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.


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.


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.


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:


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.

Nine Notable Nom de Plumes

In honor of George Eliot’s (Mary Anne Evans) birthday today, let’s take a look at nine noteworthy literary pen names. Did you know these authors had “secret identities”?


Row 1: George Eliot – Best known for: Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871), Real name: Mary Anne Evans; Mark Twain – Best known for: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Real name: Samuel Langhorne Clemens; Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell – Best known for (respectively): Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights & Agnes Grey (1847), Real names: Charlotte, Emily & Anne Bronte; George Orwell – Best known for: Animal Farm (1945), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Real name: Eric Arthur Blair.

Row 2: Dr. Seuss – Best known for: The Cat in the Hat (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Real name: Theodore Geisel; Voltaire – Best known for: “Plato’s Dream” (1756), Candide (1759), Real name: François-Marie Arouet; O. Henry – Best known for: “The Gift of the Magi” (1906), Real name: William Sydney Porter; Pablo Neruda* – Best known for: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (1924), Residencia en la tierra (1933), Real name: Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto *Legally adopted his pen name in 1946; Lewis Carroll – Best known for: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Real name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Most of the authors above chose to write under a pseudonym either because they wanted their work to be taken seriously (especially challenging for women before the 20th century), or because they were hiding from a possibly disapproving family member or society. Would you publish under a pen name (or do you already have one)? Let us know in the comments! – Kate

Kate is Promotions & Direct Mail Coordinator at Half Price Books Corporate.

Top 12 Books on Writing to Kick off NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

 It’s that time of year — National Novel Writing Month starts today! You might recall my blog post about this from last year, in which I declared my intent to join forces with writers of all stripes from around the country to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t even make it a week.)

Well, we’re back! This year, there are several of us going for it, and we’re here for each other (and you) as we aim to pound out an average of 1,667 words a day. In preparation, I pulled together my favorite books on writing to help me get into a proper headspace. I purchased most of these from my local Half Price Books throughout the years, and they have been invaluable to my writing education (Writing Movies, a book on screenplays, taught me about tension and pacing, for instance. Writing Fiction taught me that when striving for quality writing, nouns and verbs always trump adjectives and adverbs.)

Here are my personal favorite books on writing:


Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott; Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass; Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell; 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them), Ronald B. Tobias; The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner; Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell; The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, John Truby; Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D.; Writing Movies: The Practical Guide to Writing Stellar Screenplays, Gotham Writer’s Workshop; How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey; Writing Fiction, Gotham Writer’s Workshop; Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury

If you are also sacrificing your life for the next 30 days, visit the NaNoWriMo site, which has some helpful suggestions on staying on track – including connecting with other Rhinos in your area, participating in write-ins, and keeping each other accountable. You can also follow @nanowrimo on Twitter.

What are your favorite books on writing? Anybody else participating in NaNoWriMo this year? – Kristen D.

Kristen is Public Relations Specialist at Half Price Books Corporate. 
You can follow her on Twitter at @kristendickson.

Banned Book Titles, A Poetry Challenge

Last year we held a Banned Books Title Poetry Contest, and our finalists inspired me to write my own Banned Books Title poem.  Then, I was challenged by the lovely Kristen D. to use as many titles as I could in one poem.  I have answered that challenge, and here it is.  I call it:

“That was Then, This is Now”

It was

1984, just one year,

Though maybe 365 Days

Still only A Wrinkle in Time

In the small Hamlet

Where The House of Spirits stood,

My House,

My Sanctuary,


With A Light in the Attic

Burning across A Thousand Acres

In the Night.

Kitchen full of Strange Fruit

Where One Fat Summer

The Grapes of Wrath

Dried up like a Raisin in the Sun,

I sat with my Beloved James

And the Giant Peach he ate

While I finished The Last of the Wine.

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon” he said.

But The Art of Love is confusing,

To know Where the Heart Is,

Or worse, Where the Sidewalk Ends,

To Have and Have Not,

A Paradise Lost.

So I exercised The Right to Lie

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,

Like Fallen Angels,

And Their Eyes Were Watching God

And No Birds Sang.

But That was Then, This is Now,

A Brave New World

Where I’ve found A Separate Peace

Full of Public Smiles, Private Tears

And The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Now As I Lay Dying I say,

It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me.

Love is One of the Choices,

And The Facts Speak for Themselves.

We are all Outsiders,

And We All Fall Down.

But The Headless Cupid

Offers no Deliverance

In Love and Trouble.

I also wrote a much smaller one titled “The Chocolate War”

One Fat Summer

In Civil Disobedience

Johnny Got His Gun

And started The Chocolate War.

From The Upstairs Room

I heard the question, “Where’s Waldo?

Go ask Alice!” I screamed to Charlie.

And the Chocolate Factory gurgled away,

Like Water for Chocolate,

Always Running,

Blood and Chocolate,

The Red and the Black

Causing The Color of Earth

To turn black like Oil!

So we make The Stand

On The Fighting Ground,

The Last Mission before

A Farewell to Arms

Sees Charlie following Alice in Wonderland,

For there are no Hard Feelings

When Legends Die.

And I Still Rise

Knowing A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich

And The Long Secret of it all

Was that he was just trying To Kill a Mockingbird.

So, now I challenge you!  Can you write a poem using the titles of Banned Books?  They don’t have to be as long as mine.  Share them in the comments below. 

And Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading a banned or challenged book.  You can find them at your local HPB. — Julie

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