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  • Joel Cunningham 2:00 pm on 2017/12/13 Permalink
    Tags: a land more kind than home, , Interviews, not his last ballad, the dark road to mercy, ,   

    Unlocking Character: A Conversation with Wiley Cash 

    In 2012, Wiley’s Cash’s novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, wowed readers and critics and booksellers, including those who sit on the selection committee for our Discover Great New Writers program. A Land More Kind Than Home is a classic Southern Gothic that uses a trio of voices to tell the story of a young man’s coming of age in the wake of tragedy; it’s a novel that so assured, it’s hard to remember that it’s actually Wiley’s debut.

    This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley’s second novel, takes a less gothic, more noir, turn with the story of a man whose well-intentioned, but ultimately poor, choices endanger his family—and himself. This isn’t a story of black hats vs. white hats; it’s a layered story of living in the grey area, of meaning well and behaving badly, consequences be damned.

    Wiley’s still on the road talking to readers about The Last Ballad, and was gracious enough to give us a few minutes to talk shop via email.

    Where did The Last Ballad start for you?
    I grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, completely unaware of the history of the mill. Firestone purchased the mill not long after the 1929 strike, which was one of the only communist-led strikes in American history. It turned the city upside down, people died, and families were run out of town. But by the time I was born in 1977, Gastonia had completely buried the story of the Loray Mill strike.

    It wasn’t until I went to grad school in 2003 that one of my professors learned that I was from Gastonia and mentioned the Loray Mill strike. I researched the name Loray Mill and was shocked to learn that the place I’d always known as the Firestone Plant was the epicenter of one of the most important labor movements in American history. It had all occurred in my hometown, and I had grown up knowing nothing about it. My mother and father were born and raised in mill villages close to Loray in 1945 and 1943 respectively, and they never heard about the Loray Mill or Ella May Wiggins, the woman who would become the face of the strike. This is not surprising, especially because they came of age during the Red Scare, when any mention of communism or anyone with supposed communist ties were reason enough to keep quiet.

    I was raised in Gastonia during the Cold War, and many of those restrictions still applied. This is to say that the silence surrounding the history of the strike was a confluence of things: in 1929, society was turned upside down when the poor organized to make demands of the rich; the strikers were led by avowed communists; people were shot and killed. Gastonia wanted to forget that story. The city is just now beginning to come to terms with its own legacy. It made me realize that history is not a fixed thing, and it made me understand that politics and public sentiment can dictate what is retained and what is lost.

    Why did you decide to switch to Historical-Capital-H fiction? (The obvious answer being why not, you’re a writer…)
    Something about this story pulled me back. My previous novels were historical in a sense that they were grounded in their historical moments. A Land More Kind Than Home was set in the 1980s, which was the era that showcased the rise and fall of the southern televangelist, and This Dark Road to Mercy was set in the summer of 1998 against the backdrop of the McGwire/Sosa homerun race, which, I would argue, was the last time Americans were united by something positive.

    But The Last Ballad was set in the distant past in the summer of 1929, a very different era than the 80s or 90s. Because the novel is based on a real event that unfolded over the course of that summer, I was shackled to that period. But there was also great freedom and joy in writing this novel because of its reliance on history. It was fascinating and disheartening to find so many connections between now and then: gender inequality, especially in terms of pay; racial violence fueled by white supremacy; the growing divide between rich and poor that presaged the even greater divides to come during the Depression.

    The historical moment also gave me some real direction in creating characters and considering what their daily lives would have been like. Obviously, the greatest challenge was getting it right, whether it was mill technology, period dress, automobile culture, or language. I did an incredible amount of research, but it was a joy, and it took me away from the page, which is right where writers need to be sometimes.

    What do you mean when you say the research “took you away from the page?” Don’t you need to be grounded in the details before you get to the heavy lifting: characters, narrative structure…?
    It took me away from the page in that it gave me a break from grinding out words, and it was a break that did not feel like a distraction or an indulgence. As you mentioned, it also gave me a way to be grounded in the story and the events, but research is an intellectual exercise, whereas writing is a surprisingly physical and emotional exercise. Sometimes it’s nice to get a break from that, and it’s great when that break contributes to the larger work of your book.

    Did you start with the story idea or Ella Mae’s voice?
    Both, kind of, I started with Ella May and I questioned why I had never learned the true story of a woman who was a feminist and civil rights leader before those terms were staples of the progressive movement. She was the face and later the martyr of one of the most significant labor struggles in American history, which happened to take place in my hometown, but I didn’t hear her name until I was in graduate school in Louisiana when I was twenty-five years old. I was horrified. Once I decided to write about her I struggled with how to tell her story.

    When I was on book tour for A Land More Kind Than Home, my friend and fellow writer Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) and I drove from Austin to Houston for some overlapping events. Ben’s a North Carolina native and, unlike me, he’d heard of the strike and knew some things about it. He suggested, and suggested strongly, that I tell Ella’s story against the backdrop of the strike.

    I didn’t tell him at the time, and I don’t think I’ve told him since, but I fought that advice. The challenge seemed too big. How would I set Ella’s journey from the Tennessee mountains to the mill towns of the North Carolina piedmont, along with the many tragedies she faced, against the story of the strike, which unfolded relatively quickly in only a few months? To be honest, I had a difficult time “finding” Ella in the story of the strike, although there is no doubt that she was its central character and leader. As a way to find Ella on the page I created other characters—an African American labor organizer from New York City, a progressive mill owner who is forced to act against convictions, Ella’s oldest daughter decades after her mother’s death—and I watched Ella as she passed through their lives.

    It was fascinating. I had never realized a character by fixing her in the perception of other characters. It unlocked Ella and showed me connections between her and other important people that I may have never discovered had I forced her to take center stage too early.

    It’s a terrific device, developing Ella through the POV of the other characters. Is that what made you switch to the third person POV for The Last Ballad?
    I made the switch because I wanted there to be some historical distance between the events of the strike and the narration of those events. First person offers such immediacy, such heat. Third person is a little cooler, and a little more distant, a little more sweeping in terms of perspective. That’s how I wanted the novel to feel. I wanted to be able to zero in on those deeply emotional moments between characters, but I wanted the reader to feel part of it instead of feeling the heat from someone else’s first person relation of events.

    Although they’re not stories, A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy were both in first person. I’ve written a few short stories, most of them unpublished, in first person. It felt like a very natural way to write those initial novels, but The Last Ballad felt more sprawling, less narrow. It was my first real attempt at sustained third person, especially with so many characters, but I feel like it worked. The only first person in the novel is in the voice of Ella’s daughter Lilly, decades a later when she’s a much older woman.

    I modeled Lilly’s voice after Gail Godwin’s narrator in her brilliant novel Flora. I love that book so much. Gail was one of the first people to offer me a blurb for A Land More Kind than Home, and she’s gone out of her way to be kind to me in the years since. She’s a wonderful person and a foundational writer for those of us who are writing about contemporary Appalachia without the rosy glasses.

    Lilly’s voice is fantastic.
    Lilly’s voice was a lot of fun, and writing is felt transcendental. When I sat down I was able to channel her and hear her so clearly, and I was able to see her in the young girl who is portrayed in the earlier chapters that are set in 1929. She’s the same smart, tough woman whether she’s thirteen or eighty-nine. The challenge was tracing her knowledge of events and evolution of self over those many decades.

    Characters in realistic fiction, at least the kind I’m trying to write, are not static. They are dynamic, and they have to be shown evolving as people while still hewing to some basic characterizations that will allow readers to take that journey with them, confident that the character, at various stages of her life, is still the same person. Lilly is also a person who learns a lot about herself and her family’s struggle over the course of the novel. Each time she was on the page she was burdened by a different set of facts, and I had to be keenly aware of what she knew and what may be on her mind each time I put her on the page.

    Who doesn’t love fierce Ladies-of-a-Certain-Age? Lilly’s such a product of the place and the time and her family’s circumstances. The poverty is brutal in The Last Ballad, and yet your characters are all matter-of-fact about it—they certainly don’t like it, but there’s very much a feeling of this is just how things are. What surprised you the most as you were writing The Last Ballad?
    That may have been what surprised me. We have to keep in mind that this was a time in which there were no safety nets for impoverished families. There were no workplace protections. Racial and gender discrimination was legislated. There were roadblocks to humanity, to realizing one’s agency, and potential. Self-actualization for women and African Americans was warned against, even violently punished. These threats gave rise to incredible power, the kind of power that comes from righteous indignation, anger, and desperation. This is what fueled Ella May. It’s what made her get on a stage and tell the story of her struggle before mill owners who wanted her dead. It’s what made her demand integration in a union that was violently opposed to it. She was brave, but it was more than that: she was angry and desperate and convicted. And she was right.

    She still is.

    No one expected anything from Ella Mae, ever, did they? And even Ella Mae is surprised by the way events shake out, isn’t she?
    No, no one expected much from her. I think she even surprised herself as she slowly became aware of how dynamic and talented she was. Here is a woman earning $9 for a 72-hour workweek and living in utter poverty taking on corporate bosses in a state that is dominated by mill interests. She’s the ultimate underdog, and she’s the ultimate hero.

    That’s part of what’s so shocking about so much of what happens in TLB: the hardscrabble day-to-day, the callousness. Ella Mae really just wants to make things better for her family. She’s not thinking about making history, is she?
    No, that would’ve been far from her mind, especially because her concerns were so immediate and so dire. This phrase is thrown around a lot, but she was ahead of her time in every conceivable way.

    Watching how women move through The Last Ballad – not just Ella Mae, but also her friend and neighbor, Violet; or Miss Myra, or Claire and Katherine McAdam—their lives are so prescribed (in some cases, the women themselves are putting limits on what they can or will do), is sometimes shocking for a modern reader, though the emotional truths behind their stories is timeless. What did you learn from these women while you were writing?
    In terms of female characters, the three most important are Ella, her old friend Violet, and her new friend Katherine. As we’ve discussed, Ella is a poor white single mother who is swept in a violent mill strike and becomes the somewhat unwitting face of it. She quickly comes to terms with her new celebrity and the agency her bravery has earned her. Her friend Violet is a poor African American neighbor, but she’s also very self-possessed and bold. She may face the most discrimination due to her race and gender, but she’s also more outspoken about it and aware of it and engaged with it on a day to day basis because she has to be to survive.

    On the other hand, Katherine, the wife of a wealthy mill owner, sees Ella and Violet’s poverty as a type of freedom. They’re unmarried, they don’t face the trappings of wealth and social status. She feels more trapped inside her gilded cage than she believes they are trapped inside their poverty. She completely romanticizes their struggle, and their plight becomes her pet project. What I learned from them is the same thing that I’ve learned from the strong women in my life: there’s a connection that is forged between them because of the circumstances they often find themselves rallying against.

    Bessemer City and Stumptown (the part of town that Ella Mae and Violet live in) are almost characters in their own right in TLB. Like Ella Mae, Jess/Adelaide/Clem from A Land More Kind Than Home are all seriously connected to their community; Wade, Brady and Pruitt of This Dark Road to Mercy have no real sense of place behind them—is place the key to your characters’ development?
    Place is always central to my writing because it’s been central to my development as a writer and person. I had never thought of the dichotomy of my characters that are anchored to place as opposed to those who seem unmoored, but your reading of them makes perfect sense. I do feel that my characters who know the place they’re from and cling to it in some way are more interesting and more steady. There’s something about being of a place that makes a character feel real to me, and I only want to write about and spend time with characters who feel real.

    You’ve written three novels in less than a decade. Is there something you’ve learned while writing each one that you’ve applied to the next? (Presuming you’re already working on whatever comes after The Last Ballad…)
    While writing A Land More Kind Than Home I learned how to take three strong characters with distinct voices who all imparted separate sets of knowledge and forge them into what I hope feels like a cohesive narrative. I really struggled with the evolution of plot in that novel, but by the end of it I feel like I came out knowing how to carry tension from one scene to the next.

    That really influenced my writing of Dark Road, which is a more plot-centric novel. In that book I featured a first-person narrator who is deeply troubled and capable of incredible violence. I learned to let go of my fear and allow characters like him to take the lead.

    With Last Ballad I learned how to construct a “scene” around a character at rest. You may notice that nearly each time you meet a new character she or he is seated or otherwise not moving. I wanted their intellect, emotional range, sense of history, etc. to be the way that readers conceptualized them. Each character is introduced by the thoughts or memories she or he is having when they first appear in the novel. That’s where they’re all grounded.

    Gail Godwin isn’t the only writer who’s influenced you. Can we talk about Ernest Gaines for a minute? A Lesson Before Dying is a modern classic, the story of a young teacher and the bond he forms with an inmate on death row; set in the 1940s, published in 1983, Gaines’s masterpiece reads like it was written last year. (Much like the story Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, first published in 1957, and collected in Going to Meet the Man. A Lesson Before Dying reads like it was written very recently.)
    Ernest Gaines and his work has meant everything to my development as a writer and literary citizen. I first read his fiction when I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Although he was writing about the African American experience in southwest Louisiana in between the wars, I saw a similarity in the way his characters worked and revered land and the ways my grandparents talked about working and revering land. I felt a connection to his fiction and evocation of place that I didn’t feel to other writers. This is the reason I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette where he served as writer-in-residence for decades. I studied under him, and we became friends. I visited him and his wife over the summer. His work exemplifies the dignity of the human spirit in the midst of struggle: the struggle to survive, to maintain cultural traditions, to cling to land that runs the risk of being taken. Him putting words on the page is an act of reclamation.

    I’m always reading one of his books. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I can say that I learned a lot from his novel Of Love and Dust and the stories in Bloodline. From his fiction I learned how to use dialogue to impart information to both a character and the reader. Nothing is wasted in Gaines’s work. Characters do not only talk to one another, and scenes are never designed simply for the reader’s benefit. In his work there is an incredible sense of shared experience between the characters and the reader.

    You’re just finishing a massive tour; what have you learned from your readers?
    This book tour has been looooong. I’m in Atlanta right now, and I’ll be in Ohio in a few days. But it’s been a blast. We hosted 600 people at the release event in Asheville NC where musician Shannon Whitworth sang and played some of Ella’s music and Charles Frazier and I talked about historical fiction and strong female characters. After that, book tour took me all over the country for something like 35 events. I’ve got a few left in me. It’s been a blast. I published a very political novel at a very tumultuous political moment in American history, and conversations about where we are and where we were have dominated the Q&A at my events. My readers are politically and culturally engaged, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

    What’s next?
    Next? Next is a nap. And then another event tonight.

    The Last Ballad is available now.

    The post Unlocking Character: A Conversation with Wiley Cash appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , Interviews, , , ,   

    We Talk with Lee Child About the Return of Jack Reacher in The Midnight Line 

    In an alternate universe, 2016’s Night School was the last Jack Reacher novel ever. Early in his second career as a novelist (a career he famously “backed into” after losing his television job at the age of 40), Lee Child thought he would put Reacher to rest after 21 books. Luckily, fan support has proven too powerful; number 22, The Midnight Line, hits bookstores on November 21st (though you can preorder a signed edition now), and there is undoubtedly more to come.

    We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with Child for a conversation about Reacher, writing and reading, and passionate internet gun experts.

    Do you still get the same thrill every September when you start a new Reacher book?
    Oh absolutely—I have exactly the same excitement, and the beginning of it is the best part of all. The format of the Reacher novels is that he doesn’t have a job and he doesn’t have a home, and therefore the flexibility is enormous. This is not a cop in some particular city, he’s not a private eye or something, which would limit the type of channels that you could take him down. He can do anything and be anywhere. So each time I sit down with exactly the same kind of satisfaction and excitement. And those early weeks are the best of all, because I haven’t screwed it up yet—it’s still potentially a great book!

    You could say Jack Reacher novels are almost “anti-procedurals.”
    Exactly. And I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t have a plan or an an outline, I just start somewhere and see what turns up. The procedural plot is, I think, generally a difficulty these days, because with computers and cell phones, the standard tropes of procedural novels get harder and harder. What do you do about information being instantly available? Reacher inhabits a sort of timeless period where that technology isn’t much help, and I usually do that by taking him to remote places where maybe there isn’t a cell signal. It’s sort of a comment on this ownership society, where Reacher believes that you don’t own things, they own you—and he prefers his liberty. That has proved to be so popular—and I thought that was a guy thing initially, but it turns out women want to do exactly the same thing, in the same way. They just want to be somewhere else tomorrow if they could.

    There’s a real sense of melancholy in the The Midnight Line, almost as if Reacher is contemplating making a change. Is that our imagination, or is that on purpose?
    It is on purpose. The relentless self-confidence of Reacher needs to be tested once in a while. In a couple of the books, I’ve had him look back and think, “Did I make the right choices? Are they the idiots or am I the idiot?” I think to have him perfectly self-confident in every book would be a little same-y, so once in a while, he’s contemplative. It’s a miracle that I get away with it, really—he’s a homicidal maniac! I read one online description saying this is a detective series where the detective commits more homicides than he solves. The reader’s enjoyment of that is really a kind of comment on how frustrating real life is, with all the procedures we have to go through—which, of course, we understand we must have. But it is frustrating, and sometimes, you just want to dish out a little summary justice.

    You were famously fired for being a staunch union man. Yet Jack Reacher is the least union person ever imagined.
    Reacher is in a union of one. He’d be quite happy to bond with anybody like him, he just hasn’t found any yet. At the same time, he will stick up for the little guy as you would as a shop steward in a union, but he admits it’s not so much the little guy that he’s trying to protect. He just hates the big guy—that kind of arrogant sort of person who thinks they can get away with anything. I think his instincts are good, but he’s just too antisocial to ever join anything.

    In a sense he’s like a reluctant shop steward for the entire human race.
    Yes—which I kind of was myself, in that nobody else would do the job, and it was wrong that people were being intimidated. I didn’t want to do it, necessarily, but I just thought I had to—it was my real life “Reacher Moment.”

    You’re known for “adopting” a writer to boost when you go out on tour. How do you find new writers you want to promote?
    I get sent a lot of new books, and I love [finding] new talent. First of all, it scares me, because they are so good, and so full of energy and ideas, that it does spur me on. And certain writers just appeal to me in certain ways. This is a tough business right now, and mainly it’s a way of paying forward. I had a lot of help at the beginning, when the publishing business and bookselling was a lot different. We were indulged for a lot longer than you get now. I think if I can pay it forward, that’s the decent thing to do.

    Any books you’ve read recently that you think are particularly good?
    Nick Petrie. His character Peter Ash [starting with The Drifter] is an ex-marine who isn’t exactly Jack Reacher—but he’s in the rearview mirror, so to speak.

    What do you read for pleasure?
    I’m a phenomenal reader—just insatiable. I read all the time. Certainly I reread all my old favorites within the genre, and I read new things in the genre that have got buzz around them, but basically I read anything—anything at all. A lot of history and nonfiction. It’s kind of depressing, because however much you read, you can miss out on a hundred thousand books a year. But I read as much as I can, and fairly randomly—sometimes literally randomly. I have a process where I go to the store and judge books on how they look, how they feel, what the copy says, just touch them. I pick up ten or twelve random books—especially to take on vacation. Some of them are really good. It’s just frightening how much talent [is out there].

    Reacher sure knows a lot about guns. Do you have a gun expert you consult?
    I have a couple of guys who volunteer, usually; what they do is, they say “you know, I love your books, if you want to know anything just give me a call,” and I have. But in general I don’t call them, because what I’ve found is that whatever the issue, there is always a divergence of opinion amongst experts or enthusiasts.

    For instance, one time I happened to have dinner in London with a guy who was, at the time he mustered out, the most highly-decorated soldier in the British army. He’d been in the SAS, which is the equivalent of Delta Force or the Navy SEALs. He’d been on all kinds of operations you don’t want to know about, and he, as a soldier, couldn’t care less about what gun he was issued—all he cared about was that it worked. He said his only rule was that he would never use an automatic weapon that had been left loaded for a while because he wasn’t confident of the temper of the spring in the magazine; he was worried about it mis-loading on the second round.

    And I thought, wow, great—you know this is the most decorated soldier in the British army and he’s telling me this trick of the trade. So I put it in one of the books—I think it was Without Fail—and I got hundreds of thousands of e-mails from people saying “That’s BS! Leave it loaded as long as you want!” So in general, what I do is research in books, or online, or in gun magazines. Usually [it’s better if] I figure it out for myself.

    Have you ever considered writing something other than Jack Reacher?
    All writers have a lot of other ideas that they would kind-of-sort-of like to do. But because I backed into this career from the world of entertainment, I really believe that entertainment is a two-way street. It’s asking and responding, and it’s really up to the writer to take notice of what the reader is saying—and the readers are saying “we love Jack Reacher.” If, purely out of self-indulgence, I was to write something different, I think that would be a big disappointment to those readers—and probably a wasted book. People expect Reacher. After 22 books, they still expect me to write Reacher. If I write something different, that book starts out with two strikes against it. It’s a bit like if you go to Yankee Stadium: you know you’re going to see baseball. You don’t walk up to the stadium wondering, “is it going to be ice hockey today? Is it going to be basketball?” You need a certain amount of reliability in life, I think.

    As an author who’s already writing under a pseudonym, have you ever considered a second pseudonym in order to try something different?
    Well, that would be [the thing to do], wouldn’t it? But then we run into that 2017 discovery issue. That’s what J.K. Rowling did with Robert Galbraith, and until she was a outed, the exact same book, with the exact same words, was going nowhere. I’m not sure that I would love the experience of being a complete unknown in 2017.

    The Midnight Line is available November 7 in a signed edition from Barnes & Noble.

    The post We Talk with Lee Child About the Return of Jack Reacher in The Midnight Line appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Miwa Messer 4:30 pm on 2017/09/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Interviews   

    Authors Devin Murphy and Kate Quinn Discuss Research, Family History, and Murphy’s B&N Discover Pick The Boat Runner 

    “What was Jacob’s father thinking?” That was the first thing the booksellers who read for our Discover Great New Writers program wanted to know as they read Devin Murphy’s The Boat Runner, an assured, ambitious, harrowing debut about personal redemption and the power of love set during World War II. Like All the Light We Cannot SeeThe Nightingale, or The Book Thief, The Boat Runner, a Fall 2017 Discover pick, immerses the reader in the experience of war, in this case from the point of view of a teenager coming of age. Jacob, a privileged fourteen-year-old, enjoys a quiet life with family and friends, in a small Dutch town where much of the community’s life is centered on his father’s factory. As the book opens, no one is thinking of war, including the boy’s father, who naively sends Jacob and his brother to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for his factory. After war breaks out, The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep into the secret missions of the German navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

    Recently Murphy spoke about his debut with Kate Quinn, whose latest novel, The Alice Network, is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Summer Reading Pick and a USA Today bestseller, and brings together the story of a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and that of an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. Here is their conversation.

    Kate Quinn: First of all, congratulations on your release! The Boat Runner is a terrific read.

    Devin Murphy: Thank you, Kate. I loved The Alice Network, so it’s an honor to talk to you.

    KQ: There are so many books about both World War I and II published today. My novel The Alice Network follows a secret network of women spies working in France during World War I; I was drawn to that story because it hadn’t been told before. The Boat Runner follows Jacob Koopman, a young Dutch boy who is fourteen years old on the eve of World War II—what drew you to tell that story?

    DM: I loved reading your Author’s Note about discovering the story of the Queen of Spies and how that launched you into your novel. My experience started with a set of pictures of boys at a Hitler Youth camp. These boys were exuberantly jumping over bomb fires to show their bravery, playing tug-of-war with gas masks on, and joyfully saluting the Führer. It was the gleeful look on their faces that horrified me. They were having fun. They believed in what they were told. This made me start to think about how brilliantly manipulative these camps were at indoctrinating a whole generation of boys into becoming Blitzkrieg soldiers. Then I found a picture of the German navy’s secret mission to create miniature, one-person submarines. The idea of being alone in the middle of the ocean in a vessel with orders to inflict such great violence made me zoom in on what it would be like to be one of those boys. At that moment, my novel burst to life for me.

    KQ: I understand you have a family connection to this history—your mother was born in occupied Holland in 1942, and your grandfather was an electrical engineer at Phillips who was forced into hiding to avoid conscription by the Germans. Not too dissimilar from Jacob’s father in The Boat Runner, who owns a lightbulb factory in a small village in Holland just across from the mouth of the Ems River in Germany. How did your own family history end up influencing the novel?

    DM: The story of my grandfather in hiding always fascinated me. There were rumors that he’d sought refuge in a monastery, gone to England, or been captured, but no one ever knew for sure. This meant my Oma, while caring for my mother and her three sisters during wartime, had to go out looking for her husband. Imagining the fear and uncertainty they all must have faced each day led me into their story, and I began to write about the deep complexities of life under occupation.

    KQ: What sort of research did you do when writing The Boat Runner?

    DM: I went to large museums and dozens of small veterans’ collections to feel weaponry and clothing, studied in every library within two days’ drive of me, and read philosophy, fairy tales, music, and mythology. I’ve always liked history, but during the writing of this novel for the first time I learned how to do research as a fiction writer. I stopped looking for facts and details to dress up a description, and instead sought out scenes and events that I could hold up and ask, Does this event reveal what it was like to be alive at this moment for my character?

    KQ: I see that you worked at sea for three years, which brought you to more than fifty countries across all seven continents! That’s an amazing background to bring to the world of novel writing. What was your job like? How did that experience influence the writing of The Boat Runner?

    DM: When I was nineteen I took a job as a deckhand on a small tourist boat in Alaska for a summer. I tied lines, painted the decks, and kept night watch. I’d never been at sea before, but loved it right away and realized that working on ships would let me see the world. I worked as a bartender, deckhand, purser, waiter, steward, assistant hotel manager, and cruise director, and eventually worked my way up to being an expedition leader on small vessels that traveled to the most exotic places on earth. Being so far from home for years left me feeling isolated from friends and family. I longed for some form of connection and found it by delving into my family’s history. Now I see that in many ways those years were a search for stories to write.

    KQ: And finally, for readers who turn the last page of The Boat Runner and need something just as good to read, what are your favorite World War II novels?

    DM: Years ago, my wife and I both read, and loved, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. She offhandedly said I could write something like that if I did some research. I took her words as a bit of a challenge, so that book has a special place for me. I also loved City of Thieves, by David Benioff, and classics like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

    The Boat Runner and The Alice Network are available now.

    The post Authors Devin Murphy and Kate Quinn Discuss Research, Family History, and Murphy’s B&N Discover Pick The Boat Runner appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Melissa Albert 5:05 pm on 2017/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , in conversation, Interviews,   

    Authors Katie Heaney and Arianna Rebolini Talk Public Relations 

    Katie Heaney and Arianna Rebolini are writers with bylines at Buzzfeed and beyond, and are the brains behind Public Relations, a dishy new novel that takes a look at the glitzy, high-stakes world of celebrity PR. Rose Reed is an up and comer in the world of public relations, who’s thrown into the deep end when she takes over as solo publicist for Archie Fox. Soon the sexy new rocker’s reputation is skyrocketing, thanks to Rose’s stroke of genius: pairing him in a for-the-tabloids-only relationship with a fellow pop star. Until Rose finds herself wondering, very inconveniently, whether she’s the one who should be on Archie’s arm…

    Here are Heaney and Rebolini to talk about the fandoms that inspired the book.

    Katie Heaney: One of our reviews called the book “old-school chick lit” and I think that’s probably the most accurate. And I know that might be considered a demeaning term, but to me that’s what we were going for.

    Arianna Rebolini: Absolutely. That is such a compliment to me.

    KH: That makes me think of Bridget Jones, and Jennifer Weiner and Meg Cabot.

    AR: And those are the books I love! I feel like we both had that in mind. Would you also call Public Relations fanfic, or not?

    KH: I feel like fan fic is such a nebulous term. It’s one of those things where it’s like “All X is fanfic but not all fanfic is X.” If the premise of fanfic is wish fulfillment between you and a famous person, then yes, because our male lead is inspired by Harry Styles, but also, it’s not him. But Fifty Shades of Grey is fanfic, right?

    AR: Yeah, but I think that started on Wattpad with Edward and Bella as the names. For me, I think fan fiction, especially right now, is such a real community with, like, its own taxonomy, and I’m not well-versed enough in it to claim that label because I only read it really casually. And there are people who are much more thorough and do it really well, like Anna Todd. But as far as wish fulfillment, this was loosely what we could imagine as a fantasy between us and a combination of our various personal pop icons.

    KH: I guess in that way it’s inspired by fanfic, that viral Zayn fanfic about him being your heart transplant donor. We made a quiz after that, and from there its attachment to fanfic got more and more diluted. I think you’re right that there are rules. It’s like with romance writers, there are components you need to qualify for certain kinds of romance novels. And ours is sexy, but I think fanfic is usually sexier, or dirtier. Ours is no Fifty Shades.

    AR: If someone is reading this and wants to imagine themselves with Harry Styles, I could see them being like, well, this isn’t Harry! Archie became very much not Harry Styles in a lot of ways. But it still makes me swoon, even though we wrote him.

    KH: Right, Harry is the muse. He looks like Archie. And I imagine Archie being similarly composed in interviews, smiley and coy and charming but also fairly reserved.

    AR: I remember working on this and watching clips of Harry doing interviews.

    KH: Didn’t we watch This Is Us around then too? In, like, ten-minute installments on YouTube?

    AR: We watched that too, yeah.

    KH: All that stuff helped get us in the zone to write this, without it being a formula we were following. What do you think it is about One Direction that inspired a wider range of people to get more involved in fanfic?

    AR: I think their down to earth vibe, from having started on a reality show, was a part of it. But also the internet let the community grow so enormously and quickly, and Wattpad was a part of that, and those are things we didn’t have when I was obsessed with *NSYNC, for example. It’s such a fun way to be proactive in your fandom. When you’re obsessed it’s, like, physically painful and not enough to just love it, you have to act on it. And fanfic lets you do that.

    KH: I think part of their fame and the fanfic is that people had unprecedented access to their lives. We had all their social media presences, and when they started they were much more active and authentic on them. They had all those videos of them huddled together on the stairs. There was an immense amount of non-performance video from them, and a lot of the Larry stuff came from that, seeing the dynamic between Harry and Louis. If all you have is music videos and performances, it’s much harder to witness or create those dynamics that form stories.

    AR: That access also let us see how kind Harry seemed to be to his fans, and so it was very easy to think ‘that could be me.’ I could see how it would be easy to imagine meeting him and then him being so nice.

    KH: The pictures of him hugging fans, they all look like that could be his girlfriend, because of how real the hugs are.

    AR: And in the Rolling Stone interview didn’t he defend his young female fans?

    KH: Yeah, I mean he has always been a vocal advocate for his young female fans. In that interview he talked about how they show up for you in a way that other demographics don’t. He makes it easy to love him.

    AR: And Archie is an homage to that.

    KH: I think Archie has a worse attitude. He’s been in the business longer and has gone through a period of having a bad attitude. Whereas Harry is just now setting out on his solo career, so we don’t really know much about what to expect as a solo performer and personality. But we’ll see! Because his album is out now.

    Public Relations is out now.

    The post Authors Katie Heaney and Arianna Rebolini Talk Public Relations appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Melissa Albert 7:05 pm on 2017/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , andrew lane, , Interviews, ,   

    Taking the Back Road to Writing: An Interview with Andrew Lane 

    Yesterday Andrew Lane’s Day of Ice hit the shelves, a a fast-paced follow-up to Dawn of Spies. The series is an update on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that finds the titular hero reimagined as a 17-year-old, recently escaped from the island he was marooned on. He’s recruited by undercover London spy organization Segment W, and is soon ascending the undercover ranks alongside a genderbent Friday. When Friday spies her dastardly father, who once made an attempt on her life, walking through the city, she and Crusoe set off to uncover his part in the nefarious workings of a secret society.

    The book was written in partnership with Adaptive Studios, which develops books based on unproduced screenplays—which they in turn hope to see adapted into films. Here’s author Lane to discuss writing, revising, and his working relationship with Adaptive Studios.

    What’s your writing background?

    I’d always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a small child. I used to tell my brother stories to get him off to sleep at night, and I used to make up stories continuing on films that I’d seen on TV. Later I wrote a whole load of fan stories based on the British TV series Doctor Who for various fanzines. At the time, in British further education, I couldn’t do a graduate degree in creative writing, so I did physics instead (odd choice, I know, but…). After university I got a full-time job working as a scientist for the British Ministry of Defence, but when Virgin Books in the UK got the license to do original Doctor Who novels I jumped at the chance. Virgin liked what I submitted, and so I started working with them. I then used that opportunity to broaden my writing career into other areas, and three years ago I went freelance as a full-time writer. It’s a pretty unique way of getting into writing, and I wouldn’t recommend that anybody tries to replicate it…

    How did your relationship with Adaptive begin?

    Very simply, Adaptive read my Young Sherlock Holmes novels and decided I would be ideal for writing the Crusoe series, which they already had in mind. I think it was because of my experience in writing historical thrillers for the YA market, and not my winning personality. They approached me through my agent, I did a little bit of work for free, generating some ideas they liked based on their original proposal, and we came to an agreement about me writing a trilogy for them.

    What’s your process like, and how long did it take you to write the manuscript?

    I tend to start work late in the afternoon (I’m an evening person) and write in one-hour bursts, with a break for a cup of tea and some Facebook time in between. I stop sometime before midnight and then catch up on any TV or DVDs that are on my list to watch. Doing that, the whole book took about four months to write.

    What did you read or watch to get inspired to take on this project?

    I did a lot of research on the actual facts. I downloaded a lot of stuff Daniel Defoe had written onto my ereader, then bought various books from my local bookshops on what life was like in the court of King Charles II, what people ate and the way they lived in the late 1600s, what ships were like and, specifically, what coffee houses were like in that period, as that’s where people got together and discussed things.

    What was your familiarity with Robinson Crusoe before you took on the project?

    Tragically, and rather embarrassingly, I’d never read the Defoe original (having looked at it now, it and its sequels are rather stodgy). My main familiarity with the story was a European TV series that was shown, dubbed, on UK TV back in the late 1960s. It had the most haunting theme tune—I can still remember it now.

    Books published by Adaptive will ultimately be turned into TV series or movies. Did that affect the way you approached the project?

    I tried not to let it affect me—I just wanted to tell a really good, thrilling story with interesting characters. Having said that, I did try not to put in stuff that couldn’t be filmed. Of course, these days almost anything can be filmed, using computer graphics.

    What was the revision process like?

    Very simple. I try my best to deliver a manuscript that needs as little revision as possible—it’s polite, if nothing else—and I think the majority of Adaptive’s editorial comments were to do with the potential film or TV version: making sure the narrative line was clear, the characters had an obvious arc, and so on. Oh, and there was the standard “taking it out of the British passive voice and replacing it with American active voice,” so, saying “Crusoe entered the room just as the chair exploded” rather than “Crusoe was entering the room when the chair exploded.” That’s an example I’ve just invented, by the way. There are no exploding chairs in the books. Not yet, anyway…

    How did writing for Adaptive differ from working on your other novels or projects?

    Honestly, it was exactly the same. There’s some initial group discussion on things like characters, locations, and themes, then I go away for a while and work alone, then there are some more group discussions on how close I got to the bullseye. Probably more phone conferences and fewer long emails, but the principle was the same.

    If you had to write a logline for your life thus far, how would it go?

    “He thought his life was going to be simple and straightforward. He was wrong.”

    Day of Ice and Dawn of Spies are on sale now.

    The post Taking the Back Road to Writing: An Interview with Andrew Lane appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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