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Author Archive: "Joshua Henkin"

What Else Are You Supposed to Judge a Book By if You Haven’t Read It Yet?

Everyone tells you not to judge a book by its cover, but the fact is the cover is the first thing a potential reader sees, so it's tremendously important, and now, because books are so often bought online, the cover has to work online too. I can't say enough good things about the art department at Pantheon. They came up with many, many covers, most of which I didn't even see (my editor only passed on the ones that seemed possible), and although some of them were clearly wrong for the book, they were all incredibly well done and looked professional. Here are five that I was shown but that in the end didn't make the cut.

Toward the end of the process we were focused on a very type-driven cover, with both my name and the name of the book in bold. Both my editor and I loved the type in this cover, and there was something beautiful about the image too — it was a watercolor painting on a matte background, but the image was of a bare tree, ...


Writing and Teaching: Do the Two Mix?

Okay, today I want to talk about teaching because, though I'm a writer first and foremost, teaching for me isn't just a way to make a living. I'm passionate about it, and I think you have to be in order to do a good job. I direct Brooklyn College's Fiction MFA Program, and, at the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I can't imagine a better job. In a typical year at Brooklyn College we get 500 MFA fiction applicants for 15 spots in our incoming class. So you're dealing with some of the very best young writers out there. In the last few months alone, five of our recent graduates have gotten book contracts. There are writers who wouldn't know how to teach; for them, writing is an intuitive process and they aren't fully conscious of what they're doing. For me, it was the opposite. I could read someone else's short story and figure out what wasn't working long before I could make things work in my own stories. I needed to learn how to become a more intuitive writer, and critiquing other ...


What Were You Thinking When You Wrote That?

Writers on book tour are often asked questions along these lines: "What were you trying to do by making X happen in your book?" Or "Were you planning that this would happen?" Or "Did you map your book out?" In response to these questions writers often look befuddled, in large part because they are. One issue is the simple problem of lag time. A novel can take five, 10 years to write, and then it goes into production and finally comes out, at which point the writer is often on to the next book and the book that he's being asked about can seem like a distant memory. What were you doing on page 274? And the writer thinks, Huh? I wrote that?

But I think the issue goes beyond that. Flannery O'Connor famously wrote in her wonderful book of essays Mystery and Manners: "There's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without," and I agree. A novelist can be too smart for her own good.

Another way ...


Can a Man Ever Understand a Woman, or a Woman a Man?

The title of today's blog post best describes the question I get asked most about The World without You, though it's rarely stated so directly. It's usually stated more like this: Your book is written from the points of view of many female characters. Is that hard for a male writer to do?

My answer is that it's a challenge for a male writer to write from a female perspective but no more so, it seems to me, than for a young person to write from an old person's perspective, a poor person to write from a rich person's perspective, or a gregarious person to write from a shy person's perspective. I don't see why gender should be a more insurmountable barrier than others. I believe good fiction can transcend difference, that it can take us out of our own experiences and allow us to inhabit the experiences of others. It's what happens, ideally, to the reader, and in order for it to happen to the reader it has to happen to the writer too.

A couple of years ago, I gave a reading from an early draft ...


Research Is beside the Point: Or, Are Novelists Just Lazy?

I want to start off on this first day of my blogging to say how thrilled I am to be here at Powell's, the world's greatest bookstore. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but if it weren't for Powell's and other independent bookstores like it, writers would be up a creek. I do whatever I can to buy my books from independent booksellers, and I'm proud to say that my book tour, which consists of something like 25 stops, is filled almost exclusively with independent bookstores, starting with my hometown indie, Bookcourt, where my launch party will take place tomorrow night.

Before I decided to write fiction, I was on the path to becoming an academic. I studied political theory in college, and the only thing that saved me from academia was that I applied for all these fellowships when I was graduating from college and didn't get any of them , and so I needed to rethink things. And it's good that I did because I wouldn't have made a good academic — I hate to do research. That's one ...


Secret Passion

(Editor's Note: We're giving away signed copies of Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony to two lucky readers! Simply leave a comment below by 12pm PST Friday, September 5th for your chance to win!)

My secret passion, known only to my wife and kids and now you, the readers of Powells.com, is — get ready for this — Hebrew musicals. Not English musicals, certainly. My principal reaction to musicals in English is why is that person singing? Perhaps it's my inclination toward realism. Or maybe it's musicals' affinity for puns, when there's nothing I like less than a pun (puns are cleverness that's too obvious, cleverness that's preening and proud of itself), the only exception coming in an occasional Elvis Costello song. I was once dragged by a family member to watch a showing on Broadway of Urinetown. Was everyone around me, in fact, whooping it up? Was I so hopelessly out of touch? Had someone actually paid 85 dollars for my ticket?

Hebrew musicals, however, are something else entirely. I'm not talking about musicals written by Israelis and performed in

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