Behind the Book: Handcrafted by Clint Harp

Editor’s Note: Spanning Clint Harp’s remarkable journey—from a childhood learning carpentry and hard work at his grandfather’s knee, through his struggles to balance pursuing his dreams with supporting his family, to his partnership with Chip and Joanna Gaines and the many adventures and misadventures of filming Fixer Upper—Handcrafted is part memoir and part manual for dreamers. Clint recently answered questions we had about his past, Fixer Upper and his book. Check them out below!

What was your favorite carpentry lesson from your grandfather?
“Do it right the first time, so you don’t have to go back and do it again.” It’s definitely one of those “easier said than done” rules, and I certainly haven’t always achieved that standard, but that rule is always on my mind. It’s like an angel on my shoulder in every situation. When my grandad said those words to me for the first time, he wasn’t even necessarily talking about building furniture. It was really something to be applied across the board. But as it turns out, doing it right the first time when building something is truly the best way to do it. It’s a good way to save yourself from a lot of heartache. And, it just happens to be useful in every other one of life’s moments as well.

Do you try to pass along similar lessons to your children?
Absolutely. In fact, I’ve probably said that “do it right the first time” line to my children so much at this point that they’re probably rolling their eyes on the inside whenever they get the “dad lecture.” In the end, if they can adopt that into their lives, I guess I’ll feel like I’ve done at least one thing right the first time as a parent.

What inspired you to write Handcrafted? Handcrafted cover
I believe in the power of sharing stories. I’ve experienced the magic firsthand that happens when we find ourselves in someone else’s story, and we realize that we have a lot more in common than we probably expected. In a world where we’re connected more than ever, it seems as though loneliness and isolation are more prevalent than ever before. I believe if we are vulnerable with, we’ll learn from each other and push the human race forward. We have a lot of issues facing us, whether it be on a personal, city, state, country or worldwide level, and I don’t know how to solve them all. But I know that there are people out there who to do something positive and contribute to this earth in a way that only they can. The thing I decided I could offer was a table and a hope that people would sit around it, be themselves and find common ground. But before I could make that decision to jump off a cliff and answer that urging inside my heart to build tables for a living, I had to be inspired. And I was. By songs, movies, conversations and books. I wrote this book because I hoped that someone else out there, who’s inching toward what they see as impossible, might read it and realize they’re not alone, find commonality in my story and be pushed closer to realizing their own dreams of changing the world for good. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Editor’s Note: The incomparable Rena Rossner brings to life a richly detailed story of Jewish identity and sisterhood in The Sisters of the Winter Wood. The fairy tale is both captivating and imaginative, wrapping around two sisters who have distinctly different personalities. Rossner weaves their lives in and out of one another and creates a story that is deeply connected to identity, faith, sisterhood and the magic of stories. Rena recently revealed to us the inspiration behind behind her latest novel.

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The Goldene Medina – Of Fairy Tales and Dreams

When I first got the idea for The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I had no intention of writing a Jewish fantasy novel. In fact, I was trying to distance myself from that part of my identity. The previous books I’d worked on had been so Jewish that I started wondering if my work was too Jewish. So I decided to work on a fairy tale retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” poem. I loved that it was a tale of sisterly love and that both sisters end up saving each other. I decided to set my book in a forest in France near an (invented) town called “Blest.” But when I finished a draft of the book and re-read it, everything felt wrong. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and said: “my book doesn’t have a soul” – to which he responded: “Rena, go back to sleep.”

But I realized that I needed to set this re-telling somewhere that meant something to me. So I borrowed some of my parents’ genealogy binders – the results of hours of research by family members containing pages of testimony, family history and long lists of names. The interesting bits were the stories about the different towns researched—Bender, Riga, Kupel, and Dubossary – that my family came from before they made their way to America. I started to look for a town by a river with a forest or an orchard, a place with lush fruit trees. And that was when I found a poem written by a man from the town of Dubossary describing exactly what I was looking for. My heart started to race. I knew that I had found my novel’s heart, its location. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Editor’s Note: Best known for Gothic horror and dark young adult mystery novels, April Genevieve Tucholke is taking a dive into the previously unexplored with The Boneless Mercies. This novel is a gorgeously written standalone YA fantasy about a band of mercenary girls in search of glory. Throughout the novel, Tucholke portrays fierce women warriors in unapologetic friendship who refuse to quit their quest for glory. We had a chance to catch up with April recently and she was kind enough to answer some burning questions for us.

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Your previous books, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaBetween the Spark and the Burn, and Wink Poppy Midnight are very different books from The Boneless Mercies. What made you want to write a more historical piece?
Fantasy is my first love. The words “sword and sorcery” still make my heart skip a beat. Fantasy is what I read when I want to truly escape into a fictional world. Spring and summer are for Jerome K. Jerome and PG Wodehouse or mysteries like Miss Marple or Brother Cadfael—but fall and winter are for fantasy, a retreat into something darker and grander and nobler than the world I know. It was my favorite genre as a kid and is still my favorite today. Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

EDITORS NOTE: From debut author Imogen Hermes Gowar comes The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, an atmospheric historical fiction novel set in 18th century London. The elegant prose and magical realism transports you to a world of opulence and turmoil. Gowar’s rich visuals and detailed descriptions kept us reading and reading and reading! We had the opportunity to catch up with Imogen recently. Read on to discover her answers to our questions!

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is such a unique story. Where did your inspiration come from? Was there something in particular that drew you to mermaids?
I’ve been interested in the supernatural since childhood, and that definitely includes mermaids. I was particularly compelled by the traditional mermaid myths: the idea that they had a dangerous, inexorable power as much rooted in melancholy and longing as in anything erotic.

I was also really interested in the way people thought of mermaids, as opposed to how they were displayed. The goblin-like counterfeit mermaid effigies that were popular in the eighteenth century and beyond didn’t bear a huge resemblance to the sexy damsels of popular imagination, but people were willing to be taken in by them nevertheless. While I was working at the British Museum I came across one of these fake mermaids—it’s made from a monkey’s torso stitched to a salmon’s tail—and it is oddly chilling. I could immediately imagine the sort of man who might want to acquire it: how he would bridge the gulf between how it looked and what he wished to believe. Continue reading

Behind the Book: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Editor’s Note: From first-time author Fatima Farheen Mirza comes a book that is beautifully written and emotional, a book that you will adore from the moment you begin the first page until you close the cover at last. A Place for Us handles one of the biggest desires in life—the desire to belong. This is the story of Rafiq and Layla, an immigrant couple in California, and their children, as they seek to reconcile their non-Western values with those of modern America. A Place for Us breaks open the family dynamic and examines what it truly means to belong. It was also the HPB Book Club pick for June and July. We had a chance to catch up with Fatima Farheen Mirza, who describes her writing process below.a-place-for-us

Days before I was to submit the final draft of the novel—after all the major editing had been done and I was only reading to find mistakes—there was one sentence I added toward the very end, and writing it into the margin moved me to tears, despite how insignificant the line seemed: “Layla pointing out the leaves when the wind makes them all wave at once.”

It arrived in a paragraph written in Rafiq’s perspective. Rafiq and Layla have been married for decades, and it is their family that the novel centers around. The passage is written from the furthest point of time in the novel, when Rafiq is in his late sixties and looking back on his life to understand what kind of a father he was. In the passage, he is reflecting on the sights in his life that he will never tire of: his wife tying her hair up into a bun, his daughter whistling when she was younger, and, in the case of the sentence, Layla pointing out the leaves on trees when the two took their evening walks together. Continue reading

Behind the Book: All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover

Editor’s note: Colleen Hoover is a prolific author who delivers every emotion on the spectrum in one beautiful package. Her latest novel, All Your Perfects, is a heartaching and heartbreaking look at a marriage put to the test. This novel is a masterpiece of love that weaves in the pain of life with its beauty. The intense, emotional and beautifully poignant story is everything you never knew you needed from a romance. We asked Colleen to provide us with her insights on her writing. Read more about it below.

 ALL YOUR PERFECTS_9781501171598All Your Perfects is my thirteenth full-length romance novel, but this is the first time I’ve written about an actual married couple. I tend to gravitate toward new romances, first loves, and the exploration of characters in their formative years. I assumed I would always stick to that, but when I got the idea for All Your Perfects I knew I’d be making a departure from my previous work.

The idea initially came to me because of something my sister and brother-in-law did at their wedding. They each wrote a love letter to the other and then placed the unread love letters in a box. They locked the box during their wedding and vowed only to open it and read the letters on their tenth anniversary. I forgot about the box and the letters until they reached their tenth anniversary a couple of years ago. My sister said they celebrated by reading each other’s love letters they had locked in the box ten years before.

I thought the idea of the love letters was such a great idea and wanted to incorporate it into a novel somehow. In order to do that, though, I’d have to write about a married couple, which is what sets this book apart from a lot of my others.  Continue reading

How Novel: A Writer’s Approach to November

November is one of my favorite months of the year for two very important reasons (and neither of them has anything to do with eating turkey). I love November because there is no better month than one that kicks off with a day celebrating authors and then challenges authors to write a novel all month long. That’s right November, 1 is National Author’s Day, a day set aside to “show appreciation to the men and women who have made American literature possible,” and then the entire month of November is National Novel Writing Month, the world’s largest writing challenge, where participants pledge to write 50,000 words in one month.

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The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write a novel from start to finish in one month, which is  assumed to be about 50,000 words. Unfortunately, the last novel I finished writing was more than 100,000 words, but I still won the challenge of National Novel Writing Month by reaching the 50,000-word goal. In my opinion, what National Novel Writing Month does for writers is give us a goal to shoot for, and once we’ve reached that goal, we’ve invested so much time and energy in the project that we’re driven to finish.

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I had never heard of NaNoWriMo until about six years ago, and this year will only be my third time to participate. Of course, one of those years, I was struggling to complete a novel I had already started so I decided to use NaNoWriMo as my incentive to finish, which means I didn’t count my words or use the NaNoWriMo website to track my progress, but I did use the time and set my goal. The important thing was writing.

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If you are an aspiring novelist… if you believe you have a story in you… if you just don’t know where to start… I challenge you to write 50,000 words in November. The story you have to tell just may be the one someone else is dying to read.

And don’t forget about the most important part of writing:

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Find all your writing materials for NaNoWriMo, not to mention inspiring novels by great American writers, at your local Half Price Books. And good luck this November.

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.

Happy National Punctuation Day!

I’m sure everyone has seen the punctuation meme that points out the difference between “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Or you’ve heard the joke where a panda walks into a restaurant, eats a sandwich, pulls out a gun and shoots his waiter before leaving, because according to the dictionary, a panda “eats, shoots and leaves.”  These examples prove that punctuation saves lives. Well, today is National Punctuation Day, a day to celebrate commas, periods, quotation marks, semicolons and ellipses.  

Recently, our office debated whether or not to use the Oxford comma on our website.  While most were ambivalent, one of my co-workers was adamantly opposed to using it, while another remarked that not using it “made her head explode.” Though we all hoped she was using hyperbole, we kept our distance for the rest of the day just in case. 

However, that got me thinking about what punctuation mistakes make my other co-workers’ heads explode.  So, I asked them, and here are their answers.

Jason—“Unnecessary quotation marks”

So is it chicken, or is it not chicken?  Maybe they just called it “chicken” and hoped no one would notice.

 

Emily–“Using apostrophes to make things plural.”

 

Apostrophes are used for possessives and contractions, not plurals.

 

Susan–“A complete lack of punctuation”

Or in other words, RUN!

 

So do you have any punctuation mistakes that make your head explode?

If you want to learn more about punctuation, visit the reference section of your local Half Price Books.

Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

Poem in Your Pocket Giveaway!

April is National Humor Month and National Poetry Month. So what better way to celebrate than put them both together and have a Humor Poetry Contest!  The rules are simple:
  1. We will give you a word, such as flounder or bookworm, and you will write an humorous poem based on that word in the comments below. 
  2. The poem can be rhyming, free verse, Haiku or any other style you like
  3. The poem should be no more than 20 lines long.
  4. Your poem can be about any subject you like, but as with the comments on this blog, please do contribute constructively to the task at hand and do not include profanity, personal attacks or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business.
  5. The contest begins April 17 at noon and ends April 18 at noon.
  6. Leave your poem in the comments of this post.
  7. The winner will be randomly chosen by 4p.m. on April 18 (no purchase necessary) 
  8. The winner will receive a $10 HPB gift card!
And your word is: BUMP. Here’s a sample poem: 

 

I found a curious bump this morning

When I was making up my bed

It was large and round and oddly enough

About the size of my head.

 

My hands flew to my face

My head where it ought to be

I would hate to think my head

Hadn’t gotten up with me.

 

Carefully, I poked the bump

And it began to growl

But since I don’t have a pet

I had to wonder how

 

I quickly threw the covers back

Letting loose a scream of fright

As a raccoon flew out the window

Which will be shut tonight.

Submit your poem in the comments below! Happy Poetry Month! — Julie 

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

The Tell-Tale Man

Photo credit: LA Pop ArtOne hundred sixty-eight years ago yesterday, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” was published in New York’s “Evening Mirror” newspaper.  Four years later, Poe died at the age of 40.  Poe’s works influenced writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the award given out by the Mystery Writers of America is known as “The Edgar” in his honor.  This influential author (whose birth anniversary was ten days ago), was not only a brilliant man, but also led an interesting life, and his death is as shrouded in mystery as the stories he wrote.

Here are a few facts about this influential author.

  •  As a recognized literary critic, he was called the “Tomahawk Man,” and frequently targeted Bostonian poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Lowell.  He even sued Longfellow for plagiarism and gave lectures to Bostonian audiences, claiming they were too stupid to understand his genius (even though Poe was born in Boston and his first published collection of poems was credited to “a Bostonian.”) The book was a flop.
  • For most of Poe’s life, he was clean-shaven, and only grew his iconic mustache during the final years of his life.
  • Poe never signed his name Edgar Allan Poe, only Edgar A. Poe or E. A. Poe. Allan was the last name of his foster parents.  Poe fell out of favor with his foster father, after Poe gambled away his tuition money.  Of course, it probably didn’t help that Poe also confronted his foster father about his numerous affairs.
  • When Poe decided to leave West Point Military Academy, he purposefully got himself court-martialed for gross negligence of duty and disobedience of orders.  He pled not guilty, knowing he would not win.
  • He was the first well-known American writer who tried to live by writing alone, but the lack of an international copyright law kept him in the poor house most of his career.
  • Poe married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, when she was 13 years old. Fewer than 10 years later, Virginia died of consumption.  The first signs that she had the disease came while she was singing and playing the piano one evening, and she began to bleed from her mouth.
  • Though “The Raven” brought Poe fame, he was only paid $9 for the piece.
  • Poe was nicknamed “The Raven,” and children would follow behind him as he walked down the street, flapping their arms and cawing. Eventually, Poe would turn around and playfully say, “Nevermore,” causing the children to run away in delight.
  • Though Poe seemed to have a problem with alcohol when he was younger (reportedly showing up drunk to his classes at the University of Virginia), toward the end of his life he joined the Sons of Temperance, the 19th century version of Alcoholics Anonymous.  However, he died one month after he joined.
  • Poe’s death is one of the most mysterious deaths in literary history. There are more than 26 theories on how Edgar Allan Poe died.  Two of the most common are rabies and cooping, which was the practice of plying people with liquor and forcing them to vote multiple times for a certain candidate during elections.  Poe was found delirious in a Baltimore tavern, which doubled as a polling site, wearing clothes that were not his—which would support the cooping theory. However, according to his doctor there was no evidence of alcohol use when he was admitted and his medical records indicate that Poe had abstained from alcohol for six months before his death.  Poe also had trouble drinking water while at the hospital.  He was confused, and slipped in and out of a coma—which would support the rabies theory.  Even doctors say that the definitive cause of Poe’s death will likely remain a mystery.

Poe once wrote, “It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”  Poe lived these words out in his life and even in his death, giving fodder to our imaginations and allowing us to dream. So, we celebrate Edgar Allan Poe and the publication of his masterpiece “The Raven.”

What is your favorite Poe story? — Julie

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.