Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Patricia Abbott

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of Monkey Justice and Home Invasion and co-editor of Discount Noir. She won a Derringer award for her story "My Hero."

Abbott's new novel is Concrete Angel.

From her Q & A with novelist (and her daughter) Megan Abbott at The Life Sentence:

Megan: We were definitely a book-loving household. But how do you think it came to be that we both wrote crime fiction?

Patricia: I’ve sporadically kept a log of books I read. The list is pretty evenly divided between crime fiction and so-called literary fiction. I just gobbled down Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar, Ruth Rendell, Nichols Freeling, John D. MacDonald, Rex Stout, Patricia Highsmith, Sjöwal and Wahlöö. But my favorite books from more general fiction were also always stories about people pushed to the limit, people who desperately wanted something, be it Jay Gatsby, Lily Bart, or Holden Caulfield, I can’t think of many books that sidestep this yearning. Crime fiction just pushes them a little further. They act in more violent ways, perhaps.

With you, I remember crime first coming in through movies. You watched every noir movie Bill Kennedy (“Bill Kennedy at the Movies,” which aired on WKBD in Detroit) showed on Sundays. Even as an eight- or ten-year-old, you were drawn to them. I especially remember you watching a movie called The Locket.

Megan: The Locket, of course! Freudian noir at its best, and the only movie I can think of with a flashback-in-a-flashback-in-a-flashback. As far as mysteries, as a young kid, I remember beginning with a few Nancy Drews, but not many. But I read a lot of Agatha Christie and we had them all. And all those Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen magazines we used to find for me at used bookstores.

Patricia: But what you were attracted to from a very early age was true crime. Although we never censored your reading, I sometimes wondered how...[read on]
Visit Patricia Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Concrete Angel.

Writers Read: Patricia Abbott.

My Book, The Movie: Concrete Angel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2015

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson's new novel is A God in Ruins.

From her Q & A with NPR's Ari Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: Do you find that as a more experienced writer you are more able to view the same character as a parent, a grandparent, a child? I find it very difficult to see my parents as anything other than parents, to see my friends' children as anything other than children. But in this book, and others, you see the same person in many, many different phases of their life - all of them credibly.

ATKINSON: You're not old enough (laughter) that's the problem. I think - I always feel very touched by old men and I just - it's so sad the way they're dismissed by younger people because they just cannot see that whole rich life that's been lived. And they cannot see that a little old man who's hobbling along the street is once a baby. He was once a little boy. He was once an incredibly active person. And I find that very poignant. And I think, in this book particularly, it's very much at the forefront of...[read on or listen to the interview]
Learn about Kate Atkinson's top ten novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Andrew Roe

Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

What sparked this novel? I always believe there is a question that is haunting the author and the writing is the salve.

I love that phrase: “a question that is haunting the author and the writing is the salve.” I’m going to regularly quote that, if it’s OK with you. And I totally agree!

The question that haunted me for this book was the question of belief, the mystery of belief—and not just religious but also secular belief. As someone who’s not religious, I do appreciate how faith draws people in and serves as such a foundation for their lives, particularly when confronted with death, illness, life challenges, and so on. So I suppose there’s a bit of me going against that old writing chestnut of “Write what you know” and instead choosing to “Write what you don’t know.”

So much of this exquisite novel is about what we believe, what we want to believe, what we need to believe—and why. Why do you think a miracle has so much power?

For me, the book has two types of miracles: the divine, otherworldly kind (which, of course, can never be proven), and the day-to-day, more commonplace kind (which can be verified). Both are powerful, but we might tend to not appreciate the daily miraculous nature in our lives—things like forgiving a parent or spouse, raising a child, or simply being fully present in our lives.

As for the divine kind, I think there’s a hunger, a thirst for these things to be true. But there’s never...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 27, 2015

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 Sarah Skilton about his novel, Brutal Youth:

One of my favorite lines in Brutal Youth occurs in chapter two: “Adults never wanted to hear about the heartaches of children. They tended to doubt there was any such thing.” Is that you how you felt when you were a child?

Definitely. Adults often assume any problem a kid has is always fixable. “No big deal. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” But really, the troubles we have as kids shape who we are. They harden us. Other times, maybe they make us more empathetic. Sometimes they warp and break us in ways that can never be healed. I’m happy this line stuck out to you, because the final line in the novel is a call-back to this idea. When you tell a kid his or her problems aren’t serious, they decide to hide them and stop trusting you with them.

The line quoted above made me think of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized.”), as well as Stephen King’s IT, wherein the longer the characters stay away from Derry, the more they forget about the terrifying experiences they had there as children. Were there any books about bullying that inspired you as you wrote?

It’s not a book about bullying, but my wife is a J.M. Barrie collector and Brutal Youth is haunted by the closing lines of Peter Pan. It ends with Peter never changing, even as Wendy grows old, and her children grow old, and their children. The final line is: “… and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.” Heartless! It’s so chilling. What the hell does that mean? I’m not...[read on]
Visit Anthony Breznican's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 26, 2015

Christine Sneed

Christine Sneed's latest novel is Paris, He Said.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

Paris is such a character in itself--I bet the research was a great deal of fun, no? I realize you were once a student there, but did you return? Did anything surprise you in the way your characters relate to Paris--and the way Paris relates to them?

It was a lot of fun to write about Paris and to do the research for this novel. I’ve been to Paris about a dozen times since 1991, the year I was a student in France (I studied in Strasbourg but took five or six trips to Paris during that year.) I made two trips to Paris, both during the first week in September in 2013 and 2014, while writing this novel. Even though I knew how beautiful a city it was, I hadn’t been there for a number of years before my 2013 trip, and I think it startled me just how beautiful it is.

My main characters, Jayne and Laurent, don’t take their privileged lives for granted in Paris, though Jayne does find herself getting habituated to the city’s many marvels and awe-inspiring beauty after a few months. Laurent is from a village outside of Dijon, which is several hours southeast of Paris, and he has always thought of Paris as a city of wonders, and I wanted that marvelousness to come through on every page, if possible. He is a devout pleasure-seeker, Jayne less so. And it was this disparity in temperament where I tried to make the conflict was most palpable between them.

What was so fascinating about your novel is the way you explore how people navigate what they think they want, and how they discover what they really need, instead. Could you comment on this please?

I don’t think we often truly know what...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House. 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 book is the story collection Music for Wartime.

From her Q & A with Jennifer Solheim for Fiction Writers Review:

[Y]our first novel, The Borrower, is in part a roadtrip story. And your second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is a romp backwards in time at an artist’s retreat. So, with the thematic focus on memory, grief, and loss, the pervasive sadness in Music for Wartime surprised me. In what ways did you consider tone as the collection took shape?

I did produce new things. The three family “legends” are ones I wrote specifically for the book, and the final story, “The Museum of the Dearly Departed,” was my way of wrapping up the book’s themes. It also plays with some of the family history you’d have learned if you read the book straight through, so it speaks back to earlier parts of the collection.

I think those themes you mention are all themes of my novels, too, even if they’re a bit lighter on the whole. (But are they, really? One’s about a kidnapping, and the other has a huge body count by the end.) I’ve discovered that when I try to write funny it comes out very sad, and when I try to write sad it comes out funny. Maybe that’s my core aesthetic, funny-sad. I mean, despite the loss and gloom I do have stories about reality TV, and a woman who coughs up J. S. Bach, and a dead circus elephant. (And I realize as I type this that dead circus elephants aren’t exactly...[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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman's new novel is Book Scavenger.

From her Q & A at Littlest Bookshelf:

LB Charming moments of friendship and adventure fill the pages of Book Scavenger. What do you feel is the most important scene in the story? Also, what was your favorite scene in the book to write?

JCB Thank you for saying there are charming moments of friendship and adventure! I love both of those aspects of Book Scavenger. As for the most important scene, I don’t think that is for me, the author, to determine. I think that’s up to the reader, and because every reader comes to a story from their own unique perspective there would probably be a variety of answers to that question.

But favorite scene . . . Two immediately come to mind. I love when Emily and James first meet–the whole thing from her going past him multiple times and he keeps changing how he looks, to the puzzle in a bucket, to their actual first conversation. That scene evolved over the many drafts of this book–James sitting on the stairs can be traced all the way back to the very first draft, but then the bucket puzzle element came in around draft five, I believe. So that scene wasn’t written in one sit down stretch–it changed and developed and grew as I began to understand Emily and James and their budding friendship better. So I love that scene both because it establishes the beginning of a great friendship, but also because from my vantage point I can remember the evolution of this book when I read those paragraphs.

The other scene that immediately comes to mind as a favorite is when Emily and her brother go book hunting together toward the end of the story. In contrast to the one I just mentioned, Emily and Matthew going bookhunting was a brand-new scene that I wrote for the last major revision I did for this book (which I believe would be Draft #8). That scene really solidified the heart of the brother/sister storyline for me. It came easily, as if it had been sitting dormant in my brain for years, and it was actually fun to write, which is not usually the case for me. It came so easily, in fact, that I was sure something must be wrong with it. I returned...[read on]
Visit Jennifer Chambliss Bertman's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Charlotte Gordon

Critically acclaimed author Charlotte Gordon's newest book is Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. Earlier works include Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Story of America's First Poet — a Massachusetts Honor book for non-fiction — and The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths.

From her Q & A with Kelly Faircloth for Jezebel:

Your book argues that Mary Wollstonecraft’s influence on her daughter has been pretty systematically underestimated. Why do you think that relationship fell out of the historical record?

I think there’s the sort of primitive answer, which is no one really cares. And the ‘70s feminist in me says they were both underestimated as intellectuals and as thinkers and so no one was really interested in Mary Shelley’s literary heritage. And in fact the most important work that happened with Mary Shelley was excavating her from under the dominance of her husband, and no one has been that interested, frankly, in the female lineage, which is what interests me.

I think one of the fascinating things about Mary Wollstonecraft is we almost lost her. It’s thanks to the great women writers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century that we have any historical records left of Mary Wollstonecraft, because as you know, after she died, her grieving husband wrote this tell-all memoir that scandalized the world. When people knew all the stuff she’d done and the men she’d slept with, et cetera, she became known as even more of a scandalous figure.

Nobody wanted to associate with her. Not early proto-feminists. And so it’s thanks to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf that we have kept any kind of record of her.

On another level, I think there was an active campaign to silence the voice of Wollstonecraft for about 125, 150 years. Really she was not studied or taken seriously until second-wave feminism, until the 1970s. And even then, the fashion was to see people as isolated miracles and not place them in their context.

And then, no one I think thought that a mother who had died could have influenced a daughter. People didn’t take into account—again, because they were minimizing who Wollstonecraft was and who Shelley was—that in fact Wollstonecraft was in fact so prolific that all Shelley had to do was read her books over and over and over again—which is what she did—to learn about her mother’s ideas and in fact to idealize her mother in a way that she might not even have done if she had been a normal daughter with a normal living mother where you quarrel and fight. Instead...[read on]
Visit Charlotte Gordon's website.

My Book, The Movie: Romantic Outlaws.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2015

David Sedaris

David Sedaris's books include Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls.

From his Q & A with Blake Bailey for VICE:

How do your siblings react to their appearances in your work? Have there been conflicts with the others? Or do you have a policy of letting them see a given piece before?

I always let them see it first, or almost always. I was in Asheville, North Carolina, about ten days ago, and read a new story I had written about my sister Lisa, who is always willing to laugh at herself. She was in the audience that night, and rather than having her read it in advance, I wanted to surprise her with it. When people laugh at a story about one of my family members, they're laughing because the family member in question is funny. They're laughing, most often, at quotes. Lisa knows she's funny. She's not inclined to get up on stage and do what I do, but the laughs I get with that story are hers, and she earned every one of them.

Growing up, were you closer to some siblings than others? Or did alliances sort of form and dissolve over time?

I think it's like this for everyone in a big family. Relationships shift. When I was in junior high school and high school, I was best friends with my sister Gretchen. We were inseparable. When she went off to college, I started spending more time with Lisa. Then Amy and I moved to Chicago and became inseparable. In New York it was still me and Amy. Then I left the United States, and kind of moved back to Lisa, with short forays to Gretchen. I don't see Paul that often, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Scott Simon

Scott Simon is the award-winning host of Weekend Edition Saturday and the author of Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

How did writing the book change you? What did you learn in writing it, about both yourself and your mother, that surprised you?

Writing the book confirmed for me why I became a writer; how, in a way, it just fulfilled me as the kid who always put out the class newspaper. I don’t keep things to myself (well, some things I do, but not many). There’s a good reason why I didn’t go into espionage work. It’s just in my nature to try to fathom my experience and share it with others, be it the war in Bosnia, an interview with Bill Cosby, or my mother’s death.

In our last days together, my mother did surprise me by confiding a conclusion she’d reached a long time ago: that my father, who was a serious alcoholic, more or less willed himself to die when I was sixteen because he couldn’t stop drinking and realized he would drag us down with him. “It was the last gift he could give us,” is how my mother put it.

My mother didn’t want me to grow up with that thought pressing on my mind. I’d blame myself for not helping my father more (which, by the way, no one can do for a real problem drinker, especially not a truculent teenager). I’d wonder if...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Etgar Keret

Etgar Keret’s new book, The Seven Good Years, is a memoir.

From a Q & A with Tobias Carroll at his publisher's website:

Have you found that your writing is viewed differently from country to country? As a writer who occasionally writes about Israeli politics, are those pieces received differently in, say, New York than in Israel?

There is a difference, of course, between writing fiction and writing op-eds. The reaction to op-eds is different between Israel and overseas. But when it comes to stories … In Israel, I’m much more well known than anywhere else in the world. Some of my stories are in high school curriculums; basically, every student who’s graduated knows at least a couple of my stories. My books sell about 100,000 copies. There are fewer than six million Hebrew speakers, so [a large percentage] have read my work. Even the countries where I’m the most successful, like Poland or Turkey or Mexico, I’m not as well known as I am in Israel. There’s something about a dialogue; there’s a different dialogue when you’re a literary writer than when you’re seen as a best-selling author. This affects the kind of dialogue I have.

In different countries, people get connected to different stories. I get asked different questions. For example, I just came from Vietnam. The most common question that I was asked, both in interviews and in reading events, was: How do I know when a story ends? That was a question that I had never been asked, anywhere else on earth. I remember that when one of my books appeared in Korea, everybody asked me about a story called “Black and Blue,” from Suddenly, a Knock at the Door. This book has appeared in more than 20 countries, and no one had asked me about that story anywhere else; in Korea, everyone asked me about it. Different stories resonate...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 19, 2015

Beth Cato

Beth Cato is the author of The Clockwork Dagger and its sequel, The Clockwork Crown, newly released from Harper Voyager.

From her Q & A with Sam Riedel for the B & N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog:

There’s a big push in genre fiction of all kinds for more diversity and varied characters. Did you feel pressured to do that or did it come as a natural part of world-building?

I wanted to do that, because I live in a colorful world. I grew up in California, and I moved from there to South Carolina and Washington, so I’ve seen the racial demographics across the country. When I lived in South Carolina, it was really weird to me, because for the first time in my life, I wasn’t surrounded by people speaking Spanish. And no mariachi music. But I was surrounded by more black people than I was used to. And then I went to Washington, and I told my husband—he grew up in New Mexico, and we’re like, “We are weirdly surrounded by lots of white people.” To me, it’s a colorful world, and you don’t see that on the covers of books so much. To me, it’s a no-brainer—there needs to be diversity.

Clockwork Crown has a huge number of characters of color. Throughout most of the first half of the book, the background characters—that’s what they look like. And it’s a subtle thing, it’s not something I dwell on much in the book, but I like that there’s an assumption there that you don’t always have to say what someone’s color is. They are who...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Anna North

Anna North graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2009, having received a Teaching-Writing Fellowship and a Michener/Copernicus Society Fellowship. Her fiction has appeared in Nautilus, Glimmer Train, the anthology Robot Uprisings, and the Atlantic Monthly, where it was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Her nonfiction has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Paris Review Daily, Jezebel, BuzzFeed, and Salon, and she is now a staff editor at the New York Times.

North's first novel, America Pacifica, was published in 2011. Her new novel is The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.

From the author's Q & A with Karan Mahajan for Salon:

When the book starts it seems to be about gender issues and sexual violence in a very direct way, but then it homes in on a series of male characters struggling with their confidence in the aftermath of trauma. Were you surprised by the direction the book took?

I’m actually still surprised that there are more male narrators than female in the book, because I think of myself as someone who writes about women and because I think of Sophie Stark as so much the story of a woman. But I kind of like that there are so many men. As I mentioned, I thought a lot about male artists while I was writing the book — men like Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock or Ernest Hemingway who caused a lot of pain for the people around them but who are still kind of remembered as heroes. And so often when we hear the stories of those artists we hear about “the women who loved him,” all these women who are at the periphery while the man is at the center. I like the idea of flipping that on its head, of having all these men tell the story of one woman. Which isn’t to say I don’t care deeply about the male characters in the book; I do. But ultimately it’s...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tim Weiner

Tim Weiner's new book is One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.

From his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

TERRY GROSS: Tim Weiner, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So Nixon's deceit about the war in Vietnam begins before he's even elected. He tried to discourage South Vietnam from agreeing to a peace deal before the election 'cause Nixon - well, what did Nixon tell South Vietnam about that? This is when he was running against Hubert Humphrey.

TIM WEINER: In the summer and fall of 1968, Richard Nixon, working through his campaign manager and future attorney general, John Mitchell, and a mystery woman, whose real name was Anna Chennault but who was known to one and all as the Dragon Lady and had a suite in the Watergate Hotel complex, went to the ambassador of South Vietnam and said tell your boss the President of South Vietnam and said, tell your boss, the president of South Vietnam, President Thieu, don't cut a deal with the Democrats. We are going to win, and we will cut you a better deal. We will make sure that you, President Thieu, survive. There will be no coalition government. Do not agree to a peace deal. Wait for us. And, in fact, Nixon got word through to President Thieu through these intermediaries. President Johnson knew this because the FBI and the National Security Agency, respectively, had bugged the embassy of South Vietnam in Washington and the presidential palace in Saigon, and they knew about these backchannel communications. And when Johnson found out on the eve of the 1968 election, which his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was running against Richard Nixon, whom he had hated ever since they were both in the Senate in the early 1950s, he went ballistic.

Here was the problem - the evidence that was gathered that Nixon was sabotaging the peace talks had all been gathered through the surveillance powers of the NSA and the FBI. You couldn't reveal it. On the other hand, what Nixon and his accomplices were doing was a violation of law called the Logan Act. You can't be a private citizen doing diplomatic negotiations with another country. And Johnson and his men gathered and said, what are we going to do about this? And they couldn't reveal the evidence. It was too secret. But Johnson knew, and he called Nixon - and he called him and he said, you better not do this. And Nixon said, I would never do that. But he did.

GROSS: Did Nixon actually scuttle a plan - a peace plan that might have succeeded? Was there the real possibility of peace?

WEINER: I'm going to quote Phil Habib, who was a senior State Department official at the Paris peace talks and who continued to serve loyally under Richard Nixon. Quote, "The deal was cooked, and then something happened. Somebody got to Thieu, President Thieu, of South Vietnam. Somebody got to Thieu on behalf of Nixon and said, don't agree, don't come to Paris." And Habib said, "I'm convinced that if Humphrey had won the election, the war would've been over much sooner." And, in fact, the peace deal that Nixon finally cut was no better than the one that could've been cut in October 1968.

GROSS: There were so many lives lost in the interim.

WEINER: There were roughly 25,000 American soldiers killed in the interim. There were at least 10 times that number...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Adam Benforado

Drexel University law professor Adam Benforado's new book is Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice. From his interview with NPR's Scott Simon:

SIMON: Your strongest recommendation in this book - dare I say most controversial - is to do away with live trials and create virtual trials. What would this do?

BENFORADO: So this is one of the proposals that I lay out really for far in the future. And why I recommend it is there's so many biases that psychologists have uncovered, so at trial it shouldn't determine the outcome - what color of skin the attorney representing the accused has or whether he has, you know, a particular inflection. And yet, we know that those things matter. And I don't think it's as radical as it might seem. There are certain constitutional problems related to the confrontation clause and...

SIMON: The right to confront your accuser - and that's not a virtual right. I mean, you're supposed be able to look your accuser in his or her face.

BENFORADO: Yeah, although we have already made exceptions in a lot of different areas.

SIMON: I have to ask you, professor, if you were to be (laughter) unjustly arrested I'm sure and put on trial, wouldn't you want the right to see 12 flesh-and-blood human beings like yourself sitting across from you and make your own best case?

BENFORADO: So I think that I would be more comfortable with a system that...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 15, 2015

Emma Sky

Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute. Sky served as advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq from 2007-2010; as advisor to the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2006; as advisor to the US Security Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in 2005; and as Governorate Co-ordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004.

Her new book is The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq. From Sky's Q & A with Tim Lewis for the Guardian:

When you told the Iraq inquiry – also known as the Chilcot inquiry – how you ended up in Iraq, they scarcely believed you. Can you explain?

Well, I was working for the British Council and I volunteered to go to Iraq in 2003. The British government said it would be for three months, before we handed the country back to the Iraqis. I was against the war and I thought this would be penance: I can go and apologise to everybody and help them rebuild. I’d spent a decade working Israel-Palestine, so I’d got experience in conflict mediation and institution development, and I thought I’d be useful. I didn’t know what my job was going to be, but when I arrived in Kirkuk, I was told: “Great! You are now the governor coordinator, you are in charge of the province.” It was a slightly embarrassing position to be put in.

Did you feel at all qualified?

No, not at all. And in my first week, insurgents came to the house where I was living and blew the house up with me in it. I survived, thank God, but I had nowhere to live. I went to see a US colonel to ask for accommodation and he said: “We’re going to hunt those people down!” And I was: “No, no, no, they were attacking me because I’m a symbol of an illegal occupation.” So I went back...[read on]
Learn more about The Unraveling at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Unraveling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jen Grow

Jen Grow is the author of My Life as a Mermaid, and Other Stories.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

A lot of the stories have to do with water, which fascinated me. Even the cover, which is beautiful, shows two bodies under water. There’s that sense of floating through life, and not really being a part of it--at least for me. Could you comment?

I really like to swim. I turn into an eight year old kid when I’m near a body of water. Even now, forty years later, I still do this weird thing where I sort of plop headfirst into the pool so I can feel disoriented for a few seconds. I do it on the sly now, because let’s face it, I’m a middle-aged woman and it’s embarrassing when kids and adults ask me if I’m trying to teach myself to dive. And also, I swim where Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes train. The pool is full of serious, vigorous swimmers, and then there’s me on the side, doing my head-plop into the water. Just so I can get dizzy and momentarily separate myself from the world. The muffling effect of water is such a great thing! That says way more about me than I probably should admit, but you’re right about my characters floating through life without being a part of it. That’s me, to some degree, a fish trying to describe water. Monet’s impressionism, I’ve heard, was born partially out of his nearsightedness. Maybe my writing is the same: I have blurry, aquatic vision and so I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ingrid Thoft

Ingrid Thoft's latest novel featuring Boston P.I. Fina Ludlow is Brutality.

From a Q & A at her website:

1. Tell us a little bit about your heroine, Fina Ludlow. How do you see her, and how did you begin to conceptualize her?

I wanted to create a strong, funny and flawed female protagonist who would push the limits and do all the things I’m too well-mannered to do! Like so many readers, I was fascinated by the Lisbeth Salander character in the Stieg Larsson books. She is strong, brash, and violent and operates outside of society’s norms. That character was born of abuse and neglect and didn’t have a “normal” family. I wondered what would happen if you created a character who was also strong minded and independent, but came from a domineering family unit and had to operate within the bounds of that family. If you have nothing holding you back and nothing to lose—like Lisbeth Salander—your actions can be extreme. But if you’re trying to operate within a family system and maintain your standing in that family, you have more to lose, and the stakes can be quite high.

2. You actually attended and graduated from the University of Washington certificate program in private investigation. What drew you to this program?

I sought out the program when I made the decision to create a character who is a professional investigator rather than an amateur detective. This decision was based on the limitations I encountered in an unpublished series I had already written featuring an amateur sleuth. Over time, I found her amateur status to be problematic as she could only stumble over so many bodies before it strains credulity! So I made the main character a professional investigator, which opened up a lot of possibilities and gives me options as the series progresses.

Having made that choice, I wanted to...[read on]
Visit Ingrid Thoft's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 12, 2015

Amy Greene

Amy Greene's books include 2014's Long Man.

From her Q & A with Annasue McCleave Wilson for Publishers Weekly:

The major event in this novel is a cataclysmic, man-made flood in East Tennessee in 1936, resulting from a TVA hydroelectric dam project. You grew up in the region and still live there—did any of your forebears experience this historical incident?

My family’s 40-acre farm was spared by the floodwaters, but Cherokee Lake [the lake created by the dam], which inundates our part of the valley, is less than 10 miles from the house my grandfather built. When the water is low in winter, you can see the beginnings of roads leading to the town underneath. As a child, I was fascinated by the silos rising from the middle of the lake. When I started doing research for the novel, I learned land that had been in families for generations was lost underwater. The bones of loved ones were disinterred [from graveyards covered by floodwaters] and moved, and thousands of families were displaced. It was easy to imagine the heartbreak Roosevelt’s New Deal caused during the 1930s, but for my own family, it was a blessing. Before, people here were starving and...[read on]
Visit Amy Greene's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bloodroot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stephen W. Kress

Stephen W. Kress is the National Audubon Society’s Vice President for Bird Conservation and director of the Audubon Seabird Restoration Program and Hog Island Audubon Camp. He is the author of Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock.

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

YUP: When you first started out, eminent ornithologists posed the question to you: why bother bringing puffins back to Maine since people could go see puffins in Iceland where they are still very abundant? Now that you have re-established the puffins, what is the most important reason for people to still pay attention to the bird, other from the fact they are colorful and charismatic?

SK: The threats that affect birds such as puffins today are far greater than the gunner’s bullets that nearly wiped out Maine puffins one hundred years ago. Because puffins are at the absolute southernmost end of their known breeding range in North America, it is likely to be one of the birds to best gauge climate change in our oceans. Because the forage fish which puffins rely on to raise their chicks are sensitive to ocean temperatures, we can learn about climate change by observing the foods which puffins feed their chicks. These observations can also inform us about the state of many ocean fish that are important to people as well as puffins. Many of these species are now vulnerable to commercial overfishing.

We already know that lobsters as a species have moved more than forty miles north in the last decade with warming waters. Puffins can’t move with the changing ocean temperatures because they are linked to land where they must nest on just a few islands that provide for their special needs. It is no surprise that in recent years we are also seeing puffins bring in fish for the chicks more known in mid-Atlantic waters. The concern is that while some species are edible, nutritious and the right shape for chicks, other species are not. The same fish are also used for livestock feed, fish farming, and even nutritional supplements in unsustainable ways. Puffin adults are amazingly adaptable to catch whatever is available. The big question is what will be available in the coming decades.

Because puffins are so charismatic, they capture the plight of other seabirds and the health of the seas. I believe that they can help to engage more people with protecting oceans from climate change, pollution and overfishing. Puffins are the pandas of the sea and among...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House. 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 book is the story collection Music for Wartime.

From her Q & A with Zhanna Slor at the Michigan Quarterly Review:

I noticed, with all of your books, that you write a lot about artists. Were you raised around a lot of them?

Yes, in a way. My parents were linguistic professors; but my dad was also a really talented amateur pianist, and my mother played the organ. My sister was a piano performance major at Oberlin and now she’s a piano teacher. Actually, I was really raised more around musicians. It was more that they had a lot of artistic friends. My dad was part of the ex-pat Hungarian community and there were a lot of artists there, painters and writers. I had an aunt who ran a ballet studio. As for the “write what you know” school of thought, I realized early on in my writing process that artists and intellectuals were who I was most comfortable writing about. I’m not the right person to write some gritty novel about life on the streets—I’m glad people are doing it, but I would be terrible.

The Hundred-Year House had all sorts of visual artists, but in this collection, there’s more focus on music and musicians. You also go into quite a bit of detail with the technical aspects of playing. Did you have to do some research for that?

Yes. I studied piano and voice in college, but I don’t know a lot about string instruments, so a friend of mine connected me with a professional violinist who read both “Cross” and “The Worst You Ever Feel.” She gave me a lot of feedback about little details. Like in “The Worst You Ever Feel,” the violinist is missing a finger, and originally I had it as his pinky, but she said that wouldn’t be missed as much as his ring finger, so...[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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Camille DeAngelis

Camille DeAngelis's latest novel is Bones & All.

From her Q & A with Dianne Wenz for Chic Vegan:

CV: Tell me a little bit about your new book Bones & All and what inspired you to write it.

CD: Bones & All is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Maren who eats (as in gobbles up, like an ogre in a fairy tale) anyone who gets too affectionate with her. When her mother abandons her on the day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren goes looking for the father she’s never met, and encounters other “eaters” (and potential victims) along the way.

Every novel grows from a seed of some sort, and in this case it was “cannibals in love.” This was a paradox I found quite hilarious, but of course, the whole vegan-writing-about-cannibals thing was even more so!

CV: Why would a vegan write a book about cannibalism?

CD: It seems counterintuitive if not downright insane, doesn’t it? But the more you sit with it, the more sense it makes. Most humans are (or used to be) flesh eaters, and as consumers of animal flesh, we are predators even though we probably didn’t slaughter our dinner ourselves. I wrote Bones & All to get readers thinking, “Am I okay with being a predator? Is that really who I want to be?”

Of course, many would argue that eating animals is a much lesser sin than eating other humans, that the latter is murder while the former is sustenance. But who are we to say which lives matter and which lives do not? Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals...[read on]
Visit Camille DeAngelis's website.

Writers Read: Camille DeAngelis.

The Page 69 Test: Bones & All.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 8, 2015

Robyn Cadwallader

Robyn Cadwallader's new novel is The Anchoress.

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

Who would you say is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is anyone who engages with my words in any way, and one of the true delights of having a book published is to discover the range of responses readers can have. A few years ago, when my collection of poetry, i painted unafraid, was released, some people preferred to read the narrative poems, some liked the ideas. In one review, the reviewer highlighted a poem as her favorite that I thought was one of the weakest of them all! Perhaps the very best response was from a friend who works in palliative care, who used a selection of the poems for meditation during a simple service about grief. He chose poems that I had not even dreamed would be suitable but he framed them with his own thoughts, and I realized that he had read them in quite new and startling ways from my own.

And since The Anchoress has been released in Australia and the UK, I’ve had messages from all kinds of people: some say that it’s too slow; some say they decided to read it over a length of time, not to rush it; some say they couldn’t put it down and had to stay up late—one woman even wrote to tell me she had it propped up while she was peeling potatoes for dinner! I hadn’t intended to write anything like a page-turner, so it made me look at the novel in a new way. And a few readers have written that my main character...[read on]
Visit Robyn Cadwallader's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mark Wisniewski

Mark Wisniewski's latest novel is Watch Me Go.

From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Race is one of the topics running through the book. Why did you decide to include that as a major theme?

A: I think race became a theme in Watch Me Go because, for a number of years now in this country, racists have made it a theme.

In other words, Watch Me Go is about race, yes, but to me it's long been about more than race. It's about injustice and power-playing and sexism and the near-impossibility of people climbing out of desperation via The American Dream.

I suppose one can say that, now, the insistence some haters have in being racist has made much of that injustice worse. I don't know. It's all rather tragic to me. I'd hoped maybe this book could help improve matters for some, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sophie McManus

Sophie McManus's new book is The Unfortunates.

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

Is there a book you consider an ancestor of The Unfortunates?

I happened upon Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” after recovering from a long illness. I could not admit to myself that I needed to read or think about illness; I’d spend a year trying not to. I told myself I’d only picked up the essay by coincidence and that I would write a short response simply as an hour’s exercise, an experiment with language. I took Woolf’s suggestion, that prose is inadequate at capturing the experience of illness, as a challenge. Woolf says illness can’t be written? I can do it. What youthful arrogance! I wrote a woman lying in a bed, looking out a window. I failed to convey any of what illness is like—to be taken out of the world yet feel the world more vividly, to be taken out of the body yet be nothing but body, to fall away from the mind and into the mind, all at once. Woolf was right. (Of course Woolf was right.) But I kept trying, and ten years went by. A novel emerged. I had no plan to write a book, and no idea that one evening with Woolf would lead to this very moment, and really to a whole life I wasn’t expecting to lead.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

If a book is going to makes me cry, it’s usually on the second-to-last page. But Making Nice by Matthew Sumell did it on page seventeen. It was only last week—I was on a crowded New York City subway, holding the bar with one hand and the book with the other, making that...[read on]
Visit Sophie McManus's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 5, 2015

Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick is the author of the critically acclaimed two-volume biography of Elvis Presley—Careless Love and Last Train to Memphis. His new book is Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock n’ Roll — How One Man Discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, and How His Tiny Label, Sun Records of Memphis, Revolutionized the World!

From Guralnick's Q & A with Isabella Biedenharn for Entertainment Weekly:

You knew Sam for years before you started writing his biography. How is it different writing about a friend, as opposed to someone you’d never met, like Elvis?

I knew Sam for about 25 years, and saw a great deal of him. It wasn’t that we started out as friends, but I saw him so much. Particularly when I was doing the Elvis biography, I would do these extensive interviews [with Sam] which could go on for five or six hours or more. In some ways, that’s what makes this book so different from the biographies of Elvis and Sam Cooke. And in this case, I knew Sam quite well, but I was also present at a lot of moments which were of some significance.

I would go to an event in Memphis honoring Johnny Cash, and Sam would be saying, “I believe if Jesus was to come back to earth—listen to me now! I believe if Jesus was to come back to earth—now hear what I’m saying! I believe if Jesus was to come back to earth, he would spend a night at the Hotel Peabody. No—he would spend two or three nights at the Hotel Peabody!” And so you have half the room just absolutely appalled at the irreligiously of it, even though Sam considered himself a religious person. And half the world, maybe the Brooklyn hipster half in Memphis, were absolutely delighted by it.

Sam believed in “individualism in the extreme,” he always said. And that was the life he lived. Whether it was a matter of calling Castro to tell him not to lose heart after the Bay of Pigs, or speaking of Jesus’s visit to the Hotel Peabody. He definitely made an impression. The point is, you could have made an epic movie by just spending one day with Solomon Burke, and similarly with Sam Phillips.

Ultimately, what you’re looking to do, whether you know the person or you don’t, is to be as honest as you possibly can. I guess these are my two aims: To tell the story as truly as I can, but at the same time, to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wednesday Martin

Wednesday Martin's new book is Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir.

From her Q & A with Caitlin Moscatello for Glamour:

Glamour: Much of what you describe in the book is a struggle for power and control. You show women on the Upper East Side jockeying for power with one another, then with their nannies, and their husbands.

WM: Well I think the issue is really that it is a rigidly hierarchical society. Like a lot of elite cultures in the world, there is definite clear stratification and anxiety about where you are on it and where you want to be…. There’s anxiety about getting there, about moving up and down. And the anxiety gets gendered, because it’s women who are doing the job of building the cultural capital for the couple.

Glamour: Speaking of capital, you wrote in The New York Times about what you call the "wife bonus," saying that some women in this group are evaluated and paid by their husbands for how well they perform certain tasks. People really reacted to that term.

WM: I think the reason people got so excited or outraged by the New York Times piece is because I was suggesting that it’s possible to be a woman married to a very wealthy, powerful man but to be relatively disempowered. Not just relative to him, relative to a middle class woman who works. And I think that idea doesn’t sit well.

Glamour: If a woman is being paid by her husband, it does create a boss-employee dynamic to a certain degree, no?

WM: What’s great and what surprised me and gratified me was...[read on]
Learn more about Primates of Park Avenue and the author at Wednesday Martin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Stepmonster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jonathan Papernick

Jonathan Papernick's new novel is The Book of Stone.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

There is always something haunting a writer that gives way to a novel. What was haunting you that gave way to The Book of Stone?

I think in some ways I am always haunted by something or many things. I think the most obvious answer for this question is that I was haunted by my experience living in Israel, in the sense that I wrote about Jewish extremists and violence in my first collection of short stories and still felt that I had not fully explored that issue. I wanted to dig deeper into the fanatic mentality and what it is that makes people into terrorists and The Book of Stone was a much broader canvas which allowed me to explore this fascination. I don’t know if it’s out of my system yet, but I certainly can move on to writing about other things.

Titles are notoriously difficult to get right, but yours seems perfection. Where did it come from and how hard was it to come by?

I’m a strong believer in the importance of titles, how a title should contain the entire DNA of a story or a novel and usually I do pretty well with my titles. The title for this novel was much more difficult to come up with and I spent many, many years working under a different title that I thought was the perfect title. In the end, I realized that it was too difficult for people to remember it reminded them incorrectly of a song that had nothing to do with novel. So as I got back to rewriting my novel I knew I needed a better title, something that was perfect. I did what are Ernest Hemingway supposedly did in his search for titles, and I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jillian Lauren

Jillian Lauren is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, which chronicles the 18 months Lauren spent as a teenage concubine in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. Her new book is the recently released memoir, Everything You Ever Wanted.

From her Q & A with Karen Halvorsen Schreck for The Rumpus:

Rumpus: Self-examination can be an exercise in navel gazing, but if you use self-examination to reach toward more universal themes, to reach toward a greater understanding not just of yourself, but of humanity—well, that’s the beauty of memoir, that’s the potential.

Some Girls presents a notably unique experience, as does Everything You Ever Wanted. And yet you’ve said that hundreds of women across the country wrote to say that Some Girls was, in essence, their story, too.

Lauren: Obviously most people didn’t live in a harem. What the women were saying was that I had touched on themes and narrative momentum that they related to, and that they were able to draw parallels to their own life. I’ve gotten a few similar responses to Everything You Ever Wanted, but as it just came out, all of them have been from my friends. So we can’t trust those. We have to just wait and see what the general response is going to be. The book does explore themes of identity, belonging, family, and trauma. I do imagine that it will appeal to mothers, but, theoretically, it also should have a broader reach.

Rumpus: In your recent TEDx talk, you said this about identity and its formation: “If we look more closely at how adoptees assemble an integrated sense of identity, we can see that who we are and where we belong in this world are not just a function of nature or nurture. Who we are and where we belong is an act of imagination . . . We are the stories we tell ourselves.”

I find this statement both startling and liberating.

Lauren: The idea of identity being a choice is an absolute obsession of mine. It’s my great passion as an adoptee and an adoptive mom. I have so many influences in my life, and...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Some Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 1, 2015

Anthony Grafton

Anthony Grafton is the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University.

He is the co-editor of The Classical Tradition.

From his 2013 Q & A with Noah Charney for The Daily Beast:

I’ve asked this question of Stephen Greenblatt, Martin Kemp, and Christopher Celenza, and I’m curious of your response. I came across a note that stated that Leonardo da Vinci owned 118 books by the time he died, which was a very good number for the early 16th century, but I cannot find an itemized list. What do you think would have featured in the library of a well-read 16th-century Italian thinker and artist, and what “classical” texts would not have featured (because they were not yet known) that might surprise us?

That’s a really good question! Lots of things that now seem canonical would not have been accessible to Leonardo, who was not that proficient in Latin. There were many things only in Greek in his lifetime, or not all that readable in their first translations. I don’t know how many people really “got” Thucydides, reading it in Lorenzo Valla’s first translation. I do think that Leonardo was more of a reader than he is credited with being. I’ve always been fascinated with his idea that he wanted to create a version of Ptolemy’s Geography for the human body, and by the way in which he clearly had read Alberti’s work, and wrestled with it. It’s clear that it wasn’t just annotation of his own thoughts; he also was responding to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue