Tag Archives: writer

1 Weird Trick For Creativity by Adam J. Kurtz

Posted by October 28th, 2014

1 page at a time We’re happy to have Adam J. Kurtz on the Book Country blog! Adam is the author of 1 PAGE AT A TIME : A Daily Creative Companion, published by Perigee Books. With NaNoWriMo 2014 coming up, we all need a boost of creativity! You can download a free page from the book at adamjkurtz.com

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Many people struggle to be creative. We see creative people and their work around us and compare ourselves. We don’t know how to be creative, or worse, we did once, and now we’re feeling blocked, bored or unsure.  Tired of this happening to you? 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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The Rules of the Environment: World Building with Five Senses by FATES author Lanie Bross

Posted by March 5th, 2014

Lanie BrossI’m thrilled to be blogging for Book Country today about one of my favorite subjects: world building!

One of the greatest challenges in writing paranormal and fantasy fiction is crafting a setting that feels real, even if all of the rules we normally abide by are turned inside out. Writers trust their readers to willingly suspend their disbelief and accept the truths that the prose give them, but this trust isn’t freely given—writers must earn it. Think of your favorite world building writers and try to recall what they did to build an environment that was so completely different from our own, yet so easily imaginable.

Some of my favorite writers capitalize on familiar objects, identities, and themes, which they use as the foundation for their fantastical world(s). For example, JK Rowling takes human experiences and puts a metaphorical twist on them: Dementors and Boggarts represent fear; Physical markings like scars and Dark Marks represent power; and even the names of the characters are scrambled from words and sayings we all recognize–like Voldemort, which means “Flee from death,” or “Remus Lupin,” which is a combination of Wolf and Moon. By creating metaphors out of the ordinary and familiar, JK Rowling gently leads the reader into her magical world, slowly introducing magical elements, until eventually all that is left is fantasy. One of the greatest lessons we can learn from her craft is that every world, no matter how extraordinary, fantastical, or magical, is conceivable via the human imagination. Continue reading

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Supporting your writing community: Be a fan!

Posted by February 19th, 2014

The most common question Book Country members ask me is: “How can I get people to read my book?”

be a fan

In the spirit of the 2014 Winter Olympics, I wanted to pose a challenge to the Book Country community. What would happen if we, as writers, embraced the fandom of authors as readily as fans worldwide embrace the Olympic Games?

Here are three ways to start:

1.    Go to readings at your local bookstore.

There’s no better way to see book publicity in action, and it’s a great chance to ask the author your questions about the process of completing a book and finding a publisher. And being a bookstore “regular” is a great way to learn about how books are marketed and sold in your community. (I’ve attended approximately 3 million author signings in my life, and still I learn something new about writing and publishing at every single event.)

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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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Re-imagining the World of Elizabeth Bennet: Jo Baker’s Historical Novel LONGBOURN

Posted by October 3rd, 2013

One of the books I’ve been most looking forward to reading this fall is Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN, coming out on October 8th from Alfred A. Knopf. LONGBOURN is a historical re-imagining of Elizabeth Bennet’s family (from Jane Austen’s revered novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), as seen from the point of view of the Bennets’ servants. I rabidly consume any and all Austen adaptations, and if I am a sucker for any trend in pop culture, it is the whole “upstairs-downstairs” dynamic of BBC/PBS shows like Downtown Abbey and (you guessed it!) Upstairs Downstairs. (Recent fiction has capitalized gorgeously on these themes, with excellent novels like MAISIE DOBBS, FEVER, and THE HELP.) Longbourn cover

I wrote to the Knopf publicity department to find out more about this book and Jo Baker’s inspiration behind it. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A the Knopf team prepared for their media outreach for LONGBOURN. I wanted to highlight this book and author for Book Country members eager to delve into the past as inspiration for their fiction–Baker’s willingness to engage with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’s implicit class divide was, to me, quite courageous and refreshing. Read on to see how these themes informed her work.

Knopf Publicity: Was there a specific incident that inspired you to write this book?

JB: As a child, reading Jane Austen, I became aware that if I’d been living at the time, I wouldn’t have got to go to the ball. I would’ve been stuck at home, with the housework. We’ve got some battered old silver cutlery at home, which we inherited from my great aunt. She and her sisters had been in service, and she always said the silverware was a gift from her employer when she left—my grandmother maintained, however, that she’d nicked it. Just a couple of generations back, my family were servants. And so once I was aware of that – of that English class thing – PRIDE AND PREJUDICE began to read a little differently. I noticed other presences. A footman enters, a housemaid is told to run along and do something. I also began to realize that some things that seemed to just “happen”– notes arriving, carriages being brought round, meals being served – would of course require human agency to make them occur. I became fascinated by these little flickers of activity: I started to see a whole other life going on below the surface of the book.

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What Could Have Been: Re-writing History with Jillian Cantor, author of MARGOT

Posted by October 2nd, 2013

MARGOT, a recent Riverhead book by Jillian Cantor, is a historical re-imagining of the life of Margot Frank, the older sister to the world-famous diarist, Anne Frank. Although the sisters died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, in Cantor’s MARGOT, the elder Frank sister escapes the Nazis and begins a new life in America. No one knows her past and she plans to keep it that way — until the movie version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” debuts in theatres and Margot must confront what she thought she left behind.

Margot cover“Writers of historical fiction worry about getting the facts right, especially when they are writing about real life figures,” Brandi said to me during a conversation we had about this book. “What struck me about Jillian Cantor’s book is how she was able to use historical fiction ” to carve out a world that I wish could have been reality.”

As writers, what’s the takeaway from a book like MARGOT, besides, of course, a compelling read from a young breakout author? For us at Book Country, it serves as an inspiring example of the power of historical fiction: “You can’t change the past,” Brandi says. “But as a writer, you can.” Margot’s fictional experiences as an immigrant to the US also underscore the value of writing a well-known history from a creative angle, which allows a writer to accomplish much more than a straight retelling–it’s also “a retort” to what we think we already know.

In the following essay, Cantor explains why she felt pulled to write about Margot, and the greater themes she was able to write about using Margot as her main character.

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Writing Historical Mystery: Research, Setting, Plot, and Character Development with Author Luke McCallin

Posted by September 26th, 2013

The_Man_From_Berlin_cover Luke McCallin’s debut mystery novel, THE MAN FROM BERLIN, is a deep dive into the shadowy world of the Nazi occupational police forces in Sarajevo in World War II. The story, the first in a series, introduces us to Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a classic lone wolf investigator up against incredible institutional odds: No one–from the higher echelons of the Nazi war machine to the local police force–wants the truth about the grisly murder of a top Nazi officer and a politically active local journalist to come out. I chatted with the author about writing historical mystery: his research process, plotting strategies, and the ways he made his complicated setting easily accessible to the reader.

LS: What was it about Sarajevo that made it such a compelling area to write about? Did you have a formal research process as you wrote?

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Alys Arden

Posted by September 23rd, 2013

alysarden_bookcountryAlys Arden is a Book Country writer from New Orleans. We first came across Alys’s young adult paranormal novel-in-progress THE CASQUETTE GIRLS a few months ago, and it was the first book Lucy reviewed when she joined us in July! We wanted to catch up with Alys and learn more about the inspiration behind her young adult book.

NG: Thank you for joining us. How did you become a writer?

AA: I made a 2012 New Year’s resolution, never thinking that anything would come of it other than a bunch on fancy to-do lists. But once I started writing, it kind of became an addiction, like going to the gym can be if you can just manage the pain of the first couple of weeks.

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Young Adult Contemporary Guidepost #2: Love Stories

Posted by August 23rd, 2013

YA Contemporary Guidepost #2 Love Stories

As the second in a series of Guideposts for Writing Young Adult Contemporary fiction, we’re thinking about that old YA standby: the teen romance. Should your book have one or not?

Put a Little Love in Your Book

It’s extremely hard to think of a YA book in any literary category that doesn’t have some element of romance. Romance might not be the central theme, but it’s a good anchor in almost any story. For example, THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares is about the friendship (and those magical pants). But of the four main characters in the book, three of them have a love interest. One of the most effective ways Ann Brashares illustrates the depth of the sisterhood is by showing us how the characters soothe each other’s romantic anxieties and heartbreaks, as well as celebrate when the others find love. Even books that are relatively “Gender”-less usually explore the theme of love: Stephen Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (which is, by the way, our inaugural #BCReadalong), EVERY DAY by David Levithan, and PARANOID PARK by Blake Nelson are all welcome books that shows us the complexities of teen life—and love—from a guy’s perspective.

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