Client News

Book Tour Alert: Zach Vertin, A Rope from the Sky

To those based in the Chicago area: My client Zach Vertin, a former diplomat in the Obama administration, has his first book—A Rope from the Sky: The Making and Unmaking of the World’s Newest State, about South Sudan—coming out this month in the US (it's already out in the UK). Zach will be doing a conversation and signing at Seminary Co-op in Hyde Park on Jan. 27, at 3 p.m.; his “interlocutor,” as Seminary so charmingly puts it, is Stephen Franklin, a former correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

If you or anyone you know is interested in Sudan, African/U.S. politics, and the art of diplomacy, please share this and save the date.

You can find more info on the event here. And if you’re in a city other than Chicago, Zach may be coming your way too—you can find his tour schedule here.

Client's Essay in Mothers Always Write

I couldn’t be more excited for my client and student Anne Glaser, who recently celebrated her first published essay, in Mothers Always Write. Anne writes of a difficult period in which her teenage son seemed to be spiraling into … she wasn’t sure what. And of the adventure that taught him a new perspective—and a new appreciation for his mother.

Anne invites us into some of her darkest moments, with self-scrutiny and candor:

Sometimes I would wake up my husband to vent. Scott listened patiently and encouraged me to go back to sleep. He’d recite things the therapist told us, that Max was growing too old to control, that he needed to learn from his mistakes, that this stage would pass. But night’s darkness disagreed, telling me a different story.

I resented Scott’s ability to intellectualize our problem, his faith in the therapist’s advice. I resented that he could sleep.

Sometimes I gave in to my fear, doing exactly what the therapist told me not to do, which was to frantically text Max, searching for reassurance that he wasn’t doing drugs or hanging out with the “bad” friends. I’d lie in bed waiting for a message to light up my screen, a cellular beacon of confirmation that Max was fine, and I could sleep.

Sometimes Max would respond to the texts, but soon he stopped.

“No one else’s mother texts them at 11:00 p.m.,” he’d spit at me. “Justin thinks you’re insane.”

Justin was the friend who had access to the drugs.

I was insane.

And she ends with a twist that I imagine will bring a tear to many a mother’s eye. Congratulations, Anne!

Sarah Berns and Smokejumping on Nieman Storyboard

My client Sarah Berns wrote a great piece—so great that Nieman Storyboard came calling! If you want a behind-the-scenes look at the writing and revision process—the time, effort, and agonizing that goes into getting it right—check it out.

And for those who aren’t already familiar with it, Nieman Storyboard is a terrific resource for writers (and editors) of narrative nonfiction. It highlights new and notable work (like Sarah’s essay); looks back at, and breaks down, classics of the form (I’ve written a couple of pieces for them in this vein); publishes craft tips and interviews with writers; and has a newsletter—so you can get all this delivered to your inbox.

Client's Essay in Outside Online

Earlier this year, Sarah Berns, who’d never published a word, came to me with a draft of an essay and the hope that someday, the world would get to read her story. So I’m thrilled to report that after months of brainstorming, revising, and fine-tuning—i.e., after Sarah poured heart and soul into this piece—her essay was picked up by Outside and published this week: Finding Home in the West—by Smokejumping.

It’s the incredible true story of a young adventure-seeker who thrusts herself into the path of danger—and into a world populated mostly by men—and learns life-changing lessons about toughness, about survival, about who she is and where she belongs. 

I couldn’t be prouder of this first-time author. Congratulations, Sarah!

A Rope from the Sky — Out in the U.K.


Congratulations to my client Zach Vertin, whose first book, A Rope from the Sky: The Making and Unmaking of the World’s Newest State—a history of South Sudan—came out in the United Kingdom this week. (U.S. pub date: Jan. 1, 2019.) Some early praise:

“The still-unfolding tragedy of South Sudan is too little understood and too little known, even among foreign policy experts. Zach Vertin is a rare exception. He has spent his life not just explaining how the promise of this young nation, for which so many sacrificed, was broken so badly, but helping end the bloodshed for a people who have seen far too much of it. An important read.” —John Kerry, 68th U.S. Secretary of State

“This book is a political roller coaster from Africa to the White House and back. Zach Vertin guides us through a war zone like no other. Vivid characters―the accidental president, the charismatic rebel, the deal maker, the Congressman―tell a tale of American idealism and misadventure abroad.” —Bart Gellman, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Cheers, friend!

The Suffragents: Happy Pub Day!

Brooke Kroeger was one of the first clients I worked with after going freelance a couple of years ago, and I’m thrilled to say that today is the day her excellent history—The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote—goes on sale.


Kirkus calls the book “an urgent, interesting history of women’s suffrage”:

Among the pleasures of Kroeger’s carefully developed storyline is the view of how important political figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came around to accepting the idea that women deserved the vote, an evolution helped along by arguments by the suffrage movement’s male allies until the righteousness of the cause could no longer be ignored. A vigorous, readable revisitation of the events of a century and more ago but with plenty of subtle lessons … for modern-day civil rights activists.

And I particularly love the blurb from James McBride:

The book reveals the careful, never-before-told story of how women … planned their own liberation, directing the prominent power brokers in America into action. With smooth efficiency and the touch of a novelist, Brooke Kroeger shows how the suffragist movement, engineered by women from top to bottom, cleverly stitched in the involvement of men from all walks of professional and political life, directed by women who used neither gun nor blade to direct the men, but the weapons of intelligence, cleverness, and when necessary, subterfuge. 

Shooting Ghosts: The Early Reviews Are In

I'm happy to report that the first reviews of Shooting Ghosts, by my clients Finbarr O'Reilly and T.J. Brennan, are in, and they're pretty darned great.

A starred review in Publisher's Weekly:

"In this well-written account of dealing with war trauma, a still-taboo subject for many in the military, Brennan and O’Reilly, a retired Marine Corps sergeant and a battle-hardened photojournalist, respectively, confront the manner in which they were consumed by the hell of warfare and saved by the power of words and pictures. ... Brennan and O’Reilly strip away any misplaced notions of glamour, bravery, and stoicism to craft an affecting memoir of a deep friendship."

And an admiring one from Kirkus:

"In this poignant memoir penned in alternating points of view by two very different participants in America’s war in Afghanistan, the authors achieve a shared sense of emotional and physical trauma. ... The authors effectively reveal how they moved beyond the 'fog of war.' ... A courageous breaking of the code of silence to seek mental health for veterans and the war-scarred."

Pub date: August 22!

Client News: Zebras and Fairy Tales

I love celebrating my authors’ work! Two recent projects I’m particularly proud of:

1. Jennifer Brandel and Mara Zepeda are back with a galvanizing essay on startup culture—the ways in which the current model of financing startups and measuring their success is broken, and their vision for how to fix it.

“Developing alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time,” they argue, citing “unicorn” companies’ penchant for disruption over cultivation.

“When VC firms prize time on site over truth, a lucky few may profit, but civil society suffers. When shareholder return trumps collective well-being, democracy itself is threatened.”

Their alternative to the unicorn? The zebra—a strong dose of reality to combat the magical thinking that too often rules Silicon Valley. (Go, read, it’ll all make sense.)

2. Steve Wiley has received a bunch of great reviews for his self-published debut novel, The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan.

IndieReader: “A deeply imaginative and wondrous fairytale for adults who are still young at heart.”

Publishers Weekly: “The talented author takes admirable risks with this enchanting tale of magic, self-exploration, and growing up by remembering one’s youth.”

And there are more. Plus, Steve is donating half the book's proceeds to Chicago Public Schools. Gold star for him.

Client News: Sex & Startups

"Startups, like the male anatomy, are designed for liquidity events." This smart, pointed conversation-starter of an essay just went live on Medium, and I'm honored to say I was asked to help bring it into the world. Highlights:

"Much is made about Silicon Valley’s culture of 'innovation.' But the model for startup venture financing, and the system of rewards driving this supposed innovation, isn’t creative — it’s masturbatory. It wastes potential. It’s uninspired. It leaves founders like us staring at the ceiling.
"Yes, we want to build businesses that succeed financially. But we also want so much more than that, and we aren’t alone. Most of the founders we know, many of whom happen to be women, are driven to build companies that generate money and meaning. And they’re in it for the long haul — not just to get their jollies, make their names, and exit." ...
"The author and commentator Rebecca Solnit, in an essay from her collection 'Men Explain Things to Me,' refers to something a friend of hers calls 'the tyranny of the quantifiable.' In such a system, Solnit writes, 'what can be measured almost always takes precedence over what cannot: private profit over public good; speed and efficiency over enjoyment and quality.' ... 'The tyranny of the quantifiable' describes the current ethos of venture financing."

Congratulations and thanks to Jenn Brandel and Mara Zepeda.

Update 2.18.16: Jenn and Mara's essay got picked up by Quartz!