Nearly 230 librarians, authors, and publishers gathered for the 15th annual LJ Day of Dialog at McGraw-Hill on June 4. Designed to foster better communication and relationship building, the event also emphasizes the strength of the library market, not only for book purchases but as an engine for book sales and author discovery. This year’s Day of Dialog featured five presentations: Two author panels, a conversation with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, a conversation on digital collection development and best practices, and a perennial favorite, Editor’s Picks. See more from Day of Dialog.
\“We all love discovering new voices,” said LJ Prepub Alert Editor Barbara Hoffert as she introduced five first-time authors with distinctly different voices at the Day of Dialog’s second morning panel, Who’s on First? Debut Genre Fiction with Buzz. In a lively freewheeling conversation, Karen Engelmann, Max Gladstone, Eleanor Kuhns, Beatriz Williams, and Ariel S. Winter shared their inspirations for their books and the advantages and disadvantages of being a debut writer.
Set in the late 1700s during Sweden’s Golden Age under the reforming King Gustav III, Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo (Ecco: HarperCollins, Nov.) is a historical novel about Emil Larsson, a young man about town who seeks social connections and love in the cards Mrs. Sofia Sparrow reads for him. “For a fiction writer,” said Engelmann, “the 18th century in Europe is loaded with irresistible drama: the decline of the monarchy, the revolutionary spirit, and the quest for personal freedom.” It was an era, she noted, when magic and superstition were being swept away by the Enlightenment.
Although the author was unfamiliar with Swedish history, she found during the nine years she lived in the country that Swedes continued to talk about the Gustavian age. “King Gustav was an absolute monarch, but he was also one of the first rulers to initiate political reform.” Once Engelmann got into the period, she had discovered a foundation for a novel, but she didn’t want historical figures to be her protagonists. Learning that King Gustav had many commoner friends, including a female fortune teller, was too good a detail for the author to pass up.
Max Gladstone’s urban fantasy, Three Parts Dead (Tor, Oct.), revolves around an edgy theme: a god is murdered and must be brought back to life by a young necromancer before the city that depends on the deity collapses.
What inspired Gladstone was the 2008 global economic crash. “There was this sense that this immense, immaterial system that had relied on our faith in our investments and our work had suddenly stopped for reasons no one could understand.” He also noticed that many academics were going around the world to stem the catastrophe. “This resonated with me: that something that looked and operated like a god had just stopped and that there would be professionals in suits who would repair this system.”
Librarian Eleanor Kuhns makes her historical mystery debut with A Simple Murder (Minotaur, May), set in a Shaker community in 1790s Maine. Why write about the Shakers and that period of American history? Kuhns noted that the Shakers appeal to outsiders as a world apart. “But people are people. Even though the Shakers were wonderfully altruistic, you can’t tell me that a group that takes in everybody doesn’t have problems.”
Passionate about American history, Kuhns chose to set her book in the 1790s, a period of political and social ferment. And she decided to make her sleuth, Will Rees, an itinerant weaver so that he could be on stage for these events as he investigated other crimes.
Beatriz Williams’ time-travel romance Overseas (Putnam, May) started out as portrait of a British World War I officer in the style of Rupert Brooke–handsome, aristocratic, a poet. The author had long been fascinated by this period. “It was a time of tremendous social and political change, artistic change, but at the same time, the era was still rooted in the romantic tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries,” explained Williams. It never occurred to her to write anything involving time travel, but she started thinking about how her hero, Julian Lawrence Ashford, would survive in the modern world. “The idea of a turn-of-a-century gentleman functioning in today’s world gave me a structure for the novel.”
Ariel S.Winter’s noirish The 20-Year Death, is actually three novels in one with each story featuring the same characters but covering different eras and written in different styles. “I originally wrote a very different book,” said Winter. “I was interested in how reading affects the reader. So I had a character reading a book, and I wanted to explore how reading that book affects the character–my readers would read in full what that character was reading.”
Winter’s original idea fell apart, but he decided to use one of the novels within the novel, a Georges Simenon pastiche, in a mystery series in which the detective was not the recurring character. “Since I had written the Simenon pastiche, I thought what if those characters existed in different years and styles? Each of the authors I selected defined the mystery genre in that decade: Simenon in the 30s, Raymond Chandler in the 40s, and Jim Thompson in the 50s.”
It’s odd to think there are negatives to being a first novelist, but Winter noted that it’s an uphill battle if no one has heard of a writer. On the plus side there is that sense of people being interested in a new author because there is no track record. Williams touted the excitement of first-time publication but acknowledged the difficulty of building an audience from scratch. “You have the challenge of getting genre readers to try a new author.”