Tag Archives: Shebooks

On women writing well

Suzanne Paola, writing guru, offers some thoughts on how male vs. female writing, and offers some tips for warming up.

Suzanne Antonetta Paola

I conceived of Stolen Moments after several things happened: one, I read several interviews with V.S. Naipaul, who dismissed all of women’s writing—including Jane Austen’s—as “sentimental” and nowhere equal to his own books, and those of other men. Two, I did in fact buy a pocketbook at a consignment store, as does my character, that still had two lipsticks in a zippered compartment that resembled mine so much that I used them. It was, at first, a challenge to myself: could I create a world out of two accidentally found lipsticks? What if even such a subtle change to one’s outward self could change how we fundamentally think of ourselves and therefore, act?

I just returned home from Hong Kong, where I heard several writers—male—argue that fiction should be political to matter, by which they meant, should include as a major plot point the actions of governments or those who act on behalf of governments. This approach of course can result in terrific fiction. But I think women may be more instinctively aware that life is a series of small moments, every one of which burns outward, into the world: whether I hug my child tonight, and help create a child who is secure, or not; whether I take time to be with a distraught student, or not.  Those who repeat small tasks every day, perhaps, learn to look for the soul in them.

The word sentiment in its Latin root simply means to hold feeling. Human feelings underlie everything in this world, including wars.

One thing I love about the women in my world is that, unlike someone like Naipaul, who dismisses women utterly but pursues numerous and noisy feuds with the occasional male writer as well, the women writers I know are remarkably generous people. This is true of Laura Fraser, editorial director and cofounder of Shebooks.  In the spirit of Shebooks and its generosity, I offer a few writing prompts for you out there. Feel free to contact me at susantonetta@gmail.com to continue the dialogue.

Prompt one: Think about a very small change that made an enormous difference in the way you felt about yourself. Imagine a character who makes a similarly small change, and imagine, in the end, the circumstances of her life change drastically as a result.

Prompt two: Actually make a large change in yourself—clothing, appearance—for one day. Take notes on how you behave differently. Think about how much of self is defined through these sorts of daily decisions on how we present ourselves, and write about it.

 

Shebooks goes to Texas! | Event at Bookwoman

Last night’s Shebooks’ Shebang was held at Bookwoman, Austin’s beloved feminist bookstore since 1975. Marion Winik, visiting from Baltimore, and Beverly Lowry, who lives in Austin, read from their Shebooks — Marion, selections from “Guesswork” and “The End of the World As We Know It,” and Beverly her essay from “Summer,” an anthology edited by Alice Gordon. About 35 were in attendance. Marion explained the Shebooks model and why it’s exciting for both readers and writers. Susan Post, the owner of Bookwoman, explained how to use Kobo to download e-books so that part of the purchase price paid goes to the independent bookstore of your choice. Those who had brought their readers got going then and there. The authors’ print books and e-books aplenty were sold

 

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Shebooks on NPR! | Listen

Lisa Morgan of WYPR’s The Signal chats with two Baltimore-based Shebooks authors, Jessica Anya Blau and Marion Winik, about Shebooks. This truly is the future of women’s e-reading…

Looking for short, fun, immersive reads? Try Mating Calls, Jessica Anya Blau’s smart and sexy short story duo, or Guesswork, Marion Winik’s collection of witty essays, only at Shebooks!

Christine Benvenuto: “A writer is the authority. We seize that authority and run with it.”

What if your life suddenly appeared in a magazine that all your best friends read—and you didn’t like the way it looked at all? That’s the premise of the smart Shebook novella, Sextet, about love and betrayal on New York City’s Upper West Side. Peek inside the mind of Sextet author Christine Benvenuto in this exclusive Shebooks Q&A.

What prompted you to write Sextet?

Sextet is the second in a series of interconnected short stories that I am at work on. The first sprang to life one night at dinner with two couples who seemed to me to live charmed lives, yet fret endlessly and unnecessarily about minutiae. It suddenly occurred to me: These people are characters in a Laurie Colwin story! (For any reader not familiar with Colwin’s fiction, her characters are affluent New Yorkers who, like mine, fret endlessly and unnecessarily about minutiae.) The real people who inspired my characters were not New Yorkers, and that is just one of many ways in which my characters and their situations departed entirely from the people who suggested them to my imagination. By the time I published that first story, I was hooked on this collection of characters, and an entire book-length project had begun to take shape in my mind. I have no idea how it occurred to me that in the second story in the series, Sextet, it would turn out that the original story was in fact, a short story written by one of the characters. That was the gift that set the overall project in motion.

How did you dream up the setting for this story? Is it based on a real place? A composite of real places?

New York City, where Sextet is set, is real! These characters’ milieu is also real, in the sense that I know many people live in buildings and apartments like this one, and so on. I see my characters’ interiors, their apartments, the medical research lab and offices they work in, so clearly, even though I don’t think I’ve ever visited any places they look like or were based upon. I see the huge floral sofa in the living room where the first scene is set, and where one of the first two characters to be introduced curls up during their conversation—though I don’t think I ever describe it as floral in the narrative.

How do you think your own racial/ethnic identity has influenced this story?

In this story and in the series it is a part of, my dual identities as a Jewish woman and an Italian-American woman have come very much into play. Though I have written about this in some respects in my first nonfiction book, it is terrain I’ve never entered in my fiction before, and I’m excited to explore it now. Fiction is the medium that seems to me best suited to delve deeply and widely into questions of identity, and it is also the medium in which I give myself the most freedom to employ a favorite element: humor!

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

I think that dilemma probably gives most writers pause from time to time, and it should. It’s a catalyst for careful research and thoughtful exploration. That said, fiction is a work of the imagination. Navigating the terrain of her own imagination, a writer is the authority. We seize that authority and run with it. If we didn’t, a female writer couldn’t create male characters and vice versa; historical fiction couldn’t be written at all—a great deal of fiction could never be written.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?

Some readers think the memoir I wrote is risky, and I’ve been told I was “brave” to write it. While I don’t feel brave, I understand where that comment is coming from and appreciate it very much. On a creative level, fiction feels riskier now, at this point in my development as a writer. The task in fiction is to create people, situations, worlds, which move readers to self-recognition and, when most successful, to visions of themselves and their own worlds just very slightly different from anything they’ve ever been before.

Have you ever written anything personal that upset people you were close to? 

Yes! My most recent book, a memoir, stirred up some people, though not anyone I was still close to when it was published. I carefully thought through everything I wrote and asked permission of some of the people who figured in my story and might be affected by its publication. In the end I chose to tell the story I had to tell.

Do you currently have a job other than writing? What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

In answer to the first question, being a mother. In answer to the second question, being a mother. I’m sorry, but really, nothing tops making human beings.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m not a cynic; I’m a dreadful romantic.

What is your favorite word right now?

Panache. The word slides off the tongue and mind like a break-dancer executing an almost-but-not-quite-impossible move.

Are you or have you ever been a member of a book club? What does/did that experience offer you?

I loved being part of a book club: great conversation, the opportunity to hear insights I would never have come up with myself about books I might never have read on my own. Additionally, I have twice been invited to the meetings of other book clubs when a book of mine was being discussed. The experience was every writer’s dream, having a book treated to serious, thoughtful consideration by highly intelligent people, getting amazing feedback from the people we write for—readers! Book clubs are one of the great innovations of our time: creating community, encouraging engaged reading and vibrant dialogue.

Do you have an e-reader? What book are you reading on it now? When do you like to read on a device?

I use my iPhone to e-read and love doing this while traveling. On family trips, I seem to spend a lot of time sitting on playground or amusement park benches, where I can surreptitiously whip out my phone and sneak a little read between enthusiastic shouts of encouragement. I’ve reread all the late great Nora Ephron’s work this way since her death.

What or who inspires you most?

To be boringly honest: life. My family, my friends, the daily news, and a walk down the street. The more I encounter the world, the wackier—and more likely to spark the creative process—life becomes.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I am working on a book-length series of connecting stories exploring the characters in Sextet, and the crisscrossing, complicated web of relationships among them. The working title for the book is Fragment of an Angel.

Sextet

Read Christine Benvenuto’s short novel Sextet, only at Shebooks!

Ten Books by Women That Will Change Your Year

Laura’s 10 Best Titles of the Year

Laura Fraser, Shebooks cofounder and editorial director, admits she’s a compulsive reader. In fact, she’s kept a list of all the books she’s read since she was 12! Meanwhile, here’s her list of her favorite print books from the past 12 months—all by women, in honor of the Shebooks launch.

 

1. My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

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This author writes under a pseudonym—perhaps because her depictions of life in Southern Italy are so raw and honest. This novel is the first in a trio about two smart, ambitious young women from a poor Naples neighborhood and the twists their friendship undergoes as they confront jealousy, resentment, changes in circumstance, and new opportunities.

 

2. Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenthood in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

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Finney Boylan—whose original novella for Shebooks, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, to be released in May—writes a moving book about her gender change with characteristic good humor: “I was a father for six years, a mother for ten, and for a while in between I was neither, or both–the parental equivalent of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo.”

3. The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan

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This novel is about a young Scottish woman who survives a series of foster homes and abuse to land in a facility for troubled adolescents—beautifully written.

4. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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A young boy survives an explosion in an art gallery that kills his mother and takes a priceless painting with him out the door. The sprawling novel follows his progress to adulthood as he lives with various memorable characters. I couldn’t put it down!

5. The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

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Set in the 1970s, this is the story of a young motorcycle racer who is (briefly) the fastest woman on earth. The book careens from the New York art world to political turmoil in Italy—a heady read concerned with art, love, politics, and class but still full of heart.

6. Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

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The story of Anne Boleyn never gets old (just watch “The Tudors” or any of the movies made about Henry VIII). But Mantel takes the story to an entirely new psychological depth, with vivid historic detail.

7. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

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This novel follows teenagers at art camp into middle age, as their connections are strained by changes in fortune, ambition, degrees of satisfaction, and the realization (or not) of their early talents.

8. The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud.

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The main character, Nora, is a humdrum teacher who builds little dollhouses—a direct nod to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—and imagines a more interesting life of glamour, travel, and intrigue. She is the opposite of the “woman upstairs,” the madwoman in the attic, but as this novel proceeds, her equilibrium and creativity are challenged, as is her sense of reality.

9. Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Katy Butler.

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A beautifully written and meticulously researched tale of Butler’s years taking care of her elderly parents, exposing the flaws in the American medical system and our costly avoidance of death. An important read for anyone who will ever have to care for an elder.

10. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich.

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A coming-of-age story of an American Indian boy, layered with a dawning understanding of human evil, cultural conflicts on and off the reservation, and a wavering sense of justice.

 

Laura Fraser is author of the Shebook, The Risotto Guru

The Risotto Guru

Shebooks: A Love Story

Shebooks author Marion Winik sits down to interview Shebooks co-founder and editorial director Laura Fraser about her past, her passion for publishing and the impending Shebooks revolution.

 

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I probably don’t have to tell any Shebooks readers that it’s harder than ever to publish a book through traditional corporate channels. And certain categories — like collections of essays — have become virtually extinct, a situation which affects me directly. When I started out telling personal stories as a commentator on NPR in the 1990s, there was a lot of interest in the essay — publishers were looking for the next David Sedaris. These days, though venues have opened up online for individual pieces, and we continue to see themed anthologies on various aspects of parenting, eating, divorce, travel, etc., it’s very rare to find a collection of essays between covers by anyone other than, well, David Sedaris.

This situation made me an eager recipient of last fall’s call for submissions from Shebooks — a new publisher of short e-books by and for women, designed to be read in under two hours. One of the categories they were looking for was collections of essays. Hooray! My first collection, Guesswork, eight essays circling the topics of memory and identity, was part of the launch group in December 2013, which also included books by Jessica Anya Blau, Hope Edelman, Suzanne Paola, and Shebooks co-founder Laura Fraser. Bestselling author of An Italian Affair, Laura’s Shebook is a collection of essays about Italian food called The Risotto Guru. Here’s our recent e-conversation.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you tell me how Shebooks came to be? Last I knew, you were a memoirist on the love-and-pasta beat.

As a writer, I’d been increasingly frustrated about how there are fewer venues for long-form journalism, it’s harder than ever to publish long books, and top-shelf magazines like the New Yorker, Harper’s, and the Atlantic keep ignoring women writers (70% of their bylines are men!). I was speaking at a journalism conference with my long-time friend and editor, Peggy Northrop–we’d worked together at Vogue, Health, More, Organic Style, Real Simple, Glamour, and other places where she’s been a top editor–when there was a panel of guys discussing the opportunities for long-form journalism with the short e-book model. I turned to Peggy and whispered, “It’s the same guys.” She whispered back, “Someone should do this for women.” And the lightbulbs went on.

I couldn’t agree with you more about the difficulties in traditional publishing, particularly for collections of essays. But is the short e-book model catching on? I’ve heard of Amazon Singles — but that’s about it. How do we know readers want (or will accept) these mini-books? Are they even “books” in the standard sense?

What initially made us interested in the short e-book model was The Atavist, which publishes one short e-book per month, and developed the model for creating a platform for long-form journalism in a world where there are fewer and fewer places to publish at a satisfying 7000-10,000 word length– a deep dive into a subject.

There was a huge need for the short e-book. What happened in the publishing world is that magazines devalued themselves by charging only $9.99 a year, or something far below production costs, in order to boost circulation and sell the numbers to advertisers. Consumers got used to paying next to nothing for journalism. The Internet, of course, made that situation worse, with places like the Huffington Post that pay zero, nada to writers. So people are used to getting short content for free. Meantime, there are fewer and fewer places to publish long-from journalism–the feature wells in women’s magazines are shrinking, great magazines like Gourmet have been put out of business (because that $9.99 model was not sustainable in a recession, as advertisers fled), and then, of course, the top-shelf magazines publish 70% male writers.

However, people will still pay money for a book. So the short e-book is the way to sell long-form journalism, short fiction, novellas, and collections of essays. Plus, with more and more of us reading on mobile devices, it’s a satisfying length. We’re all so busy that it makes sense to read a short e-book sometimes, particularly on a mobile device. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to curl up in bed with a long novel, but it’s great to read short e-books when you have less time.

Also, as someone who teaches writing, I can say that many memoirs ought to be about 100,000 words shorter than they are. People have great stories from their lives, but not necessarily stories that are long enough to be published as books. So you get a lot of really padded memoirs. Why not trim them down to a fast-paced, great read?

I certainly agree with that. Often even very good memoirs are just too long! The Liars Club – too long! great, but too long! Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – you too!

Looking at the launch group of Shebooks, I believe I see five fiction and six memoir/essay collections — no long-form journalism yet, right? What can we look forward to here?

We have a few long-form journalism pieces in the works, but it takes more time to develop these stories. We’re hoping to partner with some groups that fund investigative stories on issues that affect women, and we are actively soliciting more pieces.

For now, Shebooks are selling for $2.99 each. How will it work once the subscription model kicks in, and when will that be? This part is just as revolutionary as the short books — can you tell us how you came to this idea?

We come from the magazine world, so we know subscriptions are a good business model. Women are used to subscriptions to all kinds of things, from Weight Watchers to Bacon of the Month, and it makes a lot of sense for books–you can always have as many as you like at your fingertips, to browse when you’re getting on a plane or looking for something to read before bed. Our subscription service will be up in spring.

How will Shebooks compete with regular books for bestseller status? Or will they?

We’re a completely different publishing model. It’s kind of like how is the artisanal ice cream company that sells organic fig ice cream with walnuts or salted dark chocolate ice cream with almonds going to compete with Haagen-Dazs vanilla? There’s room for both, but some customers are going to become addicted to Shebooks because they’re so darn good. We’re all about quality, and about commissioning the best women writers out there to write original stories that you can’t get anywhere else.

We’ll create a little boutique reading environment in our reading app where you can go, close your eyes, and pick a book that you know will be a good read. We have years and years of experience in knowing what women like to read, understanding quality writing, and we’re bringing that to readers who crave it and don’t have the time to go through everything on Oyster or Amazon or ScribD to find it. We’re also providing short reads that fit women’s busy lifestyles. If you’re boarding a plane and want something to read from Chicago to Cleveland, just turn on your device and you’ll have plenty of great reads to choose from, and you really can’t go wrong.

Thanks, Laura. It will be fascinating to watch all this unfold — and how cool to be part of the avant garde.

This interview originally appeared on TheNervousBreakdown.com http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/mwinik/2014/01/interview-with-shebooks-editor-laura-fraser/