Friday, January 19, 2018

Steph Post

Steph Post is the author of A Tree Born Crooked (2014) and Lightwood (2017) as well as a short story writer, reader, teacher and dog lover (among many other things...).

Her new novel is Walk in the Fire.

From the author's interview with Michael Noll:

Michael Noll: I’m from Kansas, not Florida, but I recognize the spirit of certain parts of your novels’ setting, if not the actual place itself. One of the things I love about how you write about the place—the swamps and run-down houses and bars and weird churches—is that they aren’t metaphors. And they’re not overblown to elicit a kind of false emotion in the reader. They’re just the places where the characters happen to be. This is hard to pull off, at least based on my reading experience. Maybe it’s because writers who come from those places tend to leave, or because they consciously or unconsciously write for an audience that isn’t from that place, their portrayals of it feel a bit like giddy cultural tourism. Did you have an audience in mind for these descriptions?

Steph Post: Wow, first of all thank you so much for your kind words. And I’m so glad you picked up on the fact that none of the places or settings are metaphors or tableaux or symbols to represent something in a character’s unconscious. They are, as you say, just places where the characters happen to be. Which doesn’t lessen the setting’s importance- it simply makes it more relevant to the characters of the novel.

And so perhaps that’s the audience I have in mind when I write descriptions of a landscape or a dive bar: the characters themselves. The characters are everything and so whenever I craft a scene I have to keep in mind whose point of view I’m writing from. I can have a little more poetic license when writing, say, from Ramey’s point of view. She looks at the world through a more open, more considering, lens than a character like Judah or Benji or Clive. Judah might look out at a landscape and feel something remarkable, but he’s not going to expound upon it. And so when writing from his point of view, I can’t go off into some florid description of the light filtering through the trees and liken it to a stirring in his soul or something. Judah would call bullshit. Actually,...[read on]
Visit Steph Post's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Steph Post & Juno.

My Book, The Movie: Lightwood.

The Page 69 Test: Lightwood.

My Book, The Movie: Walk in the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are the authors of How Democracies Die. From their Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Isaac Chotiner: Was there some aspect of Trump’s campaign, or the early months of his presidency, that made you want to write this book?

Daniel Ziblatt: That’s really the period in which we decided to write the book, during the campaign. We kind of had this eerie feeling we had seen this movie before, with accusations that Hillary is treasonous, or aggressive violence, or later on in the campaign this ambiguity of whether or not he’d accept the results of the election, and this was stuff we had seen before in the political systems that we studied. We could draw on our knowledge of other countries and other places and times to try to understand what was happening.

Steven Levitsky: Those are three things, I think it is fair to say, we never expected to see in a U.S. presidential election.

What historical examples about those three things led you to then write a book called How Democracies Die?

Ziblatt: I studied Spain in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War erupted. The two main political factions on the right and the left both regarded each other as enemies of the state. In speeches the left would say the groups on the right were really fascist and wanted to undermine the state and those on the right said the same thing about the left. This kind of spiraling rhetoric preceded the Democratic breakdown in Spain. Similar kind of thing in Germany in the late 1920s.

As you researched the book, did you get more or less concerned about what you were seeing in the U.S.?

Levitsky: I think more concerned about some things and less concerned about other things. I’ll give you one example. I am, even relative to when we wrote the book, shocked and surprised by the degree to which the Republican Party is willing to go along with Trump’s shenanigans. We had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Allegra Huston

Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?

A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.

Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?

A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.

The cougar thing drives me mad. What is...[read on]
Visit Allegra Huston's website.

The Page 99 Test: Love Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore's latest work of non-fiction is The Romanovs. From the transcript of his December 2017 conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: In your book about the Romanoffs, one is struck by the absolute brutality of the family. I mean, they-- you know, the way (ph) the father kills his son in front spectators. That kind of brutality and almost unimaginable barbarism is part of Russian history, and do you think that informs the present in any way?

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It very much is part of Russian history, and you're right. You know, the Romanoff story is a story about how families and individuals are corroded and destroyed by power. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death, as you said, Catherine the Great overthrew her husband and he was strangled to death, Alexander I was downstairs while his father, Paul, was beaten to death, strangled, and had his head stomped on.

So, yes, this is a family story, but not a family as we know it. But it does inform the present, too. I wrote this book to explain "Why Russia?" "Why Putin?" (ph) "What is exceptional about Russia?" (ph)

And when you take away all the modernity and the facade of elections in Russia, and you look at how Putin runs Russia, you see this (ph) tiny group of people competing and jockeying for the attention of one man, and a tiny group of people making secret decisions, becoming vastly wealthy--

ZAKARIA: It's a court. (ph)

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It's a court. It's definitely a court, and Russians often call him "the Tsar." (ph) They know that the key to power, just as it was in the Romanoffs, with favorites like Rasputin, who was the spiritual advisor to Nicholas Alexandra (ph), or Potemkin, who was sleeping with the tsarina, or Count Kutaissov, who was the barber of Emperor Paul, is access to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau's newest book is The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first learn about William Mumler [a "spirit photographer" in the 19th century], and what intrigued you about his story?

A: Each of my books has grown out of a lingering question from the one before. In this case, after my 2015 history One Nation Under Gods was published, I realized that though I had told the stories of many minority religious groups in America, I had somehow missed spiritualism.

The massive popularity of ideas concerning communication with the dead in the 19th century struck me as full of narrative potential, so it was just a matter of finding an individual in that world who had a story that cried out for telling. With that in mind I read spiritualist newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s and soon...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn's forthcoming book is Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. From his December 2017 Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Since we disagree about how much of a threat Trump poses, I guess I’m curious about what in your mind would set off alarm bells for Americans to take to the streets about this administration being a threat to American democracy. Would it be firing Robert Mueller and closing down the Russia investigation?

That would be disturbing, and I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s rock-solid agreement that the president doesn’t have the power to fire Robert Mueller. He may have to do it through an intermediary. It’s within his constitutional power.

I think the investigation should be pursued to the end, and in the end, there’s the heavy weaponry of impeachment, which is the way you remove a president for suspicion of wrongdoing. I don’t know that two-thirds of the Republicans will ever think Trump needs to be removed, and if he is, it [would be] for someone potentially worse.

I guess I come back to the fact that Trump is in a box. We’ve shown our power with respect to his feints, which is largely what we’ve seen in the direction of policies that are truly beyond the pale. In that situation, we need to focus much more on beating him, first of all, in a congressional majority mounted against him, and in the long run to defeat him the next time around. I just think it’s shortsighted not to focus as soon as possible on what...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman's new novel is Zap!.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Zap?

A: My engineer friend Anthony mentioned a friend of his who was fascinated with the power grid. This made me realize how little I knew about the subject myself. There happened to be a new book about the grid by Ted Koppel, so I read that – and was alarmed by the dangerous scenarios he described. I wanted to know more, and writing a book is a good excuse to do research.

Q: You based your character Luis on a real-life person. What made you decide he would make a good fictional character?

A: As with all my books, there was more than one inspiration. For Zap, my friend Luis’s life story was another. Luis’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua. They worked very hard when they came to New Jersey, and young Luis – born in the USA -- was left to his own devices at times.

He grew up in a tough town and had some harrowing experiences, stuff I had a hard time even imagining. He told me once it was...[read on]
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Strudel's Forever Home.

Writers Read: Martha Freeman (November 2016).

The Page 69 Test: Strudel's Forever Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2018

Volker Kutscher

Volker Kutscher's thrilling historical noir novel is Babylon Berlin. From his Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

Your protagonist, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath, is a fascinating and sometimes elusive character in these novels. Newly brought into the Berlin Vice squad, he’s both an establishment figure and an outsider. Why do you feel it is important that Rath should occupy that dual position? How crucial is it to giving the reader a way into the world you’re creating?

The most important thing to me is that the reader should view Weimar Berlin through the eyes of contemporary characters, people who don’t know what the future holds. For Gereon Rath who, of course, is the main character, I wanted a guy in Berlin who’s not a Berlin native, who doesn’t know his way around, to whom everything is new, and who is curious. Beside that probing curiosity, he is also kind of naïve. He is not interested in (or better: disgusted by) politics. Like too many Germans back then, he thought, ‘Why should I care about politics when the most important thing is to live a normal, everyday life?'

At one point, early on in Berlin Babylon, Rath states he wants ‘nothing to do with politics, only criminals’. How important was it for you to expose the complex cross-pollination between the political fracturing of society in Berlin, burgeoning criminality and a wider social picture? Did you want to create a sense that political impact was all-permeating?

The main thing is to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meryl Gordon

Meryl Gordon is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mrs. Astor Regrets and Phantom of Fifth Avenue, a Wall Street Journal bestseller. She is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to Vanity Fair. She is on the graduate journalism faculty at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is considered an expert on “elder abuse” and has appeared on NPR, CNN and other outlets whenever there is a high-profile case.

Gordon's latest book is Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Bunny Mellon?

A: I had done two previous biographies of women over [age] 100 in the Social Register with gazillions of dollars. I thought I was done with the genre.

I was asked to do a story on Bunny for Newsweek in 2011 and she agreed to speak to me. The sweep of American history involved in her life—it was so fascinating to relive the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Normally by the time someone reaches their 80s, you’re beginning to wind down, but she had more chapters! [It was interesting to see] how close she was to power.

Q: How did you research her long life, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The first year you hit your head on the wall, and then things open up. The first year, I was talking to Bunny’s...[read on]
Visit Meryl Gordon's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Phantom of Fifth Avenue.

Writers Read: Meryl Gordon.

The Page 99 Test: Bunny Mellon.

My Book, The Movie: Bunny Mellon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's novels include Swing Time. From her interview with Sally Campbell for the Waterstones blog:

The novel’s title, Swing Time, refers to the famous film (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as well as swing dance more generally but it also seems to gesture towards the idea of the pendulum swing of time itself. To what extent do you think dance, in common with the act of writing or reading, is a mode of time-travel? A way of connecting with other people in another moment?

I think dance carries across time well. If you see a kid doing the shim sham in some early 20th century footage, you feel the echo in your own body, in contemporary pop videos, in the dancing people do in the club. It is perhaps the art form least imprinted by fashion: it takes a long time for a dance to look antique. And even when it is, some element is always recognizable.

Many of your novels focus on characters, often women although not exclusively, who have a particular presence, a captivating beauty, poise or power. Swing Time has several such characters, are you particularly drawn to characters with their own brand of magnetism?

I suppose I must be. You learn these things only by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue