Writing

The Atlanta authors you need to be reading this summer – Atlanta Magazine

Photograph by Ben Rollins

You don’t have to look far to find the perfect page-turner for your beach read this year. Seven authors with Atlanta ties have new novels coming out before the fall. Some are seasoned pros who produce a book nearly every summer, and one is a first-timer making her fiction debut. All of them are women, and one thing their books share in common is a strong, complicated female protagonist. Their characters may not always make the best decisions, but the women at the center of these novels have agency to make their own choices and figure their ways out of challenging situations.

In their own words, here’s what the authors have to say about their new books and the writing life.

Questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity.

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Karin Slaughter

The New York Times best-selling author has penned 18 crime novels, and her 2018 standalone novel Pieces of Her is being turned into a Netflix series.

New title
The Last Widow

What’s it about
Sex, violence, kidnapping, and the CDC rolled together in a quickly paced thriller

Central characters
Will Trent is an agent with the GBI. He has a pretty high solve rate. He thinks in a different way because he has dyslexia, so he struggles with paperwork, but he always gets the bad guy. Sara Linton is a medical examiner. She also is a pediatrician. I delve a lot into her family in the book. This is Will’s first time meeting them as her significant other. And something awful has happened, so it is even more uncomfortable and awkward for Will.

Themes
A lot of people have split their alliances in this country. There is an erosion of trust and belief in the system. There is this real feeling that things are going to break apart. I happen to really believe in America, but a lot of people feel like things just don’t seem very fair lately. Maybe their opinion about something isn’t the popular opinion anymore. I wanted to talk about that.

Define beach read, does your book qualify?
I think so. I think good books exist on several levels. You can just read it and enjoy it and have a great time. There are lots of twists, and it’s fast-paced. But if you want to read it for a deeper meaning, you can do that as well. And those are the kind of books l like. A good thriller can be all things to all people.

Eager to read
The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

Writing advice
Define what success means to you, because if it’s being No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, you have 52 chances out of the year, and James Patterson is going to take half of those.

First job
Movie projectionist

Opening line of The Last Widow
“Michelle Spivey jogged through the back of the store, frantically scanning each aisle for her daughter, panicked thoughts circling her brain: How did I lose sight of her I am a horrible mother my baby was kidnapped by a pedophile or a human trafficker should I flag store security or call the police or. . . .”

AVAILABLE 08/20/19

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Anissa Gray

The CNN Worldwide journalist makes her literary debut.

Photograph courtesy of Berkley

New title
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls

What’s it about
It’s about a family that has to come together to deal with the fallout when the matriarch and her husband are sentenced to prison for defrauding their small town.

Central characters
Three sisters: Althea, Viola, and Lillian

Themes
Betrayal and forgiveness

Inspiration
I actually started out talking about one member of this family, Viola, the middle sister, and her work in an eating disorder clinic. It was based on some of my own experiences and treatment. As I was working through the story, it felt too narrow in scope. There wasn’t enough there. It wasn’t until I started to look at Viola through the lens of the family that things started to come together. I could see there was a broader story to tell.

Character you identify with
Probably Viola, given that some elements of the eating disorder I had are seen in her character

Favorite book you read last year
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Favorite childhood book
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Best thing about being a writer
Being able to create characters and stories and share them with the world

Worst or hardest thing
Constructing the novel itself. The technical part of it. You’re managing several narrative threads at one time and knitting it into something cohesive.

First job
Cashier at Tasty Queen

If not a writer, then what?
Probably miserable

Opening line
“You do a lot of thinking in jail.”

AVAILABLE NOW

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Joshilyn Jackson

The New York Times best-selling author of nine novels serves on the board of Reforming Arts, a nonprofit that runs educational programs in prisons.

Photograph courtesy of William Morrow

New title
Never Have I Ever

What’s it about
Two women who are part of a drinking game at a book club learn too much about each other, and it turns into a war of dark pasts that could destroy either one of them—especially the one we like most.

Themes
We’ve seen all these heroes’ journeys, and they’ve always been about a man. I wanted to look into the abyss to see what that looks like from a feminine and a feminist perspective. Especially from the perspective of a mother. I think the most dangerous animal on earth is a mother. A bear is dangerous, but the most dangerous thing is a mother bear.

Inspiration
I had this character Roux in my head. Sometimes I can be real literal with my names. Roux is rich, it’s flour and butter, and it’s a thickener. Anything you add roux to becomes rich and interesting. I was thinking about a character who comes into a situation and chemically changes it, and she’s a character who takes a lot of pleasure in that.

Define beach read. Does your book qualify?
Yes. To me, a beach read is anything that you are reading for pleasure and entertainment. It’s not a book I would suggest if your goal at the end of it is to actually become a better person. But I don’t think I read anything that’s not a beach read. I mostly read for pleasure and entertainment, and sometimes that means fiction that’s categorized as literary, and sometimes it’s categorized as commercial.

Eager to read
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Worst thing about writing
I’ve had some of my books read very literally as if my character spouts beliefs that are my beliefs. Sometimes my characters say things that are actively hateful. I don’t like all my characters. They’re not all good people.

First job
Mall puppeteer

Opening line
“The game was Roux’s idea.”

AVAILABLE 07/30/19

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Susan Rebecca White

A former writer-in-residence at Mercer University, White has written three novels, one of which was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize.

Photograph courtesy of Simon & Schuster

New title
We Are All Good People Here

What’s it about
Two college roommates and best friends experience a political awakening in the 1960s that sends them in completely different directions. It’s also about attempting to love each other in spite of our political and moral divides.

Central characters
It’s about two best friends, Daniella Gold and Eve Whalen. You start in Daniella’s head and you end in Daniella’s head. She is the character I most relate to. She is the daughter of a Jewish professor and Protestant mother who was always told by her mom that she would never fully belong [in the South] because she was half Jewish.

Themes
We can try to rewrite our history, but the truth will eventually surface. Also, how women sometimes feel the need to reinvent who they once were when they have children.

Define beach read. Does your book qualify?
If “beach read” is being defined as pure escapism, that is not this book. But for me, when I go to the beach, it means I have time to read and I can get really absorbed in a big story. My hope is that this is a novel that is really absorbing and you won’t want to stop reading. And hopefully, you’re at the beach.

Inspirations
One was watching the documentary The Weather Underground. I hadn’t known about this group of fringe radical activists who thought violence was needed to bring about the revolution. I was really interested in that point when [someone transitions] from “I’m fighting injustice” to “I’m mirroring the injustice I’m fighting.”

Who would star in the movie version?
Elle Fanning as Eve and Rachel Brosnahan as Daniella

Eager to read
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, The Need by Helen Phillips

Best thing about writing
It really helps you make sense of your own life.

Opening line
“Daniella’s father steered the Dodge Pioneer up the serpentine drive of Belmont College, home to more than 500 girls renowned for their Beauty and Brains, or at least that was what the boosterish tour guide who had shown Daniella around the previous spring had claimed.”

AVAILABLE 08/06/19

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Jessica Handler

The Oglethorpe University professor is also the author of the memoir Invisible Sisters and Braving the Fire, a guide to writing about grief.

Photograph courtesy of Hub City Press

New title
The Magnetic Girl

What’s it about
A historical novel inspired by the brief vaudeville career of Lulu Hurst, a (real life) teenage girl from a small town in Georgia

Themes
Girl power. On one level, she lifted men in chairs, and she transmitted electrical or magnetic power through objects. But the other idea of girl power is how and when does a teenage girl, or woman for that matter, decide that she has got the power to make decisions? It’s about power over others, real or imagined. But really, it’s about power over your own future.

Who would star in the movie version?
Shannon Purser, who played Barb in Stranger Things

Eager to read
We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White, Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson, Educated by Tara Westover

A favorite book of 2018
What Luck, This Life by Kathryn Schwille

Best thing about being a writer
Writing

Worst thing
Writing

Writing advice
Don’t worry at first about whether you will be published or what order does this go in, what goes in what chapter. Just put words on paper or the screen, and trust that the narrative will reveal itself if you keep going. Join a writers group whose members respect each other. Go to writers conferences where you can listen and learn and meet others like you.

First job
Clerk at Payless

Opening line
“Objects had always jumped into my pockets, which is why I didn’t think of what I did as stealing.”

AVAILABLE NOW

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Mary Kay Andrews

A former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times best-selling author has written 26 novels and a cookbook.

Photograph courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

New title
Sunset Beach

What’s it about
A woman who goes to work for her ambulance-chasing lawyer father and comes across a shocking murder and a long-unsolved cold case. At the beach.

Central characters
Drue Campbell is a competitive kiteboarder, but she’s had a serious knee injury. Her long-estranged father shows up at her mother’s funeral and offers her a job at his personal injury law firm. And she’s also inherited her grandparents’ beach cottage on Sunset Beach.

Themes
I always tend to write about a woman who’s having to reinvent herself. It’s also about reclaiming family, figuring out what family is. It’s about trust.

Eager to read
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Best thing about writing
It’s hard, hard work, and I bang my head against the desk and have sleepless nights. But I’m doing what I dreamed of as a kid, and not a lot of people can say their childhood dream came true.

Hardest thing
Self-doubt and self-loathing, the insecurity. The Amazon reviews.

Writing routine
Different things in different phases of the book. When I’m pressed up against deadline, I put my laptop beside my bed when I go to sleep, and when I wake up, I pick it up and prop myself up with pillows and start writing.

Writing advice
Don’t back up. If you keep backing up, you never go forward. You can’t fix what you ain’t wrote.

Opening line
“Drue turned the key in the ignition and the white Bronco’s engine gave a dispirited cough, and then nothing.”

AVAILABLE NOW

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Patti Callahan Henry

The New York Times best-selling author has written 15 novels, including last year’s historical novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

Photograph courtesy of Berkley

New title
The Favorite Daughter

What’s it about
How a fractured family comes to heal through memories that were both lost and found

Central characters
Colleen Donahue. She’s in her 30s. She has had a terrible betrayal by the two people closest to her, her sister and her fiance, and she has spent her life protecting herself from that pain.

Themes
It’s about how memory defines who we are.

Who would star in the movie version?
Amy Adams

Eager to read
Everybody in this article. I’m not kidding.

Favorite book of 2018
The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Favorite childhood book
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Best thing about being a writer
The tribe. The readers and the other writers

Hardest thing
The middle of the book. It’s the time you think you can’t do it this time. It’s always the time you think you’re wasting your life and your time.

Cure for writer’s block
For me, because a long time ago I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, I’ve redefined writer’s block. I call it resistance. When I’m stuck, I try to find ways to break through or get around it by filling back up the well, whether it’s by taking a walk in nature or reading somebody else’s beautiful work. Sometimes, I’ll read poetry.

Writing advice
I think it’s really good for new writers to know our books don’t come out the way they see them. They don’t see all the work, the edits, the dead ends.

Opening line
“The problem with memories, Colleen Donohue often thought, wasn’t with the ones she couldn’t let go of, but with those that wouldn’t let go of her.”

AVAILABLE 06/04/19

This article appears in our May 2019 issue.

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