Monday, January 22, 2018

Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin's new novel is The Girls in the Picture.

From her Q&A with Anna Roins at Authorlink:

AUTHORLINK: Thank you for joining us here at Authorlink to discuss your latest, remarkable release, The Girls in the Picture. It’s about Hollywood pioneers; screenwriter, Frances Marion and movie-star, Mary Pickford and their passion to create movies together despite the challenges imposed on their gender. Was it your intention to explore their relationship from the start, or did it just develop that way once you started writing?

BENJAMIN: Yes, it was always going to be about their relationship. I’ve read bios of both women, and books about the silent era just because I’m fascinated with that time and place and the people who created the film industry. And in reading, I became intrigued about this friendship and all it meant to both the women, and the industry as a whole. Of course when writing a novel, you need that arc; you can’t just write of a time or place without a great story to tie it all together. So this book about this particular time and place was always going to have this friendship as that narrative driver.

AUTHORLINK: Terrific, thank you. Some women in Hollywood are still struggling to have their creative voices heard today. Do you believe there will ever be an even-divide between male and female scriptwriters, directors, producers and actors?

BENJAMIN: Well, we can...[read on]
Visit Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

My Book, The Movie: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

Writers Read: Melanie Benjamin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 21, 2018

McKelle George

McKelle George's new novel is Speak Easy, Speak Love.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea of a young adult version of Much Ado About Nothing set in the 1920s?

A: Even though I hated Shakespeare in high school, I saw some amazing adaptations on a study abroad in the UK at the RSC and the Globe.

Much Ado About Nothing has always been my favorite play–and deals with feminism in different ways with the parallels of Hero and Beatrice, and because women had just gotten the vote before the 1920s and there was a new idea of what it meant to live and be alive, it’s a great decade to play around with...[read on]
Visit McKelle George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Christian Picciolini

Christian Picciolini is an Emmy Award-winning director and producer, a published author, TEDx speaker, global peace advocate, and a reformed extremist. His new memoir is White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement--and How I Got Out. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We're speaking with Christian Picciolini. As a teenager, he was recruited into a violent white supremacist group. He became a prominent leader and the frontman for a white supremacist punk band. He left the movement after eight years and now works to get others out of hate groups. He has a new memoir called "White American Youth."

You know, you spent a lot of time traveling around the country as you rose in prominence in the movement. You went to Germany and toured there with the band with some groups there. And there's a point where you give a really evocative description of the skinhead rally where you say, it begins with speeches, and there's lots and lots of beer-drinking throughout and then, you know, frenzied, you know, music and then eventually, sooner or later, fights break out among different groups who are in attendance or because someone was jealous over a romantic approach to somebody's girlfriend. It doesn't exactly sound like people were trying to put together a strategy for change, right? Either winning elections, or armed revolt or much of anything other than coming together and having these moments with each other which often ended in violence.

PICCIOLINI: Well, I don't think that that's correct. I do think that there were a lot of concerted strategies in the '80s and '90s that we're seeing take hold today. We recognized in the mid '80s that our edginess, our look, even our language was turning away the average American white racist, people we wanted to recruit. So we decided then to grow our hair out, to stop getting tattoos that would identify us, to trade in our boots for suits and to go to college campuses and recruit there and enroll to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to even run for office.

And here we are 30 years later and we're using terms like white nationalist and alt-right, terms that they came up with, by the way, that they sat around and said, how can we identify ourselves to make us seem less hateful? Back in my day when I was involved, we used terms like white separatists or white pride. But it certainly was neither one of those. It was white supremacy and - as is white nationalism or the alt-right...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 19, 2018

Steph Post

Steph Post is the author of A Tree Born Crooked (2014) and Lightwood (2017) as well as a short story writer, reader, teacher and dog lover (among many other things...).

Her new novel is Walk in the Fire.

From the author's interview with Michael Noll:

Michael Noll: I’m from Kansas, not Florida, but I recognize the spirit of certain parts of your novels’ setting, if not the actual place itself. One of the things I love about how you write about the place—the swamps and run-down houses and bars and weird churches—is that they aren’t metaphors. And they’re not overblown to elicit a kind of false emotion in the reader. They’re just the places where the characters happen to be. This is hard to pull off, at least based on my reading experience. Maybe it’s because writers who come from those places tend to leave, or because they consciously or unconsciously write for an audience that isn’t from that place, their portrayals of it feel a bit like giddy cultural tourism. Did you have an audience in mind for these descriptions?

Steph Post: Wow, first of all thank you so much for your kind words. And I’m so glad you picked up on the fact that none of the places or settings are metaphors or tableaux or symbols to represent something in a character’s unconscious. They are, as you say, just places where the characters happen to be. Which doesn’t lessen the setting’s importance- it simply makes it more relevant to the characters of the novel.

And so perhaps that’s the audience I have in mind when I write descriptions of a landscape or a dive bar: the characters themselves. The characters are everything and so whenever I craft a scene I have to keep in mind whose point of view I’m writing from. I can have a little more poetic license when writing, say, from Ramey’s point of view. She looks at the world through a more open, more considering, lens than a character like Judah or Benji or Clive. Judah might look out at a landscape and feel something remarkable, but he’s not going to expound upon it. And so when writing from his point of view, I can’t go off into some florid description of the light filtering through the trees and liken it to a stirring in his soul or something. Judah would call bullshit. Actually,...[read on]
Visit Steph Post's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Steph Post & Juno.

My Book, The Movie: Lightwood.

The Page 69 Test: Lightwood.

My Book, The Movie: Walk in the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are the authors of How Democracies Die. From their Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Isaac Chotiner: Was there some aspect of Trump’s campaign, or the early months of his presidency, that made you want to write this book?

Daniel Ziblatt: That’s really the period in which we decided to write the book, during the campaign. We kind of had this eerie feeling we had seen this movie before, with accusations that Hillary is treasonous, or aggressive violence, or later on in the campaign this ambiguity of whether or not he’d accept the results of the election, and this was stuff we had seen before in the political systems that we studied. We could draw on our knowledge of other countries and other places and times to try to understand what was happening.

Steven Levitsky: Those are three things, I think it is fair to say, we never expected to see in a U.S. presidential election.

What historical examples about those three things led you to then write a book called How Democracies Die?

Ziblatt: I studied Spain in the 1930s before the Spanish Civil War erupted. The two main political factions on the right and the left both regarded each other as enemies of the state. In speeches the left would say the groups on the right were really fascist and wanted to undermine the state and those on the right said the same thing about the left. This kind of spiraling rhetoric preceded the Democratic breakdown in Spain. Similar kind of thing in Germany in the late 1920s.

As you researched the book, did you get more or less concerned about what you were seeing in the U.S.?

Levitsky: I think more concerned about some things and less concerned about other things. I’ll give you one example. I am, even relative to when we wrote the book, shocked and surprised by the degree to which the Republican Party is willing to go along with Trump’s shenanigans. We had...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Allegra Huston

Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?

A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.

Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?

A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.

The cougar thing drives me mad. What is...[read on]
Visit Allegra Huston's website.

The Page 99 Test: Love Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore's latest work of non-fiction is The Romanovs. From the transcript of his December 2017 conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: In your book about the Romanoffs, one is struck by the absolute brutality of the family. I mean, they-- you know, the way (ph) the father kills his son in front spectators. That kind of brutality and almost unimaginable barbarism is part of Russian history, and do you think that informs the present in any way?

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It very much is part of Russian history, and you're right. You know, the Romanoff story is a story about how families and individuals are corroded and destroyed by power. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death, as you said, Catherine the Great overthrew her husband and he was strangled to death, Alexander I was downstairs while his father, Paul, was beaten to death, strangled, and had his head stomped on.

So, yes, this is a family story, but not a family as we know it. But it does inform the present, too. I wrote this book to explain "Why Russia?" "Why Putin?" (ph) "What is exceptional about Russia?" (ph)

And when you take away all the modernity and the facade of elections in Russia, and you look at how Putin runs Russia, you see this (ph) tiny group of people competing and jockeying for the attention of one man, and a tiny group of people making secret decisions, becoming vastly wealthy--

ZAKARIA: It's a court. (ph)

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It's a court. It's definitely a court, and Russians often call him "the Tsar." (ph) They know that the key to power, just as it was in the Romanoffs, with favorites like Rasputin, who was the spiritual advisor to Nicholas Alexandra (ph), or Potemkin, who was sleeping with the tsarina, or Count Kutaissov, who was the barber of Emperor Paul, is access to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau's newest book is The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first learn about William Mumler [a "spirit photographer" in the 19th century], and what intrigued you about his story?

A: Each of my books has grown out of a lingering question from the one before. In this case, after my 2015 history One Nation Under Gods was published, I realized that though I had told the stories of many minority religious groups in America, I had somehow missed spiritualism.

The massive popularity of ideas concerning communication with the dead in the 19th century struck me as full of narrative potential, so it was just a matter of finding an individual in that world who had a story that cried out for telling. With that in mind I read spiritualist newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s and soon...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn's forthcoming book is Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. From his December 2017 Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Since we disagree about how much of a threat Trump poses, I guess I’m curious about what in your mind would set off alarm bells for Americans to take to the streets about this administration being a threat to American democracy. Would it be firing Robert Mueller and closing down the Russia investigation?

That would be disturbing, and I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s rock-solid agreement that the president doesn’t have the power to fire Robert Mueller. He may have to do it through an intermediary. It’s within his constitutional power.

I think the investigation should be pursued to the end, and in the end, there’s the heavy weaponry of impeachment, which is the way you remove a president for suspicion of wrongdoing. I don’t know that two-thirds of the Republicans will ever think Trump needs to be removed, and if he is, it [would be] for someone potentially worse.

I guess I come back to the fact that Trump is in a box. We’ve shown our power with respect to his feints, which is largely what we’ve seen in the direction of policies that are truly beyond the pale. In that situation, we need to focus much more on beating him, first of all, in a congressional majority mounted against him, and in the long run to defeat him the next time around. I just think it’s shortsighted not to focus as soon as possible on what...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman's new novel is Zap!.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

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

A: My engineer friend Anthony mentioned a friend of his who was fascinated with the power grid. This made me realize how little I knew about the subject myself. There happened to be a new book about the grid by Ted Koppel, so I read that – and was alarmed by the dangerous scenarios he described. I wanted to know more, and writing a book is a good excuse to do research.

Q: You based your character Luis on a real-life person. What made you decide he would make a good fictional character?

A: As with all my books, there was more than one inspiration. For Zap, my friend Luis’s life story was another. Luis’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua. They worked very hard when they came to New Jersey, and young Luis – born in the USA -- was left to his own devices at times.

He grew up in a tough town and had some harrowing experiences, stuff I had a hard time even imagining. He told me once it was...[read on]
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Strudel's Forever Home.

Writers Read: Martha Freeman (November 2016).

The Page 69 Test: Strudel's Forever Home.

--Marshal Zeringue