Monday, October 20, 2014

Adrienne Mayor

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

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

From her Q & A at the Princeton University Press website:

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

Thanks to modern DNA testing, we now know that a significant number of battle-scarred skeletons buried with weapons in ancient steppe nomad graves belonged to women, the real-life models for Greek myths about Amazons. So Amazons were not just a figment of the Greek imagination, brought to life in exciting myths only to be killed off by Greek heroes. But even more surprising, it turns out that the Greeks were not the only people of antiquity to spin tales about heroic warrior women. And the non-Greek stories of warlike women differ radically from the dark mythic script demanding death for all Amazons. Instead, legendary heroes of Persia, Egypt, and Asia were so impressed with the valor of their female foes that they desired the women as companions in love and war. We are used to thinking of Amazon myths in terms of violence against uppity women, but the ancient evidence also reveals a vision of...[read on]
Learn more about The Amazons at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Amazons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner is the author of The Speed of Light, which has been translated into nine languages and was awarded the Harold U. Ribalow Prize administered by Hadassah Magazine and judged by Elie Wiesel. It was short-listed for France’s Prix Femina and the recipient of the Prix France Bleu Gironde. Rosner also received the 2002 Great Lakes Colleges New Writer’s Award for Fiction. Her second novel Blue Nude was named a 2006 Best Book by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her essays have been published by the New York Times Magazine, Elle, the Forward, Huffington Post, and many anthologies. She is a frequent book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Rosner's new novel is Electric City.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

What sparked you to write this particular book? How was the process different from any of your other fine novels?

It may seem strange to say this, because my previous two novels are both quite autobiographical (and in fact I often refer to them as "emotionally autobiographical"), but the initial spark for ELECTRIC CITY happened when I realized that I hadn't yet written a novel about the place in which I grew up. At the age of sixteen, after graduating a year early from high school, I got a scholarship to study for a year in the Philippines, and I seized the opportunity to "get as far from home as I could without leaving the planet." (This is a line from one of my poems in GRAVITY called "Keeping Kosher in the Philippines.") The truth is, not writing about Schenectady, New York had a lot to do with having fled from there at a young age, with no desire to return.

And yet, in my late 40s, it occurred to me that I could finally look back at my hometown with a liberating mix of curiosity and forgiveness. Suddenly I became altogether fascinated by the place, discovering that it possessed many more layers of history and personality and cultural complexity than I had ever been able to recognize. I quickly found myself wanting to burrow into those strata as though in search of secret treasures. The process became profoundly research-driven at times, especially because I was incorporating historical figures into my work. This was certainly new for me, often more than a little intimidating. And yet as I had done while creating my previous novels, I also had to...[read on]
Visit Elizabeth Rosner's website.

The Page 69 Test: Electric City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Val McDermid

Val McDermid, the Scottish crime writer of more than 30 novels, has written a nonfiction book on the history of forensic science, Forensics: The Anatomy of a Crime.

From her Q & A about the book with Linda Geddes for NewScientist, republished in Slate:

How has forensic science influenced your writing up until now?

It helps me to anchor my books in the real world. Everybody knows crimes don't get solved the way we write about them in crime fiction; it's not one grumpy inspector and a sergeant buying the pints. But anything I can do to bolster your suspension of disbelief is valuable. If I tell you the truth about the science, it helps make you think I must be telling the truth about all the stuff I'm making up.

Where do your story ideas come from?

It's things that make me go “wow.” For instance, I once rang up the forensic anthropologist Sue Black at the University of Dundee because I wanted to know what your tattoos would look like if you'd been submerged in a bog for 200 years. She said that when you get a tattoo, the nearest lymph nodes take up the ink. It occurred to me that if the tattoo was made after death, there wouldn't be any staining on the lymph nodes: I had a starting point for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham, who created and stars in Girls, is the author of a collection of personal essays called Not That Kind of Girl.

From her interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: Some people think that you over share (laughter). And I'm wondering because you do share so much, like, in your memoir and there's so much personal stuff in "Girls," whether it really happened to you or not, whether it's autobiographical or not, a lot of people just assume that it is. So have you ever made anything public that was very personal through your work or through your interviews that you later regretted saying?

DUNHAM: You know, I've thought about this a lot because it's a - it's a challenging thing when you're a person who has a desire, or let's say a compulsion, to share facts about your personal life. If that's the way you process the world is to make creative content based on your personal life, then you have to be really careful about making yourself feel too exposed. But for me the biggest concern is my family and the people that I love. And I feel very, very conscious of making sure that my parents, my boyfriend, my friends don't feel in any way demeaned, exposed or abused by the work that I make. Especially now, there's no writing about someone anonymously. People will pick it apart, they will figure out who that person is. There's sort of no sort of protective measures you can put in place at this point in history to take care of the people you love, so you have to be careful. And so there've been a couple times where I've said things about my parents or about my boyfriend...[read on, or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 16, 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 Claire Zulkey:

The Hundred-Year House was originally titled "Happensack": what were the origins of the first title, and why/how did it change?

The Happensack is the name of the mosaic someone is making in the 1999 section of the book, and it's a crucial piece symbolically as well as plot-wise. (The word "happensack" came from a character's mangling of the word "happenstance" - and so it was also a way of getting the idea of luck into the book's name.) There were two problems with that title: It didn't evoke anything for the prospective reader; and, as my husband finally pointed out, it kind of sounded like some weird slang word for testicles. I really did like it, though. That's still the book's secret name.

What were some of your favorite 1955 artifacts from your research for the book?

A fellow writer told me I should get the Sears catalogues off eBay for any year I was writing about. I found both the 1955 and 1929 ones, and they were both invaluable. 1955 was especially helpful on Paint by Number sets and clothes. I also found an amazing postcard of...[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, October 15, 2014

Sandeep Jauhar

Sandeep Jauhar was a Ph.D. student in physics at Berkeley when a girlfriend’s incurable illness made him yearn for a profession where he could affect people’s lives directly. Once situated at a New York teaching hospital, Jauhar wrestled with his decision to go into medicine and discovered a gradual but deepening disillusionment with his induction into the profession. Jauhar’s conception of doctoring and medicine changed during those first eighteen months as he asked all the hard questions about medicine today that laypeople are asking—and reached satisfying and often surprising conclusions about the human side of modern medicine. Today he is a thriving cardiologist and the director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. He writes regularly for the New York Times. He lives with his wife and their son and daughter on Long Island.

Jauhar's new book is Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician.

From his Q & A with Evi Heilbrunn at U.S. News & World Report:

In the book, you talk a lot about the business culture of American medicine. What does that mean for physicians today?

"Medicine is a field about caring for other people, so most people go into medicine either because they are fascinated by human physiology either/or because they want to care for people. I don’t believe that people go into medicine to get rich so it's a rude awakening when you have to start thinking about money. [Now] you have to think about the bottom line. It's about attaining a certain base income. Doctors have to start thinking about business things and if you don't want to think about it, you’re constantly reminded. You’re constantly being measured by how many RVUs [relative value units] you're bringing in, so even if you're on the academic side, the employer is reminding you [about money]. That kind of commercial consciousness is invading the profession."

Do you see this knowledge trickling down into medical training?

“When I was a third year resident, I...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Sandeep Jauhar's website.

The Page 69 Test: Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.

The Page 99 Test: Doctored.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

David Mitchell

David Mitchell's new novel is The Bone Clocks.

From his Q & A with Scott Timberg at Salon:

Interesting. There’s a fair bit of science in your work. There’s a bit of religion. There’s a bit of myth and folklore. There’s sometimes what seems like spirituality, especially in the new book. It makes me think of an Arthur Clarke line where he said any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I wonder if that phrase ever crossed your mind while you were working on this book. Is it science we’re seeing here? Is it religion? Is it myth? What is it you’re doing exactly?

It is a great line. I do remember thinking ‘You can’t get involved in the particle physics of fantasy.’ You can take it down to a certain level but if you get too involved in the particle physics then it’s not [useful] to continue. So I guess we have a branch of science that even its practitioners do not understand, that they may as well call magic. But that does have its own laws, like the laws of thermodynamics, like the laws of science, it’s just — I guess I know what those laws are but they never have to be stated in the book. So I try to keep character as part of the Venn diagram, with science and magic, and then in the middle they intersect.

We’ve heard over the years about your influences from other writers, from Japanese novelists to Ursula Le Guin to others; I wonder if film has been an importance influence on your writing, especially for “The Bone Clocks.”

I think film has been an importance influence on any novelist born from the 1940s onwards. It sort of altered how novelists edit things and it’s altered how we do dialogue. Something like “Game of Thrones” is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 13, 2014

Karen Abbott

Karen Abbott's latest book is Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.

From her Q & A with Alexis Coe at The Toast:

Tell me about the four women of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. How did you choose them?

When the war begins, Belle Boyd is 17 years old, a Confederate girl living in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. After Northern soldiers occupy her town and one of them threatens to raise a Union flag over her home, she responds by fatally shooting him—how could I resist? Belle goes on to become a courier and spy for the rebel army. She was all id, with absolutely no filter or conscience. She was also incredibly overt—with both her opinions and her sexuality—for her age and for the time. If Sarah Palin and Miley Cyrus had a 19th century baby, it would’ve been Belle Boyd (although she was much smarter than either of them.)

Emma Edmonds, in the spring of 1861, enlists in the Union army as a man, calling herself Frank Thompson. She was one of about 400 women who disguised themselves as men during the war, and it was fascinating to research how they got away with this—mainly because no one had any idea what a woman would look like wearing pants; the very idea was unfathomable to them. Emma worked as a nurse and courier, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the war, and eventually becomes a Union spy. She worries constantly about her gender being discovered, especially when she falls in love with a fellow Union soldier.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a grand dame of Washington DC society, and her entire life...[read on]
Visit Karen Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sin in the Second City.

The Page 99 Test: American Rose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Paula Brackston

Paula Brackston is the author of a travel book, The Dragon's Trail and the novels The Midnight Witch, The Witch's Daughter, and The Winter Witch. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the UK, and her autobiographical writing has been published in several anthologies.

From her Q & A at The Lit Bitch:

The Lit Bitch: What was your original idea for the witch books and how did it first develop? Did you have an idea or an outline for The Midnight Witch before you started writing it? Did the direction change once you sat down to being working on it?

Paula Brackston: It all started with Elizabeth Hawksmith. I didn’t set out to write ‘witchy books’. I wanted to write historical fiction, and my research led me to look at witchcraft in the seventeenth century. I began to ask myself, what if some of those women accused of witchcraft were actually real witches?

As for The Midnight Witch, I had a hankering for a glamorous setting this time, and a wealthy protagonist. We are accustomed to the idea of women being victims in history because they often had so little power, even over their own lives. This time I wrote a woman who, on the face of it, had everything: privilege, wealth, a title, beauty, a powerful family. I wondered what sort of witch such a woman would make. What obstacles and conflicts might she face?

I do...[read on]
Visit Paula Brackston's website.

Writers Read: Paula Brackston (February 2013).

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Brackston & Bluebell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hank Phillippi Ryan

From the book jacket of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest novel, Truth Be Told:

While digging up the facts on a heartbreaking story about a middle-class family evicted from their suburban home—and on other foreclosures—reporter Jane Ryland soon learns the truth behind a big-bucks scheme and the surprising players who will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep their goal a secret. Turns out, there's more than one way to rob a bank.
From the author's Q & A at Writers Who Kill:
Jane Ryland, your main character, and her cameraman, TJ Foy, are covering a story about an eviction. They attend the clearing of a house by police when it becomes obvious they have found something nefarious in the house. Is it typical that one story leads to another?

HANK: TRUTH BE TOLD did come from an actual story! My photographer and I were covering an eviction, lots of deputies and lots of commotion and lots of trash in the front yard. It was incredibly sad. Unlike Jane in the book, I did not know who owned the home. We were just getting video for a story I was working on about mortgage fraud.

At one point a deputy came to the front door, I saw his silhouette outlined in the door frame. His whole body sagged, his shoulders, his head. So telling and so emotional. And I wondered… What if he just found a body in a back room?

Remember the deputies had been there for hours, cleaning out the house. And I thought—as a crime fiction author, of course: law-enforcement officers themselves have been inside that house, touching everything and moving everything around. What if they have ruined a crime scene? What if the cops ruined their own crime scene!

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue