Monday, January 26, 2015

Ann Mah

Ann Mah is the author of Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris.

From her Q & A with Meg Bortin:

Q. Your new book is subtitled, Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. Could you please cite an example of one important lesson about food that you learned while writing your book, and one lesson about love that your year abroad taught you?

A. The most important lesson I learned from investigating 10 classic dishes is that patience is the great hallmark of French country cooking. The patience needed to slowly simmer a pot of cassoulet over several days, or to painstakingly strain the sauce of a boeuf bourguignon, or to visit several charcuteries in search of the perfect sausages and cured meats for your choucroute garnie. Patience is the reason Granny’s food always tastes best. And – patience is also...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Phil Klay

Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer. After being discharged he went to Hunter College and received an MFA. His story “Redeployment” was originally published in Granta and is included in Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, Tin House, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.

Redeployment is his first story collection.

From his Buzzfeed Q & A with Jen Percy:

Jennifer Percy: Can you talk about any complications you came across while transforming autobiographical or overheard experiences into fiction? And why did you make the choice to write fiction, especially using multiple narrators?

Phil Klay: It’s the best way I knew how to think about certain issues. I came back with all these questions, questions that could only be answered by exploring the experiences of contractors, soldiers, chaplains, girlfriends, etc. Writing fiction was a way to take the ideas that troubled me or confused me and put them under pressure. When I returned to NYC I came from a place where there were horrific things happening — and not to me, I had a mild deployment — but nightmares were common in Iraq at that time. So you come back, and you go from walking through TQ Surgical where you have Marines, civilians, insurgents, all terribly injured, and then two days later you’re walking down Madison Avenue in New York City and there’s zero sense of war. And when you get out of the Marine Corps you’re no longer in a community where conflict is vital. It’s such an abstraction. And yet you know that there’s a continuing world of horror going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things of incredible importance overseas. And also here on the home front, as vets try to transition back. So the questions started coming up: How do we deal with veterans? What does the war mean to us?

I’m not the same person I was when started. I remember early on a friend of mine pointed out to me that...[read on]
Redeployment is on Jeff Somer's list of seven of the best recent books that give an honest account of war.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2015

Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke's latest novel is The Cinderella Murder, co-written with Mary Higgins Clark.

From Burke's Q & A with Rebecca James for The Edge:
What initially drew you to crime and law, as a career, and as subject matter?

Oh my gosh, that is so hard to answer. I always wonder if it had something to do with growing up in a town (Wichita, Kansas) where there was an active serial killer. Police did not catch him until I was already a law professor, 30 years after his first murder. Growing up with that kind of violence in the community, with no clear answers, might have made me interested in being part of law-enforcement.

How has your undergraduate degree influenced the way you approach crime and law?

I was a psychology major in college. What I learned there about memory and cognition always affects the way I see cases. People’s observations are inherently subjective, and their memories inherently...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, and The End of Everything. Her 2012 novel, Dare Me, was chosen by Entertainment Weekly and Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2012 and is soon to be a major motion picture.

Abbott's latest novel is The Fever:

From the author's Q & A with Greg Akers for the Memphis Flyer:

You had a normal upbringing, nothing too crazy?

It was alarmingly uncomplicated. [Laughs.] It was a book-loving household. My dad is a professor at Wayne State and a writer. My mom wrote on the side and now writes short stories. My brother is a compulsive reader. We passed around books constantly. That made its mark on me more than anything specifically in my childhood.

Were you allowed to read anything you wanted?

Yes. We used to go to used bookstores a lot. Because of the dramatic quality of the covers, I was drawn to true crime at an unhealthy age — not that it really had an unhealthy effect, because it didn’t do anything to me. But the books terrified me, and you love to be scared as a kid. I remember reading at an early age Helter Skelter and Hollywood Babylon. I liked looking at the pictures in the middle of the book and reading all those tales of women who marry men who are con artists who then kill them. I read mysteries like Agatha Christie as a kid, but I didn’t discover crime fiction until high school.

Like the actual hard-boiled classics?

I was working my way through the canon, and I knew of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett from the movies, but I...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Fever.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jan Jarboe Russell

Jan Jarboe Russell is the author of The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.

From her Q & A with Weekend Edition's Rachel Martin:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: The internment camps where Japanese-Americans were sent during World War II are a well-documented part of American history. One lesser-known camp was called Crystal City in southern Texas. And there, thousands of Japanese immigrants were detained along with many people of German and Italian descent. Hundreds of these Americans were then sent back to their countries of origin in exchange for Americans who were caught behind enemy lines when the war broke out.

Jan Jarboe Russell writes about these secret trade arrangements in a new book called "The Train To Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program And America's Only Family Interment Camp During World War II." Russell writes about the families who came to Crystal City to be with their loved ones who have been detained.


JAN JARBOE RUSSELL: You had wives and fathers and children living in tiny huts in this 290-acre internment camp. It had schools. It had a swimming pool. Of course, it was an internment camp. It had barbed wire fences. It was under constant armed guard. All of the mail in and out of the camp was censored. But most heartbreaking is that President Roosevelt set up a division within the Department of State called the Special War Problems Division.

MARTIN: And this is where we get to the subtitle of your book "The Secret Prisoner Exchange Program."

RUSSELL: In the run-up to the war, the president realized that Americans would be tracked behind enemy lines in Germany and in Japan, especially. And he charged the Special War Problems Division with creating pools of people that he could trade for important Americans - soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, journalists, missionaries.

MARTIN: As you say, these were all Americans who happened to be living abroad when World War II breaks out. And the Roosevelt administration is trying to figure a way to get them home. And they think they have leverage by repatriating German-Americans, Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans. Many of these people were born in America.

RUSSELL: Well, that was the tragedy of Crystal City, not the way the internees were treated. In about the 50 children of the camp that I spent time with and interviewed, some of them say that as hard as it was, those were the best years of their life because they were with their parents and their siblings. And so they aren't resentful about...[read on]
Visit Jan Jarboe Russell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stephan Eirik Clark

Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised between England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir's Mustache. A former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, he teaches English at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. His recently released debut novel is Sweetness #9.

From Clark's Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Sweetness #9?

A: I learned about flavor additives from my reading of Fast Food Nation. Before this, I'd certainly consumed them -- in great numbers, even -- but I'd never really considered the role they played in my life. Now I could think of little else.

I became obsessed, because this industry, capable of recreating any taste, was both so interesting and philosophically suspect. Was the microwave dinner I was eating as healthy as the roast chicken my grandmother had made me, or was the quality of the food far inferior and only covered up by the wonders of science? I was down the rabbit hole, and there I remained for many, many years.

Q: Why did you decide to set the novel primarily in the 1970s through 1990s?

A: In the 1970s, many Americans still firmly believed in the supermarket. It was an age of Tang and TV dinners, when new ideas were viewed as progressive. It was important for my novel to start here, because my main character, a flavor chemist, is very much a man of the times.

At first he believes there is great value in his work. But by the 1990s, when...[read on]
Visit Stephan Eirik Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sweetness #9.

The Page 69 Test: Sweetness #9.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2015

Valerie Plame

Valerie Plame's second novel is Burned, a sequel to Blowback.

From her Q & A with Jonathan Peltz at Salon:

What made you want to start writing fiction?

Well it’s nothing that I had anticipated doing … that’s for sure. If the leak of my name didn’t happen. I would be overseas right now, working for the government, trying to make sure the bad guys don’t get nuclear weapons. Making my government salary. And really feeling … satisfaction. But obviously things didn’t turn out that way. After “Fair Game” came out, my publisher approached and asked me how I felt about fiction. I thought, “Alrighty, let’s see how this goes!” I wanted to develop a strong female CIA character. Because what’s out there is just insane. It’s just eye-rolling. They’re sexy. They’re eye candy. They’re good with guns. But it has nothing to do with how intelligence is realistically collected.

Do you think that’s still the general cultural perception? “Homeland” is a different story.

There is certainly persistent sexism toward what females can and can’t do. But in terms of the CIA, we’re fed a steady diet of James Bond for decades. There’s so many movies that show the CIA is omniscient and far more efficient than it really is. And yet, in most films I’ve seen depicting espionage, I always wait for the moment when it starts veering off into the crazy. I did recently see “A Most Wanted Man,” and it did capture the ambiguities and the waiting. It also showed how gray Hamburg is. It captured the essence of intelligence collection. Notice there was not one gun. It’s very hard to collect intelligence when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 17, 2015

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke's latest novel is Wayfaring Stranger.

From his Q & A with Sean Salai, S.J. at America:

Who are you writing for?

Well, I write for anyone who will read it. But I hope this book—it’s doing very well, actually—gives people a sense of traditional America. It’s my sense that my generation, born in the Great Depression, will be the last one to remember traditional America. People might say it’s nostalgic, but it’s not. There were a lot of downsides to that period—segregation, McCarthyism and other things—but there was a lot of excitement too. In the post-war era, people discovered two portals to acquiring enormous wealth. One was Hollywood and the other was the oil business. Some of these oilmen called “wildcatters” could hardly read or write, but became men of enormous wealth and power. My father was in that industry and I don’t think anyone has written about it from the inside. What people don’t understand is that the grunts on the ground who drill for the oil are the bravest people I’ve ever known—it’s really easy to get killed in that work. They’re like the cutting edge of an empire, the Roman legionaries of our age. But the guys at the top do business with baseball bats. If you call them ruthless, they’re the first ones to agree.

The hero of your book connects what you call “a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.” How much of your personal experiences influenced the story?

This is the most biographical book I’ve written, undoubtedly, and I’ve dedicated it to my beloved first cousin Weldon Benbow "Buddy" Mallette, who is the main character. He walked all across Europe and liberated an extermination camp. He came home with two Bronze Stars, the Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. Many other characters in the book were also influenced by real people. In fiction, characters tend to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is the author of the story collections Don’t Kiss Me and Daddy’s. Originally from Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and two pit bulls.

Hunter's first novel is Ugly Girls.

From her Q & A with Juliet Escoria for The Believer:

BLVR: Of all the mistakes you’ve made in life, what do you most hope your son Parker will grow up to repeat?

LH: All my life I wanted to be an actress. I wanted it so bad my teeth would ache. Like it was something I could bite into. I wanted to make people feel. When I was twenty I went to The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York to study the method. I had taken time off from college to do it. It was the first time in my life at that point that I dropped everything to focus on this thing I had inside of me saying I should be acting. But at the end of my time there I had come to face the realization that I did not like acting at all, nor was I any good at it. I did a lot of brow-beating, back-lashing, tortured thinking. Why had I come all this way; how could I have not known? What about acting drew me? I realized it was that I wanted to make people feel. I was writing a lot while I was there; I’d been writing all my life, in fact, and I finally decided I’d focus on writing, instead. I could make people feel through writing.

Going to NYC was a mistake in that it cost me a lot of money (and my parents, too), and by the end I was kind of mentally bereft, and I was mugged on the subway, and all in all I had to face that I’d been an idiot. But it was a passion I was pursuing, and I firmly believe that’s kind of what saved me in my teenage years. Believing in a future built around expressing these things inside me. My senior year English teacher wrote in my yearbook, “You’re going to be a great writer one day.” And I bitterly thought, “You mean actress.” The mistake of NYC made me face the truth: that I was...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Ugly Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tim Johnston

Tim Johnston's new novel is Descent.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I’m always interested in the origins of an idea. What sparked the book? How did the final story differ from your original idea?

For most of my adult life, I've made my living as a carpenter, and this book—or the characters—came to me at a time when I was actively not trying to write. I had all but completely cut myself off from all things writerly, publishy, agenty, by driving a truckload of tools up to the Rocky Mountains and throwing myself into completing all the finish work on a vacation house my father and stepmother had built up there. I'd been up in those mountains—way up there, on the far downslope of the Great Divide—for months, all by myself, working away, when this family of four began to make themselves known to me. Of course I did my best to ignore them, but they persisted, and grew more and more distinct in my mind, until one day I set down my paintbrush and said, OK, and opened up my laptop and began to write. All I knew about them then was that they, like me, had driven up to the Rockies from the Midwest, and that this common American undertaking was going to prove to be the worst kind of turning point in their lives.

I had in mind a story that dwelt in the aftermath of incredibly bad luck: how a family goes on with their lives once the headlines have faded and the world has moved on. I had not intended to have a concurrent story about the missing daughter—about her singular, personal struggle to survive. I also had an ending in mind that I thought I was writing toward until, after a long long period of paused writing, I realized I no longer wanted to reach—that that ending simply would not do for the characters I'd come to know so well. The concurrent story of the daughter contributed to this realization that I couldn't end the novel as I'd intended to, and when I finally understood another way to end it, I...[read on]
Visit Tim Johnston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue