Monday, June 19, 2017

My First Time: Anne Corlett

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Anne Corlett, author of the new debut novel The Space Between the Stars. She lives in a village near Bath in southwest England with her partner and three young sons. Her short fiction has been published in various magazines and anthologies, and she is currently working on a second novel.

My First Time Reading in Public

Before I was a writer, I was a criminal lawyer.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I always wrote, from first being able to hold a pen, and by my late teens, I was certain that I’d finish up working as a writer, or in publishing, but somewhere along the way I got distracted and became a lawyer.

I’m still not quite sure how that happened.

By the time I started taking my writing seriously again, I had ten years as a criminal lawyer and High Court Advocate under my belt. Over that decade, I stood up and talked in front of judges, juries, defendants and their families, fellow lawyers, the press, and members of the public. After the first couple of hearings, I don’t remember ever finding it particularly difficult or nerve-racking. So when I got the news that an extract from my first novel, Telemachus, had been selected for the “Friday Night Live” final at the York Festival of Writing, I was fairly blasé about that side of things.

I read through my piece a couple of times, smoothing out a few clunky sentences, and getting a sense of the rhythm and shape of the extract. I tried out the dialogue, and came to the reluctant but sensible conclusion that I could not do voices, and should probably stick to just reading it straight. But overall, I was fairly comfortable with the idea of reading in public.

Then someone suggested that I video myself, to see how I sounded, and to work out if I needed to slow down or speak up, or vary my pitch or pace a bit more. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea, so I propped up my camera on the mantelpiece, hit record, sprinted back to the other side of the room, and launched into my reading. It went fairly well, I thought.

And then I played the footage back.

On viewing it, I was immediately hurled into a state of complete and utter panic. I appeared to have a whole host of nervous twitches and bad habits. I watched the video several times, with ever-growing horror. Had I been gurning and fidgeting my way around the courts of London for the last ten years? Was I notorious in the judges’ corridors as “that one who flicks her papers back and forward with her thumb and touches her face every three-and-a-half seconds”? Did I generally stand on one leg while addressing the bench? And what was I doing with my face?

This was the day before the festival. I spent the next few hours ruthlessly drilling myself out of all the bizarre habits, until I was confident that I could deliver a performance that wouldn’t have the audience making subtle “how much has she had to drink?” gestures at one another.

When I boarded the train the following day, I had started to feel fairly good about the forthcoming reading. Unfortunately, somewhere between London and York, I managed to put my neck out, and by the time I arrived at the festival, the only way I could look at anything to either side of me, was to rotate my entire body through ninety degrees, keeping my head and torso in strict alignment.

Whatever the opposite of an owl is, that’s what I looked like.

The evening came round, and with it, the gala dinner and Friday Night Live. I did my strange robot-like walk up onto the stage, apologized to the audience for appearing to ignore the very existence of ninety-nine percent of them, while staring at the one percent directly in front of me in a rather fixed and sinister manner, and somehow delivered a reasonably competent reading.

Well, I assume it was reasonably competent. My piece won the judges’ vote, although not the final audience verdict, and immediately afterwards (although not before I’d managed to hurl a large glass of wine down my throat), my now-agent, came and introduced herself. I don’t think I was making much sense by that point, but fortunately we had a meeting scheduled for the following day, where I was able to give a slightly more coherent account of myself. A few days later, after reading my full manuscript, she offered representation.

That novel garnered some interest, but ultimately no offers of publication. My second one did better, getting as far as an acquisitions meeting, before falling at the final hurdle. It was the third one that made it to the finish line. The Space Between the Stars has just been published by Berkley in the US, and Pan Macmillan in the UK.

The story of my first public reading isn’t a tale of overnight success. It took three-and-a-half years before I got that first yes from a publisher. There were smaller “firsts“ along the way–first short story acceptance, first competition win, first serious interest in one of my novels–but that Friday night at the York Festival was where it all started.

I never did work out whether I’d spent the best part of a decade standing on one leg in courts all over London. Someone would have told me.

Wouldn’t they?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

A good novelist does not lead his characters, he follows them. A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees. A good novelist realizes he is a secretary, not God.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Freebie: Fen by Daisy Johnson

Congratulations to Susan Dunlap, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison.

This week’s contest is for Fen by Daisy Johnson. Here’s what The Rumpus had to say about Johnson’s collection of stories: “As a reader, the world of Fen won’t leave you. That is Johnson’s power as a writer―she creates a dark, self-aware world that feels heavy and gray and covered in mist. In her universe, if you’re lonely, you can befriend a fish. Words don’t just cause emotional pain, but they form burns and welts. The ones you love can come back from the dead. To read Johnson’s stories is to live in dreams, at once both disturbing and comforting.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...

Daisy Johnson’s Fen, set in the fenlands of England, transmutes the flat, uncanny landscape into a rich, brooding atmosphere. From that territory grow stories that blend folklore and restless invention to turn out something entirely new. Amid the marshy paths of the fens, a teenager might starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl and grow jealous of her friend. A boy might return from the dead in the guise of a fox. Out beyond the confines of realism, the familiar instincts of sex and hunger blend with the shifting, unpredictable wild as the line between human and animal is effaced by myth and metamorphosis. With a fresh and utterly contemporary voice, Johnson lays bare these stories of women testing the limits of their power to create a startling work of fiction.

If you’d like a chance at winning Fen, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 22, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 23. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Marriage of Books: Sarah Moriarty’s Library

Reader:  Sarah Moriarty
Location:  Brooklyn, NY
Collection size:  About 700
The one book I'd run back into a burning building to rescue:  Timing a Century: A History of the Waltham Watch Company by Charles Moore. Moore, my maternal grandfather, wrote business histories. He was a weekend farmer, a devout Quaker, a disciplinarian, and died when my mother was just sixteen.
Favorite book from childhood:  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier or Seaward by Susan Cooper.
Guilty pleasure book:  Be Here Now by Ram Dass or The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (This combination summarizes my personality).

The first time I lived with a boyfriend I knew the relationship was over when I started writing my name in all my books. I had internalized the advice from When Harry Met Sally. Harry tells his newly cohabitating friends to do so in order to avoid inevitably spending a fortune at the firm of “that’s mine, this is yours.” Apparently, the home library of a couple is a barometer for their relationship.

Now I have been married for eleven years to a man I’ve known for two decades, and our collections are seamlessly merged. Of course, there are some obvious distinctions between our books, but that is the nature of our very different tastes. His run to mythology, sci-fi, nonfiction, Modernism, and Buddhism. I am all fiction, creative nonfiction, YA, yoga, parenting, Victorians, Feminism, and Sufism. We overlap most in poetry, and here our collection has no sides or margins or borders or divisions. My Anne Sexton mingles with his e.e. cummings. We have gotten rid of duplicate copies of The Rattle Bag, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Lowell.

There are so many books: books for work, for self-improvement, for career development, for laughs, for cries, uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, gifted books, books written by friends, books about friends, books about books. We settled on an organizational scheme that combines two approaches: the books are separated into categories—poetry, fiction, religion, parenting, writing, education, art, mythology, feminism, young adult, and travel. Each category is then organized by color.

In doing so, I’ve noticed some trends. Often male authors’ titles are in blacks and dark blues, as are the classics and the anthologies. Female authors, like their suffragette sisters, are often in white, along with all the galleys and ARCs (this parallel is a whole other post in and of itself). Many contemporary titles come in vibrant reds and yellows and multiple stripes (Meg Wolizter!). Then there are the horrible primary colors of parenting books, the large spines and looping letters of religion and self-help titles in creams and sepias. There are, interestingly, very few greens (some Sagas, Norse, of course). Also very few pink.

But my library isn’t just a portrait of my relationship (or our society’s perceptions of color), but also of my career. Right after college I moved from Boston to New York and began my internship at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. It was the final years of Roger Straus. The Corrections had come out the year before, and the paperback was released while I clipped articles from magazines for the publicity circulation. From my days in the mines of the publicity department of FSG, I absconded with some of my favorite books like Joseph Brodsky’s Nativity Poems, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and MFK Fisher’s Serve It Forth.

When I moved on to W.W. Norton and Company, I started to bring home books in earnest to build a collection and keep a record of those I had worked on, even in my peripheral capacity as an editorial assistant. So much flap copy. So many press releases. This explains the slew of galleys on my shelves. While working at Norton I got to meet Vikram Seth, the author of one of my all time favorite books. I was charged with meeting him in the lobby and bringing him up to the 16th floor. In the elevator I rambled on about The Golden Gate. He replied, “that was a long time ago,” by which I think he meant it was not at all the book I ought to be rambling about. The elevator sped on until I realized we had passed our floor. In my fan girl blather I had forgotten to press the button.

Over time I became devoted to other Norton authors like Alice Fulton, Ann Hood, Audre Lorde, and Nick Flynn. Reading these authors convinced me that I needed to be on the other side of the desk and relieved of any public relations responsibilities.

Even the shelves of these great publishing houses paled in comparison to a place I acquired many of my books: the Saint Ann’s School book room. Yes, the pubescent Lena Dunhams of the world have some seriously good book stock. A school that focuses on classic books has all the heavy hitters I had ever meant to read in the bowels of their school basement between the boiler room and the woodshop. I wasn’t sure if I was dizzy and overheated from the joy of being surrounded by the great tomes of literature, or from the poorly ventilated boiler fumes. It was the kind of empty, silent place where probably a murderer was waiting for me around the stacks, but I didn’t care because I was already carrying more books than I could possibly bring home on the subway.

There I truly indulged my obsession with YA books and my devotion to classics: Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Boy, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Annie John, and oh so much Shakespeare. Every few weeks I brought home another armload under the guise of “research” and “context.” These books now form a substantial section of my teaching library.

My own YA section is sacrosanct, still devoted to those precious volumes I read when I was young, which hold all the joy of true escape: summer reading. These books—Watership DownThe Dark is Rising series; The Diamond in the Window; The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring; Jacob Have I Loved; The Book of Three series—fueled my obsession with imagery, narrative depth, and complex characters. These are not just books, but talismans. They have given me power and solace. I think that is what all books are meant to do.

Sarah Moriarty is the author of the new novel North Haven, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and various fauna.

My Library is an intimate look at personal book collections.  Readers are encouraged to send high-resolution photos of their home libraries or bookshelves, along with a description of particular shelving challenges, quirks in sorting (alphabetically? by color?), number of books in the collection, and particular titles which are in the To-Be-Read pile.  Email for more information.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Trailer Park Tuesday: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

       “If there was a murder, then there was a murderer. The murderer is with us...and every one of you is a suspect.”
       “And who are you?”
       “My name is Hercule Poirot, and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.”

That’s right, my little grey cells, the Belgian puzzle-solver is back on the big screen. By my reckoning, the last theatrical release featuring Agatha Christie’s beloved creation was 1988’s Appointment With Death, starring Peter Ustinov. We’re long overdue for a big, splashy Hollywood production—the kind they used to make in the 1960s and 70s where the lobby posters featured the faces of nearly-overripe actors just one disappointing opening weekend away from guest starring on The Love Boat. In the interim, of course, H. P. has been doing plenty of sleuthing on the small screen—most admirably by David Suchet, who sets such a high standard for the character that it will be hard to topple him from that pedestal. If anyone can refresh Poirot, however, it is “probably the greatest actor in the world,” Mr. Kenneth Branagh. As we see in this terrific trailer for the new movie version of Christie’s 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh not only has the accent down—not too thick, not too thin—but his upper lip also bears those famous “moustaches,” here in fuller bloom than we’ve seen before. Just as in the 1974 theatrical release (starring the Oscar-nominated Albert Finney), the 2017 movie is stuffed with an all-star cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi and Josh Gad. I can’t wait to climb aboard and start gathering clues when the Orient Express leaves the station in November.

Trailer Park Tuesday is a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My First Time: Sarah Moriarty

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Sarah Moriarty, author of the new novel North Haven. Sarah received her MFA from The New School and has worked as a writer and editor for A Child Grows in Brooklyn, What to Expect, and Lost magazine, among other digital publications. She taught writing and literature at the College of Staten Island and Saint Ann’s School, where she strived to prove to her students, and herself, that writing is worth the work. Sarah lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

My First Residency

In 2008 I arrived at the Vermont Studio Center with a good idea and forty pages. On the wall of my studio I tacked a piece of paper where I hurriedly wrote in all capitals, “NO FEAR, NO EXPECTATIONS, NO JUDGEMENT.” Only I misspelled judgment. It took everything I had to leave that paper there and not edit out the extra E.

To call Johnson, Vermont a hamlet would only be appropriate if I were a 19th-century aristocrat or a real estate agent. But it is picturesque: the church with its broken clock tower; the old, red mill building that is the heart of the Studio Center; the coffee shop in the first floor of an old Victorian where you can sit on the porch with its scroll-work trim and drink coffee from mismatched mugs. The bookstore is a small, brick colonial house on the corner of the one of the only intersections in town, where we all dream of having our books one day. It is the kind of town that feels tucked in, houses close, but hidden behind copses. The yoga studio is in a converted barn (of course), the mediation cottage at the Studio Center was once a chicken coop. Instead of calming the monkey-mind you must subdue your inner clucking.

At the other end of the spectrum is the strip mall with the grocery store and the laundromat, the abandoned school that looks like it should be the set of a horror movie. The studio center has multiple buildings, one an ancient clapboard house with a cupola, which is clearly haunted by the long-dead factory workers who slowly suffocated in their sleep from inhaling too many cotton fibers. Other buildings are newer like the drawing studio with angled skylights where intrepid residents posed nude for one another. I wondered if in such a small town it was difficult to find people to take off their clothes for these art tourists/visitors/ interlopers/economy sustainers. We were exactly that, tourists, but our destination was internal, in a fugue state much of the time emerging only to be reborn in the river, to be baptized by the bonfire. While there I learned three essential things.

First, I was reminded that I instinctively place my self on the outside of any group, even one to which I should ostensibly belong. This trait had been easy to forget when I was wrapped up in teaching and friends and my husband. But when I arrived at what, for many, is essentially sleep away camp for grown ups, I found that my knee-jerk social strategy was still strongly in place. I lay back in the cut.

Ironically, one of my closest friends was already there, and this was not my first visit to Johnson. My partner in crime from our high school days, Lissa, was from a nearby mountaintop, and I had been to Johnson twice before with her. During the residency she was living in Burlington but often came back to see her parents. She lent me a handmade quilt for my bed. My studio, number 5, was on the ground floor and, like all of them, faced the river. Lissa would periodically appear at my studio window. Standing in the grass between the window and the river we’d talk through the screen. She took me out to a distant roadside bar to meet her new boyfriend. The three of us sat out behind the bar on top of a splintering picnic table. Her new man, of whom I was already wary because of my utter devotion to her ex-girlfriend, turned out to be amazing. A renaissance man, James was a graduate professor, who in his spare time raised and slaughtered his own sheep. Ah, Vermont. A friend of theirs joined us, a grizzled dairy farmer, who, when I asked a very Brooklyn question about the wonders of raw milk, replied, “Oh I don’t drink milk! I’ve seen those vacuums pop off a tit and suck up everything, no way. No milk.”

I was more comfortable with this band of outsiders than with the majority of the residents. I wasn’t the youngest, just 32 at the time. The younger set treated the experience more like an all-inclusive literary spring break. I did envy them for their lightness, their ease. But I felt an urgency that kept me from forging my way into their circle. I felt a longing to work, and was blissfully lost in it, the way you try to get lost in a foreign city to let serendipity take over. It was in those serendipitous moments that I found Anne and what my book was truly about.

As I inevitably and unconsciously always do, I found myself bonding to one of the few queer ladies at the residency. Maybe that tendency is a function of being raised mostly by gay women, but I gravitate toward the queer community like a flower turns to the sun. As Anne and I lay in the sun beside the river together, we talked about her partner, and both the fluidity and specificity of sexuality. We talked about her preference for transgender dudes who hadn’t fully transitioned. And I thought how magical and wonderful that our world has created space (however fraught and fought for and constantly at risk) where the niche in her heart could be filled. Maybe it was those conversations or the way they made me think about my childhood, my marriage, my own sexual awakening, but suddenly my novel about a summerhouse family drama became a book about sexuality, and was all the better for it. I didn’t go there for friends, but they found me, hanging out at the edges, peering in from doorways and riverbanks, from the cozy kitchen where on breakfast duty I stirred a giant vat of oatmeal or sorted through questionable salad greens.

Second, though I didn’t bond with many people there, I found that just being surrounded by artists was enough. I felt a connection with everyone purely through the act of creating. In that open, vulnerable state, every conversation I had, learning over the salad bar, struggling through the reeds at the end of someone’s yard to find to the hidden path to the river, stayed with me. My senses were heightened, sounds were crisp and everyone’s word choices and facial expressions were a new insight. Like I’d been bitten by a radioactive spider (or maybe a leech). I absorbed the passion in others’ work and it lit me up.

The river curls around the town center bordered by the old mill, by fields and rocks, and backyards. It is a secret passage, like railroad tracks hidden behind houses. The river has leeches. I never got one, but still carried packages of salt with me just in case. I always felt as if the river, and maybe the leeches too, saw me as one of their own. My devotion to the water was complete and I never felt truly threated by those bloodthirsty slugs. I swam every day at a deserted bend in the river, not the crowded swimming hole near the waterfall up stream. I preferred the swirling eddy edged by pebbles on one side and large flat rocks and long grass on the other.

One night at dinner, I told my fellow diners that I was feeling some guilt about my daily swims. A painter told me that she had spent the entire day sitting in a lawn chair in a shallow, gravelly spot in the middle of the river, the water looking amber in the sunlight. That was her process for the day. This was a revelation. You mean I don’t have to bang my head against the grindstone every second to eke out ideas? Shocking! Honoring my process had to be paramount. The process, at least for me, couldn’t always be in the chair, at the desk, hands on the keys. Writing is observing, interpreting, imagining, unraveling, this can’t always be inspired by a blank word document. Julia Cameron says we must consistently “fill the bank,” and I was finally able to internalize that philosophy because I began to look at the creative process not as a linear progression but an amorphous experience.

Third, at the time of my arrival at the residency I had never published anything. I was the queen of glowing rejections. The recognition of being accepted, of being brought into a community of writers (no matter how socially reluctant I might have been) helped me own that label. But being there also let me move past it, expand beyond it. This was another benefit of being surrounded not only by writers, but by artists of all types. Yes, I am a writer, words are my medium, which is only a fine slice of the larger picture of my whole identity. There, in the constant flowing waters of the Gihon River, I understood I am an Artist. Capital A. I also learned to make breakfast for 80 people in 20 minutes (hooray for quick oats and yogurt). Who says artists don’t have real world skills?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

He was young, blond, tall, broad, sunburned, and dressy, with the good-looking unintelligent face of one who would know everything about polo, or shooting, or flying, or something of that sort—maybe even two things of that sort—but not much about anything else.
The Dain Curse
by Dashiell Hammett

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Freebie: A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison

Congratulations to Anna Dockter, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin.

This week’s contest is for A Really Big Lunch by the late, great Jim Harrison. In addition to being a master maestro with fiction (Legends of the Fall, Returning to Earth, et al), Harrison was a renowned gourmand (a “roving” one according to the book’s subtitle). In his introduction, Mario Batali writes of the very first time he met Harrison--they had a fifteen-course meal together: “Jim was hungry, thirsty, joyously friendly, and characteristically overeager for the first course to come out of the kitchen.” In these pages, Harrison lays it all out on the table (so to speak). The New York Times Book Review called A Really Big Lunch “A culinary combo plate of Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Julian Schnabel, and Sam Peckinpah.” Dig in, my friends...

New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison was one of this country’s most beloved writers, a muscular, brilliantly economic stylist with a salty wisdom. He also wrote some of the best essays on food around, earning praise as “the poet laureate of appetite” (Dallas Morning News). A Really Big Lunch, published on the one-year anniversary of Harrison’s death, collects many of his food pieces for the first time--and taps into his larger-than-life appetite with wit and verve. Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in A Really Big Lunch. From the titular New Yorker piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from Brick, Playboy, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews, A Really Big Lunch is shot through with Harrison’s pointed apercus and keen delight in the pleasures of the senses. And between the lines the pieces give glimpses of Harrison’s life over the last three decades. A Really Big Lunch is a literary delight that will satisfy every appetite.

If you’d like a chance at winning A Really Big Lunch, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 15, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 16. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Finish What You Start: A Conversation with Alex Segura

Interview by Andrew Scott

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of three Miami crime novels featuring Pete Fernandez—Silent City, Down the Darkest Street, and Dangerous Ends—published by Polis Books. By day, he works at Archie Comics. He lives in New York City.

Tell us a little about Dangerous Ends, your new novel.
       Dangerous Ends is my third novel, and the third in a series starring Miami PI Pete Fernandez. Pete debuted in Silent City, which introduced us to the drunk, washed-up journalist who had just returned home after flaming out on his investigative sports reporting gig in New Jersey. He’d also just lost his father and his fiancée had just left him. Not an ideal moment for him. Since then, Pete’s evolved—he’s solved a few major crimes (as detailed in the first book and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street), decided to make the leap into being an official private eye, gotten his drinking under control and managed to cobble a life together. That’s where we meet him at the beginning of the new book—dealing with the more mundane aspects of PI work and trying to keep his head down and his life simple. Unfortunately for Pete, it doesn’t work out that way. His partner, Kathy Bentley, drags him into a controversial case involving an ex-Miami Narcotics officer named Gaspar Varela. Varela’s serving life in prison for the murder of his wife. The case has been a hot-button topic in Miami for almost a decade—debated, dissected and the subject of myriad books and even a documentary. Varela’s daughter, Maya, hires Pete and Kathy to discover any bit of evidence that might lead to a new trial for her father, and perhaps grant him his freedom. At the same time, Pete and Kathy find themselves in the sights of a deadly Cuban street gang known as Los Enfermos, who have some mysterious ties to Cuba, Fidel Castro and perhaps Pete’s own past.

What is it like coming back to the same protagonist for multiple projects? What is the benefit to you, as the author, and how is this a challenging decision?
       There’s a comfort level there—dealing with the same world, characters and general conflicts. But the appeal, to me, isn’t in the static. It’s about showing how these characters—specifically Pete, Kathy and their FBI agent friend Harras—evolve from book to book. I’d get bored if it was more about the case and they remained the same. I’m not into writing that kind of book. I want the characters to change and be in a different position at the end of the book. So, for me, it’s about Pete’s arc as much as it is about the mystery or whodunit aspect. The challenge there, though, is that you have to make each book feel open—so anyone can pick it up and not feel like they’re completely lost. The other side of that, though, is that you have to also make it worthwhile for the people who’ve been around since the first book and want those Easter Eggs and hat tips to what came before. It’s a balancing act. That’s part of the challenge and the fun of writing a series.

Many authors who write a series of books about the same character seem to find a real groove during the stretch you’re in now—the third book, the fourth book. Do you have plans to write many more Pete Fernandez novels?
       I’d like to. When I first wrote Silent City, I didn’t know what I was doing or where it was going. Toward the end of writing that one, I knew I could do one more, maybe two. I thought three would be it. But now it feels like I get a new Pete idea every other day. I think I could definitely write a couple more and keep him on his toes, they’d just have to feel like stories that had to be told. I don’t want to crank them out just to do them.

Miami is, obviously, such an important part of your work. I know it’s your hometown, and you bring it to life vividly on the page. Did you always plan to write a series in Miami, or did you suddenly find yourself writing that story one day?
       Writing about Miami went hand-in-hand with deciding to write a PI novel. I wanted to showcase my hometown and present it through my eyes, as opposed to the way I’d seen it portrayed on TV or in movies. There’s so much more to it than the surface stuff most people see. It’s a big, sprawling city with corners and neighborhoods that are extremely different—from inner cities to suburbs. I wanted to show that, and have Pete explore those areas for the reader. Now, as I enter my 11th year as a New Yorker, the work of writing about Miami becomes more research-intensive. I visit a lot—at least twice a year for extended periods—but it’s different. So I find I have to spend more time making sure the facts are straight. Which is a long-winded way of saying I could see myself writing a book set elsewhere, if the idea struck at the right time.

In a recent interview, you said that you thought you would write literary fiction. How did you get started as a writer? And how did you find your way into your current genre?
       When I first started writing—short stories, poems, that sort of thing—I was in college and I wanted to be the next Michael Chabon. I wanted to write these deep, literary tales. I still love literary fiction, though I kind of cringe at that genre label, but I have to laugh at my younger self. I hadn’t really lived much yet, so I don’t know if I would have had any stories to tell. I think it just felt like that’s where you went, work-wise, if you wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t have a passion for that kind of writing. It wasn’t until I started embracing the kind of books that I read for visceral pleasure, the mysteries, true crime books, pulp novels, that I realized I could combine passion with craft. Then I dove in head-first. Because I now had the spark to go with the direction. The turning point, for me, was reading more modern hardboiled fiction. Books like Queenpin by Megan Abbott and White Jazz by James Ellroy. Novels that crackled and felt sexy and rough all at once. They showed me that you could do a lot within the crime genre, perhaps you could do more inside the genre than outside, because you get so much cloud cover by being a “genre” or “mystery” writer. It really lets you do anything.

What is the most difficult thing about writing for you? Not the writing life, but actually putting words on the page and bringing a fictional world to life?
       I think the challenge is always in making time. I have a family, a full-time job, other writing—we live in a world where excuses are everywhere. So the challenge for me is to get into that routine, even if the routine is not “wake up at five each morning and write,” because that’s not realistic for me. My “routine” is more about being aware enough to jump on found time when it appears, and maximizing it to create the words I want each day. I’m not a word counter, though it’s fine if people are. I do try to, when I’m actively writing a novel, write every day for at least a few hours. I feel like you need that momentum pushing you from one day to the next, and when it stalls, you run the risk of losing the whole thing.

If other writers are thinking of “crossing over” into your genre, what are the five crime/mystery/detective novels you would recommend they read first?
       Oh, great question. Off the top of my head:
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith
The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
The Galton Case, Ross Macdonald
Beast in View, Margaret Millar
       These aren’t my top five overall, but I do love each of these books. It’s a good starter kit, though, which is I think what you were asking. It’s a good cross-section, and you get a taste of different takes on crime books. If I had to list the five books that got me, someone who was thinking of writing a crime novel, they’d be:
A Firing Offense, George Pelecanos
Darkness, Take My Hand, Dennis Lehane
Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman
The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy
       I cheated on this question. Forgive me.

As a writer of comics, you’ve tackled Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets Ramones, as well as Archie’s “Occupy Riverdale” storyline. What skills as a prose writer translate easily, and what’s challenging or more difficult in writing for the comics medium?
       Prose is a solitary endeavor. You’re the be-all, end-all. You may have an editor or beta reader or what have you, but by the time they look over your work, you’re done with at least a draft, which is a huge undertaking. Comics are much more collaborative. You give your script to an artist, they interpret your direction and then it moves on down the line, each person, from inker to colorist to letterer, adding their take on the script. The final product is always different from what the writer envisioned and the hope is that it’s better. It usually is, if you’re working with skilled people. But that’s extremely different from prose, where you have to do everything, at least in terms of how you communicate with the reader. In comics, you also have to be more compact with your words—which, honestly, you should be in anything you write. You have only so much space and you don’t want to cover the pretty art with words. It’s a visual medium and it should be embraced.

I’ve known you for a while now—first as a publicist for DC Comics, then as a publicist for Archie Comics and editor of Dark Circle Comics, an imprint of titles that includes The Black Hood written by Duane Swierczynski. You’ve written three Pete Fernandez books. You also have a small child. What does your average work day look like? How do you manage to stay productive? Do you own stock in a coffee company yet?
       We have known each other a while! Time flies.
       I don’t have an average day, which I like. At least in terms of the work I do. It can range from writing press releases or generating PR to collaborating with a creator I admire on a new or established Dark Circle book. Most days, I wake up, go to work, come home, make dinner and write. My family is important to me, so I try to maximize my time with them. Those are the broad strokes. But there’s a lot of room in there to allow for other things, like teaching a LitReactor class, editing a line of books or running a PR department, not to mention writing novels and comic scripts. I like to keep active, so this works out. But yes, coffee helps.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about writing and one piece of advice about life, what would you say?
       Work hard, be kind, stay humble and finish what you start.

Andrew Scott is the author of Naked Summer, a story collection. His fiction and nonfiction credits have appeared in Esquire, Indianapolis Monthly, Glimmer Train Stories, The Writer’s Chronicle, and other outlets. He is a Senior Editor at Engine Books and lives in Indianapolis.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Trailer Park Tuesday: White Fur by Jardine Libaire

The trailer for Jardine Libaire’s new novel White Fur oozes 1980s New York City grit and glitz to such a degree, I picture Bret Easton Ellis standing off-camera with a mirrored tray in his hands, ready with two snowy lines of cocaine. Though the novel is less Less Than Zero than it is Romeo and Juliet, White Fur looks like it’s fueled with an endless supply of pharmaceuticals and sex that will drive readers forward through the pages. As the publisher’s plot summary tells it, the novel focuses on two star-crossed lovers: “Elise who grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school; and Jamey, a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations ....White Fur follows these indelible characters on their wild race through Newport mansions and downtown NYC nightspots, SoHo bars and WASP-establishment yacht clubs, through bedrooms and hospital rooms, as they explore, love, play, and suffer.” With an energetic pace and flickering jump cuts, the trailer certainly gives us a good feel for the 1980s urban life, both high- and low-. As Kirkus Reviews notes, we get that in the book as well: “The real strength of the novel is its Technicolor atmosphere: Libaire’s New York is a glittering whirlwind, raw and sweaty and intoxicating. A page-turning whirlwind steeped in pain and hope.”

Trailer Park Tuesday is a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

Monday, June 5, 2017

My First Time: Renee Rutledge

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Renee Rutledge, author The Hour of Daydreams, published earlier this year by Forest Avenue Press. The Hour of Daydreams has been dubbed “essential reading” by Literary Mama, “one of 24 books to get excited for in 2017” by The Oregonian and “a lyrical, intriguing debut” by Oakland Magazine. Renee’s work has also been published in ColorLines, Mutha Magazine, Ford City Anthology, Literary Hub, Red Earth Review, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and others. Renee is currently working on short stories inspired by family history and conducting research for her second novel. Learn more about her work at

My First Post Office Run

The first time an agent requested the full manuscript of my novel, I arrived at the post office filled with hope and self-importance, imagining every song I’d heard on the drive over about living out your dreams was about me. After one year of writing, I had a full draft in hand, delusionally thinking I was done.

Prior to my trip to the post office, I had watched 200 pages take a minute each for my OfficeJet printer to crank out. Afterward, I’d checked the order carefully for missing pages, spent too much time at OfficeMax to get just-the-right-size box and stickers for the mailing labels, then secured each sticker with clear packing tape. I then taped around the edges of the box as well as once around, horizontally and vertically. I finished by writing the exclusive words “Requested Manuscript” on the outside in black Sharpie, satisfied this would get it past the slush pile.

The clerk at the post office was also Filipino. I thought he would ask me what I was sending and make friendly banter with me so I could talk about the book. Instead, I got on his nerves for my confusion about priority versus first class, and he got on mine for his exasperation to explain it more than once. I left the post office vaguely worried he would sabotage my box, then checked the tracking website daily to monitor my manuscript’s safe passage to New York.

It made it but would be rejected soon afterward for being “not quite ready.” I’d spend the next year getting more requests for the full manuscript, followed by just as many rejections, then realizing what I already knew: The book needed revision. I went back to work, making long-awaited cuts, embarrassed at the state of the manuscript I’d had the gall to submit. I wrote a second draft, then a third. I changed the title to The Hour of Daydreams. It continued to attract bites. When agents requested an exclusive read, it held up the book for nearly six months at a time. Some agents never followed up at all.

Years passed. I changed jobs several times, moved, raised a young child, had a new baby, and became less idealistic about the pages I was sending. I still packaged my manuscript with care, holding on to my optimism while trying to remain realistic. I grew hardier as a writer, speculating on the whys and the hows and believing enough in the integrity of my work to keep going.

Then I re-read my book and knew exactly where it drifted. More importantly, I knew what to do about it. I continued along the pathways where the most solid sections of the novel were leading me, those that kept the story alive and interesting but that I’d somehow dropped along the way. When I finished my fourth draft, I was certain it was the final version, no matter how many times I’d have to mail it.

By now, Submittable was in popular use and electronic submissions were the norm. Even though I had a much faster printer that could multitask as a scanner and photocopier, I was glad I could easily submit the novel online, forgoing the packaging ritual, long lines, and postage cost. Among that first, tiny batch of queries was an attachment to an up-and-coming indie press, Forest Avenue, where my book would find a home.

After I’d signed, scanned, and emailed a contract to Forest Avenue Press, the next time I’d go to the post office would be with early galleys for reviewers. After that, ARCs with a cover design. Each time, I continued to possess lingering nerves about the reception the book would have but I tried to let them go, knowing I could control my writing, but not people’s reaction to it. Today, more than a year after the first galleys were off, I’ve got a new post office run on my to-do list: Send complimentary copies of the final book to Cristina Garcia, Erin Entrada Kelly, Vanessa Hua, and other authors I’m grateful for, whose blurbs are featured on it.

I’ve been sending The Hour of Daydreams around the country for eight years now, in various iterations. As the publication date drew near, the book was closer to being free, as was I. I’d grown older tending to it. A lot of things have changed since that first mailing, including the book title, the characters’ journeys, my journey.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the post office clerk. He’s still there, every time. Still indifferent to me, as he should be.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday Sentence: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.

You are alive because you are a question.
“The Book of Negroes” from
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce 

by Morgan Parker

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin

Congratulations to Jodi Paloni, winner of the previous Friday Freebie: A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume.

This week’s contest is for The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin. Keep scrolling for more information about the book...

The Last Kid Left begins when a car smashes into a sculpture of a giant cowgirl. The police find two bodies in the trunk. 19-year-old Nick Toussaint Jr. is arrested for murder, and after details of the crime rip across the internet, his 16-year-old girlfriend, Emily Portis―a sheltered teen who’s been off the grid until now, her first romance coinciding with her first cellphone―is nearly consumed by a public hungry for every lurid detail, accurate or not. Emily and Nick are not the only ones whose lives come unmoored. A retired police officer latches onto the case. Nick’s alcoholic mother is thrust into an unfamiliar role. A young journalist who left her hometown behind is pulled into the fray. And Emily’s father, the town Sheriff, is finally forced to confront a monstrous secret. The Last Kid Left is a bold, searching novel about how our relationships operate in a hyper-connected world, an expertly-portrayed account of tragedy turned mercilessly into entertainment. And it’s the suspenseful unwinding of a crime that’s more complex than it initially seems. But mostly it’s the story of two teenagers, dismantled by circumstances and rotten luck, who are desperate to believe that love is enough to save them.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Last Kid Left, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on June 8, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on June 9. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.

Had a Great Time, Wish You Were There

Miss me? Wondered where I'd gone? Or perhaps you never noticed The Quivering Pen was off the airwaves for the better part of two months (hey, I have no illusions this blog is smaller than a pimple on a gnat's cheek when it comes to the Important Things in Life).

My apologies for the unexplained disappearance of The Quivering Pen whose content dried up in the middle of April. A variety of factors managed to put the blog in a coma:
1.  I got very busy at The Day Job.
2.  My laptop computer died.
3.  I took a trip to Europe.
I couldn't do much about #1, I recently resolved #2 (kisses and hugs to the new MacBook Air), and I'd already sort of planned to be off the grid during #3. But yeah, I could have left a note saying I'd just stepped out and would be back soon.

Content will soon be flowing once again at the Pen, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos I took during the joyous, unplugged two weeks of #3.

Late last week, my wife Jean and I returned from a long float down the Danube, Main, and Rhine Rivers aboard the Viking River Cruises' longship Mimir, traveling from Budapest to Amsterdam. This was only my second visit to Europe. The last time was in 1976 when I took a high-school trip to London, Paris, Rome and Switzerland. I'd never been anywhere near Hungary, Austria, Germany or The Netherlands (a brief layover in a German airport en route to Iraq in 2005 doesn't count). This was going to be the trip of a lifetime--one which I'd promised Jean on our wedding day 33 years ago--and I vowed to soak in as much of the scenery and culture as I could. I hope these photos give you some idea of just how much soaking I did during the 15 days we were abroad.

Since this is a book blog, I'll mention my primary reading material: A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, first published in 1977 and re-released by New York Review Books in 2005. After doing a hasty, pre-trip Google search for books about the Danube, I discovered this literary gem which had been hiding in plain sight all along. A Time of Gifts is Fermor's travelogue-memoir about his walk from "the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube" in 1933. The eighteen-year-old Fermor left his native England to "set out across Europe like a tramp." Double-check that date and you'll see that his long-walk odyssey came at a particularly volatile time in European history. Some of the most dramatic scenes in the book involve local Germans and their intolerance of the brown-shirts of the Nazi Party who were then on the rise.

I used Fermor's narrative as a sort of antique guidebook in my own journey up the Danube. I should note, however, that Fermor's west-to-east course was the opposite of mine. Plus, he started his walk in the dead of winter. I, on the other hand, had to endure Easy-Bake-Oven temperatures in the high 70s (which sounded great to nearly everyone else aboard the Mimir except this Rocky Mountain Boy). I'll sprinkle some quotes from A Time of Gifts throughout the slide show below.

Bon Voyage!

Budapest at night

Viennese coffeehouse

We headed for a coffee house in the Karntnerstrasse called Fenstergucker. Settling at a corner table by the window near a hanging grove of newspapers on wooden rods, we ordered Eier Im Glass, then hot Brotchen and butter, and delicious coffee smothered in whipped cream.

Somewhere in the Wachau Valley

The footpath along the southern bank was leading me into the heart of the Wachau....Castles beyond counting had been looming along the river. They were perched on dizzier spurs here, more dramatic in decay and more mysteriously cobwebbed with fable.

Pug life in Regensburg



Not high-heel-friendly

Sherwin-Williams should have a paint color called Bamberg Blue

Ivy league

Jean and I both agree Wurzburg was the best burg!

Marksburg Castle

Still Life with Fowl, Marksburg Castle

"Tis but a scratch...I've had worse."
My Monty Python moment



A point like a flat-iron jutted into the river and a plinth on its tip lifted a colossal bronze statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I many yards into the air among the sparrows and gulls.


The Happy Sausage

Fake Wedding: model behavior outside Cologne Cathedral

After a first faraway glimpse, the two famous steeples grew taller and taller as the miles that separated us fell away. At last they commanded the cloudy plain as the spires of a cathedral should, vanishing when the outskirts of the city interposed themselves, and then, as I gazed at the crowding saints of the three Gothic doorways, sailing up into the evening again at close range. Beyond them indoors, although it was already too dark to see the colours of the glass, I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.

Cologne Cathedral

#NoFilter: Stained glass inside Cologne Cathedral

On our last day, we visited a cheese farm near Giessenburg, Holland

Blessed are the cheesemakers....

Don Quixote Fever: one of 19 windmills at Kinderdjik, Holland
There were the polders and the dykes and the long willow-bordered canals, the heath and arable and pasture dotted with stationary and expectant cattle, windmills and farms and answering belfries, bare rookeries with their wheeling specks just within earshot and a castle or two, half-concealed among a ruffle of woods.

Not to scale
My spirits, already high, steadily rose as I walked. I could scarcely believe that I was really there; alone, that is, on the move, advancing into Europe, surrounded by all this emptiness and change, with a thousand wonders waiting.

Kinderdjik, Holland: looking ahead at one of the thousand wonders of Europe