Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kathleen George

Kathleen George is the author of The Johnstown Girls, a novel about the famous Johnstown flood. She has also written seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh: A Measure of Blood, Simple, The Odds, which was nominated for the Edgar® Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Hideout, Afterimage, Fallen, and Taken. George is also the author of the short story collection The Man in the Buick and editor of another collection, Pittsburgh Noir. She is a professor of theater arts and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

From a Q&A with George about her new novel, The Blues Walked In:

You wrote JOHNSTOWN GIRLS, a novel about the Johnstown flood, and seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh. Your new book, THE BLUES WALKED IN, explores Pittsburgh's Hill District, with Lena Horne at the center of the story. Why is Pittsburgh the backdrop for so much of your work? Do you remember the first time you wrote a story with Pittsburgh as the setting?

KG. I did write those things! You might say I'm geographically challenged so I stick to what I know or can investigate by driving around. I've been in Pittsburgh got most of my life so I keep using it.

I don't remember the first time I imagined a story set in Pittsburgh, but I'm pretty sure it was early on—when I was writing short fiction and before I jumped into novel writing. I didn't name streets at that point but I felt the setting was local.

I DO remember the thrill of setting my first novel, TAKEN, in Pittsburgh. There was something totally exciting about naming real places—even the ones that had disappeared a year before my project, like Ralph's discount City downtown. I kept thinking, "I can do this? It makes it feel so real!" It felt like bravery as a writer. I was saying, "Believe this. Trust me."

One really funny thing happened early on that jolted me though...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blues Walked In.

Writers Read: Kathleen George.

My Book, The Movie: The Blues Walked In.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Joanna Cantor

Joanna Cantor's new novel is Alternative Remedies for Loss.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What was the inspiration for Alternative Remedies for Loss, and how did you come up with your main character, Olivia?

A: I began Alternative Remedies for Loss as a short story, inspired by “Safari,” a chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I love family dramas and set myself the goal of writing a story similar to “Safari” but about a family traveling to India. After I completed the story, I didn’t feel finished with the characters, and I thought maybe the story could become a novel. So I kept writing.

When I came up with the character of Olivia, I was fairly new to writing fiction and just learned how to let my characters mess up. It felt liberating to create a female protagonist who was constantly stepping into action, rather than sitting around overthinking every email and conversation (which is more the way I am!) So from the start, she was...[read on]
Visit Joanna Cantor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jenna Blum

Jenna Blum's new novel is The Lost Family.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think writers are haunted into writing their books. What was haunting you?

Recently on Twitter there was the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My answer was simple: because I have people in my head who won’t leave me alone. I had worked with the hero of The Lost Family, Peter Rashkin, before in my novella for the post-WW2 anthology Grand Central, and I was gratified and humbled by readers demanding to know what happened to him beyond the cliffhanger I left him on. So I was preoccupied by that question and kept throwing it up to the Universe—but the answer always returned to me in the form of Peter’s daughter, Elsbeth, and her unsuitable crush Julian, the photographer. I was consistently presented by the image of the two of them on Elsbeth’s nominal grandparents’ terrace in Larchmont, New York, both outsiders—Julian because he is the flavor du jour photographer who’s making a sensation shooting naked pre-teens; Elsbeth because she’s a teenager. They’re both synesthestic, meaning they assign colors to letters and numbers, and I saw them over and over again comparing notes. They were as persistent as...[read on]
Visit Jenna Blum's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost Family.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2018

Erin Duffy

Erin Duffy's latest novel is Regrets Only.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Regrets Only and for your character Claire?

A: I was getting ready to make my own transition from the city to the suburbs, and I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of giving up the city life and the independence that it afforded me, and moving out to the burbs.

Like a lot of women, I had a lot of anxiety, and struggled with the “is what’s best for my family what’s best for me” debate that has driven women crazy for hundreds of years.

After one particularly bad panic attack, my husband reminded me that moving wasn’t that big of a deal, and that if I really hated it, we’d move back.

It made me feel so much better to think of it that way, and then I had a horrifying thought: what if I wanted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Maxine Kaplan

Maxine Kaplan is the author of The Accidental Bad Girl.

From her Q&A with Katya de Becerra:

You are a Brooklyn local and THE ACCIDENTAL BAD GIRL is set in a Brooklyn school. What was it like to write your hometown setting into a fictional reality of your book?

Honestly, at least at the beginning, that was purely for logistical purposes. I wanted to use layouts that I was familiar with. And I’ve never been a teenager in a small town or suburb, and don’t know firsthand how a girl like my MC would move in that environment, or really any environment other than a city with a highly developed public transit system. But I’m very happy with the decision for dramatic reasons, too, since it allowed me to touch on issues of privilege in ways that resonate with my own lived experiences. I don’t know if I always want to write about Brooklyn, but it was good to have the details of it readily accessible in my brain for my first book.

I love books with complex, compelling protagonists who have to navigate their way out of difficult circumstances. Kendall, the protagonist of THE ACCIDENTAL BAD GIRL, sounds like exactly my kind of protagonist – how did Kendall come to be the leading girl of your debut?

Thank you! I love Kendall. Kendall is the reason I wanted to write this book. I’m a big fan of noir and all things noir-adjacent, including James Bond and Hitchcock. But the characters that always struck my imagination the most were the femme fatales—and I never got enough information about them to satisfy me. I wanted to depict these dangerous women/girls as real people. Basically, Kendall is...[read on]
Visit Maxine Kaplan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Accidental Bad Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's new novel is The Great Believers.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always want to know what the “why now” moment is for an author in writing a novel. What was haunting you and propelling you to write?

When I started, I really just wanted to write about the Paris art world of the 1920s. It felt romantic and tragic. As I planned, though, that stuff turned into a subplot and the book became about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 1980s. The research I did, especially the interviews I conducted and the photos I found, became my motivation. So much about what I learned made me angry and broke my heart, and those are great reasons to write.

I first came to NYC during the AIDS crisis of the 80s. I remember the silence=death icons all over the sidewalk and the horror of friends dying. What was your research like?

I’m a bit too young to remember the height of the crisis personally, and didn’t want to rely on secondary sources, so I did a lot of primary source reading (gay weeklies on archive from the ‘80s, online personal accounts) and a ton of in-person interviews. I interviewed survivors, doctors, nurses, journalists, historians, activists, lawyers, basically everyone who was willing to talk to me. And then, after I’d written the book, I gave it to three of those people to read—people who I knew would call me on every little thing that felt even slightly off. I was terrified of getting things wrong, both factually and emotionally, and I think that terror was...[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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Catherine McKenzie

Catherine McKenzie's latest novel is The Good Liar.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You tell the story from different perspectives, including some sections in the form of interviews. Why did you decide to structure the novel that way?

A: This wasn’t the story of one woman, but three, which always presents challenges in terms of voice and presentation. Because there is a documentary film being made, I thought using the interviews would be a good way of showing a different voice and I liked the challenge of having even less to work with than usual and yet still conveying someone’s personality.

Q: Did you know the ending before you started writing, or did you make any changes along the way?

A: I do always know the ending before I start writing. There was one change though – the...[read on]
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hidden.

Writers Read: Catherine McKenzie (April 2014).

My Book, The Movie: Hidden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Michael McFaul

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is currently a professor of political science at Stanford University, the director of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His new book is From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.

From the transcript of McFaul's Q&A with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What -- what was it like? You're in a dictatorship. You are -- yes, you're the American ambassador, but you have the full resources of this dictatorship directed against you personally.

MCFAUL: Yeah.

ZAKARIA: Did you -- I mean, did you feel unnerved?

MCFAUL: Yes, in two respects. One, on the disinformation stuff, sometimes we could laugh about it, but sometimes it got pretty nasty. In fact, the low point without question was when a video circulated suggesting I was a pedophile.

And what do you do about that, Fareed? What do you say -- you get on Twitter and say "I'm not a pedophile"? And to this day, if you search my name and "pedophile" on the Russian search engine, Yandex, 3 million hits come up.

And then, second, you know, you've been to Russia. We used to meet in Russia when I was ambassador. And you should know. You know, but everybody should know that, if the FSB, successor organization to the KGB, wants to follow you and everything you do, they have tremendous capability to do that -- your e-mail, your phone, your house. I had to assume that every single movement I made in Spaso House -- beautiful place, by the way; I was delighted to live there -- but every single movement I made was monitored.

So they have that capacity. And I learned to live with that. But that's one thing. Then there's another thing. And this was -- got dicey sometimes. They can follow you without you knowing. They're great at that. But sometimes they want to follow you because they want you to know you're being followed. And every now and then that would tick up. We would see these guys at my son's soccer game; we would see them tailing me. And the worst was when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Abdi Nor Iftin

Abdi Nor Iftin's new book is Call Me American: A Memoir.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to take you back to the beginning where this book begins and your family's story, your parents, who were nomads. And they describe a sort of Somali life that I've really never heard about, of lush fields and a peaceful pastoral life.

IFTIN: It is. It is. My mother had - you know, her entire world was just her nomadic life - you know? - the animals, her family. And she had no idea that the country that she was living in was called Somalia. She had always told me, you know, Abdi, there's only two days - the day that you're born and then the day that you die. Everything else in the middle is just grazing and hanging out with the animals. And, you know, how easy life had been to my parents before the disaster had hit and wiped out all their animals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that disaster, of course, was the famine and the drought. And your life was marked very early on by war. What was your earliest memory of the conflict?

IFTIN: I was 6 years old when the civil war started, militias started, you know, pouring into the city and death and killings and torture. And I described the smell of Mogadishu. It was just, you know, the smell of gunpowder. And that had been...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer's new book is She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What was the inspiration for your new book?

A: I was looking back over some of the articles I’ve written, and I noticed a pattern of writing about different aspects of heredity. I asked myself why I was so interested in it---I have two teenage kids, and maybe it’s something growing on my mind.

I decided to do broader research on the history of heredity. I decided it would be my next book. It’s so fascinating. It’s important for our identity, our culture, and scientists are delving into heredity more and more deeply.

Q: What did you learn about your own genetic makeup from working on the book?

A: I learned that I probably have a genome a lot like other people’s genome, and that’s fine. There’s nothing that makes it exceptional. But if you prowl around in your genome, you will find something. I have a variant that protects me from various autoimmune diseases. Scientists have developed a drug to treat these autoimmune diseases.

I was able to pinpoint my Neanderthal genes. It’s fascinating but perplexing. It’s hard to tell what they mean for you. I have one that’s associated with nosebleeds—I never thought of myself as someone with many nosebleeds. And why would Neanderthals be prone to nosebleeds?

A lot is still mysterious about our genome. We have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue