Saturday, August 30, 2014

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is the bestselling author of The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed. From his Q & A with Kate Kellaway at The New Review:

How important a role does storytelling play in your life?

I used to tell stories to my kids. They are 13 and 11 now, but I used to put them to bed and they loved it when I made up folk tales. I'd make sure there was a cliffhanger every night. It was a powerful tool to get them to clean their teeth and go to bed. I improvised every night and loved it. My grandmother and father were gifted storytellers. The opening fable in And the Mountains Echoed – although I made it up – pays homage to the stories I heard growing up. It may be the blinding light of nostalgia but there used, I think, to be more appetite in those days – and longer attentions spans – for sitting down to a story.

When did your family leave Afghanistan for the US?

We left Kabul in 1976. My father had a diplomatic post in Paris. After the Soviet invasion, we applied for political asylum in the US. It was 1980, I was 15. For my parents, who had always been on the giving side of things, it was an affront to live on state benefit – charity. My dad found work as a driving instructor, my mother [formerly a teacher] as a waitress and then a beautician – she learned to cut hair and worked in a salon for two decades. My father, ironically, later became...[read on]
The Kite Runner is one of Roger Moore's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2014

Courtney Maum

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

From Maum's Q & A with Ana Homayoun:

Q. Your debut novel, I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN WITHOUT YOU, is mainly set in Paris, where you moved after graduating from Brown University. Who or what encouraged the move? What did you do while you were there? What made you come back to the States?

I studied abroad in Paris and I just had that “this is it” feeling that you get when you know a match is right. It can happen with romantic partners, as it can with cities. I just felt like Paris was a place that I could thrive in: the way that I think and act and am inspired simply makes sense there. My senior year of college, I had a French boyfriend which made the move easier in terms of logistics, but we ended up breaking up three months after I arrived. He said he’d drive me back to the airport and I was like, “Are you kidding? I’m staying!” Rather naively, I went to Paris without a working visa so I had to take a lot of sketchy jobs—one was working for an online psychologist, another was consulting as a trend forecaster for a French woman who threw chairs around the office when she wasn’t happy about something. I finally ended up getting a visa to work as a party promoter for Corona Extra where I worked for three years. I ended up moving back after five years in France because my family and friends were beginning to forget that I existed—I have a younger half-brother who wrote an essay saying that he had a sister who was French. Plus, my husband (who I met three years into my Paris sojourn) is a French filmmaker who had never lived anywhere but Paris, and...[read on]
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Daniel Kehlmann

Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975 and lives in Berlin and New York. His works have won the Candide Prize, the Doderer Prize, the Kleist Prize, the Welt Literature Prize, and the Thomas Mann Prize. His new novel is F.

From Kehlmann's conversation with Jonathan Franzen, in Salon:

Jonathan Franzen: I want to start by saying I’m a big fan of this book. It may be my favorite thing of yours yet, although I’m also a huge fan of “Fame.” It seems like this is a novel about a genuinely serious philosophical question — why our life takes the particular path it does — and about the weirdness of being inside a life while it’s taking the turns it does. But for me the actual experience of reading the book was page after page of comedy. One of the three brothers at the center of it is this grossly overweight priest who can’t stop eating and doesn’t believe in God. Another one is an investment banker who’s trying to conceal from everyone in his life that his business is going down in flames – another classic comic situation. And then you have the third brother working as an art forger in the art world, which is a pretentious and phony place where people are doing pretentious and phony and craven things. It’s all just really, really funny. So my first question would be: Are you comfortable with being called a comic novelist?

Daniel Kehlmann: Yes, I am. I published my first novel when I was 22. It is a very serious book. I was one of these writers who feel that the funny and playful part of their personality is the part they should leave out of the books because literature is serious business. It took me a while to understand that if in life I like to laugh about things, then I should try to get that side of myself into the books. It took me a while to learn how to work with comic effects.

It seems like you’re definitely further in that direction, because this is your funniest book yet. I wonder if that creates difficulties for you in Germany. The stereotype from the U.S. is that Germans are extremely serious. Even here, if you put the word “comic” in front of the word “novelist” — it’s just what you say. Comic is the opposite of serious, and I have a feeling it’s even more that way in Germany. Correct me if I’m wrong.

“Measuring the World“ was a comic novel about classical German culture, and that’s how reviewers around the world saw it right away, but it was not considered a comic novel in Germany when it came out. Detecting humor is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman is the author of the bestselling Magicians trilogy.

From his Q & A with Laura Miller at Salon:

The Magicians trilogy takes two bodies of source material in children’s literature — the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books — and transfigures them by moving them into adult fiction, with an adult perspective on the world. What were you up to with that?

I thought of it as having a conversation. I believe Harold Bloom’s “Anxiety of Influence” theory about authors needing to define themselves through rebelling against a forerunner. In a weird way I really felt that I was talking to J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis and trying to tell them about how my life was different from the lives of their characters. I had to explain to C.S. Lewis how poorly I’d been prepared for some of the challenges of early middle age by my obsessive childhood rereading of the Chronicles of Narnia. There was nothing in there about quarterly estimated taxes and midlife depression. And really nothing useful in there at all about sex. I felt like I needed to say, “It’s wonderful what you did. I love it and I always will, but I have to tell you there are some gaps here and I’m going to try to fill them in.”

It really is like having a conversation with your parents. You love your parents, but they’re absolutely maddening and you despise them. It’s a both-and situation. One of the primal reading experiences of my life was “Watchmen” by Alan Moore, which was this utterly scathing demolition of the superhero story and all the conventions it stood on — and at the same time the greatest superhero story that had ever been written. So it is possible to write a critique and a loving homage at the same time in one work and that’s what...[read on]
The Magicians is on Joel Cunningham's list of eight great books for fans of Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

The Page 69 Test: The Magicians.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, and The End of Everything. Her 2012 novel, Dare Me, was chosen by Entertainment Weekly and Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2012 and is soon to be a major motion picture.

Abbott's latest novel is The Fever:

From the author's Q & A with David W. Brown for The Atlantic:

The Fever is loosely based on the 2012 mass hysteria outbreak in Le Roy, New York. What is it about that story that inspired you to write this novel?

It kind of came out of nowhere. I had always wanted to do a novel that addressed some of the same issues connected to the Salem Witch trials, but set in the modern day. So that was in the back of my head. When the [outbreak] story first broke in downstate New York in January 2012, I turned on the Today Show and saw two of the girls on camera. They had developed these tics—motor and vocal tics—and they were completely mystified by what was happening, and they looked so frightened and upset, as did their parents who were with them. It was really unsettling. And then I immediately started writing. The case was in the background as...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Fever.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2014

Steven Pressman

Steven Pressman is the author of 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany.

From his Q & A with the Christian Science Monitor's books editor Marjorie Kehe:

Q: Why has this dramatic story not received more attention over the decades?

Neither Gil nor Eleanor Kraus themselves ever talked publicly (or, for that matter, even with their own family or friends) about what they had done in the spring of 1939. Once they had brought the 50 children into the United States, they both put this episode behind them. After I began interviewing some of the rescued children (who are now well into their 80s), I realized that many of them did not know too many of the details of the rescue mission.

So for all these decades, there really wasn’t anyone around who was able to tell the full story. Fortunately, my wife – who is one of Gil and Eleanor’s four grandchildren – had kept a copy of her grandmother’s private memoir, which is what allowed me to finally bring this story to light.

Q: How closely does your book track Eleanor’s memoir?

Eleanor's memoir provided me with a fairly detailed blueprint for telling the story of the rescue mission. It certainly would have been difficult, if not impossible, to fully recount the Krauses' own actions without the memoir.

But the book also tells a much broader story about the political and social conditions that existed in the United States during the 1930s, which form an essential backdrop against which the children's rescue mission took place. The book also focuses a great deal on the families and backgrounds of many of the rescued children, all of whom...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Colleen Hill

Colleen Hill is associate curator of accessories at The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology. She is the author of Exposed: A History of Lingerie, a book accompanying a show by the same title.

From Hill's Q & A at FIT's blog:

What drew you to the topic of lingerie? Can you talk about your process in putting together the exhibition? With such a broad topic, where does one begin?

CH: I’ve always loved lingerie. As a teenager, I incorporated vintage slips and bed jackets into my wardrobe. My interest in the MFIT lingerie collection began in 2007, when I was organizing an exhibition entitled Seduction. Although I only included a small selection of lingerie in that show, I got a sense of how many important lingerie garments were in the Museum’s permanent collection. More recently, MFIT received several donations of especially beautiful lingerie, such as a 1940s couture nightgown by Juel Park, and a gorgeous bandeau bra from the 1920s.

Since the Museum has such a vast collection of lingerie, I began by selecting some of the most visually striking and intricately crafted pieces. At the same time, I started to conduct preliminary research to determine which garments were most historically important. Finally, I researched each object individually, focusing on primary sources such as magazines, catalogs, and advertisements. These sources also helped our team to determine how many of the garments would have looked on the body, so that our mannequins could be dressed as accurately as possible.

As you worked on the exhibition, did any facts about lingerie’s history surprise you?

CH: One of my favorite research discoveries was a sheer bra, called the “Illusion,” that was designed in 1949. In many ways, it was similar to Rudi Genreich’s “no bra” bra of the 1960s. I discovered the earlier example in a trade magazine entitled Corsets and Underwear Review. At some point, a reader had circled the photograph of the Illusion bra and written “disgusting” next to it. It was fascinating to see such a reaction! It’s likely that some people thought Gernreich’s sheer bras to be distasteful too, of course—but his underwear did sell very well, and it’s essential to lingerie history. There are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley is best known for the Miranda Corbie series of historical noir novels and short stories set in 1940 San Francisco. The first novel of the series, City of Dragons, introduced Miranda, the unforgettable protagonist Library Journal calls "one of crime’s most arresting heroines.”

City of Dragons won the Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel, and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Shamus Award, a Bruce Alexander Award and an RT Book Reviews Award, was a Mystery Guild selection of the month, and placed on many “best of the year” lists.

City of Secrets, the sequel to City of Dragons, was released by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur to great critical acclaim, was nominated for a number of awards and won the Golden Nugget for best mystery set in California.

Stanley's latest novel in the series is City of Ghosts.

From the author's Q & A with Holly West for Do Some Damage:

Holly West: CITY OF GHOSTS touches upon several historical events/topics: The looting of art during WWII, Americans working as spies for the Nazis, and the Nazis censuring and destroying what the regime considered to be "degenerate" art and literature. One of the benefits of writing historical fiction is that we can use real-life historical events to inform our plots. It doesn't necessarily make the writing easier, but definitely provides some direction. In plotting, do you start with a historical event you'd like to explore in more depth or are your plots more about where you'd like to take Miranda Corbie as a character, then choosing the historical elements to follow?

Kelli Stanley: Holly, you ask the best questions! I know this is going to sound less than definitive, but the answer is both. There are historical elements from this period that I wanted to address—tensions between Japanese and Chinese Americans in Chinatown (CITY OF DRAGONS); anti-Semitic, pro-fascist American hate groups and how eugenics (and America’s role in promoting it) led to Hitler’s Germany (CITY OF SECRETS).

For CITY OF GHOSTS, I wanted to explore the theme of art—who owns it, who values or devalues it, and what it means to a nation or a culture. That dovetailed historically with what the Nazis were doing to dispossessed Jews and conquered countries like Poland—a wholesale theft and destruction of cultural patrimony. I also wanted to write a train scene—that was purely personal. In every book, there’s at least one scene in which I tackle a noir or hardboiled—or, in this case, traditional mystery—trope. They’re fun to write—an homage, if you will. The gambling scene in CITY OF SECRETS is another example.

Miranda’s character development is on almost a separate trajectory from the exterior plot mechanics; one of my challenges is to mesh each thread and theme so that they work to produce a united and hopefully seamless result. In other words, I put her in situations that I’m interested in and see how she reacts. In CITY OF GHOSTS, for example, she spends time in Reno because...[read on]
Learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

The Page 69 Test: City of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: City of Ghosts.

My Book, The Movie: City of Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rebecca Makkai

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

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

From her Q & A with Christine Sneed:

Tell us a little about your new novel.

It’s the story of a haunted house and a haunted family, told backwards over the 20th century. We start in 1999 with Doug and Zee move into the grand estate’s coach house. (Zee’s mother owns the whole place.) Doug is fascinated by the house’s previous life as an artists’ colony, and hopes to find something archival there about the poet Edwin Parfitt, who was in residence at Laurelfield in the twenties (and whose work happens to be Doug’s area of scholarship). When he learns that there are file cabinets full of colony materials in the attic, Doug is anxious to get to work and save his career—but his mother-in-law refuses him access. With help from friends, Doug finally does access the Parfitt file—only to find far stranger and more disturbing material than he bargained for.

Doug may never learn all the house’s secrets, but the reader does, as the narrative zips back in time from 1999 to 1955 and 1929. We see the autumn right after the colony’s demise, when its newlywed owners are more at the mercy of the place’s lingering staff than they could imagine; and we see it as a bustling artists’ community fighting for survival in the last, heady days of the 1920s.

Through it all, the residents of Laurelfield are both plagued and blessed by the strange legacy of Laurelfield’s original owners: extraordinary luck, whether good or bad.

The Hundred-Year House is so different from your first novel, The Borrower (though in both you balance both the serious and the comic with such aplomb) - what was the inspiration for The Hundred-Year House? Were there any novels (mysteries, for example) you were thinking of when you began drafting it?

I did think a lot about books like The Haunting of Hill House and The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca – ones that are more about rattled people than rattling chains. I love that space between skepticism and fear that allows so much to happen. It’s the same space where there’s room for us as readers.

These books weren’t the original inspiration for the novel, though....[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, August 20, 2014

Katie Crouch

Katie Crouch's latest novel is Abroad.

From her Q & A with Lisa Marie Basile for Tin House:

LMB: What inspired you to write Abroad from the perspective of the deceased, and were you ever worried people would call the book “that story about Amanda Knox?”

KC: I didn’t worry about that latter question, because there are so many nonfiction books about Amanda Knox I found it kind of a moot point. There was also another excellent novel about Knox rushed to publication to pre-empt mine. So by the time my book came out, I wasn’t worried about Ms. Knox knocking on my door saying, what the hell? It was well-tread ground.

That said, my book is actually very different. The main focus wasn’t Knox at all. It was the victim. I was in Italy when I decided to write this, and all anyone could talk about was “Angel Face”, the beautiful American. And very few people could remember [the young woman Knox was accused of killing] Meredith Kercher’s name. I found that fascinating, and alarming. Because as I started researching and interviewing people about the case, I found the most relevant answers to what happened always led back to her. She was the only one who knew the truth, but she couldn’t relay it. Which was a terrific place...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue