Category Archives: Narrative Nonfiction

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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Excuses, Excuses: A Reason to Write

Posted by May 7th, 2014

Once I Was CoolAuthor Megan Stielstra’s forthcoming collection of personal essays, ONCE I WAS COOL, was named one of Time Out Chicago’s Most Anticipated of 2014. In addition to being an incredible storyteller, Megan is one of those people whose no-nonsense approach to writing inspires me. I asked her to share the excuses she has not to write — and how and why she still manages to get the work done. -BKL.

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I have a thousand excuses not to write. They are, at best, predictable, and at worst, ridiculous: my house is gross. I have to prep for that work thing. I have to organize my Dropbox files. I have to organize my kitchen cabinets. My kitchen cabinets are gross. I am gross. I should take a shower. I should pluck my eyebrows. Why do I have to pluck my eyebrows? What subliminal societal conditioning is responsible for this desperate need to pluck? I should write about that. I should make a list of things to write about. I should make a list of things to buy at Target. I should make a list of things I have to do: work, home, writing, deadlines, deadlines, deadlines and now I’m freaking out. I need to calm down. I’ll watch an episode of Broad City, that’ll calm me down. Just one episode. Okay, two. After three, I’m done. Then I’ll write. Then. Okay, now I’m too tired to write. I’ll write tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow.

Sound familiar? Continue reading

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In Another World: A Writing Residency in Antarctica with Jynne Martin

Posted by March 14th, 2014

I’ve been obsessed with Antarctica since I was a child: it represented a colossal, prismatic space of mystery and unanswered questions, the final wilderness on our planet, where men wearing ill-fitting reindeer skins took teams of sled dogs over glaciers for years at a time, through miserable conditions that are beyond imagination. So when I learned the National Science Foundation offered an Antarctica Artists and Writers Residency, I immediately applied. The NSF selects one or two artists or writers from any discipline – filmmaking, puppetry, painting, photography and poetry, to name just a few – to travel to Antarctica during the austral summer and embed with science teams.

The application process is rigorous, requiring extensive research about the existing science on the continent, permission from any field team that you propose to embed with, and justification of why your art requires a trip to Antarctica. I contacted four different field teams that work with Antarctic animals: from the largest animals, the seals, down to the smallest, the soil microbes. I wanted to spend weeks immersed in the vernacular of the scientists, and to better understand how these myriad animals had adapted to not just survive, but thrive, in the most strange and barren circumstances, and to write poetry and nonfiction about these experiences.

Jynne Martin Penguins

Jynne observes penguins in their natural habitat.

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Family Histories: Writing Memoir with Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

Posted by December 5th, 2013

December is when writers are surrounded by rhetoric about family. For our Book Country Author Q&A this week, I wanted to talk to Spiegel & Grau author Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, whose book I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES is one of the best books I’ve read this year. A stunning blend of political intrigue, intimate romance, and drily funny commentary on the central European upper classes of a bygone era, Szegedy-Maszak’s book delves into her own family’s rich history. The author is a descendant of an important and wealthy Jewish aristocratic family who’d traded their lives for safe passage into neutral Portugal during World War II. Her father, who served in the Hungarian foreign ministry, was interned as a political prisoner at Dachau, where he very nearly died of typhus. With painstaking journalistic skill, Szegedy-Maszak pieces together an incredible true story of survival, ultimately revealing the truth of how her own quiet childhood in America, with Sunday mass and Girl Scout camping trips, was the result of extraordinary twists of fate.I KISS YOUR HANDS MANY TIMES

As an aspirational memoirist myself, I was blown away by the elegance of Szegedy-Maszak’s prose, as well as her ability to weave historical detail and idiosyncratic family lore into her narrative so smoothly. Below, I asked her to fill us in on how she brought this writing project to life.

LS: It seems like the amount of detail in this book would be difficult to pull off in such an engaging way, but you did it with effortless warmth. Do you have any tips for other writers contending with such a large amount of facts, dates, and names?

MSK: Of course my first response is one of gratitude for both noticing the historical heft and appreciating the way it was integrated into the more personal story. As compelling as I found my family’s story, I also realized that it couldn’t be really understood without the broader context of the world they inhabited and the history they took for granted, the history that shaped them. I suppose that this is where the journalist in me stepped in and took charge. I needed to report this story as I would any big magazine piece and marshal the history, the documents, newspaper clippings from the time, the interviews with others who were either experts or eyewitnesses, and of course the mass of secondary sources dealing with this period. I would like to say that I had a sophisticated computer system in which each bit of information was at my fingertips, but I am still stuck with the need to look at paper. So I had a very unsophisticated but extremely practical system of dividing everything chronologically, putting whatever I had in file folders labeled with each month. When I was ready to write, each file folder contained a great combination of the history and the letters my parents wrote, and the letters that were written to them. Somehow the integration of the personal and the historical had already happened within that file in a rudimentary way.

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