NRGM Author Panel says it all started with a question

written by guest blogger Laurel Stokes

NRGM Author Panel

Catherine Lowell, Dinitia Smith, Elizabeth Nunez, Lyndsay Faye, Sam Raim

On October 6th, 2016 the New York City chapter of the Women’s National Book Association kicked off National Reading Group Month with a networking and panel event. The panelists included authors, Lyndsay Faye (Jane Steele), Catherine Lowell (The Madwoman Upstairs), Elizabeth Nunez (Even in Paradise) and Dinitia Smith (The Honeymoon) and was moderated by Samuel (Sam) Raim.

Pen + Brush art

Pen + Brush art

The event was held at Pen + Brush, a beautifully renovated gallery whose mission is to support women in the arts. Having been founded in 1894, the organization predates the foundation of the WNBA by 23 years and reflects the same supportive creative community that the WNBA fosters among its membership. 

WNBA members and guests caught up with each other before the panel began, while enjoying wine and refreshments. The networking portion was “a much needed chance to catch up with one another” one member commented. 

Hannah Bennett, President of the WNBA-NYC chapter welcomed everyone before the panel began,

Hannah Bennett

Hannah Bennett

and introduced the moderator for the evening, Sam Raim, an Associate Editor at Penguin Books. Sam introduced each of the panelists before delving into the question of the evening, what inspired each authors reinvention of a Classic?

Each Author had a unique take, In The Honeymoon, Dinitia takes a biographical look at George Eliot but adds elements of fiction based on her understanding of Eliot’s tumultuous relationship with John Walter Cross. Elizabeth, with Even in Paradise reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear taking place in the Caribbean during

Authors' Books

Authors’ Books

modern-day. Lyndsay updates Jane Eyre in her novel, Jane Steele, our heroine has been forced by circumstances to become a killer. And in The Madwoman Upstairs Catherine through a descendent of the Bronte family explores the family dynamics of the Bronte sisters and in particular what the youngest Bronte sister, Anne, may have felt living in the shadows of her famous older sisters. 

All of the Authors mentioned similar reasons for writing their novels, they had a question that needed to be answered. Catherine noted that for her, “Writing starts with a question”, the more you dig in the more you gain and are able to answer. Elizabeth explained further that “through the exploration of the question you had you are able to find new meaning, not just the obvious interpretation”.

Elizabeth Nunez, Lyndsay Faye, Sam Raim

Elizabeth Nunez, Lyndsay Faye, Sam Raim

Liberty Schauf, a WNBA member commented “my favorite part of the panel was when they talked about how their novels started with a question. That’s how some of the best inventions, biggest discoveries, and medical breakthroughs all started. With a single question. Curiosity leads to big things and really great books!”

Sam, asked why each of the Authors was drawn to fiction, instead of non-fiction. Catherine responded that “It allows for you to “internalize what the character is going through.” Dinitia added, that she had wanted to “explore the inner thoughts” of Eliot which non-fiction wouldn’t have allowed in the same way. Lyndsay agreed saying that she’s able to explore and understand the characters through her “own glasses.” Elizabeth

Catherine Lowell, Dinitia Smith, Elizabeth Nunez

Catherine Lowell, Dinitia Smith, Elizabeth Nunez

said fiction appealed to her because of the story-telling aspects; you can “create a whole world in order to explore [new] dynamics.”

What tips did the panelists have for tackling a book of your own? Lyndsay cautioned not to get too caught up with having to be completely original, and that “all novels are sequels”. And Catherine mentioned “good writing comes from specificity, not generality.” 

After the panel, the Authors mingled with guests and signed copies of their books, made available by the bookseller, Books on Call. “This was such a great night! I loved hearing about each Authors’ inspiration” Christine Sikule commented. Liberty added, “I loved the way Elizabeth was fangirling over Dinitia and her book about George Eliot! It was hilarious and the way she started asking everyone questions.”

Dinitia Smith, Elizabeth Nunez

Dinitia Smith, Elizabeth Nunez

More than one attendee mentioned that they had bought at least one of the panelists books at the event, and in some cases you saw attendees with their arms full who had bought all four.

Want to see the panel? You can watch video of the event on the WNBA-NYC Facebook page.

Special thanks to our hosts, Pen + Brush. For upcoming exhibits and workshops at the gallery please visit: For more information about WNBA-NYC and our upcoming events visit:


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laurel-stokesLaurel Stokes is a Client Support Manager for Penguin Random House Publisher Services. She is responsible for supporting several Client Publishers, and specializes in project management and solving operational issues. Laurel has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Mount Holyoke College. She lives in New York City.

About Blog Editor

The Women’s National Book Association was founded in 1917 by female booksellers who weren’t allowed in the men’s organizations. Nearly 100 years later, the WNBA is still supporting women in the book industry through literary events, networking, literacy projects, workshops, open mic nights, book clubs, and many other entertaining programs throughout the season!


  1. Hi Laurel, great write up about the NRGM panel, and your lead about a “question” as a good start to writing a novel, was very helpful. Thanks for the report and all the good information we can enjoy as we read.

  2. This is a terrific recap and very nicely written! I was so sorry to miss it, but now feel that at least I got a sense of the evening. Thank you!

  3. What a terrific write-up! I was disappointed not to be able to go, but really got a sense of the evening from this post.

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