Mary Laura Philpott is neither a novelist nor a journalist, but she makes her living as a writer anyway. In fact, studying Philpott’s work could serve as a kind of crash course in turning a gift for words into a career: she’s been an op-ed columnist (for The New York Times no less), a ghostwriter (she’s not saying for whom), an editor (she runs Musing, the online journal at Parnassus Books in Nashville), an essayist (most recently for Proximity), a blogger (at I Miss You When I Blink), even a poet of humorous legal verse and a member of Us Weekly’s fashion police. And next week Philpott will add author to her list of writerly titles—on June 2, Penguins With People Problems officially hits stores.
Jess Walter is more than a novelist, more than a poet, more than a journalist: he’s that old-fashioned kind of author who can fairly call himself, simply, a writer. Walter writes novels, short stories, poems, journalism (for the likes of Harper’s and Esquire), narrative nonfiction, and screenplays (next up: the film version of his newest novel, Beautiful Ruins). Even as a novelist, Walter is not a hedgehog but a fox, moving agilely between genres, subjects, and literary styles, always with his finger on the pulse of the world:
Novelist Anne Lamott has built a career of writing hilariously and movingly about her own shortcomings: she’s bossy, she’s anxious, she often forgets important lessons she’s already learned many times. Nevertheless, she has become a kind of patron saint to millions of readers, whole categories of readers, who welcome her advice on parenting, writing, faith, and recovery from addiction. Lamott’s book of writing advice, Bird by Bird, is a bestseller. Her books on faith—Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Grace (Eventually)—are bestsellers. Her first parenting memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year is, yes, a megabestseller.
Last Wednesday, novelist Ann Patchett appeared on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show to discuss her new novel, State of Wonder. It was in many ways a routine discussion about a much-anticipated book by a bestselling author, but nearly an hour into the conversation, Patchett casually dropped a bombshell: she and former Random House sales rep Karen Hayes were about to open a new bookstore in Nashville, a town without one for the last six months. “I don’t know if I’m opening an ice shop in the age of Frigidaire,” Patchett told Rehm, “but I can’t live in a city that doesn’t have a bookstore.”
When journalist John Grogan sat down to write his first book—a memoir about life with a huge, joyfully incorrigible, loveable maniac of a dog named Marley—he never imagined that he was tapping into a national reservoir of affection for crazy dogs. Marley & Me was published in 2005 to rave reviews and instant success: in hardcover it spent 76 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list (23 weeks at No.1), and was followed by a paperback edition, a version for school-age readers, and two picture books, including the newly released A Very Marley Christmas. The film, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, opens in theaters Christmas Day.
The title of Sugarland’s debut record, Twice the Speed of Life, pretty much sums up the last two years for lead singer Jennifer Nettles, 32. She’s been offering up high-octane performances since she was a tiny girl—at 6 she made her stage debut in the Christmas pageant at the Baptist church in small-town Douglas, Georgia—and writing songs since high school, but it was not until the formation of Sugarland in 2004, when Nettles first met bandmates Kristian Bush and Kristin Hall, that her career really took off. Now, on the verge of releasing Sugarland’s sophomore CD, she’s in the country music stratosphere: Twice the Speed of Life has gone Double Platinum, Sugarland won the Academy of Country Music Award for Top New Duo/Vocal Group, and Nettles’ duet with Bon Jovi, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,”—a tribute to Habitat for Humanity—was the first rock song ever to go to #1 on the country charts. And at the Grammys this year Nettles learned that Sugarland has a huge new fan: Paul McCartney.