Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Joe Hill

I've written elsewhere about my enthusiasm for Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box.

Bob Minzesheimer recently interviewed Hill -- and assorted friends and family -- for USA Today.

Part of what Hill revealed about himself:

Hill says his father [Stephen King] and his wife, Leanora, remain his first readers. They often agree on what he should cut out. (At lunch, Hill says, "You may have noticed — I tend to go on.") He adds, "You know what they say about marrying your mother? I married my father."
Read the entire article.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Charlie Huston

Last April, Anthony Rainone interviewed Charlie Huston for January Magazine.

The opening exchanges:

Anthony Rainone: I find it interesting when actors talk about their Oscar nominations, and they recount how they first learned they were in the running for the award. This year the Mystery Writers of America is spending money on publicity and building the Edgar up, so let's equate it with the Oscars. And I'll ask you: where were you when you found out you were nominated for an Edgar?

Charlie Huston: I remember the nominations came out in late February [2006], and they weren't even on my mind. My wife and I had come home from somewhere, and it was very late. I checked my e-mail, and I saw three or four e-mails. Almost all of them [had] "Edgar" in the subject line, and one was from the Mystery Writers of America; the others were from writers I knew. I assumed what it was probably going to be. I opened [the e-mail] from the Mystery Writers of America, and they just send out a list of all the nominations, and all the people who had been nominated, and I saw [my name] and thought that was really cool.

How does it feel to be nominated?

It's great, obviously. It's one of those things where it's extremely flattering and just cool. I don't indulge in any false modesty, or things like that. I do think that in art competition, whether it's writing, or sculpture, or fine arts, or performance art, there's no way to [qualitatively compare] art. And undoubtedly there are published books that slipped through the cracks, and undoubtedly unpublished books that nobody knows about. And so [it has] relative meaning in terms of being a mark of quality. I don't want to denigrate the award itself, but it's hard for me to think of it [as an absolute value]. But like I said -- it's great. The other big component to it is that it's a nice career thing to have. To get a nomination early on with one of my earlier books is a nice thing. I have no clue how far outside mystery circles the Edgar name penetrates. I don't know if it's stamped "Edgar Winner" on the cover of a book that the average Joe, picking up that book, will have any greater reaction, than to any other mystery award stamped on the [cover]. Commercially, I have no idea. It certainly couldn't hurt [to win the award].

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 26, 2007

Philip Hawley, Jr.

David J. Montgomery interviewed Philip Hawley, Jr. about his debut novel, Stigma.

The first question:

Q. You already have a successful career as a pediatrician at a prestigious children's hospital in Los Angeles. What made you want to be a writer? Temporary insanity?

A. Looking back, yes, there was a moment of insanity. It came when I was re-reading Robert Ludlum's The Matarese Circle and I thought, "Hey, I can do this. I can write a thriller novel!" Of course, the naiveté and ignorance that allowed me to so grossly underestimate the Mr. Ludlum's accomplishment also protected me from giving up when a rational and well-informed appraisal of the soul-smothering challenge that lay ahead might have caused me to quit before writing the first paragraph.

Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

David Shenk

Howard Goldowsky interviewed David Shenk for Chess Life Magazine.

The first question:

Howard Goldowsky: What inspired the structure for your book — every other chapter focusing on the history of chess, and every other chapter a combination of memoir and explanation of The Immortal Game?

David Shenk: The Immortal Game is an extraordinary human drama and also a great excuse to walk through the fundamentals of chess. When I began researching chess history, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to convey its astonishing intellectual and cultural breadth and also to pay a lasting tribute to the game itself. Chess insiders don't need any lesson from me on how the game works or why it's so great, but there are millions of others who are more casually interested in the game or who are related to a serious player. I aimed to write a book that would hold the attention of the most serious player but also never confuse or bore the complete neophyte.
Read the entire interview.

David put The Immortal Game to the Page 69 Test over at the Campaign for the American Reader.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mark Coggins

Back in 2000, an interview with Mark Coggins appeared in the online noir magazine Plots with Guns.

Here is the opening part of the interview:

PWG: You've taken the PI form, as developed by Hammett and Chandler, and decorated it with the stuff of our own modern times—S&M bars, computers, virtual reality, etc. This works nicely, since most contemporary detectives have nutzo sidekicks and a guilty streak. What draws you to the hard-boiled tradition, and tell us about how you came to write The Immortal Game.

Mark Coggins: I came to writing mysteries because of my admiration for the work of Raymond Chandler. I was introduced to Chandler in my first creative writing class at Stanford—a class that was taught by Tobias Wolff.

Wolff was making the point that certain writers have a very unique style and he was reading from various works to back up his assertion. One of the things he read was the first chapter from The Big Sleep. I didn't know anything about Chandler before that reading, but I very much liked what I heard.

Later that week I went to the college bookstore and bought a copy of The High Window. I can't tell you now why I picked that instead of The Big Sleep but I did. I devoured the book and quickly ran through the rest of Chandler and all of Hammett too.

The next creative writing class I took was from Ron Hansen. In it, I wrote a short story in the hard-boiled tradition titled "There's No Such Thing as Private Eyes." I shopped the story around and a number of years later it was published in The New Black Mask, volume 4. The New Black Mask was a revival of the famous pulp detective magazine that gave Chandler and Hammett their start. It was edited by Richard Layman (one of Hammett's biographers) and published in trade paperback format by HBJ. As you might expect, I was very pleased that my first published story appeared in the same magazine that first published Chandler and Hammett.

The private eye in the short story—August Riordan—is the same character in The Immortal Game. In fact, The Immortal Game started out as a follow-on story for New Black Mask, but the magazine folded before the story was published.

Obviously, I expanded and revised the story considerably in the process of converting it to the novel form, but the link with "There's No Such Thing as Private Eyes" is still there: in the first chapter of the The Immortal Game, Riordan and his client discuss an event that happened in the short story.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vicki Lane

Diana Vickery interviewed Vicki Lane for the Cozy Library.

Part of their exchange:

Cozy Library: On your web-site, you mention a community college professor who said you didn’t have the passion to become a writer. Have you spoken to him since you published the first Elizabeth Goodweather novel? If you have, has he eaten his words?

Vicki Lane: I emailed Bill when I got a contract and he told me that now I'd probably leave the farm and run off with a saxophone player. Fortunately, he was wrong about that too. Then I saw him later at a book fair and he said to a friend, "Do I know how to pick 'em or what? Taught her everything she knows."

To be fair to Bill, I probably didn't have the passion it takes -- until he made that snarky comment.
Read the whole interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 23, 2007

Keith Raffel

Julia Buckley interviewed Keith Raffel about his debut novel Dot.Dead and related topics.

Two excerpts from the interview:

You spent twenty years working for “high tech companies, big and small.” Did you like working in Silicon Valley?

Starting my own company, building it up to success, working with an enthusiastic team – wow! That was terrific even if it transformed me into a monomaniac. At times, though, I have found myself tied up like a dogie on the range in the bureaucracy of larger companies. In those cases I just remind myself – like a caveman of yore going hunting mammoths with a club – that I am doing it to feed my family.


What’s the premise of your mystery?

Ian Michaels is a Silicon Valley hotshot. One lunchtime he comes home to find a young, beautiful woman stabbed to death in his apartment. Gwendolyn Goldberg was a stranger to Ian, but her family, old boyfriend, and the Palo Alto police seem to think they were lovers. He waits for the police to start looking for the killer, but realizes they are building a case against him. It’s up to him. As the investigation heats up, so does Ian’s interest in Gwendolyn’s sister, Rowena. By the end of the book, Ian realizes that there are far more important things in life than stock options and business success.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 22, 2007

John Nadler

John Nadler's A Perfect Hell: The True Story of the Black Devils, the Forefathers of the Special Forces, is due out in paperback in March.

Last year the novelist Olen Steinhauer asked John five questions about his writing, including:

Your previous book, Searching for Sofia, deals with the Kosovo War in the late nineties. As a war correspondent during that time it makes sense that you’d tell this story. What brought you back in time to the story of the First Special Service Force in A Perfect Hell?

I always wanted to write a WWII book mainly because my parents were of that generation. They spoke of the war a lot when I was growing up, and over time I felt somehow connected to that epoch. My mom talked about the war years more than my dad. She of course spoke of watching the boys leave for Europe and the Pacific, and the helplessness and fear of waiting on the home front. This is one element I tried to inject in A Perfect Hell: showing the connection between the men on the frontline and the families at home. One thing I learned was that nothing on a battlefield happens in isolation. Every casualty reverberates somewhere else: creating grief, changing lives, sometimes destroying lives. As much as anything, the book helped me to come to terms with the legacy of the WWII generation, now that this generation is disappearing.
Read the entire Q & A.

John put A Perfect Hell to the Page 69 Test over at the Campaign for the American Reader.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Duane Swierczynski

Sandra Ruttan interviewed Duane Swierczynski about his novel, The Blonde.

Part of their exchange:

Sandra: I’ve heard some say that authors are fundamentally unhappy people using their writing to work out the problems in their lives. So, tell me about your problems. What are you trying to work out with The Blonde?

Duane: I don’t know if I was specifically trying to work out any problems with The Blonde. But it does play around with the idea of intimacy a bit. And its opposite: privacy. I keep telling people—this is my chick lit novel! (With exploding heads.)

Sandra: Did you channel every evil woman you’d ever known into the blonde?

Duane: Evil? I think the blonde in The Blonde is the heroine. So I modelled her after the resourceful, beautiful, ass-kicking women I know. Especially my wife.
Read the entire interview.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Barbara J. King

Salon recently published an interview with Barbara J. King about the central ideas in her new book, Evolving God.

The opening part of the interview:

Why would an anthropologist who studies apes be interested in religion?

I think religion is all about emotional engagement and social action. And we can get a whole new read on the evolutionary history of religion by asking the kinds of questions that we ask of language and culture. We can see that way back in our past -- literally, millions of years ago -- some practices are visible in the archaeological record that reflect the deepest roots of religion. And apes today are pretty good stand-ins for those very early human ancestors. So when I go to the National Zoo in Washington, or spend time in Kenya looking at monkeys, what I see is very social. It's about emotional connection that's at the very ancient roots of religion.
Read the entire interview; it is followed by an audio link to an NPR interview at the end.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Marcus Sakey

I've recently finished Marcus Sakey's excellent debut novel, The Blade Itself. If you like quality crime writing, check it out.

A few months ago I clicked on Marcus Sakey's online bio and
was struck by how many of the authors he name-checked on his site that are also among my favorites: Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Lehane, Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, Pete Dexter, Ian McEwan, etc etc.

These are not only writers I like: I've read every novel they've written (OK, maybe two or three have slipped by), some three or four times.

Something else caught my attention: only one woman writer made Marcus's list.

Now, I don't expect most people who love Ellroy to love Penelope Fitzgerald--in fact, I once posted an item saying just that. But when I think about a fine genre-busting novel like Mystic River, I also think of (say) Patricia Highsmith's great The Talented Mr. Ripley. When I think of Pelecanos' Washington DC, I'm reminded of Laura Lippman just up the highway in Baltimore.

When I think of McEwan--whose Atonement may be the best novel I've read that was written in the last quarter-century--I'm reminded that I liked Kate Atkinson's Case Histories better than McEwan's Saturday.

So I asked Marcus: why so few women on his favorite authors list?

Read his answer.