Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Wray

From a Q & A with John Wray about his novel, Lowboy:

You actually wrote this book on the subway. Why? What was that experience like?

My reasons for writing on the subway were simultaneously practical and romantic: I liked the idea of being in constant motion as I worked, and also, of course, of spending as much time as possible in the environment and under the conditions I was writing about. But at the same time, I needed a place to work that was cut off from temptations like the Internet and the presence of my girlfriend, who works at home. Also, it only cost four dollars a day—two if I never left the subway!

It turned out to be harder than I’d thought to concentrate on the trains, and for the first few weeks I was also hampered by my self-consciousness, which almost approached stage fright on certain days. But there are scenes in Lowboy that would never have been written if I hadn’t found myself in certain MTA stations, and many of those are my favorites in the novel. Rockefeller Center, for some reason, was especially fertile ground, and so was the out-of-service old City Hall station on the 6 line, which I snuck into on several occasions.

Lowboy is a paranoid schizophrenic. How does one write about mental illness in novel? How do you get it right?

Attempting to inhabit the consciousness of a schizophrenic was without a doubt the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried in fiction. I was helped, to some degree, by the fact that I’ve always been interested in mental illness, and by the fact that I’ve come into close contact, in my life, with both schizophrenia and manic depressive disorder; but writing from the point of view of a sufferer—and, above all, writing in a way that neither reduced the condition to a set of clinical symptoms, nor amplified it into the kind of caricatures of insanity that are so rampant in our culture—was a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde (a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls (winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger) and The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature and The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her recent novels include Little Bird of Heaven, Dear Husband, and A Fair Maiden.

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

What book changed your life?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I was eight.

* * *
Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Charlotte Brontë. Or – though she wouldn’t speak to me – Emily Dickinson.

* * *
What are you most proud of writing?

My novel Blonde about the American girl Norma Jeane Baker who is made into “Marilyn Monroe”.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the two dates when Oates says she was the happiest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2010

Neil Cross

Neil Cross' latest novel in the UK is Captured. A previous novel, Burial, releases in the US in March.

From his Q & A with Ali Karim at The Rap Sheet:

AK: ...After several non-genre novels you penned Burial, which knocked my socks off. The book carried the same themes of morality and trust that, incidentally, are also themes you mine in the BBC-TV espionage series, Spooks. Would you agree that morality and trust are themes of special interest to you?

NC: Absolutely. One thing that interests me about American crime fiction, particularly, is it has a unifying theme--it is “free will exercised as sin.” This is opposed to much British crime fiction, especially during the Golden Age, which is about the restoration of order; someone’s been killed, things are out of whack, for Christ’s sake let’s get things back to normal, so things can run smoothly. I’m more interested in “free will exercised as sin,” as opposed to the “restoration of order.”

AK: I’m guessing you must have read Patricia Highsmith, then.

NC: I’m obsessed by Patricia Highsmith.

AK: [Laughing] So am I. I am totally obsessed with her Tom Ripley books. In fact, I have...[read on]
The Independent asked Cross: Which fictional character most resembles you? Read his answer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2010

DC Pierson

From a Q & A with DC Pierson, author of The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To:

Q: Before you wrote The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To (BWCS) you were an active blogger, comic and short story writer. Why did you decide to write a novel?

A: I had just graduated from college. I was living in Astoria, Queens, and I boarded the N train one day. My friend and fellow comedian Eliza Skinner turned out to also be on the train. In the course of conversation, she mentioned that she liked my writing, and she asked if I'd ever thought about writing a novel. I told her I had, and it was something that I'd definitely like to try my hand at one day. Eliza said something along the lines of, "A lot of people say that, and a lot of them never do it." This was precisely the right thing to say to trigger my competitive spirit.

That day, at my temp job, I somehow got around the firewall that was supposed to prevent staffers from sending personal e-mails, and sent Eliza an e-mail telling her that she had really gotten under my skin with her "a lot of people say that" remark, and that I would write a novel if she would be my "novel sponsor" by bothering me constantly and guilt-tripping me until I actually had a finished product. She agreed. I respond best to guilt and haranguing, so this arrangement ended up working out really well.

That night, I called my temp agency and told them I could not go back to that job the next day. I called when I knew my temping rep would have already gone home for the day, because I am a coward. Then I took a nap.

Q: How long did it take you to write BWCS?

A: I started writing...[read on]
Visit DC Pierson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Neil Cross

Neil Cross' latest novel in the UK is Captured. A previous novel, Burial, releases in the US in March.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you like her/him

I love Patricia Highsmith for her unforgiving eye. And Raymond Carver for the tenderness of his.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

The fictional character with whom I most profoundly identified was Yossarian in Catch-22. Always did, still do.

* * *
Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Until recently, I'd have said Indiana Jones. Now I'd say David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. This programme is filled with fierce joy and wonder and magic, sometimes scary magic.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series, which is currently being published in over 38 countries, was made into two hit movies by Disney. Meg also wrote the Mediator and 1-800-Where-R-You? series (on which the television series, Missing, was based), two All-American Girl books, Teen Idol, Avalon High, How to Be Popular, Pants on Fire, Jinx, a series of novels written entirely in email format (The Boy Next Door, Boy Meets Girl, and Every Boy’s Got One), and a chick-lit series called Queen of Babble.

From a Q & A with Cabot about The Princess Diaries:

What inspired you to create the character Mia from The Princess Diaries? Do any of Mia's characteristics, qualities, childhood (aside from the princess thing, of course!) relate to your own?

I was inspired to write The Princess Diaries when my mom, after the death of my father, began dating one of my teachers, just as Mia's mom does in the book! I have always had a "thing" for princesses (my parents used to joke that when I was little, I did a lot of insisting that my "real" parents, the king and queen, were going to come get me soon, and that everyone had better start being a LOT nicer to me) so I stuck a princess in the book just for kicks...and VOILA! The Princess Diaries was born.

The voice of Mia, of course, is taken directly from my own diaries that I kept when I was in high school...I still have them, though I am the only one who will ever be allowed to read them. I was pretty much a huge geek in high school—although I was pretty involved with the school's drama group. Most of what's in my journals from those days is about boys, boys, boys, and that's why I am the only one who is allowed to look at them! It is too embarrassing!

New York City is described in such rich detail. Do you feel the setting of a story is important?

I really do think New York City would be...[read on]
Visit Meg Cabot's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ali Shaw

Ali Shaw graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English literature and has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

The Girl with Glass Feet is his first novel.

From a Q & A at his publisher's website:

The Girl with Glass Feet is a wonderfully inventive, magical novel. What was the inspiration behind it?

My writing almost always begins with an image, which normally just arrives in my head unprompted. I remember being on an escalator in a railway station when I suddenly saw in my mind a girl with feet made of glass. I couldn’t tell you whether something prompted it – the image is the most vivid thing I can remember about that railway station. I got home and started exploring it, asking what kind of person had feet made of glass, and how on earth would she cope? And I loved the idea that she hadn’t always had feet of glass, but that slowly they had transformed into it. Which of course meant the rest of her body was in danger of turning into glass as well. Coupled with this, I had the idea for another character I wanted to write about. Midas Crook, a man so over-sensitive and unsure of himself that he needed to filter the experiences of his life through a camera. Photography would be his way of putting distance between himself and the rest of the world. He would take more pleasure in reflecting on photographs than he would in actually living day-by-day.

You worked as a bookseller in Oxford for several years. What was that experience like?

I worked as a bookseller at Blackwell Broad Street, a bookshop in Oxford that’s been running since 1879. I was writing the novel during that time, and when the UK edition of The Girl with Glass Feet was released, in May of this year, I went into the shop and had the privilege of seeing the finished novel on sale. It was amazing to think that inside that book were words I had written on my lunch break in that very shop.

One of the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ali Shaw's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl with Glass Feet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2010

William Boyd

William Boyd's books include A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year; and the newly released Ordinary Thunderstorms.

From Boyd's Q & A with Cynthia Crossen at the Wall Street Journal:

"Ordinary Thunderstorms" is more like a thriller than many of your earlier novels.

There's a thrillerish aspect to it. I cherry-pick a genre if it suits me. I like a powerful narrative motor, and a genre will often provide that. Then I construct my elaborate, complex car around that motor. "Ordinary Thunderstorms" has the dynamic of the hunter and the hunted, but there's a lot more to it than that.

* * *
You've said that one of the seeds of "Ordinary Thunderstorms" was learning that the river police haul 50 or 60 bodies out of the Thames every year.

And that's just in London, not the length of the Thames. We never hear about these deaths unless they're particularly gruesome. The Thames is tidal—it has a fall of between 15 and 20 feet—and it's extraordinarily changeable. I live about 200 yards from it, and every time I walk by, it's different.
Read the complete interview.

Learn about William Boyd's thoughts on the perfect setting for writing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Terry Castle

Terry Castle's books include The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (1993) and Boss Ladies, Watch Out! Essays on Women and Sex (2002). Her anthology, The Literature of Lesbianism, won the Lambda Literary Editor's Choice Award in 2003. She lives in San Francisco and is Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University.

Her new book is The Professor and Other Writings.

From her interview with Deborah Solomon in the New York Times Magazine:

Is it odd to be known for having written a derisive essay about a former friend, Susan Sontag, who once described you, rather generously, as the “most enlightening literary critic at large today”?

I like to think that the piece is as much a tribute, a work of homage, as it is a piece of satirical description.

I missed the tribute part. It was published shortly after her death and characterizes her as a pompous and self-absorbed aesthete who once told you, for instance, “how a Yugoslav woman she had taken shelter with had asked her for her autograph, even as bombs fell around them.”

We were in Palo Alto, and she proceeded to demonstrate how one evades sniper fire by running down the street toward Baskin-Robbins. She asked me if I had ever had to evade sniper fire, and I said, “Unfortunately not.”

That’s funny.

When I said “Unfortunately not,” she didn’t pick up on it.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eric Puchner

Eric Puchner teaches at Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner and John L’Heureux Fellow. His short stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Zoetrope: All Story, The Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, Best New American Voices 2005, and other journals and anthologies. He has won a Pushcart Prize and the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for Music Through the Floor. His new book -- his first novel -- is Model Home.

The start of his Q & A with Erin Gilbert for Publishers Weekly:

Does your own childhood bear any resemblance to that of the Ziller kids?

Not in terms of any of the actual events being autobiographical, but I did spend my teen years in Southern California, partly in a gated community that was similar to the Herradura Estates from the novel, and we were downwardly mobile in the same way. My father was a failed businessman who constantly lived beyond his means, and some of the details from the book, like the furniture and cars being repossessed, were things I lived through. But in terms of the actual family itself, it bears absolutely no resemblance to my real-life family.

Real estate fiascos and financial struggles are pretty timely subjects. Was that intentional?

It wasn't actually. When I began, it was before the whole subprime loan disaster, and I was thinking about what happened to my own father. I hadn't anticipated the whole real estate crisis.

Is there any idea or feeling that you want your readers to be left with?

I had a friend...[read on]
Visit Eric Puchner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gail Carriger

From Gail Carriger's Q & A at The Book Whisperer:

Where did you come up with the idea of vampires and werewolves prowling the streets of Victorian London?

It’s a ruthless vehicle to explain history’s greatest mystery: How did one tiny island manage to conquer an empire upon which the sun never set? I decided that the only possible answer was that England openly accepted supernatural creatures, and put them to good use, while other countries continued persecution. This gave Great Britain a leg up dealing with messy little situations like winning major foreign battles or establishing an efficient bureaucracy or convincing the world cricket is a good idea. It so very Victorian to take a stance the equivalent of, “Ah yes, vampires, jolly good chaps, excellent fashion sense, always polite, terribly charming at cards, we just won’t mention that little neck biting habit.”

What research did you do on London under the rule of Queen Victoria?

I had a fair bit of expertise in certain aspects of the era (fashion, food, manners, literature, theatre, upper class courting rituals, antiquities collecting) when I started but great gaps in other areas that I quickly realized needed to be filled. I spent a lot of time researching the gadgetry and technology of the day, travel and communications techniques, medical and hard science advances, not to mention other things like major wars and military strategies, configuration of army regiments, geographical lay out of London in the 1870s (shops and streets names), newspapers, and government policies. That’s the thing, you never know what information you are going to need until you need it, and inevitably the internet doesn’t have it. Since I’m writing alt history I can always disregard the facts, but I like to get it right first, before I mess with it. Most people won’t care to look up the details (or get it wrong by confusing my setting with Austen or mid-Victorian, I’m specifically 1773) but it will...[read on]
Visit Gail Carriger's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Soulless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is the author of Live Nude Girl, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America, now in its second edition, as well as the poetry collections Oneiromance (An Epithalamion), Something Really Wonderful, and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, the latter two written collaboratively with Elisa Gabbert. Her essay “Live Nude Girl” was selected for Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

From her Q & A with Elizabeth Hildreth at Bookslut:

I've been wanting to read your book for a while now. Frankly, I think I held off because I was kind of afraid. I'm close to the subject, and the title sounds so... sexy? Which, of course, exactly represents people's ideas about nude modeling. Like it's total French cinema, with beautiful women rolling around on mattresses -- their labias all front and center and lit up like a painting. Anyway, when the book came in, I looked at the cover and thought, well it doesn't look overly girly and silly and inappropriately sexy. Anyway, I started reading and it was just... not what I expected at all. So smarty pants. And funny. Not to mention, really, really accurate. I was reading portions of it to David [Abed, my husband, a figurative painter] this weekend when we were on a car ride, and I would wait for his response, which I expected to be, “Well, not really” or “Not always.” But passage after passage, it was [long, long pause] “Yeah.” [Even longer pause] “That's about right.” So where did the idea for the title come from? And who was your audience while you were writing this? Who did you anticipate might read it?

The Live Nude Girl part of the title could certainly come off as a saucy bit of bait-and-switch, but that was intentional. When people would find out that I worked as an art model, some of them -- like you and your husband, who are close to that world -- would not bat an eye, but others would be all, “Like, naked? With no clothes? In front of men….?” and they’d envision scenarios that were a lot more dramatic and salacious than what typically occurs. So when I wrote the essay that I eventually used as the springboard for this project, I was trying to target the broadest possible audience: people who had misconceptions about the profession (or just didn’t know much about it at all) and people who were well-versed in it. The former might come to the book expecting The Red Shoe Diaries or something equally “erotic,” and then would hopefully be entertained anyway, despite the lack of that soft-core-itude, and the latter might come to the book expecting me not to “get it right,” and then be pleasantly impressed by how much I nail it. I added the somewhat tamer subtitle My Life as an Object to pull a similar subversion of reader expectations -- as many people know, art modeling can be violently boring if you lack the right mindset. You’re just standing/sitting/lying there nude for hours on end, and if you can’t enter an almost meditative or thoughtful state, you’d probably find it one of the single dullest jobs in the world. But if you do have that imagination -- that ability to hold your own interest with your own thoughts -- it’s satisfying. So I wanted the subtitle to suggest, as is often observed, that being a model is like being a piece of fruit or furniture at first glance, but upon closer examination, it’s dynamic: the object is thinking, the object could be judging you back. Also, I wanted both title and the subtitle working in tandem to cause readers to consider the objectification of women, and the empowerment and submissiveness that circulate around nudity, especially female nudity.

Like, naked? Yes, like, naked. Except...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier's historical fantasy novels are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

From her Q & A at Good Reading Magazine:

How has your academic background (having studied music and languages at university) helped in your writing career?

Studying music gave me a feeling for rhythm and flow in writing. I often read passages aloud to find out whether I’ve got those elements right. Music also provides a guide to structure, what is satisfying, what is balanced. Studying foreign languages gives one a better understanding of the principles of English grammar, enriches the vocabulary and opens windows into other cultures – all extremely useful for a novelist. On a more general note, the self-discipline required for tertiary study is good practice for the self-discipline required by all serious writers!

When did you write your first story? Was your first story historical fantasy, or did this interest develop later?

If you mean very first, I wrote it when I was about seven, and it was science fiction: a tale of robots running amok, full of blood, death and chaos. And my second story was about scientists discovering a live plesiosaur in Fiordland, NZ. At Arthur Street Primary School in Dunedin there were lots of promising writers. We used to write our stories in exercise books cut in half, and circulate them to our classmates to read and comment on – an early introduction to peer critiquing.

I studied music and languages at university, not writing. After graduating I worked in various music-related jobs, brought up my children, and spent a lot of years gradually becoming older and wiser. I didn’t come back to serious fiction writing until I was in my forties. There was never a conscious decision to write in a particular genre. I simply wrote the story I wanted to write (Daughter of the Forest) and when it was published I discovered that people called it a historical fantasy. At that point I didn’t even know...[read on]
Visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website. Also, check out Writer Unboxed, a genre writing blog which she shares with several other writers and editors.

Marillier's Wildwood Dancing is on Amazon's 2007 list of top ten books for young adults; it also won the 2006 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel.

The Page 69 Test: Heart’s Blood.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 18, 2010

Amy Greene

From a Q & A with Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot:

Q: You've lived all your life in East Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, a part of the country you depict so vividly, from the landscape to the voices of the people who live there, in Bloodroot. How did you imbue a familiar place with such detail and even magic? What was it like to put the language you'd heard all your life into words on the page, as dialogue?

A: There is, I think, an intimacy with the landscape that comes with living here. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors, a part of my experience that emerges naturally in my writing. Bringing the language I've heard all my life to the page also came easily. It was instinctive to appropriate the voices of my family, friends and neighbors for the characters I was exploring in Bloodroot. The challenge was actually in dialing back the language once I had poured it onto the page, making it accessible to people who aren't familiar with these expressions and colloquialisms.

Q: Six different characters—men and women, old and young—narrate Bloodroot. Which characters or voices came to you first? Who was the most difficult to write, and who was the easiest? Did you have any particular people in your own life in mind when you came up with these characters originally? How did you invent the totally unique Ford Hendrix?

A: I envisioned...[read on]
Visit Amy Greene's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is best-known for his long-running radio variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, and his series of novels set in the fictional hamlet of Lake Wobegon.

From his Q & A with David Evans at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

In my youth I read the Bible diligently, Old and New Testaments, and it did shape me somewhat, just as they predicted it would.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Some folks would say Flannery O’Connor’s hitchhiker who murders the whole family, but I reckon I’m more like King Henry IV.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

AJ Liebling, JF Powers, SJ Perelman, EB White and John Cheever, but they didn’t influence me enough.

* * *
What book do you wish you’d written?

The Da Vinci Code. So I could spend the next 10 years working on a novel and not have to do anything else.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde (a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize), and the New York Times bestsellers The Falls (winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger) and The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. In 2003 she received the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature and The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement, and in 2006 she received the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her recent novels include Little Bird of Heaven, Dear Husband, and A Fair Maiden.

From her 2010 Q & A with the Guardian:

When were you happiest?

On two dates: 23 January 1961 and 13 March 2009 (my two weddings).

What is your greatest fear?

What we all fear – the loss of meaning and significance in our lives.

What is your earliest memory?

Feverish with measles, I lay in bed helpless, seeing my young, anxious parents hovering over me. I might have been four at the time.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

This, I fear, is yet to come.

What is your most treasured possession?

My marriage.

What would your super power be?

Super power! I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ian Sansom

Ian Sansom is the author of The Truth About Babies (2002), The Impartial Recorder (2004), and the Mobile Library detective series, including The Mobile Library: The Case of the Missing Books (2007), The Mobile Library: Mr. Dixon Disappears (2007), The Mobile Library: The Book Stops Here (2008), and The Bad Book Affair.

From his Q & A at Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?


What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Bartleby the Scrivener.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

The Bible.

Most satisfying writing moment?...[read on]
Visit Ian Sansom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 14, 2010

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 2008 Q & A at the Guardian:

When were you happiest?

Sending off the final draft of my latest novel.

What is your greatest fear?


What is your earliest memory?

Being six years old and peeing in a wastepaper bin in the middle of the night because I didn't want to go down the hall to the loo.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert of Toots And The Maytals, for his musical genius.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

The need to be liked.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read about the book that changed Heller's life and the book she wishes she’d written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cathleen Schine

Julie Naughton interviewed Cathleen Schine, author of the forthcoming The Three Weissmanns of Westport, for Publishers Weekly. The start of the dialogue:

What made you want to write your own version of Sense and Sensibility?

I'd finished reading Sense and Sensibility for the millionth time, and I wondered what the modern equivalent of that sudden shift in your life would be. We don't have primogeniture in the United States, so for modern American women a comparable situation would be divorce. I used Sense and Sensibility as a jumping-off point, but the characters did pull me in different plot directions than Austen's.

Was it intimidating to try to put your own stamp on a classic?

At the beginning I was a little too literal-minded, asking myself, “What is Romanticism now?” Things got easier when I found Betty, the mother and main character. Once she appeared, her husband came easily. Miranda and Annie, the two daughters, took a while longer.

Did the Westport of your childhood influence the story?

The town has...[read on]
Visit Cathleen Schine's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

John Burdett

John Burdett is a nonpracticing lawyer who worked in Hong Kong for a British firm until he found his true vocation as a writer. He has also lived in France, Spain, and Thailand. He is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, and the newly released The Godfather of Kathmandu.

From a Q & A with the author at Amazon:

Question: Just to give some background for new readers, what sort of man is Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and where do we find him at the beginning of The Godfather of Kathmandu?

John Burdett: Sonchai is the illegitimate son of a Bangkok prostitute and an American G.I. father whom he has never met, although he is always trying to do so. After participating in the murder of his yaa baa (meth) dealer when he was a teen, he was forced to undertake some serious rehabilitation at a tough forest monastery in the far North of Thailand (his mother was connected to the abbot). To continue his rehabilitation after he disrobed, his mother found him a position as cadet in the Royal Thai Police Force, which brought him under the influence of the notorious Police Colonel Vikorn, whose feudal value system permits him to regard his commission as a licence to traffic in narcotics. In The Godfather of Kathmandu, their relationship develops to the point where Vikorn appoints him as his consigliere in the style of the Sicilian Mafia, after watching an illegal copy in Thai of the Godfather movies. In his inner life Sonchai is a devout and--unusual, considering his background--rather erudite Buddhist who is permanently tested in his faith not only by the kind of work he has to do for Vikorn, but also by his attraction to beautiful women. His spiritual side does not always prevail.

Question: Some time ago in the New York Times, you said this novel was the final installment in the Bangkok series. Does that still stand?

John Burdett: I did say that, although...[read on]
Visit John Burdett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 11, 2010

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the novel Alice I Have Been.

From a Q & A at her website:

Were you a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a child?

A: Surprisingly, not really. I don't recall reading the book, although I know that at some point, I must have. I really only knew the Disney movie, and what I knew of that mainly came from riding the Mad Tea Party ride at Disney World.

What drew you to writing a novel about Alice Liddell, then?

A: I saw an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago, titled "Dreaming in Pictures: the Photography of Lewis Carroll." I did not know that Lewis Carroll was a pioneer in photography; I did not even know that Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Certainly I had no inkling that there had ever been a "real" Alice! Once inside the exhibit, however, I was startled by the images Carroll—Dodgson—had taken; they were all prepubescent little girls. One photograph in particular captured my fancy; it was of a girl clad in rags, staring at the camera with a very frank—very adult—gaze. The caption informed me she was 7-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of Dean Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson taught mathematics. The caption also said she was the inspiration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So you then decided to write about her?

A: No! Even though I said to myself, "Hmmm...I wonder what ever happened to her?" I completely put it out of my mind while thinking about other writing projects! It wasn't until...[read on]
Visit Melanie Benjamin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2010

R. Dwayne Betts

R. Dwayne Betts' poetry has been widely published and he is the winner of the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award. His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was published by Penguin last year.

From his 2008 interview with Laura van den Berg on the pshares blog:

In addition to writing poems, you also just finished a memoir. How has it been to move between genres?

It’s interesting. There are things that I couldn’t do in the memoir that I can attempt in poetry and vice verse. My poems are about me and they aren’t about me. When I think of poetry I think of talking to the world about what I see in the world. My memoir was really me talking to the world about what I saw in my life. There is a filter in it that doesn’t exist as much in my poems. I don’t try to write every poem from my perspective. Poetry wouldn’t be as fun for me if I did. Even the poem published by Ploughshares has several strands of experience that aren’t in any way mine. My memoir is different. It’s about me. No matter how much I tried to write a world into the book, it’s unabashedly a world through Dwayne’s eyes. It’s about the eight and a half years I spent in prison and what it meant to be a juvenile in an adult prison. Sitting down and writing about the phase gave me the opportunity to do much more explaining than a poem gives room for, and it also just gave me time to say something about the hard accumulation of moments in prison. My poems go for an expression of a moment, a few moments at most. But the memoir is an attempt to let the reader stand at the bottom of the hill and feel what the snow ball feels like as it’s rolled down the slope and gathered more snow; to see that snow as it gathers and decide what to make of it.

At sixteen, I carjacked someone. And honestly, there is no real way to deal with that part of my life with this one question, but I can say prison is where I began writing poetry and where I began to shape myself into who I am today. The book is an attempt at writing about what I to be guilty and have to live with that. To write about what it means to be in prison knowing that I wasn’t in any physical way prepared for it. The night of the crime was the first and only time I’d held a gun. After it happened and I was arrested, I closed my eyes hoping it would go away. The memoir is about what happened when I opened my eyes.

* * *
Who are your some of your favorite writers? Do you consider them influences as well?

Favorite writers. That’s a hard question. I’ve spent weeks with R. A. Salvatore. You know what I’m saying? I mean, I’ve gotten genuine pleasure from reading those four in one Reader’s Digest abridged edition. Then too, I’ve learned something about the music in a sentence from John Edgar Wideman. I spent a few years wanting to write something that in any way came close to the Walcott lines, “I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,/ and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.” So I have to say that my influences are really all that I’ve read that comes back in my mind in the moments when I’m searching for a reason to give a care about the world.

But that’s an incredibly evasive answer. And if you pinned me down to a few favorites, I’d say Wideman, Baldwin, and Komunyakaa. If you give me one more name I’ll say Philip Levine, and if you give me any more room I’ll just start pulling books off my shelf.
Read the complete interview.

Visit R. Dwayne Betts's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chelsea Cain

Megan Zabel interviewed Chelsea Cain, author of Evil at Heart and two previous Archie Sheridan novels, at From Zabel's introduction and part of the Q & A:

Heartsick, [Cain's] debut novel, was a New York Times bestseller, and garnered enthusiastic praise from... basically everyone. In the New York Times Book Review, Kathryn Harrison called it a "dizzying novel. Lurid and suspenseful with well-drawn characters, plenty of grisly surprises and tart dialogue." Stephen King placed it, along with its follow-up, Sweetheart (now in paperback), on his ten best books of 2008 list.

Set in Portland, the series follows Archie Sheridan, a detective who spends a decade chasing the infamous "Beauty Killer," Gretchen Lowell, only to be captured by the beautiful psychopath. After 10 days of atrocities in a basement, Gretchen inexplicably releases him, and turns herself in. Archie emerges scarred (literally), with an addiction to painkillers and an obsession with the killer that reaches beyond the realms of his job description. Susan Ward, a zealous young reporter with an attitude, is handpicked to document Archie's troubles, and in the meantime, there are new murders to worry about in the Rose City.
* * *
Megan Zabel: This series has been heavily lauded for its originality. How did you come up with the idea of Gretchen and Archie's unorthodox serial killer/police detective relationship?

Chelsea Cain: Twisted love...

Megan: Yes. I want to know about the twisted love.

Cain: It started with the Green River Killer. I grew up in Bellingham, WA and was ten years old when he started killing people — or at least, when they started finding the bodies. And as a kid, that was something I was really aware of. This was a guy who was killing people, and not just any person, but young women, some of them 15, 16 years old. Even though many of them were prostitutes, as a kid I just thought, "He kills kids." So I think that any kid would have monitored that, but I was also a kid with a pet cemetery and a morbid imagination, so I took an acute interest. [Laughter]

I'd read the Bellingham Herald daily, just to catch up on the Green River Killer and the Green River Killer task force. He was at large for 20 years, so by the time they caught him I was 30. I ended up watching this episode of Larry King when he was interviewing those cops that had been on that task force for so long and I was really intrigued by the obsession that would result when you've been working on a case for your entire career. Especially that kind of case where there's so much emotionally riding on it. These cops got to know the families of the victims so well, and the lives of the victims themselves; the cops worked such long hours, for so long, to catch this guy. They finally caught him, and he cuts this deal, which is the deal that I have Gretchen cut in the book: to avoid the death penalty, Gary Ridgeway agreed to tell them where more bodies were. So even after they caught him, it didn't end. If anything, the relationship intensified. There was this footage of one of these cops, in the interview room with Gary Ridgeway after this deal had been cut, and they just seemed like old friends, you know? They had this sort of convivial relationship. On the surface, it just seemed like they were hanging out together at a bar, chatting and laughing, but underneath there were all these different levels of manipulation. I was really intrigued by that, in the middle of the night, watching Larry...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Chelsea Cain's website and blog, and at

The Page 99 Test: Sweetheart.

The Page 69 Test: Evil at Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2010

Anne Tyler

From Barnes & Noble Review contributor Cameron Martin's email interview with Anne Tyler, author of Noah's Compass:

Barnes & Noble Review: In the beginning of Noah's Compass, the protagonist, Liam Pennywell, is assaulted during a home break-in and loses his memory of the event. For a time, he's consumed by this gap in his life. What was the inspiration for this conceit and for the focus on memory? Do you think you'd be more or less concerned about losing a memory such as this? Or is Liam's experience the relative equivalent of how you think you'd handle that?

Anne Tyler: One night after I'd gone to bed I heard the house creaking downstairs, but I was too sleepy to investigate. Then I started thinking about how if it were a burglar intent on beaning me, I wouldn't know anyway till I woke up the next morning. And so: no psychological trauma! Except I'd probably try for days to figure out what had happened. (Though perhaps not for as many days as Liam.)

Why that thought gave birth to a whole novel, I'm not sure. I do know that I have been fascinated by the subject of memory all my life. Now that I'm in my sixties, with instances of Alzheimer's disease on both sides of my family, my biggest fear is that I'll end up with no memory whatsoever. Yet I agree with Liam that there is such a thing as remembering too much, and I half admire his resolute refusal to dwell on his past.

BNR: Before he became a school teacher, Liam had trained to be a philosopher, and it's mentioned that he's fond of Epictetus and Arrian. If you had to boil it down to a few key tenets, what's Liam's philosophy on life? And how successful is he at adhering to his beliefs?

AT: I suspect that Liam would be uncomfortable at the thought of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sarah Schulman

At Publishers Weekly, Dick Donahue interviewed Sarah Schulman, author of Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. Part of the Q & A:

PW: What would you like readers to take away from Ties That Bind?

SS: On the highest level, I would love readers to be inspired to re-think tired paradigms, and be encouraged by creative reimaginings of how we can live with more awareness and accountability. We are in such a fascinating and complex time now, and many ideas that were censored during the cultural freeze of the Bush era may have a chance to be heard. I would love for people to be invigorated by new ideas, and to enjoy them.

PW: The subtitle of your new book is Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. What are some of those consequences?

SS: My argument in brief is that the family is the place where most people, gay and straight, first learn about homophobia. And that the maintenance of gay people as lesser-than is subsequently enforced through the arts and entertainment industries and government policies, resulting in a diminishment of gay people’s status and self-perception. I explain clearly, and with examples and arguments, that familial homophobia is not a personal problem, but is instead a cultural crisis. And that we can learn from the enormous paradigm shifts in how domestic violence is viewed, that abusive behavior inside families is a broad social concern and responsibility. Gay press reviews have been superb, and I recently had a standing room only reading in Chicago. The excitement and embracing of the book’s ideas is very exciting. Ironically, of course, there has been a parallel blackout by the straight press. This interview is the very first engagement with a mainstream publication acknowledging that the book even exists. It’s a strange through-the-looking-glass experience, one that I have had all my life. It speaks volumes that work that LGBT people love and embrace is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Deborah Cooke

Deborah Cooke is the author of the fantasy romance Dragonfire series. She has also written over forty romance novels under the names Claire Cross and Claire Delacroix.

From her Q & A with Dee Gentle at ParaNormalRomance:

PNR: The Dragonfire series is a paranormal in a contemporary setting: tell us about the challenges you face in world building and making it work with the ideas you have in mind for the progression of your characters and the series?

Deborah C.: The idea that there’s more to the world than is readily visible is a persistent one in the fantasy genre, especially that there are parallel universes or worlds hidden in the shadows. I’ve read a lot of fantasy over the years because I love the unmasking of those layers of secrecy and the richness of the world revealed. I’ve always enjoyed worldbuilding in my books, but this series requires another level of organization, planning and thought to what I’ve done in the past. I’ve started to keep a binder of organized notes, kind of A GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF THE PYR, as a reference for myself. I’ve done this before with my historicals, but on a much smaller scale. It’s a fun challenge to keep it all straight, keep it linked to the world we know, and to push deeper into the Pyr world with each successive book.

PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

Deborah C.: I believe that good stories are both plot and character driven, that there has to be something special about this character being in this situation. The action then is the character’s response to the situation based on his/her nature, and then the action of the plot compels the character to learn and grow and undergo a transformation. I can’t...[read on]
Writers Read: Deborah Cooke.

Visit Deborah Cooke's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins is an experienced author and researcher who has studied and written about television, media history, popular culture and food. Her work has appeared in the magazines Working Woman and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and in the anthology Secrets & Confidences: The Complicated Truth About Women’s Friendships.

Her book is Watching What We Eat: A Long Look at Television Cooking Shows.

From a Q & A at her website:

What made you decide to write this book?

I think television cooking is a genre that has been unfairly overlooked. It’s been around as long as television has, but it has no biography. Unlike reality TV, a genre which seemed to transform our prime time viewing habits overnight and which has spawned lots of books, cooking shows are taken for granted and are easy to overlook, like part of the woodwork. I think they deserve more attention, especially since they’ve exploded in the last decade and a half in terms of volume and popularity. And the fact that most people assume that Julia Child was the host of the first television cooking indicates a disturbing gap in American popular culture knowledge!

The horror! So you’re telling me Julia Child was not the first?

She is the first name and face that most people remember or think of - with good reason - but there were many before her, almost twenty years earlier. But certainly no one who had all the goods like she did.

How did you research this book?

I spent...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Watching What We Eat, and learn more about the book and author at the Watching What We Eat website.

The Page 99 Test: Watching What We Eat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2010

Henri Cole

Henri Cole is the author of six books of poems: Blackbird and Wolf, Middle Earth (a finalist for the Pulitzer), The Visible Man , The Look of Things, The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge, and The Marble Queen. He is the winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Berlin Prize, the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, among other prestigious awards. His new collection, Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems -- 1982-2007, is forthcoming in the Spring 2010.

From Cole's Q & A with Chris Lydon in Boston, 11.20.09:

Q: Who is your favorite all-time fictional character?

A: I remember reading a French novel called The Wanderer when I was a young man, by Alain Fournier. I don’t remember the character’s name, but let’s just call him the Wanderer.

Q: What’s the quality above all that you look for in a poem?

A: Two qualities: there has to be a commitment to emotional truth, and there has to be a little concerto of consonants and vowels.

Q: What is your idea of a perfect poem?

A: Almost every poem of Elizabeth Bishop’s. James Merrill has a poem called “The Broken Home” that I love. In the Merrill poems, the thing I like so much is the combination of a high register of speech with total colloquial moments – I like that the poem has a range that can go from very high to very demotic in a few short lines.

Q: Who do you write for?

A: I don’t think too much about it. I am more committed to...[read on]
Visit Henri Cole's website.

Writers Read: Henri Cole.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Barry Unsworth

Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger; his next novel, Morality Play, was a Booker nominee and a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. His other novels include The Ruby in Her Navel, The Songs of the Kings, Losing Nelson, After Hannibal, The Hide, and Pascali's Island, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was made into a feature film.

From his Q & A with David Evans in the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Tales from Olympus
, an illustrated book of Greek myths, which I was given as a birthday present at the age of about ten. It opened up new horizons for me.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Pierre in War and Peace, a man who is always questioning the world and everything in it.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness was a book that made me want to join the company of writers, without necessarily wanting to emulate it.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Janet Skeslien Charles

From a Q & A with Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa:

What prompted you to write about Odessa? Are you Ukrainian?

I studied Russian at the University of Montana. Students learned the language using the grammar-translation method, which means we rarely spoke. Instead, we spent our time memorizing rules and translating sentences like “Pavel works at the factory.” I received a Soros teaching fellowship in Odessa, Ukraine, which allowed me to meet two goals: to practice my Russian and to do two years of community service. Working in Odessa was an eye-opening experience. I’m not Ukrainian, but would love to be considered an honorary Odessan.

Where did the idea for Moonlight in Odessa come from?

The subject of e-mail order brides is important to me. While I was in college, I had a job translating letters from lonely Montanan men and desperate Russian women. I later met the women and saw the marriages that had come from this correspondence. While in Odessa, I came across men who’d flown half way around the world looking for love. Two of my close Odessan friends married Westerners. I spent time with them and their husbands. Although my friends were smart, savvy women, they had no power in their marriages. In some ways, they were worse off than they had been in Ukraine.

You mentioned that you knew some e-mail order brides. Did you have anyone in particular in mind when you wrote the novel?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 1, 2010

Julie Powell

Julie & Julia author Julie Powell has a new book out: it's called Cleaving, and it tells of the troubles in Powell’s marriage and how she coped with them by working as a butcher. From her Q & A with Lynn Andriani at Publishers Weekly:

PW: This is definitely a heavier book than Julie & Julia. Do you think readers will be surprised?

JP: I think there’s a difference between people who come to Cleaving from Julie & Julia the book, and from Julie & Julia the movie. For any reader who is invested in Julie & Julia this is a turn. It’s a darker book. It’s delving into the situations and relationships that felt very safe in Julie & Julia. But I also think that there is a through line, if you look at one book and then the other. I think people can see that if they read Julie & Julia the book. If they come out of the Nora Ephron romantic comedy, there’s going to be some psychic whiplash. To see this moment of crisis a couple years later is going to be disturbing for some people. But I wrote Cleaving in deference to marriage. Marriage is not a box; it’s a thing that grows and moves and has crises. Cleaving is about that part—what happens when things are not tied up with pretty bows anymore.

PW: You’re kind of a throwback, first cooking your way through the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and then going to work as an apprentice at a butcher shop. What drew you to another old-fashioned institution?

JP: There’s a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue