Five authors shared why and how they wrote their upcoming books—funny-but-cringe-worthy tales of racism, imaginative short stories, a unique perspective on the civil rights movement, and a millennial’s open-hearted Hollywood memoir—at Wednesday's adult authors chat at the U.S. Book Show.
Sisters Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar began the chat with recollections from their 2021 bestseller You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism. Lamar, who has worked in health care and human services, told of a time when she mentioned her parents in a meeting. A coworker interrupted, saying, "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Stop! You have two parents? ‘Cause, you know, normally you people are just raised by single mothers.”
The book’s message is clear: “You might be hearing this. You might be seeing this. You might be doing this. And you need to stop," said Lamar. “We thought [the book] was going to end racism around the world. It did not.” So, they’re back with a new collection, drawing on their family's experiences in their hometown, Omaha, for The World Record Book of Racist Stories (Grand Central, Nov.).
When called out about racism, “white people will go, “Lalalala! I don’t like this!’" said Ruffin, a comedian, sticking her fingers in her ears. Humor can overcome that obstacle, but although the sisters may "yap" like "goofuses," racism is no joke, Ruffin said. “Better you learn this privately from a book than publicly through HR.”
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Renowned British fantasy writer Alan Moore spoke of taking readers to new worlds and the pleasure of stretching his own imagination. His upcoming book, Illuminations (Bloomsbury, Oct.), is his first collection of short stories. He made no claim to be prescient but, he noted, one story, set on the “advent of the apocalypse in the town of North Bedford,” was written a year before the pandemic actually emptied the streets across England.
Moore described the "enormous joy" of polishing each story like a miniature gem after decades of award-winning comics and graphic novels such as Watchman, and launching his 1,000-page, 600,000-word bestselling novel Jerusalem in 2016, which took him 10 years to write. “Life's too short" to do that again, he quipped.
"I’ve always loved the short story form. I think it’s the best form for any writer to start and presumably end their career in," said Moore. There’s no end in sight for Moore, however, who said he’s embarked on a new five-book fantasy series, Long London (Bloomsbury 2024 release), exploring new techniques and “stretching my imagination.” When this world "gets a bit tedious," he said, "it's always good to have another world at your disposal.”
Author Thomas E. Ricks, an expert on military strategy and history whose 2021 bestseller, Fiasco, examined the Iraq war, said that of all his eight books, his favorite is the one coming up. Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968 (Farrar Straus & Giroux, Oct.) details how the civil rights movement was “extraordinarily well organized in the way that successful militaries are.” Ricks cited the key elements: “Recruiting; training; preparation; indoctrination; discipline in message; discipline in direct action.”
Ricks called the book a “tribute” to the movement, from its the leaders and strategists to the unsung people who handled the nitty-gritty logistics and organizing, who babysat or cooked meals for marchers or waited outside a jail with a rescue car in case a jailer attempted to hand an arrested Freedom Rider over to the Ku Klux Klan.
“I would argue that each of the major civil rights campaigns illustrates or demonstrates some kind of military principle or operation,” Ricks said. He concluded: “I found it all inspiring, and I took away some hope for today.”
Hollywood film and television star Constance Wu (seen in TV’s Fresh Off the Boat and films Crazy Rich Asians and Hustlers) described her memoir, Making a Scene (Scribner, Oct.), as “an intimate story of growing up.” Writing it “helped me understand myself and heal from some traumatic experiences in ways that I hadn't really expected or explored,” Wu said.
The book includes light moments, such as her first job in a bakery, and such sidesteps as her brief time in a Buddhist monastery. But her book doesn’t shy away from difficulties: what discussions of Asian American representation in media are really like; the time when she was estranged from her mother; ow she endured sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace; lessons learned after she unintentionally provoked a social media mob in 2019 with “controversial tweets” about Fresh Off the Boat.
Therapy helped, Wu said. So did a rule of acting: "You never want to judge your characters. You want to understand them." Now, Wu said, she’s eager to reach readers who may feel lost in “a Millennial malaise.” She will tell them, “you don't have to be perfect. You can learn a lot from going through the mud, which I have.” She concluded: “There is a light on the other side.”