Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen’s latest novel is At the Water's Edge.

From her Q & A with Claire Kirch at Publishers Weekly:

You’ve said that a vintage photograph in The Chicago Tribune inspired you to write Water for Elephants. Did a similar event inspire At the Water’s Edge?

Although the seeds were sown decades earlier (I first visited Urquhart Castle when I was twelve), the catalyst that turned it from fond memory to book fodder was an online article I stumbled upon four years ago. It was about government secrecy, but what really caught my attention was a 70-year-old declassified letter from Scotland Yard stating unequivocally that the government believed the monster existed. Before I knew it, I’d fallen down a Nessie rabbit hole. At some point over the course of the afternoon, it dawned on me that I was setting my next story.

At the Water’s Edge is set against a backdrop of World War II. What kind of research did you do before writing?

I spent five weeks in the Highlands, scouring the archives at the Inverness Courier, interviewing people who lived in the area during the war, researching the 1st Special Service Brigade, even trying to persuade the equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard to throw me into the loch. I prowled around the castle, got lost in the Cover, and found myself on the wrong side of the law while exploring WWII ruins that I later discovered were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2015

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including many highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef's recent young adult biography, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, explores the tumultuous lives, marriage, and work of the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

From the author's Q & A at How Did You Write That?:

HDYWT: How did you come up with the idea for Frida & Diego?

Catherine: I like to write about creative people. I had written biographies of poets, novelists, and composers — of E. E. Cummings, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ernest Hemingway, Leonard Bernstein, and others — but I had never written about a visual artist. And after completing my books on Jane Austen and the BrontĂ« sisters, I wanted to move away from England and the nineteenth century, to enjoy a change of scene. I considering several subjects before settling on Frida Kahlo. She was such a colorful figure, in every sense of the word, and she was a pioneering self-portraitist.

I delved into Kahlo’s story, though, I became equally intrigued by her husband. Diego Rivera was larger than life-again, in every sense. He, too, was a significant artist, one of the most important muralists of the twentieth century. I also saw how tightly intertwined their stories were and how tumultuous their marriage was. Their intense love drew them together, drove them apart, and brought them together again. It didn’t always make them happy. But here is what fascinated me, and what I admired most about the pair: however much each one hurt and disappointed the other in love, they remained true to each other as artists. Rivera appreciated Kahlo’s talent, encouraged her, and championed her work, and she...[read on]
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Elizabeth Alexander

In her memoir,The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander writes about her husband Ficre Ghebreyesus, who died shortly after turning 50.

From the author's Q & A with Michele Filgate at Salon:

Ficre was an artist and you talk about that a lot in the book, and about his style. And in one particular passage you write: “Ficre did not paint what he saw. He saw in his mind, and then he painted, and then he found the flowers that were what he painted. He painted what he wanted to continue to see. He painted how he wanted the world to look. He painted to fix something in place. And so I write to fix him in place, to pass time in his company, to make sure I remember, even though I know I will never forget.” I thought that was a beautiful way to talk about the common human instinct to hold on to our loved ones. I’m wondering how you wrote about someone that you knew so well and that you loved so much without idealizing them. How do you write from an honest place about a person who means so much to you?

Yeah, that’s a challenge, isn’t it? The quick answer is, I don’t know. I just did it. It’s mysterious. But I think also one thing I was aware of, and this is to the word “nostalgia,” I knew I had to write this book quickly…I had to write it when I was still in it. Because I thought if I’m too far away I would forget things. But I think it’s not about forgetting things. I thought I might idealize things. And so I wanted to be able to just be in such raw feeling and experience that I almost didn’t know what I was writing. I was just writing. And I just really, really was clear that I was kind of racing against the clock, because of course you never stop missing the person. You never stop breathing. But you do pull yourself together and keep on.

I’ve often heard that you should wait to process things that you have gone through before you write about them. But I love that you’re saying you wanted to process them in the actual moment. So I’m wondering, do you think the writing would’ve been different if you waited years to write about this?

Oh, I’m...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Conor Brady

Conor Brady is the author of A June of Ordinary Murders.

From his Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet:

JKP: What was it that made you choose 1887 as your time-frame for A June of Ordinary Murders? Were you attracted primarily by Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee?

CB: The Jubilee became the focus for extraordinary political tension in Ireland. Those loyal to Britain wanted to celebrate, while those who believed in Irish nationalism opposed any acknowledgment of Victoria's long reign. She had sat on the throne while the Great Famine ravaged the country. A million died and two million were driven out by hunger to America, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere.

JKP: While conducting your research for Ordinary Murders, what was the most unusual thing you learned about life in Dublin or Ireland during the 1880s?

CB: Probably the extent to which alcohol played a part in the lives of working people. There were very few comforts other than drink, so when anybody had a few shillings to spare they generally invested in the oblivion of alcohol.

JKP: You make it sound in your book as if the Dublin Metropolitan Police force was rampant with divisions between the Catholic Irish officers and their Protestant English superiors. I kept expecting there to be more fireworks as a result of those differences. But was 1887 still too early for such disparities to become a problem?

CB: The tensions were there. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (Freedom, The Corrections, Strong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City).

From his interview with Susan Lerner in Butler University’s literary journal Booth:

SL: There’s been heated discussion lately about the uptick of adults who read literature written for young adults. Recently in Slate, the journalist Ruth Graham declared that adults should be embarrassed if what they are reading was written for children, and that it would be a shame if readers substituted “maudlin teen drama” for the complexity of great adult literature. What are your thoughts?

JF: I don’t care what people read.

SL: You have no opinion on the question of whether or not readers might be cheating themselves if they’re reading YA lit?

JF: If it’s a loss, it’s their loss, not mine.

SL: Well, I guess that’s the point of Graham’s argument, that it is their loss and that it’s perhaps a greater loss, a collective loss, that fewer people would be—

JF: Most of what people read, if you go to the bookshelf in the airport convenience store and look at what’s there, even if it doesn’t have a YA on the spine, is YA in its moral simplicity. People don’t want moral complexity. Moral complexity is a luxury. You might be forced to read it in school, but a lot of people have hard lives. They come home at the end of the day, they feel they’ve been jerked around by the world yet again for another day. The last thing they want to do is read Alice Munro, who is always pointing toward the possibility that you’re not the heroic figure you think of yourself as, that you might be the very dubious figure that other people think of you as. That’s the last thing you’d want if you’ve had a hard day. You want to be told good people are good, bad people are bad, and love conquers all. And love is more important than money. You know, all these schmaltzy tropes. That’s exactly what you want if you’re having a hard life. Who am I to tell people that they need to have their noses rubbed in moral complexity?...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mona Eltahawy

Mona Eltahawy's new book is Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution.

From her Q & A with Denise Balkissoon for The Globe and Mail:

You say many people are “all too happy to hear how badly Muslim men treat their women,” even when their own behaviour is sexist.

It troubles me deeply that the group that speaks the loudest about the niqab and how the niqab is misogynist is the right wing, Islamophobic, xenophobic racists. My point all along has been that it is possible to talk about misogyny within my own community and also call it out in the right-wing racist community that tries to use my words against Muslim men.

Almost an entire chapter is about your opposition to the niqab. Are you worried that in coming out so strongly, you might alienate women who consider themselves feminists and believe that wearing it is their choice?

This idea of the niqab being feminist is an idea I totally reject. I think it directly contributes to erasing women and it directly contributes to a very dangerous idea of piety, equating it to the disappearance of women. I know there are some who oppose my position on this vehemently, and that is their right. And it’s my right to say: Just because a woman does something doesn’t mean that I have to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Holly Robinson

Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir and the novels Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her articles and essays appear frequently in The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places.

From Robinson's Q & A with Amy Sue Nathan:

Amy: Is Haven Lake a real place or just a real place in the novel? I know all your novels are set in the same area of Massachusetts where you live. For Haven Lake, how did you decide on/come up with this specific setting?

Holly: Haven Lake wasn’t a real place when I began the novel, but it feels very much like one now that I’ve created that world and lived in it. Setting plays a huge role in my books because I always feel that, by choosing the right setting, you can amplify the emotions in a novel. For instance, my first novel, The Wishing Hill, was set partly in Mexico and partly on the Massachusetts North Shore, because one of the characters in my novel is a painter who must travel between those two places as she tries to unravel the mystery of why the woman she thought is her mother is really someone else. I wanted the emotional shock she feels upon making that discovery to be painted in a very visual way on the page, by comparing the bright colors and heat of Mexico with the earthier, cooler tones of New England.

Likewise, Haven Lake has a dual setting: the Massachusetts North Shore and the Berkshires. Haven Lake is the name of the farm where two tragic deaths—a suicide and a mysterious drowning—occur that shatter the commune of people living there in the 1970s. Now, when one of the main characters, Sydney, has to return to Haven Lake, she is besieged by her childhood memories of this place. The dark pine woods, the stone walls, the pond, even the silhouette of the foothills around the farm all bring back memories, forcing Sydney to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Holly Robinson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Plum Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Holly Robinson & Leo.

Writers Read: Holly Robinson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2015

Janet Polasky

Janet Polasky is the author of Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World.

From her Q & A ay the Yale University Press blog:

Yale University Press: What was the inspiration for your book?

Janet Polasky: Years, actually decades ago, as an undergraduate studying in London, I discovered a misfiled letter from Thomas Paine in the Public Records Office. That letter introduced me to unlikely alliances among London mechanics, Parisian lawyers, and abolitionists from Philadelphia—eighteenth-century revolutionaries I had never met before. I have been running into Paine’s itinerant friends ever since, negotiating with Barbary pirates to free hostages, distributing shoes to French armies on behalf of English radicals, spearheading an insurrection in Saint Domingue to free the slaves with funds gathered in London and Charleston, and sliding down bed sheets to escape a hanging in Dublin.

The revolutionaries I encountered in the archives, men and women, black and white, ignored borders. Their international struggles for universal human rights do not fit neatly into national histories. So, why, I wondered, do historians divide this revolution into self-contained national stories? Actually, I think I know. That’s where we get our stories of founding fathers.

YUP: Who are some of those border crossers?

JP: Thomas Jefferson’s next-door neighbor was one. A Tuscan merchant who enthusiastically adopted the American revolutionary cause as his own, Filippo Mazzei later served as the Polish king’s emissary in revolutionary Paris. Or Anna Falconbridge, whose journal describes the settlement of black loyalists from America in Sierra Leone—to her mind, “a premature, hare-brained, and ill-digested scheme.” Joel Barlow, the Connecticut poet turned entrepreneur distributed shoes to French soldiers on behalf of London radicals, and negotiated with Barbary pirates for the release of hostages. Or there was Vincent OgĂ© who, frustrated by laborious, equivocating French debates over slavery, sailed back to Saint Domingue to lead an insurrection demanding rights for all people “without regard to race.” He was joined by veterans of the American Revolution.

The Dutch Patriot Gerrit Paape, who set out from Amsterdam with just a sleep sack and two false passports, asked the wife he left behind, what could be more enticing than to join revolutions all over Europe that....[read on]
--Marshal Zeeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, won the Man Booker prize in 2009 and 2012. Her newest book is the short story collection, The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher.

From the author's Q & A with Carole Burns:

How did you become fascinated by Thomas Cromwell?

It was the very singular arc of his story: blacksmith's son to Earl of Essex, poor boy to king's right-hand man. It has a strong archetypal quality to it. You want to know: What kind of man could achieve that and stay at the top of Henry's court of predators, be close to the king for some eight years before disaster struck? And during those eight years, he helped reshape the nation.

Your depiction goes against the prevalent image of Cromwell as a ruthless despot.

Cromwell's role was explored intensively by academic historians, but people's imaginations are not shaped by scholars; they're shaped by popular historians and fiction writers. And of course, Thomas Cromwell had really fallen victim to Robert Bolt and "A Man for All Seasons," and we see him emerge in a very bad light. Even though I would say there can be other ways of thinking, my interpretations are valid; they're not plucked out of the air. It's not that I was looking for a hero. I was looking to explore a very complex man who was flawed and equivocal and ambiguous, and I'm not big on...[read on]
Mantel's Wolf Hall made Ester Bloom's top ten books for fans of the television series House of Cards, Rachel Cantor's list of the ten worst jobs in books, Kathryn Williams's reading list on pride, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of books on baby-watching in Great Britain, Julie Buntin's top ten list of literary kids with deadbeat and/or absent dads, Hermione Norris's 6 best books list, John Mullan's list of ten of the best cardinals in literature, the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on dangerous minds and Lev Grossman's list of the top ten fiction books of 2009, and is one of Geraldine Brooks's favorite works of historical fiction; Matt Beynon Rees called it "[s]imply the best historical novel for many, many years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway's latest novel is Sisters of Heart and Snow.

From the author's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always want to know what sparked a particular book? What was the question haunting you that drove you to write?

“How do we love difficult people?” is a frequent topic of conversation among the women I know. There’s always someone having trouble with a relative or in-law, and they wonder—at what point do I give up on this person? How much should I guard my heart?

What is it about sisters that is so fascinating?

I personally always wished for a sister. Unfortunately, my parents wouldn’t cooperate. I have two brothers. So I had to content myself with jealously observing the sister relationships of my good friends. And now that I have two daughters and a son, I can observe these bonds, too.

The chemistry between sisters is a bit different than that of mixed-gender sibling relationships. Between my kids, the girls have....[read on]
Visit Margaret Dilloway's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Dilloway and Gatsby.

Writers Read: Margaret Dilloway.

My Book, The Movie: Sisters of Heart and Snow.

--Marshal Zeringue