Behind the Book: There There by Tommy Orange

Editor’s Note (from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer):
When I first heard about Tommy Orange’s new book, There There, I knew I had to read it. There’s not a lot of fiction out there detailing the modern Native American’s urban experience and I love to read books about other cultures. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. I devoured it whole and after I was finished, I just had to know how Tommy wrote such an elegant debut novel. I never expected his response! Check it out below.

Prone-Writing, Running, and Robot Voices

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I probably wrote the most important parts of my novel lying on the floor or running in the Sierra foothills in California. I write about half the time on my stomach. It’s terrible for my neck and back. For my elbows. The only reason I can think of as to why I started to write this way is related to the way my dad used to watch TV with me. He always preferred the floor. I just found out recently he slept that way most of his childhood. He and his brothers used to fight for a bed of wood slats.

In regards to writing important parts of my novel while running in the Sierra foothills of California, I can only say that as the novel got longer so did my runs and so did the problems get more complex and difficult to figure out in the revision process. While running I would think of solutions to some of the novel’s deeper, more complex problems. I would slow down and write them in the notepad app on my phone. Writing a twelve character cast and making it all feel cohesive, and necessary, and like all their story arcs are interconnected—it did not come naturally, or easily, or even organically. I wanted to give up more times than I felt the hope or strength or whatever it takes—obsession?—to keep going when you want to stop and don’t think you can make it. Long runs can feel that way, too. Learning that if you just keep pushing yourself something will come of it translates from the run to the page. Even if it just meant getting back home. Writing when you don’t want to or looking back at pages you’ve already written takes a kind of endurance. I read out loud a lot, and recorded it, listened to that, and used an app that read my novel to me in robot voices that helped me to hear what worked and didn’t in fresh ways I couldn’t access on my own. Continue reading

Behind the Book: Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Editor’s Note:
Social Creature is one of those broodingly beautiful pieces that catches you and keeps you till the very bitter end. The characters of Lavinia and Louise represent the dark glitz, glamour and destitution of New York City and their tangled friendship will keep readers enthralled. This decadent debut thriller is a refreshing take on the dark side of obsession. We recently had a moment to speak with Tara Isabella Burton to find out more about her writing process, background and upcoming works.

Social_Creature_CoverI feel like almost everyone knows a person like Lavinia – carefree, reckless and self-absorbed. Did you model her character after someone you know in real life?
Yes and no. I modeled Lavinia after a few different people I’d known in NYC – some that I knew well, some that I’d only met in passing. But I also very much wrote an autobiographical character. In real life, I tend to cover up a lot of my own anxieties by embracing performativity – whether it’s on social media, or dressing in an eye-catching vintage style, or being highly emotionally effusive. I wanted to explore a character that had a really big chasm between her external and internal self. I hope I’m less self-absorbed than Lavinia, certainly, but I think I share her (probably unhealthy!) coping methods of dealing with insecurity – and probably many of us do, to some extent.

There’s been a lot of talk that this book is The Talented Mr. Ripley for the digital age. Are you a fan of Patricia Highsmith and her work?
Absolutely! I love those lush midcentury thrillers – Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier – that create a heightened atmosphere through both setting and equally intense, complicated characters.

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When Writers Are the Story: Films About Famous Authors

Biopics, movies that tell the story of a famous real-life person, are usually about larger-than-life figures: presidents, prime ministers, war heroes, athletes—people whose lives are full of drama. When it comes to making films about artists and creative types, musicians tend to be the easiest subjects; directors can always fill screen time with the music itself, recreating famous performances or recording sessions.

Writers may be the hardest. Imagine the action in the script: “The writer sits alone at her typewriter. She stares into space. She types some words, stares some more, then types more words. She breaks for lunch.” Fortunately for filmmakers, great writers are often tortured souls with tumultuous personal lives, and that’s what author biopics tend to focus on, for better or worse. The newest example of the genre is Mary Shelley, which opens May 25 and stars Elle Fanning as the Frankenstein author.

Here’s a short rundown of some notable biographical films about writers.

Capote
This 2005 film follows the eccentric writer Truman Capote, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, as he researches and writes his best-known work, the pioneering true crime book In Cold Blood. After reading an article about the murder of a family of four in rural Kansas, Capote decides to write about it and heads to the heartland with his childhood pal and fellow writer Harper Lee, played here by Catherine Keener. Things turn messy when Capote gets emotionally attached to one of the killers, Perry Smith. He intervenes in the legal proceedings to delay Smith’s execution, partly motivated by the need to keep interviewing Smith to glean more info for his book. Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and the movie also got nominations for Best Picture and Best Director (Bennett Miller). Roger Ebert wrote that Capote “focuses on the way a writer works on a story and the story works on him.”

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Behind the Book: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Editor’s Note from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer:

What do you get when you mix Scooby-Doo and Stranger Things together? Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. It’s a rare gem of a book, having a perfect blend of mystery, humor, intrigue and wit.  In Meddling Kids, a teenage detective group reunites over ten years later when suspecting that a long-solved case may not have been solved after all. So begins the descent into the nightmares that have haunted them all since they were teenagers. The monsters from their nightmares come alive and this time they have to solve the case for real. We caught up with Edgar to find out more about the book, his writing process and what will be coming up next from him.

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Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
 I remember jotting down ideas since I was a child- stuff I hoped to develop properly when I learned to draw comics or had my own cartoon show. I don’t know when I settled with just writing them in prose. Maybe at 17 or so, when I realized it was the easiest way to share them.

Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
Easy one. I used to enjoy Enid Blyton’s child detective novels as a kid; I enjoyed the cosmic horror of Lovecraft & friends’ as a young adult; I wondered what would happen if those two genres clashed.

Do you have any rituals or anything special that you do while writing to get into the right mindset?
Not really. But both walking and showering help me figure out the first sentences. Since I moved to New York, I need to find a third ritual that doesn’t get me wet.

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Behind the Book: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Editor’s Note from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer:

How to Walk Away is one of the most inspiring, hopeful and honest books I’ve ever read. And I read a LOT. I’m going to be completely honest here – when I first heard about this book, I didn’t want to read it. The premise seemed very depressing. There’s enough sad things going on in the real world. But I kept hearing that this book was the opposite of tragic, so I finally decided to try it out. This story is so refreshing – which, given the content, is quite an achievement! After finishing this book, I just had to know about Katherine’s writing process and how she came to write the scene of the plane crash. And she was kind enough to share!

Want to learn even more about How to Walk Away from the author herself? Katherine will be joining us at our Flagship location in Dallas on Tuesday, May 22nd at 7 p.m.  to celebrate the release of her book with a signing. Be sure to join us for this exciting event!

Almost as soon as I knew that I was going to write a story about a plane crash, I knew that I would have to go up in a plane. Not a big, normal, commercial plane. A little plane. The kind where the only place to sit is in the cockpit. That was the kind of plane that was going to crash in my story, and I’d never been in one. If I was going write about it in an authentic way, I was going to have to fix that. Even though I have always been a little afraid of flying.

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I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that there’s a plane crash in How to Walk Away. It happens in chapter one. The story is not really about the crash itself—though it’s important. The story is much more about what happens after the crash—how that moment rips the characters’ lives into unexpected pieces, and how they put those pieces back together. That’s the kind of story I love the best—ones with characters who just refuse to give up.

Myself, I give up very easily. In most situations, I start with hopeless and work my way backwards. I have to talk myself into optimism. I have to look for reasons to be encouraged. Flying, for example, always seems pretty doomed to me. My sense of the odds is doggedly incorrect. I always think I have about a 75% chance of crashing on any flight. And for one of those tiny little all-cockpit planes? More like 95%. But if I wanted to write the story—and I really, really did—I had to brave it.

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Behind the Book: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

Editor’s Note from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer:

As a lover of psychological thrillers, when I first heard the plot of The Perfect Mother I was intrigued. It’s the story of a mother’s group and one of the babies goes missing. Seems simple enough. But place this mother’s group in the middle of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and add the fact that the baby goes missing while the moms are out partying together and things start to get more interesting. As the police hunt for the baby, the reader sees the lives of each of the mothers in the group put on full display. Marriages and friendships are put to the test as secrets are revealed about each character. This thriller definitely delivers the thrills – and Kerry Washington agrees. She’s already signed up to both produce and star in the movie! We procured this Q&A with author Aimee Molloy to tell us a little more about the book.

The Perfect Mother

WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF THE PERFECT MOTHER?
After my first daughter was born in 2013, I signed up for September Babies, a new moms group in Brooklyn. I was a little skeptical about this initially, but the skepticism dissolved almost immediately. I had no family around to help and very little experience with infants. September Babies became my lifeline. Though some members met in person, most of our interaction was via a list serve—a place where people asked questions (Is this normal . . . ? Should I be worried . . . ? Will they ever sleep through the night?). I was blown away by the generosity and encouragement the members showed one another. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, but I envisioned us—a relative group of strangers—as a tribe of women who had banded together, and the question occurred to me: what if, God forbid, one of our babies went missing? I could see the members of the group, black war paint under our eyes, torches in hand, combing the streets until the baby was found. I remember I was riding the subway, my daughter strapped to my chest, and I pulled out a notebook, jotting down notes on this idea. A few years later, those notes became The Perfect Mother.

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Behind the Book: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Editor’s Note from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer:

I was on a phone call with booksellers from across the country when someone said, “Have any of you read The Astonishing Color of After? I just read the first 50 pages and it’s phenomenal. You haaave to read it!” So, I went home that night, picked it up and thus began my love affair with this book. I was so enraptured by Emily X.R. Pan’s writing that I read the entire thing in two mind-blowing days. The story starts out with the main character’s mother appearing to her as a red bird. I had the opportunity to meet Emily earlier this year at a bookseller’s conference. The first thing I asked her was, “Where exactly did the inspiration for that red bird come from?” Apparently, I’m not the only one who wondered. Here’s the scoop from Emily herself – the story behind the book.

astonishing-cover-debut-novelPeople like to ask me why the mother in my story turns into a bird. “Why this giant red bird, of all things?”

It’s a tricky question for me to answer, because I’m not totally certain of it myself. But I’ll try to make my best guess. To do that, I first need to tell you a bit about my story development process:

It’s like I’m sitting in a boat, out in the middle of the ocean, scanning the surface of the sea for pieces of wreckage that drift past. Those pieces might be characters, concepts, settings, plot twists — any tiny component of a story that has flitted into my consciousness at some point and then decided to stay.

That ocean is my brain. And sometimes it takes years for me to realize that a few specific pieces that have been floating around totally separately could actually come together in the most perfect and interesting way — and that’s when I finally sit down and begin writing the story.

So back to that bird. I’d always known that I wanted to write a story of a person transforming into a bird. I wasn’t sure of the circumstances. I just knew: At some point a human being was going to become a bird.

I started writing The Astonishing Color of After back in 2010. It had a different title, and a different cast of characters, and it definitely had no bird. I tried rewriting that story many different ways, in many different voices and even in different age categories. And it was literally years later that it occurred to me that instead of having the mother die by pneumonia and just be plain old dead…she could turn into a bird.

Not long after I started toying with that idea in my head, I lost my aunt to suicide. I couldn’t stop thinking about her death and its impact on my family. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily that could’ve been my own mother, who struggles with many of the same things my aunt battled.

A long time after that, I sat down to rewrite the novel from scratch yet again, and the opening pages poured out. I knew that this was the story I had been trying to puzzle together all along.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the importance of the red bird. But later I realized why she was so crucial in this story. My Buddhist family taught me that after death comes a transition—whether that’s reincarnation, or a journey to a different place, or something else. That transition might take up to 49 days, and the spirit of the person might stay near us before the transition occurs. So the bird, I realized, was my way of clearly visualizing a spirit being stuck in that limbo.

When the book begins, the bird is still here in our human world, still tangible. She seems like she’s free. But she’s not. She’s waiting. The bird’s freedom comes only when the main character, her daughter Leigh, has figured out some very important things.

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Emily X.R. Pan is a debut young adult author who currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @exrpan. Her debut YA novel The Astonishing Color of After is available in Half Price Books stores and online at HPB.com while supplies last.

 

11 Writers the Beatles Thought Were Fab

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important rock albums ever made, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As every rock snob knows, Sgt. Pepper is widely hailed as one of the first concept albums (although, as some critics have pointed out, the songs don’t have all that much to do with each other). For the Fab Four and producer George Martin, the record represented new heights of creativity and experimentation in the studio.

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Then there’s the iconic cover, which features the band members along with dozens of celebrities and public figures chosen by the Beatles and represented in cardboard cutouts and wax figures. There are actors, comedians, musicians, artists and philosophers, but here at HPB we couldn’t help but notice that authors make up one of the largest contingents. Here’s a look at the literary types on the most famous album cover in history.

huxleyAldous Huxley
The British author famous for Brave New World relocated to California in 1937 and became involved with mysticism and other spiritual subjects. His 1954 book Doors of Perception, which detailed his experiences with psychedelic drugs, was influenced on Timothy Leary and others in the hippie generation. Some have suggested a connection between this book and the Beatles song “Help,” in which John Lennon sings, “Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors.”

thomasDylan Thomas
The Welsh writer behind poems like “Do not go gentle into that good night” had a reputation that rock stars would appreciate—that of an erratic, drunken poet. Paul McCartney said: “I’m sure that the main influence on both [Bob] Dylan and John [Lennon] was Dylan Thomas. We all used to like Dylan Thomas. I read him a lot. I think that John started writing because of him.”

carrollLewis Carroll
Carroll’s surreal literary nonsense and wordplay was a big influence on John Lennon. The Beatles song, “I Am the Walrus,” written the same year as Sgt. Pepper, was a reference to “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” a poem by Carroll that appeared in Through the Looking-Glass. In a 1965 interview, Lennon said he read that book and Alice in Wonderland “about once a year.” Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Martha Hall Kelly

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Editor’s Note: Not only are we excited to read Martha’s book, Lilac Girls, as part of the HPB Book Club, we are thrilled to host her at our Dallas Flagship store for a talk and signing on Monday, March 13 at 7 p.m. Can’t make it that night for the discussion? Have no fear! We’ll broadcast the talk on Facebook Live. (So if you haven’t yet liked our Facebook page, now is the time to do so!)

Until then, to continue our Books Authors Read series, we asked Martha to share some of her favorite books. Enjoy!

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney  I still go back and soak in Stef Penney’s descriptions for sheer pleasure. Her depiction of Scottish woman Mrs. Ross and her discovery of Laurent Jammett is terrifying and perfect.

Good Times, Bad Times by James Kirkwood I read this in high school and go back and reread it often. James Kirkwood was such a talented writer and, sadly, died too young. This story of a boarding school student, his best friend and their creepy headmaster still feels fresh and relevant. Continue reading

Books Authors Read with Tim Dorsey

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Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome New York Times -bestselling author Tim Dorsey to our Dallas Flagship store Saturday, March 4 at 5 p.m. to discuss the latest edition of the Serge A. Storm series, Clownfish Blues. Before he stops by, we asked Tim to share some of the books he’s reading these days. (More books to add to our constantly-growing “to be read” list) Enjoy!

The Deep Blue Good-by – The Godfather of Florida crime fiction, John D. MacDonald, The Deep Blue Good-by introduces the world to knight-errant Travis McGee. Continue reading