Friday, January 31, 2014

Paul Collins

Paul Collins is the author of Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What drew you to this case?

The sheer unlikelihood of it. I came across this case in a collection of celebrated criminal trials that came out in 1900. I had never heard of the case and when they talked about Hamilton and Burr being the defense team, it sounded like a buddy movie. I couldn't believe it.

It was such an unlikely combination that I had to look it up.

Q: Tell us about the political world that Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr inhabited, not too long after the Revolutionary War. What sides existed, and which were they on?

A: They came from opposing political parties.

Hamilton was very much part of the Federalist Party, a political movement aligned with merchant class and bankers and pushing toward working more closely with Great Britain. That's where they saw the country's prosperity coming from.

Burr, who wound up being Jefferson's vice president, was more closely aligned with the rural, farming, agrarian economy, had more of a progressive view on things like women's rights and slavery, even though he...[read on]
Visit Paul Collins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Karen Brown

Karen Brown is the author of Little Sinners and Other Stories, which was named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly, and Pins and Needles: Stories, which was the recipient of AWP’s Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction. Her latest novel is The Longings of Wayward Girls.

From Brown's 2013 Q & A at The Kenyon Review:

Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?

I suspect that most writers would agree that there isn’t a part of their life that is non-writing-related. Everyone we meet, everywhere we go, and everything we participate in become part of the material we draw on for stories. For me setting plays such an important role, so visiting a new place—an old house, a neighborhood, an island in the Caribbean, or even hearing about a place from someone—seems to influence my writing the most. As I was writing “The Authoress” I was reading about the old resorts in Moodus, Connecticut. These lodges and camps were great country getaways during the early part of the twentieth century—some are still in operation today. Like the Catskill resorts they offered private cottages, swimming, activities, and colorful staff members in charge of entertainment. I read about one that was recently abandoned, and the images of the swimming pool grown through with weeds, the still furnished cottages succumbing to moisture and the encroaching woods, were haunting. I never did work the abandoned resort into the story—but I liked the idea of it lurking in the background, and I imagine if I decide to expand the story into something more it will play a much bigger part.

Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?

Writing was an extension of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Brown's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Karen Brown.

The Page 69 Test: The Longings of Wayward Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Daphne Kalotay

Daphne Kalotay's fiction collection, Calamity and Other Stories (Doubleday), was short listed for the 2005 Story Prize, and her debut novel, Russian Winter (HarperCollins), won the 2011 Writers’ League of Texas Fiction Prize, made the long list for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and has been published in 21 foreign editions.

Her latest novel is Sight Reading.

From the author's 2013 Q & A with Marc Foster at Dead Darlings:

Dead Darlings: Both of your novels, “Sight Reading” and “Russian Winter,” are rooted in performing arts – music and ballet, respectively. Can you tell me what drives your fascination with the subject area, and what you think are special opportunities and challenges in working with this material?

Daphne Kalotay: I never consciously decided to write about this as a topic, but I’ve long been drawn to stories about artists. Mainly I think I’m curious about the combination of intense dedication and relaxed creativity necessary to create great art–but in the performing arts there is that added element of a viewing/listening public, and the action of performing lends itself more generously to drama on the page than a solitary vocation such as being a writer.

On the other hand, it’s a definite challenge to recreate movement (in the case of dance) and sound (in the case of music) through language alone. In writing about ballet, the challenge was to find a happy medium between the correct technical terms, which a ballerina would know but a layperson would not, and simply describing the choreography; I tried to explain what it would feel like for the dancers while also painting a visual picture for the reader. Similarly, in Sight Reading I wanted the reader to be able to...[read on]
Visit Daphne Kalotay's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sight Reading.

Writers Read: Daphne Kalotay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya's newest novel, The Poor Boys Game, will be released in April 2014.

From his Q & A with Jim Knipp:

How often does “real life” influence your work?

Always, I spend a lot of time in the writing process researching. I spend a lot of time online. I read what I can. I’m trying to write something right now about North Dakota, so I’m both reading a novel set in North Dakota, and spending a lot of time looking at videos, trying to get a sense of the way people talk, local landmarks, a little history. That’s the stuff that I spend a lot of time on, especially when you look at something like “Wolves” and “Poor Boy’s Game.”

Poor Boy’s Game has some boxing in it, so I’ve spent a lot of time researching boxing, especially women boxers. Folks like Christine Martin, Laila Ali. There’s that, there’s the geography. As much as I love Philly – I spend a lot of time in Philly – I still need to read a lot, to get all the little bits and pieces that make things seem real. That’s the stuff that I love when I read, and I think it’s what people respond to. I don’t think anybody has ever taken the time to reach out to me to say something nice about my fiction without mentioning the places that I write about.

You have a new novel coming out soon. Can you tell us a little about it?

Poor Boy’s Game is the story of a woman who is an ex-Federal Marshall and an Ex-Fighter, and she ends up having to protect somebody against her own father, who is a union thug...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Dennis Tafoya's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dope Thief.

Writers Read: Dennis Tafoya (June 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 27, 2014

Maureen Ogle

Maureen Ogle is a historian and the author of several books, including Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

Her new book is In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America.

From Ogle's Q & A with Lindsay Abrams:

So, you call the book “In Meat We Trust” –

That wasn’t my idea [laughs]. This was a title by a committee.

It resonates, but you do show how scandals and health scares tied to meat and the meat industry go pretty far back in history, too.

Right, but again, I think the fact that there have been complaints about the shortage of meat or the high price of meat, to me indicates just how strongly Americans believed that they were entitled to have it. I mention a number of incidents where people stage meat boycotts because they’re furious that the price of meat, that they believe should be within their reach, is not – and they’re more than happy to let people know. They’ve always used governments — local, state and federal — to protect meat supplies, along with all food supplies. But meat, yes indeed — there’s an expectation there.

Could you talk about what you write are unfair representations of meat, going back to “The Jungle” up to Michael Pollan today. What do they get wrong about the meat industry, or seem to be missing from the historical context?

I think what the food reformers...[read on]
Visit Maureen Ogle's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Ambitious Brew.

The Page 99 Test: In Meat We Trust.

Writers Read: Maureen Ogle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stephen Roach

Stephen Roach, senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management and former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley, is the author of Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China.

From his Q & A at the Yale University Press blog:

Yale University Press: Who has the upper hand in the codependency of America and China?

Stephen Roach: As is the case in human relationships, codependency for economies is not sustainable. It can lead to imbalances, a loss of identity, and a broad array of tensions and frictions. As I argue in Unbalanced, there are visible manifestations of all of these characteristics now at work in both America and China. It’s hard to say who has the upper hand in this relationship. The United States, with its dominant military power and the world’s largest economy, certainly has a commanding position today. But a rising China, with a huge reservoir of domestic saving – some 51 percent of its GDP in 2013, or fully three times the 17 percent national saving rate in the U.S. – certainly has the wherewithal to go its own way in the years ahead and break the shackles of its dependence on the United States if it choses to do so. Saving-short America, still heavily dependent on surplus saving from abroad, has far less latitude in that key regard.

YUP: How has the U.S. and China’s unbalanced relationship created a false sense of prosperity?

SR: Beginning in the late 1990s, the income-strained U.S. economy drew increasing support from the so-called wealth effects of surging asset markets – first from equities, then from residential property and finally from cheap credit. The problem was that each of these asset-dependent underpinnings ended in bubbles – bubbles that ultimately drew support from Chinese purchases of dollar-denominated assets. Washington, Wall Street, and Main Street collectively deluded themselves into thinking ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Michael Nethercott

Michael Nethercott's work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Gods and Monsters, and Crimestalkers Casebook. He is a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and The Nor’easter Play Writing Contest. He lives with his wife in Guilford, Vermont.

Nethercott's latest traditional mystery novel is The Séance Society. From the author's Q & A at Mysteristas:

Tell us about your main characters’ psyche or personality. What led them to be the persons they are today?

In The Séance Society, set in the mid-1950’s, I have two protagonists—a pair of detectives who work together as team. Mr. O’Nelligan is an Irish-born widower in his early sixties living in the small town of Thetford, Connecticut. His past professions including train conductor, schoolteacher, bricklayer, door-to-door salesman and actor. Also, in his youth, he fought in his homeland as a rebel, though he prefers not to dwell on that period. He is a devotee of classic literature and quotes Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats freely. Mr. O’Nelligan could be described as witty, analytical, pragmatic, warm, compassionate and scholarly. He’s very high-minded and sees each case he embarks upon as a knightly quest. He fits the “amateur sleuth” designation, although he is, in fact, assisting an actual private eye, Lee Plunkett, a young man who has reluctantly inherited his father’s agency. Though Lee is the one with the official investigator’s license, he is, in a sense, actually...[read on]
Visit Michael Nethercott's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Séance Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond's latest book is The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?.

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

Could you tell us about your research approach? What does a research day look like for you?

My research consists of… As background, my books typically consist of a dozen to two dozen chapters on related subjects. For instance, my latest book, The World Until Yesterday, has 11 chapters on traditional societies. One is on bringing up children, another on old age, another on health … I do the chapters one at a time. Lots of reading, talking to people who are experts on the subject, because these are generally not my specialty. So the first step is reading and interviewing, then dictating my notes. Then, at a later stage, once I’ve done all the reading, I take my notes. I figure out the approximate outline, the sequence of subject matter for the chapter, numbering the material. Then I photocopy all my notes, and go through the photocopies and add numbers to the notes so I know where each note fits into the outline material, where that particular topic in the outline is covered. I then cut them out and assemble them into a couple of pages, so I then have, bunched together, the material for that particular topic. For example, in the chapter on bringing up children, there’s a section on children’s approach to danger. Another section on weaning of babies. So I’ll...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ali Smith

Ali Smith's latest book is Artful.

From her 2013 Q & A with Michelle Kung for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

When and why did you decide to use “Oliver Twist” and the Artful Dodger as a narrative thread through your essays? Was the Dickens the inspiration for the texts, or did it come more into place as you started writing?

It’s the word artful; it’s such a great word, with its dark and its light side, its art and its cunning, the craft and the crafty of it – I’ve been preoccupied with the word artful and the twin notions of cornucopia and pickpocket it suggests for quite some time. When the offer to give the lectures came, I remembered that Dickens had been writing and publishing “Oliver Twist” (one of his earliest works) literally as he went along, on the hoof, so I thought I’d read it concurrently with the writing of the lectures and see if anything artful would happen.

Your writing is full of allusions to both classical and pop culture texts. What books/novels/poetry do you consider essential reading for the average literate adult nowadays?

Oh dear god what a question, my mind just turned into a Noah’s Ark of baying and screeching and singing and mooing and roaring and squeaking creatures, all roaring and squeaking me! me! no, me! And is that Noah, at the helm? No, it’s Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or Cervantes, or that great (probably a woman) writer Anon, and all round them, as if simply to make the ark rock so joyfully in the water, is coming the great flood everything ever written. And you know, I don’t think there’s such a thing as average literate adult. Every single person who...[read on]
Learn about a place that inspires Smith, and about the "deceased author [Smith would] most like to watch crossing a room, just to see how she moves."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Anuradha Roy

Anuradha Roy is the author of An Atlas of Impossible Longing and The Folded Earth.

From her 2012 Q & A with Visi Tilak:

Why do you write fiction?

I’m not sure I know why, but I know that I need to. If I’m not writing, I snap, glower, feel irritable and restless. It is only when I’m writing that everything else in my life sort of makes sense.

How did you get started?

I’ve been writing stories since I was a child. As soon as I could put alphabets together, I wrote atrociously spelt little stories of the “Once there was a bear, it sat on a chair” kind. By the time I was in my teens, a newspaper was publishing my short stories. After that I had a long detour into publishing and journalism, both of which I am still involved in, but about eight years ago I went back to fiction.

What do you like most about writing novels?

I’m not sure I like writing novels. I wish I could do something less draining, emotionally and intellectually. But maybe it’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

David Abrams

David Abrams, who spent 20 years as an Army journalist, is the author of the acclaimed debut novel Fobbit.

From his Q & A with Jennifer Liebrum in the Idaho Mountain Express:

What do people really need to know about war, the unvarnished truth or something more palpable?

The unvarnished truth would be pretty hard for the average person to stomach. In this case, I’m talking about the daily gore, the smoking craters from roadside bombs, the broken bodies of children—that’s pretty strong stuff for readers to stomach in the pages of their newspaper or on their TV screens. But that’s the reality of war—something we soldiers saw on a regular basis—and maybe if more people were confronted with those kind of horrible images, we’d think twice the next time a president wants to gallop full-speed into a global conflict. If we saw the personal impact of war, instead of thinking of it in innocuous, politicized terms, then maybe we’d hit the pause button when we heard someone crying “wolf” or, in this case, “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

Did you suffer any PTSD?

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any bad after-effects from my time in Iraq, but I know it’s a very prevalent and serious condition among returning veterans—one which the military and the Veterans Affairs need to fully address before things get even more out of hand. It’s a silent epidemic, one that’s particular to each individual and so it can sometimes be hard to diagnose. Coincidentally...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at David Abrams' website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Fobbit is one of Adrian Bonenberger's ten best contemporary war novels.

The Page 69 Test: Fobbit.

Writers Read: David Abrams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2014

Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon's latest book is Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.

Highlights from her interview with Claire Zulkey:

If you had to choose between your child being a bully or being the victim of bullying, which would you pick?

If I had to choose--of course I would rather not--I would actually rather have my kids be targets. The reason is not actually that I think that would make their lives easier. When you look at the research, the targets of bullying (now, it doesn't happen to everyone)--but most kids can overcome this kind of adversity, but there is a higher risk of psychological problems in the short term and long term. And there also is a link to low academic performance. And I just care enormously about my kids' treating other people well. It would kill me if they were singling out another kid to persecute them, which is what I think bullying is--that's the definition I think we should use. My book has made me think a lot as a parent about whether we collectively emphasize individual achievement and happiness more than we do moral development and the sense of the collective good as we're raising our kids.

When I was a kid, I was really obsessed with my friends talking about me, and when you write online, that happens in real time. So I've sort of been amazed by the thick skin that I've been able to build up over time writing online because you can't take it all to heart. I wonder whether you've noticed if kids have been able to develop any coping mechanisms in terms of dealing with online bullying, or whether being able to take it or ignore comes more with adulthood.

You know, I haven't seen anyone compare adults and kids. My sense is that kids are...[read on]
Writers Read: Emily Bazelon (September 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his essays in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he has lived about half his life, on and off, in Lahore. He also spent part of his early childhood in California, attended Princeton and Harvard, and worked for a decade as a management consultant in New York and London, mostly part-time.

From Hamid's February 2013 Q & A with Robert Schroeder for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

So, why a self-help-book format?

It started as a joke. I was in New York, and I met a friend of mine. We were just kidding around about literary fiction sometimes being hard work to read, and sometimes feeling that it was a task, like helping ourselves. I said, oh, well, you know, my next novel is going to be a self-help book. We both laughed. I went back to Pakistan, and tried to forget about that idea but I really couldn’t shake the notion. And it excited me more and more, partly because, I started to think, maybe I actually write for self-help purposes and maybe I do read for self-help purposes.

No country is named in the book. Why not set it in a particular country – especially Pakistan?

Pakistan itself is kind of shorthand for terrorism, extremism, etcetera. The same goes for Islam, it stands for certain things. Even names. Osama is no longer a harmless name. By not using names, I sort of de-branded the world around me. I found by describing things to be what they are, rather than...[read on]
Visit Mohsin Hamid's website and Facebook page.

Mohsin Hamid's most influential book.

Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Writers Read: Mohsin Hamid.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly's latest novel is The Gods of Guilt.

From his 2013 Q & A with Charles Taylor at the Barnes & Noble Review:

The Barnes & Noble Review: Mickey Haller tells us that the title The Gods of Guilt is lawyer slang for the jury. And guilt takes many forms in the book, not just what those gods will decide but the burden Mickey carries with him. Can you talk a little about the virtues of guilt as both dramatic device and as something that allows you to explore your hero's psyche?

Michael Connelly: I think it was Raymond Chandler who said there is a quality of redemption in anything that is art. I believe it and so I think that if you have a character in a book who is operating with a sense of guilt then he is a character seeking redemption. This can be very dramatic. In this book I think the heart of the story is Mickey struggling with the guilt of having damaged his relationship with his daughter. He wants her back. That's his redemption and in his way, he sees a not guilty verdict in his case as a means to that redemption.

BNR: Mickey Haller gets to take shortcuts that Harry Bosch couldn't. Is part of the pleasure of writing the character finding ways to indulge that defense lawyer's craftiness?

MC: Yes, Harry has more rules and he is also the one with the noble mission. So when I write about Mickey I feel this freedom to really go down into the trenches of the justice system. I know that no matter what short cuts he takes or how off his moral compass seems to be, I can always bring him into the good graces of the reader by the end.

BNR: Do you see consonances between these two characters?

MC: I think on a very broad level they are moving...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 17, 2014

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 Manning's Omnivoracious Q & A with Sara Nelson:

Madame X, nee Axie Muldoon, is based at least partly on a real historical character. How did you come upon her story in the first place.

I didn't start by knowing about Ann Lohman, but I was really looking to write a good old-fashioned rip-roaring tale. Since I really love New York history, I knew the work of photographer Jacob Riis. His pictures [of 19th century New York were] are so compelling, I just wanted to insert myself in the streets of old New York and see what that's like. And writing about that time gave me a chance to play with language in a way that you can't do in a modern, contemporary, white person voice.

Anyway, I came across a really intense picture of a young girl, and I started to write a story about this kid. I read some history and learned that there were 30,000 homeless kids on the streets of New York in the 19th century And nobody really knew what to do about them. So I imagined a child of Irish immigrants, a child who got swept up in the answer to the question: the orphan train movement, which was the system by which 250,000 kids, orphaned kids, were sent west on trains between 1850 and 1930. I began to imagine that girl I'd seen the picture of being involved in this. And then I started to read about Ann Lohman, [the real life midwife], and at first I just thought "That's a story I never heard of. I can't believe I've never heard of her because she was notorious in her day." But the more I thought of it, the more I realized that her story was really worth telling, or at least borrowing from. And I started thinking Axie could grow up into this woman.

Then, when I read that people thought Lohman eventually faked her own suicide and that some day she'd come back and tell her story, that she was alive somewhere and driving her fancy carriage through the streets of London -- and that she would someday spill the secrets of all of New York society, all the rich guys and the politicians whose mistresses and daughters and wives had used her services. . . and that she had substituted the body of one of her victims so that she could get away, I thought, "Well...[read on]
Visit Kate Manning's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Notorious Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nicholas Dawidoff

Nicholas Dawidoff is the author of four previous critically acclaimed books, including the bestselling The Catcher Was a Spy and The Crowd Sounds Happy. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Civitella Ranieri Fellow, a Berlin Prize Fellow of the American Academy, an Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, and a Branford Fellow at Yale University. A Pulitzer Prize finalist (for The Fly Swatter), Dawidoff is a contributor to The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Rolling Stone. His new book is Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football.

From his Q & A with Charles Curtis for Why focus on writing a book about the NFL?

Nicholas Dawidoff: Football brings so much pleasure to so many Americans. It's the most popular American entertainment right now and yet I don't think I can think of anything that is as public and popular as the NFL and yet is mysterious to the people who enjoy it. And I was really interested in how it worked.

The NFL life is all about process. And that process that takes place at facilities, people can't really see it. That's what I was most interested in -- the way in which incredibly committed people spend their long, long year, days and nights and weekends committed to a cause. And that cause is to try and perfect the art of football. I was just in awe.

My first book ["The Catcher Was a Spy," which covered former MLB player Moe Berg] was about someone who worked as a spy in the CIA. In certain ways, [football] reminded me very much of how American intelligence officers work, which is to say they have their own private community, they're completely immersed in one another. There's a lot of risk and a lot of pressure but also a lot of camaraderie and interesting tensions. To me, it was an exciting subculture. Why pick the Jets as your subject?

ND: I just happened to hear Rex Ryan on the radio and then I looked forward to hearing him. I thought he was an incredibly funny person. I just loved to listen to the man talk -- it was because of Rex I wanted to do it. I still think he's...[read on]
Learn more about Collision Low Crossers, and follow Nicholas Dawidoff on Facebook.

Check out Dawidoff's list of the five best baseball novels.

Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff (May 2008).

Writers Read: Nicholas Dawidoff (November 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond worked four seasons as a wildland firefighter in Arizona and is the author of On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

From his 2013 Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: People think of Arizona as being a desert state, but you fought fires in the woods, not too far from a ski resort or two. What was the landscape like there?

A: Arizona has a lot of different climates. This area is a forest with many ponderosa pines. It gets snow in the winter, but it can dry out quickly, and Arizona has witnessed high temperatures and drought in the last few years. They've also experienced a massive beetle infestation, which dries out trees and makes them tinder sticks. Along with other things, these have all contributed to massive fires in Arizona over the past 10 years.

Q: How did you become a firefighter?

A: This was what a lot of us, mainly young men, did in the summers in northern Arizona. This is how I put myself through college. I fought fires in the summer, and then I went back and did it again when I went to graduate school.

Q: What was the appeal of this life for you?

A: At the station, it's 45 minutes away from the nearest anything. We live out there, we cook and eat out there, and when there's no fires and we get off at 5, you have the whole rest of the night to yourself. You feel like you own this piece of America in a way.

Q: What backgrounds do the firefighters have?

A: They tend to...[read on]
Read an excerpt from On the Fireline.

The Page 69 Test: On the Fireline.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Patty Chang Anker

Patty Chang Anker is the author of Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave (Riverhead 2013), a memoir about facing her fears and helping others to do the same.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

What sparked the writing of this book? I loved that it was your daughter who inspired you to be braver, to take risks. Are there still any risks you won't take?

Three things actually sparked the idea of facing my fears. When I was 39 my daughters were 3 and 8 - at that age where I was constantly pushing them to try new things while I cheered from a bench. How long before they'd learn the word "hypocrite" and apply it to me? Around that time a friend ran her first marathon at age 40 and I realized some of my friends were doing more in midlife than ever while others were doing much less. My comfort zone was shrinking (it was the exact shape of a rut) when Barb, a recent acquaintance, invited me to go to the beach for the morning. It was the most decadent idea, to leave my responsibilities and go to the beach with a virtual stranger -- Patty Chang Anker would never do this! And in one of the most impulsive acts of my life up to that point I said yes. I couldn't believe myself - I had a fear of the ocean, I had a fear of strangers, but I said yes. All that sparked my blog, Facing Forty Upside Down, about trying new things in midlife. After 2 years of blogging I realized there were so many stories I wanted to tell in depth, so much information and practical advice from experts I wanted to share, that I wanted to write a book.

There are still risks I'm not ready to take, like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thomas Maltman

Thomas Maltman’s essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in many literary journals. He has an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His first novel, The Night Birds, won an Alex Award, a Spur Award, and the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. In 2009 the American Library Association chose The Night Birds as an “Outstanding Book for the College Bound.” He’s taught for five years at Normandale Community College and lives in the Twin Cities area. Little Wolves, his second novel, made the January 2013 Indie Next List and was an Amazon Book of the Month.

From Maltman's Q & A with Jodi Chromey at Minnesota Reads:

What was your first favorite book?

The Hobbit wins hands down. That book saved my life during a difficult year when we moved from California to Oregon. It offered enchantment and escape and a sense of wonder. My ordinary world, plagued by bullies and endless rain, looked drab in comparison, but the novel taught me the power of the imagination. I wrote lots of stories of my own featuring flying eagles and midgets with hairy feet. My life got better, but I’ve been chasing that same sense of wonder in books and writing ever since.

I refuse to see the movie, however, still fuming that Peter Jackson turned it into a trilogy. Stop with the trilogies, Hollywood. The subtitle of The Hobbit is There and Back Again. Any sensible adventure brings us home again at a sensible time.

Let’s say Fahrenheit 451 comes to life, which book would you become in order to save it from annihilation?

Whoa. No pressure or anything, right? I would become...[read on]
Visit Thomas Maltman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Little Wolves.

Writers Read: Thomas Maltman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Michael Holroyd

Michael Holroyd has written celebrated biographies of Hugh Kingsmill, Augustus John, and George Bernard Shaw, as well as the acclaimed Basil Street Blues and Mosaic.

From his 2011 Q & A with the Guardian:

How did you come to write Bernard Shaw?

I was asked to write Shaw's biography by his three copyright holders: the British Museum, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, following the publication of my Life of Lytton Strachey. I was terrified by the immensity of the task and pleaded that I had already begun another biography – a Life of the Welsh artist Augustus John. But the Shaw estate was not so easily put off and a few years later I found myself travelling to Ireland to begin my research into GBS.

What was most difficult about it?

"All length is torture", Antony says after hearing of Cleopatra's death. I remember these words coming into my head as I worked on Shaw. He lived into his mid-90s and, with his shorthand and his secretaries, could write (it seemed to me) more words in a day than I could read in a day. At the end of one letter the best part of 50 pages long, he apologised: "Forgive this long letter. I didn't have time to write a short one." What was I to do with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru is the author of The Impressionist, Transmission, and the short story collection Noise. He was named one of Granta’s “Twenty Best Fiction Writers Under Forty.”  His 2012 novel is Gods Without Men.

From Kunzru's 2012 Q & A with Erin Gilbert at Publishers Weekly:

You came to the U.S. to do research for an entirely different kind of novel.

Yeah, I came over to do a fellowship at the Cullman Center in the New York Public Library in 2008. I was going to use their Asian collection and write about 16th-century India. That completely fell apart. I’d underestimated what it would mean to be in America, surrounded by Americans, having to deal with and understand America in a way that I hadn’t before. It seemed the only sensible thing I could write about was America. Just when this project was crumbling and I was freaking out, some friends of mine in L.A. said, “Why don’t you come out and do a road trip?” That’s what led to the book, this week and a half I spent driving around near Joshua Tree.

Can you talk about the title? Many of your characters seem to be men without gods.

Well, the title has two origins, really. The first is the ancient Greek idea that without worshippers gods die out; a god needs believers and faith in order to function. But the title’s primary meaning comes from this Balzac story, “Passion in the Desert,” where an old soldier in the Napoleonic War in Egypt is asked, “What is the desert?” and he says, “It’s God without man.” That was very much my feeling when I was in the Mojave. It’s got this metaphysical quality, a vast emptiness, and a feeling... it’s almost like, behind a very bright light there’s something that you...[read on]
Visit Hari Kunzru's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 10, 2014

Timothy Snyder

Tony Judt (1948–2010) was the author or editor of fifteen books, including The Memory Chalet and Postwar, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was the director and founder of the Remarque Institute and a professor at New York University. Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of five award-winning books, most recently Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

In 2012 Heather Horn of The Atlantic talked to Snyder about his collaboration with Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century:

The book resembles, in some sense, a guided tour through personal mental library. Is this what you mean when you say in the introduction that "this book makes a case for conversation but perhaps an even stronger case for reading"?

One of the very special things about Tony was the sovereign command he exercised over facts and arguments. He was really just as good, if not better, in person than he was on the printed page. And part of that, of course, was that he just had a very special mind. But part of it was that he was immensely well-read in a very old-fashioned way.

Neither of us was reaching for books or Googling anything as we proceeded. You have to remember that Tony was paralyzed and that we were working alone, just the two of us together. We were just talking. And that was only possible because there were all these layers of reference that were in his mind and in mine. I guess what I was trying to get across in that introduction is that a lot of solitary reading makes direct conversation possible. Because there's this world of letters that you wander around in alone for a long time. But then, when you meet someone else who has been doing even more of that wandering, you have an awful lot to talk about.

The other thing that I was trying to get across, gently and implicitly, is that reading books and not doing anything else forces you to learn to concentrate. What Tony did in this and his other final projects required heroic acts of concentration that wouldn't have been possible without his lifetime habit of concentration over books. In the world of Internet--where everybody has to Google everything all the time, where we're unsure about our own memories, where we revisit fragments and where we write based on fragments--well, if that world had conquered everyone, then this book would have been...[read on]
Read about Timothy Snyder's five top books on dissent in Central Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey

Biographical details about Magnus Flyte are sometimes conflicting. He appears to have operated under several identities, and may have ties to one or more intelligence organizations, including the CIA, the Mossad, and a radical group of Antarctic separatists.

In fact, Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch are the authors behind Flyte, authors of City of Dark Magic and City of Lost Dreams. From their Q & A with Cabin Goddess:

Q: How did your collaboration under the name Magnus Flyte come about?

A: We met at a writers’ retreat on an island off Cape Cod and became fans of each other’s work. When we got back to California, we started getting together for mini writers’ retreats at Chris’s house near Sequoia National Park. The plot for our first novel, CITY OF DARK MAGIC was hatched on a walk with Chris’s dog Max. The name “Magnus Flyte” is a hybrid (much like our novel). “Magnus” was a usurping Roman senator (not so different from City of Dark Magic’s villain, Charlotte Yates) and “Flyte” is for Sebastian Flyte, Evelyn Waugh’s wonderful lush who, like Max in our novel, has a difficult relationship with his highborn family and the house they live in.

Q. There have been a lot of news stories lately about women who use male pen names, especially when writing genre fiction. Do you think it’s helpful?

A. Possibly helpful to the author, who may have any number of reasons to use a pen name – a desire to escape gender stereotyping, anonymity, sheer whimsy. One can only imagine how delighted JK Rowling was to watch her book get wonderful reviews without any references to Voldemort! Since we had heard that men avoid books by women, we decided to choose a male pseudonym to reach both genders. But then our identities were made public from the beginning, so we didn’t get a chance to see if “Magnus Flyte” would fool anyone. No matter, we love him anyway.

Q: In CITY OF DARK MAGIC, Prague was very much its own character as well as the setting for the novel. Why did you choose Vienna to be the setting of CITY OF LOST DREAMS?

A: Vienna was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Magnus Flyte's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dark Magic.

My Book, The Movie: City of Dark Magic.

The Page 69 Test: City of Lost Dreams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jim Harrison

New York Times best-selling author Jim Harrison is one of America’s most beloved writers, and of all his creations, Brown Dog, a bawdy, reckless, down-on-his-luck Michigan Indian, has earned cult status with readers in the more than two decades since his first appearance. In a new volume, Brown Dog gathers all the Brown Dog novellas, including one never-published one, into one volume—the ideal introduction (or reintroduction) to Harrison’s irresistible Everyman.

From Harrison's Q & A with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Speakeasy: In “He Dog,” Brown Dog is a dog catcher who befriends the biggest, roughest animals. What is it about him that dogs find so appealing?

Jim Harrison: Some people are like that. I was down in the Yucatan with a friend who has lived there a long time. We visited a small Mayan settlement back in the jungle and they have real aggressive guard dogs to protect their belongings. I was petting the guard dogs while talking to the Jefe. Finally the Jefe looks at the dogs and looks at me and says, “Are you part dog?” My translator said that was an important question to him. So I said, “Only a little bit on my mother’s side.” He seemed to find that interesting.

Why does Brown Dog –who is perpetually broke–seems happier and better adjusted than everybody else?

The trouble with money is that it’s hard to feel free. I’ve noticed that about many rich people I know, or some of them, that they don’t seem as happy as the odd job people I knew in the Upper Peninsula. I think the first year of our marriage was the year I made the most money in Hollywood. It was very aggravating. I didn’t do a very good job, perhaps for genetic reasons because no one in the history of my family on either side has done particularly well. Maybe it was beyond my capabilities. You can be pretty happy on $15,000 a year and then one year you make $850,000 and you feel like sh–. I can’t really pin it down. Maybe it’s the unhappiness of being able to have anything you want, like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline's novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, and 2013's Orphan Train.

From her 2013 Q & A with Eva Schegulla at Publishers Weekly:

How long did [Orphan Train] take to research and write?

I stumbled on to the story of the orphan trains a decade ago. I was stunned to learn that more than 200,000 abandoned, neglected, or orphaned children had been sent from the East Coast to the Midwest on trains between 1854 and 1929. The idea of writing about this little-known part of American history percolated for years. About three years ago, I found the key: an appealingly irascible 17-year-old with nothing to lose who pries the story out of a 91-year-old with a hidden past as a train rider. I read more than 300 first-person accounts and dozens of books, attended train-rider reunions, and talked with half a dozen train riders (all between the ages of 90 and 100), and conducted research in Ireland, Minnesota, Maine, and [New York City’s] Lower East Side.

Why did you choose to write in the present tense?

The train rider’s story needed to be fresh and immediate and direct—almost cinematic. I was determined that it not seem romanticized or sepia-toned. The conceit is that the train rider is telling her story to the central character of the third-person narrative; in telling her story, she relives it. Eventually it becomes clear that the train rider’s story is...[read on]
Learn more about Christina Baker Kline's work at her website and her blog, A Writing Life: Conversations about the Creative Process.

The Page 69 Test: Bird in Hand.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Christina Baker Kline & Lucy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 6, 2014

Katherine Bouton

Katherine Bouton is the author of Shouting Won't Help: Why I--and 50 Million Other Americans--Can't Hear You.

From her conversation with Mark J. Miller at the Barnes & Noble Review:

BNR: What was your biggest surprise in all the research you did for the book?

KB: The biggest surprise was finding out how many people have hearing loss. There's such a stigma associated with hearing loss that people don't want to acknowledge it, with the result that there is not much consciousness of hearing loss in society at large. But tens of millions more people suffer hearing loss than vision loss. Look at how many of us wear glasses! Tens of millions more should also be wearing hearing aids. It's another indication of the stigma of hearing loss, and the denial that accompanies it. This stigma also affects statistics. When I began my research, the accepted figure for those with hearing loss was 36 million. This was the number used by the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders). Then, about a year into my reporting, Frank Lin at Hopkins published the results of an epidemiological study that set the figure at 48 million. Lin's was a carefully documented study, with hearing loss determined by hearing tests. The NIH is certainly a reliable source. How could there be such a disparity?

Finally after many weeks, I finally got the answer from the NIDCD. Their figures, it turned out, were self-reported cases of hearing loss. As is typical anecdotally, a quarter of those surveyed by the NIDCD denied that they had hearing loss. Most official reports now...[read on]
Visit Katherine Bouton's website and blog, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Katherine Bouton and Maxie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Renée Rosen

As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen's latest book is Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. From her Q & A with Liz Baudler at Newcity Lit:

Why do you think the twenties are back in style?

We’ve all been struggling since about 2008, and the twenties was such a prosperous time, such a happy-go-lucky time, and I think that’s a perfect escape for us now. We’re tired, we’re weary. And I also think people love the fashion. Mary Janes, cloche hats are back in. People are having a lot of fun with it.

There’s a lot of consideration that goes into creating a historical novel’s world. How did you handle it?

You have to get a feel for the time, the language, the clothes. For example, there were no zippers in 1920. You have to know how much slang to put in, and how much to pull back on it. I went really heavy-handed on one draft and a friend said, “God, it reads like ‘Guys and Dolls.’” And you’re locked into certain timelines, striking that balance of the authentic coupled with your imagination, what you’re going to bring to the party.

I spent a lot of time poring over newspapers from the twenties. One thing I found interesting was that Al Capone’s alias was Al Brown, and they often refer to Al Brown in the papers—he was a used furniture salesman. They all had a front. Reading the reports of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it’s “the killings on Clark Street.” It hadn’t yet become “the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Whenever possible I tried to speak to people who had a relative who was connected to either O’Banion or Capone. That led me to lunch with...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen.

The Page 69 Test: Dollface.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger's new novel is In the Blood.

From her Q & A with Anthony J. Franze at The Big Thrill:

Where did you grow up?

I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, but moved around quite a bit. I lived in the Netherlands and the UK during my early childhood (even learned to speak Dutch) before my family settled back in the U.S. My teen years were spent in a small town in New Jersey called Long Valley. When I turned eighteen, I left for college in Manhattan and spent the next thirteen years in New York City. My brother swears that Long Valley was my inspiration for The Hollows [the setting of In the Blood]. But it isn’t. Not really. Well, maybe a little.

Was all that moving around difficult or did you enjoy it? Was there anything about being “the new kid” that helped in any way with your writing?

It was challenging at times; I remember a semi-permanent sense of disconnection. But I had a sense even at a fairly young age that it was cool and unusual to see so much of the world. It made me quiet self-reliant and led to my discovery of books, and eventually my identity as a writer. If I was perpetually the new kid, then at least I was at home on the page.

Moreover, this feeling of being on the sideline of things led me to become a keen observer. And that’s the first thing a writer needs to be. Maybe we can’t observe as carefully unless we’re standing a little bit outside the fray. So the traveling I did as a child was...[read on]
Visit Lisa Unger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 3, 2014

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott's latest novel is Dare Me.

From her March 2013 Hostile Questions feature at Booklist Online:

Just who do you think you are?

A Midwestern gal who spent far too much of her childhood reading true crime, watching 1930s gangster movies and dreaming of moving to New York City. I imagined it just like Manhattan and I would live with Woody Allen, eating Chinese food and watching W.C. Fields movies on the late show.

I did move here, after college. Lacking Mariel Heminway’s bone structure, I had to make do with what I had. So, many years later, I’m a Midwestern expat, living in Queens and writing novels.

Where do you get off?

I’m just barely hanging on, I tell you. But I love books, desperately. I want to live in them. For all of us who were readers from a young age, we learn how to exist in the world thanks to books. They help us understand life, the murkiness of the heart. We feel...[read on]
Visit Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Libby McGugan

Libby McGugan was born 1972 in Airdrie, a small town east of Glasgow in Scotland, to a Catholic mother and a Protestant-turned-atheist father, who loved science. She enjoyed a mixed diet of quantum physics, spiritual instinct, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Her ambition was to grow up and join the Rebel alliance in a galaxy Far, Far away. Instead she went to Glasgow University and studied medicine.

A practicing doctor, she has worked in Scotland, in Australia with the Flying Doctors service, and for a few months, in a field hospital in the desert. She loves traveling and the diversity that is the way different people see the world, and has been trekking in the Himalaya of Bhutan, potholing in Sarawak, backpacking in Chile and Europe and diving in Cairns.

McGugan's debut novel is The Eidolon.

From the author's Q & A with Paul F Cockburn for The List:

How would you describe The Eidolon?

A science fiction thriller that explores the nature of reality through an edge-of-the-seat storyline featuring dark matter, the CERN laboratory, and the boundary between the living and the dead. That’s my publisher’s description, and it’s better than the one I came up with.

* * *

How much research did you need to do for the book?

It’s tricky to say. I was still researching when it came to the final edit. I visited CERN a few years ago, just as they were preparing for the LHC warm up; that gave me a sense of what an unbelievable endeavour it is, how powerful our drive is to understand things. It’s a huge feat of cooperation crossing political, geographical and specialist boundaries. I spent a bit of time in Geneva to get a feel for writing the scenes that are set there. And I’ve done a fair amount of travelling and trekking, so I drew on those experiences for the Tibetan scenes at the start of the book. The medical scenes were easy to write, as that’s my day job!
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the book and author at Libby McGugan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Eidolon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Rachel Cantor

Rachel Cantor's highly acclaimed debut novel is A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World. From a Q & A at her website:

You spent some of your childhood in Rome; did you draw on those memories when you were portraying medieval Rome in the book? What’s your favorite place to visit in Rome?

A lot of the Roman setting did come from memory—the itinerary Sally and Leonard follow, most notably, from an unnamed neighborhood to the river, across the bridge, past the Castel Sant’Angelo, to the old St. Peter’s, down the river, past the island to the Portico of Octavia (the fish market), and on to the Theater of Marcellus. I remember taking a school trip to the Portico of Octavia when I was maybe fourteen; I loved that this ruin of a once grand Roman building had become a place of low commerce. I remembered this odd fact for decades! I’ve been similarly fascinated with the Roman Theater of Marcellus, which like the portico and so much of ancient Rome was repurposed in the Middle Ages, first as a fortress and then, in its upper levels, as a dwelling. I wanted so much to see what’s inside!

But there’s not a lot left in Rome that’s medieval, apart from some churches, so I also spent a lot of time looking over old maps, and reading books about the medieval city—its pilgrims, architecture, daily life, weapons, Inquisition, Jewish population, and so on. The St. Peter’s in the book, for example, is the old St. Peter’s, which was demolished to make room for the current basilica, of Michelangelo fame. All of the details about that old church, then, I found through research. I similarly had no idea that there had been grain mills on the Tiber or that in the Middle Ages, there were kilns dedicated to transforming Roman marble (one shudders to think it!) into quicklime.

My favorite Roman places did not make it into the book, however: the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue