Over the past three years, 11 books in the Editors’ Buzz program hit the New York Times bestsellers lists. This year’s authors of the six adult picks discuss the inspiration for their books, from wanting to know more about a character she was named for to honoring a struggling Dunkin’ Donuts employee. They also discuss the thrill of the buzz.
Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse: A Novel
There are a lot of sources I could cite for this book, but the person I keep coming back to is Maria Fernandes. I never met her, but I dedicated the book to her. She worked part-time at three Dunkin’ Donuts locations in New Jersey. In 2014, while sleeping in her car between shifts, she accidentally suffocated on gas fumes. She was struggling to pay $550 a month on her basement apartment. That same year, Dunkin’ Brands’ chief executive reportedly earned $10.2 million. She’s at the heart of the book’s theme: that large corporations treat employees like disposable products.
At the initial news [of being chosen for the Adult Buzz]: Flabbergasted. Verklempt. Then, after having an opportunity to see who else had been chosen, I felt really very lucky and honored to be counted among them.
Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives
(Simon & Schuster, Oct.)
The week after one of the most handsome men I have ever kissed tried to kill me, I started writing what eventually became a chapter of this book. This was back in January 2008, my senior year of college. I kept writing it over and over: crossing out lines, ripping up pages, trying different angles and structures. I worked on it in my free time, and I worked on it in class when I was pretending to take notes. Yes, I had made it out of that room physically alive, but something deeper in me had been threatened and was still very much in danger. It was up to me to save my own life, and the written word was the means by which survival seemed most possible.
Almost a decade later, when I felt determined to write a memoir that encapsulated both the story of my fight as well as the story of my mother fighting alongside me, I realized that understanding how the written word had saved my life not just in January 2008 but at so many crucial moments was going to be key.[On learning my book had been selected for Adult Buzz]
I screamed and immediately turned to tell my best friend, Isaac, the good news. We were on a train to Washington, D.C., for work. We went to the cafe car, bought hot dogs, and talked for a bit. And then he left me alone so I could just take it all in. I immediately started sobbing. I very much wanted to call my mother in that moment. She died of a heart attack in May 2011. I wanted to share that moment with her, just as I do my best to share the page with her in my writing. I knew that wherever she was, she knew. But yes, the joy was barbed. That’s grief for ya. It even complicates joy. A woman saw me crying as I tried to eat my hot dog and asked if I was okay. I rasped, “Good news.” And she patted her hand on the table and said something like, “Oh, good. We don’t get enough good news around here.”
Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept
I was named Lara after Boris Pasternak’s heroine, and I’ve always felt a special connection to Dr. Zhivago. In 2014, I discovered the incredible true story behind Doctor Zhivago’s publication—a story involving clandestine propaganda missions, vying governments, books used as weapons, personal intrigue, and heartache. From that point on, I wanted to find out everything I could about the story behind the story, and it was while reading the heavily redacted CIA documents about the Zhivago mission that I knew I wanted to fill in the blanks with fiction.
While most eyes gravitate toward the famous man in the spotlight, I’ve always been more intrigued by the woman in the shadow. I immediately found myself being guided by female voices—both of women working at the early CIA and the real-life inspiration behind Pasternak’s Lara—his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya.
I was visiting the Knopf office for the first time when I heard the news [about my book being selected for Adult Buzz], and it was especially exciting to find out, surrounded by the team who will usher my debut out into the world. And when I saw the other Buzz selections, I was flattered to be listed in their company.
Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age
(Putnam, Jan. 2020)
Between 2007 and 2014, I babysat for over 50 families in New York City, and these experiences definitely inspired me to delve into the delicate relationship between caretakers and mothers. I’m also fascinated by the human instinct to do “the right thing,” and I love exploring how we unconsciously over- and underestimate the people around us.
There was a lot of excitement and deep breathing [after learning the Adult Buzz news]. Writing a novel is such a quiet, private thing, and to learn that it’s been chosen to be buzzed about is a dream.
Kate Elizabeth Russell, author of My Dark Vanessa
(Morrow, Jan. 2020)
I’ve had these characters in my head since I was 16 years old. My Dark Vanessa began as journal entries inspired by my own experience with older men. Over the years the “I” transformed into “Vanessa,” a fictional character. Eventually other influences made their way into the novel: critical trauma theory, late ’90s and early ’00s pop culture, and my own complicated feelings toward Lolita.
I’ve always believed this novel was a story worth writing, but to have it selected for the Buzz Panel is enormously validating. Mostly I can’t wait to see my editor, Jessica [Williams], present. From our very first phone call, her passion for My Dark Vanessa blew me away, and to be able to hear her champion the novel in a setting like the Buzz Panel will be an incredible experience.
Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Jan. 2020)
As a tech worker, I felt alienated by popular narratives about the tech industry—the stories told about tech, and the stories tech told about itself. I wasn’t a futurist, or a founder, or a man; I was just a member of the rank and file. I didn’t see my experience reflected in triumphalist narratives, technophobic op-eds, lean-in feminism, or inspirational Medium posts.
After five years in the industry, as someone who was both ambivalent and complicit, I thought it would be worthwhile to step back and try to document how it felt to be an ordinary employee during an especially heady era of startup culture, technological change, and shifting power dynamics.
I’m very flattered, and so glad the book resonated [with Adult Buzz selectors]. Booksellers are my favorite people to talk to about books, so I’m very much looking forward to chatting with them at BookExpo and learning what they’re interested in and excited about.