Monday, September 15, 2014

Benjamin Whitmer

From Julianna Baggott's exchange with Benjamin Whitmer about his new novel, Cry Father:

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

Kind of. For me it was just looking at my children and being scared to death. Parenthood is always on my mind. I’m a single father, and it’s the most important thing in my life. Which doesn’t make me any better at it, of course, it just means I worry about it all the time. What could I have protected them from that I didn’t? What more could I have done for them? Where did I screw up? Parenthood is the best way to come face to face with your failures as a person. And fatherhood, in particular, is a great way to drive your head straight into all those tropes of masculinity that most of us’d probably be better off without. Cry Father came out of wrestling with those. I don’t think I learned anything from it, except maybe that I’m no good at writing positive examples, but that’s...[read on]
Visit Benjamin Whitmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Arthur Allen

Since 1995 Arthur Allen has been writing articles and books, mostly about science and medicine, for publications such as The Washington Post, Science, Smithsonian, Landscape Architecture, The New Republic and His 2007 book Vaccine was the first major U.S. work to examine the anti-vaccine movement, and he has written many articles about the science and anthropology of vaccines. In 2010 he published Ripe, a foray into the world of tomato breeding, genetics, culture and food snobbism, which allowed him to spend time in southern Italy, Mexico and western China.

Allen's new book is The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis.

From the author's Q & A with Stacy Herlihy for the Times of Israel:

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

My book Vaccine (WW Norton, 2007) has a chapter titled “War is Good for Children.” It’s primarily about research funded by the U.S. military to develop vaccines. Armies are interested in vaccines because they want their troops to stay healthy. During World War II, military-funded labs came up with new vaccines against flu, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, and, finally typhus. I wrote a small amount about the U.S. typhus vaccine in the book and while doing the work I read a small amount about these strange vaccines they were making in Poland during the war. I didn’t spent much time on that while writing the book, but the names Weigl and Fleck stuck in my mind. A few years ago I decided to see if I could find out anything more about them, and I did.

Can you tell us about your research process?

I always start out reading whatever secondary literature I can get my hands on. In this case, that meant books about the Nazi doctors, and typhus, and Buchenwald, and Auschwitz, and the city of Lwow, which is now Lviv, Ukraine. I probably read all or parts of about 300 books—trying to gain generalized knowledge for a while and pretty soon tunneling into the literature that seemed most linked to what I was after.

Pretty soon I developed a sense of my book’s narrative arc, how it would move along, and then I tried to populate the chapters. In the case of this book it...[read on]
Learn more about The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis.

Visit Arthur Allen's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Louise Aronson

Louise Aronson is the author of the story collection A History of the Present Illness.

From her Q & A with Christine Sneed:

Tell us a little about your book.

With A History of the Present Illness I wanted to take readers into the real lives of real and often overlooked people - all of whom might be described as either patients as doctors, among many other mostly more important characteristics - in the hugely varied neighborhoods, hospitals, and nursing homes of San Francisco. Among the stories are: the elderly Chinese immigrant who must sacrifice his demented wife's well–being to his Americanized son's authority, the busy Latina physician whose eldest daughter's need for more attention has disastrous consequences, the psychiatrist who advocates for the underserved but may herself be crazy, the gay doctor who learns very different lessons about family from his life and his work, and the young veteran whose injuries become a metaphor for the rest of his life. I wanted to show the humanity of many different sorts of people, to be honest about life and medicine, to make people laugh and cry. I also wanted to explore the role of stories in medicine and offer a portrait of health and illness in American today that was different from what was already out there, and completely honest.

You write with extraordinary sympathy about so many different people - the elderly and the very young, immigrant families from all over the world, young medical students, experienced physicians. I'm guessing that as a practicing MD, you have treated people who might or might not resemble your characters. How do you immerse yourself in these different perspectives and voices?

I write about all the different sorts of people I have met as a medical student, resident and practicing doctor, though my characters are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2014

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis is the Democratic candidate for governor of Texas and author of a new memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid.

From her Q & A with Jill Filipovic at Cosmopolitan:

How does your life experience, including ending a pregnancy but also growing up poor and the many other details in your book, inform your views and shape what kind of leader you are?

My story is similar to so many. The challenges I faced are similar to so many challenges that people in my state face: going to work when I was 14 to help my mother, who had a very limited education and was left as the primary financial support of her four young children. Finding myself a single mom when I was very young. Feeling the disappointment in myself for getting off track; feeling frustrated that I didn't know how to get back on track. Understanding the experience of standing at the grocery store when you have to put groceries back because you don't have enough money; understanding what it's like to come home and have your electricity turned off, even though you're working as hard as you can. I know there are people in our state who confront these challenges every day.

My path out of that was education. While a lot of folks know about my fight in the reproductive rights arena, they may not know about what a strong fighter I've been in education. My first filibuster was to try to stop $5.5 billion in cuts to public schools. My fight for equal pay for equal work for women in our state has of course been informed by my own personal experiences. My position and desire as governor to move our state forward with an increase in the minimum wage is informed by my experiences. My fight in consumer reform too — I have been unafraid to take on some of the biggest bullies in the Texas capital, the payday lenders, the electricity arena, and the insurance arena. I've taken them on because I understand how families can be made or broken based on whether they're treated fairly. I am a product of my life experience. The legislator I've become, and the governor I will be, is all informed by that.

How have you felt about the various responses to your memoir, positive and negative?

I don't read them. I let...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Janet Bolin

Janet Bolin's love of sewing, knitting, crocheting, quilting, and machine embroidery led her to invent the village of Threadville where the supplies for all these hobbies, and experts to untangle all those unavoidable snares, are only a short walk away. Bolin's love of reading, writing, and mysteries caused her to add some rather nefarious activities to Threadville, along with a slightly reluctant sleuth named Willow who co-opts her best friend, Haylee, and Haylee's three (yes, 3) mothers to help solve murders.

Bolin's latest Threadville Mystery is Night of the Living Thread.

From her Q & A with Rosemary McCracken:

Janet, you are becoming well-known as a writer of “cozy” mysteries. What does the cozy sub-genre mean to you?

Cozy is a sub-genre of the traditional mystery—think Agatha Christie—in which the reader can attempt to solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. In a cozy, readers won’t encounter overt violence (except for the murder itself, but gore in cozy mysteries is held to a minimum), gratuitous sex or profanity. The sleuth is an amateur, often with a skill or hobby that may help solve murders. Cozies take place in a defined space where everyone usually knows everyone else. It gives a whole new meaning to “cozy,” doesn’t it?

Do your novels require a lot of research?

It’s terrible! I have to visit sewing and embroidery shops and try out the latest embroidery machines and software. I can hardly stand that. (Where’s the nearest sewing store? I’m on my way!)

Is the protagonist at all like you? If so, in what ways?

Willow is in her early 30s. She’s tall, slim, talented and feisty. Yep, that pretty well describes me. No? Well...[read on]
Visit Janet Bolin's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Threaded for Trouble.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Janet Bolin and Laddie and Lacy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kimberly Elkins

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others.

She has a B.A. from Duke University, an M.A. in Creative Writing from Florida State, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University. Elkins grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What Is Visible is her first novel.

From Elkins's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always want to know what sparked a particular book and why it haunts the author. Why Laura Bridgman? How did the subject matter personally speak to you?

I first read about Laura Bridgman in the New Yorker in 2001, and was astounded that I’d never heard of her. The mid-nineteenth century’s second most famous woman and Helen Keller’s predecessor, and yet she’d seemingly vanished from history! But it was the photograph of Laura that really got me: an ethereal, almost emaciated, and yet somehow fierce-looking young woman with a ribboned shade tied round her eyes, balancing an enormous, raised-letter book on her lap. She sat absolutely erect with a stubborn dignity and vulnerability that both opened and broke my heart, posing for a photographer she couldn’t see, for a photograph she’d never see, and with a face and body that she’d never know except through touch. That very night, I stayed up until dawn writing a story about her that would appear shortly thereafter in The Atlantic. That’s how quickly and completely I got into her head and heart, and she in mine.

And yet for many years, even while writing the novel, I had no plausible idea why I had been so irrevocably drawn to this woman who’d lost four of her five senses--what could I possibly have in common with her, and how could I possibly know her voice so well? Finally, it hit me, just shy of the book’s publication, that I had immediately and subconsciously identified with her sense of profound isolation, her inability to communicate her deepest thoughts and desires to anyone she thought would truly understand her. These feelings I knew from a lifetime of battling severe depression, and though our disabilities were far from the same, it was a terrible bridge that we shared across the centuries. Four years ago, I finally found...[read on]
Visit Kimberly Elkins's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Is Visible.

The Page 69 Test: What Is Visible.

Writers Read: Kimberly Elkins.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Matthew Gilbert

Matthew Gilbert's new book is Off The Leash: A Year at the Dog Park.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

You’re a person after my own heart, a homebody, yet Toby, your dog, transformed you into someone who loves the company of others and who is truly present in the world. How did this alchemy take place?

When the puppy you’re falling in love with comes into your office and starts nudging your elbow with his cold nose, looking at you with his brown eyes like you’re the best person in the world, well, you go wherever he wants to go.

And my dog, Toby, always only wanted to go to the dog park. So as reticent as I was to stand around making chitchat with other dog owners, I couldn’t resist Toby’s hunger for play. I was the classic writer-type who writes because he’d rather not communicate in person; the thought of a dog park group was not inviting. And I was the classic TV addict who prefers to be protected from the hurts and messiness of the real world by a screen. But I had a dog who was a thoroughly social being, and he pulled me and pushed me.

I love the way we get the dog we need. In my case it was an introverted owner getting an extroverted dog who pulled him into a more vibrant, present life.

And gradually, as I write in the book, I came around. Big-time. I began to love the semi-anonymity of the park, the shared exhilaration of watching dogs wrestle and play, and the new friendships, which were...[read on]
Visit Matthew Gilbert's website and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Matthew Gilbert & Toby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ed Lin

Ed Lin is the author of several books and is an all-around standup kinda guy. Waylaid and This Is a Bust were both published by Kaya Press in 2002 and 2007, respectively, and both were widely praised. Both also won the Members’ Choice Awards in the Asian American Literary Awards. His third book, Snakes Can’t Run, was published by Minotaur Books in April 2010; it was loved by many and also won an Asian American Literary Award, and was followed by in One Red Bastard 2012. Lin, who is of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards.

Lin's new novel is Ghost Month.

From the author's Q & A with Anna Wu for Taiwanese

Anna Wu: Hi Ed. Could you tell us a bit about your novel, Ghost Month?

Ed Lin: My latest novel Ghost Month was published by Soho Crime, actually near the start of Ghost Month, the seventh lunar month in late July, a time of year the gates to the underworld open and ghosts are free to roam the earth. It is a Taipei-based mystery and basically, this guy named Jing-nan who works at the Shilin Night Market finds out that this girl that he’s loved his whole life and planned to marry was murdered, and he goes and tries to find out how she was killed and who killed her.

It’s also a bit of a meditation on the state of Taiwan, because there is a small faction that wants eventual or soon-ish “reunion,” (I say in quotes), with China. And another faction wants to declare independence immediately, but most people actually favor the status quo right now, this sort of strange kind of independence. But, you know, the status quo kind of means something different to everybody, and I just wanted to really be as inclusive as possible in terms of how people feel.

A: When did you first start working on this book? What inspired it?

E: I started working on this book maybe two and a half years ago. I had written a series on a Chinese American cop set in 1976 in New York, and just in the course of that, just doing the research into the state of Chinese America in 1976, I naturally sort of looked to my own family, and just looked at my own roots, and I’ve never really had a chance to explore fictionally the sort of Taiwanese part of my identity. My father’s family is from Taiwan, they arrived there shortly after the Ming Dynasty fell apart [in the 1600s].

My mom was from Northern China, and she was part of the waishengren [the large migration of "mainlander" Chinese to Taiwan in the 1940s and 50s]. She essentially grew up in Taiwan. So over the years, she has come to believe herself that Taiwan should be independent. [Laughs.] But it’s funny. Her siblings, most of her family, believe the opposite and believe that Taiwan is part of China. I just wonder if it’s just one of these ongoing things that will never be resolved.

The thing is about Taiwan is that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ed Lin's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snakes Can't Run.

The Page 69 Test: One Red Bastard.

My Book, The Movie: Ghost Month.

Writers Read: Ed Lin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 5, 2014

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg is an award-winning arts journalist who has published more than four hundred articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She is also the author of five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award–nominated Death in a City of Mystics. She has taught novel writing at the University of California, San Diego extension, and dance criticism at San Diego State University.

Her latest novel is The Tin Horse.

From Steinberg's Q & A at writing for the web:

Q. What drove you to write Tin Horse?

My inspiration was a nameless character in the Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep, a woman working in a bookstore who’s described as having “the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess.” I was struck by that phrase with its sense of otherness and by the fact that, among Chandler’s tough guys and fast women, the Jewess in the bookstore was the one character with whom I identified. So—in the spirit of novels like Mrs. Ahab, which take marginal female characters from other books and put them center-stage—I set out to tell the Jewess’s story.

Q. Obviously place has had a big influence on writing TH. Can you talk about that?

I got insanely lucky! I had a feeling the Jewess in the bookstore occupied a very different Los Angeles than Chandler’s mean streets. And I started researching the history of Jews in Los Angeles, to find out where, in the 1930s, she would have lived. I found a goldmine, a setting so rich that it could become a character in its own right: Boyle Heights.

I say a lot about Boyle Heights on my website, The Tin Horse, but to give a few basics: It’s directly east of downtown L.A. and is now completely Hispanic, but in the 1920s and 30s, Boyle Heights had a large Jewish neighborhood on the West Coast and was a center of Jewish culture, with delis, Yiddish and socialist societies, synagogues, and more.

I got even luckier in that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Janice Steinberg's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tin Horse.

Writers Read: Janice Steinberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rory Flynn

Rory Flynn is the author of Third Rail. From his Q & A with Janet Walker for The Culture Concept Circle:

Third Rail is the first in the Eddy Harkness series. What inspired Eddy Harkness and the series?

I wanted to create a different kind of cop, of course. Every crime writer wants to do that, create someone new. With Eddy, it’s the unusual combination of intuition, which lets him find hidden drugs and other evidence, and a strong moral compass, which leads him to do what he feels is right, even if it means going against the rules. He also combines a certain amount of smart sophistication (he went to Harvard!) with a street-wise toughness that comes from having been part of Boston’s very rough-and-tumble hardcore punk scene back in his youth. He’s also intimately aware of the Harkness family’s mixed heritage. After all, his father was a charming swindler. And he knows the centuries of history accumulated in Nagog, his colonial hometown, and beneath the crooked streets of Boston, the city he loves so deeply.

Why Boston?

Well, there’s a long tradition of great crime/mystery novels coming out of Boston, from George V. Higgins to Robert B. Parker to Dennis Lehane. Boston’s in the middle of a new renaissance in so many ways. The restaurants don’t suck anymore, thanks to Barbara Lynch. The streets are cleaned up. The Combat Zone’s gone. The Seaport screams prosperity. We’ve got a great new mayor whose Boston accent is even thicker than the last guy’s. But there’s still a lot of violent crime and deep corruption – which all adds up to make the city a natural for fiction. For example, the last three Speakers of the House in Massachusetts have been indicted on felony charges. That’s got to be some kind of record.

Crime in Boston is different now – pockets of...[read on]
Visit Rory Flynn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue