Friday, April 18, 2014

Renée Rosen

As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen's latest novel is Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. From her Q & A with Janie Chang:

JC: Your latest book, Dollface, is set in 1920’s Chicago, a time that provides an author with rich material. What insights into this era did you want to give readers that they may not have known from all those Hollywood movies?

Renee: Hollywood typically focuses on the men of this era and I wanted to explore what it meant to be a young woman during the ‘20s. I wanted to show both the glamour and the grit of this era. It was such a liberating time for women, especially young women striving for independence. For the first time women we’re living on their own, working and supporting themselves. They were pushing boundaries and challenging conventions, which shocked the general public. I’m convinced that women bobbing their hair and wearing lip rouge was the equivalent of today’s twerking.

JC: In a previous interview, you said that you switched the focus of the story from the gangsters to their women. I’m so glad you did! What opportunities did the female POV open up for your writing?

Renee: Shifting the novel from a traditional gangster tale to a female driven story opened up a world of possibilities for me. The female characters really started to come alive. Suddenly they took on much more interesting roles and found themselves tangled up in everything from bootlegging to murder. Letting the women take center stage allowed them to...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen.

The Page 69 Test: Dollface.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lacy Crawford

Former private college counselor Lacy Crawford is the author of 2013's, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy.

From her Q & A with Lizzie Crocker for The Daily Beast:

When did you decide to chronicle this part of your life?

My work with students tapered off dramatically in 2010, after I had my first child. And then friends told me I was already too late to apply for preschool for my son and needed to hurry up and get on the list. So I panicked and called some schools and sent over applications. I remember one morning I was working on an application that had essay questions about my son. I looked over and he was lying on the carpet on his back and I thought, “Oh my god, this is how it happens. This is how it begins.” I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years but there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, “I know how this ends.” This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college. So I started writing the book as a private investigation.

You were so entrenched in these kids’ lives—more life coach than college essay counselor.

That may be a mark of how young and naïve I was when I started. I didn’t have a degree in education or counseling or anything, but I had grown up an overachiever in a family and a community that put a lot of pressure on the same type of thing. I felt like I could relate to the experiences these kids were having. I wanted to help shift the frame a little bit away from their parents and under them so they could take control of the process. So yes, I was deeply involved. And the anxiety these mothers face during this process—there are few people they can vent to. I think some of them hired me quite simply so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Searles

John Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He frequently appears as a book critic on NBC's Today show and CBS's The Early Show.

From Searles's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt about his 2013 novel, Help for the Haunted:

I always want to talk about craft, so tell me how this novel sparked. Did you have it all mapped out, or do you follow your muse (mine always seems missing in action). At what point did you know how the book was going to end, and what pieces of the story to withhold for maximum drama?

Originally, I was writing a novel about a girl in her twenties who goes away to an island to take care of a reclusive mystery writer. There was so much about that novel I loved, but it just never came together. Thankfully, my literary agent had the good sense to intervene. One day, she showed up at my house with the whopping 500 pages I’d written and broke it to me that it was not working. We spent the entire day and well into the night discussing what the problems were and what, if anything, could be salvaged. In the end, the only thing I kept was the main character’s name: Sylvie Mason. I had this idea about her being orphaned and left in the care of her troubled older sister. So I started writing that story and stuck with it. I’m lucky it worked out on the second go-round!

The novel is also many things at once--a terrifying thriller, a creepy scarefest, and an astute psychological drama about the coming of age of one remarkable narrator. How did you manage such alchemy?

Thank you for saying that. This story was way more challenging than anything I’ve ever done creatively. I guess that’s because I was trying lots of things: telling the story from the perspective of a young girl, combining a murder mystery with a ghost story with a coming of age tale and a family drama. Believe me, there were times when I’d just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling trying to figure out how to piece everything together. When that didn’t work I’d do...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Daniel S. Sutherland

Daniel E. Sutherland is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas. The recipient of more than fifty awards, honors, and grants, he is best known for his acclaimed series of books chronicling nineteenth-century America.

His latest book is Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

From Sutherland's Q & A with David Ebony at the Yale University Press blog:

David Ebony: Why Whistler? Why now? How did the book evolve?

Daniel S. Sutherland After publishing a number of books on the Civil War, I decided I needed a break. I pulled out an art history book and went to a chapter on Whistler. It was a fascinating story, and I wound up devoting the following six or seven years to him. I had an enormous learning curve that stretched out over a long period of time. I immediately set out to learn the methodology of how to write a biography. I read all the previous biographies of Whistler, and practically all those I could find on anyone and everyone he knew.

Ebony: How did your approach differ from the other Whistler biographers?

Sutherland I tried to more thoroughly and successfully draw the distinction between the fanciful image we have of Whistler the showman, and the painter who was completely devoted to his art. I wanted to emphasize the complexities of the fellow. The subtitle of the book plays off this idea. Above all, Whistler was someone dedicated to creating beautiful things. Some of his contemporaries misunderstood this and so he felt he had to define himself as an artist. In writing the book, I tried to think of art as Whistler did, and focused on his concern for his own legacy.

Ebony: His obsessive anxiety about his legacy seems to have started very early on.

Sutherland He was convinced...[read on]
Visit Daniel Sutherland's faculty webpage, and learn more about Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

My Book, The Movie: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bill Minutaglio

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Bill Minutaglio, author of 2003's City on Fire: The Explosion that Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle, which is about the 1947 explosion in Texas City of a ship full of ammonium nitrate that killed hundreds and left thousands wounded:

Q: How is the Texas City disaster memorialized, and how has it affected that community to this day?

A: It is recognized in various ways – with a memorial area, with anniversary commemorations. The city is well aware of its history. The main library in Texas City is a wonderful repository of history, oral histories, photographs.

It's hard to say how the event affects the community now. I think, in general, people in Texas City are mindful of the giant, sprawling industrial complex that rings the city.

It is enormous, and the people in the city are very proud of the fact that large portions of America would not function as they do without the goods and services from Texas City. America would be radically different, probably malfunctioning according to some people, without the energy and petrochemical nexus of Texas City.

Q: Why do you think the Texas City disaster is largely forgotten? Does it just not fit into a wider historical narrative?

A: People remember Texas City when they want to, through the prism of the media that revives the story when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Elizabeth Weil

Elizabeth Weil's 2012 memoir is No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better.

From her Q & A with Jessica Grose at Slate:

Slate: How did you choose the methods by which you were going to try to improve the marriage? Couples’ counseling is an intuitive way to improve a marriage, but exploring religion isn’t.

Weil: [I chose the methods] both from reading around and talking to friends and other experts about what were people doing and what was effective for people. Then there were the things that were issues in our lives. With the religion oddly it wasn’t actually an issue, it was something everybody thought should be an issue, which is very different. I felt like, OK, well, if we’re gonna really think about our marriage and we’re in an interfaith marriage, we should really think about religion. So that’s how we wound up going down that road.

I feel like [exploring religion] was an important lesson. We were fine, me and Dan, with religion. Neither of us is particularly religious; we care about it a little, not a lot. But it was something other people thought might be a problem, and so we went out seeking other people’s advice, which turned out to not really be particular to us at all. It was more like other people’s views of how they thought we should do it. And that wound up being really negative for us.

And I think the money stuff can be a little like that in some ways. So much of financial advice is based on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mary Szybist

Mary Szybist is the author of two books of poetry: the eloquent and musical Granted, and winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry, Incarnadine.

From her Q & A with Shara Lessley:

Shara Lessley: Incarnadine wrestles with the tension between spiritual alienation and astonishment. Do you agree with Dickinson’s description of faith as a ‘fine invention’? What has the imagination to do with matters spiritual?

Mary Szybist: I am inclined to agree with Dickinson on all matters, but I don’t think all faiths are equally fine or equally inventive. There is a difference, for example, between faith in a very particular conception or idea (i.e., faith in knowing) and faith in the reality of factors we can’t know or understand. Simone Weil tells us, ‘We know by means of our intelligence that what the intelligence does not comprehend is more real than what it does comprehend.’ That is a statement of a kind of faith that resonates with me, but it is not one that conjures the imagination’s ‘fine inventions.’ That is where poetry enters. Doesn’t any relationship to or conception of the spiritual depend on imagination?

The scene to which Incarnadine continually returns—the Annunciation—has long been a site of ‘fine invention,’ especially in the hands of artists like Simone Martini and Sandro Botticelli; it portrays a human encountering something not human; it suggests that it is possible for us to perceive and communicate with something or someone not like us. That is part of what I find most moving about the scene: how it plays out the faith, the belief that that can happen—and can change us.

SL: Last month, Yale University Press released an anthology called Before the Door of God. Which elements of traditional devotional poetry do you borrow for Incarnadine? Are there lyric strategies you worked deliberately to avoid?

MS: Yes, I am seeking to extend some of the traditions of devotional poetry to more secular mediations. I am particularly thinking of the complex situation of faith in seventeenth-century metaphysical poems and the heterogeneity of images and ideas that enable them—disjunctions that pull us out of the ordinary. I have come to think of the ‘space’ these poems occupy as similar to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of critically acclaimed Dust and Shadow, The Gods of Gotham, and Seven for a Secret.

From her Q & A with Nancy Klingener at Littoral:

NK: I want to get back to Sherlock and Dust & Shadow but first I’d like to ask about your own creation, Timothy Wilde, the protagonist in your most recent two books The Gods of Gotham and Seven For A Secret—and I hope many more in the future. Where did Timothy come from, and did you start with him, or the setting, or perhaps with George Washington Matsell, who really was New York’s first police commissioner and who appears as a character in those two novels?

LF: Thank you! Timothy came from an abstract concept, which was day one, cop one of the New York Police Department. It’s such an infamous law enforcement body, known the world over, and I simply wanted to see what this group of ragtag men looked like who were meant to defend the populace, but before they had any notion of what they were doing. I wanted the first day of school, not Civil War-Era or Roosevelt reform. Michael Chabon says we write fiction to fill in the gaps in the map a la Heart of Darkness, and I think that’s entirely true—I’d read fantastic books about the NYPD during other time periods, but never about their mythical beginnings. Beginnings are powerful stuff. So research into the world of 1845 New York all began with my wanting to know the NYPD’s origins. If the force had been founded in 1826 or in 1852, The Gods of Gotham would have had a different plot line, and it would have taken place in 1826 or 1852.

The rest of Tim came out of a combination of research and personal experience, as I think any historical character does. I write fairly unabashed hero stories, so I needed Timothy to be his own moral compass—that meant he wasn’t a Tammany insider, and thus needed an older sibling to get him on the copper-star force, who were entirely complicit with the Democratic Party’s agenda. That also meant he resembled some of the contemporary radical abolitionists I researched. Every investigator is indebted to Sherlock Holmes, so to draw a strong line between them, Tim wears his heart on his sleeve and finds his own police work much less competent than it actually is. He’s sympathetic and self-deprecating. I needed him to be observant, and I worked in restaurants for years, so he’s a former bartender. I borrowed his face from a musical theatre friend. He hates city fountains that don’t work because I hate fountains that don’t work. He’s passionately verbose because he’s a 19th-century diarist and I’ll never be able to get away with this sort of language again, so I’m wallowing in it.

You mention Matsell, whom...[read on]
Dust and Shadow is one of Kat Rosenfield's five top Jack the Ripper–inspired reads.

Visit Lyndsay Faye's website.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (April 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: Seven for a Secret.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Louis Bayard

With his most recent novels, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar® and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

From Bayard's Q & A with Hilli Levin for BookPage:

What was the initial inspiration for Roosevelt’s Beast?

That’s a bit shrouded in mystery. All I can remember is standing in a Borders— that’s how long ago this was—and thinking: “Wait, didn’t Teddy Roosevelt go on some crazy journey through the Amazon jungle?”

At that point, I hadn’t yet read Candace Millard’s The River of Doubt, so I didn’t know how close Roosevelt came to death or how harrowing that journey really was—backbreaking labor, disease, starvation, drowning. The only thing I had, really, was a question. What would that experience have done to Roosevelt’s mind—or, to be metaphysical about it, his soul? The rest of the book just flowed from there.

Did you get the chance to see the Rio Roosevelt for yourself?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing historical novels, it’s how elusive the past can be. You can go to Paris, you can go to London, and I’ve done that, but if you want to reconstruct Napoleonic Paris or Victorian London, you have to head back to the library. And that’s what I did with Roosevelt’s Beast. I immersed myself in primary sources until I had the clearest possible picture of Teddy Roosevelt’s jungle. (Plus I’m fortunate to...[read on]
Visit Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

The Page 69 Test: Roosevelt's Beast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kevin Brockmeier

In addition to A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, Kevin Brockmeier is the author of the novels The Illumination, The Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia; the story collections Things That Fall from the Sky and The View from the Seventh Layer; and the children’s novels City of Names and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery.

From Brockmeier's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I've worshipped all of your novels, which usually have this eerie, almost otherworldly quality, but this particular memoir [A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip] is heartbreakingly honest and to the point. So did you have to curb your impulse to have something strange happen in it?

Thank you, first of all, for your kind words about my novels. Strangeness does seem to be an abiding source of inspiration for me. I considered various alternate approaches to the material in A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, but ultimately I decided that the best way to reveal the story was to assume a single perspective—mine, as it existed some 28 years ago—and to approach the events of that year as simply and forthrightly as I could. That said, I did write the memoir in the third person and the present tense, itself a strange choice, but one that I hoped would allow me to make the book not only as candid but as tensile and suggestive as I wanted it to be. And there’s also a middle chapter that, while very intimate, very revealing, is largely divorced from the ordinary mimetic currents of the book—something on the order of autobiographical science fiction, and definitely a case of something strange happening.

Why do you think seventh grade is such a benchmark for everyone? And how were you able to remember so many of the details that so many of us would rather forget?

So many of the people I’ve spoken with about this book have said, “Seventh grade! Seventh grade was awful.” It was certainly the hardest period of my own childhood—the first year of middle school rather than the second where I come from, and a year when some of us were walking around inside the bodies of adolescents, some of us inside the bodies of children, and when those bodies didn’t necessarily correspond to how we were experiencing our minds. I felt...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue