Category Archives: Memoir

BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert: Inspiration + Galley Giveaway

Posted by September 16th, 2015

Elizabeth Gilbert, the hugely popular author of the mega-bestseller Eat Pray Love and other literary fiction and memoir titles, is back this fall with an incredible new book about creativity. The new book is called BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear and we could *not* be more excited for it to go on sale next Tuesday, September 22.

BIG MAGIC cover

To celebrate BIG MAGIC, Book Country is giving away five galleys of the book. You can enter the galley giveaway here.

All summer, Elizabeth Gilbert has been stoking the conversation about creativity on her Facebook page with beautiful inspirational quotes (our favorites are below) and on her awesome podcast, Magic Lessons, which features writers like Ann Patchett, Rob Bell, Cheryl Strayed, and others offering advice for how to keep that creative fire burning. You’ll be itching to get back to your WIP after just one episode.

Click through each of these images to share them on your own Facebook wall.

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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A WRITER: Marisa Acocella Marchetto

Posted by September 1st, 2015

Kicking off a new blog series here on Book Country is the celebrated New Yorker cartoonist and graphic novelist Marisa Acocella Marchetto. Marisa’s 2006 book, Cancer Vixen, was a huge critical success, and today her new graphic novel, ANN TENNA, comes out from our friends at Knopf. Kirkus Reviews said of ANN TENNA: “Zany with a touch of uplifting. You will be measurably hipper after reading it.” Marisa’s husband, Silvano Marchetto, is also the owner of the trendy restaurant Da Silvano here in NYC. Below she gives us a slice of a typical day in her busy writing life.

7:11am

fridge editedI got up and went to grab the one thing I need to finish my cartoons today, and GAH! No coffee. I need it just as much as I need my fine line Black Sharpie pen to rough out my cartoons.

7:35am

acocello desk editedAfter a trip to Jack’s down the street, I got back to the drawing board. (I have a new book, ANN TENNA, coming out. Look for subtle product placement throughout this post.) Continue reading

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What Is a Developmental Edit?

Posted by August 24th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-508609021Our guest blogger this morning is editor Christina Henry de Tessan of Girl Friday Productions, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s San Francisco Writers Conference. She’s here today to break down the nuances of the term “developmental edit,” something you’ve likely heard as you make your way from being a writer to being an author.

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Editing can serve as something of a catchall term that can refer to anything from tinkering with semicolons to removing entire characters or plot threads. This nebulousness can make it confusing to know what you’re even asking for when you’re in search of editorial help. In an effort to make the entire undertaking less opaque—and hopefully less daunting—here are some insights into that crucial first stage in the editorial process: the developmental edit.

Fiction

Character: For fiction, character is paramount. Your characters can be lovable, flawed, complicated, even loathsome, but no matter what, you’ve got to make us care about them. Do we see their vulnerable underbellies and darkest thoughts? Or are you keeping your characters at arm’s length? Does your main character have enough nuance to keep us interested, or is he/she falling flat or being a bit too predictable in places? Does your protagonist evolve over the course of the story? Do the characters feel real? Do we feel invested in their trajectories? Developmental editors are here to make sure your readers are compelled to hang out with your characters until the very last page.

Plot, pacing, and structure: Does the story feel rushed? Are you doling out information in a way that leaves us wanting to turn the page? Or does it drag right at the moment when we want resolution? Is there enough tension? Is the lush setting or history of the time period eclipsing the main plot? Are there awkward information dumps that could be woven in more naturally? Are there any holes? Are you making any problematic leaps in logic? This can seem obvious, but if you’ve worked on numerous drafts of a book, old material may no longer make sense with more recently added material.

Style: Although a developmental edit doesn’t usually focus extensively on the line (sentence structure, repetition of words or phrases, and so on), a dev editor will point out stylistic issues. One that comes up a lot is the classic “Show, Don’t Tell” edict. Writers will often do a fabulous job of showing and then undermine their own great storytelling by telling just to make sure they got their point across. So if young Rose blushes and averts her gaze when the boy she has a crush on approaches her, you don’t need to then tell us explicitly that she felt nervous. The dev editor is there to tell you that your scene can stand on its own two feet—and if it needs extra support, your editor will suggest fixes. Your dev editor will also look at voice and tone—is your dialogue sounding genuine or stilted? Do all the characters sound the same? Does their word choice accurately reflect who they are?

Memoir

With memoir, a developmental edit can be particularly helpful, as it is sometimes difficult for writers to transform their life story into a cohesive narrative comprised of discrete scenes. How do you choose what to tell and what not to? How do you integrate crucial background information in a way that feels seamless? Perhaps most importantly, how do you nail the voice from the very first page so that the reader is drawn into your story?

Nonfiction

Nonfiction is a bit of a different beast. If you’ve written a book on finance, character development is not your primary concern, and ensuring that the plot thickens at just the right moment isn’t relevant. But a developmental editor can work other kinds of magic with nonfiction. Below are some of the most frequent issues that come up with nonfiction.

Audience: It’s imperative that you know who you’re writing for. But this can be surprisingly tricky when you’re an expert on the subject—after all, when you think about financial planning all day long, it can be hard to see what a novice might not know. A good dev editor can hone your language to make it appropriate for your target audience, using the right level of vocabulary and making the right assumptions about your readers’ background knowledge. Have you assumed a level of understanding of reverse mortgages that will leave your readers flummoxed? Your editor will be the one to point that out.

Organization: When you’re a subject-matter expert, it can be hard to see your material from an outside perspective. You’re so deeply immersed in it that it can be difficult to present your argument in a logical fashion. Who is picking up your book, and what do they hope to get out of it? Have you organized your material in such a way that each section builds on the last? Does it give enough foundational information at the outset? Or have you bogged it down with too much background before getting to your message? A developmental editor will point out the holes and ensure that there is continuity so that your readers never once furrow their eyebrows in confusion.

A good developmental editor is like some hybrid of a detective and a psychologist, sniffing out problems and proposing solutions so that you can polish and hone before putting your beloved manuscript in front of a wider audience. In short, we hope you’ll think of us as your secret weapon.

Christina Henry de TessanAbout Christina Henry de Tessan

Christina Henry de Tessan is the vice president of editorial at Girl Friday Productions, a full-service editorial firm headquartered in Seattle. Formerly of Chronicle Books and Seal Press, she’s also the author of several travel books, including Forever Paris and Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad.

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Domenica Ruta quote: “Humor is a real emotion…”

Posted by July 24th, 2015

Domenica Ruta quote

Domenica Ruta quote

Read more wisdom from memoir writer Domenica Ruta here.

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Get to Know Biographile!

Posted by December 9th, 2014

Biographile

Joe Muscolino, head staffer at Penguin Random House’s Biographile, recommends these five pieces for Book Country writers.

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Good Prose Month: Advice From a VP Executive Managing Editor and Copy Chief, From A to X

Here, as part of our month-long “Good Prose Month” series, the Copy Chief of Random House provides a fascinating collection of obscure and playful writing distinctions, from A(ntiques) to X(-ray). Continue reading

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Book Country Sponsors Slice Literary Writers’ Conference

Posted by August 26th, 2014

I’m excited to introduce the Book Country community to Maria Gagliano and Celia Johnson. They are the cofounders of Slice Magazine, a literary magazine dedicated to connecting emerging writers of poetry, literary fiction, and narrative nonfiction with one another. The Slice Literary Writers’ Conference continues that mission with two days of programming dedicated to illuminating craft and publishing topics. Book Country has signed on to be a sponsor of this year’s conference because we admire their mission of helping writers find their audience.Slice Literary Writers' Conference

Our sponsorship includes a scholarship for one MFA student to attend the conference this year. We’re excited to tell you more about that scholarship recipient in a future post. In the meantime, I wanted to give Maria and Celia a chance to tell you why they began doing this incredible event, and why you should keep this conference on your radar.

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We’re excited to host Slice magazine’s fourth annual writers’ conference in Brooklyn on September 6 and 7. My Slice co-founder Celia Johnson and I started Slice eight years ago as a print literary magazine dedicated to helping emerging writers find an audience for their work. In that time, an amazing community of writers, readers, and publishing professionals have rallied around Slice’s mission, working together to foster the next generation of great writers. Continue reading

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The Extroverted Writer: An Interview with Ayelet Waldman

Posted by May 1st, 2014

Today’s blog guest is one of my absolute favorite writers: Ayelet Waldman. Ayelet and I have crossed paths many times over the years. An author of acclaimed fiction, memoir, and cozy mysteries, I’ve been following her exciting body of work for the last decade, always eager to see what she’ll do next. Her new book is LOVE & TREASURE, a heady mix of Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Mystery, and Historical Fiction set partially in Hungary, a place I love to read about. Read on for Ayelet’s singular take on the writer’s life.ayelet-waldman-love-and-treasure-2501

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LS: LOVE & TREASURE is a novel in 3 parts, each functioning almost like a novella. Why did you structure the story the way you did?

AW: You said the dreaded word, “Novella!” No! No! No!

Kidding.

Sort of.

Not really.

The truth was that I had the structure before I had the novel. I fell in love with three-story structure first when reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham, then in Three Junes by Julia Glass. I read them when I first started taking the project of writing seriously, when I had emerged from my apprenticeship writing light-hearted mysteries, and had started to imagine trying something more ambitious. Those two books gave me a deep appreciation both of structure, and of the importance of theme in creating the world of a novel. They taught me that what is true and real about a story can transcend even characters. That’s a terrifying thing to contemplate, in a way. That what we care about in a novel can be something deeper even than the people in it, that our commitment to the story can survive the disappearance of characters we are invested in and care about. Continue reading

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The Truth About Connecting Online: Tips for Book Country Writers from Amy Webb

Posted by March 25th, 2014

DATA A Love Story coverThe awful truth about connecting with strangers online is that it’s hard. Plume Books author Amy Webb wrote a hilariously honest book about just what a huge task it was to try to find a husband online: The memoir is called DATA: A Love Story, and it combines two things Book Country is highly engaged in: understanding what drives people to connect online, and of course, great writing!

Brandi and I both loved the book and wanted to hear more from Amy, who’s not just a top-notch nonfiction writer but also a brilliant digital media strategist (and a now-happily married wife and mom).

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Lucy Silag: Did you start writing DATA: A Love Story by drafting, or did you come up with a nonfiction book proposal? How did you organize yourself in terms of writing chapters, meeting publisher deadlines, and revising?

Amy Webb: I was very fortunate to have worked with Sam Freedman when I was a student in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Sam teaches a class that he hand-picks. It involves an audition, an interview and a lot of writing — that’s before the semester begins. The purpose of the class is to work on longform narrative nonfiction, and part of that process involves learning how to write a compelling book proposal. So in terms of my process, I followed what I learned in his class. I started out as a journalist, and while reporting and writing is something that I still enjoy doing, developing a book wasn’t necessarily in my 2012 client calendar. I had to essentially treat the book as a project and schedule out the time for it.

I’ve always worked from extremely detailed outlines. I started with a map of the basic elements of the book, then filled that in and had a final outline that was more than 200 pages long. I’ve found that for me, if I do the right kind of thinking in advance, putting together the story in writing is a lot easier. I kept an elaborate spreadsheet in Google docs, and I shared my work schedule with my editor, the marketing team at Penguin and my husband. So once I knew what my deadline was, I plugged the work into the spreadsheet. I wanted my editor to read and comment on the detailed outline before I sat down to write the book — it would be better to make any structural changes earlier in the process, rather than after handing in a finished 400-page draft. Many of the revisions therefore happened during the detailed outline.

I’m not one of those people who can sit down and wait for the words to come. I’m also not satisfied with getting one great page done a day. I work best with deadlines and structure, even if both are totally self-imposed.

LS: In your memoir you were candid about taboos like cigarette smoking, which a lot of readers might not relate to.  Were you ever tempted to avoid details that might turn people off? Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Isabell T. McAren

Posted by March 24th, 2014

IsabellToday we’re chatting with community member Isabell T. McAren. Isabell joined the community during NaNoWriMo and has been a fixture on the discussion forums ever since. Below we ask her questions about her writing projects on the site — the memoir BECOMING IN BOQUETE and the YA time traveling adventure RIFTERS

Read on to get Isabell’s inspiring advice about learning to accept harsh feedback!

NG: Welcome to our spotlight, Isabell. Go ahead and describe yourself as a writer in one sentence!

ITM: I am an eclectic writer who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre!

NG: You’ve self-published a memoir called BECOMING IN BOQUETE. What’s the biggest lesson you learned about yourself as a writer from that publishing experience?

ITM: I learned that it’s important for me to just finish a project and let it go, in order to allow space for the next story to flow through. Previously I’d wasted a decade obsessing over my first novel, because I stubbornly believed that the end goal of writing was to be traditionally published. Self-publishing is empowering because you don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval to put yourself out there. Also, once I gave myself permission to just write for the pure joy of it instead of trying to become rich and famous, my writing improved immensely.

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Publishing a Memoir: “I Wanted It So Much It Hurt” by Ingrid Ricks, author of HIPPIE BOY

Posted by March 21st, 2014

HIPPIE BOYI’d dreamed of writing and publishing a memoir for years. I wanted it so much it hurt. But though I dabbled on the manuscript, titled HIPPIE BOY, from time to time, I was full of excuses for why I couldn’t devote the necessary time to it. I told myself it wasn’t the responsible thing to do—not when my marketing business was so much more certain and lucrative, and when I had two young daughters to care for.

Then, in early 2004, I walked into an eye doctor’s office for the first time in my life expecting to walk out with a cute pair of red cat-eye frames—only to learn I suffered from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease that had already stole my night vision, was eating away at my peripheral vision, and would likely leave me completely blind.

In the terrifying, soul-searching weeks that followed, I suddenly began to understand the importance of embracing the present. As I pondered a future without eyesight, it occurred me to that no one is immune to death or disease, that all any of us has for certain is now, and that I’d better make NOW count.

It was the jolt I needed to start enrolling in creative writing classes and get involved with critique groups. But I still struggled to step back from the marketing business that was consuming my time. It took my daughters, the ones I was trying to be responsible for, to give me the final push I needed.

One evening in late November 2009, the two of them were goofing around and decided to do a parody of me as an old woman. They hunched over and pretended to be walking with a cane. Then, in the most decrepit, ancient voices they could muster, they both yelled in unison, “My book, my book, I have to finish my book.” Continue reading

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