American author J.D. Vance recently rose to prominence as the voice of the “Rust Belt” communities that following the 2016 presidential election became such a conversational focus for so many Americans. Despite the enormous success of his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Vance never planned on becoming a writer nor a political contributor, both roles which he seems to be filling today.

J.D. Vance was born in Middleton, Ohio, in the heart of what is known as the “rust belt,” and then later in the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. After graduating from high school, Vance first spent a tour with the Marine Corps and served in Iraq before going on to attend the Ohio State University and then later Yale Law School. While attending Yale, Vance said he began writing Hillbilly Elegy to further explore the disconnect he was experiencing as a third-year law student from an area not well-represented at the school or in the field of law.

Vance writes of his experiences as the “outsider,” and his awareness that the towns in which he grew up had “…grown further disconnected from institutions of work…and…extraordinarily pessimistic” as the citizens faced staggering economic challenges affecting mostly blue-collar communities. Vance became fascinated by both the economic aspect of the shift but also the communal and cultural disconnect resulting from it; thus, the journey back to his roots began.

Shortly after publication, Hillbilly Elegy topped the New York Times Best Seller list and made J.D. Vance a national celebrity. Today, in addition to leading his Silicon Valley investment firm, Vance frequently appears on CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News as a contributor and commentator.

American author Gillian Flynn first rose to mainstream prominence after her bestselling novel Gone Girl was adapted into a feature film starring Ben Affleck in 2015. But long before her rise as one of the era’s most successful female voices in the thriller genre, Flynn grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. Gillian’s parents, both professors, encouraged their rather shy daughter’s interest in writing, and her father, who taught film studies, exposed her to horror films, which she enjoyed and which ultimately influenced her writing.

After graduating from high school in 1989, Gillian Flynn went on to receive her B.A. in English and Journalism from the University of Kansas. She then earned her masters at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, which led to her first freelancing jobs for U.S. News & World Report and then Entertainment Weekly. It was while working for Entertainment Weekly that Flynn began to write novels during her free time, starting with Sharp Objects in 2006.

Sharp Objects was an immediate success, earning Gillian Flynn accolades and awards. Next came Dark Places in 2009, which was also adapted for the big screen in 2015. But it was the novel Gone Girl, which upon its release in 2012 was immediately snatched up for a film adaptation, for which Flynn herself wrote much of the script. The novel went on to become one of the most notable literary works of 2012, and with the success of the film (released in 2015 and starring Ben Affleck), the novel had a resurgence in popularity again in 2015.

In addition to her three novels, Gillian Flynn has also written the short story “The Grownup,” which appeared in the 2014 anthology Rogues. The story won Flynn an Edgar Award for Best Short Story in 2015.

American novelist George Raymond Richard Martin was born in 1948 in New Jersey. Today, George R.R. Martin is best known as the writer of the books which inspired the smash hit HBO series “Game of Thrones,” but long before he rose to such prominence, Martin grew up in the Bayonne area of New Jersey in a working class household. To escape a rather underprivileged upbringing, young George found himself drawn to novels, and he became an avid reader.

Martin was also drawn to geography, largely inspired by his experience as a child near the ports of New York, where he would marvel at shipping vessels and their origin. The marriage of his love of reading – in particular fantasy and science fiction – and his love of geography would eventually meld to inspire his series Songs of Ice and Fire, the inspiration for Game of Thrones.

But Martin did not rise to fame quite so quickly or easily. After graduating summa cum laude from Northwestern University with a B.S. in Journalism in 1971, Martin first started teaching at Clarke University in the mid 1970’s to supplement his income as he began various writing projects. Around the same time, George began writing and selling short stories, mostly science fiction, and the Novella “A Song for Lya,” which earned him his first Hugo Award for Best Novella. The novel Windhaven was his first full-length, published in 1981, and was followed by Fevre Drea (1982), The Armageddon Rag (1983), and the novella The Skin Trade (1989.) During this time he also wrote multiple episodes for the television series The Twilight Zone (1986) and Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990.)

But it was the novel A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s first in his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, that became his big breakthrough after it was published in 1996. The series continued with A Clash of Kings (1998), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feats for Crows (2005), A Dance with Dragons (2011), The Princess and the Queen (2013), and The Rogue Prince (2014), the latter of which is actually considered a novella due to its brevity.

When George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series was picked up by HBO for a new series, he immediately became a world wide celebrity. Since that time, Martin has served as the series’ co-executive producer and sometimes as its scriptwriter, earning himself multiple Emmy Award nominations. When Martin is not writing, he is known for his remarkable accessibility to fans through comic conventions and science fiction conventions, and he says he enjoys meeting and interacting with readers and viewers through these opportunities.

Novelist Frances Mayes is today best known for her best-selling memoir Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. But long before her big breakthrough as a writer, Mayes grew up in the Fitzgerald area of Georgia, graduating from the University of Florida and later San Francisco State University with an M.A. in creative writing. Francis eventually went on to serve as chair of the university’s Creative Writing department, but for many years prior to that, she published a number of moderately successful novels.

Frances Mayes began writing with a series of poetry collections: Climbing Aconcagua (1977), Sunday in Another country (1977), After Such Pleasures (1979), The Arts of Fire (1982), Hours (1984), and Ex Voto (1995.) The full-length memoir Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy was her first departure from poetry, but it also became her big breakthrough. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for more than two years before the novel was acquired for the film rights; the film adaptation starring Diane Lane was released in 2003.

Since the success of Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes has gone on to write the additional non-fiction words: Bella Tuscany, A Year in the World, Every Day in Tuscany, In Tuscany, Bringing Tuscany Home, The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, Under Magnolia, Swan, and The Arts of Fire. She and her husband divide their time between their home in North Carolina and their Tuscan home in Cortona, Italy.

Irish-Canadian novelist and screenwriter Emma Donoghue is today best known for her hit novel and award-nominated film, Room. But long before Donoghue rose to prominence as a writer, she was born in 1969 in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating from the University College Dublin with her B.A., Emma went on to earn her PhD in English from Girton College in Cambridge, before publishing her first novel in her early 20’s.

Donoghue’s debut work, Stir Fry, arrived in 1994 and earned her significant acclaim; the novel was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, as its story revolved around a young woman’s early sexual discovery. The novel Hood followed in 1997, also earning accolades and a Stonewall Book Award for Literature. The novels Salmmerkin (2000), Landing (2007), and The Sealed Letter (2008) followed.

But Emma’s big breakthrough came with the novel Room, which earned Donoghue multiple awards, including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Irish Book Award for 2010. The novel ultimately went on to spawn the film adaptation, which earned Emma Donoghue an 2015 Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, since she herself penned the script.

Since Room, Emma Donoghue has published the novel The Wonder, which arrived on shelves in 2016. In addition to novels, Donoghue has written a number of short stories, plays, and teleplays.

The American writer Elizabeth Gilbert was born in 1969 in Connecticut. Long before Gilbert rose to prominence as the voice behind the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, she grew up in the Waterbury area of the state, where the family ran a nearby Christmas tree farm. Elizabeth’s upbringing was devoid of many of the vices most young men and women today enjoy growing up – the family had no record player or television. As such, Elizabeth and her sister spent much of their time reading books; it’s little surprise that both grew up to become writers.

After graduating from New York University with her B.A. in Political Science, Gilbert worked a number of jobs, including waiting tables and cooking at a dude ranch. Her first short story, “Pilgrims,” was published in 1993. After its appearance in Esquire Magazine, Elizabeth received offers to write material for a number of notable magazines, including Travel + Leisure, Allure, SPIN, and The New York Times Magazine.

Elizabeth Gilbert published her first book – Pilgrims – in 1997. The collection of short stories earned her a Pushcart Prize and set the stage for her follow-up novel, Stern Men, in 2000. The Last American Man followed in 2002, but it was the memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia, which became her big breakthrough upon its publication in 2006. The book spent nearly two hundred weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and spawned the hit 2010 film adaptation starring Julia Roberts.

Elizabeth Gilbert has been listed on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. Her latest memoir, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (2010) was followed by the self-help book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015.) Gilbert has been known to speak frequently for organizations and at events which target women’s issues and women’s perspectives as their focus.

Long before author E.L. James rose to fame for her Fifty Shades Trilogy, she was born Erika Mitchell in 1963 in London, England. James was raised in Buckinghamshire, where her father worked as a cameraman for the BBC news network, and as a young woman she chose to study film and television while in college. After graduating, James married a screenwriter and worked for awhile as an assistant at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.

E.L. James was inspired to begin her career as a writer after reading the entire Twilight series of novels in a matter of days. Fascinated by the storyline, E.L. began to experiment with “fan fiction,” where she wrote a few sequel stories to the series. The Fifty Shades “books” also began as online fan fiction, published on FanFiction.Net. The series was so popular it was quickly snatched up for traditional publication and the rest, as they say, is history.

E.L. James has since seen her Fifty Shades trilogy push her to the very top of the highest-earning authors of the era. The books – Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), Fifty Shades Darker (2012), and Fifty Shades Freed (2012) – have earned James nods from the National Book Award (UK) for “Book of the Year”; Publishers Weekly, with “Publishing Person of the Year”; and Time Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” The first two books in the series have been adapted into films, and it is expected that the third will be as well.

James continues to write and publish. Her most recent book, a fourth installment of the Fifty Shades series, was published in 2015. The book, Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, flips the narrative from female protagonist to male protagonist, and is sure to be a huge success among Fifty Shades fans.

American author and king of the suspense thriller Dean Koontz was born in 1945 in Everett, Pennsylvania. Koontz grew up in a tumultuous childhood at the hands of an abusive alcoholic father. He sought an opportunity to express himself through his writing, and by the time he was a senior in high school he’d already started winning competitions, including a notable fiction competition through the prestigious Atlantic Monthly magazine.

After graduating from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Dean Koontz spent a few years teaching high school English in Mechanicsburg. In the evenings and on weekends, Koontz began work on his first novel, Star Quest. Star Quest found its way to publication in 1968, and for a number of years, Dean found significant success with the science-fiction genre. In the 1970’s, he switched to horror fiction and suspense novels, often writing both under pseudonyms but also crafting a few works under his own name.

But it wasn’t until 1980 that Koontz experienced his real breakthrough, with the novel Whispers. Since that time, Dean Koontz has published more than ten New York Times Best Sellers and multiple books which have been adapted into screenplays, including: The Passengers (1977), Whispers (1990), Hideaway (1995), Intensity (1997), Watchers (1998), Phantoms (1998), Mr. Murder (1998), Sole Survivor (2000), Black River (2001), Frankenstein (2004), and Odd Thomas (2013.)

Today, Dean Koontz continues to write from his home in Newport Coast, California, where he lives with his wife. Currently, Koontz is tied with John Grisham as the world’s sixth most highly paid author.

American author Danielle Steel was born in 1947 in New York City. Long before Steel rose to become the fourth best-selling author of all time, she grew up in an affluent, religious household, and at first wanted to become a nun when she reached adulthood. Her parents frequently brought her with them to France, and Steel’s childhood was filled with experiences around the famous and affluent.

After her parents’ divorce, Danielle was raised mostly by her father, spending her young adult years in New York, where she studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design and then at New York University. Danielle Steel began writing during her time at university, and even though she married young – at the age of eighteen – by the time she was nineteen she’d completed her first manuscript.

Steel’s first novel, Going Home, was published in 1973 and was an instant success. Now nearly fifty novels later, Danielle Steel’s books have been translated into nearly thirty languages and are sold in more than fifty countries around the world. A staggering twenty-two books have so far been adapted for television, earning two Golden Globe nominations. In addition to her novels, Steel has also written five non-fiction works, a series of children’s books, and a number of screenplays, often based on her novels but with a few original screenplays as well.

Danielle Steel is now into her seventies but still going strong. She continues to write an average of three novels every year. Her most recent works – The Mistress, Dangerous Games, and Against All Odds – were published in 2017.

American author Dan Brown was born in 1964 in New Hampshire, and grew up in Exeter. As a child, Brown developed a fascination with puzzles and codes, largely inspired by his father who worked as a math teacher. His parents were also musicians, and the two worlds of music and ciphers shaped young Dan’s perceptions and the lens through which he would craft much of his material many years later.

Although Brown is best known as the author of The DaVinci Code and its sequel spin-offs, as a young man his first aspirations were to become a musician; after graduating from Amherst College, Dan went on to form his own record company and begin self-publishing his music. After moving to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career as a singer-songwriter, Brown recorded and released his debut CD, titled Angels & Demons, but it was not as successful as he’d hoped.

After returning back to his hometown in 1993, the now married Brown started teaching English and Spanish at Phillips Exeter, and it was around this time that he began writing. His first novel, Digital Fortress, was moderately successful, and was followed by Angels & Demons in 2000. The book was the first to feature Robert Langdon, and preceded The DaVinci Code, which was actually his fourth novel. But it was The DaVinci Code that became Dan Brown’s best seller and breakthrough, rising to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and spawning the film adaptation.

The DaVinci ultimately went on to become one of the most popular and commercially successful books of all time, selling nearly 100 million copies worldwide. Since that time, Dan Brown’s novels have sold more than 200 million copies collectively, and they have been translated into fifty-two languages. In addition to The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno have also been adapted into films, with actor Tom Hanks reprising his role as Robert Langdon in each.

Dan Brown continues to write and publish. When he is not writing, Brown is an active supporter of a number of charities, many of them related to education. He has also supported the preservation and digitization of ancient texts by providing much-needed funds to a number of organizations which seek to preserve them.

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