Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anna North

Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil, interviewed Anna North about her new novel, America Pacifica.  Part of the exchange:

What were some of your literary inspirations for America Pacifica?

While I was writing America Pacifica, I was also reading a lot of noir fiction -- Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Jim Thompson. These writers influenced me a lot, especially in their pacing and the isolation their main characters feel. The detectives in noir novels often face danger at every turn and feel like outsiders wherever they go, and I thought about them a lot when I was writing about Darcy's search for her mom. I was also deeply inspired by Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which is about a young woman who's raised by a book. I loved its dystopian setting -- I've always devoured stories of gritty futures -- but more than that, I was attracted to the story of a girl from difficult circumstances who grows up to be a hero. I've long been really interested in what makes a person become heroic, what shapes her into someone with the ability to make history. So in addition to The Diamond Age, I've been influenced by quest narratives like The Odyssey and Arthurian legends.

How much did you think about politics when writing the book? What are its political implications?

I was really interested in the choices people would have to make after the ice age hit, and I ended up focusing on the decision between trying to preserve life as it once was or living in an entirely new way. This decision becomes intensely political because it's not possible to preserve the old life for everyone -- there are only enough resources to provide baseball, beef, and apples for a wealthy few. But to give all that up, to say no one's going to eat a hamburger or...[read on]
Visit Anna North's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill is the author of The Coroner’s Lunch, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, and Anarchy and Old Dogs, featuring seventy-three year old Dr. Siri Paiboun, national coroner of Laos.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat, which kicks off a new series, is due out in the US in July 2011.

From his Q & A with LJ Hurst at Shots:

Colin Cotterill, thanks for talking to Shots. Killed At The Whim Of A Hat to be published in March 2011 by Quercus in the UK begins a new series. Previously you’ve had the elderly male coroner, Dr Siri Paiboun as your protagonist but now you’ve reversed things, with Jimm Juree, a feisty young female reporter. And you’ve changed your scene from Laos to Thailand. Why have you made those changes?

A change is as good as a rest. I always thought I’d coined that phase but I saw footage of Benjamin Disraeli using it on YouTube. Yet it still holds true in this millennium. Dr Siri and his team write their own stories these days and they often don’t let me get a word in. You can know characters too well to the point that writing them gives you fewer challenges. You know how they’re going to react and you’ve got the Dr. Siri fan club members who know how they’re going to react. So trying something new just pisses people off. I needed a break from 1970s Laos and a new challenge. Four years ago we moved to the south of Thailand to a little fishing village in the middle of nowhere. ‘Ha Ha’, I thought. ‘Now there’s a challenge. I’ll set my new series here in a place that’s so dull the local police station doesn’t have a cell. I’ll make it contemporary so I can do all my research on-line and I’ll make the protagonist a feisty young female reporter who happens to be the same age and nationality as my wife. I’ll throw in my dogs and my neighbours and cast them into turmoil by inventing heinous crimes that turn their lives upside down. All being well I might not even need to get out of bed at all.

I was pleased to meet Jimm Juree with her confidence and optimism. Your Quercus list-mate Adrian Hyland, with his Emily Tempest mysteries set in Australia, has a similar heroine. Do you think there is something in the air that rejects the old tropes of “women in peril” that have been kept alive by Nikki French and others? If so, why is it that male authors are writing about these women?

To be perfectly honest I’m afraid of women. To be more specific I’m afraid of...[read on]
Visit Colin Cotterill's website and his Crimespace page.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen's latest novel is The Silent Girl.

From her Q & A with award-winning crime writer Matt Rees:

[Rees:]What’s your favorite sentence in all literature, and why?

[Gerritsen:] I’m traveling at the moment so don’t have the book in front of me, but it’s the first sentence from GONE WITH THE WIND (paraphrased): “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it…” At least, it’s the one sentence that has stuck with me through the years.

And you remembered it correctly, even on the road, by the way. What’s the best descriptive image in all literature?

The battle scenes of Helm’s Deep from Tolkien’s THE TWIN TOWERS. Or maybe it’s just that the book was such a beloved favorite that I still remember the horrible description of the decapitated warriors’ heads flying over the battlements.

Who’s the greatest stylist currently writing?

An impossible question! Let’s just say that I’m very much enjoying the creativity of Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF.

Who’s the greatest plotter currently writing?

Another impossible question! But I do think that there’s a reason that writers such as...[read on]
Learn about Gerritsen's favorite heroine from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 27, 2011

Louis Bayard

From Louis Bayard's Q & A about his latest novel, The School of Night, with Lenny Picker at Publishers Weekly:

How did you learn about the School of Night [an obscure Elizabethan society of poets and scientists]?

Professor Google. Who, in addition to being a useful time-suck, is a very useful idea generator. Somehow or other, I landed on a page about the School of Night, and it was the name itself that captured my attention. And the more I learned, the more intrigued I was. Thomas Harriot, an author, astronomer, and mathematician, became my protagonist because, of all the school's purported members, he was the least likely to have his own book.

How has your work in politics and your current work as a critic affected your fiction writing?

I gave up working in politics a while back, and while I have strongly held beliefs, I try very hard not to let them seep into my work. By contrast, I think being a critic is pretty central to my fiction because...[read on]
Visit Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Erica Jong

Erica Jong is the author of Fear of Flying and the editor of a newly released book titled Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex, an anthology features essays and short stories about sexuality from prominent female writers in a variety of fields.

From her Q & A with Nick Andersen at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: In your introductory essay for this book, you mention that sexuality has been cheapened in more recent times. How has writing about sex changed since you first published “Fear of Flying?”

Erica Jong: There is so much pornography on the internet, and there isn’t really any good, sensitive, smart writing on sexuality, which is the opposite of pornography. To get a bunch of really good writers to write about their feelings was really hard to do. When people go out to write about their feelings, that’s hard to do. People wanted to ask their significant others, their children — which is a mistake. Regardless of changing attitudes, it’s still hard to write about sexuality. Often, women who write about sex are not taken seriously as writers. They feel they are demoted on the literary scale.

So how did you assemble this collection, then? Who did you call, and how did you choose?

I know a lot of writers. I used to be the President of the Author’s Guild, so I had a lot of writers’ numbers. I wanted variety, and I didn’t want explicit essays. I wanted a broad spectrum of ideas, fantasies — but not explicit writing. I called up Gail Gollins, and she said, ‘I’m going to write about how Catholic education primes you for bad sex.’ She has such a satirical spin. But you also have Liz Smith going back to the 1940s, talking about sex during World War II. Or Ann Roiphe talking about children playing doctor — both are afraid, but both are helping the other along, too. Or even my daughter saying, ‘They had sex, so we don’t have to.’ It’s a backlash, and a kind of summary of where we are.

Were there writers that you didn’t get to contribute that you wish you had?

I wish that I had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Graham Swift

Graham Swift was born in 1949 and is the author of nine acclaimed novels including Waterland and the newly released Wish You were Here, a collection of short stories and Making an Elephant, a book of essays, portraits, poetry and reflections on his life in writing. He has won many awards for his work including the 1996 Booker Prize.

From his Q & A with Jonathan Ruppin (one of the team at Foyle's, Charing Cross Road):

Wish You Were Here reflects on the consequences for ordinary people of contemporary issues, the conflict in Iraq and the difficulties faced by farming communities. Is this a political novel or do they simply form a context for the issues Jack and Ellie face?

I don't think the either-or of the question really applies. I don't write political novels in the sense of writing with a political agenda and my primary interest is in the messy, uncategorizable stuff of personal life and in what might be called 'the stuff we have inside us'. And I also simply want to tell a story. But, equally, I've always been interested in how the 'small world' of our personal lives connects or doesn't connect with the 'big world' of historical and communal forces. Once you enter that area, there's a political dimension. You'd hardly call Jack a 'political creature' and most of his dealings in the novel are of an acutely personal kind, but he's not totally blind to the fact that he's also dealing, intimately and personally, with the consequences of his country's foreign policy or to the need to look into his own conscience about it. There's a passage in the novel where he reflects, clumsily, on what it means to be a 'citizen' - to be a citizen in the particular distressing circumstances he has to confront. That's the beginning of politics.

In locating Jack and Ellie's new life in a seaside caravan park, you've returned to the liminal zone between land and water that served you so well in Last Orders, Waterland and 'Cliffedge' [a short story in Learning to Swim]. Why do you think you've been drawn to writing about such locations?

I agree that I keep coming back to the seaside. There's a piece in my non-fiction book Making an Elephant which is all about this and called 'I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside', which was one of the epigraphs for Last Orders. There are two aspects to it. I think...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2011

Esri Allbritten

From a Q & A with Esri Allbritten about her new novel, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles:

Q: Chihuahua of the Baskervilles features something called the Emma Crawford Coffin Race. Is that a real event?

A: It is. Emma Crawford came to Manitou Springs, CO, in the late 1800s, hoping to cure her tuberculosis by drinking the spring waters. It didn’t work, but before she died, she got engaged and asked her fiancĂ©e to bury her on the top of Red Mountain. It wasn’t an official graveyard, and when the railroad needed the land, they moved her grave. Maybe they weren’t very careful, because in 1929, a huge rainstorm unearthed poor Emma and sent her coffin hurtling down the mountain on a tide of mud. So every year in October, the people of Manitou Springs dress up and race coffins down the main street. The event draws about ten thousand people, most of them in costume, and feels like a cross between Mardi Gras and Halloween.

Q:Is the coffin race the reason you set the novel in Manitou Springs?

A: That was part of it. My plan is to set each book of this series in a tourist town that has some cool event. I fell in love with Manitou Springs when I attended Authorfest, a writing conference. It’s a real jewel of a town, everyone is tremendously friendly, and if they all buy a copy of my book, that’ll be a nice print run.

Q: One of your characters likes to poke fun at the supernatural. Are you a believer or a skeptic?

A: When I first moved to Boulder, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kelle Groom

Kelle Groom is a poet and memoirist. She is the author of three poetry collections: Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2010); Luckily (Anhinga, 2006); and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry, among others, and has received special mention in the Pushcart Prize 2010 and Best American Non-Required Reading 2007 anthologies.

From a Q & A about her new memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl:

It seems as though this book has probably existed in some form or another in your head for a long time. Was finally getting it all down on paper an act of therapy for you, or were the events of your life something you had to come to terms with personally before you could write this memoir?

I kept journals, from before my son was born, throughout my active alcoholism, and well into sobriety. Even in the journals, I wouldn't call it therapy—I had a sense of myself as a writer. Other than a brief childhood interest in becoming an archeologist, I'd always wanted to be a writer. The journal writing often felt as if it was saving my life, not as therapeutic exercise, but as writing practice—that even in the darkest, craziest confusion, I could write. The chapter, "The Last Time I Saw Her" began as a story I wrote for an undergraduate creative writing class in 1984, a year after the events in the story. From the beginning, I knew that the only way to have an understanding, to know what had happened, would be to write it. What drives the memoir is my not having come to terms with the events of my life. It's the hunger to know and to understand that set the book in motion. In 2006, when I put aside my journals and began writing this memoir from the beginning, I believed that the writing of it would take me to my son. That I would find him in whatever way was possible. I was also able to see my younger self as a character, with the clarity and compassion I would offer any stranger. It was crucial to the writing, and I could also feel how that care for her/my younger self and the discoveries I made were changing me as I wrote. The writing of the book also catalyzed the visit to my son's parents. I'd been unable to make that trip for 27 years, unable to even pick up the phone.

Since you have been sharing your story, have you found that others have opened up about personal experiences involving alcoholism, adoption, or the loss of a child at a young age?

Yes, it's been really great that others connect to my story and have talked and written to me about their own. While some stories are directly related to the subjects that I write about, others aren't specific to alcoholism or adoption. People have...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl.

Writers Read: Kelle Groom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Melissa Febos

From Terry Gross's Q & A with Melissa Febos, author of the memoir Whip Smart:

GROSS: How strange was it to tie people up - people who wanted bondage as part of what they were paying for? I mean, that just has to be a really - particularly when you're first doing it - it has to be a really crazy, odd, kind of creepy experience.

Ms. FEBOS: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the experiences were. And you know, this is one of those jobs, I think like a lot of probably a lot of people in the medical industry have this kind of experience, or maybe even people in sports, too. But you work very, very closely with human bodies in a way that most people don't.

It's very intimate. You know, you really get to know the human body. And when people are paying to be put in this position and make themselves really vulnerable, they do give you a kind of power, and that was sort of a clumsy position for me to be in at first, and it made me really nervous. And it wasn't always a power that I wanted, you know. But I was also - I was also fascinated and kind of mesmerized by it. But yeah, tying up another person is a bizarre experience.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEBOS: Most people don't have that experience, I don't think.

GROSS: What's the protocol when a session begins, when you're entering the room? Is the client already in there? Is there a protocol for them?

Ms. FEBOS: Well, before the session begins, there's usually a consultation. And if it's a new client who doesn't sort of have a regular dominatrix that he sees, he comes in. And all of the women working a particular shift will walk into the room one by one and talk to him for a couple minutes, and sort of suss out what his penchants are, and see if they're interested in doing that session, and sort of try to get information but also sell themselves.

And then the phone girl goes back in, and the client will pick the woman that he wants to do the session with, and then you'll have another consultation where you'll sort of iron out the fine details of the session so that by the time the clock actually starts on a session, you already know what the scene is, you already know what your outfit is, what equipment you'll need. And so you can really walk into the room and...[read on, or listen to the interview]
Read more about Whip Smart.

Visit the official Melissa Febos website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vanessa Veselka

Vanessa Veselka's new novel is Zazen.

From her Q & A with Jennifer Tyler at Three Guys One Book:

JT: Zazen is your first novel. Did you know it was a novel when you started to write it?

VV: I started writing Zazen in somewhat of a fury and wrote it as a short story, sent it in to Tin House for consideration, but then kept writing. While I realized within a couple of weeks that it was going to be my first novel, I was a little resistant to that idea. I had another idea in mind and didn’t consider myself ready to write a novel.

I came to fiction very late, at 35 really, and wrote a couple of short stories. The first one got published, which was very encouraging, but I never considered myself a short story writer. And yet I wasn’t a novelist. So what the hell was I? Delusional? But I had this idea of a novel I was always going to write. It was a bildungsroman with an anti-heroine that I thought was my one real story to tell. My first short story, “Il Duce”, was actually an exploration of that idea. So my plan was to practice on a bunch of short stories then work up to the novel.

But Zazen destroyed all my plans. I think novels that want to be written do. Della’s voice took over my world. Sometimes that felt like a samurai sword and sometimes like a meth binge. Novels are a curse, in some ways. You look down three years later and realize your most intimate relationships are imaginary. It’s very disconcerting. Also, the amount of alone time you need comes out of your social bank. At the end, while people will listen to your new song or look at your new poem or painting, in general, nobody wants to read your novel. Leper. Novelist. Wake me when it’s published. I’m kidding somewhat. I was fortunate enough to have some really devoted support around me. Ultimately though, I wrote Zazen because I had no emotionally viable alternative.

JT: Aside from you bringing your life experience into the work (union organizer, paleontology student, expatriate…), how much of Della is you?

VV: Writers tend to range on how they understand this question about self and character. Many say that they...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Vanessa Veselka's blog.

My Book, The Movie: Zazen.

The Page 69 Test: Zazen.

Writers Read: Vanessa Veselka.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2011

Peter Mountford

From a Q & A with Peter Mountford at Tottenville Review about his new novel A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism:


What were the dangers in writing a novel set in country other than your own?


A lack of authenticity, for sure. Romanticizing and/or condescending to the country and its people. There is, I think, a danger of the book feeling detached—like if you’re not writing about a place you care about, one way or another, the sense of place might not come through or it might just be a colorful backdrop. That’s death, right there. So you have to have a deep connection to the place, for one reason or another.


For me, at least, there is an immediate and strong connection to place. It’s not a book exclusively about Bolivia, but at the same time you couldn’t set it in some unnamed mountainous developing country and still have the same book. Bolivia is essential.


I’ve been thinking about that recently, because I was reading Tea Obreht’s book, which is set in a fictitious Balkan country, and I wondered about the pros and cons of such a choice. It works for her book for the place to be invented, but you’re right that A Young Man’s Guide couldn’t be set in an anonymous country. Bolivia is a major character in the book.

Still, I once got a note from a reader about a story I’d written, which was set in Ecuador, and...[read on]
Visit Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dawn Tripp

From a Q & A with Dawn Tripp about her new novel, Game of Secrets:

Where did the idea for Game of Secrets come from?

I had three images in my head: a 14 year old boy driving fast down an unfinished highway in a borrowed car; two women playing Scrabble; and two lovers, a man and a woman, meeting in an old cranberry barn. The images weren't based on anything in my experience or anyone I know, but I began to write them. I had already filled a notebook when an older man I knew from town told me a story of a skull that surfaced back in the '60s out of truckload of gravel fill, a neat bullet hole in the temple. The moment the story was out of his mouth, I knew that skull had everything to do with the two friends playing Scrabble, the lovers in the cranberry barn, and with that boy driving fast down an unfinished highway in a stolen car.

Why did you choose to use a Scrabble game?

I love Scrabble. Growing up, I played all the time with my grandmother. She played for the words, as many women in her generation did. I always played for the numbers. How we play Scrabble can reveal so much about how we tick, how we live, who we are. Some play to keep the board open, some play to shut it down. Some play with an eye to the sum of the total scores of all players; some play, simply, to maximize their own score. Most players will look at the board and see the words that fill it. But a really good player, a canny player, will also see opportunity in the skinny spaces still left open in between. The game for me became the perfect lens for a story about two families bound together and divided by unspeakable secrets—a brutal past, a murder, a love story. Because what are words if not...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Jeff Kinney

The sixth book in Jeff Kinney's popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series will be released November 15 with a first printing of six million copies.

From the author's Q & A with Barbara Chai at the Wall Street Journal:

Can you give us some details about the new book, “Cabin Fever”?

Sure. The sixth book is about the Heffley family being snowed in for the holidays. That idea of the claustrophobia of your own home and family. The “Wimpy Kid” universe has been expanding gradually – in the last book, I introduced this whole extended Heffley family. This time, I thought it would be fun to contract it and focus on the family dynamic. The book is also thematically about the idea of when you’re growing up, you forge an identity for yourself. You become defined by that identity. As you move on in life, no matter who you become, the people you grew up with really know you the best. That’s really what “Cabin Fever” refers to, the idea of being sort of trapped by the identity that you’ve created for yourself.

Will it also be 224 pages?

Yes. I think it’s based on signatures. A book is printed and a signature is 16 pages. I wanted to make all the books the same length. I think it’s fun. They look nice on the shelf, when they are all the same size.

Are there more books in the works?

There..[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 17, 2011

David Fulmer

David Fulmer is the author of, among other works, the acclaimed Storyville mysteries featuring Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. The first volume of the series, Chasing the Devil's Tail, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Mystery/Thriller Book Prize and the winner of the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.

From Fulmer's Q & A with Jesse Swords at Loose Change:

LC: Jass took a lot of guts to write. In setting the book in early 20th century New Orleans, you’re writing about subjects that a lot of others would like to stake their claim in: a city that’s not yours, and a music that everybody loves and feels a right to. You’re also writing across lines of race. Where did that courage come from?

Well, first of all, I was basically raised Italian. My mother is Italian, and like [Valentine, the main character in Jass] I’m half Sicilian. So I have that sort of identification. You know, when my mother was growing up, Italians were discriminated against. My father caused an incredible scandal in the family by marrying an Italian girl.

So, I was aware of that, but also, I was so interested in music. And the town I grew up in, there was one African American family, and the father was a jazz drummer. And the town was very ethnic…a lot of Italians, a lot of Polish. But I was always fascinated by the music. I was trying to get back to the root. And I think it’s just being open. It’s not being color-blind, because that would be stupid. But the thing is: to celebrate [our differences], and enjoy them, rather than pretend they’re not there. And what I found out was that unless you’re going to write about people who are exactly like you, and nothing else, you’re going to have to figure out a way to crawl into other people’s skins. The hardest one, harder than any race, is male and female. It’s really hard for men to crawl into women’s skin, and vice versa. It’s the hardest. And so I had to conquer that challenge as well.

But whatever it is, it really always came down to keeping my ears open. And people are afraid to talk about stuff. And I realized that we can look at the same thing, and not see the same thing sometimes. And so [I want] to be able to have that conversation, to understand that. Male and female is the biggest one: that you and I look at the same thing, but we see it a little bit differently. But basically it was that I felt that if you’re not taking a risk, then you’re not getting anywhere. And so I understood that it was a risk. I was really, really concerned. When you do what you just said—you go into their territory—oh my god, they are waiting for you with hatchets when you do historical stuff. So I was very concerned that I was going to get murdered. And especially jazz—I mean, it’s worshipped. And I was going right into the belly of the beast and writing about it. But the thing was, I had so much respect for it, and I think that comes through.

I don’t want to assume courage. It’s just that I really wanted to...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: David Fulmer's "Storyville" books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg is an actor, comedian, screenwriter, producer and author. Best known for his roles in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he also plays Scotty in Star Trek.

His new book is Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid.

From Pegg's Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: At the beginning of your book, you emphasize how reluctant you were to write an autobiography. Were you really so reluctant?

Simon Pegg: I resisted actually doing it initially and decided to try to put together some kind of production diary, something less personal. But it was just boring. You go to work, you do your job, and that's it. I realized the really interesting stuff was the more relatable stuff about being younger. So then I had to kind of like, wrestle with the idea of talking about personal things. And I realized my biggest problem with that was usually you have to do it. You're asked questions in interviews by journalists who want to get into your private life. And the reason I resist that is because then it's theirs to disseminate, then they can interpret it, or it can be spun. But if it comes from you, you have complete control over what's said and you are the horse's mouth. I kind of figured, OK, I'll relinquish some stuff that I'm not precious about or I don't feel threatens me or my privacy. And once I got into it, I had a brilliant time. Because you realize your memory is like a zip file on a computer. There's so much stuff you just compress.

Slate: You're particularly vivid when you talk about your early romances with the girlfriends you call "Meredith Catsanus" and "Eggy Helen." Though you talk about wanting privacy, was it easier to talk about your first sexual experience with Ms. Catsanus because it happened so long ago or because it no longer impacts your life?

Simon Pegg: I think a bit of both of those things. My relationship with Meredith...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

J. Courtney Sullivan

From a conversation with J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine:

Q: Why Maine (as in, the state)?

A: I grew up outside of Boston, about a ninety-minute drive from southern Maine. We went to the Ogunquit/Wells/York area all the time, whether it was to rent a little cottage on the beach for a week or just to have a lobster dinner at Barnacle Billy’s. I love that part of New England so much. It’s physically beautiful and has such a rich history. I’ve always been intrigued by the artists’ colony that popped up in Perkins Cove in the late 19th century. The juxtaposition of urban painters and Maine lobstermen living side by side seemed like it was just begging to be put in a novel.

Also, the Kellehers are a family in which everyone talks about everyone else behind their backs; each has an opinion on the shortcomings of the others. The funny thing is, they’re all right. I like the idea of family bonds having elasticity to them, so that even when they’re stretched to the breaking point, they rarely just go ahead and break. A secluded family beach house seemed like the perfect setting for all of this to percolate.

Q: Maine is told from the point of view of four women in the Kelleher family. Alice, the matriarch, Maggie, Alice’s granddaughter, Kathleen, the prodigal daughter, and Ann Marie, Alice’s daughter in law. How and why did you choose to focus on these four women out of all the characters in the novel?

A: I wanted to explore how certain things—like alcoholism, religion, resentments, and secrets—move from one generation to the next. We hear women say all the time, “Please God, don’t let me turn into my mother.” In most cases, we either become a lot like our mothers or we work like hell to do the exact opposite of what they did, which creates all new problems. The mother-daughter dynamic is powerful and often fraught, so I wanted to really dig into that. With Kathleen and Alice, we have a mother-daughter pair who can never seem to see eye-to-eye. Kathleen tries to cultivate a much more casual relationship with her own daughter, more of a friendship. In turn, her daughter Maggie longs for boundaries.

In early drafts, there were...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at J. Courtney Sullivan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Commencement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Martin Kihn

Martin Kihn is the author of the comic memoir Bad Dog (A Love Story). It's his story of trying to stay sober while training his out-of-control 90-pound Bernese mountain dog, Hola, for her Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club. Kihn's previous memoir of his time as a cutthroat management consultant was recently filmed as a pilot for Showtime.

From his Q & A with Dick Donahue at Publishers Weekly:

So what's the deal with a book titled Bad Dog and subtitled A Love Story— what's that about?

I liked the irony of it, which works on a lot of levels. I start the book thinking my dog, Hola, is a 90-pound Bernese mountain dog menace—obviously, she's the bad dog. But after I decide to take responsibility for my animal and actually try to train her, it dawns on me I've been the bad dog all along. She was fine. I was holding her back because of ignorance and fear and self-centeredness. All those things people do so well without any help from dogs. Also, back when I was still drinking I secretly read a memoir by Caroline Knapp called Drinking: A Love Story that made a big impression on me. It was the first time I'd read about an alcoholic who was someone I could relate to—a well-educated, upper-middle class writer type who happened to be a drunk. Her book definitely helped me admit my problem and find a program. My title purposely mirrors hers.

Which came first: taming Hola or curing Martin?

There's a scene in the book where I'm at a pretty famous dog-training camp in the woods of Virginia, and my teacher pulls me aside and says, "Your dog's very nervous because you're afraid." I had another trainer out in White Plains tell me Hola was basically picking up on my fear and acting it out. Most dogs are very sensitive to our body language and general vibe, more sensitive than people. I kept wondering why Hola wasn't improving even though we were working on our commands. It took me a while to figure out I had to get sane first and Hola could follow. And let me tell you, sanity is a lot harder than dog training!

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

I always...[read on]
Learn more about Bad Dog: A Love Story at Martin Kihn's website and the Bad Dog Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Martin Kihn and Hola.

The Page 99 Test: Bad Dog.

Writers Read: Martin Kihn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 13, 2011

Erik Larson

Erik Larson's new book is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin: The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

From Larson's Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: With her great interest in the opposite sex and her flirtatious lifestyle, Martha Dodd [the ambassador's daughter] has been called a kind of Carrie "Sex and the City" Bradshaw in Berlin, although Martha seems much more intelligent and seductive to me. Is that comparison fair to her?

I've also heard her compared to Paris Hilton. But Martha was a complex character. That seems to be coming through to readers. Some readers are critical of her and me for writing about her: They see her as flighty and kind of promiscuous and all of that. But a lot of people see her as a compelling character. She was liberated at a time when that wasn't always the case for women.

I'm the father of three daughters, and I thank God I don't have a daughter who's like Martha. On the other hand, she's obviously a smart woman and sexy in her own way.

Would I have liked to have dated her? You bet. Would I have sought her out as a good friend? I don't know.

Q: What surprised you as you researched your book?

I was never concretely aware of the extent of anti-Semitism in the United States and in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rahul Bhattacharya

Rahul Bhattacharya, who lives in New Delhi, is the author of Pundits from Pakistan, a book of reportage, and The Sly Company of People Who Care, a first novel now out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

From his Q & A with Eric Chinski, Editor in Chief at FSG:

Chinski: Your first book was a work of reportage on the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry. Why did you decide to turn next to writing your first novel?

Rahul Bhattacharya: I didn’t, actually. The form came afterward, at the moment of writing. What I was responding to was the impulse to get away. It’s a terribly seductive impulse: What are the consequences? In part I was getting away from writing about cricket as well. But I’m grateful to cricket-writing, without which I may not ever have had a chance to visit the Caribbean.

Chinski: The title is The Sly Company of People Who Care. Could you explain what this means?

Bhattacharya: “Company” is for the colonizing company, in this instance the West India Companies. Colonization is a sly thing indeed, both brutal and subtle. The phrase is also for relationships in the book. It’s a book about betrayal, historical and contemporary, and also about fooling oneself maybe.

Chinski: What inspired you to set the novel in Guyana?

Bhattacharya: Guyana came much before the novel. I had been there briefly when I was twenty-two. It seared itself into me. How did that happen? I’m not sure. Landscapes, streetscapes, light and sound, a sense of rawness, of looseness, the possibility of transgressions. People, of course. It was odd that I should feel so deeply about a place so peripheral to my life. It was irresistible and, ultimately, inevitable that I would have to follow that curiosity. As I worked my way through it I felt...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 11, 2011

D.J. Taylor

D.J. Taylor was born in 1960, went to Norwich School and St John's College, Oxford, and is the author of two acclaimed biographies, Thackerary (1999), and Orwell: The Life, which won the Whitbread Biography Prize in 2003. He has written nine novels, the most recent being Derby Day (2011), At the Chime of a City Clock (2010), Ask Alice (2009) and Kept: A Victorian Mystery (2006).

From his Q & A at the Independent:

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

John Cheever. I'm convinced that the creators of 'Mad Men' – which I think is absolutely brilliant – have been reading Cheever. You could draw a Venn diagram to connect them.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Any one of the embittered hacks in 'New Grub Street', George Gissing's astringent vision of the late-Victorian literary marketplace.

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

In public life it is the Labour MP Frank Field, for his maverick qualities. He has undeviatingly followed his own moral line.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the book that changed D.J. Taylor's life.

Visit D.J. Taylor's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mark Seal

A journalist for thirty-five years, Mark Seal is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Death in Africa, about the murdered wildlife filmmaker and naturalist Joan Root. Seal was a 2010 National Magazine Award finalist for his Vanity Fair profile of Clark Rockefeller.

His new book, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter, is "a stranger-than-fiction twist on the classic American success story of the self-made man-because Clark Rockefeller was totally made up."

From Seal's Q & A with Julia Buckley:

How do you account for the fact that some very smart people were utterly bamboozled by Rockefeller, while others (including one notable woman who compared the story to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”) said they never for a moment believed in him or his ridiculous persona. What might have accounted for the difference?

Of course, many who say that they knew now may not have been as vocal back then. So it’s difficult to say who really knew and who didn’t. He was extremely believable, at least in the beginning, and people are willing to believe things when they are said by some one who is seemingly educated, erudite and, most importantly, has a famous name.

To a certain extent, Rockefeller’s wife seemed to buy into his fiction because he filled a requirement in terms of her own aspirations. Do you think her ambition was the major reason that she never seemed to question all of the inconsistencies in her husband’s life?

She is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the author of the novels Hotel World—short-listed for both the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize—and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize.

Her latest novel is There But For The.

From her Q & A with Dan Eltringham at the Financial Times:

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth.

* * *
What book changed your life?

A Calendar of Love by George Mackay Brown.

* * *
What is the oddest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I went to the top of Vesuvius and looked in.

* * *
If you could own any painting, what would it be?

The wall fresco of St Catherine, by Masolino, in the church of San Clemente in Rome.

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

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson or Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland.
Read the complete interview.

Learn about the "deceased author [Smith would] most like to watch crossing a room, just to see how she moves."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo is the author of Ash and the just-released Huntress.

From her Q & A with Donna Freitas at Publishers Weekly:

Both Ash and Huntress feature star-crossed romances between two girls. Can you talk about the role of romance in your storytelling?

My books were always going to be between two girls—I didn’t make a radical choice to do this. I’m not interested in heterosexual romances. I just wrote Ash and then Huntress as a romance, and what’s funny to me about this is that I have never really enjoyed reading romances. Though I really love books that have romance in them as an element and in YA, romance is really king.

I ended up enjoying writing this aspect of the books. The romance in Huntress in particular I love a lot, but it was very hard to do. It starts off by telling you these two girls are going to be in love—sets an expectation for the reader—so you really need to make it feel real, and the two main characters didn’t come to me that easily. I felt like I knew who Taisin was from the beginning but I didn’t really know Kaede at all. I’m not really a character–driven writer. I need to write the whole book before I get to know the characters, their motivations, and how to build them.

That experience taught me a lot about writing romance. I ended up reading a lot of romances that I loved to get a sense of how to do write one—the most unsappy romances I could find. I looked for books with understated romance to try and figure out why they worked for me. I read Persuasion by Jane Austen, for example. When I wanted to figure out sexual...[read on]
Writers Read: Malinda Lo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lee Martin

Dani Shapiro put some questions to Lee Martin, author of the new novel Break the Skin.

Part of the Q & A:

Break the Skin is set in two small towns, but they are very different kinds of small towns. Your evocation of small town life is so vivid and beautiful. Where does your knowledge come from? How does small town life inspire your writing? And how did these particular small towns in Illinois and Texas come into being in your imagination? Was this a novel that began, for you, more with character, or with place?

I was born in Lawrence County, Illinois, where the largest town had a population of just over five thousand people. I lived on a farm with my mother and father, and I attended a two-room country school until I was in the third grade. Although it’s been a number of years since I lived there, that place is always with me. I’m connected to the rhythm of its seasons, the stark beauty of its landscape, the come-and-go of its people.

I lived in Denton, Texas, for five years when I taught at the University of North Texas, and it was my memory of the area around the university–its bars and tattoo parlors, its head shops and drum circles–that produced Miss Baby and first brought me to the story that would become Break the Skin. Place and character are always inextricable for me. The details of Denton and those of New Hope produced Miss Baby and Laney for me, and I let them tell their stories.

Break the Skin is very much a novel about the deep-rooted hunger to be truly accepted and understood by another person. Laney shows the fierce loyalty and submissive qualities of youth, whereas Miss Baby, who has been through so much hurt, is willing to put it all on the line all over again. How do you dig so deeply into the emotional, internal lives of your characters? I noticed that the novel is dedicated to Miss Baby, and found that really interesting. Can you say a bit about that?

The novel, as you say, is very much about the desire for human connection and validation, which is...[read on]
Visit Lee Martin's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 6, 2011

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into forty-two languages. His many honors include the Franz Kafka Prize.

From his interview with John Wray at The Paris Review:


I’ve just read After the Quake, your newest story collection and I found it interesting how freely you mixed stories that were realistic, in the style of your novel Norwegian Wood, let’s say, with others that had more in common with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Do you see a fundamental difference between those two forms?.


My style, what I think of as my style, is very close to Hard-Boiled Wonderland. I don’t like the realistic style, myself. I prefer a more surrealistic style. But with Norwegian Wood, I made up my mind to write a hundred percent realistic novel. I needed that experience.


Did you think of that book as an exercise in style or did you have a specific story to tell that was best told realistically?


I could have been a cult writer if I’d kept writing surrealistic novels. But I wanted to break into the mainstream, so I had to prove that I could write a realistic book. That’s why I wrote that book. It was a best-seller in Japan and I expected that result.


So it was actually a strategic choice.


That’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Geraldine Brooks

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues, and later for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, is an international bestseller, and People of the Book is a New York Times bestseller translated into 20 languages.

Her latest novel is Caleb’s Crossing.

From Brooks's Q & A with Dan Eltringham at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

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

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Collected Poems.

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

Barack Obama, so I can berate him to do more about climate change. I don’t think he’d like to sit next to me though.

* * *
How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d be a dog-walker.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 4, 2011

William Gibson

From a Q & A with William Gibson about his novel Pattern Recognition:

Why did you decide to set this novel in the present, unlike your previous novels?

I've been threatening to do it for a while. The last three books feel to me more like "alternate presents" than imaginary futures. Science fiction is always, really, about the period it's written in, though most people don't seem to understand that. The way that September 11 changed the world is a major theme in this book. How would you describe that change? By writing this book. And I'd leave it at that. I'm more interested in finding questions than answers. Questions are more enduring.

Your main character, Cayce Pollard, is a young woman who specializes in pattern recognition - in recognizing group behavior around certain cultural objects or activities or events or ideas before anyone else does. Isn't this also what a novelist does? How strong is the parallel between you and Cayce?

I don't take the labels off my jeans, or go into anaphylactic shock at the sight of certain designer goods, but I'm aware of branding, and interested in it, in how it's done, and how central it seems to be to what we do as a culture. There's been some sort of investigation of celebrity, in my last couple of books, and that may be the ultimate in branding.

Cayce has an ambivalent relationship with cultural trends. On the one hand, she's exquisitely sensitive to them. On the other, she can be physically repulsed by them - particularly by certain forms of advertising or fashion or corporate marketing. Do you think this is a common experience today?

I would imagine...[read on]
Learn what Gibson is scared of.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 3, 2011

Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley is the author of five books: The Iran-Contra Affair (with Steve Engelberg); The Circus Master's Mission, a novel; Defining Vision: The Battle for the Future of Television; U.S. vs. Microsoft: The Inside Story of the Landmark Case (with Steve Lohr); and Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, published by Public Affairs Books in 2011.

From his Q & A with the Christian Science Monitor's Randy Dotinga about Cambodia’s Curse:

Q: What has remained the same in Cambodia as during the Khmer Rouge era?

The relative docility of the Cambodian people. Ninety percent of them went along with the Khmer Rouge, and did not object even as they starved to death. There was a small uprising in one part of the country, but that was quashed.

Now you find a docility toward a government that's predatory and corrupt. They're accepting of whatever happens to them.

Q: How are things different now compared to back then?

The cities look relatively modern. You go to Phnom Penh and they have skyscrapers and more cars, bicycles, and motorbikes. Given that Cambodia has more foreign aid workers and more donors per capita than any nation on earth, the major cities have all sorts of restaurants and coffee bars to sustain them. It's a not a shining metropolis, but it's a lot more modern than the hinterlands.

If you go into the countrywide, people have no electricity, no running water, nothing to cook with except a fire, no bathroom except a pit out back. I suppose it's charming to see people who live as they did 1,000 years ago, but it's quite depressing. They could live better if they knew what they were missing.

Q: You write about the unwillingness of many Cambodians to develop ambitions for themselves and their nation. What's behind that?

Cambodia is quite a bucolic country, and that's one reason that its people are more or less stagnant. They can live off what nature provides them.

The historians who write about the Angkor period [in the centuries around the 1200s] make the point quite clearly that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Marcelo Figueras

Marcelo Figueras grew up in Argentina and currently lives in Barcelona. His novel Kamchatka (which takes its title from a key territory in the board game Risk) is his first to be translated into English.

From his Q & A with Erin Mendell at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: What’s the strategic importance of Kamchatka?

Marcelo Figueras: It’s a very little country in Asia, but it’s very useful because from Kamchatka you can leap to Japan, and you can leap also to America. … I had already written the novel when I had watched an episode of that sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle,” and it was really funny because Malcolm’s mother and father were playing Risk, and the mother beat the crap out of the father, and [in consoling himself] he said, “At least I got to keep Kamchatka.…”

So I laughed and said, “ I guess somebody in North America will really know what Kamchatka is about.”

Do you play Risk?

Quite a lot. It was a really popular board game during the ‘70s in Argentina. In Argentina it has another name: Teg.

What are some of the challenges of writing from a child’s perspective?

There are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rosamund Lupton

From a Q & A with  Rosamund Lupton about her debut novel Sister, now available in the U.S.:

Q. Where do your characters come from and how do they evolve?

In Sister I began with a central relationship, rather than the characters themselves – clearly in this book the central relationship is between sisters. I then find a small detail, or turn of phrase, that suddenly lights up a character for me. With Beatrice it was her obsessively neat and anxious pictures that she did as a child. Although she is not based on anyone I know, and is completely imagined, I couldn't have written her relationship with Tess without being close to my own younger sister. The emotional truth is one that I know well. The minor characters start as simply puppets of the plot but after a while they snip the strings and acquire a life of their own; just as Beatrice and Tess became more than vehicles to show a relationship. At some point the characters take over and that is when writing becomes a magical thing for me. Before the last draft, I changed the central characters' names and then read it again, as if meeting them for the first time to see if they seemed real.

Q. Did Sister throw up any surprises for you?

Yes, many. In the story itself I was surprised by how the characters developed, often changing a great deal from my original character sketches. For example, Kasia had a very small role initially, but seemed to demand more story time and to contribute in un­foreseen ways. Other surprises were simply logistical. I hadn't appreciated how LONG a novel is, compared to the scripts I'd been used to writing, and how hard that middle section of a thriller can be. At one time I felt like a chess player needing to think twelve moves ahead and wondering if my brain was up to it! The ultimate surprise was how hugely satisfying it is to finish a hundred thousand words and have that bulk of paper sitting on my desk.

Q. A lot of medical research must have gone into writing Sister? How did you go about your research and was it difficult?

I read...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue