Friday, August 22, 2014

Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley is best known for the Miranda Corbie series of historical noir novels and short stories set in 1940 San Francisco. The first novel of the series, City of Dragons, introduced Miranda, the unforgettable protagonist Library Journal calls "one of crime’s most arresting heroines.”

City of Dragons won the Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel, and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Shamus Award, a Bruce Alexander Award and an RT Book Reviews Award, was a Mystery Guild selection of the month, and placed on many “best of the year” lists.

City of Secrets, the sequel to City of Dragons, was released by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur to great critical acclaim, was nominated for a number of awards and won the Golden Nugget for best mystery set in California.

Stanley's latest novel in the series is City of Ghosts.

From the author's Q & A with Holly West for Do Some Damage:

Holly West: CITY OF GHOSTS touches upon several historical events/topics: The looting of art during WWII, Americans working as spies for the Nazis, and the Nazis censuring and destroying what the regime considered to be "degenerate" art and literature. One of the benefits of writing historical fiction is that we can use real-life historical events to inform our plots. It doesn't necessarily make the writing easier, but definitely provides some direction. In plotting, do you start with a historical event you'd like to explore in more depth or are your plots more about where you'd like to take Miranda Corbie as a character, then choosing the historical elements to follow?

Kelli Stanley: Holly, you ask the best questions! I know this is going to sound less than definitive, but the answer is both. There are historical elements from this period that I wanted to address—tensions between Japanese and Chinese Americans in Chinatown (CITY OF DRAGONS); anti-Semitic, pro-fascist American hate groups and how eugenics (and America’s role in promoting it) led to Hitler’s Germany (CITY OF SECRETS).

For CITY OF GHOSTS, I wanted to explore the theme of art—who owns it, who values or devalues it, and what it means to a nation or a culture. That dovetailed historically with what the Nazis were doing to dispossessed Jews and conquered countries like Poland—a wholesale theft and destruction of cultural patrimony. I also wanted to write a train scene—that was purely personal. In every book, there’s at least one scene in which I tackle a noir or hardboiled—or, in this case, traditional mystery—trope. They’re fun to write—an homage, if you will. The gambling scene in CITY OF SECRETS is another example.

Miranda’s character development is on almost a separate trajectory from the exterior plot mechanics; one of my challenges is to mesh each thread and theme so that they work to produce a united and hopefully seamless result. In other words, I put her in situations that I’m interested in and see how she reacts. In CITY OF GHOSTS, for example, she spends time in Reno because...[read on]
Learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

The Page 69 Test: City of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: City of Ghosts.

My Book, The Movie: City of Ghosts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 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 Christine Sneed:

Tell us a little about your new novel.

It’s the story of a haunted house and a haunted family, told backwards over the 20th century. We start in 1999 with Doug and Zee move into the grand estate’s coach house. (Zee’s mother owns the whole place.) Doug is fascinated by the house’s previous life as an artists’ colony, and hopes to find something archival there about the poet Edwin Parfitt, who was in residence at Laurelfield in the twenties (and whose work happens to be Doug’s area of scholarship). When he learns that there are file cabinets full of colony materials in the attic, Doug is anxious to get to work and save his career—but his mother-in-law refuses him access. With help from friends, Doug finally does access the Parfitt file—only to find far stranger and more disturbing material than he bargained for.

Doug may never learn all the house’s secrets, but the reader does, as the narrative zips back in time from 1999 to 1955 and 1929. We see the autumn right after the colony’s demise, when its newlywed owners are more at the mercy of the place’s lingering staff than they could imagine; and we see it as a bustling artists’ community fighting for survival in the last, heady days of the 1920s.

Through it all, the residents of Laurelfield are both plagued and blessed by the strange legacy of Laurelfield’s original owners: extraordinary luck, whether good or bad.

The Hundred-Year House is so different from your first novel, The Borrower (though in both you balance both the serious and the comic with such aplomb) - what was the inspiration for The Hundred-Year House? Were there any novels (mysteries, for example) you were thinking of when you began drafting it?

I did think a lot about books like The Haunting of Hill House and The Turn of the Screw and Rebecca – ones that are more about rattled people than rattling chains. I love that space between skepticism and fear that allows so much to happen. It’s the same space where there’s room for us as readers.

These books weren’t the original inspiration for the novel, though....[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, August 20, 2014

Katie Crouch

Katie Crouch's latest novel is Abroad.

From her Q & A with Lisa Marie Basile for Tin House:

LMB: What inspired you to write Abroad from the perspective of the deceased, and were you ever worried people would call the book “that story about Amanda Knox?”

KC: I didn’t worry about that latter question, because there are so many nonfiction books about Amanda Knox I found it kind of a moot point. There was also another excellent novel about Knox rushed to publication to pre-empt mine. So by the time my book came out, I wasn’t worried about Ms. Knox knocking on my door saying, what the hell? It was well-tread ground.

That said, my book is actually very different. The main focus wasn’t Knox at all. It was the victim. I was in Italy when I decided to write this, and all anyone could talk about was “Angel Face”, the beautiful American. And very few people could remember [the young woman Knox was accused of killing] Meredith Kercher’s name. I found that fascinating, and alarming. Because as I started researching and interviewing people about the case, I found the most relevant answers to what happened always led back to her. She was the only one who knew the truth, but she couldn’t relay it. Which was a terrific place...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. A native of California, she currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and son.

Thorpe's debut novel is The Girls From Corona del Mar.

From her Q & A with Lucy Walton at Female First:

Please tell us about the characters of Mia and Lorrie Ann.

Mia grows up with an alcoholic mom and a disinterested step-dad, and she feels very much like she is riding the edge and trying to keep her two younger brothers safe at the same time. What she sees in her parents is that they aren’t in control, and as a consequence, she’s desperate for control. It’s her very fear that she’ll become a bad person that actually leads her to live a very stable and “good” life. Lorrie Ann, on the other hand, comes from what seems like a very stable, church going family. She’s beautiful and smart and at ease with herself, but life really deals her a whacky hand and she’s got to figure out how to play it.

What made you want to explore friendship with this book?

My friendship with my best friend is one of the major through lines of my life. The ways in which we know each other, love each other, judge and forgive each other form much of the “plot” for me, and so I tried to write a book about a relationship like that, that was so important and yet so complicated, so intimate and yet so distant. What has amazed me is...[read on]
Visit Rufi Thorpe's website.

Writers Read: Rufi Thorpe.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls from Corona del Mar.

My Book, The Movie: The Girls from Corona del Mar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lois Lowry

Laura Smith of Slate interviewed Lois Lowry about The Giver, the book as well as the adaptation. Part of the Q & A:

Slate: People have very strong feelings about [The Giver]. For me, it was the gateway book to a life of bookwormishness, but more strikingly, it endowed me with deep skepticism of conformity. Do you hear this often? What effect does this have on you?

Lois Lowry: I do hear it often, and am always deeply touched by the response. I like your phrase “skeptics of conformity.” It was something I felt deeply as a child though I would not have known what to call the feeling. I grew up on military bases because my father was a career army officer, and I was always vaguely at odds with the rigidly ordered lives that they valued and that I was for the most part forced to live. In 1952, when I was 15 and living on Governors Island (NY) which was then First Army Headquarters, I encountered the newly-published The Catcher in the Rye. Of course that book became the iconic anti-establishment novel for my generation. And The Giver has been that for many of today’s kids: the book that confirms their feeling that the governing body, be it president or parents, may be getting it wrong.

Slate: Jeff Bridges has been very committed to The Giver throughout, originally buying the screen rights and intending for his father to be cast in the role of the Giver. Do you know what specifically spoke to him about the book?

Lowry: He describes having first been attracted to...[read on]
The Giver made Guy Lodge's round-up of ten of the best dystopias in fiction, film, art, and television, Joel Cunningham's list of six great young adult book series for fans of The Hunger Games and Lauren Davis's top ten list of science fiction’s most depressing futuristic retirement scenarios.

Writers Read: Lois Lowry (July 2009).

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Lois Lowry & Alfie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Charles D. Bailyn

Charles D. Bailyn is the author of What Does a Black Hole Look Like?.

From a Q & A with the author at the Princeton University Press website:

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about astronomy?

Well, I'm always a bit amused and dismayed when I tell someone that I'm an astronomer, and they ask "what's your sign?" -- as if astronomy and astrology are the same thing. I used to tell people very seriously that I'm an Orion -- this is puzzling, since most people know it's a constellation but not part of the zodiac. At one point I had an elaborate fake explanation worked out about how this could be.

Why did you write this book? Who do you see as its audience?

There seem to be two kinds of books on black holes and relativity -- books addressing a popular audience that use no math at all, and textbooks that focus on developing the relevant physical theory. This book was designed to sit in the middle. It assumes a basic knowledge of college physics, but instead of deriving the theory, its primary concerns are the observations and their interpretation. I'm basically talking to myself as a sophomore or junior in college.

How did you come up with the title?

The Frontiers in Physics (Princeton) series like to have questions in the title, and this one is particularly provocative. Black holes by definition cannot be seen directly, so asking what they "look like" is a bit of an oxymoron. But a lot of modern astrophysics is like that -- we have powerful empirical evidence for all sorts of things we can't see, from planets around distant stars to the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that make up most of the stuff in the Universe. The...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Maria Venegas

Maria Venegas's new memoir is Bulletproof Vest: The Ballad of an Outlaw and His Daughter.

From a Q & A at her website:

In Bulletproof Vest, your first book, you write about your family, especially your father, who led a very tumultuous and violent life. How did you decide to write about him? Was it difficult to take on such a personal subject?

My father used to be my best-kept secret. For years I never talk about him, or the past. When I was a child, he seemed to be larger than life, indestructible, but when I finally returned to Mexico to visit him after having been estranged for 14 years, he seemed deflated, somehow. On the day I was to return to New York, he drove me to the bus station, and when we hugged goodbye his chin started quivering. I thought he'd drive me to the station, we'd say goodbye, and that would be the end of it, but his sudden display of emotions caused something to shift within me. Over the next several years I continued to visit him during the holidays and summers, and he began sharing stories about his past—when he was seven years old and was being bullied at school, his mother handed him a carving knife and told him to go eff those kids up; after shooting a man for the first time when he was 12 years old, his mother never lost an opportunity to brag about her son and how brave he was. Perhaps sharing these stories was his way of explaining to me why he had lived such a violent and self-destructive life. I felt compelled to write about him, to try and make sense of how he was wired. It was through the writing that I developed empathy for him, and came to embrace him for who he was.

To answer your second question, there is that old saying: Write what scares you. I never thought I'd be writing about my past—especially not my father. To write about the past is to relive it, and even though that was extremely painful, it was ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2014

Emily Arsenault

Emily Arsenault is the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I'm Gone.

Her new novel is What Strange Creatures.

From Arsenault's Q &A with Caroline Leavitt:

How did you find out about Margery Kempe, the medieval mystic, and how does she function in the novel?

I learned about Margery Kempe through a survey of early English lit class when I was fulfilling credits for English teaching certification years ago. I was intrigued by her unusual life—particularly the fact that she managed to convince her husband to allow her to take a vow of celibacy—and to go on pilgrimages by herself—after she’d had fourteen children with him. When I started What Strange Creatures, I knew I wanted Theresa to have kind of a quirky dissertation topic, so Margery Kempe came back to mind. It wasn’t until then that I read the entire Book of Margery Kempe (her autobiography—which she had a scribe write for her, as she was illiterate). I was happy to find some very odd stories about her life that I was eager to share with readers along the way. Additionally, I wanted Theresa to have a thesis topic somehow related to religion, so she could struggle a bit with the concept of faith. Margery Kempe gives Theresa an outlet—albeit a bizarre and at time frustrating one—for reflection during very difficult times.

For such a terrifying scenario, there is also a lot of humor in the novel. How did you balance the lighter moments with the darker ones?

That’s a good question. This is my fourth book. My first book, The Broken Teaglass, had a lot of humor in it. The two after that didn’t have all that much, and when I sat down to write What Strange Creatures, I was determined to make humor a priority again. I decided that what had prevented...[read on]
Visit Emily Arsenault's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Broken Teaglass.

My Book, The Movie: What Strange Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dylan Landis

Dylan Landis is the author of the debut novel Rainey Royal and Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a linked story collection.

Landis's Q & A with Soho Press Editor Mark Doten:

What was the first short story that you remember really having a powerful effect on you? And this might be a little harder, but do you remember the first time you read a full collection and started to have a sense of cumulative power the right group of stories can have?

The stories in Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich, really peeled me apart as I read them. You could tell they were constructed with a fine instrument and I spent some time dismantling and studying them. I'll go to my grave remembering Henry Lamartine, Jr. in "The Red Convertible" walking into the river and saying, "My boots are filling," before he drowns.

That's also the first linked collection—Erdrich calls it a novel, so forgive me—that made me really grasp how much power the whole can have when the parts harmonize. And it's not just about repeating names and places; it really is about resonance, about events told from more than one point of view and deepening or developing each time, or iconic objects taking on new meaning as they recur. Watch what happens with King Kashpaw's car every time you see it: it's freighted with more emotion. My copy of Love Medicine bristles with scores of tiny Post-its.

I also have to mention Elissa Schappell's linked collection Use Me, another beacon for me. Years later I still remember Evie Wakefield tasting her father's ashes, swallowing—then finding out, two stories later, that her best friend and her father had kissed. Escalation—that's what you get to do when the stories are linked. I hope I pulled that off.

Music and visual art both play big parts in the book. Do you find that art or music are an influence on your fiction? Do you ever write to music?

I do look at and live with a lot of art. But when I write, I find myself wide open to things that aren't part of my life. For instance, Rainey is deeply moved by a pieta and by what she learns about Mary Magdalene. I'm Jewish and not all that spiritual. I don't listen to music, either, which might be why Rainey doesn't like her father's jazz. This is embarrassing to admit, but I live in my head, and listen to my thoughts, and music just distracts. Yes, I realize this is like missing a limb, or a sense. I did start listening to jazz to research Rainey Royal—though never while I wrote—and that was fascinating; it felt like auditory abstract art.

Rainey Royal shares characters with your previous book, Normal People Don't Live Like This. Did you know when you were finishing the first book that you weren't done with them yet? When did the form of Rainey start to take shape?

Rainey appears in the first two stories of Normal People Don't Live Like This, first as a girl who's being molested, and then as a bully. And then she vanishes from the collection. My mentor, Jim Krusoe, had read the manuscript and said, "You need a third Rainey story to balance out the book." But I was closing in on fifty and frankly I was impatient to have a book out. My agent sold it as it was, and I thought I got away with it, but readers kept asking: "What happened to Rainey? Will she get her own book?"

I loved Rainey. For a long time I used her name as my email address. But I spent four years trying to write an altogether different novel, banging my head against the wrong wall, before I finally listened to my heart and wrote that third Rainey story my mentor had wanted—and then a fourth, and a fifth, and finally enough to fill a book.

Before you turned to fiction, you wrote several books about interior design. I'm curious about that--are the satisfactions and challenges of putting that type of book together at all similar to fiction? Do you see any relationship between that work and your fiction? (I will say that Rainey Royal has some very richly realized interior spaces!)

Rooms protect us and cosset us and define us and hopefully are filled with the objects that reflect us. So they're important to fiction. And I like taking rooms apart the way I like taking books apart: to understand how they are made.

But putting a design book together is not like writing a novel. It's about selecting pictures and analyzing rooms; it's a form of journalism, with interviewing, and a little poetry in the writing. You might structure the book on color, or style. Whereas in fiction, structure has to do with story, and in order to write you have to first tap into the subconscious, the mind's basement. That's where I hear and see and smell everything. I can't know a character without seeing his or her space in detail. I can see the furniture and what's in it. The colors, what's on the walls. For me, in fiction, a room is both a stage set and a mirror of the people who live there.

When did you start writing fiction? Is there any advice that present-day you would give to the you that was just starting out?

I was forty, writing articles and books on interior design, and a friend insisted I take a fiction workshop given by Madeleine L'Engle. It was mind-altering the first Wednesday night. Madeleine said, "Nonfiction is about what is true, but fiction is about truth." I knew my life had to change.

I went to workshops and took notes, which became my textbooks. I learned how to read with an eye for craft. I developed a thick enough skin to withstand rejection, which I got plenty of. It took twelve years to publish my first book, which was really my second.

So I would keep telling my younger self, Don't get discouraged. It's not about talent, it's about staying in the chair. And I would say, Stop revising and show your work sooner. I used to polish endlessly before I'd let another writer critique my pages. Now I get the benefit of other eyes on my early drafts, and I'm a faster, better, more fluid writer. Finally I wish I'd heard sooner what my mentor, Jim Krusoe, would tell me later: You have to have the faith that you can do the work, and the patience to get the work done.

What are you reading these days?

I just finished Natalie Baszile's Queen Sugar, which has urgency and beauty in rural Louisiana. And I've begun Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See, which is practically needlepointed, the language is so fine. On the nightstand is an advance copy of Robin Black's Life Drawing, which comes out here in summer 2014 and is getting rave reviews in the UK. It has a gently ominous first line; I love that.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I'm afraid of jinxing it, so just the title: The Hoarder's Daughter. I'm fascinated by hoarders; there's one in Rainey Royal. What are these people really constructing? And why do we feel like if we could just go through all that stuff we'd find secrets at the bottom?
Visit Dylan Landis's website.

Writers Read: Dylan Landis (November 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ellen Cooney

Ellen Cooney is a fiction writer who lives in midcoast Maine. She is the author of nine novels; her stories have appeared in The New Yorker and many literary journals.

Cooney's new novel is The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances.

From her Q & A with Joan Silverman for the Portland Press Herald:

Q: What prompted you to write about the bond between canines and humans?

A: I have three dogs. My middle dog, Skip, was a rescue – very difficult, like a wild animal. I didn’t dare bring him to a class because I couldn’t trust him not to attack dogs or people. I became his teacher in a home-school way. Many times I almost gave up on him. But in working with him, something began to happen inside me and, gradually, he became very deeply attached to me – and I to him.

I realized what I was doing with him was really not very different from my experience as a really young mom, being the teacher of my little boy who was born with cerebral palsy. When he was 12 or 13 years old, my son made me make a vow that I would never write about him. So I wouldn’t have wanted to write about being my son’s teacher. But I wanted to write a novel about teaching.

Q: How different is it writing about one’s family versus these dogs, other than that you don’t need anyone’s permission to write about the dogs?

A: Exactly! This is my ninth novel. I have never drawn directly from my own life or my own family. But as a fiction writer, you’ve got the raw material of your real experience that goes through this dynamic thing that’s my imagination.

I wrote my first poem when I was incredibly young. I was always a writer. I never became one – I just always was one. And my whole childhood and adolescence was about writing. So when it came time to be a mom to my wonderful little baby, who was so handicapped and who I adored, it was natural to me to be...[read on]
Visit Ellen Cooney's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Ellen Cooney & Andy, Skip, and Maxine.

My Book, The Movie: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances.

The Page 69 Test: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances.

--Marshal Zeringue