A Writer’s Haven: 5 Authors’ Writing Spaces Reimagined

As bibliophiles can attest, we are all intrigued by the private lives of our favorite authors, often wondering about the ways that they worked creatively, and especially where they chose to write. For many, the choice was obvious, their office or bedroom – a personal space for reflection and inspiration.

At eNotes, we are really interested in embracing creativity and developing tips for success in school and work spaces. Time and time again we encounter articles noting the importance of having an organized, inspiring space to get to work. As we meditate on how to improve our own spaces, we’ve found ourselves wondering how our favorite authors might decorate their offices today. With this in mind, we created today’s blog post: A Writer’s Haven.

We’ve gone through and selected five famous authors from various time periods and have translated their individual preferences into modern takes on their offices. We had a lot of fun putting these together, and we hope you enjoy checking them out and finding inspiration for your own space. Check ‘em out below!

Jane Austen:

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For Jane’s office we imagined a light and airy space with lots of natural light and creature comforts. We acknowledged her English roots and incorporate a tea pot, because we think that if any of our favorite authors would have had a tea pot in their office, it would have been her. We like to imagine that if Jane were here today, she would be a bit of an introvert, anxious to re-read the great number of books in her built-in bookcase.

Want to learn more about Jane Austen and her writing? Check out this link: http://www.enotes.com/topics/jane-austen

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How to Write Like Jane Austen

Here’s a tip: keep some sheep leather and blue gauls handy…

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Yesterday we brought you the recipes to two authors’ favorite meals, so today I give you the recipe to one authoress’ writing success: a good leather bound book and a batch of homemade ink. For those Austen enthusiasts feeling particularly crafty, here is the exact recipe for the ink Jane Austen used, provided by her sister-in-law:

Take 4 ozs of blue gauls [gallic acid, made from oak apples], 2 ozs of green copperas [iron sulphate], 1 1/2 ozs of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin’d sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner fourteen days and be shaken two or three times a day.

This iron gall ink would then be applied to the page with an old-fashioned quill. But on the quality of the pages themselves, Austen was quite particular. One of her favorites was “a quarto stationer’s notebook… bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marbled paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.” 

Better find yourself some quarter tanned sheep. No self-respecting Austenite would be caught dead without a sheep leather notebook!

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The Best Laid Plans of Novelists

Ever wondered how some of your favorite authors tackled the crazy job of putting pen to paper and creating those stories you loved to read? Well, we’re here to tell you it’s not all magical. As you can see from these intricate spreadsheets and notes, crafting a novel takes a whole lot of careful planning. Just click on any of the following spreadsheets and scribbles for a closer look to find out.

This first is from none other than J. K. Rowling, who planned out all seven books of her Harry Potter series before she had even started writing the second. Here’s part of her plan for Order of the Phoenix:

In the columns, Rowling separates each chapter by its subplots; she lists, “Prophecy,” “O of P” (Order of the Phoenix), “Cho/Ginny” (the romantic subplot of the novel), “Snape,” and “Hagrid” as different story lines to help her keep track of the plot. For a zoomed in look at the detailed spreadsheet, click here.

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Coverflip: How Book Covers Differ by Author’s Gender

Author Maureen Johnson has had enough of gendered book covers. Just what is she talking about? Well, she’s talking about books that look like this:

Versus this:

And yes, that is the same book in each picture. The first is what ended up in print, while the second imagines how the cover might have looked had the book written been by a man. Why the difference? Johnson gives a little insight into the sometimes unfair world of book publishing and marketing:

The simple fact of the matter is, if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s “girly,” which is somehow inherentl different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.

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Top Ten Famous Last Words and Final Stops: Writers and Their Gravesites

Halloween draws near, and with it, the reminders of our own mortality.  Ghosts and goblins are ways of coping with what George Bernard Shaw called “that troublesome business”: death. And, as Jim Morrison aptly noted, “No one here gets out alive.” So on that cheerful note, here are some of the last words of famous writers and images of their final resting places. At eNotes, we only haunt you with the very best!

1.  Ernest Hemingway  (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961)

“Goodnight, my kitten.” ~ To his wife, before he shot and killed himself.

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2.  L. Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919)

“Now I can cross the shifting sands.” ~ Referring to the desert that surrounded his fictional city, Oz. Baum suffered a stroke from which he never recovered.

3.  Dylan Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)

“I had eighteen straight whiskies…I think that’s a record.”  While alcohol probably hastened the poet’s demise, new theories attribute undiagnosed pneumonia as the more likely cause of death.

4.  James Joyce  (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941)

“Does nobody understand?” No direct cause has ever been attributed to Joyce’s death but his heavy drinking almost certainly played a prominent role.

5.  Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 – March 6, 1888)

“Is it not meningitis?” ~ It was not, actually. Alcott died as a result of mercury poisoning.

6.  Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)

“I want nothing but death.”  ~ To her sister, Cassandra, inquiring if she wanted anything. (It has never been determined from what, exactly, the 41-year-old author succumbed to (speculations have included stomach cancer, Addison’s disease and bovine tuberculous) but the latest research suggests arsenic poisoning may have been the culprit.

7.  Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910)

“Goodbye. If we meet…” ~ To his daughter, Clara. Twain died of a myocardial infraction (heart attack).

8.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)

“More light!” ~ The cause of Goethe’s death is unknown.

9.  Henrik Ibsen (20 March 1828 – 23 May 1906)

“On the contrary!” ~ Ibsen’s response to his nurse, who remarked that he seemed better. Ibsen died as a result of complications from a stroke.

10. Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005)

“Relax — This won’t hurt.” ~ Thompson’s final line in his suicide note. The author shot himself. An iconoclast to the end, his widow said Thomas wanted to go out with a bang, and he did. On a platform he personally designed, Thompson had his ashes shot from a cannon to the music of  Norman Greenbaum‘s “Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan‘s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” You can watch a video of Thompson’s final farewell here.


A Promising Payday, a Petulant Penguin

Lena Dunham scores with Random House while Penguin seeks repayment on book deals gone sour.

If you’ve evaded living under a rock this past week, you’ve probably also heard about the bidding war over Lena Dunham’s forthcoming book of essays that resulted in a $3.5m payout for the author (slash director, slash actress). Yes, now aspiring young authors can join the ranks of aspiring young film makers made green with envy by the talented Miss Dunham. But all we can think of is that, for her sake, it better be good, given the example that Penguin set in court last month.

At the end of September the Penguin Group New York filed lawsuits to recoup losses made on advances to several of its authors who never delivered. With the filing of these suits, the details of these authors’ paydays have become public knowledge. Though none are as hefty as Dunham’s, the size of a few of these advances may surprise you:

The largest advance of the list went to Ana Marie Cox, who founded the political blog Wonkette. In 2006 she signed a contract that totaled $325,000 to write a “humorous examination of the next generation of political activists.” Now, because she didn’t deliver, Penguin is suing to reclaim the $81,250 advance it paid her, plus $50,000 in interest. Hopefully her correspondent jobs at GQ and The Guardian compensate her as handsomely (we’re guessing that they probably do).

A controversial plaintiff in this series of cases is Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat. In 1996, Rosenblat and his wife appeared on Oprah to tell the miraculous story of their meeting and falling in love. Per the story, Herman survived his imprisonment as a child in the concentration camp Buchenwald thanks to a young Roma, his future wife, who threw apples to him from the other side of the fence. Years later, the two met again in New York on a blind date and fell in love. Unfortunately, their tale is as implausible as it sounds. When news of the faked story broke, Rosenblat was due to release a memoir through Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin. The publishing house then cancelled the release of the book and now aims to collect the would-be memoirist’s advance of $30,000, with an additional $10,000 in interest.

Penguin is also seeking repayments from Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, for a teen book on depression that she never produced; New Yorker journalist Rebecca Mead for a $50,000 deal she agreed to in 2003, and never fulfilled; and Conrad Tillard for the $85,000 paid to him for the memoir of his “epic journey from the Ivy League to the Nation of Islam,” also never completed. The Smoking Gun has more on those.

Here’s hoping Lena Dunham never ends up in the same hot water, given the massive amount she’d be held accountable for. We’re pretty sure she’s doing just fine, though.

On another note, um Penguin, how bout sending advancements some other writers’ ways? I know several who’d fulfill their contracts for you. Just sayin’.

Thoughts on advances, the repayment of advances, and celebrity book deals in general? Sound off below!


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