Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sari Wilson

Sari Wilson is the author of the new novel Girl Through Glass.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think writers are haunted by some idea and they write their novels to come to terms with it. So what sparked the writing of your novel?

First off, I just want to say thanks for having me on your blog as a debut novelist. I’m honored! I think you are totally right in the case of Girl Through Glass. I was haunted by this book, this material, by my own past. Ballet was my great young love. After I stopped training that whole part of my life became locked in a very private place. It was shocking, being cut off from this whole world that had sort of raised me. I tried to put it behind me and move and devote myself to other things. One day, I sat down and wrote what is now the entire first part of the novel—and then I cried. So I knew I had something. But it took me many more years to figure out what.

You trained as a dancer, which gives your novel a fascinating authenticity. Are there any skills from dance that translate to putting words on the page? And do you still dance or take classes?

I started writing during college, after I had a second surgery that just made it clear that I could never be a professional dancer. And writing following dance, yes, they were very connected. I think I tried to give...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Judith Hooper

Judith Hooper's new novel is Alice in Bed.

From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel about Alice James?

A: It happened when I was researching a nonfiction book centered in late 19th century Boston that was refusing to come together. I fell mysteriously ill (not unlike Alice James) and while stopped dead in my tracks, I found myself unexpectedly switching gears to fiction.

William James had been part of my stalled book and I was drawn to the diary and letters of his “hysterical” sister. Alice was droll, original, and somehow startlingly modern; she didn’t suffer fools gladly and painted hilarious word-portraits of her world (referring to Britain’s “tinsel monarchy” and observing, “How they must love to see a back!”)

Perhaps because she herself had suffered, she empathized with the English poor, the Irish, and colonized people everywhere. She’d have made a great heroine even if she hadn’t had two famous brothers and written a diary that stunned the literary world.

As a devotee of Proust, I was drawn to this person with a vivid inner life and almost no outer life. But how to write it? My solution—which did not emerge immediately-- was to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 5, 2016

Shabana Mir

Shabana Mir is the author of Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity. From her Q & A at the University of North Carolina Press website:

Q: Did the women in your book have a hard time combining their "Muslim" and "American" identities? Did they have to resolve conflicts between the two?

A: My participants knew that observers and others thought that their "Muslim" and "American" identities were in perpetual conflict. None of them said that they experienced this conflict. Where they saw conflict was in the way others saw what it means to be "American" and "Muslim." In other words, if you think an "American" young person is a White, Christian person who drinks at college then, yes, there is conflict between being "American" and an observant Muslim. There are certainly plenty of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Christians who do not participate in hedonistic youth culture, and plenty who do. When we assume that an "American" and/or a "Muslim" has an "essence" that is religious or irreligious, liberal or conservative, etc., that is when we engage with the problem of conflict between these incommensurable identities. Intisar (a Somali-American student), for instance, is personally comfortable with praying in the prayer-room as well as attending a dance show; Teresa, a White convert, is comfortable with being an observant Muslim as well as smoking; but neither of them is comfortable being seen doing these "conflicting" things. The problem is not in being this complicated person. The problem is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth's latest novel is The Things We Keep. From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

So, rather than ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” (every writer I know hates that!), I want to know what was haunting you at the time that gave root to this novel?

I suppose I was haunted by the question: If you take away someone’s memory, what is left?

Five years ago, I was flicking television channels when I came across a news segment about a young woman—a newlywed—who was pregnant with her first child. She had also recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 31 years old.

A couple of years later, I was having coffee with a friend who is a nurse at a dementia facility. She told me about an elderly man and woman who held hands in the communal living area of the center every day. They came into the facility as strangers. Their memories were less than five minutes long. They were both non-verbal. Yet every day, they sat next to each other. Every day he reached for her hand, and every day she allowed him to take it. And for them, every time was the first time.

It got me thinking about....[read on]
Visit Sally Hepworth's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Secrets of Midwives.

My Book, The Movie: The Secrets of Midwives.

Writers Read: Sally Hepworth (February 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many young adult verse novels about the island, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino author, and The Lightning Dreamer, recipient of the 2014 PEN USA Award. Her books have also received multiple Pura Belpré Awards and Honors, Américas Awards, Jane Addams Awards and Honors, International Reading Association Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and many others.

Engle grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. Her books include Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, is a verse memoir about those childhood visits.

From the author's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: As you were working on your family memoir, Enchanted Air, was the writing process different than with some of your other books that didn’t deal directly with your own experiences?

A: The writing process was completely different! Ordinarily, I write historical verse novels that require an incredible amount of research, while allowing certain details to be imagined. In this case, I couldn’t include any fiction at all, and my only resource was memory.

It was also an intensely emotional experience that resulted in loud sobs and wild mood swings. There was also a lot of fear and uncertainty. What would relatives think? What if I’m misunderstood by readers from various backgrounds?

Despite all these challenges, in the end it turned out to be a healing process, because I faced excruciating memories that I had been avoiding for decades.

Q: As a poet, what do you hope younger readers gain from your works and that of other authors who present their stories in verse?

A: It would be wonderful to see young people grow up with a love of....[read on]
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

The Page 99 Test: Enchanted Air.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

James D. Stein

James D. Stein's new book is L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and Mathematics in the City of Angels.

From the author's Q & A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press Blog:

L.A. Math is definitely an unusual book. Brian Clegg described it by saying “It’s as if Ellery Queen, with the help of P. G. Wodehouse, spiced up a collection of detective tales with a generous handful of practical mathematics.” How did you happen to write it?

JS: I absolutely loved it when he described it that way, because I was brought up on Ellery Queen. For younger readers, Ellery Queen was one of the greatest literary detectives of the first half of the twentieth century, specializing in classic Sherlock Holmes type cases. The Ellery Queen stories were written by the team of Manfred Dannay and Frederick Lee — and my mother actually dated one of them!

The two other mystery writers who influenced me were Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Rex Stout wrote a series featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; the books are presumably written by Archie Goodwin describing their cases, so I used that as the model for Freddy Carmichael. The relationship between Archie and Nero also served, somewhat, as a parallel for the relationship between Freddy and Pete. Nero and Pete both have addictions — Nero wants to spend his time eating elaborate cuisine and raising orchids, and Pete wants to spend his time watching and betting on sports. It’s up to Archie and Freddy to prod them into taking cases.

How does Agatha Christie enter the picture?

JS: I’d taught liberal arts mathematics — math for poets — maybe ten times with temporary success but no retention. Students would learn what was necessary to pass the course, and a year later they’d forgotten all of it. That’s not surprising, because the typical liberal arts math course has no context that’s relevant for them. They’re not math-oriented. I know I had several history courses discussing the Battle of Azincourt, but I don’t remember anything about it because it has no context for me.

Agatha Christie’s best-known detective is Hercule Poirot, and one day I was in a library reading...[read on]
Learn more about L.A. Math at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 69 Test: L.A. Math.

Writers Read: James D. Stein.

My Book, The Movie: L.A. Math.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rebecca Alexander

Rebecca Alexander is the author of the book Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found. From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?

A: I think the most important thing—I was pretty disappointed [to] find the book in the disability section. It was such a bummer. We still live in a world that’s closed-minded. We’re still very much not a totally inclusive society.

Having a disability doesn’t mean that’s who you are. We’re all dealing with something. People who identify with my book are not necessarily people with disabilities. My process is similar to other people’s—a journey toward self-acceptance. I found the book on the disability shelf, and thought, We have a lot of work to do.

Having Usher Syndrome—on the one hand, people could say, That’s the worst thing. There’s no question on some days I feel terribly sad. [But] if it weren’t for Usher Syndrome, I never would have learned sign language and tactile sign language, or recognized how fragile life can be…

I don’t think people look at me and say, She’s going deaf and blind. You don’t know what people are going around with.

Q: What advances have been made regarding Usher Syndrome Type III in recent years?

A: Stem cell research is really important, and there was a big step back when stem cell research was put on hold. All different...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs, like her iconic character Dr. Temperance Brennan, is a board-certified forensic anthropologist, and creator of the Fox television hit Bones. Reichs has written fourteen books in the Temperance Brennan series, all New York Times bestsellers. With her son Brendan Reichs, she co-writes the Virals series of novels for young readers.

From her Q & A with Caitlin Pinks at the Guardian:

I really love your Virals novels and am particularly interested in the supernatural element of the stories, was it hard to think of ways to keep the supernatural element of the story going?

The hardest part of the supernatural element was keeping that angle in line with actual scientific principles. In the Virals series — which I co-write with my son, Brendan Reichs — we use science in our fiction more so than write “science fiction.” That’s how we like to think about our work.

What made you decide to have a supernatural element in the books at all?

Brendan actually came up with the idea to add a supernatural element, or a piece of “grounded fantasy,” as my editor likes to call it. When we were in the Turks and Caicos my son adopted a dog for me (thanks), but Turk fell sick almost immediately with parvovirus. We’d never heard of it, but quickly learned how deadly an illness it can be for a puppy. Thankfully, Turk pulled through. We’d frantically learned everything we could about the virus when he was battling the disease, and the idea sprang from there. What if humans could contract a weaponized form of parvovirus? The rest is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2016

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife. Her new book, The Swans of Fifth Avenue is the #1 Indie Next Pick for February.

From Benjamin's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I’m totally fascinated by the subjects of your novels, from Alice of Alice in Wonderland, to Mrs. Tom Thumb. And I love the whole idea of centering on the “swans” the glamorous society ladies of New York City’s Manhattan. So I want to know, what do you look for when considering who or what to write about? What particularly haunts you about your subjects, and do you see a running theme between each of them?

I think I'm drawn to people whose public stories are fairly well known, but whose private lives seem to indicate that there was a lot more going on that we didn't know about or learn about. The liars of history, in other words. So far, I think the only running theme I see (but then again, authors are the very last people in the world to understand what they've written; readers get that so much sooner than we do!) is the theme of an unconventional love story. Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll); Lavinia Warren Stratton and P.T. Barnum; Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh. And now, Truman Capote and Babe Paley. Not all of these are affairs of the flesh but they are all affairs of the heart, in one way or another.

This novel seems as though it was a blast to research. What was the most fun? What was the least? And what surprised you?

Yes! It was the most fun I've had writing a book; I felt as if I were invited to the most fabulous party in Manhattan, with Truman Capote as host, and I was able to eavesdrop on every conversation. The parties, the entire era (an era in which everyone dressed to the nines, even just for lunch), the clothes, particularly - they were just so much fun to explore, and then write about.

The least fun part was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Marilyn Hilton

Marilyn Hilton is the author of the middle-grade novel Full Cicada Moon.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: In the acknowledgments in Full Cicada Moon, you write, “I wrote [main character] Mimi’s story in wonder and terror and awe, not knowing if I could or should write it.” Why did you decide to write it, and why did you question whether you could or should write it?

A: I wanted to write a story about a girl whose mother was Japanese and whose father was African American, like my husband—a story that our children and children like them could see themselves starring in.

But, being of English and Scots descent, at first I felt that I wasn’t the right person to write this book. I had family stories, memories of growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s in New England, the experience of studying in Kyoto the year after graduating from college with a Japanese major, and a love for history and research.

Then the story didn’t give up on wanting to be told. Soon I was possessed by Mimi, the 12-year-old protagonist, and her family, the town they lived in, and the people they met there. So I began writing Full Cicada Moon despite my fears, approaching the story as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible, and I loved every moment of it.

Q: Why did you choose 1969 as the year in which to set the story?

A: From the start, I wanted to isolate Mimi in place and time so that it was highly likely no one in her new town would have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue