Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kathleen George

From a Q & A with Kathleen George about her new thriller, The Odds:

There are so many kinds of mystery or crime novels. Which kind are you?

KG. I was labeled a thriller writer the first three times around with TAKEN and FALLEN and AFTERIMAGE. My books are also procedurals—that is I follow and research what the police would actually do in these situations. So what I write is a combination of sub-genres. THE ODDS is, like the others, a merger of thriller and procedural. There are some very bad guys in it. And threat. And darkness. I like dark, tough stories.


KG. I don't know. I always have. Big trouble. Souls in jeopardy. People who are marked for life by some family dynamic.

Where does that come from? Your life?

KG. Probably. But...[read on]
Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the author of the acclaimed novels Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, the short story collection The Man in the Buick, scholarly theatrical books and articles, and many short stories.

The Page 99 Test: Afterimage.

The Page 99 Test: The Odds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ron Riekki

From an interview with Ron Riekki, author of the novel U.P., at Metal Express Radio:

One exchange from the Q & A:

MER: “U.P” discusses the harsh lives of youngsters and that “it’s not easy growing up” and the struggle for survival during the winter time. What made you write this kind of novel? Why is the winter element the example for suffering?

Riekki: Wow. Great questions. I think the novel was just inside me -- had to come out. I remember Ice T (of the Metal band Body Count) saying how he just writes this kind of stuff, just comes out of him. He can’t control it. I’m like that. These books and plays just bleed out of me. From pain I suppose, loss. I really didn’t like a lot of aspects of my childhood. I prefer adult life. Maybe it’s because in my adult life I got out of the cold. I lived in Northern Michigan growing up, large Finnish community. I think all the Finns moved there because it echoed Finnish landscapes and weather. My family is originally from the Lapland, but I am not a cold weather person. I used to live very near the equator and that was the climate for me. In the book, there’s a line about it getting so cold in the winter that cows' ears would freeze and break off. I remember making a tunnel through the snow to get to our mailbox. And radio reports of wind chills in the negatives -- negative thirty, negative forty, negative fifty. Warnings not to go outside, that you could die. I hated that. I like to be outside. So I guess the suffering of the characters — their isolation and loss of not having fathers (one kid’s dad is in prison, another is homeless and addicted to heroin, etc.) — is exemplified in the weather. Outside is how they feel inside. Cold, alone. I liked that question it was a good one.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Ron Riekki's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2009

Anne Michaels

Anne Michaels' debut novel Fugitive Pieces was an international bestseller and won the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel is The Winter Vault.

From her Q & A with Anna Metcalfe in the Financial Times:

Who are your literary influences?

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Anna Akhmatova; John Berger, Shakespeare, Joyce and the American poet Charles Wright.

* * *

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

* * *

What book changed your life?

John Berger’s To the Wedding for the depth of its humanity. Few writers can convey such profound humanism. It’s a beautiful book.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 28, 2009

David Cristofano

Professor Plum at interrogated David Cristofano about his new novel, The Girl She Used to Be.

The beginning of the interview:

Professor Plum: Congratulations on your first novel, The Girl She Used to Be. It seems to be a journey of self-discovery wholly unique in the canon. How did you dream up the idea for a person who was never allowed to become their own self in a society that celebrates individualism and freedom?

David Cristofano: Thank you! Well, I’ve always loved stories that deal with the concept of identity, so I tried to think of what might be the most difficult scenario for someone to figure out who he or she is. Even abandoned children (or those created in part by sperm donors) might possibly find the answer one day. After running through an array of possibilities, I came to the conclusion that the torment of not knowing who you are is significantly compounded when paired with never knowing who you could’ve become. For some folks buried in witness protection, that is the hand they’ve been dealt.

Plum: You tell Melody’s story with a convincing female voice. Is it just as easy for you to get in the mind of any character you create, despite any age, gender, or ethical differences you might have with them?

Cristofano: I think one of the joys of writing and reading fiction is being able to get lost in another character. But even with that, I...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Girl She Used to Be, and learn more about the book and author at David Cristofano's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl She Used to Be.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tania James

Tania James is the author of Atlas of Unknowns, a "poignant, funny, blazingly original debut novel about sisterhood, the tantalizing dream of America, and the secret histories and hilarious eccentricities of families everywhere."

From a Q & A with James at the Random House website:

Q: You’re only 28, you have degrees from Harvard and Columbia and this is your debut novel. Have you always been an overachiever?

A: Until recently, one of my grandmothers was under the impression that I was on my way to becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Which is what I told her when I was ten, and ever since, she’d been cherishing an image of me as an Indian Bader-Ginsburg. So I guess I’ve overachieved in some respects, and underachieved in others.

Q: Your undergraduate degree was in filmmaking. What made you want to get an MFA in writing?

A: For me, college was a completely wonderful and unrealistic place where I could write short stories and make 16mm films, simultaneously, but I also became aware that if I never focused on one discipline at a time, after college, they would both remain hobbies. I decided to apply to film and writing MFA programs, and in the end, I was drawn toward writing. Looking back, I don’t think that writing was ever really a choice; it was the landscape I felt most comfortable in, the medium in which I felt most free to explore. But I can’t say that the multitude of film students in this city, hulking around their trunks of equipment, don’t make me nostalgic and jealous. Maybe that’s why I wrote about one.

Q: One of the (fairly insufferable and always hilarious) characters in Atlas of Unknowns, Rohit, is a filmmaker. Did you use your undergraduate experience to create this character?

A: I worry that...[read on]
Visit Tania James' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elizabeth Miller

Elizabeth Miller is an expert on Bram Stoker and the novel Dracula, including its history and inspirations. Her many published books include Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, and Dracula: Sense & Nonsense.

From her Q & A with Alex Bledsoe, author of Blood Grove:

Alex: It seems as if the vampire in traditional folklore was seldom a fully conscious, will-directed creature. At what point did they become so in the popular imagination?

Dr. Miller: This started to happen as the vampire migrated from folklore to literature. The 18th-century reports about vampire sightings in central and eastern Europe coincided with (and may have contributed to) a rising interest in Gothic literature, first in Germany and later in the century, in England. The Gothic movement was part of the broader period of Romanticism, with its challenges to rationalism and its shift of philosophical emphasis to subjectivity, emotion, intuition and the imagination. The adoption of the figure of the vampire was inevitable. Appearing first as a type of "demon lover" in German poetry, the vampire made its way to England where it was embraced by the Romantic poets and shapeshifted into a full-blown aristocrat.

Dracula is the gold standard, but not the first "aristo-vampire." What prompted this shift from peasant revenent to high-born demon?

The first vampire fiction in English literature was The Vampyre. Published in 1819, The Vampyre was written by John William Polidori, who had served as Lord Byron's personal physician for a time until disputes brought an end to the relationship. Polidori clearly modeled his vampire, Lord Ruthven, on...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Miller's website.

Visit Alex Bledsoe's website, blog, and My Book, The Movie: Alex Bledsoe's Blood Groove.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2009

Anna David

Anna David's novel, Bought, about a high-price prostitution ring, is just out from Harper Paperbacks.

From her interview with The Daily Beast's Marty Beckerman:

Bought originated with your 2004 Details article on women in Los Angeles who charge $10,000 to $100,000 per job. Why do you find that subject so fascinating?

I knew nothing about hookers, and nobody in that scene wanted to talk to me because they feared even anonymous quotes would give them away. And then I found this madam everyone hated, and they were all happy to tell me everything about her. Suddenly I had madams, girls, and FBI informants on the phone. As soon as I said this woman’s name, the floodgates would open because everyone wanted revenge against her… My editor wanted to make it “how the rich get their rocks off” instead of a deeper investigation into how this worked. The finished story almost read like an advertisement for that madam. She got clients out of it!

Did the hookers you interviewed have hearts of gold, or were they drugged-up pains?...[read on]
Visit Anna David's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jim Krusoe

Jim Krusoe is the author of the novels Girl Factory (Tin House Books) and Iceland; two collections of stories, Blood Lake and Abductions; as well as five books of poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. His new novel is Erased.

From a Q & A at the Tin House Books website:

Q. Erased is the second novel in a trilogy linked not by plot or character but by theme. Did you set out to write a trilogy? If so, why? If not, how did that evolve? How do you know you’ll be finished with these themes when the third novel is finished?

A. I learned I was writing a trilogy somewhere between the second and third novels. My mother died while I was writing the first one, Girl Factory. I was also at the time working on Erased and had begun the third, and I thought her death hadn’t affected me all that much. Then one night I was lying in bed and sat straight up. I realized that all three novels were about the same subject: how to bring back the dead. I was shocked I hadn’t realized this sooner, and I know it’s a trilogy because in the last of the three, called Towards You, I actually succeed.

Q. The narrator of Erased lives in an imagined town called St. Nils, but during the narrative he travels to Cleveland, Ohio, a real place. Why did you choose to move him from an imagined place to a real one? Why not two imagined places, or two real ones?

A. All my characters seem to inhabit...[read on]
See January Magazine's Author Snapshot: Jim Krusoe.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Factory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Robert Fate

Jugglers at the Border, Robert Fate's fourth Baby Shark novel, is due out in September 2009.

From his interview at Novel Journey:

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

If you are asking if I outline, the answer is not really, certainly not a traditional outline. I make notes to myself that spur direction, but mostly I just start writing with a general idea of where I’m going and surprise myself when I find out I didn’t really know where I was going. Mostly, I have the story sort of figured out and then I visualize scenes and consider weather, sounds, time of day, time of year, and scents in the air – all the elements surrounding the characters and the setting. Weird, I know, but that’s what happens. It’s like building a picture, this happens, that happens, but where and what did it sound like? What did it smell like? Here is an example – in Jugglers at the Border, a few minutes after Kristin has shot and killed a man who came way too close to killing her, she leaves the farmhouse where it happened to walk down a dark country road and retrieve her car. The last thing she wants to do is mull over the violence she has just experienced. She looks around as she walks, considers where she is, and thinks about more congenial things.

The walk down the dirt road was cool and pleasant. I thought of my grandma’s farm and tranquil summer evenings and wished I were barefoot. It was overcast, but the moon must’ve been full beyond the haze to cause the sky’s dull glow. The mild breeze smelled of rain. No bugs or animals; they’d long ago hunkered down. Here and there across the silent farmland, single points of light pierced the darkness. Many miles away, along the thin southwestern horizon, lightning danced.

I want the reader to experience what Kristin is seeing and feeling and smelling and hearing and understand her need for gentle memories. That’s what I mean by visualizing a scene. Put a few of those together and the next thing you know, you have a book.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Baby Shark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2009

Shilpa Agarwal

From Haunting Bombay author Shilpa Agarwal's interview by Uttara Choudhury:

Is the supernatural in your book a metaphor for the dispossessed?

Yes, absolutely. I have always been intrigued by the idea of utterance -- who is empowered to speak and who is not -- within a family, a community or a nation. What would happen, I wondered, if we could hear the voice of the child who drowned in Haunting Bombay or the child's ayah who was banished after she was blamed for the death? Their versions of the truth haunted me, and my story took a supernatural turn.

While writing the ghost story did you get spooked?

Absolutely! It's funny, because I have always been afraid of ghost stories. I never really realised I was writing one when I started. I have two little girls, so I used to wake up at dawn -- 4.30am was the quiet part of the day where I wasn't 'mommy' but just me, the writer. I would be in my office typing away, and I would light this candle near my computer. Sometimes, I would be tapping away and I would glance up at the candle wondering: is it flickering weirdly? I would then do this shoulder-check -- turn my head around gingerly.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Shilpa Agarwal's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Craig McDonald

From an interview with Craig McDonald at Hardboiled Wonderland:

You made a name for yourself in crime lit circles as a journalist and interrogator first. Which came first for you, the desire to write fiction or write about it?

Definitely to write fiction. I first tried to write a crime novel when I was nine. I wrote some short stories that verged on hardboiled crime fiction whose content concerned my third-grade teacher enough to warrant a parent-teacher conference. I actually wrote a couple of crime novels in the early 1990s, came close to getting an agent a few times with those, then got married, had children and set fiction writing aside for a few years.

About 2000, I was approached by the editor of the Australian crime fiction magazine Crime Factory to interview some American crime writers for the zine. I started with James Ellroy, and went on from there. I also began posting long-form Q&As with interview subjects on my own website, then later adapting those same online interviews for occasional newspaper articles. But my eye was always on writing novels and I was writing my own novels again while conducting all those interviews.

Does that third grade teacher still live in your fiction?

No, I’ve never used my teacher and probably never will…she’s just not going to fit comfortably into my fictional milieu.

Who would have influenced you at nine years old? [read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website and his Crimespace page.

Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, from Bleak House Books.

McDonald's debut novel, Head Games, was selected as a 2008 Edgar® nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author.

The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

The Page 69 Test: Head Games.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Linda L. Richards

From Chadwick Ginther's interview with Linda L. Richards, author of Death Was the Other Woman and Death Was in the Picture and other novels:

CG: Why did you choose to write crime fiction?

LLR: It wasn't anything as premeditated as that: choice. I set out -- as I always still do -- to write the story that was in my heart; the thing that was most of interest to me. It turned out that one of those things was human interaction under extreme duress and the way the world can unravel when you least expect it. In a nutshell: I kept tripping over dead bodies!

* * *

CG: The Depression-era setting of the Kitty Pangborn novels seems especially relevant now, with recent economic news. What initially drew you to write stories set in the thirties?

