Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ann E. Burg

Ann E. Burg is the author of Unbound: A Novel in Verse. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your main character Grace, and how did you first learn about the history of the Great Dismal Swamp?

A: I was actually researching for another story when I came across an NPR article about the work of Daniel O. Sayers, a professor at American University, who has been leading research teams in the Great Dismal Swamp since 2004. That was my first encounter with the maroons.

The idea that an artifact can help us determine what someone ate, how they clothed themselves, or built their homes fascinates me. But it can never tell the whole story. Away from my computer and books, I began to wonder about the people. This connection is always the next step.

My imagination stretches across time and place and begins to stitch together vague shadows. These shadows knock about in my mind until they become infused with life, until they become so substantial that I can even hear them speak—that’s when I begin writing.

There is always more research to be done...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jamie Brenner

Jamie Brenner is the author of The Wedding Sisters. She fell in love with books reading Judy Blume while growing up in suburban Philadelphia. After college at The George Washington University, she spent over a dozen years in book publishing as a publicist, scout, and agent before finally getting up the nerve to write her first novel. Her debut, the historical The Gin Lovers, was named by Fresh Fiction as one of the Top Thirteen Books to read in 2013. She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

From a Q&A at the author's website:

What inspired this story of three sisters and a triple wedding?

The idea for The Wedding Sisters came after my second marriage at age 40. Marrying in your forties is very different than marrying in your 20s. You realize that a wedding isn’t all about you, but is really about family. It isn’t about that day, it’s about the past and the future. At my second wedding, I thought more about my daughters’ happiness than my own. And I missed my grandparents, who were not around to see it. I realize how that at my first wedding, they understood worlds more than I did about what I was entering into with a wedding ceremony. The things I came to understand between my first and second weddings are what I explore with The Wedding Sisters.

Weddings are defining moments not only for couples, but also for families. The Wedding Sisters captures this complexity from all sides by considering multiple points of view, from mother-of-the-bride Meryl to her three daughters. How has the experience of crafting so many perspectives changed how you feel about weddings in general? What advice would you give a bride-to-be?

Going into this novel, I was thinking first about the stress on the mother of the bride. There is the desire to give your daughter her dream wedding, but at the same time, there is always the pitfall of letting your own wedding fantasy get in the way -- consciously or unconsciously. In the beginning of the book, Meryl’s husband reminds her, “This is not about you.” I realized writing the book that the same applies to the bride herself. I think the conventional wisdom for the bride is, “this...[read on]
Visit Jamie Brenner's website.

Writers Read: Jamie Brenner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2016

Margot Lee Shetterly

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream And The Untold Story Of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race. From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Michel Martin:

MARTIN: ...[W]hy do you think we don't know this story? Now, I confess to you that when I mentioned to a couple of different people that I was working on this and that I was about to have this conversation with you, a number of people said the same thing to me, which is it makes me mad. Why didn't I know this? Why am I only just finding this out? Why do you think that is?

SHETTERLY: That is such a good question. I would say that is the one question that everybody asks me about this. And, you know, it's something I really kind of struggle with because on the one hand, a lot of people did know this story in Hampton, Va. You know, I was just in Hampton yesterday and was talking to a lot of different people, and they were like, well, we did know these women. And we knew they worked there. And they were all very modest.

If you ask Katherine Johnson, how did it feel to be a trailblazer and do this very high-pressure, groundbreaking work, you know, just as often she'll say, well, I was just doing my job. And I think a lot of the women period felt that. They had a lot of different identities in addition to being professional mathematician at NASA. They were mothers. They were wives. They were people who were active in their church, in their community. So this was only one aspect of their identity.

But I think a lot of it's because it was women's work. I mean, the engineers were the men, and the women were the mathematicians or the computers. The men designed the research and did the manly stuff, and the women did the calculations, you know, at the behest of the engineers. And so I think that it really does have to do with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Louis Bayard

Louis Bayard is the author of the new young adult novel Lucky Strikes.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lucky Strikes and for your character Amelia, a teenager who runs a gas station in 1930s Virginia?

A: Amelia came and found me. She has an importunate quality to her, as any reader will discover, and once I’d been introduced to her, the only questions left were: “What’s your story? How can I best tell it?”

Q: How did you research the Depression-era setting and especially the history of gas stations in that time?

A: Well, there’s a reason the book name-checks Clark Gable and Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy because I grew up watching those vintage Hollywood movies on TV (even though I was a couple of generations removed).

So I think I carry a lot of that time period inside me, but of course, I made a point of reading a lot of literature from the period to make sure I got the idioms right.

I know nothing about cars or gas stations, then or now, so...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at 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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl's new novel is Everfair.

From her Q&A with Ardi Alspach for the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog:

Given how steampunk technology is used mainly for good in Everfair, it seems that you have a positive view of technology in general. Do you see the technology in our time evolving positively or negatively?

Greg Bear used to lecture aspiring writers about how the two World Wars ruined Western Civilization’s optimistic view of technology—he cited publishing timelines and glossed plots and pretty much proved his point, because he’s brilliant. For me, though, growing up in the African-American community, it was obvious technology was going to keep us from picking cotton and sharecropping and succumbing to a whole host of pre-industrial horrors. So I guess the milieu of ’50s and ’60s black culture is what first gave rise to my contra-Bearian optimism in that regard.

Later, as a teenaged hippy, I read Richard Brautigan’s poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” and realized that the supposed dichotomy between nature and artifice was itself artificial. I still believe that.

There are awful and scary things going on in conjunction with technology. Yet I don’t blame technology for the awfulness and scariness developing in its wake. That’s on us. However...[read on]
Visit Nisi Shawl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2016

Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is a journalist and award-winning and New York Times bestselling author whose many young adult novels include I Was Here, Just One Day, and If I Stay, which was also a major motion picture. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Forman's new novel is Leave Me.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always say a writer is haunted to write. Was anything haunting you when you started Leave Me?

I started the book twice, so I suppose I was haunted twice. The first time, I was haunted by chest pains, and by fear. My mother had bypass surgery at 48, even though she had none of the risk factors (save crappy genetic luck) and when one week I started having terrible chest pains, I was convinced, this was it. It was my turn. I was freaked out by the prospect of that intense surgery, but more freaked out by the prospect of the recovery. I helped my mother recover from her surgery, but my own daughters were young (3 and 6 at the time) so I kept wondering who would take care of them if I needed surgery? And, really, who would take care of me? That was what was haunting me when I first started the book, almost as a revenge fantasy.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t my heart. Once I found that out, I put the book away for five years. I’m still not entirely sure why I pulled it back out again, this time with a new character (Maribeth) and family. I was haunted by many things, or maybe furious about many things—gender inequity, the ongoing taboo of women putting themselves first, ever—but as I got deeper into the novel, I understood something else was going on. I was haunted, and Maribeth, too, by all the unsaid things that pile up in a relationship over time and how they...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Gayle Forman's website.

The Page 69 Test: If I Stay.

The Page 69 Test: Where She Went.

The Page 69 Test: Leave Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anna Snoekstra

Anna Snoekstra is the author of Only Daughter.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Only Daughter?

A: After seeing the Ingrid Bergman film Anastasia, I was fascinated with the idea of imposters. The impersonation of missing persons has happened countless times throughout history. Martin Guerre in 16th century France; Anastasia Nikolaevna in Russia and Walter Collins in Seattle, both in the 1920s.

I was really interested to see how this scenario would play out in a seemingly perfect suburban world. I was curious to play with ideas of women performing certain roles: Wife, mother, daughter.

In Only Daughter I took this performance to its most extreme with a woman impersonating the decade-long missing Rebecca Winter. She impersonates someone that meant so many different things to the different people in her life and has to navigate the dualities of that performance.

Of course, there is one person who knows she is an imposter, and that is the person...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Christine Reilly

Christine Reilly's debut novel is Sunday's on the Phone to Monday.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think authors are compelled or haunted to write a book—what compelled you?

My biggest passion, tied with writing, has always been listening to people. Human behavior fascinates me – when I was younger, I knew I’d either be a writer, a teacher, or a psychiatrist. (Reading is a type of listening to people.) I started Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday with a set of stakes, and challenged myself to answer them. What happens to a family during and after the worst possible circumstances – death and illness -- occurs? What happens to a woman when her sanity slips away? What would a brother who would do anything for his sister act like? What happens when “anything” results in destruction?

I loved all the music references in the book—is it your taste, too? Do you listen to music as you write? Thank you! It is, though I honed in on one...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Elizabeth Rynecki

Elizabeth Rynecki is the author of Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write, "In 1999 I built a website dedicated to sharing my great-grandfather's art." How much did you know about his art to begin with, and how did your original project turn into this book and a companion documentary film?

A: I grew up with a lot of my great-grandfather’s paintings hanging in both my parents’ and grandparents’ homes. It was always around me, in the background even if I wasn’t really paying attention.

I understood from an early age it was the work of my great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki, who perished in the Holocaust, but that’s about all I knew--my parents and grandparents didn’t often talk about the war, and even less about what came before.

It wasn’t until I read my Grandpa George’s memoir (discovered in 1992, after his funeral), that I learned much about Moshe himself. Even then, I didn’t really get a good perspective on his life and work until I began digging for more information.

In late 1998 my Dad proposed we build a website to showcase my great-grandfather’s art. His thinking was this: we have the art in our home, very few people see it every year, and putting it online would make it more accessible to people around the world.

In retrospect, it was a pretty novel idea. While most museums had something of an online presence in the late ‘90s, finding private collectors and their collections online was exceedingly rare.

It was hugely serendipitous; as people saw the site, they...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2016

Emily Barton

Emily Barton is the author of The Testament of Yves Gundron and Brookland.

Her new novel is The Book of Esther.

From Barton's Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I love the premise, changing history so that the Jewish warriors of the Middle Ages actually succeeded. What was haunting you into writing this particular book?

Partly the enigma of the historical Khazars themselves. We know that they were a Turkic warrior tribe whose ruling classes converted to Judaism, but we don’t know why, though there is speculation. Then, the whole idea of a warrior Jew! Michael Chabon has written about how incongruous the idea seems to contemporary people, who see before us “an unprepossessing little guy, with spectacles and a beard, brandishing a sabre: the pirate Motel Kamzoil,” though in fact, lots of Jewish people have been badass warriors, all the way back to Judah Maccabee. And part of it, too, is reimagining the myth of origins. When my family got pogromed out of Ukraine and Russia, they...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue