Friday, October 31, 2014

Ed Stafford

After setting a world record by walking the length of the Amazon River, adventurer Ed Stafford's (Walking the Amazon) next challenge stranded him--naked, and without tools and weapons--on Olorua, a remote Fiji island, for 60 days armed with only cameras to document his stay for the Discovery Channel. His book is Naked and Marooned: One Man. One Island.

From his Q & A with Mark Frauenfelder for Boing Boing:

You were formerly in the British military, and I think you specialized in survival skills. Did you have to learn any special survival skills to go on this island, or did you kind of purposely avoid that so you could figure out how to improvise?

The mistake a lot of people thought was that I was a survival expert. I'm not. I came out of the military and went into a job leading expeditions, but expeditions and survival are completely different things. One, I've got a rucksack full of equipment, and food, and a lighter to light a fire with, and all of the kit that I need in order to run an expedition, whereas this 60-day [inaudible] on an island actually had me completely outside my comfort zone. I deliberately stripped away all of the things that would make my life easy, like help from other people, and equipment, and food, and water, and a knife, and everything that I would normally rely on.

That's why, for me, it was interesting. That's why I did the project because it wasn't going in there with a mosquito net, and a knife, and a bag of rice, and bits and bobs like that. Of course, there's no challenge there. Of course you could survive. It then does become that paradise island, and you get preoccupied with not getting bored. But to start from scratch, to actually trying to create an existence for yourself, and try to advance in terms of involving your comfort, that was, to me, as a massive challenge.

Therefore, I did have to learn new skills. When I walked the Amazon two and half years, I didn't know how to light a fire with two pieces of wood, rubbing them together, because I used a lighter, but I had to learn how to do that. I learned how to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Katherine Howe

Katherine Howe was born in Houston, Texas, and holds degrees in art history and philosophy from Columbia and in American and New England Studies from Boston University. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and the young-adult novel Conversion, a modern-day retelling of The Crucible set in a Massachusetts prep school.

Howe is the editor of The Penguin Book of Witches, a primary-source reader about witches and witch-hunting ranging from the medieval period into the early eighteenth century.

From her Q & A with Jia Tolentino for Jezebel:

Are there any big misconceptions about witchcraft in America?

We have this idea that witches were burned at the stake. That's a common misconception. Witches were burned at the stake on the Continent in Spain and France and Germany, but that's because witchcraft there was an ecclesiastical crime. We did not have separate ecclesiastic courts, and here, witchcrafts were a felony, punishable like any other felony: like murder. No witch was ever burned at the stake in North America or England.

You write about Salem as not an anomaly or an aberrant expression but an ultimate expression of attitudes that were (are?) in North America surrounding witchcraft. A threat of what we could still become. Do you see witch trials around today?

Yes is the short answer, but I'll have to think about ways to make it more nuanced. Of course I can't neglect to mention that witchcraft has become a modern religion, a very 20th-century one, founded in the '30s. And Wicca expresses a strong solidarity with people who have been accused in the past; the women's movement made it a way for people to experience a more woman-centered spiritual practice.

But broadly speaking, I think that the questions about gender performance and power are still very much on the lives of women as we try to find our way in the world. I think that for a lot of us we feel very keenly the tension between...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Katherine Howe's website.

The Page 69 Test: The House of Velvet and Glass.

My Book, The Movie: The House of Velvet and Glass.

Writers Read: Katherine Howe (February 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sophie Littlefield

Sophie Littlefield's new novel is The Missing Place.

From her Q & A at My Bookish Ways:

Will you tell us more about The Missing Place and what inspired you to write it?

I was inspired by an article in People magazine several years back that depicted the harsh and lonely living conditions of oil rig workers in modern-day boom towns. I was fascinated that people were being drawn by the promise of high salaries from all over the country, that they were leaving behind families and spouses and the homes they’d lived in, sometimes for their whole lives, to take a gamble on a better life in the future. I wanted to see first-hand the trade-offs they had made and how they endured the isolation and hard physical labor. It seemed like a very human story of sacrifice and hope. I had a feeling that if I spent some time there, a story would come to me—and that is exactly what happened.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

In addition to reading all the articles and watching all the news items about the oil boom that I could find, I traveled to North Dakota in the dead of winter and slogged around town in the middle of a snowstorm to learn all I could about what it was like to live and work there. I got permission to stay in a “man camp,” the temporary housing provided by oil companies for their workers, and shared meals and conversation (and a bathroom!) with rig hands. I pored over maps and demographic statistics so that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sophie Littlefield's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Sorry.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Pretty.

My Book, The Movie: A Bad Day for Pretty.

The Page 69 Test: Aftertime.

My Book, The Movie: Aftertime.

The Page 69 Test: Garden of Stones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meghan Daum

Meghan Daum's new collection of essays is The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion.

From her Q & A with Cressida Leyshon in The New Yorker:

[Y]our new collection, “The Unspeakable,” ... will be published in November. The pieces range from an account of your mother’s death from gallbladder cancer to your identification with lesbians (while realizing that you remain irredeemably heterosexual) to your deep love for your dog and your experience with a life-threatening illness. When do you know you have the material for an essay? What’s it like to return to those moments in your life?

I never sit down to write anything personal unless I know the subject is going to go beyond my own experience and address something larger and more universal. To me, having “material” for an essay means not only having something to write about but also having something interesting and original to say about whatever that might be. I’ve learned over the years that being interested in a particular subject or story does not guarantee you’ll have anything worthwhile to say about it. I can’t tell you how often I’ll sit down to write a column about something that seems incredibly compelling to me, only to realize that I don’t actually have anything new to add and therefore need to find another topic. All of the pieces in the book came out of a process of chewing on the subject matter until I felt confident that I’d be able to work out some kind of unexpected twist or turn in the narrative. I wasn’t going to just write about my mother dying or my dog dying or me getting sick and almost dying. I wanted to offer readers some fresh or provocative interpretations of those events. That’s why those essays aren’t really about death or illness as much as they’re about the scripts we’re told we’re supposed to follow around such circumstances. Ultimately, the book is about not being able to get with the program. It’s about the cognitive and emotional dissonance that arises when we don’t have “appropriate” emotions and reactions—for instance, when we fear that we don’t love our parents enough or we wonder if...[read on]
Visit Meghan's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 27, 2014

William Gibson

William Gibson's latest book is The Peripheral.

From his Q & A with Tasneem Raja for Mother Jones:

MJ: In geek culture, everyone is talking about how badly women are portrayed, but your books have always had strong female characters.

WG: I usually wind up with a male lead and a female lead, but not necessarily in the Hollywood style. They'll interact; it may not be romantically. I think what happened, in the '70s I was sort of looking for a viable art form. I looked at science fiction, and I was really disappointed with most of it compared to the science fiction that had wowed me as a kid in the '60s. It felt kind of like Nashville country, like I had grown up on Texas swing and now I'm getting this awful synthetic.

But the one area that worked for me was the feminist science fiction of the '70s: Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Alice Sheldon, who wrote as James Tiptree. Everyone should read Octavia Butler—you get not only great feminist science fiction, but great black American science fiction. They're all very strong voices, and kind of unlikely voices, considering the extent to which science fiction had traditionally been a very male modality. Mary Shelley may well have invented science fiction. I think she did! [Laughs.] But after that it seemed to be a boys' game, and boys were assumed to be the demographic.

MJ: Sci-fi movie fans swear that without Neuromancer, there would have been no Matrix, no Tron, no Ghost in the Shell. Why haven't we ever seen a Neuromancer movie?

WG: Well, I'm...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict’s latest dark suspense novel is Bliss House, praised as “Eerie, seductive, and suspenseful,” by Edgar award-winning author, Meg Gardiner. Benedict is also the author of Devil's Oven, a modern Frankenstein tale, and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts and Isabella Moon.

From her Q & A with J.T. Ellison:

What’s your latest book about?

BLISS HOUSE tells the story of Rainey Bliss Adams, who has brought her daughter, Ariel, to live in the Bliss ancestral home in Old Gate, Virginia. While at first the house seems to help Ariel heal from the tragic accident that badly burned her and killed her father, it begins to reveal its true nature and horrific past after Ariel witnesses a spectral scene that results in a very real dead body in Bliss House’s grand front hall. The house has secrets that it—and the residents of Old Gate—are reluctant to reveal. But only their revelations will save Rainey and Ariel.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I can’t bear to be tied to my desk all day. It’s one of the reasons I left the corporate world and never looked back. I compose fiction on my laptop, for the most part, and usually park myself on the couch or even in bed (I know. It’s totally decadent!) after everyone is gone from the house in the morning. But I edit my fiction and type blogs, interviews, research questions, etc. on...[read on]
Visit Laura Benedict's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Bliss House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

From his interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: One of the cases that you write about is about one of the children who you represented. He was, I think, 13. And he was in prison for having shot his mother's boyfriend after he witnessed the mother's boyfriend abusing her, and she ended up unconscious and bleeding. And the son wasn't even sure if she was alive. She was kind of out cold for about 20 minutes, bleeding profusely, and I don't know whose gun it was that the boy used?

STEVENSON: It was the boyfriend - the mother's boyfriend's gun that he had hidden away in a dresser drawer.

GROSS: So the boy took the gun, shot and killed the mother's boyfriend. So he's in prison. You're trying to represent him. And you go to visit him, he's uncommunicative. And he finally just kind of breaks down crying and tells you what's been happening to him in prison, which was...

STEVENSON: Yeah, it's one of the real tragedies that we continue to tolerate in this country. I went to the jail and there's this little kid, he's 14 and he's just tiny and he won't say a word. And after 20 minutes of trying to get them to talk to me, I finally went around and got close to him, I said look you got to talk to me. I can't help you if you don't talk to me. And at one point, I leaned on him and I put my arm around him and when I did that he just collapsed into me. And he started crying hysterically, and began telling me nothing about his mom, nothing about the man, but he started talking to me about the jail.

He told me on the first night that he had been there, he'd been hurt by several men and then he told me on the next night he'd been sexually assaulted by several people. And then he told me on the night before I'd gotten there, so many people had hurt him and sexually assaulted him, he couldn't remember how many there had been. You know, and I held that little boy while he cried hysterically for almost an hour and when I left the jail, I couldn't help but think who is responsible for this? And I realized we are. We are a society that has allowed our fear and our anger - we've allowed these false narratives about children being super predators and other such nonsense - to create policies where we are putting children in peril. And I just - I really was never the same after that. We got that little boy out of there and we ultimately got a good outcome for him. But it's, again, one of the ways in which this disconnect has made us a less fair, less just society.

GROSS: What was the outcome that you got because it's not like he was innocent of shooting and killing a man? Doesn't mean he should have...[read on, or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 23, 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 Caitlin Moscatello at Glamour:

Glamour: You describe your childhood in so much detail—your mom's depression, your parents twice divorcing, financial hardship. And then of course being a young, single mom. How did toughing it out through these hard times shape you as a politician?

Wendy Davis: When my parents divorced the second time, we went from being a very stable family that sat down to dinner at the table at 6 o'clock at night to one with a mom who worked nights and weekends and wasn't able to financially support us in the way that she would have liked. My mom had only a ninth-grade education. And we all had to go to work really young to help her out. I started working when I was 14. And when I became a single mom.... I felt like I was stuck, and I was afraid I was going to be stuck in the very same place that I saw my mother be stuck. And it wasn't until one of my coworkers brought in a brochure to our community college that I began to even think about a path forward. It was hard. I worked a full-time job, I worked a part-time job, and I went to college, while I was raising my daughter as a single mom. But I knew if I didn't put my foot forward on that path, we were going to stay stuck, and the fact that I was able to do it, I hope creates for people who are struggling with some of the same situations in their lives, hope that they too can do it.

Glamour: Earlier this year, parts of your personal story were challenged—specifically, how you paid for law school. Were you surprised that the issue was questioned?

WD: I was disappointed that it was. But, you know, my story is my story. And I know how I was able to achieve the things I achieved. I know, and have always recognized and given credit to many people who helped me along the way, most important of which was my ex-husband Jeff Davis. He was my mentor. He was an incredible support to me in many ways. Together, we created two beautiful, wonderful daughters who are happy and successful. He is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen is the author of Reign of Madness, a 2011 Best of the South selection by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and 2012 Townsend Prize finalist, and The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection and an ALA Best Book of 2008.

Cullen's latest novel is Mrs. Poe.

From the author's Q & A with Stephanie Hopkins at Layered Pages:

Stephanie: Hello Lynn! It truly is a pleasure chatting with you today! I really enjoyed your story, Mrs. Poe. What do your cast of characters have in common?

Lynn: Thank you so very much for inviting me to your blog. I’m thrilled for a chance to chat with you—and I’m so glad that you liked Mrs. Poe! H’m, interesting first question. I’d say that what the characters have the most in common is that they all want something they can’t have. To me, one of the most fascinating things about being human is our constant craving for that which is just out of reach. Why do we always want what we can’t have? Not even the Garden of Eden was good enough for Eve. Poe and Frances Osgood were great vehicles through which to explore this common human drive for something more. They wanted fame, fortune, and great love, and it was just beyond their fingertips.

Stephanie: What fascinates you about Frances Osgood?

Lynn: I am bowled over that Frances Osgood tried to support herself and her two daughters with her poetry after her husband left her. She tried to do this in 1845, when only two or three women writers in the U.S. made enough money to live on—and they were newspaper columnists, not poets. Not even Poe was earning enough to live comfortably on his stories and poems. By the way, I learned that Poe was the first American writer to try to support himself solely with his fiction. Previous writers had inherited money, married well, or had other jobs or professions. Frankly, it didn’t work out very well for him. He was reduced to constantly begging for loans from friends and business associates. But back to Frances Osgood: I appreciate how she...[read on]
Visit Lynn Cullen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mrs. Poe.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Poe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lisa O’Donnell

Lisa O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

O'Donnell's latest novel is Closed Doors.

From her Q & A at Curtis Brown Creative:

You were a screenwriter for many years. At one point did you decide you wanted to be a novelist?

I was a screenwriter largely working in television. I worked for the BBC and I wrote for Hollyoaks for a while. I enjoyed that experience – storyboarding, working with other people. I didn’t really give up screenwriting, there just weren’t any jobs; so I turned to novel-writing. But even when I wrote my first book and started writing the first lines of the prologue, ‘Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved’, I wasn’t sure whether these words would lead me to write another speculative script or a novel. I decided to write a novel in the end, but I must admit I was a little...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa O'Donnell's website.

Writers Read: Lisa O'Donnell.

The Page 69 Test: Closed Doors.

My Book, The Movie: Closed Doors.

--Marshal Zeringue