My Leading Men

I recently finished The Killing Way, a mystery by author Tony Hays.  While the book was relatively well-written, I found that I was still much more drawn to it than its quality would seem to merit.  I kept mentally returning to it, being excited about getting back to it, only to realize I'd already finished the darned thing and would have to wait for the sequel.  In mulling over why I found this book so fascinating, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the plot or the writing (although both were fine) -- it was the book's hero.

I've had numerous literary crushes over time.  My first occurred when I was in Mrs. Cummins' seventh grade English class.  Every year she had her students read The Adventures of Robin Hood.   While most complained, I enjoyed the experience tremendously.  It was my first encounter with the hero, and I was totally "in love" (whatever that means to a twelve-year-old).   I even resorted to wearing what I thought looked Sherwood-Foresty for awhile (a green shirt that had laces strung across the v-shaped neckline, and leather moccasins that passed for "boots," both readily available in the early 1970s, unfortunately).


Laila Lalami: How "The Novel" Became "Secret Son"

Guest blog by Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son
Laila can be found online at

For the first two years during which I worked on my novel, I didn't have a title for it.  It was simply labeled The Novel, both in my computer and in my head.  Perhaps this was because I really wasn't sure what the book was going to be about.  It started out as a historical novel, following two generations of two Moroccan families after independence; then I cut out the historical part; and eventually I got rid of one of the families.  As my focus narrowed, my story became clearer to me.  The Novel was about Youssef, a student and movie lover, who lives in a slum outside Casablanca.  He discovers that his entire existence has been a lie--his dead and respectably poor father turns out to be a wealthy businessman who is very much alive.  This discovery sets him on a journey to find his father and the truth. 


Too Many Books, Just Enough Time

There was a time when I used to enjoy having two or three books on the go at a time; but increasingly I'm becoming a one-book-at-time reader. Worse still, from the point of view of my credibility as the editor of an online book magazine, I prefer to wallow in the books I read, rather than speed reading them just for the sake of being able to say that I've read them. For me, books are not trophies to add to my 'have read' list but experiences to absorb. I can read very fast when I have to but it's not an enjoyable experience because, although I come away knowing the plot and able to hold my own in conversation, I have not 'heard' the book in my mind, so I've missed out on the cadence of the author's writing, and the rhythms of the characters and places portrayed.


Hillary Jordan: Lessons From Advertising

Guest blog by Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound.
Hillary can be found online at

Before I was a novelist, I was clever for a living. I was an advertising copywriter for twenty some-odd years, first for various agencies and then, eventually, freelance. I'm in recovery now, although I confess I still take on the occasional assignment when I need a quick infusion of cash. In my long career, I conceived, wrote and produced TV and radio commercials, print ads, billboards, web banners, table tents, door hangers, and sundry for everything from Acura to Zoloft: cars, batteries, chicken parts, dog food, sneakers, shampoo, Champagne, paper towels ("It's quilted once, then quilted again!"), perfume, tortellini, vacuum cleaners, blue jeans, tacos, antacids (one of my favorite spots for this product was a horror spoof called "Children of the Corn Dog"), men's leisure wear, chocolates, home theater systems, hair gel, beer, banks, sanitary napkins (the dreaded briefing for that one took place on what I called "Tuesday Bloody Tuesday"), Texas Tourism, an English cider, a Korean cosmetics line, a Russian oil company, and various prescription drugs ("Side effects may include dry mouth, insomnia, sleepiness, nausea and diarrhea"). And this is just the tip of a massive adberg.


Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee