Thursday, July 31, 2014

Emily Arsenault

Emily Arsenault's new novel is What Strange Creatures.

From the author's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

A brother arrested for murder, a sister who must prove his innocence, trying to save him when her own life is in turmoil. Where did the idea come from? What made you haunted enough by it to write a novel?

To start with, I was pretty sure I wanted to write a story about a jaded brother and sister, and I was pretty sure I wanted their relationship to have some humorous elements. In very small ways, I based them on my mom and my uncle, who live a block away from each other in the same New England town in which they grew up. (Like Theresa, my mother eats out a great deal. And like her brother Jeff, my uncle is very frugal and scavenges her doggie bags.) Of course, I couldn’t write a novel about these two simply sitting together at a kitchen table and making wisecracks. I needed for them to have a challenge that would jolt them out of their sarcastic passivity. So I threw a murder at them.

How did you find out about Margery Kempe, the medieval mystic, and how does she function in the novel?

I learned about Margery Kempe through a survey of early English lit class when I was fulfilling credits for English teaching certification years ago. I was intrigued by her unusual life—particularly the fact that she managed to convince her husband to allow her to take a vow of celibacy—and to go on pilgrimages by herself—after she’d had fourteen children with him. When....[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Emily Arsenault's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Judith Frank

Judith Frank teaches English at Amherst College and is the author of All I Love and Know.

From her Q & A with Sarah Miller at The Hairpin:

So. I should disclose that I was a student of yours at Amherst–and, let’s be honest, your favorite. Moving on! Now. Did you sit down and say, "I'm going to write a book about a gay couple, who raise the children of one of the men's identical twin brothers in the Pioneer Valley, after that brother and his wife are killed in a terrorist bombing in Israel during the second Intifada?" and that's what happened? Or did it grow out of another idea?

I started with the twin brother and his wife being killed in a terrorist bombing (my twin sister in Israel loves this). Then I thought about how to challenge the gay brother and his partner to the max, and decided to bring two grieving children into the mix.

Once I had the premise, it didn't change–I just had to decide where to go from there. And I was aware that starting a novel with a terrorist attack was going to be challenging, because in terms of building a plot, where on earth do you go from there?

Your identical twin sister has been a good sport about your story?

She has been extremely good natured from the start about my killing off the twin. It helps that it's fiction, and it helps that these characters are men. But...[read on]
Visit Judith Frank's website.

The Page 69 Test: All I Love and Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower, is a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review.

Makkai's new novel is The Hundred-Year House.

From her Q & A with Evan Allgood at Slice:

You say in the Acknowledgments that The Hundred-Year House “started as a short story about male anorexia. I have no idea what the hell happened.” Well, what the hell happened?

I already said I have no idea! Here’s what I can reconstruct: I wrote a short story called “Gatehouse” somewhere around 2004, and it was about two couples crammed together in the coach house of a large estate. One of the men was anorexic, and the other man was the only one who noticed, but no one would listen to him. I put the story aside for a long time, because it didn’t work – but I liked that idea of the two couples in close quarters, and the strange relationship between the coach house and the main house. Years later I realized it should be a novel – and then it just sort of grew like a crystal in all directions. The anorexia stayed in there for quite a while, until I finally realized it had nothing to do with the rest of the book, and it needed to go. That was difficult, because it was the reason I’d....[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2014

Susan Spann

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Spann's new novel is Blade of the Samurai.

From her Q & A with Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi:

Q: It sounds like the history and culture of China and Japan have always intrigued you, even before you went into law. What was the catalyst for this interest? What motivates you about the subject?

A: I “discovered” Japan in 1980, when I saw the SHOGUN miniseries on TV (the one with Richard Chamberlain in the starring role). The day the miniseries ended, I went to the library, checked out the James Clavell novel that inspired the program, and fell in love with the samurai era.

Ironically, my deeper interest in Asian history came from a book I never read. In 1983 (and yes, I’m dating myself a little), my seventh-grade history class was assigned to read a book called THROUGH CHINESE EYES, which talked about Asian history through the eyes of the people who lived it. Before that, I thought of history as “dates and dead guys” – but when my class ran out of time and didn’t get to reading that book, it made me wonder what I might have missed. Now, of course, I realize that I could have read the book on my own, but seventh-grade me considered the “missing book” an intriguing mystery to the “real” nature of history.

By the time I reached college, and discovered that “Asian Studies” was “a thing,” I ...[read on]
Visit Susan Spann's website.

My Book, The Movie: Blade of the Samurai.

Writers Read: Susan Spann.

The Page 69 Test: Blade of the Samurai.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Maggie Shipstead

Maggie Shipstead's newest novel is Astonish Me.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Your novel is so different from your first, Seating Arrangements, moving from sharp comedy to the haunting tragedy of what might have been. What was the writing like for you? Did it feel different to switch gears? What surprised you about this particular book?

Astonish Me was probably the most pleasurable writing experience I’ll ever have, mostly because I didn’t set out to make it a novel. I had a fellowship at Stanford for two years, and in my second year I wrote a short story about a retired ballet dancer named Joan and her rivalry with her next door neighbor in California. At the time, I’d also started working on what I thought would be my second novel. After I was done at Stanford and done with edits for Seating Arrangements, I took a break from the novel project to revise the ballet story, and the story started to expand. By the time I finished my initial “revision,” it was ninety pages long, which I think we can agree is a little bit lengthy for a story. I showed it to my agent, and she saw room for more expansion, so I went back to work. It was only about five months between when I started to revise the story and when I finished the sale draft, and for most of that time I felt like I was somehow cheating on my so-called real novel (which has since died) with this funky ballet side project. But then my publisher ended up buying it two weeks before Seating Arrangements was published, and I thought, oh, okay, it’s a book. The accidental nature of the whole process gave me a lot of freedom: I was really writing for my own enjoyment. Astonish Me’s tone is meant to mimic that of a ballet, especially toward the end, and that was a refreshing departure from the prickliness of Seating Arrangements.

Astonish Me is a great title, and though it was said, I believe, by a ballet master, it resonates for lots of other things going on in your novel. Can you talk about this, please?

Yes, Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, would tell the artists working for him to “√Čtonnez-moi,” which was sort of a command and sort of a dare and sort of a rallying cry. I think that’s what we...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 25, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his debut collection, The New Valley. A National Book Award "Five Under Thirty-Five" author, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Columbia University, the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, One Story, and Agni.

Weil's debut novel is The Great Glass Sea. From his Q & A with Matt Bell at The Brooklyn Rail:

Matt Bell (Rail): The Great Glass Sea takes place in an alternate-present Russia, where the titular sea of glass—called the Oranzheria—has been built over a large expanse of farmable land, then lit by space mirrors to create an unending source of daylight. Twin brothers Yarik and Dima work this enormous greenhouse in alternating shifts, and as the novel opens they each inhabit a different half of this perpetual day. There’s so much impressive worldbuilding in the novel, and it seems like the book can take very little for granted: The reader has to be introduced to the Oranzheria and the way that it’s changed the course of your Russia, but they also have to be led through the historical events that have led to this moment, events that at a certain point broke from whatever Russian history we might already know. Could you talk about your approach to worldbuilding for this novel? With it being necessary to convey so much setting and background, how did you determine the priority for what the reader needed to know first?

Josh Weil: You’re right, the world of this novel took more preparatory building than anything I’ve written before. It was one of the hardest parts—especially in the editing process—to get right. And yet, in the beginning, in the earlier drafts, I didn’t think of it as worldbuilding. I didn’t even know the term (maybe it was just off my radar; I hear it a lot lately). All that stuff—the space mirrors, the Oranzheria, the way that the Russia of this novel is skewed differently from the actual Russia of today—was, honestly, guided simply by storytelling: what the story needed at what point, what was necessary for the reader to know to empathize, to comprehend the complexities of a relationship, to be sucked into the story. A lot of that comes down to getting why a character is ...[read on]
Visit Josh Weil's website.

Writers Read: Josh Weil.

The Page 69 Test: The Great Glass Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke's newest novel is All Day and a Night.

From her Q & A with Ayo Onatade at SHOTS:

Ayo Onatade: -You will have two books published this year in the UK. If You Were Here in April, which was a standalone novel and features McKenna Jordan (whom most of us know in real life is the owner of Murder by the Book Bookshop in Houston) as an investigative journalist. What gave you the idea for the storyline?

Alafair Burke: - Despite the use of McKenna’s name, the marriage at the centre of the book is loosely based on my own. Like me, McKenna is a former prosecutor turned writer. Like my husband, McKenna’s husband, Patrick, is a West Point graduate who now does security management for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In real life, the lack of a common history between us (we met online) made it fun to get to know each other from true scratch. But as a writer who spends time occupying a fictional world, I have always wanted to find a way to mine the potential for secrecy in a relationship where either party could by lying about the past. From that came the story of McKenna’s search for her missing friend, Susan, who was a fellow West Point cadet with Patrick.

You have an official sound track for
If You Were Here. What made you decide to have one and would you in hindsight liked to have done it for any of your earlier books?

I did it for IYWH to answer the frequently asked question of whether the book title was related to the Thompson Twins song by the same title: yes! I also named sections of the book after other songs whose lyrics connect to the content of the book. I thought it would be a fun way for music lovers to enjoy a secondary track of the book. It might feel forced to try it with every novel, though. This came naturally.

The second is All Day and a Night which is due out in July and which sees you return to Detective Ellie Hatcher. It is part police procedural and part legal thriller; how much does it draw from your real life?

Sometimes it’s an act of self-therapy to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

Visit Alafair Burke's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: All Day and a Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adele Griffin

Adele Griffin’s new novel is The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone.

From her Q & A with Daniel Ehrenhaft, the Editorial Director of Soho Teen:

Daniel Ehrenhaft: I already know the answer to this one (dinner is involved), but I must ask, anyway: What was the genesis of The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone?

Adele Griffin: This has to be one of my favorite genesis stories. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is a New York art fable with its own New York publishing “back fable.” You and your lovely wife, Jessica Wollman, came over to our home for a dinner that ended up being one of those go-late, talky nights about every topic from the Edgar Awards to Edgar Winters (true! as you know!). At some point we were discussing our enchantment with books about bands—The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols.

You mentioned And I Don’t Want to Live this Life and I mentioned Ciao! Manhattan, the George Plimpton / Jean Stein biography of Edie Sedgwick. I confessed that I’d always wanted to write a modern Edie story, only this time starring a Banksy-type stunt artist. “That’s an amazing idea,” you said. “Do this book now, and with us!” And I agreed—although on Saturday night, I was playing pretty fast and loose with proclamations and cheesecake dessert.

Monday morning, my agent, Charlotte Sheedy, called to tell me there was a contract draft from you in her inbox. That same day, you sent me very encouraging note to take this risk. It was my, “if not now, when?” carpe diem moment. I jumped.

DE: Related, what (or who) were your biggest influences in putting the novel together?

AG: When I was writing Addison, my mind kept holding on two moments; a spring day in 1986 and again in 1996. The ’86 memory was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Adele Griffin’s website and Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Adele Griffin and Edith.

Writers Read: Adele Griffin (June 2011).

Writers Read: Adele Griffin (November 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of nonfiction's bad boys, is the author of 2013's An Appetite for Wonder, the first volume of what will be a two-part memoir.

From his Q & A with Rowan Hooper for NewScientist (reprinted at Slate):

RH: [One] battle of yours has been against group selection—the idea that evolution works by selecting traits that benefit groups, not genes. You destroyed that paradigm, but then it came back again.

RD: Something else came back under the same name. If you look carefully, it turns out to be things like kin selection rebranded as group selection. That irritates me because I think it is wantonly obscuring something that was actually rather clear.

I think part of why it came back is political. Sociologists love group selection, I think because they are more influenced by emotive evaluations of human impulses. I think people want altruism to be a kind of driving force; there's no such thing as a driving force. They want altruism to be fundamental whereas I want it to be explained. Selfish genes actually explain altruistic individuals, and to me that's crystal-clear.

RH: What subjects currently interest you in evolutionary biology?

RD: I'm fascinated by the way molecular genetics has become a branch of information technology. I wonder with hindsight whether it had to be that way, whether natural selection couldn't really work unless genetics was digital, high-fidelity, a kind of computer science. In other words, can we predict that, if there's life elsewhere in the universe, it will have the same kind of ...[read on]
Richard Dawkins is Lee Child's hero (outside of literature).

Learn about Richard Dawkins's five favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore has written three novels (Anagrams, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and A Gate at the Stairs), and four collections of short stories (Self Help, Like Life, Birds of America, and Bark).

From her Q & A with Deidre at Your Hidden Shelf:

DM: Some stories [in Bark] are overtly political and some have a political backdrop. There’s a mood of disappointment overall in the book, a coming to a stage in someone’s life where one’s been through a significant amount of loss. How much of that is cultural and how much is personal experience?

LM: I think that’s what stories are reckoning with. In a sense they’re tiny little narratives of injury and of disturbance and three of the stories have public events in their background. So the first story [“Debarking”] has the invasion of Iraq which was driving everyone crazy in 2003 which was when I wrote the story. (And it was fact checked by The New Yorker so if anyone thinks I got the facts wrong they’ll have to take it up with The New Yorker.) That was really a huge thing and I’m not sure it was sufficiently appreciated by people in other countries how crazy-making that was for most Americans. It was really a hard time. And then we have the worn out intelligence analyst in “Subject to Search” and then there’s the guy that is just so happy that Obama is about to be elected [“Foes”]. So those are the three out of eight that have those kinds of public events in them. But that’s just true to how one lives. It’s not as if you live without those things in your life. So is there regret and rue and all of that? Sure, but there always is. I think there were in other collections of mine as well. But nobody stabs anyone! There’s a stabbing in the first collection and in the third collection someone jumps out a window. And someone shoots someone in Birds of America. So there are no real weapons here. I think it’s a ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott's latest book in the Sam Capra series is Inside Man.

From the author's & Minutes with J.T. Ellison:

Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

The melancholy, spacey song “Twilight Zone” by Dr. John, from his Babylon album from 1969. I admire his career longevity.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

The fifth Sam Capra novel. Sam Capra is a former CIA agent who owns bars around the world, and continually finds himself drawn into the dark, shadowy world of international crime. Sam is very much a guy who comes to the aid of those in need. He’s tough and smart, but he’s also rather young—in his mid-twenties—and he isn’t quite as experienced as he thinks he is.

What’s your latest book about?

INSIDE MAN is the fourth Sam Capra novel, where Sam goes undercover into a criminal family in order to find out the truth behind a friend’s death. Shakespeare’s King Lear was a clear influence on this story: the leader of the family is dividing his business empire between his three very different children, and if Sam makes one wrong move, he’s dead. Of course nothing goes as he plans—and nothing about this family is as it seems. I wanted to write a big international intrigue story that was wrapped up inside a big...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

The Page 69 Test: Downfall.

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (July 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Matthew Quick

Matthew Quick is the author of Silver Linings Playbook and other books.

From his Q & A with Mark Flowers for School Library Journal:

All of your books center around characters with varying levels of mental illness. Can you talk about your inspiration for those characters?

I spent most of my life confused about why I had certain feelings. I didn’t have a vocabulary to talk about those feelings, because I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood, and the men in my life were largely from rough neighborhoods in Philly—they were taught to suppress emotions. So when I started to feel anxious or depressed, what I learned to do is you push that as far down as possible and you soldier on. So when I started to write Silver Linings Playbook, I started to write about mental health, and it wasn’t necessarily an intentional thing. As I created Pat’s voice [the book’s narrator], I realized it was fiction, but I was starting to address a lot of things that I hadn’t addressed before. And of course when I published Silver Linings, I was [asked], “Why are you writing about mental health?” And it was terrifying at first, but it was very freeing. And I had friends who were coming up to me and saying, “How did you know about this stuff? Because, [I felt this,] too.” Even people in my family...[read on]
Visit Matthew Quick's website.

The Silver Linings Playbook is among Lauren Passell's top eleven best Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Jill Halfpenny's six best books, the Barnes & Noble Review's five top books on football, and the eight book adaptations that won 2013 Golden Globe awards.

The Page 69 Test: The Silver Linings Playbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 18, 2014

Adam Nevill

Adam Nevill's new novel is The House of Small Shadows.

From his Q & A with Justin Steele:

Puppets, taxidermy and dolls are all rather sinister. What served as your inspiration behind this piece? Are these all things that have creeped you out over the years?

HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS is the first novel in which I have made a concerted effort to use my childhood fears, fascinations and imaginings, specifically in the area of the strange secret lives of effigies and imaginary companions. There has always been a certain type of grotesque imagery relating to puppets, dolls and mummified creatures that appears in my fiction, and I may have been unconsciously working my way to devoting an entire book to this in HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS.

Reading the blurb it seems House of Small Shadows is going to be a haunted house/possessed doll story, but in reading it I was very pleasantly surprised to see that it was anything but conventional, and was a great example of weird horror. Are you a reader of weird fiction? When you set out to write this novel did you know from the start it was heading in that direction or did it just take you there?

Thanks, Justin, for the appreciation and open mind. The novel isn’t a Puppet Master slash-and-stalk B Movie, or possessed Chucky doll story, or anything like that really (though Karen Black being pursued through her apartment by a voodoo doll in Trilogy of Terror, that I saw when much younger, was an inspiration for this book). It aimed to be less obvious and more dreadful but also magical. Assumptions can be problematic in horror, I think; there are cinematic triggers for nearly everything now. Maybe horror in film and television even creates expectations for readers. But I think this my most idiosyncratic and strange story, and perhaps the most genuinely weird tale since Apartment 16. This approach was not contrived for the sake of weirdness, but if you dig deep enough and are honest about what disturbed you, and disturbs you, you will most probably hit a seam of the truly weird naturally.

The primary challenge I had with this book was placing the imagery, notions, feelings, ideas, and visual fragments that had been stored in my memory and imagination from my first memories into youth, into a novel-length narrative. I had ...[read on]
Visit Adam Nevill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2014

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's latest novel is Wayfaring Stranger.

From his Q & A with Camille Perri at Esquire:

What book were you surprised you loved? What book were you surprised you hated? And what book are you most ashamed you've never read?

I have loved many books and have hated none. I fell in love with books through the WPA book mobile program. When I was a kid, public libraries were in short supply, but each Thursday an old bread truck with shelves built along the walls visited our dead-end street. This was a great treat for kids whose parents seldom had spare money for books. I loved the Hardy Boys just as the girls in our neighborhood loved the Nancy Drew series. I also loved Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels. For me, reading became a lifetime pleasure as well as necessity.

The only way to learn how to write is to read. The only way to learn human history is to read. The key to all our problems lies in books. Also there can be no democracy without an educated electorate. This is why all demagogues and dictators despise books and those who write and read them.

I've read many books whose content I'm repelled by. John Wesley Hardin's autobiography is one of the best accounts ever written about the life of a sociopath. Books allow us to know our enemies. On occasion I receive mail from irate readers who proudly tell me they are so angered by the content of my work that they have destroyed every one of my books in their possession. I have always been tempted to explain...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Elizabeth L. Silver

Elizabeth L. Silver grew up in New Orleans and Dallas and currently lives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law. She has taught ESL in Costa Rica, writing and literature at several universities in Philadelphia, and worked as a research attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

From Silver's Q & A about her latest novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, with Caroline Leavitt:

I'm always interested how a novel sparked? A college dropout on death row for murder--where did that come from? How did The Execution of Noa P. Singleton come into being?

After years of writing fiction and toying with a variety of day jobs in writing-related fields, I switched directions, and in my late-twenties, attended law school. I entered my third year of law school and took a course in capital punishment, where I learned about the death penalty from some of the country’s top anti-death penalty attorneys in Austin, Texas. The course included a clinic component in which I worked on a clemency petition, visited death row, interviewed inmates and met with a handful of victim family members with my supervising attorneys. I also attended a symposium at the Texas State Capitol where several lawyers, journalists, filmmakers, and a solitary victim’s rights advocate spoke about the problems with the death penalty as it related to one potentially wrongful execution. Only one person on the dais represented the voice of the victim, surprisingly, and she was the mother of a victim ten years later still struggling with her position. While listening to each person express a different perspective on the issue, the complicated relationship between a mourning parent trying to forgive and an admittedly guilty inmate struck me as an intricate and conflicted bond ripe for exploration. It wasn’t about guilt or innocence necessarily, but instead about the fragility, doubt, and unease in each of these people. I also knew that I wanted my protagonist to be intelligent, self-educated, and someone with whom readers may be able to relate, despite her residence and status. Instantly, my new project was borne, although at that point, I wasn’t sure the body it would occupy or the story that would carry it along. I rushed home, and over the next few months before the bar exam, wrote the first and last chapters of the novel.

A lot of this extraordinary novel occurs in prison. Did you do research? What was that like? Did anything surprise you and turn the plot of the novel in a way you didn't expect?

Most of my research came from...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

My Book, The Movie: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Writers Read: Elizabeth L. Silver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kim Church

Kim Church's short stories and poetry have appeared in Shenandoah, Mississippi Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prime Number Magazine, the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received fiction fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center.

Born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, Church earned her B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her J.D. degree from UNC School of Law. She has taught writing workshops in a variety of settings, from college classrooms to death row. She lives with her husband, artist Anthony Ulinski, in Raleigh, where she divides her time between writing and law.

From a Q & A with Church about Byrd, her first novel:

Why this book?

There was a character I wanted to know, so I had to write her. She needed the space of a novel.

Why this character? Where’d she come from?

Years ago I was having dinner with a man who told me, as casually as he might have asked me to pass the salt, that he’d fathered a child who had to be given up for adoption because he and the mother “waited too long.” I don’t know why he told me; it was an unexpected story delivered in an offhand way. All I could think was, what about the mother? What a different story if she were the one telling it—assuming she would tell it. How would that feel, going through life without the child you’d carried and given birth to? Doing it by choice?

I didn’t know any woman who’d gone through this. I’d never even read about such a character in a book.There are books about mothers; books about women who want to be mothers but can’t; books about women who are somehow forced to give up children. But not, to my knowledge, a book about an independent, capable woman deciding to give up her child.

So I wrote one.

With Addie, I set out to write a character who is profoundly ambivalent about motherhood, and whose decision not to be a mother is tested in the most profound ways.

Are you worried people will try to use your book to support political agendas you may not agree with?

Readers always...[read on]
Visit Kim Church's website.

Writers Read: Kim Church.

The Page 69 Test: Byrd.

My Book, The Movie: Byrd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya's latest novel is The Poor Boy's Game.

From his Q & A at Robb Cadigan's blog:

Tell us, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you know you were one?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I started writing horror and science fiction inspired by movies and TV shows and the short stories I loved when I first started reading, by guys like Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch. There were a lot of monsters, a lot of dinosaurs lurking in remote canyons in the desert. Demons that passed through portals or holes from other dimensions. When you’re a certain kind of kid there’s a lot of cataclysmic stuff in your head trying to get out.

I don’t think I accepted that I was a real writer until I was walking from Penn Station to the Flatiron Building to meet my editor for the first time. Before I had an agent and contract I think writing was something I didn’t let myself consider a serious aspiration. It was a desire I kept hidden for all the reasons we hide things that really matter to us – fear of failure, fear of ridicule for wanting something that seems beyond the normal possibilities of a life defined by work and family and a high school diploma.

What creative work most recently inspired you?

I’m constantly looking for cool stuff to light up the creative parts of my brain. I love...[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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle's novels include The Commitments, the Booker Prize-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Van (a Booker Prize finalist), and The Guts. He lives in Dublin.

From his Q & A with Allen Barra for The Daily Beast:

The Commitments was published, or rather self-published, by you in 1987. Why did you wait 27 years to check in on Jimmy Rabbitte?

Actually I went back to Jimmy in 2001 in The Deportees—I gave him a wife, Aoife, and four children. In 2012 I decided to make him the main character in The Guts. He’s older, of course, as are his children, and he has a dog…

And cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more … let’s say, upbeat—novel about someone with cancer. What made you decide to give Jimmy cancer?

I had a good friend who died of cancer some years ago, and I’ve had other friends who have fought cancer. I heard the phrase a lot—“fighting cancer.” I wanted to see if Jimmy in his middle age had it in him to fight cancer and how his sense of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2014

Courtney Maum

Courtney Maum is the author of the novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, out now from Touchstone Books. The humor columnist behind the “Celebrity Book Review” on Electric Literature and an advice columnist for Tin House, she splits her time between the Massachusetts Berkshires and New York City.

From Maum's Rural Intelligence Q & A:

RI: It seems that in some European countries (France in particular in your novel) the people have a more “laissez-faire” view of adultery than do Americans. If true, to what do you attribute that?

CM: I can only speak about France, because I lived there—but one major difference is that there are far less marriages to begin with than we have in the United States. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but most of my French friends are in serious relationships, they have children with their partners, but no plans to marry. My own husband’s parents were never married either. There’s just more legal protection in France for common law marriages than here. So it’s possible that because marriage isn’t a given for some French people that they’re approaching the idea of what it means to be in a relationship with more flexibility. In America, in terms of matrimony, I feel like we set ourselves up to fail. When I was engaged, for example, a lot of my American friends asked, “What does it feel like to think you’ll only sleep with one man for the rest of your life?!” That’s a terrible mindset going into a marriage! Marriage is so much more than monogamy, you know? Obviously, you want to aim for monogamy—it’s a goal, but I do think that French people are a little bit more realistic and forgiving about the fact that mistakes might happen. That if you’re going to spend the next fifty years with someone, yes, there might come a moment when you get bored, restless, where you might make a mistake. But...[read on]
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Josh Weil

Josh Weil's new novel is The Great Glass Sea.

From his Powell's Q & A with Jill Owens:

Jill Owens: In your first book, The New Valley, you write very movingly about rural Virginia; it plays a huge part in those novellas. Place is also a huge part of [The Great Glass Sea], but it's a radically different setting. What made you want to write about somewhere so different? How do you think about place in your fiction?

Josh Weil: Those are two really important and big questions. First of all, I didn't necessarily choose to write about it. It really was something that had been in me for a long time, ever since I spent time in Russia and the Soviet Union when I was young, and then Russian club and my Russian language classes all throughout high school took over my life in a big way. So it was a place that was very present in my mind ever since I was a kid. Because of that, I always knew I'd write about the region at some point.

When I started writing, I thought it would be a short story. I wrote the opening paragraph pretty much as it is in the book now. When I started to get into the scene, I realized it was going to be something longer and put it away. But it clung to me.

It was through the landscape in my mind that the story really gripped me, more than any real understanding of the Russian landscape.It was through the landscape in my mind that the story really gripped me, more than any real understanding of the Russian landscape. In a way, it was very different from Virginia in that I didn't know the landscape as well but the place was my way in. And so a lot of it was imagining that setting. Then, of course, you start to do research. I went back to Russia to try to get some of those physical details that might have eluded me otherwise. It starts to become alive.

The idea of place and the importance of place has always been so, so vital in making the world feel real. At the same time, it's also how I often wind my way into a story. In some ways, it's a crutch for me. It's something I have to watch myself for. My writer friends who have been reading my work for 10 or 15 years always say, "I know Josh is struggling with this scene because he's writing about the clouds again." It's just a way that I can grab something that feels solid, that allows me to pull myself into the moment if I'm struggling. I go through and have to pare a lot of that out, but because of that, place is a grounding element for me.

Jill: How did you end up spending time in Russia as a child?

Weil: I was...[read on]
Visit Josh Weil's website.

Writers Read: Josh Weil.

The Page 69 Test: The Great Glass Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

David Wellington

David Wellington is an author of horror, fantasy, and thriller novels. His zombie novels Monster Island, Monster Nation and Monster Planet form a complete trilogy. He has also written a series of vampire novels including Thirteen Bullets, Ninety-Nine Coffins, Vampire Zero, Twenty-Three Hours, and 32 Fangs. His werewolf series comprises Frostbite and Overwinter.

The author introduced Afghanistan veteran Jim Chapel in the 2013 novel, Chimera, and featured him in 2014's The Hydra Protocol. From Wellington's Q & A with Elise Cooper at Crimespree Magazine:

Elise Cooper: Why did you make your main character, Jim Chapel, a former Army Ranger?

David Wellington: Jim is my way of saying a thank you to the troops. They have done an incredible job. These people are not about entitlements but are extraordinarily responsible. Jim is an emblem of how much I respect and admire our soldiers. I gave him a prosthetic arm because I wanted to show the sacrifices our soldiers make as well as the advancements made on how they work.

EC: Is this plot a warning?

DW: I grew up when Russia was the enemy. Besides my own experiences I did a lot of research to make the plot as realistic as possible. I think we are seeing their true colors today. The KGB tortured people and found ways to destroy them as human beings, which is why I put in the torture scenes. I wanted to show Chapel having absolutely no control. He could not stop what these people were doing to his body. That is the difference between their actions and our actions. No US administration would do those things to another human being. I would never call what was done to the terrorists after 9/11 evil like the torture written in [The Hydra Protocol]....[read on]
Visit David Wellington's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chimera.

The Page 69 Test: The Hydra Protocol.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott's latest book in the Sam Capra series is Inside Man.

From the author's MysteryPeople Q & A:

MP: Family is a major theme that runs through the story. Sam poses as an employee with a powerful family to avenge the death of someone who protected his family when he was young, and he is constantly reminded of his brother. What did you want to explore about family?

JA: My books are often an unusual mix of family drama and international intrigue. And I really think that family aspect surprises readers sometimes; I think that may have been why Inside Man was an O Magazine pick for their summer reading list. In this case, Sam’s gone undercover into this family, the Varelas, but he¹s not sure if they’re actually responsible for his friend’s death. He is surprised when he begins to care for them, and that sets up quite a challenge for him: what does he do if they are responsible? And then he’s caught up in a bigger question: what exactly is this family’s secret, what has made them so dangerous? King Lear, which I think is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy about family, was a big inspiration to me in writing this book. Readers will see some parallels, although my story is very different in how it plays out. It was an inspiration, not a template. I wanted to explore how a family might try to stay together under pressures that could destroy them. Whether they succeed or not. . .that’s the story. Like Lear, it starts off being about revenge and ends up being about...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

The Page 69 Test: Downfall.

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (July 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 7, 2014

Maryanne O’Hara

A graduate of Emerson College's MFA program, Maryanne O'Hara was a longtime associate editor at Ploughshares magazine. Her short stories have been published in Five Points, The North American Review, The Crescent Review, and Redbook, as well as the literary anthologies MicroFiction, Brevity & Echo, The Art of Friction, and Flash Fiction: Youth.

O’Hara's debut novel is Cascade.

From her Historical Novel Society Q & A with Stephanie Renee dos Santos:

Stephanie Ren√©e dos Santos: Why did you choose to make your protagonist in Cascade an American female painter in the 1930’s?

Maryanne O’Hara: I was originally interested in writing a short story about artists who painted for Roosevelt’s New Deal arts projects during the Depression. Then I saw a wonderful exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts: A Studio of Her Own, Women Artists in Boston, 1870-1940.” I realized I wanted to write about the particular struggles of the female artist.

SRDS: What compelled you to include and focus on art and artists in your historical novel?

MO: I’ve always been fascinated by the human impulse to create art. And I’m fascinated, too, by what cultures deem worth saving. I liked the idea of using a doomed town threatened with extinction as background for a story about an artist trying to create lasting works of art. I hoped that this juxtaposition would give readers a lot to think about.

SRDS: What drew you to your specific visual art medium, art work, and characters?

MO: I never really decided that Dez would be a painter. She just kind of was one, from the start. The way Dez paints and thinks about painting is the way I write, so it was easy to substitute one art form for the other. I think that all creative expression comes forth from...[read on]
Visit Maryanne O'Hara's website and Facebook page, and view the Cascade trailer.

The Page 69 Test: Cascade.

Writers Read: Maryanne O'Hara.

My Book, The Movie: Cascade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Emma Healey

Emma Healey's debut novel is Elizabeth Is Missing.

From the author's Q & A with Kimberly McCreight:

Kimberly McCreight (KM): One of the things I most admire about Elizabeth is Missing—and there is so much to admire—is the utterly convincing voice of Maud, both in her advanced years and when she is much younger. How did you tackle the challenge of presenting a single character at such disparate times within a single narrative?

Emma Healey (EH): I’m so glad it’s convincing, thank you. I started with Maud’s voice as an eighty-year-old and found that only needed a little adjusting to take her back into childhood. The voice overall is very much based on my mother’s mother, Vera. I was very close to her and she had (ironically) a brilliant memory and had lots of stories to tell about her early life. I spent most of my school holidays with her, so remembering and sticking to the kind of words she would have used gave me a guide for Maud’s lexicon. Voice is so much about vocabulary. I do have to say though, I think writing from the point-of-view of a single character, even in two time frames, is much easier than swapping between characters. Reading Reconstructing Amelia, I am amazed at how well you alternate a first-person and third-person narrative, from the point-of-view of a teenager and a mother, as well as using Facebook statuses and text messages, all in one novel. I should be asking you how you made that work so well!

KM: Was there something that drew you to writing about a character losing her grip on reality, particularly one struggling with dementia?

EH: The initial inspiration for the book came from my father's mother, Nancy, who has multi-infarct dementia, but my aunt’s mother-in-law had suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years before that and other members of my family had had various forms of dementia. At the time, dementia wasn’t something that was being talked about so much and I was fascinated (as well as terrified and upset) by the way a person could come and go—one minute their old selves, the next in a world of their own. Their patterns of behavior could be anything from perfectly reasonable to completely bizarre and it seemed like....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 4, 2014

Valerie Trueblood

Valerie Trueblood's 2013 book is Search Party: Stories of Rescue.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Why does the very idea of a search lead to so much story?

We need so many things! A lot of life is spent in finding them. While we may not go out with a lantern like Diogenes, we do spend a lot of time searching, from babyhood on: for food, safety, a friend, work, knowledge, a place to live, a mate--and finally searching our own memories for what remains of these things when we're old. I admit this came to me just now in thinking about your question. I didn't think in these sweeping terms when I was writing the stories. A story can't be summoned that way. Mine seem to have to be found under a rock.

I also want to ask you about the title, which I think is perfect--Search Party, seems so ominous, but then there is the subhead, stories of rescue, which almost makes us breathe a sigh of relief.

You're a writer, and you're the reader we all want: someone who feels the ominousness, someone who sighs with relief--and just at the title, at that. I wish everyone read in this spirit, with this openness to what might be coming.

I do believe in rescue. The situation gets pretty desperate and now and then--perhaps rarely, but often enough that we remember the times it happened or the stories we heard of it--someone says or does something that helps, even saves. How or why this happens at times, and at others does not, is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Anthony Breznican

"If you thought high school was hell, has Anthony Breznican got a story for you…," says some guy called Stephen King.

From Breznican's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt about his new novel, Brutal Youth:

Brutal Youth has one of the most astonishing openings I've read in a long while. Did that opening come to you originally, or did it come after you had written parts of the book?

I always knew I wanted to start with something intense and visceral - a real grab-you-by-the-collar opening that would thrust you into a school where the danger wasn't getting a good grade, or getting a date ... It's basic survival. I'd heard this story from my own high school about a kid who flipped out in the hall after many years of being teased and tormented. He started swinging his bag in a circle, and clobbering anyone who got near. I heard one of the teachers jumped on his back, and then rode him around like it was a rodeo when even that didn't slow him down. As another kid who carried his whole locker in his book bag, I wondered: what could have made him snap? We all face hard times and feel angry and powerless, but what makes someone really lose it and switch from trying to lay low to trying to cause pain. I amped up that old legend, added what I'd consider kind of a horror element to illustrate that this was a story with fangs. But sadly, we've seen plenty of instances over the years where a kid goes over the edge and causes much more catastrophic damage.


Which, of course, leads to a structure question. Did you plan out this book or just follow the characters to see where they might lead you?

I knew I wanted to write about four main freshmen -- Davidek, a nice kid who just wants to avoid trouble; Stein, who loves trouble and fights every good fight; Lorelei, who is desperate to be liked (but doesn't like herself very much) and Green, who charms his way to safety, but loses touch with where he came from. After that, the story...[read on]
Visit Anthony Breznican's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Maya Lang

Maya Lang grew up on Long Island, New York, where she stayed up reading late at night after pretending to be interested in science during the day. The Sixteenth of June, her first novel, is a modern riff on Ulysses that you can enjoy even if you’ve never read a word of Joyce. It was selected by Bookish as one of the best novels of the summer.

From Lang's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

The Sixteenth of June is set over the course of a single day, much like James Joyce’s Ulysses, and so much of it pays homage to Joyce. So, my first question is, Why James Joyce? What made you decide on this structure and what were the difficulties you faced?

First, thank you so much for having me here. I always look forward to this blog and the questions you ask, so this is an honor.

I think there’s an old saying about how the writer doesn’t choose the subject matter; it chooses her. I was studying for comp exams in grad school one day when a sentence came to me out of nowhere, seeming to drop from the sky: Leopold turns the volume up as the hail comes down, so loud that Nora worries the windshield will crack and across it a giant web will bloom.

I felt like a cat that had just coughed up a hairball: What is that? Later, I realized the first word was “Leopold” and the last was “bloom.” I wondered if there could be a novel riffing on Ulysses while exploring the questions that bothered me about it. Namely, why do we revere a book that holds us at arm’s length? Do people truly love Ulysses or do they just claim to? If I, as a doctoral candidate, couldn’t get through those unpunctuated passages or follow the references, who could?

Many Ulysses references snuck into...[read on]
Visit Maya Lang's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Sixteenth of June.

Writers Read: Maya Lang.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mike Sacks

Mike Sacks' new book is Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers.

From his Q & A with Adam Resnick for Zulkey.com:

Were you always fascinated by comedy? Were you one of those kids who ran out to buy the new Steve Martin album and then imitated the skits in school? Cause I hated kids like that.

No, actually. And I'm still not like that. I love what I love, but I'm not one of those who has to watch something just because it's a comedy. In fact, most comedy really annoys me. I find it desperate and yearning. It's very hard to pull off, but when it does hit with me, I become obsessed. That would go for the work you did on Late Night with David Letterman, Cabin Boy, and Get a Life. Also, the 1980s sitcom Small Wonder, which I've read that you were responsible for. And this would also hold true for my cat, Pumpkin, whom I find hilarious. Yes, I just used "whom" to describe a cat. Anyway, Pumpkin is funny because he's very fat and he's a bit on the Autism spectrum. He frequently falls off my bed while licking his nuts. Actually, I just described me.

Do you think Ghostbusters would've been considered a classic if Bill Murray hadn't been in it? Or were the slime jokes enough?

Slime jokes were more than enough. Hated that movie, actually. Saw it opening day and was puzzled by the hysterical laughter. Ghostbusters II was brilliant, though. Especially when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue