Sunday, November 30, 2014

Valerie Geary

Valerie Geary's first novel is Crooked River, a psychological thriller set in Oregon.

From the author's Q & A at The Oregonian:

What was the genesis for "Crooked River"?

I read an article about this man who left his family, his suburban life, and high-powered job to live in the woods and create art, and I couldn't stop thinking about his kids. What were they thinking through all of this? How were they feeling? I'd wanted to write a story about sisters for awhile and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Originally, I thought I'd be writing a short story, but I realized pretty early on that these two girls, Sam and Ollie, needed more pages -- a novel's worth of pages -- to finish telling their story.

What are your favorite books that are set in Oregon?

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey is an iconic Oregon book, and though...[read on]
Vt Valerie Geary's website.

Writers Read: Valerie Geary.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 29, 2014

P.D. James

From Linda Wertheimer's 2011 interview with British mystery writer P.D. James:

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST: The British mystery writer P.D. James is best known for her creation, Adam Dalgliesh. The Scotland Yard detective is pensive and private, shaped by his own personal tragedy. He populates many of P.D. James's stories, but not her latest. In her new book, P.D. James inhabits the world of Jane Austen, specifically "Pride and Prejudice."

"Death Comes to Pemberley" picks up with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy married and settled in to Darcy's ancestral home. But, as the name suggests, it's not quite happily ever after.

I asked P.D. James why she decided to bring death to Pemberley.

P.D. JAMES: I had this idea at the back of my mind that I'd like to combine my two great enthusiasms. One is for the novels of Jane Austen, and the second is for writing detective fiction. And it would be rather fun to marry them and set a book in Pemberley, six years after Elizabeth and Darcy had married, when everything is going very well and they're very happy, and they have to healthy and handsome boys in their nursery; and life is peaceful and ordered and, of course, rich and prosperous.

And then comes the eruption of a rather ghastly murder...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 28, 2014

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore's latest book is The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

From her Q & A with Terry Gross:

GROSS: I mean, one of the really amazing things that you've uncovered in your book is that the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, lived in a menage a trois, eventually, but earlier in his life, there were two women he was with. There was his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, and another woman, Olive Byrne, and Olive Byrne was Margaret Sanger's niece. And so they were in a relationship together. He had four children by those two women. And of course, they couldn't make it public. But describe a little bit this arrangement that he had, first, with these two women.

LEPORE: So Marston married his childhood sweetheart in 1915, when they both graduated from college. He graduated from Harvard that year, and she graduated from Mount Holyoke. This Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, who becomes Betty Marston. And she was quite an interesting and ambitious woman, a really career-oriented woman of that generation of - you know, one of the first generations of women to go to college.

And Marston embarks on academic career. He first teaches at American University, and then, in something of the scandal, he loses that job. And he ends up teaching at Tufts in 1925, where he falls in love with one of his students who's a senior there - Olive Byrne.

Olive Byrne's mother is Ethel Byrne, who is the sister of Margaret Sanger. Ethel Byrne and Margaret Sanger together founded what becomes Planned Parenthood in 1916, when they opened up the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn. And they are immediately arrested within days of the clinic opening. An undercover policewoman comes in and asks for contraception - contraceptives, and Ethyl Byrne explains how to use a pessary or a diaphragm.

Ethyl Byrne is convicted on obscenity charges and sent to prison for a 30-day sentence. And she goes on a hunger strike, and she says, this is more important than the right to vote because women die every day in New York of abortions - of illegal abortions. They can't get contraception. And I will gladly give my life in this cause. As she's then, actually, quietly ushered offstage by Margaret Sanger, who makes a deal with the governor of New York that if Ethyl Byrne will never again be involved in the birth control movement, she can be pardoned, and her life will be saved.

And so Ethyl Byrne really sort of disappears from the birth control movement at that point, much against her will. Meanwhile, though...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Marian Schwartz

Marian Schwartz's latest translation is of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

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

YUP: What is something you most want readers to get out of your translation of Anna Karenina?

MS: Tolstoy was not a comic writer, of course, but he could be very sly about people and situations.

In the opening scene, Stiva wakes up in the morning and is so carried away by his dreams and sense of physical well-being that he reaches for his dressing gown –and doesn’t find it in its usual place because he is not in his usual place. He’s sleeping on the sofa in his study instead of in bed with his wife, but he’s so wonderfully cheerful and oblivious, he fumbles in thin air. It’s a sight gag.

Another example: when Tolstoy makes fun of Princess Betsy for translating French idioms directly into Russian—she calls Anna a “terrible infant,” for example—he does it in a way the reader can’t help but find humorous.

Tolstoy was a great psychologist, so it’s no wonder he saw the humor in his characters’ thoughts, words, and actions. This may...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ron Perlman

Ron Perlman is best-known for his titular role in the Hellboy movies and his long run on the TV series Sons of Anarchy, as well as scores of other iconic performances, including The Name of the Rose, City of Lost Children, and Pacific Rim.

His new memoir is Easy Street (the Hard Way).

From Perlman's Q & A with William O'Connor for The Daily Beast:

When you’re writing about Sons of Anarchy you talk about playing Clay Morrow taking a toll on you. Why do some actors seem to be really affected by the roles they play, and some don’t?

For the most part, roles don’t have a particularly profound effect on my average day. They’re just basically things that you put on and take off. I think the difference to the Sons of Anarchy character is that when you take on a role it’s the result of a network of decisions you’ve made about whether you want to spend time with this character, whether you want to explore this character, whether you want to go inside yourself and find if that person exists in you. What happened with Clay Morrow on Sons of Anarchy was that he started out with a set of variables, and those variables dramatically changed halfway through to the point where he was on some sort of collision course with this monstrousness that existed inside him. The monstrousness that existed inside him when I said yes to the role was minor, but by the time I finished playing him in the end, it was all he was. I just tried to infuse it with nobility, because he was after all a king. What I was being given to play was decidedly negative and ugly, and made for very uncomfortable moments. For the first time in my life I was playing a character I don’t like, I don’t admire. I’ve played serial killers, but there was something about their wiring, their psychology that I found important to explore, to unearth. There’s an admiration, there’s a conscious enthusiasm to play those characters. It just changed into something quite dark and unattractive with Clay, and was a unique moment in my artistic career. It was very difficult because at the end of the day I’m very particular about who or what I portray, even though it seems random, I have to admire the character I’m playing.

What do you hope people who read this book will walk away from it thinking?

My goal is not for readers to have an impression of me, but more to have an impression of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 23, 2014

George Lakoff

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff's books include Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, now in a new edition.

From the author's Q & A with Paul Rosenberg at Salon:

I wanted to start off with an obvious question: Why a new edition of a book that is 10 years old? Are there some ideas you wanted to repeat, or some that people—particularly a new generation—haven’t really even been exposed to before? There are also some ideas that are new, either because you newly discovered them or they become newly important, or for some other reason.

That’s exactly right. Let’s start with the mistakes. In 2004, hardly anybody knew what framing was. When I first spoke to a Senate retreat, they asked me—they’d heard this word “frame. What is it? What does it mean? What is Frank Luntz doing to them? What do they do about it?” And they said, “Oh, tell us in 20 minutes.”


I actually managed to do that. In 20 minutes. I worked my butt off and found a way to do it. And a few people kind of got it. Hillary Clinton kind of got it, Tom Daschle kind of got it. Teddy Kennedy did–but not too many. And it was sort of sad. I talked to a lot of people in Washington during those years, and the people who didn’t get it, including a lot of the communications people, and staff, and people in any administration and so on, didn’t get it for a couple of reasons. It’s important to know what those reasons were.

The biggest reason is reason. As I point out, if you’re a conservative, you go to college, it’s very likely that you’re going to study business and economics at some point. If you do that, in your curriculum you look at marketing–and marketing professors study cognitive science, brain science. They study how people think. So it is common for conservative communications people to use marketing techniques. And that’s all the stuff that is been shown in cognitive science and the brain sciences.

But, if you’re a Democrat and you go to college and are interested in politics, you’re going to study political science and some law, public policy, economics. And in those fields, there is no cognitive science study by the faculty or anybody else. They learn what is called “Enlightenment reason”–that is, Descartes 1650: all thought is supposed to be conscious,when it’s 98 percent unconscious; it’s literal, so there’s no metaphor, therefore, in rational thought, which is ludicrous; that there is no such thing as framing; that statements fit the world or they don’t; that language is neutral, it fits the world, and so on. They learn that you want to use the most popular language. That what makes us people is we’re all rational animals, and therefore we have the same reason, because we’re all human beings. So it follows from that: If you tell people the facts, that will lead them to the right conclusion. And, it doesn’t work.

The facts mean nothing until you put them in a moral context. And that’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipnis’ new book is Men: An Ongoing Investigation.

From her Q & A with Hanna Rosin at Slate:

Slate: Why did you decide to write a book about men now?

Laura Kipnis: They just seem to be in such a state of anxiety. I had written a book about scandal and so it was on my mind how a lot of men in power seem to be acting in such incoherent ways in public. It’s almost as if something was afflicting them and they had some need to be shamed in public, to be disgraced and act out these private psychodramas in public, and I was just fascinated by that. My disposition generally is to think there are linkages between the private sphere and large scale social structures, so I guess I am always looking for those links.

Did you figure out what the anxiety is all about?

I think I became more empathetic about whatever causes I was speculating about. There’s a kind of precariousness for men now about their position—you’ve written about this. There are changes in the role in the aftermath of feminism as a result of massive economic restructuring, and this is affecting them on an interpersonal level. They don’t know exactly what’s going on in the context of heterosexual male-female relationships, what’s expected of them.

Is there such a thing as the New Man?

There’s a lot of introspection about roles and masculinity. That all gets...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rick Perlstein

Rick Perlstein's latest book is The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.

From his Q & A with Thomas Frank at Salon:

Talk about how the POW/MIAs became such a huge cultural touchstone. I mean, people don’t remember that this was very cynically masterminded by one Richard M. Nixon.

Yeah. Clever fellow that Richard M. Nixon. The baseline of this is, we know from the testimony of one of his friends and aides, Leonard Garment, that as early as 1966, Richard Nixon knew that we couldn’t prevail in the Vietnam War. And what he told a rich donor in 1966 was: The question of Vietnam was not, whether we could win or lose — we couldn’t win — but that we had to settle it on the terms that were most favorable to us. So he lied about that for seven straight years.

As president, you mean?

Yeah, as candidate, as president. Basically, he had a terrible political problem on his hands, which was to end this war and make it look like America had done an honorable thing, instead of what they had actually done, which was pursue a war that was completely wasteful, did nothing but terrible things for the country—our country, and, of course, their country too.

So part of what he came up with was, to wrest concessions from the communists at the negotiating table, he created this issue that they were historically cruel to their prisoners and that if they really…

Did you say historically cruel?

Right. Historically...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Erin Beresini

Erin Beresini is the author of Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

You’ve said that obstacle course racing “has done more to make fitness fun than any other sport.” Why do you think that is? Was there any time when you felt, “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?”

Obstacle course racing includes dodging fire, slogging through mud, navigating barbed wire, and even fighting gladiators.

I have a pretty hefty tolerance for weird stuff. It’s not necessarily the on-course craziness that’s made fitness fun (although it is ridiculously fun!), but what you take away from the events. For me, that was the ability to see my workouts and tired running routes in a new way. Now I always stop at the monkey bars that are half-way through my six-mile loop—I look forward to getting there—and swing across them. I’ll do dips and push ups and squats and rows while I’m there, then take off for the rest of the run. OCR encouraged me to be more creative with my workouts. Strength routines shouldn’t be limited to gym equipment. Grab a rock and hike with it. Fill your car washing bucket with water and walk up and down the driveway with it. Drop and do burpees at every stop sign on your run. That’s stuff I never thought of doing before, and that I do all of the time now. I haven’t...[read on]
Visit Erin Beresini's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Michael Farris Smith

Michael Farris Smith is the author of Rivers.

From his Q & A with Janet Ursel:

In Rivers, the weather is an implacable enemy. Why did you decide to set your characters against such an overwhelming foe?

I wanted extremity and the idea occurred to me that it is difficult for a place and its people to overcome one natural disaster, but what if there was such a thing as an almost continuous barrage from Mother Nature? The landscape of the Gulf Coast opened up in my mind pretty quickly. What would it look like? How would we cope? What would we do? And who would still be there? It was a strange case of having a setting before I had any characters and I didn't try and avoid that, but just began to write it. I knew the people would show up. They always do. And I knew they would have problems and histories because the world was too tumultuous not to.

I understand you prefer not to outline your stories ahead of time, and it certainly seems to have worked well with Rivers. Has this approach ever caused you problems?

Strangely, that's the first time I've ever wondered that myself. My guess is I don't think it has necessarily caused me problems. I get bogged down when I think too far ahead, or even think too much. So I'd say no, but who knows if that's completely true or not. I honestly don't think too much about process. I'm afraid if I try...[read on]
Visit Michael Farris Smith's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Rivers.

Writers Read: Michael Farris Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2014

Richard Ford

Richard Ford's latest book is Let Me Be Frank With You, is a series of four interconnected novellas about Frank Bascombe, previously featured in The Sportswriter and Independence Day.

From his interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS:... So, in this collection of stories, Frank Bascombe, a character who you have now written four books about, his ex is in an assisted living facility. It's a turning point in his life, I think. When it's not your parent or your grandparent, but it's a friend or a spouse or an ex-spouse that's in assisted living, means it's your generation's turn. It's your turn. So, it's a turning point. Why did you want to write about that turning point in Frank's life when it's his turn to face - it's not like the end stage of life, but it's, you know, closer to it?

FORD: Well, I don't really think I was supposing it was a turning point as a reason for writing about it. It may seem to be that. And it made seem to be that to you, and if it does seem that way to you, you can't be wrong.

GROSS: Right. That's what I always say.

FORD: Well (laughing). I just thought I was writing about something that was interesting to me that happens in a life. I mean, when you're in your life, living day to day, I don't think - I'm not sure, anyway - if we recognize turning points when they happen. I mean, turning points are kind of a term of art, and by which I mean it's a thing we ascribe reality to after the fact. I mean, Frank's just living with his ex-wife of 30 years living and dying down the road from him. You know, I had a friend whose ex-wife died. And she'd been his ex-wife for a long time. And it was one of those experiences which created in me what Katherine Anne Porter calls a commotion, what Neruda calls something kicking in my soul. It was a call to language. I sort of wanted to...[read on, or listen to the interview]
See Richard Ford's 5 most essential books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult's newest novel is Leaving Time.

From her Q & A with Colleen Oakley:

You’re known for heavily researching each book you write. What’s something interesting you learned while researching LEAVING TIME?

Elephants actually experience grief. They’ve been known to break into research facilities and steal bones that scientists are working with, and bring them back to the site of the elephant’s death. For years after the passing of that elephant, the herd will return to the spot of its death to pay homage for a while – just hanging around there and getting quiet and somber and reflective before moving on. Also, what they say about elephants never forgetting – it’s true. They have relationships that last a lifetime. At The Elephant Sanctuary in TN, an elephant named Jenny was living peacefully when a new elephant, Shirley, arrived. When Shirley came into the barn that night, in the stall beside Jenny’s, Jenny began to pound at the bars between them, trying to get to Shirley. The caregivers eventually opened the gate between them and immediately Shirley and Jenny began to move in tandem – staying inseparable. When Jenny lay down to sleep, Shirley would straddle her, like a mother elephant would a calf. It turned out that when Jenny was a calf and Shirley was 30, they had both been at the same circus for a brief while. They had been separated for 22 years, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. A native of California, she currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and son.

Thorpe's debut novel is The Girls From Corona del Mar.

From her Q & A at Author Stalker:

The book tracks Mia and Lorrie Ann’s friendship. As they grow up, they debate several issues that are exclusive to women, like motherhood, abortion, and exactly what/how much mothers owe their children. I think everyone should read The Girls from Corona del Mar because it’s freaking awesome, but in your opinion, why should men read your book?

What a great question! On the most basic level, I think that women are part of the human experience, and if women can fall in love with reading Moby Dick, there is no reason men can’t identify with the characters in Pride and Prejudice. But of course, I’m also not saying that my book is in the same category as Pride and Prejudice!

Before publication, I honestly didn’t know if men would find something worth reading in the book. One of the things that has surprised me has been an overwhelmingly positive and also surprisingly intense response from male readers. Each email from them begins with the phrase, “I wasn’t expecting to like this book,” or, “I was pretty sure I would hate this book,” or even, “I would never have picked up this book, but I went to high school with your husband,” and then they would go on to say they stayed up all night reading and couldn’t put it down. They seemed...[read on]
Visit Rufi Thorpe's website.

Writers Read: Rufi Thorpe.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls from Corona del Mar.

My Book, The Movie: The Girls from Corona del Mar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bradford Morrow

Bradford Morrow's novels include The Diviner’s Tale, Ariel's Crossing and Giovanni's Gift. He is the founding editor of Conjunctions and has contributed to many anthologies and journals. A Bard Center Fellow and professor of literature at Bard College, he divides his time between New York City and upstate New York.

Morrow's new novel is The Forgers.

From his Q & A with Rachel Cole Dalamangas at zingmagazine:

How did you get involved in the world of rare books, which inspired The Forgers?

Growing up as I did in a household where there were very few books, I suppose I’ve spent the rest of my life overcompensating by surrounding myself with all kinds of books, from beat-up paperbacks to rare first editions. I’ve done almost everything with a book you can do, from writing them to binding, selling, editing, publishing, translating, collecting, and teaching them. All of these are facets of my lifelong love affair with books.

My first job in a used bookshop had more to do with handling reading copies of classics from every field than with rare books, although I was always intrigued by the volumes the owner kept in a glass-fronted cabinet. They possessed a kind of magic that to this day I can’t quite explain. When I went to graduate school on a fellowship to Yale, I somehow got it in my head that rather than spending my money on typical necessities like groceries, I would acquire first editions of some of the 18th century books I was reading for class. I persuaded myself that reading them in original editions might bring me closer to the text somehow. There was a very dangerous and wonderful bookstore near campus at the time called C. A. Stonehill, and so I bought a mixed edition of Tristram Shandy in the original nine volumes, three of which were signed by Sterne for copyright purposes, as well as a set of Fielding’s Tom Jones in contemporary speckled calf, six volumes. Believe it or not, these were relatively inexpensive at the time, although I did wind up moonlighting in a pretty sketchy Italian restaurant in order to pay off my book debts. After I moved on from Yale, I got a job at a rare bookshop out in California that specialized in modern first editions and that was when I really got interested in rare books. I left the shop after a while and started my own business with some borrowed money. Before I knew it I was in my mid-20s and running a pretty substantial rare book trade of modern first editions in Santa Barbara, California. After putting a lot of effort into that business for four or five years, I sold off most of my inventory and moved to New York so I could start the literary journal Conjunctions.

Have you known any forgers in your dealings?

I hope not!

There is an element of fetishism of rare books suggested in The Forgers. Is that what the rare books community is really like?

No, not always. Scholarship is one of the leading reasons people and certainly institutions collect. Still, every book collector has his or her own reason for participating in...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Forgers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stephen King

Stephen King's newest novel is Revival.

From his Q & A with Andy Greene at Rolling Stone:

The vast majority of your books deal with either horror or the supernatural. What drew you toward those subjects?

It's built in. That's all. The first movie I ever saw was a horror movie. It was Bambi. When that little deer gets caught in a forest fire, I was terrified, but I was also exhilarated. I can't explain it. My wife and kids drink coffee. But I don't. I like tea. My wife and kids won't touch a pizza with anchovies on it. But I like anchovies. The stuff I was drawn to was built in as part of my equipment.

Did you ever feel shame about that?

No. I thought it was great fun to scare people. I also knew it was socially acceptable because there were a lot of horror movies out there. And I cut my teeth on horror comics like The Crypt of Terror.

By writing horror novels, you entered one of the least respected genres of fiction.

Yeah. It's one of the genres that live across the tracks in the literary community, but what could I do? That's where I was drawn. I love D.H. Lawrence. And James Dickey's poetry, Émile Zola, Steinbeck . . . Fitzgerald, not so much. Hemingway, not at all. Hemingway sucks, basically. If people like that, terrific. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Adrienne Mayor

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in Classics and History of Science at Stanford University; her book The Poison King, a biography of Mithradates, was National Book Award nonfiction finalist in 2009.

Mayor's latest book is The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World.

From her Q & A with Simon Worrall for National Geographic:

You describe them as "aggressive, independent man-killers." Were Amazons also lesbians?

That is one of the ideas that have arisen in modern times. Nobody in antiquity ever suggested that. We know that the ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about discussing homosexuality among men or women. So if that idea had been current in antiquity, someone would have mentioned it.

The one interesting artistic bit of evidence that I did find is a vase that shows a Thracian huntress giving a love gift to the Queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea. That's a strong indication that at least someone thought of the idea of a love affair between Amazons. But just because we don't have any written evidence and only that one unique vase doesn't preclude that Amazons might have had relations with each other. It's just that it has nothing to do with the ancient idea of Amazons.

The strong bond of sisterhood was a famous trait in classical art and literature about Amazons. But it was modern people who interpreted that as a sexual preference for women. That started in the 20th century. The Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva declared that Amazons were symbolic of lesbianism in antiquity. Then others took that up. But the ancient Greeks didn't think of them as lesbians. They described them as lovers of men, actually. Man-killers—and...[read on]
Learn more about The Amazons at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Amazons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is the author of the story collections Don’t Kiss Me and Daddy’s. Originally from Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and two pit bulls.

Hunter's first novel is Ugly Girls.

From her Q & A with Sarah Rose Etter at Fanzine:

SRE: Ugly Girls is a hell of a book – I could practically taste a trailer park while I read it. What drove that book for you?

LH: I wanted to write a fairy tale about a girl who couldn’t feel fear. That’s where it started. It eventually became about all the ways people misunderstand each other, all the ways they assume things about themselves and each other, and how that can lead to explosions. It became about identity: the identity you cultivate, the identity you have no power to change, and how those two things can lead to disaster. I also wanted to write teenaged girls that ran the spectrum of ugliness. I wanted them to be real, and I wanted to take the risk that they might be unlikable. Because guess what, that’s life. Girls and women can be unlikable and ugly and make terrible decisions and trade power back and forth like anyone else.

SRE: Wait, wait, let’s go back to the explosions.

LH: Well, by explosions I guess I mean varying shades of disappointment. “Disappointment” is a word I use a lot in the novel. How someone reacts to disappointment is almost like a fingerprint. Because disappointment, and expectation, actually reveals a lot about the expecter. Just think how many expectations and assumptions you have to count on just to get through the day. These are all things that are important to you as an individual. They are important to the world, the safety, you’ve created. This is beyond the actual world. Outside of that. Or inside of it but sealed in whatever you’ve built that makes it possible for you to exist without screaming. Baby Girl feels ugly so she turns that on its head and draws power from it. Tries to use it as a weapon. But it is a papier mache weapon, easily bent, and then she is weaponless. So she grabs...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Ugly Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mick Fleetwood

Mick Fleetwood is the author of Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography.

From his Q & A with David Daley for Salon:

Is the great regret of this book not having been more direct and a better communicator with Stevie when the two of you were involved? You write about being very surprised that the relationship meant as much to her as it did to you, and that usually suggests some wistfulness, or an if only…

Yeah, very interesting question. I will never really know, and me and Stevie just accept the fact that we had a moment in time when there was no doubt that we were in love. It was never to be that it could grow and be allowed to breathe in the open — from our own choices. And then we both walked away from it, and were very lucky — after a period when it was unhappy — but relatively soon we knew that we could co-exist as real friends, which we most certainly are to this day.

I’ll never really know, and it’s like that age-old thing, and those types of things you can carry on for those moments. And they become pregnant for a moment, but you are reflective, and there’s been, obviously by the nature of creating a document like this, those moments, they loom. But you have to move on from them. And you have to be quietly objective, and hopefully have some sense that there’s some joy and humor to be found.

Most certainly, me and Stevie are able to talk about it, and she’s addressed it in some of the things she’s doing with her solo album that she has out. And you know, I didn’t know that she was going to basically put a song on there that was… well, I remember when she wrote “Watch Chain.” And it never came out. I was there when she wrote it, and was in her apartment, and I am the dude with the 24-karat gold, that she never knew what 24-karat gold was before she met me. I don’t know why. So, go figure. And she’s the mother — she’s, rather, the godmother of my two beautiful twin daughters, Ruby and Tessa. So we’re...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lee Child

Lee Child’s 19th Jack Reacher novel is Personal.

From the author's Q & A with Ali Karim for The Rap Sheet:

AK: I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that the plot of this 19th Reacher novel revolves around an assassination attempt of the French president. For I remember that Frederick Forsyth presented you with the Crime Writers’ Association’s 2013 Diamond Dagger award. Is Personal your homage to The Day of the Jackal?

LC: I think that Without Fail [2002] would actually be my homage to Day of the Jackal, because it explicitly references Forsyth’s book. The emphasis there is placed upon the assassins planning for escape, as opposed to the [1993] Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson film, In the Line of Fire, in which the assassin knows he won’t be able to escape. As I said at the CWA Diamond Daggers ceremony, The Day of the Jackal … was Year Zero for the current generation of thriller writers; it was different, and re-set the clock, and we’ve all had to deal with it ever since. So, I didn’t mean it as a direct homage but acknowledged--for all of us, readers and writers--that Fredrick Forsyth is a giant figure, and his debut novel casts a giant shadow over the genre.

AK: So are you a fan of assassination thrillers--The Manchurian Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, Winter Kills, The Parallax View, etc.?

LC: Yes, I am, as you have the giant faceless machine of “the establishment” with the powerful security apparatus, multi-layered like a tentacled octopus; then on the other hand you have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Alix Christie

Alix Christie's new novel is Gutenberg's Apprentice. From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on Gutenberg and his apprentice, and how did you blend the historical and fictional aspects of the book?

A: I became intrigued by some research published in 2001 that suggested Gutenberg’s technique was not as advanced as generally thought. I did some digging and discovered the existence of Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, both of whom were well known to scholars but not to the general public.

Once I realized that this historic partnership had blown up in a lawsuit, I found myself wanting to get to the bottom of how and why their partnership imploded. The surviving sources are mute; very little physical evidence exists, especially for the key years of 1450-54.

As a journalist as well as a writer of fiction, it was important to me to hew as closely as possible to what is factually known. The facts served as a scaffold, over which I tried to construct a plausible narrative for why this historic partnership might have hit the rocks.

Q: What type of research did you do to write the book?

A: I read massively in the piles of Gutenberg research in German, English and French. I interviewed and became friends with....[read on]
Visit Alix Christie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Maggie Anton

Maggie Anton is the award-winning author of historical fiction series "Rashi's Daughters" and "Rav Hisda's Daughter." She is a Talmud scholar, with expertise in Jewish women's history.

Anton's latest novel is Enchantress.

From her Q & A with Tracey Meyers at JUF News magazine:

JUF News: What was the inspiration for Enchantress?

Maggie Anton: The piece of Talmud in Bava Batra 12b where Rav Hisda calls up his two best students and asks his young daughter which one she wants to marry. When she replies "both of them" and the Talmud says that is what eventually happened, I knew I wanted to tell the story of this audacious girl.

What is Jewish Magic?

Scholars have written entire books on this subject. The short answer: Jewish magic is Jews using the supernatural to do their bidding. The majority of this in 4th-century Babylonia, when Enchantress takes place, consists of healing spells to protect people from the demons, curses, and Evil Eye that cause illness and other misfortunes.

Who is Rav Hisda's Daughter? How is she unique and different from all the other Jewish females you've written?

Rav Hisda's daughter is the woman most mentioned in the Talmud, and always in a positive light. She had two husbands, both rabbis, the last of whom, Rava, was the most powerful and influential sage in the Talmud. She was uniquely involved in the acceptance and spread of rabbinic teachings throughout Babylonia, and ultimately...[read on]
Visit Maggie Anton's website and blog.

Writers Read: Maggie Anton (December 2009).

My Book, The Movie: Enchantress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gary Krist

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade and City of Scoundrels, Gary Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone.

Krist's new book is Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. From his Q & A at Wonders and Marvels:

Wonders and Marvels: You began your career writing novels and short stories. What inspired you to start writing about history in the form of narrative nonfiction?

Gary Krist: Until I hit forty, I read–and wrote–mostly fiction. But at a certain point, I found I wanted to know more about how the world actually came to be, so I started reading history. And that interest soon bled over into my writing life. I began writing a historical novel, Extravagance, which took place partly in late-17th century London. I made several trips to the UK and discovered that I just loved the whole research process. So, after Extravagance, I decided to take the full leap to narrative history, and that’s where I’ve been for my last three books. I do think that I’ll write another novel at some point, but right now I feel I’ve found my true calling.

W&M: As an accomplished writer of fiction, how do you incorporate the art of storytelling when writing history?

Gary Krist: I want my readers to experience history with great immediacy, so I try to alternate background analysis with a series of unfolding foreground episodes that readers can really see and feel, as they would the episodes of a novel. But since I try to hold myself to strict standards of scholarship, I don’t have the freedom to invent dialogue or do extensive imaginary scene-setting. I’ve got to find all of that detail in the historical record. So I’m always on the lookout for...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gary Krist's website.

The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.

Writers Read: Gary Krist (May 2012).

The Page 99 Test: City of Scoundrels.

The Page 99 Test: Empire of Sin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cara Caddoo

Cara Caddoo is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her new book is Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life (Harvard University Press, 2014).

Jason McGraw is author of The Work of Recognition: Caribbean Colombia and the Postemancipation Struggle for Citizenship (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

McGraw interviewed Caddoo about Envisioning Freedom:

What is the story you tell in your book?

Before Oscar Micheaux, or Hollywood, or even the nickelodeon theater, African Americans exhibited and produced their own motion pictures. This began in the 1890s, shortly after the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” decision, when hundreds of thousands of black migrants were leaving the countryside. In cities across the South and West, film became a way that black folk could have fun together, fundraise for their organizations, and broadcast ideas about black progress.

This history helps explain the responses of African Americans to D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of Nation. In what effectively became the first mass black protest movement of the twentieth century—we’re talking railroad porters, housewives, gangsters, and schoolchildren—African Americans weren’t just reacting to a terrible new medium they knew nothing about; they were fighting to reclaim a form of popular culture that they had helped to create. The demands and political organizations that emerged from those protests were a direct precursor to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

How did you first discover that this entire “black cinema culture” in churches existed?

It began with a few colorful characters that I encountered pretty early in my research. Like Jamaican-born John E. Lewis, who migrated to Kansas where he became a barber, fought white terrorists, and exhibited motion pictures at a time when most of his white neighbors barely knew anything about the new technology. Another was a traveling minister named H. Charles Pope, who used the motion pictures to illustrate his church lectures about black progress and the 26 sins of dancing. I couldn’t wrap my head around their stories. They went against almost everything I thought I knew about early black film: that it began in the urban North, emerged during the Great Migration, and that black church leaders viewed it as a sinful form of entertainment. Lewis and Pope were religious, they worked in the Midwest, and they were exhibiting films a decade before the Great Migration. But they were so fascinating; I kept researching them, even though I didn’t think I would end up writing about them. They led me to other people, like William G. Hynes, who in 1905, traveled to the National Baptist Convention in Chicago to produce a film about the event! That’s when I realized that I had to shift gears, and when I did, I found thousands of records documenting the emergence of these black cinema practices.

Besides earning a living, did African American directors and film exhibitors have other goals for their films, like building community or engaging in politics?

They did. The motivations you mention were all part of a popular philosophy of the era known as “racial uplift,” the idea that self-help initiatives were essential for collective racial progress. The black men and women who first produced and exhibited motion pictures were vocal proponents of these ideas. They earned a living by raising money for black institutions and by serving black customers. This type of economic self-sufficiency, according to the philosophy of racial uplift, was in itself a political goal.

You describe the many diverse venues for showing early films marketed to African Americans. What were the earliest movie venues like, and how did the venues for watching films change over time?

The first films screened in places like black churches because these were the public, communal spaces open to African Americans in Jim Crow America. Plus, if you think about the architectural layout of most churches, they are set up a lot like movie theaters. By 1906, colored theaters began appearing in cities across the country, but in the countryside, churches continued to double as theaters for black audiences.

It seems like a thorny issue that always comes up with cinema history is how we today can understand what audiences got out of the experience of watching films in the past. This must be an especially difficult problem for talking about movie watching from a century ago. How do you handle the issue of audience reception of films?

You’re right; it is tough to know how audiences responded to films. To begin, black filmgoers were diverse. A poor woman who washes laundry for a living, and a college-educated minister might have very different tastes. But in my research, I paid a lot of attention to things like demand. Sometimes advertisements would announce the return of a “popular” program that had sold out the previous season. A few exhibitors offered “satisfaction or your money-back guarantees.” Around 1904, everyone started screening motion pictures about disaster and war. By that time, black audiences wouldn’t show up for a film they weren’t interested in seeing. Paired with a few more explicit records of the filmgoers’ responses to these films, we can begin to get a sense of audience reception.

You have been involved in film production yourself. So how did being behind the camera influence the story you tell in your book?

I was a filmmaker before I became a historian, and I think part of me always will be. Making films without a lot of resources teaches you to be humble about your expectations of other filmmakers. My experiences editing, knowing how much authorship can be involved in that process, is part of the reason that I’m so adamant that early black film exhibitors be described as auteurs.

On a completely different note, the tools I learned from filmmaking helped me with the writing process. Some of the worksheets and schedules that I used in production were really useful for organizing my book. At one point, I hacked a storyboard template to plot out a bunch of overlapping events. It helped me figure out how all these people were moving around, and what they were doing in different places, in a way that wasn’t as clear on the written page.

Could you recommend some early African American films, explain what’s special about them—what we should be looking for when watching them—and where we might find them to watch today?

I’m really excited about MOMA’s discovery of a 1913 Bert Williams film. But that’s a tough question to answer because the exhibitors of early black films were so critical to shaping the meaning of the pictures they screened. They usually screened several films, which they edited together along with still images, a lecture, or a musical performance. So much of these motion picture exhibitions existed outside the strips of celluloid that we’ve managed to preserve today.
Learn more about Envisioning Freedom at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Envisioning Freedom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton is the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. She has written four novels and two memoirs, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide and Searching for Mercy Street. Her latest book is Bespotted: My Family's Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:
What’s so wonderful about this book is that it’s not the usual dog book. It’s a rich and haunting look at how another species can save our lives emotionally and get us through the darkest times. What do you think the major things are that we can learn from dogs?

Dogs of all sorts provide us with the special kind of love and companionship that we experience only some of the time with the humans in our lives—be they friend or family. Dogs’ personalities are marked with a strong sense of character, and often I think they live the way we ought to. As such, they provide us with a kind of role model. If we are smart, we listen to them.

Dogs are honest, compassionate and empathetic, with that “true blue” quality we are always seeking. Because they never know what is coming, they have learned to live purely in the moment—a trait of which we are often envious—and they savor all that is good and do their best to endure, or ignore, the bad. Unlike spouses who divorce you or friends who turn their backs on you, dogs never just get up and leave. This is an example we could learn from.

Sometimes dogs pull us through the hardest times of our lives just by the way they take care of us. When I was suffering from a clinical depression and feeling suicidal in my forties, I relied on my Dalmatian, Gulliver, to guide me through each day and make me believe I could survive. He is an inspiration to me now.

Dogs also provide us with great antics at which we can laugh. They lighten our days and our burdens and teach us that not everything has to be so serious. Whether it is jumping high for a biscuit, running in circles for their supper, or just the simple shake of a paw, they delight us with their desire to learn and their smarts. Even if you have a dog who is not the sharpest tack in the box, you...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Frederick Barthelme

Frederick Barthelme's new novel is There Must Be Some Mistake.

From his Q & A with Gary Percesepe for The Nervous Breakdown:

This is the place where I ask you about the “big social novel in America” and tick off the names (and possibly egos) of innumerable literary “giants” in the land whose names may or may not be Franzen and I can’t remember any others, and observe how you work away from the allegedly great to embrace the tiny. Less, better. Small ball. You’ve been playing like this for a while, and I see you are not going to change now. Bravo. But why? Remind us.

Those books seem like TV to me. They never get the particulars right, and often they’re not close, so they end up parodies of experience—bound and readable TV shows. Many readers are comfortable with that, so there’s a huge market and lots of people, from the well known to the publish-it-yourself writers at Amazon, are eager to deliver the product. Like good movies, good literary books are fewer and smaller and harder to find.

Dare I ask yet again what you think of “minimalism” from this distance of years. You were, as I recall, charged with this crime by the lit police in the 1980s.

Minimalism is an old and dear friend. Start with the idea that I began as a painter, and minimalism was a term used in painting and sculpture a couple decades before it was applied in the literary arts. It had real descriptive value in painting and sculpture, but less so in fiction, where it took on the pejorative dimension not present in criticism of the plastic arts. When it was used stupidly it...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue