking forward to my next trip along the back roads of France.
Thanks, Tasha! Next time you go to France, take us with you. :) Visit her site for more about Tasha Alexander and the Lady Emily series.
Today on the Book Case, we're featuring a post by music writer—and Nick Hornby reader—Carla Jean Whitley, who gave the new album from Hornby and Nashville musician Ben Folds a spin. How do the lyrics of Lonely Avenue compare to Hornby's novels and short stories? Find out.
Nick Hornby has practically made a career of being a music fan. Though he’s written a number of novels and books of essays, the success of High Fidelity (and its mark as required reading in the libraries of most 20- and 30-something men) cast him as the listener, the man who takes as much comfort in his CD collection (or vinyl, or mp3—whatever it is you listen to these days) as he does in anything else. Last year’s Juliet, Naked only solidified Hornby’s reputation as a writer who loves to write about music.
But last month, Hornby also stepped into the limelight as a writer who also writes for music. On Sept. 28, Ben Folds’ Lonely Avenue, for which Hornby wrote the lyrics, was released by Nonesuch Records.
It’s an interesting twist of fate for a novelist who once wrote, upon hearing the soundtrack to the film adaptation of his book About a Boy, “Seeing one’s words converted into Hollywood cash is gratifying in all sorts of ways, but it really cannot compare to the experience of hearing them converted into music: for someone who has to write books because he cannot write songs, the idea that a book might somehow produce a song is embarrassingly thrilling.”
Better yet, an essay earlier in the book from which that line was taken—Songbook, a collection of 31 essays about songs—centered on a Ben Folds song.
Hornby analyzed “Smoke,” declaring Folds “a proper songwriter, although he doesn’t seem to get much credit for it, possibly because rock critics are less impressed by sophisticated simplicity than by sub-Dylanesque obfuscation: his words wouldn’t look so good written down, but he has range.” Now, Hornby has become precisely that kind of lyricist.
Even in this shorter form of writing, Hornby exhibits the same wit, sarcasm and character development as in his novels. And just as in his fiction, the characters aren’t always likable at first glance. But Hornby provides a glimpse into each person’s motivation and character. In the opening track, “A Working Day,” the narrator vacillates from being his own biggest fan to his own worst critic, neatly capturing the artist’s struggle.
“Levi Johnston’s Blues,” the chorus of which was inspired by Bristol Palin’s now-ex-boyfriend’s Facebook profile, is the story of an 18-year-old boy who finds himself surrounded by the paparazzi and sorting through what matters to him after impregnating the vice presidential candidate’s daughter. It’s a tale we’ve heard plenty of over the past several years, but Hornby’s lyrics offer insight into what Johnston may have thought as he faced both the media and fatherhood.
From start to finish, the songs on Lonely Avenue are often every bit as quotable and sarcastic—and with Folds’ music, even more infectious—as Hornby’s literary work.
Today we have a guest post from Freddie O'Connell, web guru extraordinaire who is hard at work on a bigger, better BookPage.com version 2.0, coming to your browser in 2011. We asked Freddie to share a little bit about his experience working on literary sites with our readers.
I am an unabashed lover of books. My shelves at home are literally overflowing. I have, on occasion, sought professional safe haven among books, working for a time at Davis-Kidd when on temporary furlough in the aftermath of the dotcom collapse. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for NetCentral, the e-commerce subsidiary of Books-A-Million. And now, I'm excited that we're working closely with BookPage on a variety of projects. Just as exciting has been our completely unrelated relationship with some exciting debut authors.
So, as an agency, we've been immersed in thinking about how readers discover books online but also how writers think about communicating about their writing to audiences online. And as an agency that focuses on our customers getting found, we must think about the way the ecosystem of sites around authors and books and book recommendation services like BookPage are engaging with their content.
In our extended collaboration with Adam Ross, author of the remarkable Mr. Peanut, we encouraged him to think about his website as a place to include a book equivalent of DVD extras, which he did naturally. So the site includes a beautiful elaboration of the Sam Sheppard case for curious readers, as well as a gallery of unused and international covers of the book. And he also took naturally to blogging and Twitter.
After launching Adam's site, we watched in awe the rise of a writer who had written the book that everyone wanted to write about. Not all critics unconditionally loved Mr. Peanut, but they unconditionally wanted to express their thoughts. So we had a few Google Alerts configured to help us track the buzz about the book on the Web, and we quickly realized how haphazard the modern editorial process is for content sites the world over, some of whom link to Amazon as affiliates, some of whom link to the publisher page for the book, a few of whom were enterprising enough to link to Adam's site directly, and some of whom link to nothing at all. As an agency that wants our customers to be easily discovered (whether by link or by search engine, many of the latter of which rely on the former), we think about these issues all the time. In this case, we've achieved good success, ensuring that Adam's site is reliably on the first page of Google search results for people searching for [adam ross].
We were thrilled when, not long after the release of Mr. Peanut and the launch of Adam's website, we were approached by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who loved Adam's site (and his book) and wanted us to create a site for her book Mad Men Unbuttoned, which is a series of essays drawn from moments in the show that elaborate on the cultural indicators to which they're clearly or likely attached in some way. Natasha reaffirmed that what was true for a fiction writer like Adam is true for nonfiction writers as well: good writers are a pleasure to work with because they're constantly thinking about the process of communicating. It didn't hurt that Helen Stevens, our Chief Semantic Stylist who gives visual life to our ideas, was already enamored of the show. She quickly captured a style that suited Natasha and her book delightfully.
One of our ongoing challenges with Natasha, though, is that she already had a blog, The Footnotes of Mad Men, that inspired the book. So when people are linking to referential material, should they link to the blog or the book site? This gets at one of the overall challenges of link building for multiple points of relevant content. Rich content sites, including news and reviews sites, aren't often structured to facilitate easily managed and usable related content. We'll be covering the topic of how there is no standard or protocol for linking readers to related information on our own blog soon.
And now we're deeply immersed in making the BookPage experience a more rewarding experience for those who love to read. We need to ensure that our friends at BookPage can deliver a fresh and meaningful experience to those arriving at the front page while still ensuring that longtime readers can discover gems from among the deep and extensive archives of reviews and recommendations compiled over more than a decade of being online. Beyond that, we need to include ways for you to interact with this rich repository of material.
So we have a ceaseless and ceaselessly interesting flow of ideas coming from the writers we work with, those who recommend the best elements of their writing, and those who love to read the written word. This is made perpetually challenging, too, by the march of technology, which gave us first the Kindle and then the iPad, possibly upending Steve Jobs's observation that "people don't read anymore." We expect that the concept of the book will evolve, and we'll need to evolve our strategies for usable, discoverable access to books along with it.
We want you to discover the book recommendation service that will help you discover your next great book, no matter how you'll be reading it. So by all means, keep reading!
Are you a book blogger, or do you enjoy reading blogs about books? (If you're reading The Book Case, we hope the answer is "yes"!) Then you have to check out Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which starts on Monday, September 13. (There are giveaways—including a prize from BookPage—guest posts and interviews galore! How fun does that sound?)
To get more information on this celebration of the book blogging community, we invited Amy Riley, BBAW's founder and a blogger at My Friend Amy, to tell us about the history of the week.
In 2008, I discovered the vibrant and lively community of book bloggers. For a lifetime reader, it felt a bit like a dream come true to discover a whole community of people who wanted to spend a significant chunk of their time reading books and talking about them. And I also discovered there were so many books I knew nothing about! Reading my new friends' thoughts on books encouraged me to try books I normally would have thought were outside of my reading taste.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers.
Unfortunately not everyone felt the same way and I noticed some criticism of book blogs by the more established critical blogs. I couldn't understand how enthusiasm for books could ever be a bad thing or what sort of threat we posed by sharing our musings on the internet. And so I decided to turn my frustration with these criticisms into positive action, and Book Blogger Appreciation Week was born.
We are now entering our third year, and the book blogging landscape has changed a lot. New book blogs are popping up all of the time and more formalized relationships are developing among publishers and bookstores, but that's really only a segment of book bloggers. There is no one definition or set of rules for a book blogger; we are as varied as the many books we cover. The only real requirement is a love and enthusiasm for books.
Book Blogger Appreciation Week seeks to connect the existing book blogging community; introduce others to the idea of reading book blogs for book recommendations; and elevate the profiles of book bloggers. It's a sort of retreat for bloggers who work hard all year long and a chance for everyone else to come in and see what we're doing. There are awards, interviews, guest posts, giveaways and more. If you love books or if you're curious about book bloggers, you'll definitely want to check it out! We welcome you with open arms. Friends of books are friends of ours.