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Little Grey Cells, Order and Method-Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot

The most curious little man to behold-slight in stature but imposing in manner, a comical egg-shaped head, impeccably groomed moustaches, spotless suits, tailored to perfection, and trademark shining patent leather shoes. I am of course referring to Agatha Christie’s master detective, the illustrious Hercule Poirot. He stole my heart from the moment I first watched David Suchet’s superb characterization of the iconic Belgian sleuth. I watched with delight at his endearing eccentricities and his astounding powers of deduction. I found myself chuckling at the comical exchanges between Poirot and his protégé, Arthur Hastings, and feeling perplexed at the seemingly unsolvable murders they set out to unravel together. Each episode enveloped me into the cozy and intriguing world of little grey cells, order and method. In watching these episodes I felt bursts of the sensory experience of reading, and then as a book lover, I decided that it was high time that I actually read Christie’s short stories and novels.

I recently finished the first in a beautiful clothbound Folio Society edition of the Hercule Poirot short stories. The quaint little man, as Hastings so often refers to Poirot, is so eccentric in the particulars of his dress and his insistence on order and method that he immediately endears himself to the reader. One cannot help but be fascinated by the meticulous little Belgian with an impeccable eye for detail, in both fashion and murder. His reliance on his “little grey cells” to solve the most impossible cases baffles and infuriates the amateur Hastings and the gritty Inspector Japp. Though they may share moments of annoyance or lack of understanding for Poirot’s manner, it is always his discerning nature that manages to solve even the most unruly of cases.

Each of Christie’s mysteries are tightly woven tales of intrigue, and only Poirot’s keen perception of the significance of seemingly insignificant details enables the villains to be caught. As I read each of the incredible scenarios that Poirot is called upon to investigate, I found myself marveling at Christie’s power of imagination and deduction. Her title as the “Queen of Mystery” is one no other author can hope to challenge.

From quaint rural villages, to seaside towns, to the bustling metropolises of London and other cities on the Continent-Poirot’s sleuthing skills never falter. Christie brings the perfect blend of intrigue and danger, coupled with the levity of Poirot’s interactions with Hastings and Japp, and his endearing, albeit fastidious, mannerisms to each story. Strychnine poisoning, missing jewels, apparent suicides, and curses of ancient Egyptian pharaohs are just a few of the cases that Poirot brings his expertise to. All the while maintaining an appearance of the utmost elegance, this delightful dandy captures the hearts of readers with his eccentric demeanor and unfailing powers of deduction.

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Discovering the Saints of the Shadow Bible

I recently had the pleasure of meeting an intriguing author at BookPeople, Austin’s favorite indie bookstore. Readers of my blog will know that meeting an author, for me, is a giddy experience that sends my emotions and writerly aspirations bubbling. Last summer I learned of Ian Rankin, bestselling Scottish mystery author, known for his Inspector Rebus series, and I recently finished reading his latest triumph, Saints of the Shadow Bible.

Detective Sergeant John Rebus was new to me, and as I was introduced to this maverick of the Scottish police force, I found myself eager to learn more. As a rule, I never start a series anywhere except the beginning. And yet, in this case I made an exception. I’d heard so much about Ian’s incredible talent for crime writing and the captivating character he’s created in John Rebus that I felt compelled to start at the end. Of course, the fact that Ian would be visiting BookPeople in January to discuss his latest book may have had more than a little to do with my decision.

I was well rewarded in my decision to stray from my reading norm. From the moment I picked up the book I was entranced. Rankin’s ability to create a world and characters with such striking realism is what makes him one of the greats in mystery fiction. Having been to Edinburgh myself, I could envision myself trudging down the cold and dreary streets of Scotland’s capital city with the veteran detective. As I journeyed through the novel with Rebus, I found myself working to decipher both him and the intricate threads of connectivity being woven through the mystery.

Following the plot is akin to meandering through the streets of Edinburgh, taking twists and turns into alleys and side streets, discovering unexpected establishments and beguiling characters along the way. All the while you’re keenly aware that there is a mystery to solve and subtle clues are all around. You are supposed to be stringing the pieces together. Connecting the yarn on your map of the city. Taking cue from Rebus’s Holmesian bloodhound instinct. And yet, you find yourself befuddled. Captivated by the charismatic (if rough around the edges) Rebus, frustrated by the methodical Fox, and intrigued by the murky history of the Saints of the Shadow Bible.  Rebus recalls Doyle’s Sherlock and Christie’s Poirot, those icons of mystery whose skills of observation and detection emit a superhuman quality that mystifies and baffles those of us not gifted with their keen eye. Yet, he still maintains those quirks and flaws that make him unquestionably human, and relatable.

Rankin is a master storyteller with a gift for drawing characters of such complexity and undeniable realism, that the reader cannot help but feel adamant that they in fact could be found sitting in the local CID in Edinburgh. He writes of his home in Edinburgh, as only can one intimately acquainted with her. The cobblestone streets, the historic churches and castle, striking architecture and landscape all pulse with life. The city and all its secret dealings, the mingling of the political parties with less than reputable characters, and the police’s bid to get a handle on it all strike a chord with the reader as interactions not far removed from reality. Add to that the thread of upheaval currently pervading the political climate in Scotland, and Rankin’s Edinburgh bursts will intrigue, mystery, life, and believability.

I am, without a doubt, now a part of the Rebus following and have a lot of catching up to do on the history of the saints, the seedy underbelly of police work in Edinburgh CID, and the evolution of one of the most captivating detectives in contemporary mystery fiction.

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Tapping the Writing Well

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For readers of my blog, my love of books and reading is undoubtedly apparent. I am also an aspiring writer. Though I write for my blog, and I’ve written plenty of essays I want to reach deeper into my well and bring forth creative and compelling fiction. I want to be a crafter of words that envelop, that entrance, and that transport readers.

I am eager to find within myself a story that begs to be told. One that may be unwieldy, and as of yet simply amorphous wisps of fog. I know if I can but harness those fleeting ideas, then with time and passion I can shape them into what will hopefully become fully formed, charismatic characters that pop from the page and descriptive prose that immerses readers in the world I have created.

It is my ardent hope to find and unlock these stories within myself. I know that they reside within me-I can feel it each time I pick up a pen to write as the words burst forth from my fingers, seemingly under someone else’s control. I must read and write with a fervor and a hunger that has no bounds. Only then will I find the writer within.

It has been too long since I have put pen to paper to write fiction. During my college years I wrote children’s stories and fantasy stories and was amazed at the words that poured out of me. My characters became as dear to me as my oldest friends. This, I believe, is an affection only writers can truly understand. I am ready to get back to that place again as I begin my next quest into fiction writing with a children’s series featuring a mischievous duck that I hope will capture the hearts of children.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting an exceptionally talented mystery author, Ian Rankin, at a reading from his latest book, The Saints of the Shadow Bible. I was not brave enough to raise my hand during the Q&A session following his reading, but I plucked up the courage to ask my question when I met him. I began, “I’m an aspiring writer, and I know that you have a PhD, but I was wondering if…” “If I ever took a creative writing class?” he finished my sentence before I could. And his answer, no. This prolific and best-selling author simply read voraciously, carefully studied the worlds created by other authors, and looked for a space he could call his own. He advised me to do the same.

It was a relief to hear him say that formal training is not necessary, but at the same time it also makes the task I’m setting myself to all the more daunting. I cannot simply take a class, perform well, get my “A’s” and then be equipped to delve into the world of fiction. Instead, I must find a way to bring a new and compelling voice to readers, one they can identify with and be swept away by.

I truly believe that if you are a writer, you write. It is an inherent characteristic, part of your genetic makeup. Of course, that is not to say that you can’t hone your craft. There are always ways you can learn and grow as a writer. But to me, I believe the greats, those paragons of literature that create a lasting imprint on readers–they are born with it .

Though I could not hope to be one of those names that transcend time, I do hope to find the stories within me, share them with readers, and make an impact in some way on their lives. Authors are keen observers, constantly watching the world and the people around them. It is out of these observations that characters begin to form, and worlds come to life. Imagination is of course something no good writer can be without–the ability to see the extraordinary amidst the ordinary. I know that I have it within me. I’ve just yet to find the tap. The only thing to do is to read and write with abandon. To soak up all the glorious greatness of other writers, to let the words pour from me like a dam set free, and to dismiss any fear that they might be inadequate. In doing so, I will find my voice, my space, and my story.

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2014–The Year of the Writer

It’s that time of year again…New Year, New You. New Year’s Resolutions to be kept, gym memberships to be purchased, new yoga gear to be worn, more water and green tea to be consumed and so on. Though I’ll admit that I have some health and fitness resolutions on my list for 2014, there is another resolution that I’m determined to keep at the top. It’s time for me to make a serious and concerted effort to regularly exercise my writing skills. There’s no reason for me not to, it comes  easily to me (most of the time) and I get immense joy from letting the words flow out onto the page. Why should I deny myself that pleasure simply because lying on the couch in front of the TV is so much easier, but so much less rewarding?

It’s time for a change and one that I will stick to. I’m making 2014 my year of writing. In this year I will make my blog a priority, I will make my creative writing a priority (more on that to come) and I will make my personal growth as a writer and reader a priority. These are things that are near and dear to my heart and fuel my spirit and I’m not going to let the post-work laziness get in the way any longer. I will march into 2014 with this new motto in mind “The pen is mightier than the couch.” Perhaps a bizarre twist on Bulwer-Lytton’s celebrated adage, yet one that I feel is particularly fitting for the writer in me.

I have recently started contributing to my blog at work, Greenleaf Book Group’s Big Bad Book Blog and this new responsibility at work has given me the kick in the rear I desperately needed to get back on track with my personal publishing blog.  I am so excited to start 2014 as a young publishing professional. It has been a long time coming and an earnest quest of mine to be a part of this industry that I want to build a lifelong career in. I think therefore that I owe it to myself and to publishing to be an active participant in the space.

It’s going to be a great writing adventure and I can’t wait to see where the page and the words take me!

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The veil has been lifted: The secret behind The Cuckoo’s Calling

Of course while I’ve been immersed in study, the dynamic world of publishing has gone through many twists and turns. Suffice it to say, I’m well aware that there is much industry news to catch up on, including the most intriguing story of the pseudonymously authored The Cuckoo’s Calling. I know that I’ve certainly missed the boat on the “breaking news” aspect of this delightful story, but as an ardent fan of Ms. Rowling, it would be impossible for me to not write a gushing post about her exciting new venture into the world of mystery. An apt weaver of interlocking stories, with an uncanny skill for tying the most seemingly unremarkable tidbits of information into an intricate overarching tale, I am certain that Rowling’s mystery will thrill and delight with the same intensity as her fantasy.

When I first read the news in Publishers Weekly that the author of the series of books that had the most formative impact on my childhood, youth, and let’s face it adulthood was authoring a new series my book lover’s heart gave a distinct flutter of joy. I had to smile at her statement to BBC News that “being Robert Galbraith [was] such a liberating experience.” She also spoke of the joy of “publish[ing] without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure of getting feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.” A celebrated novelist with worldwide acclaim, she did not want her latest work to be picked up based on the notoriety associated with her name and her previous literary successes. Instead, she wanted to inspire that exquisite curiosity and hunger in readers, to ignite their bookish passions based solely on the innumerable merits of her artful mastery of the written word and to discover the world created by a seemingly unknown author. I find this to be yet another feather in her cap as a true writer.

Under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling made it into the hands of approximately 500 people, according to Publishers Weekly. Once her secret was out however, Rowling’s mystery skyrocketed in sales by “5,000 places to top Amazon’s sales list.”  Of course there was something quite suspect about a novel crafted with all the telltale signs of a veteran, purportedly authored by a novice and she was certain to be found out sooner or later. The hype surrounding The Cuckoo’s Calling emptied bookshelves across the nation. The original 10,000 print run was clearly going to need some serious augmentation, and publisher, Little, Brown did just that when they went back to the presses for an impressive and merited 300,000 print run.

I am overdue for a trip to the bookstore to purchase my copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling and sink into Rowling’s intriguing new tale. A master of language, characters, and plot development Rowling is certain to have woven that indefinable literary brilliance that is so distinctly her own into the tale of war veteran turned private detective, Cormoran Strike and his quest to unearth the truth behind the death of a famed model. With book in hand I will retreat into a hibernation-like state, ignoring all those around me, completely engrossed in the world of Rowling’s creation. The immersive and absorbing quality of her writing is what makes her such an incredible writer, and my personal favorite. I’m predicting another series that will take the reading world by storm, that will add fuel to the passions of ardent readers, kindle the flames of lapsed readers, and ignite the curiosity and excitement of new readers. How can I predict such a phenomenon? The Cuckoo told me so.

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MIA Blogger Returns: SPI Part II

qs0gghAfter the close of the magazine program with presentations to top industry professionals, it seemed impossible to think that we were back to square one and at the start of another three-week adventure. Yet there we were with all the first day of school jitters again, albeit armed with a wealth of newly acquired publishing knowledge. I felt like a fledging apprentice awaiting the instructions of the master I had been apprenticed to–filled with nerves, passion, and an earnest desire to learn the trade.

Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster came to speak to us that day. To hear her speak of the vision of her publishing house and how their goal is to ensure that each author’s work reaches as many readers as possible spoke to me as an ardent lover of words and books. She spoke of publishing as a vessel through which author’s works were disseminated into the world and that at Simon & Schuster each work was taken on its own merit and its own timeline no matter how long-lasting it may or may not be. In these words, I heard confirmed what I have long known–that publishing is truly where I belong. The program continued to enchant and enthrall me as we heard from more incredible speakers, including Madeline McIntosh, President and COO of Penguin Random House, Reagan Arthur, Publisher of Little, Brown, Jennifer Loja, VP Associate Publisher of Penguin Books for Young Readers, and many more top professionals from “the Big 6”, newly “the Big 5”, as well as literary agents from highly regarded agencies Levine Greenberg, ICM, Writers House, The Gernert Company, and Howard Morhaim. Their knowledge of the industry is boundless and during their presentations I tried to absorb every ounce of the wisdom they were imparting. By the end of the three weeks I am certain I resembled an extremely saturated sea sponge.

During the book section of the program we also got the opportunity to visit publishing houses. Another early morning in Woolworth spent lined up, sizing up my competition to the left and right as I prepared myself for the stampede that would occur when the sign-up sheets were posted. We truly turned into a herd of wildebeests when those sign-up sheets were out; it was as if all rational thought fled from us and we reverted to our primal instincts. I got the opportunity to visit HarperCollins and was more than a little giddy standing in the lobby waiting to be taken up to the gilded halls of book publishing. I was certainly not disappointed when those elevators doors opened. It was a strikingly beautiful office and the fact that I was in the hallowed halls that held so many powerful books, a repository of knowledge, depth, beauty, vibrancy, and stirring imagination was nothing short of breathtaking. As we sat in the conference room and heard from editorial, art, and subsidiary rights directors I couldn’t help but feel a certain dreamlike quality overtake me. After all, it has long been my aspiration to be a part of this industry and to actually to be in the office of one of the Big 5 publishing giants was overwhelmingly wonderful. I felt a strong desire to head deeper into the office, seat myself with the other employees and begin diligently working–perhaps if I was quiet and efficient enough they might not notice that I was an imposter.

As if there were time for anything other than raptly listening to presentations of publishing gurus, fanciful thoughts dancing in my head, and visiting publishing houses and indie bookstores, we also had an imprint to create. I was a part of the romance imprint, which we christened Ardour Press. At first I was a little disconcerted about being a part of the romance imprint, but as I began writing my three book ideas prior to the start of the program I actually found myself enjoying the genre. My ideas of course were all woven in the vein of my favorite genre, historical fiction, but nevertheless they were romance novels. One of my ideas, my favorite in fact, was chosen to be one of our imprint’s titles. Exquisite Talent: Love and Ballet in the City of Light, set in 1920s Paris, tells the tale of a fiery and tumultuous romance between prima ballerina, Caterina and her rival Luka. Filled with passion for the arts from ballet to the literature of The Lost Generation, this story aligned perfectly with our imprint’s mission to share love stories through the vein of people’s passions in life. We wanted to steer clear of the stereotypical bodice-ripping romance titles and bring something more intelligent and multi-dimensional. It was such an exciting adventure to see three books coming to life, and one of them my own. My zeal for book publishing increased further as did the passionate conviction that I am on the right path.

All too soon, the six weeks came to a close. We had made it through our crash course into publishing. Looking back on the program now I am so thankful to have been a part of it because it has given me such great insight into the industry and experiences and memories that will never fade. This is most certainly the first step in a new chapter, and as the door of SPI closes, I can only hope that the next door to open will be that of my future position in publishing!

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MIA Blogger Returns: SPI Part I

qs0gghAfter seven long weeks of hibernation, I am finally reemerging to first catch up on what I have been up to and then get back to blogging about the intriguing industry of publishing that I am so earnestly seeking to be a part of. During the course of the past seven weeks I have been on a whirlwind ride of a deep and intensive immersion in the world of publishing. NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute was the most absorbing and wonderfully challenging experience, as evidenced by my lengthy stint away from my beloved blog. This is of course by and large my fault for not continuing to blog during the program. However, always the consummate perfectionist, I poured myself into the program and was completely disconnected from the outside world.

Though I regret my absence from my blog, I cannot begin to articulate what an incredible experience I had throughout the course of the program. We were lucky enough to have leaders in the magazine and book publishing industries take the time to come and impart some of their wisdom. It was, I must admit, a bit unnerving to be sat in the same room as Editor’s-in-Chief and Publishers of some of the most high-profile magazines and publishing houses in the industry. The most amazing thing was their willingness to be a part of the program and to invest their time in aspiring young professionals. It is a testament to their dedication to the essence of publishing and to their desire to ensure that the up and coming members of the publishing world are filled with the same passion that they have. Passion was the theme that ran throughout the six-week course. Credentials, experience, networking etc are all important elements, but it is the passion that we have for this industry that keeps it alive. To me it is incredible that an industry that touches people all over the world can be fueled on passion. As a reader, writer, and let’s face it, a bit of a romantic, this touches me.

It’s difficult to encapsulate in one blog post a six-week program that certainly included at least a semester’s worth of information, but I will attempt to give a good snapshot. In the interest of making this blog post a manageable read I am going to split the magazine and book sections into two posts, otherwise I will surely loose readers’ attentions along the way. The magazine program was a high-speed operation from day 1. It was certainly what I would call trial by fire. It was time for us to all show what we were made of as we set out to launch a new magazine in a mere three weeks. We were guided through this process by industry experts from editorial, marketing, publicity, web development, and finance who shed light on the complex world of magazine publishing. If we were magazine illiterate at the start of the program, we certainly had a new vocabulary to show off at the end, complete with acronyms such as CPM, P&L, FOB, and many others that at the start seemed like a foreign language.

As we sat in the freezing classroom in the historic Woolworth Building, publishing giants Pilar Guzman, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living, Michael Clinton, President, Marketing and Publishing Director of Hearst Magazines, Anne Fulenwider, Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire, and David Granger, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire, gave us a glimpse into that magical, glamorous world of magazine publishing and the behind the scenes actions that breathe life into the books each month. We were also fortunate enough to get to go on visits to magazines’ headquarters, and the foodie that I am I eagerly scrambled through the crowd of students to sign my name for the Bon Appetit visit. As I walked through the test kitchen where scents of pecorino risotto wafted through the air I was overcome by how surreal the whole experience was. We continued our tour through the art department where the creative gurus were deep in discussion about an upcoming issue and wanting to push the envelope with a certain design technique. We passed the Editor-in-Chief’s office where Adam Rapoport sat engaged in a meeting detailing his creative vision. We truly were in the midst of a magazine at work, seeing the heart and soul of the people who work tirelessly each month to create an exquisite issue that provides readers with  much more than just incredible recipes.

Of course it was easy to get engrossed in all the wonderful presentations and tours, but there was the small nagging detail of that magazine we had to create in three weeks. I was selected as the Editor-in-Chief of my magazine group, a role that I was equally excited and terrified about. Falling in line with my love of food, I was in the food group and couldn’t have been happier. After many hours of brainstorming, bandying ideas back and forth we settled on creating a wine magazine. This would not be your typical wine magazine, however, this magazine would be for twenty-somethings to thirty-somethings that were interested in learning more about wine, but were put off by the snobby culture surrounding it. And thus, Genuwine: Wine Without the Snobbery was born. During the next three weeks I certainly got much less sleep than is advisable and may have forgotten to eat a meal or two. This may sound hyperbolic, but for anyone who has been a part of an intensive graduate program they know that they mean intensive.

It was the most challenging, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding project to see our amorphous idea come to life. We began with our name, mission statement, and reader as the foundation of our identity and then built the magazine from there. From writing articles and creating a design aesthetic to developing a publicity and marketing plan and creating an online and social media presence, and don’t forget the money side of things advertisers and finances, we created a full-fledged magazine that we were incredibly proud of. As I stood bleary-eyed and stomach-aflutter in Fed-Ex the night before presentations and watched our magazine emerge from the printer, I felt tears wet my cheeks. I will admit to being a sentimental person, but this experience truly warranted my tears. It was another surreal moment to actually see all the hard work and late nights come to fruition. What had started out as merely a vision dreamed up by 13 aspiring kids had somehow turned into a beautiful, tangible magazine.

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July 23, 2013 · 3:58 pm