I have a confession to make–I always wanted to be a gameshow host; unfortunately, I have a face for radio. I always saw myself hosting Jeopardy and if there was a clue about today’s guest it would be, A Pulitzer Prize winning author who does not identify as a writer. The answer, of course, would be ‘Who is Debby Applegate?’
MEET DEBBY APPLEGATE
Debby Applegate is an American historian and biographer. She is the author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Her latest book is Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age.
KEY TOPICS IN THIS EPISODE
- How Debby transitioned from a career in academia to a career as a writer.
- What she found most curious about the life of Henry Ward Beecher.
- The inspiration behind her latest biography about a Madam during the Jazz Age.
- The noteworthy people, including a US President, who were known to visit Polly Adler’s brothel.
- Our mutual appreciation for The Love Boat!
KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM MY TALK WITH DEBBY
- Research pays off. Debby is a research addict, which explains why it took over a decade to write Madam. It paid off though, the book was an instant bestseller, earning well-deserved recognition from audiences and critics alike.
- Get them turning the page. Debby’s contract for her first book, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize, was canceled by the publisher after they received some early chapters. Debby decided to take it upon herself to learn how to write in a way that would keep readers turning the page. To do that, she studied how to write mysteries, thrillers, and even pornography!
- Be resilient. Many may have thrown in the towel after having their contract canceled, but Debby rolled up her sleeves and went back to the drawing board. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from successful authors like Debby is that talent alone isn’t enough to make it as an author—resilience is key.
WHERE TO BUY MADAM
GET IN TOUCH WITH DEBBY
Linked In: linkedin.com/in/debby-applegate-0459446
My goal was to get the reader to read the next sentence and then the next paragraph. To then turn the page and, God willing, to get to the end of the chapter and then to the end of the boo. To do that, I had to get people wondering what’s going to happen next, or what’s going to be said next, or wondering why that thing that they just described happened. So I thought, well, okay, that means suspense essentially. How do you create a feeling of suspense that gets people to keep going? So I went to the library and looked up books about how to write thrillers and how to write mysteries, which I knew nothing about. And I started doing the exercise; what does my protagonist want? What is standing in the way of my protagonist? What is the backstory? What is the climax? I even read one great essay about how to write pornography because I mean, who succeeds better and putting ideas in your head than pornographers?
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