“I really should learn how to read, just so I can read your books,” joked comedian Whitney Cummings to the authors featured during Thursday morning’s Adult Author Breakfast, which included novelists Stephen King and his son Owen, Claire Messud, Jesmyn Ward, astronaut Scott Kelly, and former White House photographer Pete Souza.
Cummings, who is best known as the creator of the TV show Two Broke Girls and whose memoir I’m Fine…and Other Lies (Putnam) arrives in stores in October, said that she’d gushed to Stephen King about being a fan backstage, and after confessing to the crowd that she’d been flirting with King, she said she knew what he was thinking: “Oh, look Chelsea Handler got a breast reduction.” Cummings sprinkled several sex jokes throughout the morning’s event.
King opened the breakfast by taking the stage with his son Owen, with whom he’d co-written Sleeping Beauties (Sept., Scribner), a horror novel conceived by his son about what happens when the women of the world go to sleep and don’t wake up. “We sit around and come up with ideas for horror novels. That’s what we do in the King household,” said the younger King.
Claire Messud’s new novel The Burning Girl (Aug. Norton), about the relationship between two pre-teen school girls, was inspired by the novelist watching her own daughter and niece confront the challenges of middle school, such as navigating cliques and the intense compression of childhood emotions. “It’s a book that you can experience, rather than analyze,” she said.
For sheer derring-do, few could top Scott Kelly, whose memoir Endurance (Oct., Knopf) documents his career as a NASA astronaut, culminating with the year he spent on the International Space Station. Describing his improbable path to space, Kelly said he was motivated by something he’d read: “I was in a bookstore to buy some gum or something my first year of college and I picked up a book with a red, white and blue spine. That book was The Right Stuff. I decided then and there to be like those guys in the book.” Years later, Kelly said, Right Stuff author Tom Wolfe offered him his most memorable piece of advice, “Begin at the beginning.”
Jesmyn Ward, who is from Mississippi, praised her local booksellers, including Square Books in Oxford and Lemuria Books in Jackson, for helping her develop her career over the years by assisting her in landing fellowships and teaching gigs. “The relationship goes well beyond merchandiser and producer,” she said. Her new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing (Sept. Scibner), concerns a mixed race couple and echoes of past lives in the present day South, “Which is modern in name only.”
Pete Souza, who was President Barack Obama’s official photographer, took a tip from the former president when putting together his book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait (Nov., Little, Brown). “I was struggling with how to narrow down two million photographs taken over eight years to 300 pictures, and he told me ‘Choose the aesthetic over the narrative.’ It turns out he was right. God, I miss that guy.”