Archive for May, 2012

Amy Hill Hearth is the author or co-author of seven nonfiction books, including Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, a New York Times bestseller for 113 weeks. Her first novel will be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster on October 2.

Hannah and Erica: Congratulations on the completion of your first foray into fiction, with Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society! How did the process of writing a novel compare to writing non-fiction works such as Having Our Say?

Amy: Everything I learned as a journalist and narrative nonfiction author was useful when I tried fiction for the first time. The two are, of course, opposite and yet there are still some basics that apply: For example, it’s a story, it has a dramatic arc, and there’s a lot of instinct and judgment about what belongs and what doesn’t. The leap – and it is huge – is letting go of the deeply ingrained concept that facts rule the day and allowing your imagination to take over and tell the story. For me, it was terrifying and liberating at the same time.

All I was trying to do was take a breather from the publishing business and try something new. I wanted to write just for fun. I didn’t set out to write a novel. I started Miss Dreamsville as a short story but the more I wrote, the more I loved my characters and plot, and I thought, Maybe it’s a novel. Some little voice told me to just keep going. The book is inspired by a real person – my late mother-in-law, crazy as that sounds. As a middle-aged mom, she got into all kinds of trouble when her family moved from Boston to a town of 800 people in Collier County, Florida in 1962. When I write nonfiction, I feel a great responsibility throughout the process to my subjects since, after all, it is about their lives. With fiction I did not have that responsibility, although I had some concern, of course, about my husband’s reaction. I didn’t show him a draft until it was very far along. What really freaked him out was I added a character inspired by him as a child. He’s been a good sport about it, once he got over the shock. I only wish my mother-in-law was alive to see it. She was quite a character and I believe she would have gotten a kick out of it.

Hannah and Erica: Your NY Times Bestselling book Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years was also made into a Broadway play. Were you involved in the adaptation of the book to the play? What was it like to see your book translated to theater?

Amy: I was very involved with the adaptation of the book, both as a Broadway play and then an award-winning film. The Delany Sisters wanted me to participate on their behalf to be sure the adaptations were  “done right,” as they said. My official role was Production Advisor and in this case it meant making sure the adaptations were authentic and in keeping with the sisters’ values and expectations. I edited the scripts, visited rehearsals, met privately with the actresses (at the home of Ruby Dee in New Rochelle, New York, for example), and even advised the set designer about wallpaper patterns. With the film adaptation, the producers added me as a character, which is a bizarre experience. My part was portrayed by the wonderful actress Amy Madigan.

Hannah and Erica: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your successful career?

Amy: I’ve always said I am most grateful for the special friendships that are a direct result of my book projects. How many people can say they are friends with an Indian Chief and his mother? (“Strong Medicine” Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say.) Or a pair of centenarian sisters whose father was born into slavery? (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.) Or a married pair of Holocaust survivors who survived by masquerading as Christians and working as spies for the Underground? (In a World Gone Mad.) Or Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever known? (Know Your Power.) I am grateful, also, that my parents have lived long enough to enjoy my success, and that I married the right guy 27 years ago who remains my biggest fan (despite being a character in my novel!).

Hannah and Erica: How do you keep your creative muse alive and well?

Amy: Sleep. I think I actually write in my sleep. I don’t know why, but sleep is vastly under-rated in our society. You can’t do anything well unless you are well-rested. It may be more important than diet and exercise, in terms of fueling the creative mind.

Hannah and Erica: We’re excited to welcome you to the NYC chapter of the WNBA. What inspired you to join the organization?

Amy: I like the idea of being part of an organization of women who love books as much as I do. Even if I can’t attend many events, I enjoy being connected to all of you. Knowing you are out there gives me a psychological lift. I am still learning and eager to have women guide me along the way.

Find out more about Amy on her website or check out her blog

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 By Erica Misoshnik

Disclaimer: The following post is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the Women’s National Book Association – they were simply kind enough to let me post it.

By now I’m sure you have all heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic novel by E.L. James that has taken the country by storm. It’s the sort of book that makes people happy to have e-readers and despite its popularity, is in no way something you would give as a present on Mother’s Day – though the writers of this SNL skit may disagree. It has been featured on ABC news and discussed on The View – even Ellen is up on the trend. There is also a parody being released this summer. So yes, everyone is talking about the salacious novel, but there is something people outside of the publishing world seem to be forgetting…and it has nothing to do with Fifty Shades’ steamy content.

This book started as a work of Twilight fan-fiction.

Fifty Shades of Grey was initially called Master of the Universe and the original Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele were none other than Edward Cullen and Isabella Swan. Master of the Universe was published on fanfiction.net and garnered approximately 37,000 reader reviews before James moved the book to her own site. Those are just reviews, not page hits. Only the authors can see how many total hits they have gotten per story on fanfiction.net, so it is currently impossible to know exactly how many people read the story before it was moved. It has been estimated that E.L. James had tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of fans on fanfiction.net alone.

None of this would be a big deal because there are some wildly popular works of fan-fiction, which have accumulated their own fan bases. (Fun fact: Cassandra Clare, author of the best-selling Mortal Instruments series, was a writer of fan-fiction, too.) But it is a big deal; because none of those writers went on to get 7 figure book deals for their fan-fics.

To be fair, Fifty Shades of Grey is technically an original work. Even Master of the Universe bore little resemblance to Stephenie Meyer’s paranormal young adult romance. In fact, there were no vampires or werewolves, and no paranormal activity of any kind in the fan fiction. Other than the names of the characters, there was virtually nothing else the two stories had in common – with the exception of the Twilight fan base.

Therein lays the issue I personally have with Fifty Shades. It is not that I think there’s an issue of  copyright infringement, since the fan-fic had little to do with Stephenie Meyer’s work apart from the names. Under copyright law, Stephenie Meyer (as the copyright holder) would have to take legal action against E.L James if she felt that Fifty Shades was in violation of said copyright, which she has not done. And, E.L. James is open about her Twilight “inspiration.” Whatever the case, what I think is pertinent is that a huge proponent of E.L. James’ initial success was due to Stephenie Meyer’s fan base.

While the laws are clear that fan-fiction cannot be published for money (though it has been published for charity, with the original author’s express permission) what of cases like Fifty Shades? What happens when a fan-fiction writer changes some names around, adjusts a few details, and goes on to publish with a major house? Anne Jamison, an English Professor at the University of Utah, who recently taught a course involving fan-fiction, brought up a good question about “whether [or not] the explicit, conscious use of another writer’s fan base, via creation of characters known and experienced as ‘versions’ of the writer’s characters, for commercial purposes, constitutes any kind of damage or infringement.”

Personally, I think this falls into an ethical grey area (no pun intended!), but I’m open to hearing debate on the topic. What do you think? Will the huge success of Fifty Shades of Grey pave the road for other popular fan fiction authors to change a few names or places and then publish the work? Is there even an issue at all – or did I just get too invested in my ethics class this semester?

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Photo courtesy of Library Journal.

We’ve posted several times about the recent Historical Fiction Panel, but let’s be honest, as fans of historical fiction we’re just not tired of posting about it yet!  This week, before we put the subject to rest, we wanted to direct your attention to an excellent article written by Historical Fiction panelist Barbara Hoffert, which was inspired by her experience on the panel.  Barbara Hoffert is a fiction editor at Library Journal and the author of LJ’s long-running weekly Prepubs Alert column. She is a past-president of the National Book Critics Circle, for which she now serves as Awards Chair. In 2006, she won ALA-RUSA’s Louis Shores-Greenwood Publishing Group Award for excellence in reviewing.  An excerpt of her article, written for Library Journal, is below.

Historical Fiction in the Making
By Barbara Hoffert
April 30, 2012

Such is the protean nature of literature in general that we couldn’t exactly define the parameters of historical fiction—not even the time frame, though World War II came up as a dividing line. I did like DeSanti’s wonderful term hybridity to describe the current climate, one in which historical fiction has gotten richer and deeper and might best be summed up through compound terms, e.g., literary historical, historical romance, historical thriller, time-travel historical, and more.

To read the full article, click here!

Thank you again to Ms. Hoffert for her contributions to our panel, and for her excellent description of the night’s events!

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Thursday, May 10, 5:15 PM – 8:45 PM

A Special Members-Only Event
(Members may invite guests.)
RSVP: programs (at) wnba-nyc (dot) org

It’s so obvious, we’re wondering why we never thought of this one before! Based upon the time-honored pub crawl, we invite you to join us for our first ever Indie Bookstore Crawl, on Thursday, May 10, beginning at 5:15 PM.

Meet with independent booksellers. Ask questions about how they’re keeping up with the growing popularity of e-readers and competition from the massive online bookstores.  Find out what’s selling and what’s not, and of course, browse the shelves while you’re there!

  • You may join the crawl at any time and drop off whenever it’s convenient for you.
  • Bookstore owners will speak briefly to our group 15 minutes after arrival time.
  • Alice’s Teacup café in Books of Wonder will be open for those who desire some mid-crawl fortification, and we will be going to a local bar or restaurant for refreshments after leaving St. Mark’s Bookshop.
  • RSVP to programs (at) wnba-nyc (dot) org.


~ Idlewild
12 West 19th Street, #2, New York, NY 10011

Located just a couple of blocks from Union Square, Idlewild specializes in travel books and world literature. With its high ceilings and huge windows, Idlewild’s space boasts a grandeur not normally associated with independent bookstores.  Map

~ Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011
New York City’s oldest and largest independent children’s bookstore, Books of Wonder has something to offer children of all ages. BOW offers everything from newly published children’s, YA, and teen novels and reference books, to old and rare editions of classic children’s books.  Map

~ Three Lives and Company
154 West 10th Street, New York, NY 10014
Quite literally, the little shop around the corner. When you reminisce about the bookstore of your childhood, there’s a good chance it looked something like this. Dedicated to discovering and sharing books that might otherwise be overlooked, Three Lives & Co. maintains a loyal following in the city.  Map

~ Saint Mark’s Bookshop

31 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10003

Serving a community of students, artists and academics since 1977, St. Mark’s specializes in books on cultural theory, graphic design, poetry & small press publishing, film studies, and foreign and domestic periodicals and journals.  Map

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It’s no secret that Young Adult fiction is hot right now – and the genre offers more than just supernatural romances, apocalyptic societies, or steampunk tales. It’s also no secret that we’re big fans of KGB Bar – we’ve written about them and are having our Open Mic Night there. So when we found out that one of our favorite NYC spots holds an annual Young Adult Fiction Evening*, we couldn’t wait to share!

Come by on May 10 from 7-9, to hear from four fascinating Young Adult novelists. Patricia McCormick, a finalist for the National Book Award, is the author of the forthcoming novel, Never Fall Down. Paul Griffin, an Amelia Bloomer Project Award Winner, is the author of a highly anticipated new mystery novel, Burning Blue. Neesha Meminger’s latest novel, Into the Wise Dark, is a time-travel fantasy that further cements her critical success, such as a spot on the Smithsonian’s Notable Books for Children list. Bil Wright’s acclaimed recent novel, Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy, joins the ranks of his other works, which include a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age, and a feature on the American Library Association’s list of Books for Gay Teens.

Click here for more information about the event and its authors.

Click here for more information about KGB Bar.

*Please note: all event attendees MUST be 21+ years old.

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By Sonia Kane

On the evening of April 26th, it was standing room only at Wix Lounge for WNBA-NYC’s panel discussion on the popular topic of historical fiction. The five panel members included literary agent Daniel Lazar (Writers House), editor Heather Lazare (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), editor and reviewer Barbara Hoffert (Library Journal), and two authors of recent works of historical fiction, Carole DeSanti (The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R.), and Kathryn Harrison (Enchantments). DeSanti, who is Vice President, Editor at Large at Viking Penguin, contributed insights not only as an author but as a longtime publisher. WNBA-NYC’s Rosalind Reisner moderated the panel.

Reisner began with a question: What is historical fiction? Does it have to take place at least 60 years before the current period, as in Walter Scott’s Waverley, generally considered the first historical novel in English? Daniel Lazar noted that he considered anything set during and before World War II to fit the bill; Heather Lazare agreed that this was an appropriate benchmark, but said that a lot depends on how a book is packaged by an agent and what audience a publisher is trying to reach: “From a publisher’s standpoint, are we going after the historical fiction bloggers? The mommy bloggers?” Panelists generally agreed that whereas historical novels used to be considered strictly genre fiction, with plots featuring either romance or, as Barbara Hoffert memorably put it, “sweaty men sticking things into each other,” today’s historical novels are often more accurately labeled as literary fiction, as in the case of the phenomenally successful Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, which won the Man Booker and National Book Critics Circle Award. For a book review editor like Hoffert, this shift can make assigning books to the appropriate reviewers more perplexing, but she still is in favor of broadening categories to reach as many readers as possible, and has even at times used the seemingly contradictory label “literary/popular.” DeSanti echoed this thought: “Writers are working to broaden what historical fiction can be. . . . today the trend is toward hybridity, depth, and character-driven novels.”

Harrison and DeSanti shared brief descriptions of their novels:  Enchantments, set during the Russian Revolution, is told by Masha, daughter of the monk Rasputin. A woman whom Harrison found to be a “strangely modern character,” Masha escaped the Bolsheviks, survived a marriage with a husband chosen for her by her father, and eventually had a successful career as a lion tamer! DeSanti’s work, set in France during the Second Empire (1860-1871), focuses on a young woman who leaves her home in the provinces to meet her lover in Paris. Pregnant and alone, she waits for him in vain. DeSanti described her protagonist as “on a path to finding her center . . . in a polarized culture that was both hedonistic and moralistic.” She sees Eugenie’s story as one of “becoming alienated from what you love and desire and then finding your own way back,” adding that her book might be considered “self-help folded into historical fiction.”

Both authors spoke of their delight in giving voice to their characters. In Harrison’s novel, the protagonist is a real woman whose remarkable story had yet to be told. In DeSanti’s work, she is a type—courtesan—who recurs in the fiction of male writers of the nineteenth century, and yet whose thoughts are not often explored by those writers. As she put it, “Zola does not give Nana an interior history.” Harrison and DeSanti also spoke of the immense and consuming pleasures of research—as well as its perils. DeSanti noted that she “used artifacts to get the emotion of the time,” artifacts such as ration cards, dancing slippers, and even a piece of bread perfectly preserved from the Siege of Paris. She became so immersed in the period that her friends were worried, asking her, “Are you ever going to leave the nineteenth century?” Harrison pointed out the danger for historical novelists of trying to “jam things in” to their novels, just to put their research to work. “You will use three to five percent of what you have taught yourself; it’s important for a historical novelist to be disciplined.”

The evening concluded with a robust question-and-answer session in which the authors provided further details about their research methods (DeSanti noting that she had read “an entire dictionary of smutty French words from the nineteenth century”) and literary agent Lazar gave tips on how to write a good query letter (“be very specific and evocative, give us a taste of the atmosphere of your novel”). Afterward, audience members milled about happily and got their newly purchased books signed. Ashley Gallman and Omri Arad of Wix Lounge were enormously competent and convivial hosts, as always; many thanks to them for their enthusiasm and good cheer. For the hosts, the panelists, and the audience, it was clear that historical fiction remains an enduring genre.

Sonia Kane is a free-lance editor and writer living in Brooklyn. Formerly Assistant Director of Book Publications at the Modern Language Association, she has a PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches literature and writing at Hunter College. She has recently been appointed Co-Editor of the NY Bookwoman, the official newsletter of the NY chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.

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