LLR: Kitty Pangborn was born as I went through a period of reading a lot of classic crime fiction a few years ago. I think I was moved most deeply by some of the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. And one of the notable facts about the very earliest PIs -- the ones we still read and to a certain degree celebrate today -- is that, from a purely practical standpoint, there was just no way they could be solving crimes as illustrated in the books. Not without help. Those earliest PIs would get out bed in the morning and start drinking. By lunch they'd be feeling no pain at all and by quitting time, they had to have been flat-out drunk. And as I read I began to see these characters in a different light. I felt as though I was seeing what wasn't in the stories and that was what I wrote: the stuff between the lines. The stuff that wasn't there.

To me, the most classic of all the classic novels of crime fiction is...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Linda L. Richards' website.

View the Death Was in the Picture trailer.

The Page 69 Test: Death Was the Other Woman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Was in the Picture.

My Book, The Movie: Death Was the Other Woman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Harlan Coben

Ali Karim interviewed Harlan Coben for The Rap Sheet. A brief excerpt:

Ali Karim: First of all, let me offer my congratulations on Hold Tight having hit both the New York Times and London Times best-seller charts last year. And now, Long Lost has climbed its way onto those same charts. Are you settling into a pattern of alternating standalone novels and Myron Bolitar books?

Harlan Coben: I don’t think so, as I’ve not done that before. It’s always about the idea, so if the idea fits a Myron book, that’s what I’ll do; or if it doesn’t, then I’ll do a standalone. Basically, the books I write center around the idea.

AK: How does it feel to see the early Myron books making it big in the UK, thanks to Orion’s recent series of reissues?

HC: I love it, seeing people finding the early Myron books. It’s amazing to see how many people, after reading Long Lost, go back and start reading the earlier Myron books, because prior to reading Long Lost they’d never heard of Myron Bolitar. …

AK: I really enjoyed the French film adaptation of Tell No One [trailer here]. And I laughed when I spotted your cameo appearance at the station. Can you tell us a little about how that cameo came to be?

HC: Well...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir in which she reveals how she fell in love with and married a man who beat her regularly and nearly killed her. From her March 2009 interview with TIME:

Why did you choose to reveal your secret now?

Similar to Mommy Wars, this memoir allowed me to dig deeply into a very personal issue. It allowed me to answer a series of why's and find out things for myself. Honestly, I really wanted to understand why I had been vulnerable to a man like my first husband and why I had ignored so many red flags. It's an incredible thing to take something bad that happened to you and turn it into something good. Writing Crazy Love was that for me.

You mentioned that sharing this story is either one of the stupidest or bravest things you've ever done. Which is it? And why the vacillation?

Well, Both. Stupid because of how vulnerable sharing this story makes me feel. Stupid because I worked so hard to put this behind me. Stupid because it is painful and upsetting to talk about this period in my life. Why bring such a dark period into my wonderful, happy present day life? And brave because it is hard and painful for anyone to talk honestly about a terrible relationship.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Leslie Morgan Steiner's website.

Writers Read: Leslie Morgan Steiner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Andrea Wulf

From a Q & A with Andrea Wulf about The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession:

Q: THE BROTHER GARDENERS is a group biography of the founding brothers of the modern garden. It is a story of an extraordinary group of men who are all completely absorbed with botany, plant collection and gardens. It is a tale of adventure, competition and commerce as well as science, reason and obsession. What is your favorite tale from your biography?

A: There are too many fabulous tales to really make this decision but there is one little episode which I have always loved because it brings together the obsession and adventure that runs through so many of these stories.

In summer 1768 Joseph Banks – dashingly handsome and one of the wealthiest landowners in Britain – joined Captain Cook on the Endeavour for the most daring voyage the British had ever planned. Together they would circumnavigate the world. Three months after they set sail they reached Rio de Janeiro and Banks couldn’t wait to explore the local flora, but the Portuguese governor of the colony thought them to be spies and refused any botanical excursions. Imagine this, stuck on the Endeavour, Banks peers through his telescope and sees the flora and fauna of South America laid out like seductive wares in an exotic bazaar. There were humming birds hovering over clambering bougainvilleas which were dripping with pink blossoms, as well as hedges of brightly colored flowers and juicy fruits dangling from trees. So close and still so far away. In his frustration, Banks writes a letter to a friend which, I think, sums up how the Brother Gardeners felt about plants: ‘I feel like a French man laying swaddled in linnen between two of his Mistresses, both naked [and] using every possible means to excite desire’.

But if you ask me who my favorite character is, I have a clear answer (although I should probably like all my characters equally) – I just adore John Bartram, the American farmer who changed the English parkland and made his countrymen love American native species. Working through his hundreds of letters, I encountered a brave and diligent man who was alive with intellectual curiosity. He brought a smile to my face when he described how he would scramble up pine trees and hold his hat out to catch the seeds which he shook from their hanging cones. I adore him for his habit of falling out of trees, and for the melancholy which overcame him when he failed to find the seeds he sought. He was also a man so distractedly obsessed that he would often lose his way, or would find himself stranded in storms and darkness because he failed to notice sudden changes of weather when searching for a particular plant. He was strong-minded, loyal and passionate – I would have loved if I were able to walk with him through his garden.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Andrea Wulf's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Zoë Heller

Zoë Heller is the author of Everything You Know, What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, and The Believers. From her Q & A with Anna Metcalfe for the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Middlemarch by George Eliot, which I read as a teenager. It filled me with excitement and ambition.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford.

* * *

Can you remember the first novel you read?

John Updike’s Couples. I skim-read it for the dirty bits when I was nine.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2009

Craig Johnson

For Publishers Weekly, Jordan Foster interviewed Craig Johnson about The Dark Horse, his fifth contemporary mystery featuring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire.

Part of the Q & A:

Native American culture figures prominently in your books. What's your inspiration?

My ranch is adjacent to both the Crow and Cheyenne reservations, and I've got an awful lot of friends up there. They're an amazing people; I'm consistently humbled by how remarkable they are. There's one guy, Marcus Red Thunder, whom I use freely in assembling the character of Henry Standing Bear. He's got a sharp sense of humor. Most Indians I know have great senses of humor. Of course, looking at the treatment of Native Americans from a historical perspective, you have to laugh or you'd end up crying your eyes out.

Do you consider your books to be “westerns”?

They are in the sense that they're novels set in the American West, but ....[read on]
The previous Walt Longmire mysteries are The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man’s Moccasins.

Read more about the novels and the author at Craig Johnson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kindness Goes Unpunished.

My Book, The Movie: The Cold Dish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nicole Helget

From A Conversation With Nicole Helget at the Midwest Booksellers Association:

Q. Where did you come up with the idea for The Turtle Catcher?

A. My father, the first storyteller I ever knew, told me many stories. The heart of my novel was recollected from a story he once told me about a man with unnatural ways who was run into a swamp by his neighbors and forced to drown himself. I don’t, of course, remember a lot of the details, but I remember that part, the forced drowning. I first wrote The Turtle Catcher as a short story and entered it in the Tamarack competition that has been run for many years by Minnesota Monthly magazine. They chose it as the winner, wrote me a big and generous check, and got me thinking, ‘Hmm, I think I could do more with this story.’ It wasn’t easy. In the three-plus years it took me to expand the story into a novel, I finished my MFA degree in Creative Writing here in Mankato, taught some classes, mothered my children, became pregnant with my fourth child, separated and reunited with my now-husband, gave birth, and ran a marathon. And all that stuff in-between.

Q. Your first book, The Summer of Ordinary Ways was a memoir. What made you decide to write fiction this time around?

A. I don’t know that...[read on]
Read an excerpt from The Turtle Catcher, and learn more about the book and author at Nicole Helget's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Turtle Catcher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Laila Lalami

Cameron Martin interviewed Laila Lalami for the Barnes & Noble Review. One of their exchanges:

BN Review: You grew up in Morocco, where French, Arabic and English are all commonly spoken. You've said that when you first started writing, it was in French. Would you share with us the various reading and writing influences you encountered at an early age, in Arabic, French and English, respectively?

Laila Lalami: I grew up speaking both Arabic and French, but my earliest exposure to books came through French because I received, to my long-lasting despair, a semi-colonial education. In addition, most of the children's books that were available in my hometown in the 1970s were in French. As a child, I read Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas and Georges Bayard, and so naturally when I started writing, it was in French. While I could read and write Arabic competently enough, I found it very hard to write fictional narrative in Arabic. It wasn't until I became a teenager that I really became exposed to the work of Moroccan and Arab writers. My favorites were Leila Abouzeid, Mohammed Choukri, Naguib Mahfouz, and later Tayeb Salih and Alifa Rifaat.

I started learning English at the age of 15, in high school, and later I majored in English in college. Being immersed in a new language gave me a new vantage point from which to observe the bilingualism with which I had grown up. It struck me that French and Arabic did not have a harmonious relationship in Morocco; they were always in competition and in conflict for space. For example, one's fluency in French was used as a major determinant of social class. I started to feel really uncomfortable with the idea of writing fiction in French and in fact I stopped writing for a while. When I moved to Los Angeles to go to graduate school, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction in English. I always find it hard to pinpoint specific literary influences, but the English-language writers I have always admired include J.M. Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Margaret Atwood, Chinua Achebe, Vladimir Nabokov, among many others.[read on]
Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. Her debut collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in the fall of 2005 and has since been translated into Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Norwegian. Secret Son is her first novel.

The Page 69 Test: Secret Son.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard's new novel is Road Dogs.

From a Q & A with the author about the book, at

Q: Where did the inspiration for the title Road Dogs come from?

A: Road Dogs was on a list of prison expressions my researcher Gregg Sutter got for me: inmates who watch each other’s back. I liked the sound of the words together.

Q: What made you decide to bring back Jack Foley, Cundo Rey, and Dawn Navarro now? What is it about these three characters that stuck with you through the years?

A: Foley was played by George Clooney in Out of Sight. I imagined George in the scenes I wrote and it worked. Dawn Navarro was the psychic in Riding the Rap, a supporting character ready for a leading role. Cundo Rey from LaBrava, another favorite of mine, also deserved a bigger role, so I brought him back..

Q: Any chance Foley and the woman he loves, Federal Marshal Karen Sisco, will be back in the near future?[read on]
Visit Elmore Leonard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lenore Skenazy

Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski interviewed Lenore Skenazy about her new book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry.

Part of their dialogue:

I grew up in the Houston suburbs in the '70s and '80s. Back then, we kids waited for the school bus without our parents. Now, in that exact same neighborhood, parents always wait at the school bus stop with their kids, although the neighborhood has not changed significantly.

This was a shock to me. Now, parents wait at the bus stop. They wait in the morning to make sure their kid gets on safely, and sometimes they wait at the bus stop in the afternoon to drive the kid home, even if it's on the same block, even if it's in a gated community. Sometimes they wait with those little golf carts. It's the new social norm.

What do you think are the reasons that change has taken place?

When I was growing up, my parents were not watching those horrific television shows that are on now like "CSI" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." They were watching "Dallas," "Dynasty," stuff with maybe big hair, but that was the biggest crime. It wasn't all these shows with really graphic, horrifying consequences for kids.

And then, you didn't have cable, and cable has to fill 24 hours with the worst possible stories, because if they filled it with stories about kids getting home safely, you wouldn't watch. What's the most compelling story that anyone has come up with so far? It's something terrible happening to a child.[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hilary Mantel

From Hilary Mantel's Q & A with Anna Metcalfe, in the Financial Times:

What book do you wish you’d written?

Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour. There’s not a word out of place. It ripples with irony and it’s very funny.

What was the first novel you read?

I remember the day I was first given adult tickets for the local library when I was 14. I borrowed Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I had been longing for adult books and been seething for years because I only had access to school books.

What are you most proud of writing?

A book I wrote in my twenties called A Place of Greater Safety about the French revolution. It wasn’t published as my first book but as my fifth. I wrote it against the odds as nobody except me believed in it.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Jeremy Duns

At The Rap Sheet, British features writer and freelance critic Gordon Harries questioned Jeremy Duns about his new novel, Free Agent. Their opening exchange:

Gordon Harries: Jeremy, the period novel is a notoriously research-intensive beast. What possessed you to focus on two historical strands, and why 1945 and 1969 respectively?

Jeremy Duns: I did sometimes wonder that myself! I’ve been a fan of spy novels for years, but I’m most drawn to those set during the Cold War, which I think was a fascinating period. When the [Berlin] Wall fell a lot of people said the spy novel was dead, but I didn’t see why--not only would there be new arenas of espionage to tell stories about, as of course there have been, but the march of time (and declassified files) would also mean new aspects of the Cold War would be revealed. In the ’60s and ’70s, thriller writers like Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins set their books during the Second World War, so it struck me that perhaps I could revisit the Cold War from a fresh perspective, from what we know of it now. Once I had decided to set it during the Biafran War, I had to figure out precisely when. I spent a while researching 1967, in fact, before discovering a particular event that took place in 1969 that I wanted to build my plot around. The chapter in 1945 came about because I wanted to show how Paul Dark finds himself in the position he is in at the start of the novel, and I felt that it was probably initiated when he was an idealistic and confused young man. I was also interested in the way the Soviets went from being our allies in the war to our enemies straight after it--that was something I thought Soviet intelligence might have exploited.[read on]
Read more about Free Agent.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 8, 2009

Nicholas Schmidle

From a conversation with Nicholas Schmidle, author of To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan:

Pakistan has been called the world’s most dangerous country. Do you agree?

To some extent, I do. All the reasons some people cite as factors for why its the most dangerous - ethnic tensions, militant Islamist groups, an unpredictable ISI (Inter-services Intelligence) - certainly hold true. But rather than these issues leading to the breakup of the state, I see Pakistan continuing on in a troubled, conflict-ridden scenario almost indefinitely. And the biggest reason why it’s so dangerous is that there’s no central organization or leadership.

At just over six feet tall, blond and American, it seems an understatement to say you were a bit conspicuous, yet you were welcomed into a variety of places? What does this say about the character of Pakistani people and was it difficult traveling in rural areas?

Whether or not you find it difficult to travel in rural areas is almost directly proportional to your tolerance for tea. If you can drink upwards of a dozen cups a day, then it’s easy. If your limit is two you might think otherwise. But seriously, it really goes back to the hospitality I mentioned. I never had any problems with Pakistanis being hostile because I was a foreigner, and an American no less. On the few occasions when I felt unwelcome, it was always due to the intelligence agencies and not to people on the street.

As for being conspicuous, you’re right, no one ever confused me for a local. When I was reporting about the Taliban extensively in the fall of 2007, I always wore traditional clothes and spoke Urdu in public. Anyone who wanted to listen to my accent or actually take a close look at me knew that I wasn’t a Pashtun, but at least I wasn’t wearing jeans and gabbing in English. And for my hair? To try and blend in just a little more, I took to dying it a lightish brown every few weeks. I don’t remember the exact name of the color, but it was number 36, I think. Anyway, my wife didn’t like the idea at all. She wanted to...[read on]
Visit Nicholas Schmidle's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 7, 2009

David Cristofano

At her blog, novelist Joshilyn Jackson put 3 questions to David Cristofano, author of The Girl She Used to Be. One of their exchanges:

JJ: Can you talk a little about the significance of your title and how you came up with it?

DC: I am one of these writers who always liked to invent the title of a book with nothing more than a concept of the story, before even a single word was written. It always seemed like a fun thing to do (like imagining who would play the characters of your story on screen). The original title of my novel was NOWHERE MAN, because at the time it was told from a man’s point of view. Later, after it became apparent the story must be told by a woman, I temporarily changed the title to NOWHERE GIRL, and it just sort of stuck, and was even acquired with that title.

But during the editing phase, the publisher decided NOWHERE GIRL might mistakenly send the message that the book was a YA title. Not to mention the similarity to GOSSIP GIRL, among others. So I was asked to come up with a list of new potential titles. You would think with all the practice I had in the discipline of title invention that I might have come up with a viable replacement, but the best I could do—after weeks of banging it around—was a list of abysmal, flat-lined possibilities that I ultimately submitted with great hesitation. In the end, it was the publisher herself, Jamie Raab, who penned the winner.

And for what it’s worth, I can’t imagine who would play the parts of the characters on screen either. Go figure.
Read the other two Qs & As.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the forthcoming Meat.

Two exchanges from his Q & A at The Young & Hungry blog:

Does food ever inspire you to write? Do you think there is any connection between being a writer and being an eater?

There are a lot of ways to think about that. First of all, literally what you eat affects how you write. If I drink coffee before I write I'm going to write very differently than if I drink beer, or eat a very heavy meal. Turns out there are vegetarians in both of my books. It's not something I ever intended. In part, I guess I found it totally unexceptional and so I didn't think twice about doing it or not doing it. I think that is something quite different in the world we live in now as opposed to the one people lives in ten years ago, or twenty or thirty. Particularly among younger people there is something so unexceptional about making eating choices and not just for vegetarianism, but having a particular diet. Partly because there are so many more options now but i think younger people are more sensitive to food issues.

* * *

What do you think of food writing. Have you read the Omnivore's Dilemma?

Yeah, I think it's a wonderful book. I strongly disagree with a number of his conclusions. I think the way he makes an argument is frustrating sometimes. He'll get to a certain point and then give up on it. He never asks anything of anyone that is truly uncomfortable or challenging. That being said he's a really great writer and the book was revelatory. It really opened my eyes, and everybody's eyes to a lot of things.[read on]
Related: Most important books: Jonathan Safran Foer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kamran Pasha

From January Magazine's Author Snapshot: Kamran Pasha:

What inspires you?

Women and words. I have a work of art that hangs over my writing desk, symbolizing my two sources of inspiration. It is a black-and-white photograph of a beautiful woman wrapped in a veil of cursive script. The beauty of women and the power of words -- they are inextricably linked in my heart. Perhaps that is why I primarily tend to write about strong women, and why my first novel is told from a woman’s point of view. The Sufi mystics of Islam teach that the beauty of God is manifest in the feminine form, and my fascination with women has very deep spiritual roots. It is the never-ending quest to probe the depths of the female psyche, to explore the mysteries of the divine feminine, that keeps me creatively inspired.[read on]
About Kamran Pasha's Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, from the publisher:
Deep in the heart of seventh-century Arabia, a new prophet named Muhammad has arisen. As his message of enlightenment sweeps through Arabia and unifies the warring tribes, his young wife Aisha recounts Muhammad's astonishing transformation from prophet to warrior to statesman. But just after the moment of her husband's greatest triumph -- the conquest of the holy city of Mecca -- Muhammad falls ill and dies in Aisha's arms. A young widow, Aisha finds herself at the center of the new Muslim empire and becomes by turns a teacher, political leader, and warrior.

Written in beautiful prose and meticulously researched, Mother of the Believers is the story of an extraordinary woman who was destined to help usher Islam into the world.
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kyle Minor

Jedidiah Ayres interviewed Kyle Minor, author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction, and co-editor of The Other Chekhov.

A brief excerpt from the Q & A:

Recently you took part in a panel on Postevangelical Literature and said you hadn’t heard a definition of the term yet. Any luck since?

I’ve heard plenty of definitions, and they don’t interest me much. I did the panel because my friend Scott Kaukonen (Ordination) had invited three other writers whose work is real, gritty, and true: Pinckney Benedict (Town Smokes), Angela Pneuman (Home Remedies), and David McGlynn (The End of the Straight and Narrow). The five of us have plenty of differences – aesthetic, temperamental, political, religious, commercial – but what we have in common is that we’ve decided it is brave and important to write about religion and religious people as forthrightly as the great Catholic writers (Andre Dubus, J. F. Powers, Graham Greene, Erin McGraw, etc.) have done before us, even though it runs us the risk of alienating, on the one hand, religious readers who don’t like it when people acknowledge how they are capable of pettiness and cruelty to match their generosity and goodness, and, on the other hand, literary readers of a particularly anti-religious bent who would just as soon have literature pretend that we don’t live in a country in which religion is a defining force for at least half the population, on account of some notion that talk about religion or religious people is bound to be vulgar, unsophisticated, unseemly. I guess it can be all those things, but those, anyway, are things literature is always involved in, when it’s doing its job. We ought to be writing about human trouble, not fantasizing about worlds of aesthetic and ideological purity.

Your voice sounds like it comes from experience, and not merely as a writer looking in. Just what is your fascination with evangelical culture?

I was raised Southern Baptist, spent fourteen years preschool to high school at an extreme fundamentalist high school where I was taught by graduates of places like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, went off to college planning to become a pastor, briefly became a pastor, rejected the role because...[read on]
See what Kyle Minor was reading in January 2009, and learn about his 25-city book tour.

Learn more about Kyle Minor and his work at his website, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel set amid the bloody violence of the Biafran war in her native Nigeria, for which she was the first African writer to win the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest book is a collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck.

From her Q & A with Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart when I was nine years old. I didn’t realise at the time but I know now it made me understand that I didn’t have to write about white people.

* * *

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

If they were alive: Iris Murdoch, who I find fascinating. And Thomas Sankara, the intriguing president of Burkina Faso.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bo Caldwell

From Jeff Wasserstrom's interview with Bo Caldwell, author of The Distant Land of My Father, a Shanghai novel, at The China Beat:

JW: Did you read a lot of memoirs to help create the memoir feel of the novel?

BC: I read a lot of memoirs in general, and personal essays. I’m sort of a sucker for a first-person narrative, fiction or nonfiction. It really draws me in, or it can. I think it’s also overused and wrongly used (though I’m on thin ice here, as the novel I’m finishing right now is once again first person). The advantages of first person are immediacy and intimacy; the disadvantages are its limitations and, in my opinion, it can sometimes feel gimmicky.

Anyway, yes, I read a lot of memoirs, and, as I said above, the memoirs that dealt with the time and place of the novel were especially valuable. I also had, thanks to my dad, a couple dozen old Life magazines from around 1930 to 1960 or so. He picked them up at garage sales because he enjoyed them, and he loaned them to me for research. They were very handy, especially the ads in terms of brand names and products.

JW: Did you read novels that were set in Shanghai?

BC: [read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tom Bale

From Declan Burke's interrogation of Tom Bale, author of Sins of the Father and Skin and Bones:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Anything by Graham Greene – BRIGHTON ROCK perhaps, as it’s set in my home town, but even the books he classed as “entertainments” are beautifully written. I am in awe of his talent and versatility.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Jack Reacher. Tall, strong, fearless, morally certain and irresistible to women. It doesn’t get better than that.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Skin and Bones and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the author and his work at Tom Bale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Skin and Bones.

--Marshal Zeringue