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Ali Smith: How I Write

David Sandison/eyevine, via Redux

The author of ‘Artful,’ an intoxicating mixture of lecture and ghost story, talks about what makes her cry and the places that inspire her.

Where did you grow up? In Inverness, Scotland, in a small house in a street parallel to the Caledonian Canal.You are a member of the Royal Society of Literature. What does membership entail? Are there robes and fireside chats with goblets of sherry, that sort of thing? No, ha, nothing quite so effete. It's a body of people which organizes exciting events about books and schools of thought in national and international literatures, digs up funding from under unexpected stones, and acts as a focal communal body for people working in or interested in literature—important for people in a job that is by nature solitudinous.


Joshua Foer: How I Write

Emil Salman Haaretz

The author a recent must-read New Yorker story talks about why a couple chose to leave in the middle of his book talk.

Where did you grow up? Washington, DC, just a few blocks from Politics and Prose bookstore.Where and what did you study? I majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale.Your brother is also a popular writer. Was writing a self-evident career early on in both your lives? Certainly not in mine. Writing happens to be a good vehicle for my interests at the moment, but I often fantasize about doing something else.Where do you live and why? I live in New Haven, Connecticut.


Will Self: How I Write

Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty

Will Self’s ‘Umbrella’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and finally out in America. The fiercely experimental writer tells us about some of his favorite vices.

Where did you grow up? In the hinterland between a dull North London suburb called East Finchley and a rather tonier one called the Hampstead Garden Suburb. I also had a year in Ithaca, upstate New York.Where do you live and why? I live in Stockwell, a rather edgier inner-city district of South London. Why? Because it’s central—I can walk to the West End or Soho in 40 minutes. And also because it was the most house we could get for our money—we have four children.

Unfortunate Events

How We Write: The Snickets

Children’s-book authors Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown, the team behind ‘The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story,’ tell us about the zine they started and how they inspire each other.

Lisa Brown has written and illustrated books for readers of all ages, from toddler on up—her latest is Picture the Dead with Adele Griffin. Her husband, Daniel Handler, is better known as Lemony Snicket, whose series of unfortunate events was made into a film.Where did you grow up?Lisa Brown: In a suburb of Hartford, Conn. My family were refugees from Long Island, N.Y.Daniel Handler: San Francisco.What did you study?LB: I studied history, literature, and philosophy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.


Gary Shteyngart: How I Write

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The author of ‘Super Sad True Love Story’ talks about why he writes so many book blurbs.

People don’t tend to think of funny when they think of Russian authors. Gogol had a wonderfully dark sense of humor, but he’s technically Ukrainian …No, Russians are funny. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.Can you define what you find funny?Whatever makes me cry.Where and what did you study?The Stuyvesant High School for Shy Nerds, The Oberlin Academy for Self-Expression, and Huntah College for Everybody.What do you look for in a good opening line/page/chapter?I like to read in English or, barring that, in Russian.


Oliver Sacks: How I Write

Getty (L)

The famed neurologist and author of the new book ‘Hallucinations’ talks about how ideas come to him in the water.

Please recommend a book that makes science accessible to trade readers, and that has influenced your own work.One book that was very influential for me was published in English in 1968, and it’s called The Mind of a Mnemonist, by A. R. Luria. When I started to read the book, I thought it was a novel. Then after a few pages I realized it was a case history, the most detailed I ever read, but so beautifully written, and so full of feeling and pathos and characterization and richness … For me, that combined science and art ideally.

NBA Winner

Louise Erdrich: How I Write

Persia Erdrich

The author of ‘The Round House,’ the newly crowned National Book Award fiction winner, talks about her new prize and the setting of her novel.

Congratulations on winning the National Book Award. How did the news that you had won it reach you, and what were your first thoughts?This was the third time I was nominated for the award, but many writers have been nominated a few times without winning. I was nervous, popping Tums and straining to appear collected. I had no first thoughts because, to my surprise, when my book’s name was called I was mindlessly jumping up and down.You’ve won awards in the past.

Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver: How I Write

David Wood

The ‘Poisonwood Bible’ author, whose new novel is ‘Flight Behavior,’ wakes up to sentences pouring into her head—she never has a problem forcing herself to write.

Do you know the origins of your evocative surname?I do. At least, I know the stories, there are several. It is probably a corruption of Gonsalvez, a common Portuguese surname. When it got to Virginia it turned into Consolver, then it quickly became corrupted into Kinsolving, Kingsolver, and other variations. We’re all pretty closely related. When you go back six or seven generations, people of my ancestors’ station in life hardly ever wrote their names, so it didn’t much matter how it was spelled.


André Aciman: How I Write

Barbara Zanon / Getty Images

The celebrated literary stylist of ‘Alibis,’ a collection of essays on the many places he’s known, talks about the cities he loves and why writing is like roulette.

You grew up in several exotic cities. Could you offer up a sight, scent, and taste that you associate with each of them?Alexandria: The sea. Basil, cucumber, mangoes, the cooing of turtledoves on torrid afternoons, the screech of buses coming to a sudden halt. The sea, again, of course.Rome: Campo Marzio. The distant sound of a hammer pounding something during the intensely quiet hours of the afternoon, highlighting the silence even more.Paris: The smell of the old metro stirring thoughts of romance.

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn: How I Write

The author of “Gone Girl” talks about what she likes about scary books and which state Kansas City is in.

You’re from Kansas. One of the best and scariest short stories I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn.” King also generously blurbed your debut novel, Sharp Objects. Are you a fan of his? What are some short stories or novels that influenced your desire to write?Et tu, Noah? Missouri, Missouri! Close enough. I could walk over into Kansas, true.Oh, sorry! Where did you grow up?Kansas City, Missouri. That’s Missouri! It’s a distinction that’s apparently important to no one but someone from one of the two Kansas Citys.


How I Write: Family Edition

Mother and daughter Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella, coauthors of many essay collections including the new ‘Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim,’ talk about doing a weekly column together, their different writing routines and Mom’s attempt to get her daughter to wear the same outfit during a book signing.

Lisa, you live near Philadelphia. Aside from cheese steaks, Amish donuts, scrapple, and the usual draws, what do you love about Philadelphia and why do you live there?Lisa Scottoline: I love everything about Philadelphia, and its food is like the city itself: real-deal, hearty, and without pretension. We’ve always had an underdog vibe as a city, but that just makes us try harder, and I love our scrappiness and scruffiness. I love our history, too, in that the very nation was born here, but our attitude reminds us that we’re a nation formed in a fight.

Kite Runner

How I Write: Khaled Hosseini

The author of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ which was cited as a favorite read by Mitt Romney, recounts how his debut, ‘The Kite Runner,’ began.

How and why did you start the Khaled Hosseini Foundation?Our family foundation was inspired by a 2007 trip I made to Afghanistan as a Goodwill Envoy for the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). While I was there, I met repatriated refugee families who lived on less than $1 per day, spent winters in tents or holes dug underground, and whose villages routinely lost children to the elements every winter. As a father myself, I was overwhelmed.

Sturm und Drang

Erik Larson: How I Write

The author of one of the greatest hurricane books, ‘Isaac’s Storm,’ revisits a funny story that happened on the tour. His most recent work is ‘In the Garden of Beasts,’ now out in paperback.

You recently blogged about whether you would ever write fiction. You said that you can’t bring yourself to put your own characters through “torment and travail.” Is it easier if you are simply telling a story that already happened? It’s easier, in the sense that the bad things already happened, and all I have to do is tell the story as it unfolded, as directly and simply as possible. Otherwise, there’s nothing easy about it. Describe your morning routine.


Emma Donoghue: How I Write

Dave Chidley / Canadian Press / AP Photo

With a new collection of beautiful and inventive stories out, the ‘Rooom’ author speaks to Noah Charney about how she maps out her books.

Can you describe your morning routine? A day like today started around 4 in the morning, because often my kids wake me by yowling in their sleep. Then I’m bolt upright, wide awake, so I figure I might as well use that time in the middle of the night, so I hop up and do a bit of work. More typically I would get the kids off to school around 8:30, then I rush to my computer. I wish that what followed was actual writing. That would be bliss. But I admit that I first make my way through a fast-growing undergrowth of business.


Susan Orlean: How I Write

Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

The author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, now out in paperback, talks about her life among the beasts and what she does before she can write a lead.

Where did you grow up?In the political tipping-point state of Ohio.Where and what did you study?University of Michigan; majored in English, boys, and whiskey sours.Where do you live and why?I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes I’m in the Hudson Valley of New York, with the birds and the beasts; sometimes I’m in Los Angeles, with the ... beasts.Of which of your books or projects are you most proud?In other words, which of my children do I love the most?Describe your morning routine.

About How I Write

Every week, we interview writers about their daily routine and where they keep their desks.

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