Brad Meltzer is known for many things, from his popular American political thrillers to his comic books to his History Channel TV series to his efforts to promote literacy in Florida. But here at BookPage, Brad is known for writing the warmest emails of all time. And so it comes as no surprise that Brad has some really great fans, as he shares below.
I’ve never told this story. And I promise this is true.
It was over a decade ago, at the start of my career. I can’t remember what book it was for. I think Dead Even or The First Counsel, but I’m pretty sure it was my first trip to Dallas. I was at a local Barnes & Noble and since I was new at this, I made sure to get to the event early. Really early, like, so early, no one else should be there unless we’re related.
So I was surprised to see this group of four or five young men and women in their late 20s, which was about my age at the time. According to the store manager, they’d driven all the way from Oklahoma.
I couldn’t believe it. From Oklahoma . . . all the way to Texas?! With my impaired sense of geography, that had to be like, a 16 hour drive (it was actually five). But still. No one had ever driven five hours to see me sign books before. You don’t forget when someone does that.
By 7:30 or so, the signing begins. People ask questions . . . I pretend I’m funny . . . and then the actual book signing starts. At the end of the line, I notice the folks from Oklahoma. Of course they’re waiting till the end. Whoever’s at the end gets the most time with the author.
Some more time goes by. The signing slowly moves forward, and every few minutes, I keep looking up at the Oklahomans. Even from where I’m sitting, they just seem . . . nice.
Eventually, they get to the front of the line and I sign their books. It’s late now, so I ask them where they’re staying in town. They look at each other and sheepishly admit that they have to drive back tonight. As someone who grew up without much money, I get it instantly: They don’t have the cash to pay for a hotel room (and yet here they are paying full price for a hardback book). They took their entire day to come and meet me.
Now let me be clear: What I was about to do, I’d never done before. I’ve only done it two other times since. But my gut told me these were nice people. And I trust my gut. So I said, “You’re not getting back in the car and just driving for another five hours. I’m taking you all out to dinner first.”
Their reaction alone was worth it.
But here’s the part I love: As we’re all leaving the bookstore together and heading for the restaurant next door, I spot one of the sales reps from my publisher lurking in the corner, by the door.
“What’re you doing here?” I ask, genuinely surprised.
“The publisher told me to come keep an eye on you,” she joked. Noticing the small crowd, she added, “Where you headed?”
“I’m just taking these readers to dinner.”
She almost choked right there. “Wait,” she told me. “You’re taking complete strangers—who you don’t know—to dinner?” I think she gave me some warning about how strangers can potentially chop you up into little pieces. Maybe she flipped through a copy of Stephen King’s Misery. But eventually, she was like, “I gotta see this.”
Looking back, she was just protecting her author from doing something stupid. But there’s nothing stupid about being a nice person. In the end, we all went to dinner together: me, the sales rep and my new pals from Oklahoma (you know who you are).
And the best part? Since the sales rep came along, she surprised us all by picking up the check. So you know what the real lesson is? Kindness will always be rewarded. Also, dinner’s always better when the publisher pays.
On June 16th, my new book tour started in NY. Don’t think I don’t know that at each event, the publisher stills spies on me from the corner.
See you on tour.
The President's Shadow is the newest in Meltzer's Culper Ring series, following The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin. Beecher White is a member of the Culper Ring, a centuries-old secret society founded by Washington and charged with protecting the President. When an arm is found buried in the White House garden, Beecher finds himself hunting down national secrets he never could have expected.
Author photo credit Andy Ryan.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
Donna Grant's Dark Kings series features a race of dragon shifters who have remained hidden in plain sight for centuries. In this guest post, Grant explains what drew her to the alluring mythology of dragons and talks about her next book in the series, Soul Scorched, out June 30.
Why dragons? I get that question a lot when I tell people my series, Dark Kings, is about dragons who have been around since the beginning of time.
I write about dragons because out of all the mythological creatures—and there are thousands—dragons are the only ones that show up in every culture around the world. From Asian and European countries to Native American folklore—everyone has a dragon myth. Some cultures revered the dragons and almost worshiped them. Other societies feared them and thought of them as bad omens.
I’ve always found that things like that don’t occur by coincidence. It got me asking, Why does every culture have a dragon myth? Why not another mythological creature, like fairies or goblins? Why only dragons?
Was it because there were dragons at one time? How else would societies across the globe have the same legends of huge beings, some with wings and some without, some that could breath fire and some that couldn’t? But if there were dragons, where did they go, and who was to blame for their disappearance? The only logical answer? Humans.
We are responsible for the dragons disappearing. It’s how each civilization knew about them, it’s how they passed down stories of the magnificent, huge beasts—or scary man-eaters—who came down from the sky breathing fire.
Was there a war? Did all the dragons leave? Or did some remain behind, sleeping deep underground, waiting for a time when they could rise once more and take to the skies. Could some be able to shift from dragon to human? Perhaps the man passing you on the street is a dragon in human form.
So I started thinking about how I could turn all those questions into a world of my own. I wanted my dragons to be leaders of their people. So I made them kings—Dragon Kings. I wanted them to be the only creatures on this planet for millions of years. Ever since time began, they ruled the skies, the earth and the seas.
Because of all of the different legends surrounding dragons, I knew the dragons’ downfall had to come at the hands of humans. A war perhaps, but how would the humans win over such creatures as dragons? I decided it was because the dragons vowed to protect humans, and dragons don’t break vows.
So the world of dragons faded to myth. Yet they hid in plain sight, living on their land in Scotland where they can take to the skies at night. Their lavish lifestyle is supported by their distilling and selling of whisky. Beings this powerful, however, have enemies—the Fae, as well as one of their own: a banished Dragon King who is looking for revenge.
Soul Scorched, book six in my Dark Kings series, features Warrick, a Dragon King who finds humans extremely interesting, although he detests being with a crowd. He does better on his own—until he’s sent to the dangerous city of Edinburgh to watch over the unusual Druid Darcy as the Fae and other enemies stalk the streets.
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Nashville, Tennessee, is the home of country stars, line dances, cowboy boots—and BookPage! So we were particularly excited to see that Loving Dallas, the latest in Caisey Quinn's New Adult romance series Neon Dreams, is set in Nashville. In Loving Dallas, a country musician is on the brink of stardom, but the love he left behind to pursue fame refuses to fade. We asked Quinn to tell us more about what she finds so special about Nashville—and got some bar suggestions, to boot!
Everyone has as favorite vacation destination: The beach. The mountains. Ski resorts. Las Vegas. Disney World.
Mine is a little different than most.
Mine is full of neon lights and street musicians and smoky bars.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a dream resort, and that’s because it’s not. It is, however, one of the fastest growing cities in America and lately one of its most popular.
I loved it even before it was a television show. (And yes, I do also love the TV show!)
Nashville, Tennessee, encompasses all of the things I love. It’s in the South, it’s constantly filled with music, and you can’t walk five feet without running into a cowboy with a guitar strapped to his back. So it’s no surprise that several of my books are set in the world of country music and many either take place in Nashville or feature characters who spend a great deal of time there.
Traditional romance heroes generally fall into one of several established tropes: athlete, billionaire, CEO, cowboy, soldier, rancher, rock star. I wanted to read about guys more like Luke Bryan, Eric Church or Brantley Gilbert. Personally, I prefer my heroes country with an edge. Mostly I began writing books about country musicians because I wanted to know what in the world happened on that tour bus between Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. I couldn’t find those books. So I decided to write them myself. Much more experienced writers than me will tell you to write what you want to read and write what you know. So that’s what I did.
Luckily, Birmingham, Alabama, (where I live) is close to Nashville, and my brother and several of my friends are musicians that were happy to answer any questions about the musician lifestyle I had along the way. And I had a lot. Each trip I take to Nashville, I find myself in a bar like The Stage or Crossroads, watching a band and wondering about their story. If I’m lucky, I get to chat with them after the show. If I’m not, I make it up. Either way, each trip provides more inspiration for future novels. So it may not be the bright lights of Vegas or the relaxing vibe of a five-star resort, but Nashville is my second home and there’s nowhere I’d rather be—or rather write about. ;)
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My second novel, Sweet Forgiveness, is now on sale. The novel centers on TV talk show host Hannah Farr, whose childhood bully reaches out to ask for forgiveness, and instructs Hannah to pass on the act of forgiveness by reaching out to someone she wronged. As part of the discussion surrounding the book, I wanted to look at why granting forgiveness is important.
1. Forgiving does not equal forgetting
We have all heard the adage “forgive and forget,” but are we really expected to forget painful wrongs? The notion of forgetting may be the very thing holding you back from forgiving someone; the idea that you don’t want to or cannot forget and, thus, are unable to forgive. In actuality, forgetting may be more like suppressing those memories rather than dealing with them. Psychologists tend to suggest patients focus on the event, reflect on the feelings related to it, and decide how they want to feel about it.
2. Relieving pain through forgiveness starts the healing process
The anger and resentment that comes with holding onto a painful situation can often act like a cavity, slowly growing bigger and more painful the longer you hold onto those feelings. To forgive someone is to let go of that anger and to begin to heal those wounds.
3. Forgiveness is for you, not the wrongdoer
Depending on the offense and the offender, one might feel pressure to forgive to make the offender feel better. That's the wrong reason. Forgiveness is a way to heal yourself, not to appease someone's guilt, though that is an added feature.
4. Forgiveness is good for your health
An article published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine illustrated the health benefit of forgiveness: “Forgiveness might play a palliative role in coping with gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and stress-related disorders.” In addition, forgiveness contributed to health in those sick and ailing through stronger interpersonal relationships and positive mental health all around.
5. Taking the high road makes you the better person
Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.” While there is a fine level of snark in Wilde's quote, the point is valid. Many offenses are made to provoke a reaction or to hurt someone. To show that you are able to let this misdeed go will sometimes teach your enemies not to test you in the future.
Thanks, Lori! Sweet Forgiveness is now on sale. Find more information about the book on Lori Nelson Spielman's website or at these retailers: BAM | B&N | Indiebound | Amazon. Share your forgiveness story on Facebook or Twitter with #sweetforgiveness.
Best-selling author Pamela Schoenewaldt's new book tells the story of a German-American girl whose life is changed forever by the outbreak of World War I. In a guest blog post, Schoenewaldt shares five surprising facts about the German-American experience on the homefront during WWI.
My writing and research process for Under the Same Blue Sky (Morrow) was flavored by stories of relatives who came from Germany between 1870 and 1900. I was curious about their experience during World War I, when their native country and culture was vilified as the home of Huns, brutes and monsters. My great-grandparents, quietly harvesting corn in Iowa, must have been so astonished, so perplexed.
Naturally, my research went beyond family tales, but here are a few surprising facts about German-Americans during World War I.
German-Americans are the largest self-reported ethnicity in the United States
In 1910, nearly 10% of Americans were born in Germany or had German parentage. In much of the Midwest, German-Americans made up more than a third of the population. Most major cities had a significant “Germania” neighborhood. Assimilated and widely respected, German-Americans were spared much of the discrimination suffered by other immigrants. All that changed during World War I.
Immigrants were encouraged to let go of the past to become American
We all know the story of how our national identity was founded on the idea of a nation of immigrants, a golden gate typified by the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886. By 1910, for various reasons, the mood had changed. Ever-more restrictive immigration policies were put in place. German-Americans, like Greek, Italian, Polish or Scandinavian-Americans, were often regarded with suspicion by many whose parents or grandparents had themselves been immigrants. President Wilson warned that “true” Americans give up their heritage. They close the door behind them. They forget where they came from. Imagine how that felt.
A telegram sent the U.S. into the war
The U.S. stayed neutral for the first three years of World War I (while making huge profits in munitions sales). Many German-Americans were even convinced that we’d ultimately side with the Kaiser. Then came the Zimmerman Telegram of 1917, a coded message from Arthur Zimmerman, the German foreign secretary, to the German ambassador to Mexico, offering to support a Mexican attack on the U.S. In return, Germany would reward Mexico with the return of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
In retrospect, the plan seems hardly credible: Mexico didn’t begin to have that kind of military power, and Germany was a tad busy in Europe. Still, the effect was electrifying. Suddenly, people looked at their German-American neighbors as potential traitors and enemies. Within weeks, we were at war.
Thanks to war propaganda, German-Americans became suspect
Newspapers, posters, schoolteachers, songs and speakers whipped up the public against “the Hun.” Speaking German in public was suspect, sometimes illegal. German-Americans were forced to demonstrate their loyalty by buying war bonds, sometimes bankrupting themselves. Some were made to crawl across factory floors to kiss the American flag. Patents by German-American inventors were taken away. Business were ruined, people beaten up, tarred and feathered, run out of town, sometimes killed. It’s an ugly story, repeated so often in human history, when public policy shatters peaceful communities.
The German-American cultural community and identity were in many ways devastated by the war
Nearly 1 million German-Americans “disappeared” in the 1920 census because they claimed other ethnicities. Many German newspapers, community and cultural organizations never reopened, or never regained pre-war status. Music by German composers had been banned. Bach and Beethoven only slowly returned to repertoires. Yes, we won the war, but included in the collateral damage was a huge cost in cultural diversity and the richness in our communities.
Author photo by Kelly Norrell
Choice vs. fate is the dilemma faced by the heroine of New Zealand author Bianca Zander's second novel, The Predictions. In a guest blog post, Zander explains why the idea of a destined romance is so attractive.
When the heroine of my latest novel, set on a remote New Zealand commune, is predicted to find true love in a faraway land, she faces an eternal dilemma: Should she stay in a romance with Lukas, the adoring fellow she grew up with on the commune, or abandon him for a shot at the destiny predicted for her?
For Poppy, the prediction that leads her astray is a tangible one, but it’s fair to say that plenty of young women—myself included—face a similar predicament at one time or another.
The idea that each of us has a predestined soul mate—a match that is perfect for us in every way—is seductive, especially when we’re young and have no time for the notion that lasting love requires work.
In my early 20s, I was forever announcing to friends that I had just met my future husband at a party in the form of an attractive stranger with whom I had shared a fleeting but soulful connection. This happened with such frequency that even I was embarrassed by the number of times my prophecy had turned out to be untrue.
By the same token, I often took for granted the affections of those men already in my circle, dismissing outright their romantic potential.
Ignoring the true love that is right under our noses has been the subject of hundreds of novels and fairy tales since the beginning of time, but I wanted to explore the psychology behind the phenomenon.
Why are some women—and men—so bad at recognising true love when others harbour no such delusions? What might be in a person’s background that predisposes them to such folly?
In my own case, whatever it was, I grew out of it—as most of us do. I stopped judging books by their covers, and got to know a real man instead.
But in Poppy’s case, “growing out of it” is more fraught. She and Lukas were raised on the commune in a parenting experiment—an experiment whose scars don’t start to show until they reach adulthood.
Inside each of the lovers, something is broken, and if they stand a chance of being together, not only must they overcome the prediction, but the damage that was done to them in childhood.
Writing a love story between two broken people was a challenge but it also felt true to life. So does the journey Poppy goes on, from believing love is fate, to understanding that it’s a choice.
Occasionally our interviewers give us a peek behind the scenes of their chats with authors. Today, longtime BookPage contributor Alden Mudge shares Sally Mann's secrets to physical and creative longevity, in honor of her birthday.
Today, May 1, is photographer Sally Mann’s 64th birthday. In the conversation that led to this month’s BookPage interview about her fearless, provocative memoir, Hold Still, Mann told me that she didn’t “want to die until I’m ready to die.”
Morbid? Maybe a little. But Mann’s remarks came at a point when we were touching on issues of artistic longevity. Most writers I interview tell me that they have some form of regular exercise to counteract the sedentary nature of writing. Gone are the days of hanging out in a bar after a day at the desk. Now it’s onto the treadmill for a 30-minute jog.
Mann says she considered buying a treadmill desk because she couldn’t stand the idea of sitting all day. “I think sitting is the new smoking,” she says. Mann eventually opted for simply “taking a beer cooler and raising my computer on it” so she could work standing up.
Mann says she didn’t exercise much at all until she was in her mid-30s. “Twiggy was my ideal of the perfect female,” she says, laughing. “I’d never run a step before I turned 38.” Of course, hauling around a big format view camera gave her a pretty good workout on a regular basis. But then as she approached 40 the exercise bug bit her.
“Being a little obsessive the way I am I have pretty much thrown myself into it. Every morning I do all kinds of exercise, rowing machines, ellipticals, I lift weights.” Mann is also a longtime horse rider. “When I get on a horse all my quotidian concerns just fly out of my head. I don’t think about anything other that listening to my body and listening to the horse. It’s control-alt-delete for my brain.” Mann is certain that exercise “helps the brain work better,” and hopes it will enable her to remain creative for a long time.
Mann’s 20-year friendship with the artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) gave her a model of creative longevity. Twombly grew up in Lexington, Virginia, where Mann has lived all her life. In his later years, Twombly divided his time between Lexington and Rome, Italy. Twombly was a friend of her parents before Mann got to know him well.
“He went to Italy and didn’t come back for a while,” Mann remembers. “Funnily enough the first time I came out to have tea with Cy at my parents’ house I rode my bicycle. It was at the beginning of my exercise obsession.”
Mann by then was working as a photographer, but still struggling to gain recognition from New York art galleries. “I had so many disappointments. I could wallpaper my entire house with the rejections I had. It was so painful. I wasn’t making good work at the time, so I understand it. But the reason I wasn’t making good work was to some extent because I didn’t have any exposure.”
Mann found some solace in what she knew of Twombly’s early struggles. “What I remember about Cy, and this is an interesting aspect of Cy, is that there was a period when he was not popular. He wasn’t the art hero that he came to be. He was sort of an underdog. Even at the very end, he still had mixed feelings about the way he was treated in certain museums. So I took some consolation as I watched Cy’s star begin to re-ascend. I mean he got that last laugh there.”
Mann writes warmly and in detail of her long friendship with Cy Twombly in Hold Still. His picture hangs on the wall in her office, not far from her computer.
Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for BookPage for more than 25 years. He lives in Northern California.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during World War I, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923. YA author Dana Walrath is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide—which, as she writes in a guest blog post below, is "a genocide that continues through denial." Her powerful novel-in-verse, Like Water on Stone (2014), uses alternating voices to tell of three siblings’ flight from these atrocities. To commemorate this anniversary, Walrath draws us into her research and heritage, and offers more reading suggestions for those who wish to bring this bit of history to the surface.
Place is always a character in a novel: It has a look, a history, a fragrance, distinct sounds. Places carry the memories and beliefs of their inhabitants. In Like Water on Stone, my verse novel about genocide and survival, the reader gets to know one of the world’s oldest places: Armenia.
I am the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, a genocide that continues through denial, and so turns 100 this year. Growing up in New York, I never knew my Armenian mother’s parents, their language or the land that they called home. As a kid I once asked my mother about the childhood of her mother, Oghidar Troshagirian. I got the bare bones: Oghidar’s parents ran a mill in Palu; after her parents were killed she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night to an orphanage in Aleppo. Like Water on Stone put flesh on those bones, adding in a guardian spirit—an eagle—who protects the young ones on their journey. I wrote this story to find my grandmother, to find the Armenia in me.
In 1977, I traveled to Soviet Armenia with my parents and younger sister. There we met our cousins, descendants of Oghidar’s older brother, living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though by look and manner I seemed the average American, this trip woke up the Armenia in me.
In 1984, I traveled to the land where my grandparents were born, where 2 million other Armenians lived before the genocide—Eastern Turkey. Finding Palu, along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River, I traced my way to a mill. I did not know that this mill would eventually become the setting for Like Water on Stone. It took a dissertation’s worth of words in anthropology, complete with a social theory of genocide and its consequences, for me to start discovering the storyteller in me.
I returned to Armenia in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar working on the anthropology of aging. My fieldwork gave me a score of grandparents who cheered for me when Random House acquired Like Water on Stone. Their stories, the meals we shared, the songs we sang and danced all found their place in the book.
This spring I’ve returned again to Armenia for the premiere of an animation of Like Water on Stone, created by a team of young people at Yerevan’s Tumo Center under the direction of my cousin Shushanik Droshakiryan, Oghidar’s great-grand-niece. I’m grateful to know my story will reach so many young people via this film.
I am also deeply grateful for my writer “cousins,” fellow Armenian Americans who also strive to reckon Armenia’s place in history, to tally the complexity and resilience of genocide survivors:
Dana Walrath in eastern Turkey, 1984
Eastern Turkey, 1984
Images from raw drawings that will be included in the animated film based on Like Water on Stone, created by two teen students at the Tumo center in Armenia.
Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. Like Water on Stone is her first book for young readers. She lives in Vermont. For more information, visit her website: danawalrath.com
We've all heard this piece of wisdom: "Food is the way to a man's heart." But Audrey Shulman took that advice to heart and set out on a year-long quest to find the man of her dreams by bringing home-made cakes to bars. Her book, Sitting in Bars with Cake, details her bar-and-cake crawl of love. In this guest post, Shulman tells us about her journey and the end result of all that cake.
Two years ago, I was 26, and I had been single for about 26 years. I had tried online dating, blind dating, and yes, I'll admit it, hosting large scale southern potlucks in hopes of enticing well-mannered male dinner guests who would offer to bring a side dish and stay after to help clean up.
Despite my best efforts, none of these dating strategies worked, so I decided to bake cakes and take them to bars until I found a boyfriend.
What's wrong with you? You might be asking. You must be, like, seriously deranged.
I just really thought it could work.
I had stumbled upon the idea after bringing homemade cake to a bar for my best friend's birthday resulted in some unexpected success. I had been serving pieces to all of our friends, when I looked up to see a group of guys ogling the cake from across the courtyard; offering them each a piece gave way to loud, hyperbolic feedback. "You MADE this?" they asked, inhaling the cake. "Are you an ANGEL?"
It seemed that cake was not only a boy magnet, but also the icebreaker of the century. I never would have had the gumption to go up to a guy in a bar, but with a cake in my hands, I could talk to anyone. So I decided to try it. For an entire year. Sure, I would have to start baking a lot, and I guess I would probably have to learn to drink, but sitting in bars with cake sounded like a fun experiment.
When I started this project, I had about as much male experience as a fairly progressive nun. Now I was meeting actors and surfers and cardiologists at 2:00 in the morning, forging BFF friendships because I was giving them cake for free. I was chatting up toy designers and comics and rocket scientists, dating Hollywood assistants and writers and a guy who claimed he stole other people's information for work but in a legal way. The guys I was meeting were from Los Angeles and Texas and England and India, occasionally married, engaged or very recently dumped. I was learning valuable lessons from our interactions, such as: You can bond with frat boys over more than beer pong and Cancun. Male follow-up skills are slower than dial-up. Sometimes your best self is just your real one.
The mission to find a boyfriend slowly turned into more of a mission to find myself. By committing to this sugar-fueled dating strategy, I was getting more confident as a baker and more confident as a single person in the murky relationship waters of LA. By opening myself up in ways I never had before, I was winning, regardless—boyfriend or no boyfriend.
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Former comedian Eric Jerome Dickey has made a name for himself as the New York Times best-selling author of steamy romances, and his latest novel, One Night, is out now. Of course, you may have noticed that Dickey is male, which is quite the anomaly in a genre dominated by female authors. In this guest post, Dickey tells us how he got started in romance writing.
“Your book sucks.”
I was at a convention in St. Louis, with an anticipated crowd of tens of thousands. I was seated at table alone, a few of my books in front of me, watching hundreds of people pass by, when a 30-something lady stopped and stood over me, scowling like I had slapped her momma with a cold pork chop on Vegetarian Day.
I paused, took a breath, and asked myself WWJPD?
What would James Patterson do?
She stepped closer, one hand on her hip, in my space like she owned St. Louis, and repeated, “Your book sucks.”
“Did you read it?”
“I don’t have to,” she snapped.
“You didn’t read Sister, Sister, so how do you know anything about it?”
She motioned toward the carefree professional women on the cover, tsked and looked me up and down. “You’re a man writing about women. I don’t have to read it to know it sucks. Men know nothing about women.”
Then she walked off, her hips showing me how happy she was to have delivered her message.
So it goes. So it went for a long while. I received hate mail based entirely on the fact that I was a guy who had written female characters.
I read all genres, from Stephen King to Angelou, from Mosley to Judy Blume. I assumed the rest of the reading world was like me, that they read across the board, more amazed by stories than by the gender of the writer. A good story makes you forget about the writer and cling to the characters.
More than one book club told me I should be happy they selected my novel because they usually only selected novels by female writers. That’s what it was like for me at the start.
So how did I end up being the man writing female characters? Glad you asked. I was in a writing class at Cal Poly Pomona, only two guys and about 15 women. Our assignment was to write 500 words from the opposite gender’s POV. The idea terrified me. But over two days, I wrote what eventually turned into Sister, Sister—close to 10,000 words. The lead character was a woman, nothing to indicate race, vague on description; the women in the classroom were ecstatic. They were so sure that another woman had written my piece that when I raised my hand to claim the story, they shrugged it off as a joke.
Back in the 90s I was on the incoming wave of male writers who weren’t writing political thrillers or angry fiction—but that was the genre suggested to me in the 300 rejection letters I received. Men wrote certain things and women wrote certain things; that was just how it went.
That first book tour, I left St. Louis having sold only three novels in eight hours. I’ve now written more than 100 characters, won many awards and had a novel banned. But sometimes I think about that insulted-and-enraged-for-no-reason-lady I met in St. Louis.
I chuckle and hope she’s well, healthy and blessed.
I am. That has never changed.
I have to admit, as my latest offering, One Night, prepares to hit the stands, my grin is a bit broader these days. Even on dark days, I feel the sun on my face.
I hope that woman has found what brings her joy.
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