Thursday, April 24, 2014

Miriam Pawel

Miriam Pawel is the author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography.

From her Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: You've already written about the United Farm Workers movement. What made you decide to focus on Chavez specifically?

A: He's never been portrayed as the complex, multifaceted leader that he was. Nor in a way that takes into account his failures as well as his successes.

Q: Did he grow up in a farm worker family?

A: He grows up on a farm that his family owns. It's not a terrible existence, but they lose their house and their land in the Depression.

In 1939, when he's 12 years old, his family moves to California. They arrive about a month after the publication of "The Grapes of Wrath."

In many ways, the California that he first encounters is that of the Joad family. He begins to work full-time after he graduates from eighth grade. He's a farm worker in the fields with the exception of when he's in the Navy.

Q: Workers gained many protections in the first decades of the last century. Why were farm workers left behind?

A: Farm workers were not covered by the labor, health, and safety laws that most of the workers took for granted.

The one constant was that there was almost always a surplus of workers. Wages were very low. There were no bathrooms in the field – a particular problem for women. There was no clean water to drink, no overtime provisions, no protection from pesticides.

Farm worker housing, and this is still a real issue, was pretty dreadful. And in addition to all the physical deprivations and difficulties, there was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thomas Goetz

Thomas Goetz's new book is The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.

From his Q & A with Tessa Miller at The Daily Beast:

You write something in the beginning of the book: ‘If there’s one caution to this tale, it’s this: Avoid the temptation to read the story, and the science within it, as the inevitable march of progress, a predetermined direction for human history. Especially where scientific investigations are concerned, it’s a fallacy to treat history as an unstoppable trajectory away from ignorance and toward insight.’ Can you explain that more?

Well, it’s obvious in some regard: that history isn’t predetermined. But I thought it was worth underscoring because when it comes to science, we assume all previous discoveries were preordained. But those discoveries don’t just happen—they are the very real product of men and women and struggle and failure and all sorts of human foibles. The stories of discovery are so rote, though, that we forget that they took incredibly hard work.

Part of this story, in particular, is the way that credit and acknowledgement and fame were so essential to the story—you have people like the French scientist [Jean Antoine] Villemin who kind of discovered the TB bacteria, but nobody believed him, so he doesn’t get credit. And then you have Koch, who was so diligent that nobody could reasonably doubt him.

Really, the story is an example of how it is harder and harder to convince people to care about discovery. It starts with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air, The Mapmaker's War and the soon-to-be-released The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

From the author's Q & A with The Qwillery:

TQ: Tell us something about The Chronicle of Secret Riven that is not in the book description.

Ronlyn: Tidbit 1: You don’t have to read The Mapmaker’s War first to follow what’s happening. You can start with the second book.

Tidbit 2: The seed of this story came from a fairy tale I wrote in college about a girl who lived in a kingdom where women were forbidden to read.

Tidbit 3: I wrote this book by hand. With pencils.

TQ: Give us one of your favorite lines from The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

Ronlyn: “To see is a trick of the mind, but to believe is a trick of the heart.”

TQ: What would you say are the themes of The Chronicle of Secret Riven?

Ronlyn: The risk of authenticity—how does a person manage to be who she is when most people, even within her own family, don’t accept or understand her? Power over is another one—the power parents have over their children, that authority has over subordinates—both in overt and covert ways. Also...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

Writers Read: Ronlyn Domingue.

My Book, The Movie: The Mapmaker's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2014

Akhil Sharma

Akhil Sharma’s new novel is Family Life.

From the author's Q & A with Mohsin Hamid for Guernica:

Guernica: Family Life is the story of an Indian family that immigrates to America in the late 1970s as part of the first large wave of Indian immigration to the US. They come for the opportunities that the country offers for the family’s two children. At first everything they hope for occurs: the older of the two sons gets into the Bronx High School of Science. Soon, though, after they have been in the country for two years, the family suffers a tragedy: the older son has an accident in a swimming pool. He dives into the pool, strikes his head on the bottom of the pool, is knocked unconscious, and remains underwater for three minutes. When he is pulled out, he is severely brain damaged.

I know that this story is very similar to your life. Could you give me a sense of how much of the novel is autobiography?

Akhil Sharma: This is one of those questions that novelists hate to answer.

Guernica: I know.

Akhil Sharma: Novels should be judged rigorously. Either a book works or it doesn’t. The fact that something is true in the real world should not lend authority to it in fiction.

Guernica: I know. I ask because I have a second question based on your answer.

Akhil Sharma: Almost everything in the novel is true. In the novel, though...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holly Peterson

Holly Peterson's new novel is The Idea of Him.

From her Q & A with Hannah Seligson for The Daily Beast:

Is The Idea of Him a post-recession book?

Yes, I wanted to write about the post-crash New York and how the recession changed how people behave. I did not want to write, as I had in my last book, about the Park Avenue, NetJets crowd. I wanted to write about a totally different sector of New York, which is far more interesting in my mind: the meritocracy crowd. They are a distinct crowd that made it on their own. You can’t be a true part of the meritocracy crowd in Manhattan if you inherited Daddy’s company and drove it into the ground, even if you own a sports team.

Wade Crawford, a big player in your new book, is the fictional face of the meritocracy crowd because he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. But who is the real-life face of meritocracy crowd in this city?

These are people like Harvey Weinstein, Bruce Wasserstein, Diane von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller. Part of the meritocracy crowd is their inability to stop and never be satisfied with any level of success. It’s also the quest for power. I go to the Grill Room with my dad a lot for lunch and there are men there well into their 80s who are still doing huge deals. That phenomenon of never being satisfied with any level of success or money—it’s an intense, maniacal drive. I think they are fascinating. My father is 87 and he writes speeches in the dentist chair. The dentist can’t get to his teeth.

What did your father, who was secretary of Commerce under Nixon, think of the book?

He...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2014

Renée Rosen

As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen's latest novel is Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties. From her Q & A with Janie Chang:

JC: Your latest book, Dollface, is set in 1920’s Chicago, a time that provides an author with rich material. What insights into this era did you want to give readers that they may not have known from all those Hollywood movies?

Renee: Hollywood typically focuses on the men of this era and I wanted to explore what it meant to be a young woman during the ‘20s. I wanted to show both the glamour and the grit of this era. It was such a liberating time for women, especially young women striving for independence. For the first time women we’re living on their own, working and supporting themselves. They were pushing boundaries and challenging conventions, which shocked the general public. I’m convinced that women bobbing their hair and wearing lip rouge was the equivalent of today’s twerking.

JC: In a previous interview, you said that you switched the focus of the story from the gangsters to their women. I’m so glad you did! What opportunities did the female POV open up for your writing?

Renee: Shifting the novel from a traditional gangster tale to a female driven story opened up a world of possibilities for me. The female characters really started to come alive. Suddenly they took on much more interesting roles and found themselves tangled up in everything from bootlegging to murder. Letting the women take center stage allowed them to...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen.

The Page 69 Test: Dollface.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lacy Crawford

Former private college counselor Lacy Crawford is the author of 2013's, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy.

From her Q & A with Lizzie Crocker for The Daily Beast:

When did you decide to chronicle this part of your life?

My work with students tapered off dramatically in 2010, after I had my first child. And then friends told me I was already too late to apply for preschool for my son and needed to hurry up and get on the list. So I panicked and called some schools and sent over applications. I remember one morning I was working on an application that had essay questions about my son. I looked over and he was lying on the carpet on his back and I thought, “Oh my god, this is how it happens. This is how it begins.” I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years but there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, “I know how this ends.” This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college. So I started writing the book as a private investigation.

You were so entrenched in these kids’ lives—more life coach than college essay counselor.

That may be a mark of how young and naïve I was when I started. I didn’t have a degree in education or counseling or anything, but I had grown up an overachiever in a family and a community that put a lot of pressure on the same type of thing. I felt like I could relate to the experiences these kids were having. I wanted to help shift the frame a little bit away from their parents and under them so they could take control of the process. So yes, I was deeply involved. And the anxiety these mothers face during this process—there are few people they can vent to. I think some of them hired me quite simply so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Searles

John Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He frequently appears as a book critic on NBC's Today show and CBS's The Early Show.

From Searles's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt about his 2013 novel, Help for the Haunted:

I always want to talk about craft, so tell me how this novel sparked. Did you have it all mapped out, or do you follow your muse (mine always seems missing in action). At what point did you know how the book was going to end, and what pieces of the story to withhold for maximum drama?

Originally, I was writing a novel about a girl in her twenties who goes away to an island to take care of a reclusive mystery writer. There was so much about that novel I loved, but it just never came together. Thankfully, my literary agent had the good sense to intervene. One day, she showed up at my house with the whopping 500 pages I’d written and broke it to me that it was not working. We spent the entire day and well into the night discussing what the problems were and what, if anything, could be salvaged. In the end, the only thing I kept was the main character’s name: Sylvie Mason. I had this idea about her being orphaned and left in the care of her troubled older sister. So I started writing that story and stuck with it. I’m lucky it worked out on the second go-round!

The novel is also many things at once--a terrifying thriller, a creepy scarefest, and an astute psychological drama about the coming of age of one remarkable narrator. How did you manage such alchemy?

Thank you for saying that. This story was way more challenging than anything I’ve ever done creatively. I guess that’s because I was trying lots of things: telling the story from the perspective of a young girl, combining a murder mystery with a ghost story with a coming of age tale and a family drama. Believe me, there were times when I’d just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling trying to figure out how to piece everything together. When that didn’t work I’d do...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Daniel S. Sutherland

Daniel E. Sutherland is Distinguished Professor of History, University of Arkansas. The recipient of more than fifty awards, honors, and grants, he is best known for his acclaimed series of books chronicling nineteenth-century America.

His latest book is Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

From Sutherland's Q & A with David Ebony at the Yale University Press blog:

David Ebony: Why Whistler? Why now? How did the book evolve?

Daniel S. Sutherland After publishing a number of books on the Civil War, I decided I needed a break. I pulled out an art history book and went to a chapter on Whistler. It was a fascinating story, and I wound up devoting the following six or seven years to him. I had an enormous learning curve that stretched out over a long period of time. I immediately set out to learn the methodology of how to write a biography. I read all the previous biographies of Whistler, and practically all those I could find on anyone and everyone he knew.

Ebony: How did your approach differ from the other Whistler biographers?

Sutherland I tried to more thoroughly and successfully draw the distinction between the fanciful image we have of Whistler the showman, and the painter who was completely devoted to his art. I wanted to emphasize the complexities of the fellow. The subtitle of the book plays off this idea. Above all, Whistler was someone dedicated to creating beautiful things. Some of his contemporaries misunderstood this and so he felt he had to define himself as an artist. In writing the book, I tried to think of art as Whistler did, and focused on his concern for his own legacy.

Ebony: His obsessive anxiety about his legacy seems to have started very early on.

Sutherland He was convinced...[read on]
Visit Daniel Sutherland's faculty webpage, and learn more about Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

My Book, The Movie: Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bill Minutaglio

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Bill Minutaglio, author of 2003's City on Fire: The Explosion that Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle, which is about the 1947 explosion in Texas City of a ship full of ammonium nitrate that killed hundreds and left thousands wounded:

Q: How is the Texas City disaster memorialized, and how has it affected that community to this day?

A: It is recognized in various ways – with a memorial area, with anniversary commemorations. The city is well aware of its history. The main library in Texas City is a wonderful repository of history, oral histories, photographs.

It's hard to say how the event affects the community now. I think, in general, people in Texas City are mindful of the giant, sprawling industrial complex that rings the city.

It is enormous, and the people in the city are very proud of the fact that large portions of America would not function as they do without the goods and services from Texas City. America would be radically different, probably malfunctioning according to some people, without the energy and petrochemical nexus of Texas City.

Q: Why do you think the Texas City disaster is largely forgotten? Does it just not fit into a wider historical narrative?

A: People remember Texas City when they want to, through the prism of the media that revives the story when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue