Saturday, April 4, 2020

Alexandra Chang

Alexandra Chang's new novel is Days of Distraction.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Days of Distraction?

A: I drew a lot from my own life. Like the narrator, I used to work as a technology reporter, and I moved across the country with my then-boyfriend, now husband. I was a few years out from those experiences, and was interested in fictionalizing what I’d experienced. From there, it took its own shape.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between your narrator and her boyfriend?

A: The relationship, like most relationships, changes and fluctuates through time. At times it’s loving and healthy, and then there are moments when it’s fraught. They go through the bumps and trials of being in an intimate relationship, having their lives so intertwined. Those struggles come up.

For the narrator, she starts to question the relationship after having moved across the country for her boyfriend. It’s an act to her that carries a lot of meaning, and puts weight, almost pressure, on the relationship.

Overall, they have a decently healthy but...[read on]
Visit Alexandra Chang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 3, 2020

Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby's new book is Wow, No Thank You.

From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Scott Simon:
SIMON: Your devoted fans know some of the most intimate details about you because you hold nothing back. But what would you like our listeners to know?

IRBY: Oh, that despite how maybe gross and offensive my work may seem on the surface that it really is accessible for lots of different types of people, that, like, don't be scared by what people say about it. Give it a try.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm glad I did.

IRBY: (Laughter).

SIMON: Like me, you're from the North Side of Chicago. And so to purloin a famous line from "Blazing Saddles," what's a sophisticated urbanite like you doing in Kalamazoo, Mich.?

IRBY: Well, I moved here because my wife already lived here, and I was really resistant because I hate change. But once you see what it costs to live in a town like Kalamazoo, it was pretty easy to make the choice, especially since I'm a writer and, you know, that notoriously pays absolutely nothing (laughter). So in order to keep writing my jokes that don't pay very much, it was pretty much a no-brainer.

SIMON: And also it occurred to me as I was reading your book, you know, some of the great humor writing has always been by the fish out of water, isn't it? And that's what you are in Kalamazoo now.

IRBY: Yeah. When I sat down to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Elizabeth Kadetsky

Elizabeth Kadetsky is author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain, the short story collection The Poison that Purifies You, and the novella On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. A professor of creative writing at Penn State and nonfiction editor at the New England Review, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

Kadetsky's new book is The Memory Eaters.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and over how long a period did you work on it?

A: I remember the moment I made the decision, weirdly enough.

It was in 2009, and I was sitting in a giant pod chair in my rented room in Pittsburgh at the end of a one year teaching and writing residency and making plans to move across the state for another writer-in-residence position.

My primary residence was still in New York City, and I was traveling there several times a month and on semester breaks to help my mother and sister manage things.

Pennsylvania, for me, was a respite from the chaos and stress of my life in New York. It was also a place to enjoy the quiet and slower pace of things, and to write.

I say “weirdly” because most of the events of the book hadn’t yet transpired. My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about two years earlier, and I knew that the situation in New York was precarious.

Something about the cocoon-like environment in Pennsylvania led me to want to immerse myself in my memories of the past. That part, of course—the past—had already happened; but this lens on them—of nostalgia and longing—was also new.

I was aware that the coming months, and as it turned out years, would continually serve up material that I would want and need to process through the frame of this book project.

It took me 10 years to write and shape the book, though the most dramatic part of the story ended when my mother passed away at the end of 2011, two and a half years after that moment in the pod chair in Pittsburgh.

I continued...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Kadetsky's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Poison that Purifies You.

The Page 99 Test: The Memory Eaters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

William Gibson

William Gibson is credited with having coined the term “cyberspace” and having envisioned both the Internet and virtual reality before either existed. He is the author of Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History, Distrust That Particular Flavor, The Peripheral, and Agency.

From Gibson's Q&A with Adam Wray for GQ:

You’ve mentioned having a sort of ambient anxiety around people discovering that you’d lost it. How would you explain the “it” you’re worried about people figuring out you’ve potentially lost?

The “it” would be whatever it is that my anxiety can now afford to imagine I once had that caused people to value my work. Nothing more specific than that. Although, a more specific anxiety I had while writing Agency was that I was realizing for the first time that I had never before in my career appreciated what a feat of memory it is to write a novel-length fiction. It’s the equivalent of telling a lie that would take several days to tell, and as you do it, you have to imagine you’re telling the lie to someone who’s got a very good memory for detail and continuity and will flag you if you get anything wrong. I kept wondering if I was seeing the beginning of some kind of decline—I couldn’t keep the plot straight, and there were more incidences of unconscious repetition than I think I’ve had before. Anyway, I was really glad to have an extremely talented and conscientious...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Lisa Rogak

Lisa Rogak's new book is Rachel Maddow: A Biography.

From Rogak's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You've said that "it's really important for me to dig through the early stuff" when it comes to researching the lives of well-known people. Did you find anything surprising when you researched Rachel Maddow's life?

A: I didn't find anything surprising; then again, I'm never surprised by what I find. Some of which, of course, never makes it into the final book. But the early stuff helps me to connect the dots later on, and to also occasionally say *that's* why she's like this or did this later on.

Q: You write of Maddow, "She considers herself to be an outsider, first and foremost and that has shaped her philosophy and career like nothing else." Can you say more about that?

A: She came out as lesbian with great defiance when she was in college, and she never wanted to fit into any group; she's always taken great pride at being on the outside looking in, perhaps providing a great way to provide commentary on public figures who don't necessarily welcome it.

This outsider philosophy has naturally extended throughout her career as she's been able to succeed on TV (and elsewhere) without having to mold herself to the photogenic norms of such a visual medium; instead...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2020

Cameron Esposito

Cameron Esposito is a Los Angeles-based comic, actor, and writer. Her new memoir is Save Yourself.

From the transcript of Esposito's NPR interview with Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me how you grew up. Let's start there.

ESPOSITO: I was the gooniest (ph) kid around. You know, I had crossed eyes, so I wore an eye patch. I wore glasses on top of the eye patch (laughter). I had braces, a bowl cut.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you describe how you sort of transformed yourself. And you had an eating disorder. You became proudly abstinent. The girlfriend of the captain of the football team - quintessential teenage experience.

ESPOSITO: Well, that's part of what - you know, I know that I say that the book is for queer kids, but I think it's also for anybody that felt that they couldn't quite measure up to cultural standards. You know, I was dating the captain of the football team. I was pretty well-liked. And that was not my experience of myself. You know, I really thought I was disgusting and wrong and that something was really off with me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you talk about this journey to sort of discovering yourself. And the chapter where this happens with your sexuality is titled "Getting Gay" (laughter), which I really liked. Talk about a little bit about that, about what that journey looked like.

ESPOSITO: I was at a conservative Catholic college and interested in specifically the social justice side of what I saw in my faith, you know, in the faith that I was raised in and doing work to try to connect with those who are underserved. And it was in doing this work that I met this woman, another student at my college. And, you know, we eventually kissed, which was this, like, massive, life-transforming kiss because I had dated men. And it had felt confusing to me why people were in relationships. I mean, I liked the guys I dated. They were my friends. But I also felt a real emotional distance from them. And I felt, like, a real physical distance from them. And then having this experience of kissing a woman for the first time was really a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Ellen Meeropol

Ellen Meeropol's new novel is Her Sister's Tattoo.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you think the novel says about political activism and engagement?

A: I think that what novels do best is to ask difficult and complicated questions of readers, not necessarily answering them fully. The central question of Her Sister’s Tattoo, posed by various characters in different ways, is “Was it worth it?”

The question refers to the political act Rosa and Esther take, an act that results in harm to a police officer, changes the trajectory of their lives, and challenges their sisterhood.

I believe this is a critical question for our times: how much risk can we take to make the changes we believe are necessary in our world and how do we...[read on]
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

See Meeropol's list of five political novels to change the world.

The Page 69 Test: Kinship of Clover.

Writers Read: Ellen Meeropol (April 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy's latest novel is The Man Who Saw Everything.

From her Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

The title of the book, The Man Who Saw Everything, seems to play both on Saul’s naïve belief in his own sagacity and the relationship between sight and insight. To what extent did you want to explore the space between what we see and what we understand in this novel?

My novel is more about the space between what we see and misunderstand, rather than understand. It feels really bad to be misunderstood, so that’s rich territory to explore in a fiction. Surveillance is a major theme in The Man Who Saw Everything and I give my attention to this theme on a number of levels –the ways in which we watch each other and the ways in which the state (in this case, communist East Germany in 1988) watches us.

For a start, I explore a 30-year relationship/argument between Saul and Jennifer. How do they see each other over three decades? They love each other and betray each other, but they do come to an understanding about the value of their long attachment.

Is it possible or desirable to see everything? After all, love has to be blind, because if we saw everything in each other (good and bad) we would probably run a mile.

The opening chapter leaves the striking image of Saul aping the Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road cover photograph. It’s a visual marker that echoes throughout the rest of the novel. It made me think about the nature of photography, of the captured scene, and what it says and what it doesn’t (or cannot) say about a real, living moment in time. How did that image come to take root so deeply in The Man Who Saw Everything?

Yes, I wanted to create a very definite sense of place in Britain because The Man Who Saw Everything slips between time zones and other places - including Germany and America. The novel often returns to the Abbey Road crossing. I spent quite a lot of time on the Abbey Road watching tourists take photos of each other walking across that iconic Zebra. Everyone seems to enjoys the action of crossing that road, often adding new, absurd poses that are different but reference the original album cover. It’s as if they have been given a structured space (the zebra crossing) to fool around. It occurred to me that the road is a mildly dangerous place – everyone has to strike a pose before a car runs them over, so they haven’t got that long to take the photo. When Jennifer takes that photograph of Saul crossing the Abbey Road, I had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2020

Angela Dominguez

Angela Dominguez's new middle grade novel is Stella Díaz Never Gives Up, a sequel to Stella Díaz Has Something To Say.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: The book focuses on environmental themes. Did you need to do any research to write it, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: Let me first start off by saying that in no way do I claim to be an expert. My goal is to pique curiosity in kids about science. I also remember that when I was a kid, I loved learning unusual trivia. I know there are many kids who can relate to that.

With all of the Stella books, I like to incorporate fun facts about the oceans and marine animals. I usually start with research before I jump into plot development. In the first book especially, the marine animals often were metaphors for how Stella was feeling.

When I began the second book, I approached it the same way. While I was researching, what stuck out to me the most was seeing all the environmental concerns about the oceans.

Like Stella, when I read the National Geographic article “Planet or Plastic,” I was upset. It’s a difficult article to read and the visuals are intense. However...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel's new novel is The Glass Hotel.

From the transcript of her NPR interview with Scott Simon:

SIMON: What do you think made you a writer?

MANDEL: I was a serious dancer. That was all I'd wanted to do from the time I was about 6 years old. And then I got to be about 21 and just realized I didn't actually enjoy it anymore. Sometimes, the thing that you wanted to do your whole life can start to feel like a little bit more of a chore than a pleasure. And it was this strange realization that this is actually not something that I particularly enjoy doing. So then that begs the obvious question, well, what comes next? I'd always written ever since I was a kid but never took it seriously. And it was just a hobby - little short stories and poems - never showed that to anybody. And then when I decided that I didn't want to be a dancer, I just decided to take the writing more seriously because it was something that I truly loved. So it was around that time when I was about 22 that I started working on...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Emily St. John Mandel's website.

The Page 69 Test: Last Night in Montreal.

Writers Read: Emily St. John Mandel (May 2010).

The Page 69 Test: The Singer's Gun.

--Marshal Zeringue