From opening lines to literary inspiration and writing routines, Wednesday night’s National Reading Group Month author panel, hosted in the Rare Books Room at the Strand, aimed to get the audience “swept into the writers’ visions.” Led by moderator Elizabeth Nunez, the evening began with authors Bernice McFadden, Caroline Leavitt, John Searles, Michele Forbes, and Roxana Robinson reading from their books’ opening chapters.
Reading from her debut novel Ghost Moth, Michele Forbes, whose background is in theater, said that her goal with the first lines is to bring the reader in. Roxana Robinson, whose novel Sparta is a Great Group Reads 2013 selection, sees her opening paragraph as a fixed point – how she “finds her way into the book.” Roxana spent 5 years researching what it would be like for a soldier coming home, transitioning “from warrior to civilian, if that’s possible” to write Sparta.
The night gave us glimpses into the process the authors go through to bring us the books we love. Bernice McFadden, author of Nowhere Is A Place, shared her research habits, which include looking through family photo albums and doing genealogy research on Ancestry.com. She also credits Toni Morrison and poet Rita Dove as inspiration while writing: “I like to take a line to make it mine, make it better.”
Caroline Leavitt says that for Is This Tomorrow, she did tons of research because “every detail counts.” She also shared her routine of writing all day in her office, with an outline that she considers her lifeline. For his novel Help for the Haunted, John Searles told of writing a rough draft in the bath, then spending days in the NYU library rewriting and revising to exhaustion. He describes his book as a cross between a Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and John Irving novel, and that his inspiration came from picking up paperbacks by Sheldon and King during cross-country trucking trips with his father.
The night ended with Nunez asking what was next from our panel; her soon-to-be released memoir started with a late night phone call from Trinidad preceding her mother’s passing. While all the authors admitted to working on something new, they were all reluctant to share details, a sentiment Roxana described as “letting the air out of the balloon.”
Check out the slideshow of pictures below and be sure to follow #NatlReadingGrpMonth/@NatlReadingGrpMonth on Twitter for more coverage of events across the country.