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The Secret Library Podcast

The truth about writing books. By speaking to authors and other book lovers, I'm diving into the mystery that is the book world today. From writing to editing to publishing and all that goes into the creation of a book – all of it is open for discussion on the show.
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Now displaying: 2018
Dec 27, 2018

As writers, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can take care of our words.

On the other side, we don't spend nearly as much time thinking about how words can take care of us as well.

For the past 4 or 5 years, I've been picking a word for the year to guide me along in both my living and my writing. Since we work with language after all, why not use language for a supportive purpose as well as a creative one?

One of my favorite guides in this process has been my friend Susannah Conway, creator of Find Your Word course and who has also been creating a workbook to Unravel the Year ahead for nearly a decade. Barry and I have made it our New Years ritual to hide out somewhere quiet and remote and work through this brilliant workbook and set intentions and get clear on our hopes for the coming year.

In fact, it was in this very workbook that living abroad first appeared as a hope for us. Since we spend so much time writing for readers, I wanted to wrap up 2018 by spending some time with writing that is for our eyes alone. By taking this time to reflect on what you hope to gain in the coming year, I know your writing will stand to gain so much.

Enjoy this chat Susannah and I had as we wrap up 2018 and start dreaming for the coming year. Happy listening, and happy dreaming.

Dec 20, 2018
What if you didn't have to be a scientist to write science fiction?
 
Guess what people, Mary Robinette Kowal is about to blow your mind. She has the most incredible background I have heard on the show so far: Jim Henson Puppeteer, Voiceover actor, and Hugo-award-winning Science Fiction author. YES. There is nothing I love more than writers who are multi-passionate and unafraid to pursue everything they love.
 
So when Mary Robinette wrote a short story that started to stray into the history of space exploration, she wasn't afraid to follow its lead. Instead, she asked for help. She worked with consultants to make the story believable and accurate while not giving up on the book she wanted to write. Have a story that feels over your head in terms of knowledge and technical information? Look no further than this episode. It can be written, promise.
Dec 13, 2018
It's obvious: I love having Mary Laura Philpott on the show.
 
I just couldn't wait to talk about her essay collection, I Miss You When I Blink, coming in spring 2019, so we dive into the experience she's having now: the book is finished and in the pipeline for publication, and the Messy Middle is in full effect. We talk about the feelings having the book out in the world with early readers brings up, and why you should always bring a copy of your book in your carry-on when traveling.
 
And, of course, because we are obsessed with books, Mary Laura and I do what we love most: geek out about all the amazing books that are just waiting for you to snatch them up as holiday gifts this year. There's something for everyone on your list in this episode, from non-fiction to novels to short stories. Happy listening!
Dec 6, 2018
A.J. Jacobs has been on my wishlist of guests for ages.
 
From The Know-It-All to The Year of Living Biblically, I have loved reading along through his lifestyle experiments that took on challenges I wish I was dedicated enough to undertake: reading the entire encyclopedia? Following all the rules in the Bible for a year even as a non-religious person? He has incredible guts to both start and finish these projects.
 
So when I heard about Thanks A Thousand, his latest book and a project that sought to thank everyone who was involved with the production of his morning cup of coffee, I was determined to have him on. I had myself set up for my own quest to convince him, but it turns out he was delighted to come on as soon as I asked. This conversation was a great joy, as we looked at all the small design masterpieces there are in the world around us, just how many people collaborate on the creation of a book, and how much better it makes your life to thank the people you meet every day. I couldn't be happier to share this with you.
Nov 29, 2018
I could have easily talked to Ada Palmer for Six Hours.
 
You might wish I had after listening to our conversation. Ada is the author of the Terra Ignota series, a science fiction epic saga that stole my will to read anything else the entire time I was in the clutches of the first book. I cannot wait for my next long flight to continue the journey.
 
Ada is also a history professor, and we talk about the unique ability science fiction and fantasy have to explore other options and other pathways. We explore the ways fiction can communicate ideas very differently from non-fiction and how her teaching impacts her writing - and vice versa.
 
Finally, we discuss the intricacies of censorship and the project she is working on with former guest Cory Doctorow to draw parallels between attempts at censorship during the advent of the printing press and what we are seeing in the digital landscape today. Definitely a must-listen. Enjoy!
Nov 22, 2018
Ever caught yourself thinking "I could never write like that?" when reading a published book?
 
It's so important to remember that a lot goes on behind the scenes between writing "the end" and seeing the book out in the world. It's hard to remember that beyond the drafts the author goes through, there are also rounds of edits that follow.
 
This week, I chat with the founder and two editors from NY Book Editors, a company that employs editors with Big 5 publishing experience to work with authors planning to publish both traditionally and independently. Whether you're a fiction writer or working on non-fiction, we've got you covered.
 
Get ready to take notes PLUS listen to learn about the before and after download, we've made to show what a piece of writing looked like fresh from the writer and after the editor had reviewed it. Finally! We're taking you behind the scenes into the transformation from draft to finished manuscript. Happy listening.
Nov 15, 2018

By Day, Sarah St. Vincent is a researcher and advocate, but by night and early morning, she is a novelist.

Sarah St. Vincent studied law at the University of Michigan and now works for the US Program of Human Rights Watch, specializing in national security, surveillance and domestic law enforcement.
 
At the same time as working in this important area, Sarah has been working on the novel, Ways to Hide in Winter, out now from Melville House. In this episode, we talk about the importance of day job/writing life balance as well as the topics she felt were better covered in fiction than nonfiction articles. If you think your day job is a restriction on your writing life, think again, because this conversation reminded me of the many ways work out in the world can enrich what we explore as writers. I know you'll enjoy this conversation and this brilliant new book.
Nov 8, 2018

With hundreds of audiobooks narrated, Rachel Fulginiti was the perfect guest to lead us through the wild world of audio.

This episode will take you through the entire process, from finding potential narrators to audition, how to hire them, pricing, the timeline from booking to recording to receiving the finished product. Full of tips to get the best audiobook possible, you'll be ready to make the leap into creating an audio version of your book after listening to this jam-packed episode.

Enjoy!

Nov 1, 2018

Every year November 1 brings the same question to writers: to NaNo or not to NaNo?

Tasha Harrison and I dive into NaNo 2.0: tips and hacks for writers looking to do more than just bang out 50,000 words of a brand new project. Already working on a book? Great. We'll walk you through ways to approach the madness of NaNoWriMo so you come out the other side with something you're proud of.

Here's hoping you're ready for a major jolt of inspiration!

Oct 25, 2018
When Alexandra Franzen first wrote her novel, So This is the End, she wasn't ready to publish it with the wide world.
 
She released it as a gift - a free download she gave to her mailing list. She was terrified it really wasn't that good.
 
A torrent of replies came in, sharing how much the book had moved them. She got braver and put it up for sale on her site. Then, over a year later, she thought it might be ok to think about publishing it wide.
 
Here is the story of how her book went from something that could have hidden in a drawer forever to a book that's been optioned for a series and is coming out in hardcover. If you ever doubt the importance of trying, this is your episode. Warning: you may write like the wind without holding back after listening to this. I know I did.
Oct 18, 2018

When I found out Susan Orlean's latest was called The Library Book it took me exactly 2 minutes to invite her on the show to discuss it. Bless her, she said yes less than 5 minutes later.

This book is SO GOOD.

Granted, I am an easy sell with a podcast called The Secret Library. But this book has arson, crazy characters, scandal, history, and everything a book nerd could ever want. We discuss the process of researching and writing this book over 5 years and what it took to write it, even after Susan thought she'd never write another book again.

She's pure gold, as always.

Oct 11, 2018

When I did 100 readings a few years ago, a friend asked if I could read for her writing project instead of her life.

We tried it out and were amazed at the results. After exploring a bit, I discovered that the very brilliant Jessa Crispin had been reading tarot for writers for years. Her book, The Creative Tarot has been a favorite ever since and I was thrilled she was open to coming on and discussing how tarot can support the writing process.

If you’ve been wondering about bringing tarot into your writing or even if you’ve never played with tarot at all, this episode is going to be such a treat! Happy listening...

Oct 4, 2018
This conversation was absolute and total heaven.
 
Much like Simon Van Booy's latest book, the story collection "The Sadness of beautiful Things," this episode covers a wide variety of topics. However, even as we moved from beginnings, to endings, to the thought and work it took to get various stories right, we kept coming back to one central theme" what does it take to write a good story?
 
Simon is a brilliant guide in this arena, and shared the circumstances of the stories he's been told while traveling that lead, over time, to the ones that made up this collection. We talk about the trickiness of happy endings, how to deal with the tough stuff, and so much more. I've been counting the days until this book came out because I'm so excited for you to read it, and to get to hear this chat. Happy listening.
Aug 30, 2018

When Allie Rowbottom lost her mother to cancer, she dove headfirst into writing.

Having already completed an MFA and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, Allie was no stranger to writing but something changed after her mother died. She felt an increased urgency to tell the story her mother had invested many years of her own life writing: the story of the women and generations impacted by the money made from an icon of mid-century America: Jell-O.

The story that is ultimately told in Rowbottom's book is multifaceted: it's her grandmother's story, her mother's, and her own, but it's also the story of Jell-O and how this product came to represent a particular kind of femininity that all these women felt pressured to mold themselves into, much like Jell-O itself. We dive in deep to what it felt like to write this story so soon after losing her mother and what it's like now as the book comes out and so many more people are reading and reacting to the book.

This was such an inspiring interview, both because Allie was so open about her feelings and experience, but also because we haven't touched on writing and grief with this kind of depth, and it's a topic I think deserves much attention. I'm very grateful to have had this conversation and look forward to discussing this topic more in the future.

Aug 23, 2018
  • How to Write Non-Fiction

Non-fiction books are a different animal than fiction, with as many reasons to write them as there are categories. With more people than ever wanting to reach a wider audience, the appeal for writing nonfiction is clear. 

Show favorite Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn was the perfect guest to speak about how to write nonfiction well, and all the steps to take to make your book a success. With more people than ever looking to read nonfiction, it's a great time to write based on the knowledge and expertise you have to share. Joanna is, as always, a delight to speak with and I was very sad when our chat came to an end. Enjoy listening- may this inspire you to get working on your nonfiction book!

Aug 16, 2018
  1. I saw Amy Alkon speak at the LA Times Festival of Books and was delighted with her talk on her book, Unf*ckology, which breaks down the science of building up courage. Here, I thought, was a person who can address this fear so many people have of calling themselves writers.

I was right in guessing she'd have a lot to say on the topic, but we went so much further into how to trick your brain into being brave, what routines help jump-start Amy's writing day (one of my favorite writing routines EVER). Plus Amy is very funny. I adored her and this conversation, and I know you will too. Happy listening!

Aug 9, 2018

Confession: I am intimidated by poetry.

If you look over the back catalog of the show, you will find a dearth of poetry represented. partly this is because I have such an abundance of novelists, essayists, and other more mainstream-length books to discuss with people.

But, to be fair, I haven't gone digging for poetry. I feel vastly uneducated in that realm and I suspect many people out there feel the same way.

For this reason, I was delighted to read Trickster Feminist and to have the opportunity to speak to Anne Waldman about poetry and the role this collection, and the genre as a whole has played in her life.

If you think poetry is a remote Ivory Tower activity or something limited to something your inner 15-year-old anguished self could write, this episode is going to turn that notion on its ear. We talk about these poems but also the process of writing a poem and building a relationship with poetic language.

I love Anne Waldman, and I know you will too.

Aug 2, 2018

Reading and Writing History

When the Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta was announced for a reprint from Penguin, I was so excited to see that Diana Gabaldon wrote the foreword.

In speaking with Diana both about this novel from history as well as her experience writing fiction set in a historical setting, I was hit with a variation on the classic real estate slogan: Context! Context! Context!

Just like location is everything for a home purchase, context is everything when reading and writing history. We had a juicy conversation about her writing process - one of the most unique I have heard about so far- her research methods, and what it meant to her to read The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta today in a time when there is still so much work to be done on cultural awareness and literacy for the world as a whole.

Diana's take on writing and history is refreshing, candid, and straightforward. She cuts to the chase and provides thoughts and advice you can act on immediately. This is a jolt of motivation for anyone looking to write about history or who needs to research another era for their book. Such a delight to share this one - happy listening and may it spur you into action like it did for me.

Jul 26, 2018

Donal Ryan is the best argument for staying hopeful about writing.

In this conversation, we discuss how Donal Ryan stayed optimistic as his first few books were rejected nearly 50 times before he broke in to get one published.

Once he did, he was long listed for the Booker Prize.

We have all heard these stories: of Stephen King impaling rejection letters on a nail driven into the wall by his desk, and writers who just kept sending in their work dozens – and sometimes hundreds– of times.

While these stories are meant to motivate, they rarely explore the heartbreak that is experienced along the way. In this conversation, Donal Ryan shares what kept him going, as well as his thoughts on structure and craft related to his latest book, From a Low and Quiet Sea.

Spoiler Alert: it's a knockout. You won't want to miss this episode! I predict repeat listening...

Jul 26, 2018

Donal Ryan is the best argument for staying hopeful about writing.

In this conversation, we discuss how Donal Ryan stayed optimistic as his first few books were rejected nearly 50 times before he broke in to get one published.

Once he did, he was long listed for the Booker Prize.

We have all heard these stories: of Stephen King impaling rejection letters on a nail driven into the wall by his desk, and writers who just kept sending in their work dozens – and sometimes hundreds– of times.

While these stories are meant to motivate, they rarely explore the heartbreak that is experienced along the way. In this conversation, Donal Ryan shares what kept him going, as well as his thoughts on structure and craft related to his latest book, From a Low and Quiet Sea.

Spoiler Alert: it's a knockout. You won't want to miss this episode! I predict repeat listening...

Jul 19, 2018
How I love speaking to writers who also teach writing!
 
Lucy Tan is that delightful hybrid: a novelist who also knows how to speak about the process of writing so clearly you can follow along in her footsteps. She is so smart, both in her writing and her advice about how to get it done.
 
Lucy began her novel, What We Were Promised, inside the safety of her MFA program, and was relieved to be protected from thinking about agents, publishing, and the outside world as she spent time on what was most important: learning how to finish the book and get it how she wanted it to be.
 
In this episode, we get to follow along in the path that she took to find the story that is the novel today. Learn how a personal experience formed a kernel for one of the main characters of her book, why she chose to use multiple points of view, and which parts of her novel were the most challenging to write. It's a thought-provoking episode that dives into culture, memory, and where stories come from. I know you will love it as much as we loved creating it for you. Enjoy!
Jul 17, 2018

We're going steady on a podcast! 

So... we've had Mary-Laura Philpott (or MLP as we like to call her around here) on recommending books seasonally for the past few seasons and we decided it was time to give her a bonus episode slot. We know you are all busy and want a quick listen, so here it is!

All your July reading recommendations in one convenient in-between-isode. That's a word now - I just decided. Also coming this week: the video version! We know you want to see the covers.

Full show notes with links to the books we discussed here.

Jul 12, 2018

Sometimes the line between memoir and novel is thinner than others.

Keith Gessen came on the show this week to discuss his latest novel, A Terrible Country. Drawing on his own experience caring for his grandmother in Russia after graduating from college, Keith originally set out to write a much bigger book than the one he ended up with. He had fantasies of covering aspects of Russian culture in between the narrative sections, and coming up with – essentially – the Russian equivalent of A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth.

He won a fellowship to work out of the New York Public Library and had access to every book in the system and wrote with this vision of a large book in mind for the year he was in residence there.

And then he sat down and read the result and was horrified to find that it bored him. In our conversation, we discuss how he pared it down into the final manuscript and the things that scared him along the way to a final novel. Keith is very open about his experience in a way that will make everyone listening remember that, even though you write a novel by yourself, you aren't alone in how scary it can feel to do it. This will be a great comfort if you feel any doubt about reaching the end. Let Keith be the voice from the light at the end of the tunnel.

Jul 5, 2018

The best books don't center around perfect characters doing easy things.

I am so excited to share this week's episode as each of these conversations was so much fun to record. Edan has been on the show before, but I wanted to have her back to talk about her love of writing difficult characters within the framework of her latest novel, Woman No. 17. Edan delights in creating tension by revealing her character's flaws for the reader's view and puts these characters in situations sure to highlight these flaws and bring them to a head. So many books create tension through plot and action, but the suspense in Edan's books is just as much about pushing flawed characters to their edge, all the while leaving us asking "Oh my god, what will they do now??"

Jim Butcher has written so many novels that I wouldn't be shocked to learn that he doesn't sleep at all. He admitted that he has trouble keeping track of the exact details of former books after having revised them numerous times, so he relies on his fanbase Wiki to keep track, a detail I found both charming and extremely practical. In addition, we dove into the beauty of throwing your characters into sticky situations and the necessity to write scenes so things go from bad to worse. This chat helped me feel much braver about putting my character into tough spots to see how she will navigate rocky territory.

I hope both these conversations inspire you to investigate the less savory corners of your story and take your books into riskier places. May we all send our characters down a dark alley, metaphorically, after taking both of these writers' advice!

Sponsored by the SLP Patreon | Show notes with links

Jun 28, 2018

Rebecca Makkai didn't set out to write about the AIDS Crisis in Chicago.

This is what I love about writing. There is the saying, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." I would say that it's just as true that "Books are what happen when you're busy making outlines."

In speaking with Rebecca Makkai this week about her latest novel, The Great Believers, a book I absolutely loved, I was most struck that the plot line all the press and critical acclaim is centered around is not the one Makkai started with.

She started with a story about a character and then, as she wrote, the story grew. She stayed curious and followed where the story led. And it led her somewhere big, so a big period of research followed. Makkai was devoted to doing the right thing by her book, and that's really what we all need to do in the end. Trust that the story is worth writing, and follow its lead. Here's hoping you listen in close to your own story this week... I can't wait to find out where you end up following it to. May this episode inspire you in the process of getting there.

Happy listening, and happy writing.

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