Monday, June 26, 2017

Jonathan Levi

Jonathan Levi's latest novel is Septimania. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that you first heard about the historical Kingdom of Septimania--which Charlemagne gave the Jews of Southern France--in the late 1970s. Did you think at the time that you'd end up writing a novel about it?

A: In the late 1970s, I was working on bringing out the first issue of Granta. Although I was writing plays, the idea of writing a novel—especially since I was editing extraordinary writers at the time—was far from my mind.

The historical Kingdom of Septimania seemed more a part of the fabric of an England woven at the time by Monty Python, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and a House of Lords that debated the existence of the Loch Ness Monster while the country was paralyzed by a transportation strike.

It was only 20 years later that my memory of Septimania joined with my desire to write something about the search for origins, and I thought—hey, there might be a novel here.

Q: The book includes a variety of locations and time periods--did you need to do much research to write this, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: A large amount of library research, and many conversations with historians and others went into the conception of Septimania. But most of it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Robert I. Rotberg

Robert I. Rotberg is the author of The Corruption Cure: How Citizens and Leaders Can Combat Graft.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What explains Nordic and Antipodean exceptionalism?

RR: The Nordics and Australia/New Zealand were all outrageously corrupt before the early years of the twentieth century. But the rise of what we call ethical universalism gradually replaced the particularism of early corruption. A new civic consciousness, educational attainments, and the widespread embrace of new aspirations and the appropriate methods for achieving such goals led to a shunning of corrupt dealings. A special chapter of the book examines how these nations and others discarded corrupt pursuits.

What works best to reduce corruption?

RR: The key shift is to alter the mindset of citizens from accepting the inevitability of corruption to refusing to countenance corrupt dealings. Political leadership is essential. In every modern case where a country has abandoned (or greatly reduced) corruption, a political leader – a president or a prime-minister – has understood the dangers of corruption within the body politic and has punished politicians and bureaucrats who thus stole from the people or abused their trust. Where corruption has been reduced sustainably, a political leader has led the way. Other initiatives include limiting opportunities for discretion, putting all interactions between a citizen and a permit-granting official, or a law maker, online, strengthening the operations of auditors general and ombudsmen, strengthening the ability of judges to refuse bribes, encouraging judges to penalize corrupt persons severely, welcoming and supporting a free media, thus adding to the increased transparency and investigative accountability which is foundational in any successful battles against graft and sleaze, and creating...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dean Robbins

Dean Robbins is the author of the new children's picture book Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on computer expert Margaret Hamilton in your new book?

A: A couple years ago I noticed a striking photograph that had gone viral on social media. It pictures a typical-looking young woman from the 1960s, with wire-rim glasses, long hair, a stylish dress, and a charming smile. She stands next to a stack of paper that reaches over her head.

This was Margaret Hamilton with the code she wrote for NASA’s Project Apollo as director of software programming. The viewer realizes this is no ordinary young woman, but a genius who helped get astronauts to the moon using early computer technology.

It was revelatory to learn that a woman had played such a significant role in the 1960s space program, given the male faces we’re used to seeing from that era. It occurred to me that this might be a powerful story to tell for children.

Q: How did you research her life, and what did you find out about her that particularly fascinated you?

A: There wasn’t much published information about Margaret Hamilton, so I had to start digging—something I enjoy as a longtime journalist. I tracked down...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 23, 2017

C. A. Higgins

C. A. Higgins is the author of Lightless, Supernova, and the newly released Radiate. She was a runner-up in the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and has a B.A. in physics from Cornell University.

From her Q&A with DJ at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape:

DJ: What is Radiate and then the Lightless trilogy about?

C.A.: In the first book, Lightless, the small crew of a top-secret and highly advanced military spacecraft (the Ananke) discover a stowaway aboard their ship. They quickly learn he has connections to a terrorist (the Mallt-y-Nos) determined to overthrow their dystopian society, but the stowaway—Ivan—isn’t as helpless as he may seem. Meanwhile, the Ananke itself has been acting strangely, almost as if it were trying to communicate.

The second novel, Supernova, is about the Mallt-y-Nos herself; the heroine of Lightless, Althea; and Ananke, now a sentient machine; as they navigate the chaos of the solar system resulting from the end of Lightless. Radiate follows two characters who were missing from the events of Supernova: Ivan and his companion Mattie. In contrast to the heroines of Supernova, who all have a great deal of influence, for better or worse, over the state of the solar system, Ivan and Mattie are almost swallowed up in the chaos of the civil war. They’re desperately trying to survive, to catch up to the Mallt-y-Nos, to maybe right some of the wrongs they’ve caused—and to avoid the Ananke, who’s hunting them across the solar system and drawing ever closer. And, despite the immense loyalty and affection we saw between the two men in Lightless, their relationship has a number of unresolved tensions that the stress of their situation starts to bring out.

DJ: What were some of your influences for the Lightless trilogy?

C.A.: The Battlestar Galactica reboot was a big influence—the existential trauma of the Cylons influenced Ananke, and the idea of “humanity’s children coming home” and visiting doom on their progenitors while humanity runs itself ragged trying desperately to...[read on]
Visit C. A. Higgins's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lightless.

Writers Read: C.A. Higgins.

The Page 69 Test: Radiate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Courtney Maum

Courtney Maum is the author of the acclaimed novel I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, the new novel Touch, and the chapbook Notes from Mexico. Her short fiction, book reviews, and essays on the writing life have been widely published in outlets such as The New York Times, O Magazine, Tin House, Electric Literature, and Buzzfeed, and she has co-written films that have debuted at Sundance and won awards at Cannes. At various points in her life, she has been a trend forecaster, a fashion publicist, and a party promoter for Corona Extra.

From Maum's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You mentioned in our previous interview that you usually write from a male point of view, yet in this book your main character is a woman. How did you come up with the idea for your character Sloane?

A: Well, I find it easier to write from a male point of view, that’s for sure! (The further the character is from my own reality, the easier it is for me to make up a fictional life for him/her!)

But with Sloane—the thing is, this character had to be a woman. I used to work in trend forecasting and I never came across a single man in the profession. Certainly we had male clients, and there were male decision makers at the companies we consulted for, but the trend forecasters and trend spotters were always female.

There is just a truth and a power to the female instinct. It’s fascinating, and it can be a heavy thing to bear. I think this is where the notion of the maternal instinct comes from, the idea that women are naturally “better” at being parents—it comes from the fact (and I do believe it’s a fact) that women generally have keener instinct than men.

I happen to not believe that women are “made” to be mothers, or that they’re naturally better parents simply by virtue of their sex, but the instinct thing is indisputable. Women are just biologically more “awake” then men.

Accordingly, I really wanted to...[read on]
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.

Writers Read: Courtney Maum.

The Page 69 Test: Touch by Courtney Maum.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Elizabeth Anderson

Elizabeth Anderson's new book is Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It).

From her Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

Most contemporary discussions of work focus on wages, benefits, and unemployment. You want to focus on the power of employers over workers. How does that matter for workers today?

EA: Millions of workers in the United States labor under humiliating and abusive conditions. Most poultry workers, for example, aren’t allowed to use the bathroom during their shift, and are told to wear diapers to work. The vast majority of restaurant workers suffer from sexual harassment. Managers scream at warehouse workers when they can’t keep up with the grueling pace, or get injured on the job. They search workers’ bodies and personal property, and listen in on their conversations with co-workers. These conditions aren’t inherent in these types of work. The aren’t like the dangers that firefighters unavoidably face. They are imposed by employers. Employers can do this because they have power over workers and can threaten their livelihoods if they don’t submit. This kind of unaccountable power is objectionable even when workers are paid decently. Many professional and managerial workers who enjoy good pay are pressured by their bosses to contribute to political candidates their bosses prefer, and know that their contributions are being monitored. Workers up and down the organization chart are bullied by their bosses. It’s high time that we drew attention to these problems. Work doesn’t have to be this way.

You claim that current political discussions confuse government with the state. Why is that a point of confusion, and why is it important to distinguish the two?

EA: Politicians are constantly telling people that “the government” is interfering with their freedom. What they mean by “government” is the organs of the state—the Federal government, or agencies of the 50 states. This way of talking misleadingly suggests that if we only got the state out of our hair, we’d be perfectly free to lead our lives as we choose. It masks the fact that other kinds of governments, with unelected leaders, also rule our lives. The workplace is a type of government, and bosses are the rulers of this government. It’s important to...[read on]
Writers Read: Elizabeth Anderson (October 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Katherine Nichols

Katherine Nichols's new book is Deep Water: From the Swim Team to Drug Smuggling.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about the Coronado Company [a drug cartel that originated in Coronado, California, in the 1970s], and what did you discover in the course of your work on the book that especially surprised you?

A: Hearing tales of the Company was an inevitable part of growing up in Coronado, which inspired me to use the premise and create a fictionalized account. Based on that manuscript, Simon & Schuster offered me a contract for the nonfiction book. I did not expect to appreciate going beyond the criminal records of these multi-faceted men, and really trying to know them as human beings.

Q: How did you research the book, and were the participants usually willing to speak with you?

A: The research was difficult and elusive, so I tried to approach it in a structured manner by first obtaining archived court records. This required...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 19, 2017

V. Sanjay Kumar

V. Sanjay Kumar's latest novel is The Third Squad.

From his interview with Dyuit Basu for the Deccan Chronicle:

You usually set your books in specific city backdrops. How intrinsic is the city backdrop to your plot?

The city is everything. The city is the writer Italo Calvino’s muse as well. In his book Invisible Cities he said, ‘You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.’

I have questions, many of them, and they arise when I walk the streets of cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata. I am an inadvertent explorer; I observe people and overhear conversations. These days, I measure my walks in sentences. Each sentence triggers...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci's new book is How To Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy To Live a Modern Life.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write your new book?

A: It took me a number of years to experiment with several philosophies of life (Catholicism, Secular Humanism, Aristotelianism) before finding Stoicism, somewhat by accident -- because of a tweet from the University of Exeter that invited me to "celebrate Stoic Week."

Once I began studying and practicing Stoicism it immediately clicked; I saw that it has the potential -- at least for some people -- to dramatically alter the way you look at things and live your life.

I love writing, so the first thing I did was to compose a column for The New York Times about my ongoing investigation of Stoicism. It went viral, so I decided to begin publishing a blog that would allow me to share my experiences with others. From there the idea of writing a book was...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Nonsense on Stilts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Patrick Millikin

Patrick Millikin is the editor of The Highway Kind: Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers and Dark Roads. From his Q&A with Steph Post:

SP: In the preface for the collection, you write about the American mythology of cars and how it developed in the transition from horse to automobile and owes much to both Westerns and crime fiction. I find this idea fascinating and I was hoping you could elaborate a little more on how America, cars and genre fiction all fit together.

PM: I think it was just a natural progression. When you think of the classic Western hero, it’s typically a loner on horseback, one who has largely abandoned the confines of the civilized world for the freedom of the frontier. The horse provided mobility, and in some ways I suppose it represents man’s domination of the natural world. Of course, there’s a distinctly American wanderlust that plays into this whole mythology. Think of Huck Finn lighting out for the territories, now that’s a classic American archetype. The West, or the idea of it, becomes such a huge part of the transition from the Western novel to early American crime fiction. California, and particularly Los Angeles, was touted by boosters as the Promised Land, where people could escape from their old lives and pursue the “American Dream.” So much of the early crime fiction, set in LA and elsewhere, explores the messy reality underneath this facade. Of course, the advent of cars played an enormous role in this. One thinks of Philip Marlowe cruising the mean streets in his car, or the anonymous road-side diners of James M. Cain. There are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue