It’s tempting to conjecture that many a respected author has harbored a fetish or two about how or when he or she goes about pursuing the literary craft — a talisman or lucky keepsake that must be on hand, a time of day that is sacrosanct for conjuring up the creative spirit or even a favored hideaway that is deemed the absolute best place to commit the beginnings of new inspiration to the printed page.  

Now British author Alex Johnson has taken the latter part of that theory and proven it positive, with a respectful nod to Virginia Woolf, in “Rooms of Their Own” (Frances Lincoln, $26, 192 pages), a book subtitled “Where Great Writers Write” and enlivened with utterly charming watercolor illustrations by London artist James Oses. In brief, pithy, well-researched chapters, Johnson sheds some light on the writing rituals of 182 famous authors, both alive and long departed, beginning alphabetically with the Bay Area’s own Isabel Allende (who religiously begins her every novel on Jan. 8 of the relevant year) and concluding with the poet William Wordsworth. 

Alex Johnson describes rituals of famous authors, past and present, in “Rooms of Their Own: Where Great Writers Write.” (Courtesy Francis Lincoln)

Some of his chapter headings are intriguing enough to invite an immediate dive into the text: “A room of genius and squalor” for W.H. Auden, for instance, or, for the slightly scandalous French author Colette, the somewhat alarming “From a prison cell to a raft.” Some serve to confirm what we may already know about a writer. J.K. Rowling was famously close to dirt poor but indisputably inspired when she pounded out that first Harry Potter tome on a laptop over coffee in a neighborhood spot, as “The importance of a good cafe” chapter heading reminds us. Nor does “Embracing the solitude” come as any surprise for introducing us to the notoriously seclusive Emily Dickinson’s preferences. 

Perhaps the most inspiring, for fans of the late, lamented Hilary Mantel, double Booker Prize winner for her “Wolf Hall” trilogy, is the reassuring “All the world’s a writing room,” which, of course, offers hope for all the would-be scribblers among us. 

Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood host “Celebrating Salman Rushdie’s Victory City” sponsored by PEN America and its British and Canadian affiliates. (Photo courtesy PEN America)

Down but far from out: It’s heartening to note that prize-winning author Salman Rushdie, so cruelly brutalized by that attack last August that left him blind in one eye and with a crippled hand, has a new novel coming out on Feb. 7. Advance word on “Victory City: A Novel” (Random House, $30, 352 pages) makes it sound like quintessential Rushdie: A young girl in 14th-century India, recently rendered motherless, is inhabited by a goddess and imbued with powers beyond her reckoning, becoming crucial to the establishment, over two centuries and a half, of a city that will become the wonder of the world. Lavish praise is already pouring in for this, Rushdie’s 15th novel. Column McCann labels it “a radiant myth about myth making”; Michael Cunningham declares “Every page is magical, every page is gorgeous. In the way of a significant work of art, it does not resemble any other novel I could name.” Now two more celebrated authors are jumping on the bandwagon, combining forces to assess the novel in free online appearances in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Margaret Atwood, the ruling literary lioness of Canada, joins Britain’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Neil Gaiman in an event sponsored by PEN America and its British and Canadian affiliates, on Feb. 9 at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, to present “Celebrating Salman Rushdie’s Victory City.” Their discussion is free and will be available online for two weeks afterward, but there are also options, in each country, for “a stream and book bundle” offering that will include a mailed copy of the book. Register for either option at

Karen Joy Fowler is promoting her new novel in events in Lafayette, Corte Madera and San Francisco.

Encounters with Fowler: Santa Cruz author Karen Joy Fowler, each of whose engrossing novels seems to be cut from entirely different cloth (“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” and “The Jane Austen Book Club” could not be thematically farther apart!), is making appearances for her latest, “Booth” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $18 paperback, 496 pages). Her sixth novel, short-listed for the 2022 Booker Prize, does not revolve exclusively around the notorious presidential assassin John Wilkes, but focuses on his milieu and his entire troubled family. The Lafayette Library and Learning Center is hosting Fowler, in conversation with Mary Volmer, at 7 p.m. Feb. 7; tickets are $10-$25, including a copy of the book, and you can register at She will also be making appearances at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 1 p.m. Feb. 12 and at 7 p.m. March 3 at the Noe Valley Word Weekend event at Bethany United Methodist Church at 1270 Sanchez St. in San Francisco. Find information on the book and all her events at

Grant Faulkner is executive director of National Novel Writing Month and co-founder of 100 Word Story. (Grant Faulkner via Bay City News)

 Starting small – it’s not necessarily easier: Grant Faulkner, founder and executive director of the popular NaNoWriMo movement, which propels would-be authors across the country to feverishly work on their novels every November, is also the co-founder, with author Lynn Mundell, of the 100-Word Story, a Berkeley-based literary magazine that accepts submissions for and publishes — exactly that. In that same spirit, he has also authored “The Art of Brevity: Crafting the Very Short Story” (University of New Mexico Press, $19.95 paperback, 184 pages), which hits the stands on Feb. 15. The Pegasus Books downtown location, at Shattuck and Durant in Berkeley, hosts Faulkner in conversation with Mundell about the book at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at an event that is free with no need to register. Attendees will be led through a writing exercise from the book that Faulkner will conduct. 

Hooked on Books is a monthly column by Sue Gilmore on current literary buzz and can’t-miss upcoming book events. Look for it here every last Thursday of the month.