Sunday, August 31, 2008

Laurie Viera Rigler

From a Q & A with Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict:

Why did you choose Jane Austen's world as the inspiration for your novel?

Despite my fascination (or let's be honest, obsession) with all those period details, what really draws me to Jane Austen is that she does, in fact, transcend time. Her all-seeing, all-knowing, take-no-prisoners approach to the follies and flaws of human beings makes her books not only timeless, but almost eerily contemporary, despite the bonnets and balls and carriages. It is as if she were a modern-day psychotherapist with a wicked sense of humor who time-traveled back to the Regency and wrote novels about everyone who spent time on her couch.

Why are you, and so many others, "Austen addicts"?

Because the more I read Jane Austen's six novels, the more I discover about myself and human nature in general. In fact, the Austen canon equates to the best self-help book you could ever have in your library. Feeling self-important? Read Jane Austen. In the midst of an identity crisis? Perhaps, like me, you'll find a little of yourself in all her heroines. Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland, who is addicted to scary novels, dancing, and old houses, reminds me of who I was when I lived in a crumbling Victorian that was said to be haunted, or when I could spend all night in after-hours clubs and still make it to work by 9. Sense and Sensibility's Marianne Dashwood, she of the tear-rimmed eyes and self-destructive tendencies, is who I was when consuming little more than espresso, Big-Gulp-size vodka martinis, and American Spirits was my idea of post-break-up nourishment. Emma is who I am when I get lost in the land of running-your-life-is-so-much-better-than-looking-at-my-own. I still wish I were as eloquent a smart-ass as Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet, but the more I venture into the minefield of self-reflection, the more I appreciate Austen's less incendiary heroines: the quietly steadfast Anne Eliot of Persuasion, and even the iconically timid Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, whom I used to dismiss as a prude.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Laurie Viera Rigler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain is the author of Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, a parody based on the life of Nancy Drew, several nonfiction titles, and a weekly column in The Oregonian.

Her latest novel is Sweetheart; it features Portland detective Archie Sheridan, who was introduced in Heartsick.

For The Rap Sheet, Ari Karim asked Cain a few questions, including:

Ali Karim: I noticed that you had published a few non-fiction books before entering the crime-fiction realm. Can you tell us a little about your early writing and journalism?

Chelsea Cain: I started in journalism, writing for my college paper. It was great fun. Crazy, smart people and crazy, late hours. Naturally, I thought, this is what I wanted to do for a living. (Having worked for newspapers since, I realize it is not at all like that.) So I went to graduate school in journalism. And I had to write a master’s project. I wrote a book about my early childhood on a hippie commune, and--total fluke--it got published. After that I published a few other books--mostly illustrated humor books, if you can imagine--and wrote for an alternative weekly. I finally ended up in marketing (A writing job that paid! I couldn’t believe it!) and worked as a creative director for a few years. I left that job to continue writing books, and to write a weekly column for The Oregonian, which I still do.

AK: So what books influenced you to take up the pen yourself?

CC: I always loved writing and I was always writing books. Mostly my books were construction paper that was stapled together and drawn on with crayon, but my family seemed to think they were brilliant. The books I loved most as a kid were the Nancy Drew books, by Carolyn Keene--and the Hardy Boys, if I was really desperate.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2008

Andrew Bacevich

Bill Moyers interviewed Andrew Bacevich about his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. From the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: It's been a long time since I've read a book in which I highlighted practically every third sentence. So, it took me a while to read, what is in fact, a rather short book. You began with a quote from the Bible, the Book of Second Kings, chapter 20, verse one. "Set thine house in order." How come that admonition?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I've been troubled by the course of U.S. foreign policy for a long, long time. And I wrote the book in order to sort out my own thinking about where our basic problems lay. And I really reached the conclusion that our biggest problems are within.

I think there's a tendency on the part of policy makers and probably a tendency on the part of many Americans to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere, beyond our borders. And that if we can fix those problems, then we'll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it's fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home.

BILL MOYERS: So, this is a version of "Physician, heal thyself?"

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, yes, "Physician, heal thyself," and you begin healing yourself by looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing yourself as you really are.

BILL MOYERS: Here is one of those neon sentences. Quote, "The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people," you write, "is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad." In other words, you're saying that our foreign policy is the result of a dependence on consumer goods and credit.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by...[read on]
Read the full transcript or watch the interview.

Read "Illusions of Victory under Bush," adapted from The Limits of Power; learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University; he retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He is the author of The New American Militarism, among other books. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

The Page 99 Test: The Limits of Power.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ronlyn Domingue

From a 2006 interview at Paraphernalia with Ronlyn Domingue about her debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air:

PNR: Your first novel, THE MERCY OF THIN AIR, has received critical acclaim and has been released around the world; could you tell us about the publication of your book? Where did you get the idea for this novel?

Ronlyn D.: That comment I made to a co-worker years ago turned into an idea for a novel about a poltergeist who moves from house to house, not fixed in one place. All I had was a series of incidents in mind, but the character had no name, no gender. In 1999, I imposed the short story form on this novel idea--which forced me to come up with a story in the first place.

Then there was Razi...

PNR: Yes, Razi. As a reader, I found myself drawn in by Razi's plight and experienced an emotional bond with her; the novel’s themes are emotionally complex and she is such a wonderfully strong woman. Could you tell us about the development of her character?

Ronlyn D.: Let's start with the moment I knew I wasn't dealing with just any character. When I started to work on the short story, there were a few things I knew about her, what I call her 'bullet points'. She was the daughter of a suffragette. She was a birth control advocate. She had green eyes and blond hair. And she was dead. But she had no name. One day, I was driving home from work and stopped at a light. Suddenly there was a voice in my head (don’t take that too literally) that said, 'My name is Raziela'. I paused and thought, Well, okay, that's your name. From then on, she was a force to contend with.

Razi was very impatient with me to figure her out. I didn’t realize this at the time. Right now, I’m working on my second novel, and the narrator is quiet and patient. It's okay that I don't understand him yet. He's giving me some space.

But Razi. . . She had a presence like no other character I've written. She surprised me with her emotional depth, quite frankly. For someone who valued science, rationality, above all else, Razi was capable of intense passions in her political life, friendships, her bond with Andrew. The other day, I was talking to a writer friend about the challenge of capturing a character’s voice, and I shared with her how shocked I was when Razi became lyrical in her speech. It didn’t fit what I thought about her. Razi was more rounded that I gave her credit for being.

As for her strength, I see that as both nature and nurture. Razi was born feisty, smart, and strong-willed. She was also raised by parents who encouraged her intellectually. She was deeply loved. Her father could not have been more proud of her. Even though Razi lived at the turn of the 20th century, with such a foundation early in her life, it's plausible she would have had the conviction to pursue a medical career and do the things she did. That’s not to say she didn’t struggle with traditional expectations. That was a fault line in her relationship with Andrew all along.
Read more of the Q & A.

The Mercy of Thin Air, the movie.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercy of Thin Air.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Robin Benway

Robin Benway is the author of Audrey, Wait!.

From a Q & A at her publisher's website:

Desert island book?

See, I’m terrible at picking just one thing. So I would have to say Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Salinger’s “Franny & Zooey.” (Little secret: I always travel with “Franny & Zooey” in my carry-on bag, just because it’s so familiar to me.) But honestly, if I’m stuck on a desert island, I’m not going to spend my time reading. I’ll be too busy figuring out a way to get the heck off that island.

Favorite city?

Los Angeles. New York holds a strong second place, but I’ve never been anywhere that feels like LA. An early summer afternoon, driving through the canyons with the bougainvillea, the way the air smells like eucalyptus, it’s so beautiful. It always feels like home, and I like having a home.

Favorite movie?

“The Royal Tenenbaums.” I saw it by myself in a movie theater and when the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” started to play in a scene, people in the theater sang along. I could watch it and find new details every time.
Read more of the Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Audrey, Wait!, and learn more about the book and author at Robin Benway's website and MySpace page.

Check out the Audrey, Wait! website.

Writers Read: Robin Benway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Joshua Henkin

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, responded to some reader questions at Everyday I Write the Book Blog, including:

Q: At one point in the story, I was thinking, "This book is titled Matrimony, but at this point, no one is married". How did the title come about? What were you trying to convey about marriage in this story?

JH: I’m ambivalent about the title, but on balance I stand by it, though I’m aware of the risks of titling a book Matrimony. I tend to think that the best titles are evocative of the novel without telling the reader too much about it. My first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, is a good example of that. Swimming across the Hudson is simply an image from the book; it’s not a novel about aquatics, believe you me. But you call a novel MATRIMONY and you create certain expectations. People might think it’s a self-help book, and even if they know it’s a novel, they might expect a certain kind of story that may or not be borne out by what happens in my book. MATRIMONY is about more than marriage. It’s about friendship, class, maturing over the years, among other things. But I certainly couldn’t have called it Marriage, Friendship, Class and Maturing Over The Years, though Alice Munro has a story collection with a title not so far from that. But she’s Alice Munro, and as far as I’m concerned she can do whatever she wants; she’s that good.

In the end, the title Matrimony felt true to what the book was about, in that the central relationship is a marriage and the book is really about several other marriages as well—Carter and Pilar’s marriage, Mia’s parents’ marriage, Julian’s parents’ marriage. But I didn’t want to call the book Marriage. I liked the more amorphous feel of Matrimony, as well as the implied phrase “holy matrimony,” which of course is belied (or at least rendered more complex) by what happens in my novel.

That said, I wasn’t trying to convey anything about marriage more generally. “What were you trying to convey about marriage?” is an apple-banana question, and I’m a monkey-banana guy. Novelists aren’t in the business of making arguments, statements, or points; they aren’t in the business of teaching lessons. If you want to make an argument or a statement, if you want to teach a lesson, you should become a philosopher, an economist, a theologian, or a lawyer, all of which are perfectly good professions. They’re just not my profession. A novelist is in the business of creating characters and telling stories—nothing more, nothing less.

This isn’t to say that a good novel doesn’t make you think; of course it does. But a novelist doesn’t deal in generalities. He or she deals in particulars. I was not and am not making any statements about marriage. I’m simply depicting in as thorough and convincing a way as possible the specific characters and specific relationships in my novel. I leave the generalities for the critics and the Ph.D.s.
Read the entire Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Matrimony, and learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Matrimony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2008

David Ebershoff

From a Q & A with David Ebershoff about his novel, The 19th Wife:

How did you first encounter the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, and what drew you to her story?

I first heard about Ann Eliza Young seven years ago while editing a book for the Modern Library. I had hired a scholar — a specialist in 19th century women’s history — to write a set of endnotes for a classic we were reissuing. History geek that I am, one afternoon I was gabbing with her about all sorts of 19th-century arcana when she mentioned the 19th Wife. I told her I’d never heard of her and she gave a me brief introduction. Needless to say, my writer’s ears stood up.

At the time I was working on another novel, one that I would ultimately put aside to write The 19th Wife. And so for a few years, while my attention was elsewhere, that nickname — the 19th Wife — continued to ring in my head. The 19th Wife? Who was that? What does it even mean to be a 19th wife? After a few years I started looking into that question. As I read more about Ann Eliza Young, I recognized how remarkable she was: intelligent, outspoken, declarative, contradictory, somewhat unreliable, a tad melodramatic, very beautiful (and a little bit vain) — she possessed a number of traits that can make a character in a novel unpredictable, and therefore interesting. I found myself torn between the novel I was working on and a nearly overwhelming desire to throw myself into the world of Ann Eliza and polygamy. Then one night I woke up — literally sat up in bed — and I knew I had to write this book. Just one problem: What book was I going to write? How would I tell her story? And how to make it relevant to today? It took a long, unsettling year of research before I could begin actually writing.
Read the entire Q & A.

Visit David Ebershoff's website.

The Page 69 Test: The 19th Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reed Farrel Coleman

At The Rap Sheet, Jim Winter quizzed author Reed Farrel Coleman about his Moe Prager novels and other subjects.

One segment from their dialogue:

JW: Soul Patch was a great slice of Brooklyn and goes into the past almost as much as it brings Moe to the eve of the 1990s. Have you ever thought of visiting Moe’s days as a cop for an entire novel?

RFC: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, the whole point of Moe’s career in uniform was that it wasn’t very exciting. The one memorable thing he did on the job was to rescue Marina Conseco from that water tank. That issue is so thoroughly explored in the last two Moe books [Soul Patch and Empty Ever After] that I don’t think I could turn his rescue of Marina into a new book. I’m also not a big fan of revisionism, so I don’t want to go back and create a life for Moe that isn’t true to the books I’ve already written.
Read the full Q & A, including Winter's introduction to Coleman's work.

Learn more about the author at Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2008

James Frey

James Frey is the author of A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, and Bright Shiny Morning.

Anna Metcalfe of the Financial Times put a few questions to the author, including:

What book changed your life?

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. The first time I read it I couldn’t believe someone had written it. It’s offensive and pure and clear.

Who are your literary heroes?

Baudelaire, CĂ©line, Kerouac, Brett Easton Ellis, Henry Miller.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tom Vanderbilt

From a Q & A with Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), at the Knopf website:

Q: Is it true that the most common cause of stress on the highway is merging? Why of the myriad things to cause stress on the road is this at the top?

A: Merging is the most stressful single activity we face in everyday driving, according to a survey by the Texas Transportation Institute. People who have done studies at highway construction work zones have also told me of extraordinarily bad behavior, triggered by this simple act of trying to get two lanes of traffic into one. Sometimes, it’s simply the difficult mechanics of driving — trying to enter a stream of traffic flowing at a higher speed than you are, for example. Drivers, to quote a physicist who was actually talking about grains, are objects “who do not easily interact.” But I also think there’s something about the forward flow of traffic that makes us register progress only by our own unimpeded movement; as in life, we seem to register losses more powerfully than gains, and registering these losses boosts stress.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Richard Reynolds

For Salon, Lenora Todaro interviewed Richard Reynolds, author of On Guerrilla Gardening.

The opening exchanges of the interview:

You promote a very genteel attitude toward guerrilla gardening in your book. Gardening on public land is illegal, so it's usually done at night, but, you argue, always be polite -- to passersby, to authorities. Is it your aim that guerrilla gardens ultimately be legitimized, like many of the community gardens in New York City?

My tactics are about preventing getting told to stop. Discretion and politeness are part of that; reaching out with propaganda at the right time is part of that too. If guerrilla gardens can get legitimized that's great. The guerrilla approach in my experience is very useful for getting to that point, but of course it's not always possible or necessary.

You use a lot of war imagery. I understand the origins of the word "guerrilla" point that way (from the Spanish for "little war"), but does it have to be a war? It seems more suited to a peace movement -- flower power, literally.

Flower power sums it up exactly. War, like gardening, is about destruction as a means to creating a better civilization. Guerrilla gardeners fight neglected land, fight the scarcity of land and fight the pests in their way. But of course using garden tools and flowers means our approach does not draw blood. Frankly, people who see gardening as something devoid of anything warlike are not in my experience serious gardeners but whimsical dreamers, the type of people who feel guilty pulling up weeds and foolishly imagine the best kind of garden is one in which humans have an absolutely minimal role -- the wilderness, for example.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sydney Bauer

Sydney Bauer responded to some questions at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "First Tuesday Book Club."

Two exchanges from the Q & A:

What is the book that changed your life?

This may sound strange but it was “It” by Stephen King but not because of the horror genre as I am not actually a huge horror fan. But it was the way he got inside the children’s heads, thought their thoughts, spoke their language. I didn’t read that book, I lived it.

What is your most over-rated book?

"The Cat in the Hat". I never got into it.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Undertow.

Among the praise for Undertow:
“Compelling from start to finish, this fast-paced thriller combines engaging characters, sharp dialogue, and a plot so gripping that the pages seem to turn themselves. A handsome job.”
—Richard North Patterson.

“Terrific legal suspense – a great debut.”
—Lee Child
Visit Sydney Bauer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michael Koryta

From a Q & A with Michael Koryta, author of Envy the Night:

Who are your favorite authors? What authors have influenced your book?

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet hooked me on the genre, and then I moved on to modern writers like Lehane, Crais, Pelecanos, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard. Lehane's books have been particularly inspiring to me as a writer, and Leonard's essay on fiction writing, with his Ten Rules, was influential. Stephen King's book On Writing came out while I was still in high school and it made a dramatic difference in my appreciation for the craft of writing and my approach to the task. I believe it is the finest book on writing that I've ever read, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

If you could choose any famous person you'd love to read your books, who would it be?

Ah, marketing books to the dead. If it can be done, James Patterson would have figured it out already, so I imagine it doesn't look possible. I'm not really sure about this one. The people I'd most like to read my books, and the opinions I'd most like to hear, are those of the writers I respect and admire. Obviously, it would be interesting to hear what the early writers of this genre—Chandler, Hammett, etc.—would think not just of my novels but of all the writing that owes a great debt to their own work. I suppose of contemporary celebrities I'd have to take a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld or Jon Stewart, because even if they hate the book, the criticism will be entertaining.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Envy the Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brenda Cooper

Last year, Ben Lovatt of Educated Earth interviewed Brenda Cooper about Building Harlequin's Moon, which Cooper wrote with Larry Niven. Lovatt's overview and the first exchange:


Building Harlequin's Moon is an epic tale of humanity's quest for the stars. Spanning a period of 60,000 years, this work of science fiction brings to life the social and physical challenges forced upon an interstellar colony ship when they find themselves stranded light-years from their desired destination Ymir. With a depleted antimatter supply and no hope of rescue, the colonists have no choice but to terraform a nearby star system and forge a civilization to refuel their vessel.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, especially psychological SF. The characters are very well developed and often struggle with realistic moral dilemmas.

How did you first get into writing?

"Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was just a small girl, I wrote poetry and short stories. Although I never stopped writing, at some point in my thirties, I decided that I’d better stop procrastinating about writing commercially accessible work if I wanted to be published. This realization partly came out of a series of workshops by Steven Barnes, another Niven collaborator. So I went back to school at our local community college and started attending writing workshops and classes given by published writers with real track records. After that, it only took a couple of years to start publishing. And of course, knowing Mr. Niven and writing with him helped. Steven also helped me out with good advice. Science fiction writers are generally a really supportive community, and we have a tradition of helping newcomers."
Read the entire Q & A.

Brenda Cooper's solo and collaborative short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines, including Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Oceans of the Mind, and The Salal Review.

Last year, she applied the Page 99 Test to The Silver Ship and the Sea, the first book in The Silver Ship trilogy. The sequel, Reading the Wind, is due out this month.

Visit Brenda Cooper's website and her LiveJournal; read an excerpt from The Silver Ship and the Sea, and learn more about Reading the Wind.

The Page 99 Test: The Silver Ship and the Sea.

The Page 99 Test: Reading the Wind.

Writers Read: Brenda Cooper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Preeta Samarasan

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia, and moved to the United States in high school. After spending several years ostensibly working on a dissertation on gypsy music in France, but all the while writing fiction, she decided to switch tracks. She recently received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan.

From a Q & A about her novel, Evening Is the Whole Day:

I love the presence of ghosts in the novel. Did you envision using them from the start? Do you think that "ghosts" or reminders of the past are more prevalent in Asian cultures than in Europe or the U.S.?

I had the idea of the grandmother's ghost from the start, because she's so present while alive that it didn't make sense for her just to disappear when she died. That is the only kind of ghost I believe in in real life – a person so full, so there, that they don't simply vanish when they die; they linger in our consciousness (in this case, Aasha's consciousness). As for the other ghosts – I can't speak for all Asian cultures, but ghosts are a very important part of Malay culture (and therefore Malaysian culture in general). There's a very rich and array of ghosts, each type distinct from the others, each one wanting different things from the living. No Malaysian schoolgirl hasn't worried about the hantu kum-kum in the school toilet or the pontianak behind the bicycle shed; people speak about these ghosts in the matter-of-fact way one might discuss family members. So yes, at some point it occurred to me that it would be interesting to reflect this worldview in the novel.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: Evening Is the Whole Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ben Tanzer

From a Q & A at Orange Alert Press with Ben Tanzer, author of Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine:

OAP: The title is taken for a Bob Dylan song. What was it about that song that seemed to fit with what you wanted to accomplish with this story?

BT: I probably need to start by saying that I listen to music all the time and almost always listen to music when I write. I was listening to “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” on some random afternoon while working on the book and in a mood for some Dylan and it just struck me as the right vibe for this work, the right title certainly, but even the tone, and what it invoked in me. I don’t necessarily listen to lyrics, but while the song isn’t exactly happy thematically, it is sung with a certain kind of lightness and humor, and I like to strive for that when I write, dark but laced with humor, streamlined, but with dialogue that resonates. What’s tricky is that Dylan is so loaded, he’s a genius, a poet, a god and so on, and I didn’t want that association per se, but this song on that day, was perfect. On another day it could have been something by Avail or Bruce Springsteen or Other World, and some day it probably will be.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the author and his work at Ben Tanzer's MySpace page and This Blog Will Change Your Life.

The Page 69 Test: Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2008

Michael Connelly

From a Q & A with Michael Connelly about his new novel, The Brass Verdict:

Question: What's this new book all about?

Michael Connelly: It's got a lot of things going on in it. I kind of look at it as having two major "through lines," or A tracks, and then several lesser-story strings running through it and binding it all together. The first main track is the murder of Jerry Vincent, which is the inciting action of the story. Vincent is a defense attorney. His murder brings Mickey Haller off the shelf, where he's been on a bit of a sabbatical, you could say. Mickey is ordered by a judge to take over Vincent's entire law practice. Mickey immediately runs into Harry Bosch, who is investigating Vincent's murder. So the first A track centers on the question of who killed Jerry Vincent and why. The second A track centers on one of the cases Mickey inherits: the murder trial of Walter Elliot. It's a big case with a lot of media attention — and it's paying Mickey the biggest fee of his career. In many ways it's a huge test case for Mickey as well. He's a bit rusty, having not been in court for a year.

Question: And the so-called lesser tracks? Care to share any of these?

Michael Connelly: Well, the relationship between Haller and Bosch is a big one of these. They're flip sides of the same coin, given that one works for the defense and the other for the prosecution. But they have to forge a sort of unholy alliance, a partnership of some sort, in order to figure out who killed Vincent and who is behind a threat to Haller. There are other strings as well. The book has a lot in it about recovery and redemption, about fatherhood, about the back doors of the justice system. This last thing is something I call the "stuff." By this I mean the hard-to-put-your-finger-on stuff that makes the world of a book seem real. I have tried to fill this book with the anecdotes and shortcuts and maneuvers that bring a gritty, if not greasy, reality to the justice system in which Mickey operates. I think this is what made The Lincoln Lawyer work, and I hope it's in this book as well.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Michael Connelly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fae Myenne Ng

From a Q & A with Fae Myenne Ng, author of Steer Toward Rock:

Q: What was your starting point for Steer Toward Rock?

A: My main character, Jack Moon Szeto, chooses love over the law. Steer Toward Rock is inspired about the devastating consequences of The Chinese Confession Program. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is another point of inspiration. Before 1882, America had an open door policy that admitted everyone except “lepers, prostitutes and morons.” The Chinese were added to that list with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The Act was repealed in 1942 at which point a paltry 105 Chinese were allowed entry each year. No quota existed for any other group.

By 1940, 80% of Chinese in America were men. Married men left their wives in China, unmarried men remained so and a bachelor society was created. In America, antimiscegenation laws prohibited marriage not only between whites and blacks, but also between whites and Asians, Mexicans and Filipinos; this was not ruled unconstitutional until 1967. This legacy of transcontinental marriages and fractured families has had a profound effect on our security as families and on our intimate views of love and sexuality, themes which I explore in Steer Toward Rock.

Q: What was the Chinese Confession Program?

A: The Chinese Confession Program (1956 to 1965) was set up to prevent communists from entering the US fraudulently. Posters were tacked onto lampposts, and community and civic leaders asked Chinese Americans with derivative citizenship (called ‘paper sons’ because of their fraudulent papers) to come forward. The Confession Program wasn’t officially an amnesty program. Confessing to the authorities offered immunity from prosecution and deportation, but the confessor had to surrender his passport and be ‘amenable to deportation.’

One confession could implicate an entire clan as the confessor was required to name his paper and blood families. If you hadn’t confessed and then were stopped by FBI agents, you could be deported. My mother remembered it as a terrifying time. She said agents came into our store and asked men for their ID and once took a man straight to SFO (the San Francisco airport). As I dramatize in the last chapter of the book, deport was a powerful word, maybe our collective ‘first’ English word.

When a man confessed, he was required to name his entire family, paper and blood. If a man didn’t confess, he could still be named by his neighbor. Anyone could inform
anonymously and accuse another of communist affiliation (sending a letter or money to your mother in Red China was cavorting with the enemy!) Paranoia and conflict set into Chinatown. Trust was a huge issue. Suspicion was rampant as friends and brothers were forced to look at each other with fear and distrust. Everyone wondered who was confessing and who was being named.

At the program’s conclusion, 13,895 people confessed, 22,083 were exposed and 11,294 potential paper son slots were closed. The 1950 census listed 117,629 Chinese in America (without counting Hawaii); this had tremendous impact on the Chinese
American community.

I call it the Confusion Program. It took many drafts to figure out a structure and narrative that combined the elements of political fear, personal desire, family loyalty and community obligation. It was the love story that finally brought all the themes together.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kristy Kiernan

From a Q & A with Kristy Kiernan about her new novel, Matters of Faith:

Q—You weave several social/domestic issues into this new novel. Where did this storyline come from?

A— Religion has been a fascination of mine since I was a child. I spent most of the year with my mother and we didn’t go to church, then my summers were spent in Tennessee with my father’s parents, who took me to a Baptist church, and my mother’s mother, who took me to an Episcopal church. When we moved to Chicago my best friend was Jewish, and they allowed me to come to their home for holidays, which I found so interesting, and then I married a Catholic man. Interspersed with these main religions, were various friends with their own beliefs, or the beliefs of their parents, and I always asked questions and had a very clear vision of the world as filled with religious options.

The food allergy storyline came from the story several years ago in which a teenage girl was reported as having died when her boyfriend kissed her. He had eaten peanut butter earlier in the day, and I was utterly horrified that something as innocent as a kiss could kill a child. How does a parent allow a child to live normally in a world where that could happen? The story was later reported to be incorrect, she died of something else, but the seed was planted.

And marriage, the third major storyline, is something happening within my own life that I find incredibly interesting and complex. My husband and I have been together for 18 years and we’ve watched others in long-term relationships and seen the stages they’ve gone through, too. I never knew how rewarding and intricate and constantly evolving a long-term relationship could be, and I wanted to explore that.

Q—What did you draw off of to develop the plots and characters?

A— My own life, friend’s and acquaintance’s relationships (if you’re a friend or acquaintance, don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s other friends and acquaintances, really!)

News stories always stick in my head, often for years, and I tend to internalize them, like “How would I handle that? How would I feel if that were my child? What specific actions would I take?”
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Matters of Faith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kevin J. Anderson

From Robert Thompson's interview with Kevin J. Anderson, author of The Ashes of the World:

Q: Let’s talk about your original stories. Your most ambitious project is the epic seven-volume space opera series The Saga of Seven Suns which comes to its conclusion this July 2008 with “The Ashes of the World”. How does it feel that the project is finally coming to an end, were you able to accomplish everything you wanted to when you first started work on The Saga of Seven Suns, and will there be any spin-offs, sequels, prequels or whatnot?

Kevin: I spent eight years of my life developing and writing this series, and it has a cast of characters that would make Cecil B. deMille proud, with many dozens of overlapping storylines. I wanted to put all of the big ideas that I love in the SF genre, and I created a story with enough scope to carry it all. I chronicled a galactic war, telling the story from the perspective of several races, with characters from the great leaders of empires to powerless average people. I designed the story with a beginning, middle, and end, and Volume Seven does wrap up all the plotlines. I did create a big, fully-fleshed-out universe, so I’ve got room to tell other independent stories, maybe in a few years, but right now I’m very glad to bring it to its conclusion. Time to rest after seven 700-page manuscripts!
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from The Saga of Seven Suns: The Ashes of Worlds, and learn more about the author and his work at Kevin J. Anderson's website, WordFire.

The Page 69 Test: The Ashes of Worlds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rob Walker

Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman interviewed Rob Walker about Walker's new book, Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are.

The beginning of the Q & A:

Brandweek: You note in the book that you didn't consider yourself a consumer or subject to branding, but you did have an affinity for Converse and were upset when Nike bought the brand. Did you ever get to the bottom of why you felt that way? In the book you go through some ideas, but note that the main impetus was "consumers who wore the sneakers." Does that explain it?

Rob Walker: For me, yeah, I think that was the primary thing. I'm sure it was sort of reinforced over time, when, say Kurt Cobain wore them—"No surprise, Kurt Cobain is my kind of guy!" That sort of feeling.

But the important thing about it, with this brand or any other, is that it's never really a conscious process: Nobody has ever literally said, "I want to express my individuality, and therefore I will purchase the sneakers that I associate with my maverick rock and roll heroes." It's always a subtle process, a non-conscious process.

For me, it took the jolt of the Nike thing to make me focus on it at all—to make me realize that despite my brandproof self-image, it turned out this sneaker brand did have some kind of meaning for me.

This had a big effect on how I approached the book—it made me want to explore how, even though most of us think of ourselves as "above" branding, we're all susceptible to it on some level. And I think that there's actually a kind of power in understanding that this is so.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Buying In.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Francie Lin

At's Omnivoracious, Jeff VanderMeer interviewed Francie Lin about her debut novel, The Foreigner.

Their first exchanges: Emerson Chang doesn't strike me as your average fictional narrator. Was it hard to find and keep his voice throughout the novel or did it come naturally?

Francie Lin: The general tone wasn't that hard to find, but it was hard to refine and maintain, definitely. Emerson was originally more pathetic, and he was prone to long, poetic, ruminative passages about death and love. He had no edge at all, which made him kind of tiresome to write. Only after a few revisions did he develop a little more backbone, and then it was fun to play his fastidiousness off the more hardened characters. Did you know you were writing a kind-of mystery novel when you started creating The Foreigner?

Francie Lin: Sort of. Certainly I wanted to, but I'm not that good at thinking up plots, and didn't have the guts to write a mystery at first. But I did want to write something about the little local crime syndicates in Taipei, so I kind of sidled up to the genre under the guise of writing something more "literary."
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about The Foreigner at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Foreigner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Noelle Oxenhandler

From a Q & A with Noelle Oxenhandler about her new book, The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul -- A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire:

Q. What inspired you to write this book?

A. After fifteen years in the cold, gray Snowbelt of upstate New York, I returned to California, which is where I grew up. Almost immediately, I was struck by how many people around me seemed to have the “create-your-own-reality” approach to life. Among these people was Carole Watanabe, whom I encountered through my first attempt at “putting it out there,” when I was trying to find a studio where I could paint. Carole, it turns out, is the absolute Queen of Putting It Out There–and she became a powerful source of inspiration for the book.

Q. What surprised you most about your experiment in wishing?

A. The intensity of my own resistance! Though I knew that I’d be working against the grain of my own temperament, I really was not prepared for how often my skepticism would reassert itself–like a patch of weeds that sprang up every time I turned my back. This helped me to realize that my skepticism was not as rational as I had always thought it was. To a large degree it was just a kind of default mechanism, a certain habit of pessimism that was its own kind of superstition!
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: The Wishing Year.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 8, 2008

Anthony Neil Smith

For The Rap Sheet, Jim Winter interviewed Anthony Neil Smith, author of the recently released Yellow Medicine.

Part of the interview:

JW: Did you have the story in mind before moving from Mississippi to Minnesota? Or did it come to you after you moved there?

ANS: I didn’t plan on writing about Minnesota quite yet. Had no idea how long I would be here (but it’s three years now), but now I’ve been bumped up to director of the Creative Writing Program [at Southwest Minnesota State University], and I bought a house, and I married a Minnesota girl, so ...

Anyway, when I first moved here, I rented a place a lot like Billy’s in the novel. It was always damp, mold growing on everything, and then there was an infestation of bugs. This was in Yellow Medicine County, about a half-hour from work. And it just seemed a good title. It had some weird appeal to it. So what I had hoped to do was write a “fast and dirty” cop novel. But it turned into more than that. I think The Shield was a big influence, but I also am a big fan of the “exile in America” idea--take a disgraced cop from Mississippi and drop him in Minnesota and see what happens. Kind of the way I felt a little, as well. And I wanted to play up the ugliness, too, in addition to the weird beauty of the prairie. They go hand in hand.

So there would’ve been no Yellow Medicine or Billy Lafitte without those experiences I had during my first few months in Minnesota. And then I made the rest of that shit up.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about Yellow Medicine and its author at Anthony Neil Smith's website and his MySpace page.

Anthony Neil Smith is also the editor of Plots With Guns and the author of Pyschosomatic and The Drummer.

"My Book, The Movie" -- Pyschosomatic.

The Page 69 Test: Yellow Medicine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Charles Barber

Charles Barber was educated at Harvard and Columbia and worked for ten years in New York City shelters for the homeless mentally ill. The title essay of his first book, Songs from the Black Chair, won a 2006 Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in the New York Times and Scientific American Mind, among other publications, and on NPR. He is a senior administrator at The Connection, an innovative social services agency, and a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.

From a Q & A about his latest book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation:

Q. Americans account for two-thirds of the global antidepressant and psychiatric drug market. What drives Americans to want to be “comfortably numb”?

A. Americans have always liked the quick-fix, and overwhelming the enemy with technology – whether it’s a foreign country or a medical problem. But we like it more than ever – probably fueled by our ever-shortening attention spans, and the expectation that everything will or must occur at the click of a mouse. Another factor driving American drug-taking is our increasing isolation from each other, accompanied by a simultaneous pressure to achieve and perform, including the achievement of happiness. The result of all of this is Americans are rushing to the medicine cabinet, in particular for antidepressants – the most prescribed drug in America – in record numbers. We think that what we find there will eradicate our distress, numb out our internal discord, and help us keep with the Jones’s – or the Gates’s.

Q. During the last decades, the public began to view mental illness as common and easily treated with medication: celebrities declaring their problems, ordinary people talking about their pills. Do you believe that attitudes toward the truly mentally ill have changed?

A. No. The truly mentally ill – people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, for example – are just as stigmatized as they’ve ever been. It may now be acceptable and even cool to talk about taking antidepressants at a party, and it certainly is cool for an actress to talk about her bout with depression on Oprah (as long as it’s now well under control and she has a new hit movie) but see what happens if you talk about hearing voices or having visions. People will move away as fast as they can. And with all the increased rates of psychiatric drug-taking by the masses, the number of people with really serious mental illnesses who are in proper treatment remains very low.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Comfortably Numb.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nancy Kress

Mike Brotherton interviewed Nancy Kress about her new novel, Dogs. The start of the Q & A:

1) What was your inspiration for writing DOGS?

I’m fascinated by the way viruses and bacteria, including pathogens, can both mutate naturally and be genetically engineered. I’ve read everything I can find, for instance, on the outbreaks of Ebola in Congo and Sudan. Genetically engineered pathogens turn up in my books OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER. In fiction, the pathogens are usually transmitted by humans. But, I mused, it doesn’t have to be that way …and just about that time I happened to get a dog.

2) What attracts you to science fiction?

It’s a canvas large enough to paint just about anything on it. You can use the past, the present, the future — or all of them at once. You can deliberately distort some aspect of humanity — as, for instance, LeGuin does with gender in The Left Hand of Darkness — to examine it more closely. You can invent whatever you need to tell your story. Much of mainstream fiction has shrunk itself down to the examination of a few people in a very constrained situation, such as (for example) a family disintegrating. That’s interesting, but so is the larger-scale take on society that very few mainstream writers do any more.
Read the full interview.

The Page 69 Test: Dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cathy Pickens

From the Novel Journey interview between Kelly Klepfer and author Cathy Pickens:

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments where you got “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to disembowel a six-foot man.

I try not to do things that are too weird. Writers work best when they are observers, not performers.

I know I should have a humorous response to this, but I cringe a bit a the question because I recently talked to a new writer who was surprised when someone who answered the phone at the regional FBI office wouldn’t answer her question about the best way to destroy a body or some such question. Writers should strive to be professional.

Not that I haven’t asked questions like, “How much dynamite does it take to blow up a building?” but only of someone with whom I’ve taken the time to develop a professional relationship.

If I wanted to know about disemboweling a man, I would first study “Gray’s Anatomy” (please, the textbook, not the TV show) and comb through medico-legal books to see if I could find examples. (You’d be surprised what’s out there.) I would then ask a medical doctor, a medical examiner, or even a hunter for specifics. (Around here, I could find an ME who is also a hunter.) Let’s face it, some clerk in a knife store isn’t likely to know what you need to know.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Hush My Mouth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 4, 2008

Erich Origen & Gan Golan

For Newsweek, Brian No interviewed Erich Origen and Gan Golan, authors of Goodnight Bush, a political parody of the children's classic Goodnight Moon.

Two exchanges from the interview:

NEWSWEEK: How did you guys come up with the idea for "Goodnight Bush"? What were you trying to accomplish with this book?

Erich Origen: Well we were just inspired by what a great job Bush was doing, and we wanted to capture his legacy and the glory of it. [Chuckle.] No, we felt that we were responding to a need to have a truth-and-reconciliation moment. The cultural response to Bush has either been to make fun of the absurdity or soberly assess the tragedy. Of course, it's both absurd and tragic, and we felt we needed something that captured both of those things.

Did you guys read "Goodnight Moon" when you were young?

Gan Golan: It wasn't something that was read to me as a child. I really came across it when I was older, reading it to other children. When we started working on it, we began to study it in great detail, and that's when we understood "Goodnight Moon" wasn't just a simple children's book. It was this incredibly complex, finely structured work of art and literature.
Read the complete interview.

Visit the Goodnight Bush website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones is the author of Leaving Atlanta, which won the 2003 Hurston/Wright Award for debut fiction, and the acclaimed novel, The Untelling.

From an interview with Jones, conducted by Ana-Maurine Lara, in Torch:

AL: In both of your novels, Atlanta is the landscape that holds your characters' lives, and the reference points for their epiphanies. I'd love to know about your choice to use Atlanta as a setting. What role does landscape play in shaping your narrative? And lastly, what are your geographies?

TJ: I set my stories in Atlanta because it is the city I know best and also because it intrigues me. When I set out to write Leaving Atlanta, it was obviously set in Atlanta as that was the scene of the child murders, but it was an invisible locale, a sort of default setting. I wrote what I knew in the detail which I understood it. It is sort of hard for me to answer questions about process or setting because I tend to tell the stories where they are set. The story couldn't be set any place else. I think of the characters and who they are and where they live. The thing about fiction, for me, is that I tell a story that feels true. People sometimes say, "Why did you choose to put the story in this or that neighborhood..." And I say, "It's where the people live." I thought them up and this is where they are. Once the novel is finished I can, as a critic of my own work, say how it functions in terms of narrative, but that has little to do with my experience writing the novel.

Answering questions about writing is sometimes like answering questions about love. Can you imagine if someone said, "How did you fall in love?" You could probably cough up a couple of anecdotes, but the truth is that it's not deliberate like that. I feel the same way about writing a novel. I sit down and I struggle. I try. I fail. I try again. I explore different plots. Some work. Some don't. I break up with the novel, decide to write something else. We get back together again.

I can say that I tried to write a novel set in Phoenix. I was living there at the time. I found the landscape to be so interesting that I thought I could write a novel set there. I couldn't. I had only a superficial knowledge of the place, I couldn't access its metaphors, it's histories.
Read the complete interview.

The Page 69 Test: The Untelling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley is a mystery writer and a classicist. Her new novel is Nox Dormienda: A Long Night for Sleeping.

Two exchanges from her January Magazine Author Snapshot:

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Writing is something I’ve always done. Because of that, I think, as a child I never had the goal of becoming a writer. Writing was always there, and I suppose I sort of took it for granted. I planned to become an actress when I graduated from high school, and I wanted to direct films. But by the time I was an adult, I realized that I actually needed to write (and in a more disciplined way than scratching out poetry or essays). So I started with screenplays initially, and turned to novels when I was back in college, finishing up my Master’s Degree. Nox Dormienda was my first attempt at writing one. And now, of course, I wouldn’t trade being a writer for anything.

* * * *
Please tell us about Nox Dormienda.

It’s a historical mystery-thriller, written for people who don’t like historical fiction without (hopefully) displeasing those who do! It’s been described by Ken Bruen as “Ellis Peters rewritten by Elmore Leonard” and by other reviewers as a fantasy collaboration of Lindsey Davis and Raymond Chandler. The style and pace are classic hardboiled, 1930s-style vintage noir, while the setting and background are authentic first century AD Roman Londinium.
Read the complete snapshot.

Visit Kelli Stanley's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 1, 2008

William H. Calvin

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, affiliated with the Program on Climate Change. He is the author of Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change (University of Chicago Press 2008) and thirteen earlier books for general readers.

Two exchanges from his interview with David Houle, July 2007:

2. Please define ‘Global Fever”?

Some people still think that global warming sounds cozy–but even they will recognize that a prolonged high fever portends dangerous consequences. A fever of two degrees above normal body temperature is very different from having three degrees of fever (in Fahrenheit, that’s at 104). In global warming, while two degrees C of fever above the 1990 temperature is bad, three degrees is terrible–a world full of climate refugees and, as they try to flee droughts and famines, there will be many genocides and wars. Who would lend money or write insurance in such an unpredictable world? The climate models say that we have to stop the annual growth in fossil fuel use by the year 2020 in order to avoid that three degree fate.

3. I love your phrase “Turning around by 2020”. Please elaborate what that means and why you came up with such a catchy phrase?

It’s meant to replace “stabilizing” emissions–which is particularly misleading terminology, as it implies solving the problem. It only means stopping the annual growth in emissions; we’d continue to make things worse, merely at a constant rate. This is the most minimal of goals, which is why I instead talk of turning around the growth.“Emissions” also tends to frame things badly, blinding you to enhancing sinks for CO2 via forests, phytoplankton, and–if we’re lucky–artificial photosynthesis that mines the CO2 in the air. It’s balancing the sources and sinks that keeps CO2 constant. But you really want to reduce CO2 with net sinking. Even with zero emissions, we won’t have begun fixing the climate problem. Nature takes several hundred years to remove half of the excess CO2, thousands of years to get rid of the rest. We cannot afford to wait for that.

My second goal is Sinking CO2 by 2040. That’s when enhanced sinks cancel out the remaining fossil fuel sources (aviation will need them for some time to come), and we finally start drawing down the atmospheric CO2. Until 2040, our climate problem will continue to get worse. In the decades that follow, we start reversing the desertification, extreme weather, and heat waves. Even if we get our climate back, the Amazon rain forest won’t come back nor will all the species that went extinct in the meantime – likely a third to a half of all species on Earth. Our ecosystems may well become fragile.

My third goal is Climate Restoration by 2080, when we finally get CO2 concentration back down to its 1939 value.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue