Friday, August 3, 2012

Vacations Mean Lots Of Reading

I just got back from an amazing vacation in Riviera May, a coastal town 45 minutes south of Cancun, Mexico. It was beautiful – powder-sandy beaches washed over by a warm, green Caribbean Seas under the nurturing and bright rays of the sun. The weather was perfect and the resort (Rosewood Maya Koba) was just wonderful. My wife and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary for five days – without or two little ones. It was peace and tranquility amidst nature at its best.

While hanging at the resort I noticed every couple – aside from worshipping the sun as they sucked down Mojitos with chia or glasses of wine – would lay by the pool or beach with books or magazines. I only saw one person with a Kindle. We travel thousands of miles to spend thousands of dollars to do the same thing we can do on the subway while going to work: read.

I am happy to see that people still value the written word. They could have brought any device or object to the beach but they chose to read a good book. I brought the wrong book. Instead of a novel or something meaty, I took a Joan Rivers humor book that turned out not to be so funny.

I thought of how the resort could be a good subject for a book. It has the right setting: beautiful people amidst in paradise. Who are these vacationers and, what are they running from? What are the lives they have left behind and put on pause? And what of those who work at the hotel? There are 400 staffers who may have seen or learned things that could fill a novel.

Whatever story one could produce from time spent at the hotel, no doubt it would be published and ready by other guests for vacationers love a good book or two.

Interview With NYT Bestselling Novelist Maggie Sefton

1.      What is the secret to becoming a New York Times bestselling author?  It’s the readers.  We authors write the best novel we can then offer it up to the gods.  The readers are the gods.  If they fall in love with your characters, then  readers will make you a bestseller.  I am always awed by their response.  And grateful. 

2.      You have had a really successful series and now you’re exploring the world  of Washington DC.  Why did you decide to set your new book in Washington?  Washington has always had a special hold on me.  I was born in Virginia and grew up in Arlington, a stone’s throw across the Potomac River.  I’ve been watching Washington politicians since I was old enough to read the Washington POST.  DC is in my DNA.     

3.      What is your book about? Politics is a blood sport in Washington , DC , and only the strongest survive. Like the politicians she’s rubbed shoulders with for a lifetime, Molly Malone is smart and tough and savvy enough to stay out of trouble—most of the time. However, trouble has a way of finding Molly.
Years ago, Molly Malone was driven from Washington , DC by political back-stabbing, scandals, and personal heartbreak. But now, circumstances have forced her to start a new life in the one place she swore she’d never return to—and face the ghosts and the enemies from her past.

As the daughter of a respected United States Senator and once the wife of a rising star young Congressman, Molly has seen it all in Washington politics–the cynics, the sincere, and the schemers. But the brutal murder of her Congressional staffer niece brings Molly up close with Washington’s darker side. “The beautiful monuments and parks are deceiving. Washington can be ugly.” How ugly, Molly’s about to find out. There are other schemers out there who may not have won elections, but are more powerful than the politicians they ensnare.
4.      Why does half of DC think you are writing about them?  I have to laugh.  Molly Malone and company “walked onstage” in my head in January 2006.  That’s why I set the novel in 2007.  So there is no one real in the cast.  Honest.  None of the politicians you see dominating the airwaves now were even on people’s radar screens then.  However, characters--like regular people--exhibit certain personality traits that are universal.  Naturally, people will be reminded of someone they know.  An example is Peter Brewster, Senator Russell’s Chief of Staff.  He’s  a young 30-something, talk & walk while texting, hyper-active Type A.  That’s practically a job description for chief staffer.   

5.      Why are people so fascinated by books that comment on the powerful, rich and famous?  In the case of the rich and famous, I think it’s a desire to see how they live, peer into their lavish homes, tag along on their exotic travels, and spy on their private lives.  In the case of the powerful and famous—politicians in particular—I think we’re all curious about their “regular” lives, but we’re also concerned about how they are doing their jobs---representing their constituents. Some are better at resisting Washington’s seductive powers than others.  As past scandals can attest,    Washington politicians bear watching,

6.      What do you love most about writing novels? Discovering who those fascinating characters that are dancing through your head really are.  Only when your hands are on the keyboard do the characters actually come alive.  And when they speak, look out.  No telling what they’ll say.  J

7.      What do you find challenging about practicing your craft? Finding time to balance the demands of the business side of writing with the actual writing time itself.  Emails, websites, Facebook---while enjoyable also take precious time from writing.  And characters are a pushy lot.  The ones waiting in the wings want their time onstage---and on the page.     

Editorial Note: Maggie is now represented by Media Connect for a PR campaign to promote her new book, Deadly Politics.

Interview With Author Audrey Schulman

1. What type of books do you write? I write literary adventure novels about women who go to distant locales to accomplish something but instead, after the requisite amount of pages and plot, their plans start to go awry.  My 1st novel was about a woman who goes up to northern Canada to photograph polar bears on something like a National Geographic expedition.  Once they're up there for a while on the tundra observing the polar bears, the bus fails and they have to walk back to civilization.  This novel was translated into 11 languages, optioned for a movie, and reviewed by everyone from the New Yorker to CNN.

2. How and when did you know that your destiny was as a writer? When I was 12 years old I wrote my 1st "novel" and got so much attention for even attempting such crazy act that I decided I would become a writer. I wasn't thinking very realistically at the time. I imagine a writer's life would be filled with cafés, good conversation and sleeping in late. It seemed ideal. Only once I got older did I begin to wonder about other critical components such as regular paychecks and health insurance. Unfortunately by then I was hooked on writing.

3. What is your latest or upcoming book about? Three Weeks in December takes place in Africa.  It has 2 parallel stories in it. One story takes place in 1899, when the railroad was being built across what is now Kenya. Historically, at the time, there were 2 man-eating lions who killed and ate over 100 people. I place my fictional character in the midst of this historically true story and the plot results. The second story takes place in modern-day when an ethnobotanist (someone who searches for plants to make into pharmaceuticals) goes to Rwanda in order to find a vine rumored to have 5 times the beta blockers of anything known to science. The only ones who know where the vine is are the wild mountain gorillas.  The ethnobotanist has to shadow the gorillas in order to find the vine. The 2 stories come together in a surprising way. The reviews have been fantastic, including the New Yorker and the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I read over 70 books from text books to novels in order to research what I needed to know for this book. I wanted the reader to absolutely trust that I knew what I was talking about.

4. What inspired you to write it? Years ago my great uncle told me a story about shooting an elephant in India in the 1930s. He had been working on a tea plantation there when the villagers nearby asked him to kill a nearby wild elephant that had developed the bad habit of getting drunk at night on the rice wine being fermented in the village and then wandering through the village to squish people. My uncle was chosen for the job not because he was a great hunter, but because he had a big gun. That story made me rethink the classic myth of the great white hunter. Three Weeks in December is the result.

5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? Publication to me seemed such a glorious achievement that I always imagined living as a published novelist, would  somehow be  fundamentally different from  life as a normal human. Angels would sing upon high, the heavens would crack open, money would rain down, and all small irritations would be swept away in sheer happiness. Even after 20 years of being a published author, I'm still a little baffled each time I have to take out the trash.

6. Where do you see book publishing heading? I think publishing is in deep poopie. Publishers are not technocrats who are web-savvy. They simply know a little bit about how to find books readers might enjoy. Their function for the reader is to be a gatekeeper, an outside stamp of approval that tells the reader that this-here published book is likely to be worthwhile to read; i.e. this book is considered worthwhile by more than just the author and the author's mother. Right now self-publishing is becoming more and more common, to such an extent that it's impossible on Amazon to figure out which books are conventionally published by a publisher and which books are self published.  While there are some books that are self published that are fantastic, most aren't even readable.   The vast increase in self published books means it's much harder to find worthwhile books to read. Publishers are suffering because they can't figure out how to make money in this rapidly shifting field. Readers are suffering because they can't find good books among all the bad books. And writers are suffering because good writers can't find publishers to publish them. There needs to be a solution invented by someone who's savvy in both writing and the Internet. I hope it comes soon, not only for readers and writers, but also for the good of this country.  Democracy is based on educated thoughtful citizens.  The problems with publishing right now are limiting the new ideas being brought to public attention and therefore limiting the depth of thinking on all subjects.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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