Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke's novels include “two power house series” (Sun-Sentinel) that have earned her a reputation for creating strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters, such as NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid.

Burke's latest novel If You Were Here features former prosecutor turned journalist McKenna Jordan.

From the author's Q & A with Richard Godwin:

As a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, and Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, how has your knowledge of law helped inform your fictions?

I know the flow of a criminal investigation and prosecution at a fairly organic level, and that flow tends to shape the arc of my novels. It helps that I can depict procedures in a believable way without having to do research, of course. But most important, I learned a lot about the culture of law enforcement when I was still in practice. There’s a language and a vibe to a precinct, and when it’s not depicted with authenticity, readers know it.

Revenge is a popular theme in much crime fiction. To what extent do you think revenge is lawless justice and does its appeal lie in the feeling that the law fails many victims of crime?

I’m not a huge fan of raw revenge stories. Maybe I’m old fashioned and still believe that our imperfect justice system is the best system out there. For me, revenge stories only work if the audience truly believes there’s a reason for the hero to work outside of the system. Then you can let those stories rip.

Do you think the best detectives have strong criminal shadows?

I think the best detectives have...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: If You Were Here.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 30, 2013

Susan Bordo

Susan Bordo, Otis A. Singletary Professor in the Humanities at University of Kentucky, is the author of Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. Her latest book is The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen. (UK edition now available.)

From Bordo's Q & A at the Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers website:

In your book you very convincing lay out a cultural timeline of how historians, fiction writers and people in general viewed Queen Anne Boleyn. How do you believe this dynamic took hold? Do you see any significant parallels in your research in both the cultural demonizing and in contrast the cultural iconizing of Queen Anne Boleyn with other female historical figures?

Anne’s enduring fascination has to do with several factors: First, the fact that she was the first English queen ever to be executed—an event which was shocking even to her enemies. We are chewing over Henry’s motivation to this day, and it still remains difficult to grasp. How could he do it? It’s a question I seriously consider in a chapter of the book.

Second, it’s so easy to construct a juicy archetypal triangle out of the Henry/Katherine/Anne story: There’s the discarded, menopausal first wife, the larger-than-life King blinded by passion, the younger, bewitching interloper. And he pursued her for seven years, willing to split his kingdom in bloody halves for her! What was so special about her? It’s ready-made for soap opera of all sorts.

Third, there is an obdurate mystery about Anne that can never be solved, because we actually know so little about her (few letters, little information about her childhood, her time in the European courts, nothing dependable known about her feelings for Henry,) but nonetheless we want so hard to figure her out. In that respect, her fascination for us is similar to that of Marilyn Monroe. We sense that despite the thousands of words, the portraits, the pop media attention, she has not yet been fully understood, fully known. There is much for the imagination to “fill in,” and historians, novelists and filmmakers have eagerly tried their hands.

And fourth...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at the official The Creation of Anne Boleyn website.

My Book, The Movie: The Creation of Anne Boleyn.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Susan Bordo & Sean and Dakota.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson is the author of Communion Town.

From his Q & A with Matt Freeman for the BFSA:

Could you give a brief description of Communion Town for new readers?

Communion Town is a sequence of stories about an imaginary city. The subtitle is A City in Ten Chapters, and the idea is that the book builds a mosaic picture of this invented place from the perspectives of many different citizens: in the first few stories, an immigrant finds herself in trouble with the city’s paranoid authorities, a folk singer falls in love with a rich girl, a child has a scary encounter by the canal, a hard-boiled detective is drawn into a surreal investigation, an abattoir worker suspects his boss is a murderer… I wanted to capture a feeling I’ve always got from cities where I’ve lived, which is that they’re strange, secret places with all kinds of weirdness hidden just under the surface of everyday life.

Does working as an English teacher help with and influence your writing?

I think so. It’s an excellent day job for a writer, not least because it involves reading lots of books and thinking hard about how language works. And universities just feel to me like hospitable environments for writing. I know some people think academia sits uneasily with fiction-writing, and I can understand the argument that an academic subject like English Lit has to be orderly and systematic, whereas fiction needs to be wild if it’s worth anything. But I’d say that’s a positive tension — the point of fiction being that it’s a free, irresponsible place outside all the frameworks and institutions within which you ordinarily live. So writing and teaching...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sarah Pekkanen

Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally bestselling author of The Opposite of Me, Skipping a Beat, These Girls, and The Best of Us as well as a series of linked short stories for ereaders.

From her March 2013 Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

You write a lot about relationships between women. Can you comment on the "gender wars" that seem to be going on in publishing where if a woman writes about domestic issues she's "women's fiction," but if a guy does it, why, he's Franzen?

It's true that folks like Nick Hornby, who writes the same kind of books as Jennifer Weiner and the rest of us in the "women's fiction" or "chick lit" category, tend to get a little more respect from the press. And a lot more attention. But I don't think readers care how we're labeled - they just want to read good books. It's mostly an issue within publishing and the media, which selects the books that receive attention. Luckily, we have champions like Jen and Jodi Picoult, who are calling attention to the issue and forcing some editors at newspapers and magazines to rethink how they cover our books. Jen and Jodi aren't doing this for their own benefit, as they're already superstars, but they're fighting on behalf of the rest of us. I so admire what they're doing, and how they're forcing a shift in the way editors and reporters view such novels written by women.

So you wrote your first book at the age of ten. You always knew you were going to be writer?

I did! I worked as a newspaper reporter for years, but rediscovered my love of fiction when I became a mom. One night ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s latest novel is The Flamethrowers. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the California Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. It was named a best book by the Washington Post Book Book World, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Christian Science Monitor, and Amazon. Kushner's fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Paris Review, The Believer, Artforum, Bookforum, Fence, Bomb, Cabinet, and Grand Street.

From her Q & A with Jesse Barron for The Paris Review Daily:

Your first novel was written from multiple points of view, but Flamethrowers is first person, with a few relatively minor deviations. Was it easy to make that decision?

No. I deliberated in a tortured and endless way over what the voice was going to be, whether it was going to be first or third person. The first year I was writing this book I hadn’t decided. I would go to friends’ readings and raise my hand at the end and ask, Why did you choose to tell the story in third person? And people would look at me like, Why would you ask such a basic question? But to me these basic questions must be asked and answered for every single book.

At this point in my life, I’m not that interested in third person. There’s a certain falsity when a character is given a full name and a set of characteristics and can be seen from outside. To me it speaks of a kind of realism whose artifice I have a hard time shaking, as a writer, in order to get inside what I am doing and imagine it fully. The first-person narrator of BolaƱo’s Savage Detectives is almost like water. He doesn’t have much of a “voice.” And he doesn’t always matter in a scene. He’ll just be background—someone else has taken over. There is often a skid in the narration from one character to the next, even as it’s being told by the first-person narrator, and this influenced me. I had been looking to find a first person who came across like thought, who could be drowned out and overrun in the way that we as people can be overrun by others. Having a point of view doesn’t mean you’re always in control or couching everything in running commentary. That’s fiction.

Proust gets away with these impossible formal propositions in his use of first person. He’s telling you about, say, a private conversation between two people where Marcel cannot possibly be in the room. It’s a real invention inside literary modernism. For me, an uninflected voice is something I’m drawn to. Partly because...[read on]
Learn about Kushner's ten top books about 1970s art.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash's highly acclaimed debut is A Land More Kind Than Home. His new novel is This Dark Road to Mercy.

From Cash's Q & A with Eric Akoto at Litro:

Litro: Tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a writer and what is your life like in West Virginia?

Wiley: I don’t really know how long I’ve been a writer. I suppose I’ve been writing fiction since I was eighteen years old or so. My first story was published when I was nineteen. I guess that made me a writer then, but I had a decade of rejections and didn’t have another story published for ten years, so I guess I took a break from being a “writer” during that time!

My wife and I are both from North Carolina, but we moved to West Virginia where I had a job teaching literature and writing at a small liberal arts college. A few years ago I resigned to spend more time writing, and in September 2013 we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where my wife is from and where we met in 2005.

Wilmington is a great city for a writer. The beach is close by, there’s a wonderful local arts scene, and the city is crawling with professional writers.

Litro: In a nutshell, what is This Dark Road to Mercy about?

Wiley: It’s about a washed-up minor league baseball player who kidnaps his two daughters from a foster home and tries to be a father to them.

Litro: Where did your inspiration for the book come from?

Wiley: The inspiration for this novel came from...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Wiley Cash's website.

Writers Read: Wiley Cash [April 2012].

My Book, The Movie: A Land More Kind Than Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sarah Dunant

Sarah Dunant is the author of the international bestsellers The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan, and Sacred Hearts, which have received major acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

Her latest novel is Blood & Beauty: The Borgias.

From the author's 2013 Q & A with the Independent:

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

I have recently gone back to Emile Zola. The range of his work is astonishing, but he is particularly brilliant on the havoc wreaked by sexual passion.

* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

If 'Broadcast News' had been a book before it was a movie I would have been the news producer played by Holly Hunter. Vibrat-ing with energy and commitment, she is rather too intense for her own good.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison has written or edited 75 books; more than 1700 stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns; two dozen teleplays, for which he received the Writers Guild of America most outstanding teleplay award for solo work an unprecedented four times; and a dozen movies. He won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award twice, the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker award six times (including The Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996), the Nebula three times, the Hugo 8½ times, and received the Silver Pen for Journalism from P.E.N. Not to mention The World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, two Audie Awards, the Ray Bradbury Award, and a Grammy nomination for Spoken Word recordings.

From Ellison's June 2013 Q & A with Damien Walter for the Guardian:

HE: I spend a lot of time annoying people. That's my job on this planet.

DW: That's a good job to have. You've always been a political writer and politically active as well. You famously marched from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King.

HE: Yup.

DW: Why don't speculative fiction writers today cause more trouble?

HE: Ah, kiddo, I wish I could give you an answer. I sigh woefully, [sighs], because that's what writers are supposed to do, afflict the contented. But most of them don't. Most of them just want to tell a story, and I guess that's a noble endeavour in and of itself, to tell a story. Storytellers can be teachers, like Aristotle, or they can just be storytellers like – I don't know, who's writing the trash these days? I don't know who's writing trash over there where you are, but whoever it is, you pick the name, put it in for me.

DW: When you were starting out, and you'd run away from home, and then you were in the army for a short while, and you were writing through the night to get all of this stuff done, did you expect, did you dream, of becoming as famous and as successful as you have as a writer?

HE: Absolutely. At one point in my career – I don't think I was married at the time. I've been married to my wife for 27 years, and God knows how she's been able to stand it. But she's my fifth wife. At one point I had a T-shirt that said, "Not tonight dear, I'm on a deadline." And you stop and think how many movies you didn't go and see, how many parties you didn't attend, how many concerts you didn't get to hear, because you were working. And I've worked endlessly through my entire life. I've never been a sluggard, and yet I've never felt that I've done one twentieth of what I was capable of doing.

And when I stopped at some point – and I've done this on numerous occasions – and said, "Why? Why am I doing it?" I am reminded...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reza Aslan

Reza Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What do you mean when you describe Jesus as a zealot?

A: It implies a radical commitment to the sole sovereignty to God, a refusal to serve any other master other than the master of the universe. It means he's not this pacifist preacher of good works with no concern for the cares of this world. But I don't think that he was some violent revolutionary bent on violence against the state. It's a little more complicated.

Q: It's almost Christmas, and millions upon millions of people will be reflecting on the stories of Jesus's birth. You write that the gospel stories of Jesus's childhood are legend. What do you mean by that?

A: No one knows anything about Jesus's childhood because the childhood of a marginal Jewish peasant from the backwoods of Galilee is of no interest to anybody until he becomes God incarnate.

The purpose of the gospels is to make a theological argument about his status as a descendent of David. They were not written for their factual nature. They were written because they were expressing a deeper truth, one that goes beyond their facts.

Q: Many people reading this will take issue with you because they believe the gospel stories are literally true. What do you say to them?

A: There does not need to be any inherent conflict between faith and history. These are concerned with two totally different issues. The person of faith is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 22, 2013

George Packer

George Packer's latest book is The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

From his Q & A with JP O'Malley at the Christian Science Monitor:

You also speak about the shift in American popular culture, where celebrity worship became primarily about money. You use Jay Z and Oprah as two examples. When did it become almost acceptable to flaunt your wealth as your sole motivation as an artist or a celebrity in America?

I think celebrity comes to the fore of people’s consciousness in times of inequality, when they stand in for the old institutions that used to guide more ordinary aspirations. Modern celebrities were invented in America in the 1920s. Celebrity itself requires a machine-made diffusion. So celebrities grow in power and in influence. Today when I hear Jay Z at concerts, I get the feeling that he is telling his fans: Just give it to me. I will live it for you. And you can fantasize about it through me. But you are not going to get here, even if you wear my clothes, and flash my corporate logo.

Even Newt Gingrich did something to politics, where he turned it into an entertainment industry. He was willing to say anything, the more outrageous the better. He was willing to break down old taboos about what you could call your colleagues in Congress, and how much you could boast to a reporter, and how viciously you could try and tear down the president or [Congressional colleagues].

I guess what I am getting at is a collapse of taboos at that level of society that says: This is actually a rigged game. The old rules don’t work. If you are continuing to play by them, you are a sucker. Jay Z’s story tells you: Don’t hold down an honest job and stay in school, and hope that you move up. No, go for all of it, by any means, and then success will be its own justification. So that is why Jay Z interests me. I think he is a talented individual, but....[read on]
Writers Read: George Packer (July 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett's latest book is a collection of memoirs and essays titled This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

From her Q & A with Noah Charney for The Daily Beast:

You edited Best American Short Stories 2006. I just did a project in which I read a short story a day for 30 days, and wrote responses to them. It seems we’re in a bit of a Renaissance moment for short fiction, suddenly selling well alongside novels. What do you look for in a great short story, and is there one above all that embodies what you look for?

You know, I feel like people have been talking about the “Short Story Renaissance” for a long time. In an “if you build it, they will come” way, if it’s been predicted long enough, it will happen. I think that’s great, we need to just keep doing it. There have been so many great short story collections out there. Andre Dubus III is editing a giant short story anthology right now, and he’s got 100 writers who are writing essays about a short story: one canonical and one that they pick themselves. The two stories that I’m doing are “Sunny’s Blues” by James Baldwin and “The Long Distance Runner” by Grace Paley. There isn’t one thing that embodies a great short story. Well, maybe there is. A short story captures the very specific moment in time when things turn. In a novel, that could be many years. In a story, it pulls those years into a single instance.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the book that changed Ann Patchett's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mical Raz

Mical Raz, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and historian of medicine. She is author of The Lobotomy Letters: The Making of American Psychosurgery. Her new book is What's Wrong with the Poor?: Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty.

From a Q & A with Raz at her publisher's website:

Q: How has American society explained poverty and how has that history contributed to the narrative of deprivation you explore in this book?

A: Poverty is often seen as a personal failure, whereas success is a mark of hard work; thus economic status serves a surrogate for individual self-worth, and not an indicator of society's structure and its limitations. Poor men and women are still often portrayed in stereotypical terms as being lazy and unmotivated. Cultural deprivation is an intra-psychic explanation for the cause of poverty, focusing on the myriad of deficits in an individual's life that leads to economic disadvantage--maternal failure, lack of stimulation, lack of appropriate role models. While it does not blame individual girls and boys for their scholastic disadvantage, which further perpetuates the "cycle of poverty," it does blame their parents and their home environment. Thus deprivation theory is an example of "blaming the victim" in the discussion of poverty and...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: What's Wrong with the Poor?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Alyson Hagy

Alyson Hagy was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of seven books including the story collection Ghosts of Wyoming (Graywolf Press, 2010) and the novel Boleto (Graywolf Press, 2012).

From her Q & A with Jacqueline Kolosov in Shenandoah:

I came to your remarkable body of work through your third novel, Boleto; and so it is here that I’d like to begin. A Publishers Weekly review quotes you as saying: “‘This was not the planned book….I was working on another novel and sitting in a lecture and this book just came to me.’” Would you discuss both your composition process and the genesis and evolution of Boleto?

My teacher and mentor George Garrett used to say previous books never prepare you for future books, that each book has its own rules and demands and surprises. I wasn’t able to absorb that advice for years – partly because I couldn’t imagine writing enough books for it to matter. I like to plan projects. Planning gives me a false sense of control. It allows me to gear up and pretend the road ahead will be smooth and solid. This is one of the ways I fool myself into spending years (sometimes fruitless years) working on a book. In 2010, I was 150 pages into a novel I’d been planning for quite a while when Boleto struck me like the proverbial bolt of lightning. I was taking notes at a lecture given by a pair of archaeologists when it just came to me: the characters, the three settings, the rough arc of the story. I’d met the model for Will Testerman probably seven years earlier. I had a couple of small scratches in my notebook about that young horse trainer, but I do a lot of scratching. Most of it doesn’t lead to much. This deus ex machina arrival of a story was brand new to me. I vowed I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. I do my share of dumb things as a writer. But this time I was...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Boleto.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mark Haskell Smith

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of five novels, Moist, Delicious, Salty, Baked, and Raw: A Love Story, as well as the non-fiction book Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup.

From his Q & A with Anthony Miller in Los Angeles magazine:

Your book [Raw: A Love Story] stages a collision between reality television and literary culture. Why those two worlds?

I wanted the stupidest thing I could find in our culture, which I think is reality TV, particularly as shown by the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Last night, I watched Snooki and JWoww; it’s so deeply stupid. And also the highest or at least the most pretentious culture we have. Film culture is pretentious but not in the way that book culture is. I thought that was a natural high-low, opposites-attract kind of thing. I have an affection for both those worlds and that’s why I wanted to play with them.

What makes book culture more pretentious than film culture?

It’s not all of book culture. It’s just the way some people are about it. For me, the novel is the height of human creativity. You’re putting your ideas into a format that when someone experiences it by reading it, it’s a really intimate act. It’s an amazing art form but the way people treat it becomes precious. I wanted to take a poke at these people who are book fans. They’re not unintelligent people but they start a literary blog and all of the sudden they’re “experts” and they’re holding other writers to ridiculously high standards. It’s all about their ego and not about the book. I saw...[read on]
Smith is the author of five novels, Moist, Delicious, Salty, Baked, and Raw: A Love Story, as well as the non-fiction book Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup.

The Page 69 Test: Salty.

My Book, The Movie: Salty.

Writers Read: Mark Haskell Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mary Kay Zuravleff

Mary Kay Zuravleff is the author of The Bowl Is Already Broken, which the New York Times praised as “a tart, affectionate satire of the museum world’s bickering and scheming,” and The Frequency of Souls, which the Chicago Tribune deemed “a beguiling and wildly inventive first novel.” Honors for her work include the American Academy’s Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award, and she has been nominated for the Orange Prize.

Zuravleff's latest novel is Man Alive!. From her Q & A with Elizabeth Word Gutting at The Rumpus:

The Rumpus: So, first of all, this book is amazing. I really tore through it.

Mary Kay Zuravleff: Well, thank you! That’s really nice to hear. I hoped for that—for the kind of pace that is fast but not too fast. I wanted it to hit the reader, so that—BAM!—Owen is struck by lightning, and it just tears through the whole family, and the reader tears through the book.

Rumpus: Yes—exactly. When Owen is struck by lightning in the first chapter, it really felt as though all that plays out for the family throughout the rest of the book is both totally inevitable and incredibly surprising. And you do family so well. What is it, do you think, about families that lends for such rich material? You had me both laughing and crying with these people.

Zuravleff: You tell me. I mean, that’s the day in the life in any family, don’t you think? Laughing and crying. You know, yesterday there was some anxiety going on in the house, that compounded with mine, and sort of did me in for a bit, and I was thinking, It’s not actually a bad day. But it was just the accumulation of a couple different people’s worries. In a family, you take on each other’s problems and joys differently, and more intensely. The amplitude—and the undulation of the family—is different from the people you just generally bump into on the street, because you’re chained together. And what happens if you break that chain? In almost every family that I know...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Kay Zuravleff's website.

My Book, The Movie: Man Alive!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lauren Roedy Vaughn

Lauren Roedy Vaughn is an award-winning educator who has spent twenty years teaching English to high school students with language-based learning disabilities. Vaughn lives with her husband in Los Angeles, where she is an avid yogini and Big Lebowski nut.

Her debut novel is OCD, The Dude, and Me. From Vaughn's Q & A with Alleycat at Verbosity Book Reviews:

As a teacher, have your experiences in the classroom helped to inspire OCD, the Dude, and Me in any way?

Totally yes. For twenty years, I was a classroom teacher of high school students with learning differences. I wrote about a world I knew. Danielle is not a particular student that I taught, but she embodies qualities familiar to me. She’s bright, unique and creative, but school and life have been difficult for her. Students struggling, are often silent, only understood by a careful eye. It takes courage to come out of hiding and ask for help. Students don’t always want help, but loving adults make sure that help happens anyway—that’s Danielle’s story. I was moved to write about a student who struggled but who also possessed wonderful gifts; those are the teenagers I’ve been blessed to know. There were thrilling moments from my career that influenced the story too. Like Ms. Harrison, I chaperoned students on school trips. Years ago, I took students to England, so I used the itinerary from that particular trip in OCD, the Dude, and Me. I also wrote roasts for each of my students right before they graduated.

I love that you say the struggles of teenagers can be silent. You captured a teenager’s life so perfectly in your novel.

With all the emotional and heart wrenching content in OCD, the Dude, and Me, were any scenes ever difficult to write? And what was the hardest part about writing this novel in general?

Some parts...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lauren Roedy Vaughn's website.

Writers Read: Lauren Roedy Vaughn.

The Page 69 Test: OCD, The Dude, and Me.

My Book, The Movie: OCD, the Dude, and Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Rachel Urquhart

Rachel Urquhart's forthcoming debut novel is The Visionist.

From a Q & A at Urquhart's website:

What inspired you to write The Visionist?

Though I have spent much of my life living in a converted Shaker meeting house (bought by my grandfather in the 1930s), I knew only the most obvious facts about the sect before I began researching my book. I thought of the Shakers as holier-than-thou do-gooders and wrote The Visionist almost in spite of the pegs lining my bedroom walls and the huge Shaker sideboard in my family’s kitchen, not because of them. What really got me interested in the group—after 40 years of indifference—was reading about the “Era of Manifestations,” a 10-year-long Shaker revival period that took place in the mid-1800s and was characterized almost entirely by the hallucinatory behavior of a select but widespread group of teenage girls. The Shakers called them “Visionists,” hence the title of my book. Equally interesting to me were the prayers and songs written during the revival. They are dark and obsessive, especially on such subjects as carnality; the brutal severing of family ties; and, of course, the devil. All together, the cult-like package made the Shakers a lot more interesting than I’d given them credit for; indeed, it made them irresistible.

What makes the Shakers and their community such fertile territory for fiction?

The exploration of any group living in near-total isolation from the rest of the world can make for a potentially interesting story. The Shakers are particularly intriguing because they asked so much of their believers. The Shakers made it impossible for...[read on]
Visit Rachel Urquhart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and the author of the novels Kings of Midnight, Cold Shot to the Heart, Gone 'Til November, The Heartbreak Lounge, and The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

His new novel is Shoot the Woman First.

From Stroby's Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce for Kirkus Reviews:

When you sat down to write your first Crissa Stone novel, 2011’s Cold Shot to the Heart, was it your protagonist or your plot line that came first? Had you long wanted to compose a series featuring a female lead?

I’d had the general plot line in my head for many years, and took a crack at it awhile back with a few brief chapters that didn’t really go anywhere. After 2010’s Gone ’Til November, I was interested in writing about a female protagonist again, especially one operating in an all-male world, and having to prove herself on a regular basis. It was the merger of those two ideas that led to Cold Shot.

Having done your research into professional female criminals, how is Crissa typical of the breed?

There’s an excellent scholarly book called Armed Robbers in Action: Stickups and Street Culture, by Richard T. Wright and Scott H. Decker, published by Northeastern University Press. They interviewed a wide cross-section of career criminals, from street-corner stickup boys to high-end commercial armed robbers. And of the woman they talked to, about 90 percent of them had been brought into that life by a man, usually a lover/mentor who was older than them. That idea became, for me, one of...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

The Page 69 Test: Cold Shot to the Heart.

Writers Read: Wallace Stroby (February 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Kings of Midnight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 13, 2013

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.

From the author's Q & A with Leah Libresco at Patheos:

How do you keep track of/expand your worldbuilding? Is there a set list of questions you ask yourself about a city and culture as you create it? When you start fleshing out a deity, does your mind run ahead to questions like “Which kinds of heresies does this theology tend toward?”

I have a monster timeline in a Google spreadsheet. Four books in, that’s where I go to remember the dates of characters’ births, deaths, major live events, historical precursors, revolutions, battles, and so on. The God Wars. When Ms. Kevarian was born. The fall of Dresediel Lex, and the birth of the Hidden Schools. Seril’s death. Tara’s matriculation. Otherwise, I’d get all Billy Pilgrim, having this nation’s war before that character’s marriage when it needs to be the other way around! Not to mention the characterization issues: thirty-year-old mortals think differently from those in their early twenties. Some of my characters are gods and Deathless Kings and the like, and don’t have to worry about lost opportunities, aging, and so on in the same way we do. Most aren’t, and do.

That timeline reflects key events in books I’ve written, since they’re the firmest truth. I have notebooks full of history sketches, maps, myths, and interpretations, a bit of primary-source material (some sections of a History of the God Wars are buried deep within my email, as are pieces of metacriticism on Gerhardt)—nowhere close to Tolkien, I’m not that systematic. But all that material is sort of fanon of my own work. Some of it may need to change, and much is still vague and unfilled.

I think of worldbuilding kind of like Go. In joseki stage, opening stage, you play...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Max Gladstone's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Two Serpents Rise.

My Book, The Movie: Two Serpents Rise.

Writers Read: Max Gladstone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 12, 2013

John Buntin

John Buntin's book L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City is the source book for TNT's miniseries Mob City.

From Buntin's Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: The era depicted in your book and "Mob City" – not to mention film noir up to the days of "L.A. Confidential" and beyond – continues to have plenty of cachet in our culture. What makes it pop?

A: It's fun, a stylish period when adults still dressed like adults. One of the great newspaperwomen of the era talked about how detectives in those days were really proud of their watches, their cufflinks. They all had these beefy hands with lots of rings on them so they could mess people up. And they had lots of hats.

But it was also a brutal period and there's fascination with the brutality and darker themes. When you seriously engage with these people and find yourself looking at real crime scenes as opposed to anesthetized images, it is shocking.

Q: How did violence affect everyday people?

A: It was part of a narrative of everyone's lives. People played the numbers, made bets with the neighborhood bookies in the days before the state lottery.

Criminals were celebrities. Newspapers had underworld columnists who raced to investigate and solve crimes. Every morning and every evening, you could open your newspaper to read about these stories, which were quite riveting.

Q: The LAPD developed its mixed reputation in the years you write about and the police leaders in your book directly influenced those who came later, like Chief Daryl Gates of the Rodney King era. What do you make of how things have changed and not changed since the 1940s?

A: This isn't...[read on]
Visit John Buntin's website.

The Page 99 Test: L.A. Noir.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ben H. Winters

Ben H. Winters's novels include The Last Policeman, which was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate) and Countdown City, the second book in the Last Policeman trilogy.

From his Q & A with Sam Costello at Full Stop:

Sam Costello: Interest in apocalyptic stories — from The Walking Dead to summer movies like Oblivion and After Earth to your Last Policeman books — seems to be swelling in recent years. What do you think drives interest in our society’s demise?

Ben H. Winters: I think it’s probably the most recent reemergence of an ever-present thematic interest in these questions, going back at least to the Book of Revelation. Wait, no — to Genesis, to Noah’s Ark! As long as people have been telling stories, we’ve been telling stories about the end of people. Why, I don’t know, and maybe there are certain times where we dig deeper into doom — maybe in times of deep-seated societal anxiety, in time of economic uncertainty and geopolitical crisis. Maybe we turn to fictionalized versions of the end of time to somehow ward off the possibility of the real thing.

These are really just guesses, though — I bet there are dissertations written on this subject by the score. As a storyteller, what I’m drawn to is a world with big stakes, big conflict, and big obstacles for my hero as he goes about his particular quests. The end of the world provides a lot of big, big obstacles.

Are the Last Policeman books motivated by that same interest?

To a certain extent, yes, although...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ben H. Winters website.

The Last Policeman is on Christopher Buehlman's list of eleven novels that will creep you out.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: Countdown City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Roxana Robinson

Roxana Robinson's latest novel is Sparta.

From her Q & A with Alexis Burling at Publishers Weekly:

Like many who volunteer for military duty, [your protagonist] Conrad joins the Marines because of an idea: it’s the “biggest challenge” he can imagine facing. But then he is confronted with the harsh reality of that choice. How did you approach fleshing out that contradiction?

I was really struck by the difference between the two ideas–the heroic and romantic ideal of rising to a great challenge and becoming one’s best self, and the brutal reality of the combat zone where there are no good choices. The contrast seemed particularly vivid in [the Iraq] war, partly because the troops were all volunteer–many more of them were driven by idealism than in conscripted armies–and partly because this war was fought among the civilian population, so all sorts of lines became blurred. From the start it seemed difficult to maintain moral clarity. This was a war fought in the streets, and it was hard even to know who the enemy was–the insurgents didn’t wear uniforms, and didn’t fight in units. There was rarely a pitched battle in which the two opposing forces confronted each other directly. Instead, there were insurgents with stockpiles of weapons who had holed up in civilian apartment buildings that were full of families, or there was a single insurgent who detonated an IED with a cell phone and then melted into the crowd. All this created moral chaos, which is the worst kind of hell for an idealist. Learning about these circumstances made it possible for me to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roxana Robinson’s website.

The Page 69 Test: Sparta.

Writers Read: Roxana Robinson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 9, 2013

Kate Manning

Kate Manning is the author of Whitegirl, a novel (Dial Press, 2002). A former documentary television producer for public television, she has won two New York Emmy Awards, and also written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times Book Review, among others. She has taught creative writing at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, where she lives with her boisterous family, including a dog named Moon, who walks her regularly.

Her latest novel is My Notorious Life. The novel introduces Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages whose story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

From a Q & A at the author's website:

What inspired you to set your story in 1860s Manhattan?

I wanted to write a good old-fashioned rip-roaring tale, and the drama and hysterics of Victorian New York are perfect fodder for that. The headlines were always screaming about scandal and morality. Good guys and bad guys, the very, very rich and wretched bare-bones poor. Sin, disease, hucksters, con artists. Wild, brash characters trying to reinvent themselves in that very American rags-to-riches way. Immigrants were pouring into the city. The country was at war with itself. Attitudes toward women and children and religion were starting to change. Writing this book, I loved exploring the seeds of current social issues that were planted over a hundred years ago, marveling at was has changed and what hasn’t.

My Notorious Life is told from the point of view of Axie Muldoon. Can you talk a little about her?

Axie is the orphaned child of Irish immigrants and a creature of the New York City slums. She grows up to become notorious for the simple reason that she helps women. Especially pregnant women. And especially women who don’t want to be pregnant. She’s fierce and outspoken and because she stands up to the authorities, she gets herself in a fair amount of trouble with the press and with the law. But really, her main wish is for...[read on]
Visit Kate Manning's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Notorious Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Joanna Hershon

Joanna Hershon is the author of Swimming, The Outside of August, and The German Bride. Her writing has appeared in One Story, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, the literary anthology Brooklyn Was Mine, and was shortlisted for the 2007 O. Henry Prize Stories.

Her latest novel is A Dual Inheritance.

From Hershon's Q & A with Nicole at Have Tote Will Travel:

A Dual Inheritance is an intimate look at friendship that spans not only over generations but also the globe. What first sparked this story idea for you?

This story was sparked in several different ways. When I was twelve, I was obsessed with my father’s Harvard Red Book—reading alumni essays from his class of ’59. These men or the idea of them must have stuck with me like ghosts for all of these years because I’ve always been intrigued by male friendships. They seem mysterious to me, maybe because there seems to be a depth of feeling that isn’t always expressed.

The book highlights an East Coast social clash in the 1960’s. Is this a part of American history that you’re drawn to?

Yes, I think I’ve always been drawn to the late 50’s early 60’s (pre-Mad Men!) because there were so many more divisions between people that were just about to be seriously upended. There were so many more strictures and social pressures, but also—on a more superficial note– the...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The German Bride.

My Book, The Movie: The German Bride.

Writers Read: Joanna Hershon.

The Page 69 Test: A Dual Inheritance.

My Book, The Movie: A Dual Inheritance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is the author of the novels The Secret History, The Little Friend,and The Goldfinch.

From her Q & A with Rosanna Greenstreet at The Guardian:

What is your favourite book?

Lolita. Ask me tomorrow and I'll probably say something else.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

Charlotte Gainsbourg if a drama; Parker Posey if a comedy.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

Some I've already worn are pretty hard to improve upon: Joan of Arc, in rented armour and chainmail; and Marie Antoinette in full powder, court dress and tall white wig.

Is it better to give or to receive?

Depends on the giver, doesn't it?

Have you ever said 'I love you' and not meant it?

No. Though I do...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 6, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell's latest book is David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

From his Q & A with Barbara O'Dair for Reader's Digest:

What’s the one thing you’d like us to take away from your book?

That the greatest things in the world come from suffering. It ought to give us solace. A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle.

You once said that we are always drawn to charismatic leaders, even though things often wind up badly. Why do you think that happens?

Mistake number one is that we’re interested in charisma. We often simply go for the physically imposing or attractive. Or we choose narcissists of one variety or another. We make all kinds of mistakes when we get carried away in pursuit of a strong personality.

We are also overly in love with certainty as a trait in our leaders. We want someone who can stand up and give us very clear direction even though with most of the problems we face, there is no clear direction. In a perfect world, we would be happier with more thoughtful, introverted, nerdy types. But we revert to our caveman selves, and we want to have the big, strong giant who can swing the club harder than anybody else.

Do you think great businesspeople can be moral leaders?

I’ve written about...[read on]
Learn about Malcolm Gladwell's 6 best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 5, 2013

James McBride

James McBride is an author, musician and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, rested on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. It is considered an American classic and is read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, Miracle at St. Anna was translated into a major motion picture directed by Spike Lee. It was released by Disney/Touchstone in September 2008. McBride wrote the script for Miracle at St. Anna and co-wrote Spike Lee's 2012 Red Hook Summer.

McBride's latest novel, The Good Lord Bird, is about American revolutionary John Brown.

From his Q & A with Noah Charney for The Daily Beast:

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins. Do you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?

I usually research it deep. Whatever I need to do to get to the mainland. Sometimes I use index cards. Sometimes I’ll draw a map of the place. Once I did that, put it over my desk. I usually absorb so much of it, that it just stores in my mind. But the amorphous blend of character and character motivation somehow morphs into plot. So I spend a lot of time on my characters. Writing their biographies, deciding who they are, what they would do, what they would say…

Even though that might not make it into the book?

Most of it doesn’t make it onto the page. Maybe 10 percent does. You just can’t do more in today’s world. I don’t think you can spend 4-5 pages doing back story on a character in this reading environment.

What is guaranteed to make you laugh?

Ha! When...
Read about James McBride's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nate Kenyon

Nate Kenyon is the author of Bloodstone, a Bram Stoker Award finalist and winner of the P&E Horror Novel of the Year, The Reach, also a Stoker Award Finalist, The Bone Factory, Sparrow Rock, StarCraft: Ghost Spectres, and Diablo: The Order.

Kenyon's latest novel is Day One.

From his Q & A with Timothy C. Ward for SF Signal:

Tim Ward: DAY ONE is almost like 24‘s Jack Bauer fights Skynet, except Hawke is a reporter instead of a trained killer. Why is this story better for having Hawke not be as skilled in tactical fighting?

Nate Kenyon: From the beginning, it was very important to me that Hawke NOT be a superhero. I wanted this novel to seem as realistic as possible, considering the subject matter. Hawke needs to be resilient, but not a trained killer. That’s not his role–he’s a hacker, and those skills are tremendously important. In fact, they are far more important in this particular situation than a trained killer’s skills would be. He’s fighting a virtual enemy, not one he can wrestle into submission. That said, I wanted him to be vulnerable in other ways.

TW: In spite of some very exciting action scenes, DAY ONE left its biggest impact through Hawke’s struggles between ambition and providing for his family. Tell us about his internal struggles and why his story would be enjoyed by just about anyone.

NK: Again, another tremendously important focus for me in this (and all my novels) is character. You need to identify with the lead in order to feel for them, root for them, be frightened for them. Otherwise you’re just rubbernecking at a car wreck. I wanted Hawke to be driven by two things: his ambition to succeed, to get to the bottom of the mystery, and also to be a protector for his family. I wanted those to be in conflict for much of the story. Ultimately, he has to get home. That’s the driver, and something pretty much anyone can identify with in his/her own life. In a catastrophe, you need to be with your loved ones and protect them from harm.

TW: Returning to the 24 and Terminator analogy, what elements that people enjoy in those franchises did you incorporate into DAY ONE, and how did you make it your own?

NK: For 24, I think it’s the element of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Nate Kenyon's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Day One.

The Page 69 Test: Day One.

Writers Read: Nate Kenyon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Caragh O’Brien

Since earning a master’s in writing at Johns Hopkins University, Caragh O'Brien has been a high school teacher, a published author of romance novels, and now a novelist for teens. Her first young adult novel, Birthmarked, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, and on the ALA Amelia Bloomer list.

From O’Brien's 2012 Q & A with Jean Book Nerd:

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?

...I learned my most eye-opening, limit-breaking lesson after I failed my first physics exam in college. I had studied hard, and I couldn’t understand how I could have done so poorly, so I went to my professor to ask what I could do to study differently for the next test. He told me, “Know the material so well you could write the test.” At first, that simply seemed impossible, and then I glimpsed that an entirely different depth of comprehension existed. I think it helped that my professor looked a little like Yoda.

Is there such a thing as a formula for storytelling?

I’m intrigued by this idea. Don’t we wish, for ease of writing, that we could follow a recipe to produce a brilliant novel? As readers, however, we crave surprises and originality. The formula, if it exists, must be unique to each story. For my own books, I know that I go through a different discovery process with each one, and I’m guided loosely only by basic guidelines of fiction: make things worse, give characters terrible choices. I believe the most important thing is to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Caragh O'Brien's website.

Caragh O'Brien's Birthmarked, the movie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 2, 2013

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of nonfiction's bad boys, is the author of the newly released An Appetite for Wonder, the first volume of what will be a two-part memoir.

From his Q & A with Noah Charney for The Daily Beast:

Tell us a funny story about your Oxford experience.

It was my habit, when interviewing entrance candidates, to invite them to show how they could think, rather than test their knowledge. In pursuit of this aim, I sometimes asked them to estimate, very roughly, how far back in time we’d have to go before we hit a shared ancestor between the candidate and me. One young woman, when asked this question, looked me up and down intoned, in a slow, rural Welsh accent, “Back to the apes.”

When you wrote The Selfish Gene in 1976, it changed the way people thought of evolution and began the discussion of genes among the general populace. How did your academic career change with that book? Sometimes academe is wary or jealous of popular successes…

It did change my life in that I became more of a public figure. I had to get used to speaking on the radio, or writing newspaper articles. I was invited to present a BBC Horizon TV documentary on The Selfish Gene, but was too shy to do so. I recommended John Maynard Smith instead, and he did a very good job. I don’t think I suffered much from the jealousy effect you are talking about, unlike Carl Sagan who was never elected to the National Academy, almost certainly because of jealousy. By contrast...[read on]
Richard Dawkins is Lee Child's hero (outside of literature).

Learn about Richard Dawkins's five favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's latest novel is The Interestings.

From her Q & A with Jane Ciabattari for The Daily Beast:

Your six main characters, “The Interestings,” meet at an artsy summer camp called “Spirit-in-the-Woods.” Is there such a place? (I was reminded of the MacDowell Colony, where we first met.)

In the summer of 1974, I attended a summer camp in the Berkshires that no longer exists. It was an extraordinary place, and I feel a little self-conscious saying "It changed my life," but I think it did. I came home quivering with excitement about my new friends, and about art, which I suddenly thought of as "Art." Like my main character Jules in my novel, I'd grown up in the suburbs. Unlike her, my mother was a writer, so I came from a house filled with good books. And my parents had always taken us into the city to MOMA and to see what were known as "arthouse" movies. But you probably can't do all that with your parents and have it change your life; you have to do it on your own. It wasn't until I could go off and enter that world by myself that I came to really love it and feel excited by it. My closest friend, to this day, is someone I met that summer. And I think I took that early experience and tried to replicate it all over the place over the years, so that in fact when I went to MacDowell and Yaddo, I suppose I did in a sense think of them in a similar way to how I'd thought of the summer of 1974. I made close friends at those artists' colonies, too. There's something about being in a place where everyone takes their work seriously that can lead to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue