Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kim Barnes

From a Q & A with Kim Barnes about her new novel, A Country Called Home:

Q: Part One of A COUNTRY CALLED HOME is preceded by an epigraph by John Gardner: “The fall from grace is endless.” Why did you choose this quote?

A: My young life was defined by the teachings of religious fundamentalism and the constant reiteration of man’s fall from grace—that fall from the Garden of Eden. The fact that my own father was a man characterized by a mix of uncommon nobility and flawed judgment...well, that’s the very definition of a tragic figure.

My father was an absolutist, a man of deep conviction who was determined—driven, really—to create a better life for himself and his family. Even though my character Thomas Deracotte is a Yale educated physician, while my father was a logger with very little education, they both believed that they could control the world around them with a mix of superior insight and will. Such people are often blinded by their own vision, even though the vision itself may be an honorable one. And the fact is that, even in their failure to realize that vision, and even though their flawed judgment and blind hubris may result in chaos rather than order, we benefit from their attempts. This is why A COUNTRY CALLED HOME is divided into two parts: the first part is the story of Thomas Deracotte’s attempt to create a Utopian existence for his wife and daughter. Part II explores how Deracotte’s vision, though destructive, is also creative: in the life of his daughter, Elise, we recognize the chance for redemption.

Like Elise, I have been both scarred and shaped by my father’s vision. The strength of his will and demanding nature instilled in me a sense of fearful respect, but it also allowed me the opportunity to rise above the poverty and familial dysfunction that had informed his own life. Without my father’s vision, even though flawed, I would not have achieved my educational and creative goals, and I am grateful. But I’m also aware of how that fall from grace—from childhood innocence and adult obliviousness to consequence—is perpetual.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: A Country Called Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 29, 2008

Katherine Neville

From a Q & A with Katherine Neville at the publisher's website:

Question: It’s been twenty years since The Eight. Why did it take so long to write THE FIRE?

Katherine Neville: I don’t actually write my books, they kind of write themselves–but they also seem to decide on their own when they are going to be written. Or in this case, not written. Until the right moment.

In the early 1990s, while I was on a 16-hour train trip from Switzerland to Prague, I was pacing up and down through the railroad cars when I figured out how to continue the story that began in The Eight. I saw clearly how the children of the previous characters would have to solve the true underlying mystery, which even their parents hadn’t yet discovered, about the original creation of the fictional chess set that had once belonged to Charlemagne, and of the powerful and very real historic events that had first set its course in motion.

THE FIRE was weaving its tale within me for almost a decade. Then, all of a sudden, one bright sunny morning, a plane smashed into the Pentagon just across the river from my apartment in D.C. I already knew about the two planes in New York–I’d seen them hit the towers on TV just moments earlier–and I knew at once, when the third plane hit, that I wasn’t writing the book I thought I was writing.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Katherine Neville's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Margaret Atwood

Deborah Solomon interviewed Margaret Atwood for the New York Times Magazine.

Two of their exchanges:

As one of Canada ’s most esteemed novelists and poets, you are about to deliver a series of public lectures on a seemingly nonliterary subject, “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth,” which is also the title of your latest book. Your timing is perfect.

Well, I didn’t do it on purpose. It’s not my fault. I didn’t make those banks collapse.

* * *

So what led you to take up the subject of debt?

Long ago, I was a graduate student in Victorian literature. When you think of the 19th-century novel, you think romance — you think Heathcliff, Cathy, Madame Bovary, etc. But the underpinning structure of those novels is money, and Madame Bovary could have cheerfully gone on committing adultery for a long time if she hadn’t overspent.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read more about Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Susan Reinhardt

Susan Reinhardt has been called “the Southern Belle’s answer to David Sedaris” and “a modern-day, Southern-fried Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry.” She is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist and author of three books -- Not Tonight, Honey: Wait ‘til I’m a Size 6 (2005); Don’t Sleep With a Bubba Unless Your Eggs are in Wheelchairs (2007); and Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin (2008).

From her interview with Mary Ward Menke for January Magazine:

You’ve been compared to Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry and David Sedaris. How does that make you feel?

I like hearing it, but don’t fully believe it. So it hasn’t gone to my head. Everything tends to go to my belly. Everything. I’m a bloater. By the way, I do love all those writers you mentioned, and was so honored to speak at the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference in Dayton in 2006 and meet all of her family. Betsy Bombeck bought two of my books. I was elated.

Has humor always been an important part of your life? Where did your sense of humor come from?

My dad is the funniest man alive and my sister is the funniest woman on the planet. For example, she recently couldn’t get her kids to bathe, so she just put them in the golf cart and ran them through the car wash. She also had an e-Bay bidding war to win a possum fur coat. She said it has a tire mark through it, too.
Read the complete interview.

Visit Susan Reinhardt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 26, 2008

David Biespiel

From a Q & A with the poet

6. What's your best advice for a writer?

Don't listen to me would be my advice...

7. No really. One thing?

All right...read. Immerse yourself in reading the kind of writing you're doing. Writing screenplays? Read them, & watch movies. Constantly. Writing a memoir, read them. Writing poems, read them--& not just the latest National Book Award finalists or whatever is fadish--the Bread Crumb Prize Winner for Best Decolotage Ficton. Follow the trail: If you like writer X, see who writer X read, then read that writer. And so on. There you have it, one thing: Read. The ratio between what you read & what you write will be enormously imbalanced. More reading compared to less writing. And yet--let me contradict myself--write more, too.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read--or listen to David Biespiel read--the poem, "Though Your Sins Be Scarlet."

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Michael Kimmel

From Inside Higher Education:

Leaders of colleges for traditional-age students spend a lot of time worrying about the behavior of male undergraduates — and specifically the misbehavior of many through excessive drinking, hazing, and abusive behavior toward women. A leading sociologist and gender scholar, Michael Kimmel, has just published a new book that offers an inside look at this young male culture, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (HarperCollins). The book covers male development from ages 16 through 26, and features extensive discussion of campus life. Kimmel responded via e-mail to questions about his work.

Q: As colleges welcome a new crop of freshmen, what should they be aware of about their new male students that perhaps they aren’t aware of now?

A: What I call “Guyland” is both a developmental stage and a social space. Young adults, age 16-26, are taking about a decade longer to complete the transition to adulthood than did their parents and especially their grandparents. 30 is really the new 20. Guyland is also the world that young people — male and female — inhabit. After growing up with helicopter parents micromanaging every nanosecond, they enter a world in which colleges have backed away from the old “in loco parentis” model, so that young people increasingly define themselves through media images and peer groups. And on campus, guys rule.
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about Guyland and the author at the official Guyland website.

The Page 99 Test: Guyland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Matthew Quick

From a Q & A with Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook:

GC: Your character, Pat Peoples, thinks his life is a movie produced by God, bound to end with a silver lining. What do you think of this very close connection, in fiction and your life, between the novel and the film? Have you found the silver lining?

MQ: When I decided to write full-time, after consulting with my wife for months, I quit a tenured position at a prestigious high school, sold my house, moved into my in-laws’ home, and wrote in their basement every day for three years. My parents thought I had gone mad. Some friends quietly disapproved. People kept asking what I was doing in the basement, and when I was going to get a ‘real’ job. And it was hard, because at times I wasn’t sure that I was doing anything productive at all. It’s a wild thing to write in your in-laws’ basement for three years, not knowing if you will ever publish. Two things gave me hope: my wife’s constant encouragement and—as stupid as it might sound—looking up at clouds during my daily sunset runs. Considering all I had sacrificed, all the work I had put into this process, the silver lining had to be coming, right? More than eighty agents rejected my pitch letter and sample chapters. Fifty more never even responded. The one referral I managed to finagle from a respected published writer went nowhere and ended in polite rejection. I was just about to give up; I was getting my C.V. together, soliciting letters of recommendation, and looking for a teaching gig when I got a call from Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic. And then the real-life silver lining began to manifest. The way things played out—especially given the title of the book—made me pause and reflect. I won’t suggest that it was some sort of divine plan, but maybe inevitability really does exist if you work hard and look at the world with the right eyes.
Read the complete Q & A.

Matthew Quick floated down the Peruvian Amazon and formed ‘The Bardbarians’ (a two-man literary circle), backpacked around Southern Africa, hiked to the bottom of a snowy Grand Canyon, soul-searched, and earned his Creative Writing M.F.A. through Goddard College.

Read an excerpt from The Silver Linings Playbook, and learn more about the novel and author at Matthew Quick website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Silver Linings Playbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dave Boling

Ali at Worducopia interviewed Dave Boling, author of Guernica and a journalist in the Pacific Northwest.

From the interview:

You've been a sports journalist for many years. Have you been writing fiction for a long time as well, or is this something new for you? I guess I'm wondering whether you see yourself as primarily a journalist who became inspired to write a novel, or are you a novelist with a day job as a journalist?

This was absolutely my first try at fiction. I hadn't even fiddled with it. I had some fellow journalists who turned into successful novelists (Jess Walter and Jim Lynch) and I just sort of decided it was time to see if I had a knack for it.

Seems you do have the knack. And you're certainly not the only ones to cross over successfully--Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe come to mind. One of the main differences I see between journalism and fiction is that journalism emphasizes the clear dissemination of facts, while in fiction, the facts are only included as they're relevant to story development. Was it tough for you to focus on sticking to the story, rather than presenting all of the interesting or important facts you collected in your research? I'm sure there was a lot you had to leave out.

Actually, I went back and forth quite a bit on how much history and politics and non-fiction to include. Initially, I think I included too much. I had a great deal of Basque lore, political explanations, and much more non-fictiony background on Picasso and Franco, who were both fully examined characters. I guess it was just a part of learning how to tell the story that I realized that it all would be better if the history rose more naturally from the characters.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about Guernica at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2008

T. Lynn Ocean

From Jonathan Maberry 's ITW interview with T. Lynn Ocean about her new novel, Southern Poison:

Southern Poison continues the adventures of Jersey Barnes. Introduce us to this tough and sexy ex-MP.

If she were to knock on my front door and waltz into my life, we'd be best friends. Of course, she could kick my ass. But I'm having so much fun writing Jersey! The manuscript for Southern Fatality (first in the Jersey Barnes series) was written from the first person male POV. Having grown up as a tomboy, I thought it would be cool to write a book with a male lead character. But just as I was finishing the manuscript, the lead character woke me up in the middle of the night and told me that he was really a female. I'm like, cripes, you couldn't have said something SOONER? After I thought about it, the change made perfect sense. I did a complete rewrite and the character of Jersey was born. Take a hardcore military-trained dude, stuff him inside the body of a 5'8" tall female with a penchant for quality lingerie and a dry wit. Oh yeah, and strap on a weapon. She's having trouble leaving home without one--even in retirement.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Southern Poison, and learn more about the author and her work at T. Lynn Ocean's website.

The Page 69 Test: Southern Fatality.

The Page 69 Test: Southern Poison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 21, 2008

David Fuller

From a Q & A with screenwriter, now novelist, David Fuller, about his debut novel Sweetsmoke:

Q: What differences struck you between writing a novel and writing screenplays?

A: Screenplays must be simple and fast in order to fit into a two hour period of time. Streamlined storytelling. Sit down with a DVD of your favorite movie and outline it on paper, writing down each scene as it comes along. Make note of the time that major plot points happen. You will find a simple story structure with characters that quickly identify themselves. Much of what makes movies seem complex is the work of intelligent actors and the visuals that propel the story along. Novels allow you to get inside the minds of the characters, to take the time to know them and understand why they do what they do. In a novel, the style of the writing is also a factor in the pleasure of the storytelling.

In my screenplay for “Necessary Roughness,” the main character runs the family farm, but yearns for his lost years as he did not get to play football after his father died. In the opening scene, he puts together a football “scarecrow” built with a hinge. He throws footballs at it when he’s alone, dreaming of the past. These quick brushstrokes reveal his yearning, and the viewer understands who he is without fully knowing why. It is quick and effective, but it is not deep.

Sweetsmoke opens with Cassius watching a fight between two ten yearolds, one white and one black, and he remembers an almost identical moment from his past when he was humiliated by the white planter’s son. The aftermath of the moment in his own childhood made him understand for the first time in his life that he was powerless, the property of another human being. By dwelling inside his head, the reader learns what will happen to the young black slave, also understanding that this is what happened to Cassius twenty years before. To portray that much information in a film would take a significant amount of time and need to be done in a more straightforward way. It would almost certainly be cut out of the film. Cassius’s difficult relationship with the planter’s son, Jacob Howard, would need to be explained in an altogether different way.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit David Fuller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Steven Shapin

From an interview with Steven Shapin, author of The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation:

Question: Most of us think of science as a virtuous or noble profession and view scientists as people motivated purely by the pursuit of knowledge—in and of itself. From where does this idea originate and how did it come to dominate our ideas of the sciences?

Steven Shapin: If, indeed, we do think this—and the extent to which we do is becoming an interesting question—the origin of the sentiment is classical. The Greeks believed that human beings innately desired knowledge and that the pursuit of knowledge was virtuous in itself. In Christian conceptions of Nature as God’s Book—on a par with Scripture—the study of Nature had the power of moral uplift, ennobling those who pursued natural knowledge. Moreover, we have to appreciate that it was only in fairly recent times that scientific research became a job, ultimately paid for by the State or by industry. For the great majority of scientists before the twentieth century, scientific inquiry was more a calling than an occupation: the normal historical state of affairs was for the scientific practitioner to be an amateur—however competent—doing it for love and not money. So if we do regard science as a virtuous profession, that may be, in part, an index of cultural lag: our attitudes may be strongly marked by the past and have yet to come to terms completely with present realities. That said, much of The Scientific Life identifies the virtues that continue to reside in the modern vocation of science, even though “nobility” is not a notion we’re comfortable with any longer and even though modern scientists, of course, view themselves as laborers well worthy of their hire.
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about The Scientific Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dexter Filkins

Dexter Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. His new book is The Forever War.

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

Q: Why did you write THE FOREVER WAR, and why did you choose that title?

Whenever I went home to the U.S., people would ask me: what’s it like over there? What does it feel like? What’s it like to be shot at? What’s it like to be woken up by a car bomb? What’s it like to sleep in a village with no electricity? How do you talk to a warlord? Hence my book: I want to show people what it feels like to be in Iraq and Afghanistan: the ambiguity, the heartbreak, the fear and the joy. It’s a visceral book, not really an intellectual one.

As for the title, I should say: the book makes no argument. It is very explicitly not a political book. The title, “The Forever War,” is more metaphor than literal truth. (At least I hope it is). The first chapter of the book takes place in 1998, at the Kabul Sports Stadium, at a public execution carried about by the Taliban on a Friday afternoon. It’s 2008 now, and we are still at war. I’ve expended much of my life’s energies in those wars. Many of us have. It already feels like forever, and it isn’t even over yet.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stuart Archer Cohen

From a Q & A with Stuart Archer Cohen about his new book, The Army of the Republic:

Naomi Klein says “The Army of the Republic” is “one of the first works of art with the courage to live up to our historical moment.” What do you think she means by that?

We’re living in a changing country, and this book tries to address those changes. The world of The Army of the Republic is one where Corporations keep control through propaganda, sham elections and a mixture of public police and private “counter-terrorism” forces whose real job is to disrupt and neutralize citizen opposition. This country has very strong democratic traditions, but I think people of every political persuasion recognize the drift.

This book is about rebellion of all sorts, but it’s especially about democracy: what it means and what its bottom line is.

What do you mean by “what its bottom line is?”

I mean, where does the power of the people come from? Does it come from the barrel of a gun, as Mao said? Or does it come from an idea, or a sense of community? There’re a lot of characters putting all those ideas to the test in the book, with a lot of different results.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Stuart Archer Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keith Lee Morris

Keith Lee Morris' new novel, The Dart League King, is due out in October.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website.

Both The Dart League King and your previous novel, The Greyhound God, seem to draw heavily on place—the local dialects, habits and particularities of the people. Has this always been an important means in building your characters?

I don’t start with place, really, at least not intentionally. I’m much more likely at the outset to be thinking character, plot, theme, language, structure. I end up setting most of my fiction in Idaho because I realize that, when it comes time to start writing the scenes, that’s where I see them happening in my head, back in my old hometown. And the characters tend to act and speak like people back in Idaho, etc.—it’s really more a function of how my imagination works than anything else.

Your writing tends to focus on the underdog, the little guy. Do you tend to gravitate toward characters like that?

I read somewhere that Richard Yates once said he felt that his whole career had been an ongoing attempt to defend the underdog, or words to that effect. I feel the same way. I didn’t grow up around people who had money and attended private schools. Most of my friends were from blue-collar families, and, of my really close friends, only one ended up graduating from college. Much of what I write is an attempt to convey my feelings about the town I lived in and the people I knew there—I try to make readers see that the lives of people in out-of-the-way towns in the middle of nowhere are every bit as important and interesting as the lives of people anywhere else.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tobias Buckell

Cat Rambo interviewed Tobias Buckell, author of the Nebula Award-nominated Ragamuffin, his second novel.

The interview opens:

You’re one of the harder working spec-fic writers around. Can you talk about your work ethic—where does it come from?

It’s partially that hard working immigrant mentality thing, you know, coming to the land of opportunity? I had lunch with my best friend from the Caribbean not too long ago, and he and I both talked about how even people traditionally considered disadvantaged in the US still had more access to resources than he did growing up. He counseled disadvantaged kids for a while, and was just amazed. I think coming from the outside sometimes gives you this realization at how much opportunity there is for the hustle. Like libraries. Libraries in the US are these huge things with all these books. Growing up my access to libraries was not as universal, and they were stocked as best a small developing island could, but that could vary a great deal.

But that’s not all there is to it. There are plenty of people, I think, who work at it harder than me. Part of it is that I made some tough choices as to where I invested my time. Most teenagers and people in their early twenties partied and watched lots of TV, played video games. Until a couple years ago I had no cable in the house, much to people’s astonishment. No TV. No videogames. I didn’t club, or party, or do any of that stuff. From 15 to 25 I wrote during the time that everyone else played games or watched TV. The average American watches 20-30 hours of TV a week. That’s almost watching TV like a full time job. By swapping out writing, I worked at writing.

Of course, one can question the sanity of working a part time or near full time job for 10 years that hardly started paying anything until recently. I could have started a business on the side. But that’s where my hard work comes from, choosing to make a hard choice about how I spent my time. As a result, I never felt like I worked hard, just that I missed a lot of the stuff people around me seemed to be spending *their* time on. Do I regret not seeing 10 year old TV shows (what’s a ‘Buffy?’) and spending a lot of money on alcohol? In the big picture, not a bit.

The funny part is now that I write and freelance full time the shoe is on the other foot. I have my evenings free. I have an XBox 360 and a Nintendo Wii and play a lot. I watch cable and lots of movies now. Because I can. But during deadlines and crunch time, they get turned off (Mass Effect has just sat on my coffee table for a month now after booting up once when I first got it. Awesome game, right, but no time right now). If the 10 year old show was any good, I’ll catch it on Netflix, right? The good stuff floats to the top.
Read the complete Q & A.

Read more about Ragamuffin --including an extended excerpt -- and its predecessor, Crystal Rain, at Tobias Buckell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Ragamuffin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His renowned travel books include Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania.

His new book is Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar.

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

What book changed your life?

Richard Halliburton's The Royal Road to Romance, which I read in my early teens. He bathed by moonlight in the Taj Mahal pool and swam the Panama Canal. It didn't change my life so much as it gave me the direction I needed.

* * *

What are you most proud of writing?

The Mosquito Coast. It was banned in South Africa but Mandela's government put it on the school syllabus.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shannon Burke

Shannon Burke is the author of Safelight and Black Flies. He has been involved in various films, including work on the screenplays for the films Syriana and the upcoming film Blink.

Two exchanges from his January Magazine Author Snapshot:

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It probably wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 that I really knew that’s what I would try to do. As a kid I was always writing plays and little poems, and I really, really liked music in high school and college. I used to write song lyrics. But, if you don’t play an instrument and you don’t write music, then song lyrics are poems. And gradually I just stopped pretending they were lyrics and started writing poems. This happened slowly when I was 16, 17 and 18 years old.

I started reading a lot of poetry. I read fiction as well, but indiscriminately. I’d read First Blood or Dean Koontz or Stephen King or whatever happened to be lying around. I wasn’t selective at all. And then, maybe I was 19 or so -- really late, I think, for a writer -- it was summer, and I read The Honorable Schoolboy by John LeCarre, and the next book I read was For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway. I had some trouble with both those books. I mean, they were a little advanced for me. And I’d never really read books like that before, except maybe a few times in school. It was like I was just beginning to understand something and it took me a while to sort through it.

That was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. And then, that fall, someone gave me The Sun Also Rises and The Stranger and it was like my mind exploded. It seemed the most important thing in the world.

I loved those two books. I read them over and over. And then I started to read all the great authors: Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Bellow, Twain, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Dickens, Fielding, Flaubert, Dumas, Zola, George Sand, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov. And I understood that’s what I wanted to at least try to do.

* * * *
Please tell us about Black Flies.

It’s about a rookie medic’s first year in Harlem. I was a medic in Harlem, so, yeah, I knew what I was writing about.

I had all these crazy stories built up from that time. I wrote a lot of them out in that first year I was working on the ambulance. I thought it would be simple to turn them into a novel. And it was easy to copy out what had happened. Writing the stories took a few months. It took ten years to see the larger story and to understand the implications of what had happened.

The book is about the psychological changes that came about when you confront and are continually surrounded by death, and also, of the possibilities for ordinary people, in bad circumstances, to act horribly.

It’s about going to the dark side of human behavior and then trying to return to the ordinary world. And all of it taking place in the world of a few ambulance crews working out of Station 18 in Harlem.
Read the complete snapshot.

The Page 69 Test: Black Flies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Amanda Petrusich

Amanda Petrusich is the author of Pink Moon, a short book about Nick Drake's 1972 album for Continuum's 33 1/3 series, and It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music.

From Judy Berman's interview with Petrusich at Salon.com:

As a young critic who has written mostly about new, independent music, what drew you to such an old tradition?

I grew up listening to grunge and pop radio, and I found it the way a lot of people find it. You listen to enough Led Zeppelin and you eventually hear the name "Robert Johnson," and from there it's a treasure hunt through the record store. When I first started hearing that stuff, especially Delta blues, I fell in love with it. And when Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" was reissued on CD in 1997, I was 17 years old. Through that, I hunted things down. Around 2003, I started hearing a lot of bands in the indie-rock area that were drawing from Americana in really interesting ways.
Read the complete Q & A.

Writers Read: Amanda Petrusich.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2008

C. W. Gortner

From a Q & A with C. W. Gortner about his new novel, The Last Queen:

How did the idea for THE LAST QUEEN originate?

I’m often asked how I became interested in Juana la Loca. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. I was raised in Spain (I am half Spanish by birth and fully bilingual). My maternal grandfather, Tomás Blanco, was a famous film actor in Spain whose career spanned from the early 40s well into the 70s; and my grandmother Pilar Gomez del Real was a well-known theater actress who portrayed Juana on stage. I lived near a castle that belonged to Juana’s parents, Isabella and Ferdinand. Clambering to its highest tower, I knew Juana had touched these same stones, perhaps had even marveled, as I did, at the landscape’s arid beauty.

During a school trip to Granada, where Juana is buried, I found myself entranced by the marble effigy of this woman, whose face is turned away from the figure of her dead husband beside her. Most school children in Spain know the tale of Juana la Loca; she is legendary. But I immediately wanted to know more. What was she like in real life? Did she really pull her husband’s bier behind her throughout the country, venerating his corpse? What happened to cause her such despair?

Love is madness. And Juana la Loca is famous for both. Yet what if her legend only tells half the story? My vision of this vibrant princess who became the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne was at odds with the bereft queen of legend.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit C. W. Gortner's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Curtis Sittenfeld

Jessica Grose of Jezebel.com interviewed Curtis Sittenfeld about a number of topics, including American Wife, Sittenfeld's third novel, which features a narrator closely modeled on Laura Bush. Part of the Q & A:

What attracted you to Laura as a fictional construct in the first place? In the Times you've declared your love for her and I've read the Salon essay in which you first mention your admiration for her. You call her "a mastermind of stealth independence."

Basically I read these various articles about her, and realized that she was more complicated than I would have imagined. She and George Bush got married at the age of 31, and she was a democrat until she married him. She actually has some very liberal close friends, including a woman who’s a midwife in Berkeley. I think a lot of people, most people, are primarily friends with people who are of the same political persuasion as you are. I think it’s notable to be First Lady to a super conservative President and friends with midwife. She would invite people over when she was First Lady of Texas and when she was at the White House. Because she was such a great reader, she would invite writers to events, and they would have been on record as disagreeing with her husband. They just assumed that Laura had never read their books, but then they would show up and have realized she had read everything they'd ever written.

I’ve read all of your novels, and while Lee (from
Prep) and Hannah (from The Man of My Dreams) are more cynical, all three heroines are quite shy and introverted. It seems like these sorts of introverted characters are not usually protagonists. What makes you gravitate towards them?

Well I think that the all the protagonists of my books are observant, because I can’t really imagine writing a novel that didn’t have an observant protagonist. What would be the point? I also think that I’m interested in social awkwardness, because it seems to illustrate or magnify these aspects of human behavior. So I would say that’s a lot of it: the things that interest me as a person.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Marilyn Sides, author of The Island of the Mapmaker's Wife and Other Tales and The Genius of Affection, talked with Margaret Cezair-Thompson about Cezair-Thompson' novel, The Pirate's Daughter.

From publisher's website:

Marilyn Sides: As a close friend, I watched you over the last seven years labor mightily to bring forth this new novel, The Pirate's Daughter, at the same time you were raising, as a single mother, your son, Ben, and teaching at Wellesley College full time. What gets a novelist through those many late nights and hours stolen from the pressing responsibilities of ordinary life? What keeps the dream of a novel intact until it becomes a realized fact?

Margaret Cezair-Thompson: Very strong coffee. But truthfully, there’s a lot at stake: it’s not only about keeping the dream of the novel alive but the dream of being a writer.

MS: In your first novel, The True History of Paradise (Dutton 1999), Jean Landing's story is set in 1980's post-independence Jamaica, during the violent "state-of-emergency," but throughout the novel Jean hears the voices of ancestors whispering to her across three centuries. In The Pirate's Daughter you concentrate on the late 1940s to the late 1970s, three decades that begin with the post World War II bustle and international glamour of colonial Jamaica and that end during the political unrest which fills THP. Why did you come back to for an up-close look at this particular period?

Margaret Cezair-Thompson: Well, like many writers, I’m attracted to what seems like a vanished or vanishing era. I heard a lot about the forties and fifties from my parents. It was a remarkable period for Jamaica in terms of its developing a sense of itself as a nation, yet...[read on]
Read the complete conversation.

The Page 69 Test: The Pirate's Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Alaa Al Aswany

Alaa el-Aswany is an Egyptian writer and a founding member of the political movement Kefaya. Trained as a dentist in Egypt and Chicago, el-Aswany's novels include The Yacoubian Building and Chicago.

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

Who are your literary heroes?

For me, Dostoyevsky is the best novelist in the history of literature.

* * *
Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Gabriel García Márquez.

* * *
What was the first novel you read?

The first in Arabic was by Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel Prize-winner. In French it was a simplified Labrière called Les Caractères.
Read the full Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bill Loehfelm

Bill Loehfelm is the author of Fresh Kills and the Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; his work has also appeared in the anthologies Year Zero and Life in the Wake.

From a Q & A at Amazon.com:

Do you have favorite authors who've influenced your writing style?

When I write, I want the efficiency of Hemingway, the lyricism of Fitzgerald, and the humor of Twain. I'll never get there, but that's what I shoot for. Frank Miller, the graphic novelist who wrote Sin City and the Dark Knight Batman series has been a real influence on me. He really knows how to deliver a line, and to write with punch and grace at the same time. Great dark humor. Batman is probably my favorite character in American story-telling. I've been fascinated by the complexities of that character my whole life. I really like Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, and John Banville's "Benjamin Black" novels--they're proof-positive of what I said about mysteries above. The Lovely Bones is another great example. I love Alice Sebold's work. She can't write fast enough for me. Roddy Doyle's got serious game, as well. A lot of musicians have influenced me: U2, Springsteen, Warren Zevon, and the Tragically Hip to name a few. The Gin Blossoms' album New Miserable Experience is a hell of a short story collection.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Fresh Kills.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Irina Reyn

Irina Reyn is a fiction and nonfiction writer who divides her time between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in anthologies and publications such as The Forward, San Francisco Chronicle, The Moscow Times, Nextbook and Post Road. Born in Moscow, Irina was raised in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

From a Q & A about her new novel, What Happened to Anna K.:

What influenced you to become a writer?

As an immigrant, writing was the last vocation I imagined for myself. In fact, I avoided it as long as I could, waiting for a calling in medicine, computer programming, or public relations. In order to allow myself to be a writer, I first had to discard or fail at every other sensible profession.

What inspired you to update Anna Karenina, specifically?

In graduate school, I took a seminar organized entirely around Anna Karenina. It was amazing how such a protracted, close reading revealed insights hidden during my previous forays into the novel. Before, Anna had struck me as a helpless, lovelorn victim of her society and time period. However, further examination revealed her to be an artful self-saboteur, overly influenced by books and suffering from romantic illusions. Vronsky fit Anna's plot perfectly, and I could identify with her impulse to dismantle a well-structured life in order to chase the narrative arc of fiction. As I read the book, I thought of people like me who arrived in this country as children, and how often we were tempted to sabotage our parents' expectations of us, to subvert the model of hard-won immigrant success. I think What Happened to Anna K. must have emerged from those considerations.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Irina Reyn's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Happened to Anna K.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Selden Edwards

Selden Edwards is the author of The Little Book.

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

How did the original idea that eventually became The Little Book come to you?

My construction of this story began in 1974, the year I studied at Stanford, and a friend introduced me to a book called Wittgenstein’s Vienna. He and I began theorizing about immersing ourselves there and then, and I began thinking up a thriller/mystery-type story about traveling in time to turn-of-the-century, fin de siecle Vienna and meeting the child Hitler: would you kill him? I began collecting and reading articles and books about the period and began expanding my imaginings way beyond that simple plot line of the first draft. Eventually, I developed a library of over fifty books and expanded the plot well beyond the simple idea of meeting the obligatory love interest and the child Hitler. Wheeler Burden came to life and grew in detail over the years, especially thanks to an eccentric college friend Doug Messenger who had wonderful stories about his baseball and music and to David Crosby who became a friend in the 1980s. The other characters grew out of the needs of the story over the years, and once introduced they developed lives of their own, as a novel’s characters tend to do. I had a full-time job, first as an English teacher and then as a private-school headmaster, so I did my writing sometimes on weekends but mostly on my vacations. But the story was nearly always in my head, gaining characters, details, layers and plot twists.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Selden Edwards' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 5, 2008

Margaret Coel

From a Q & A with Margaret Coel about her new novel, Blood Memory:

Q. Tell us about Blood Memory. What's it about?

A. It's a suspense novel set in Denver that features an investigative reporter, Catherine McLeod, and a Denver police detective, Nick Bustamante. Someone is trying to kill Catherine, not because of something she has written but because of something she is about to write. She has no idea of what it might be, but to save her own life, she must uncover the story.

Q. Where did you get the idea for the story? Are you always asked that?

A. Oh, yes. The story is based on the actual efforts of the Arapahos and Cheyennes in 2004 to get land near Denver for a casino. I had followed the story with no intention of ever writing about it. But when I started thinking about doing a suspense novel, there it was--the perfect idea upon which to hang the plot.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is the author of the memoirs Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard/Random House, 2004), Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines (Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, 2008), and the guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go (Travelers' Tales, 2007).

From a Q & A at her website:

You call yourself a "globe-trotting nomad" who has explored 30 countries and 47 of the United States. Tell us about your travels and how they have shaped you.

My great-great Uncle Jake was a hobo who saw America from the peepholes of boxcars, so wanderlust is encoded in my DNA! My travels began in 1996 in Moscow, where I mingled with the Russian Mafiya. (My boyfriend's best friend was a freelance hit man.) Next stop was Beijing, where I spent a year polishing propaganda at the English mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Then I jetted off to Havana, where I belly danced with rumba queens. These adventures are the subject of my first memoir: Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.

While traveling in the Communist Bloc, I was struck by how fervently Stalin, Mao, and Castro tried to vanquish centuries of religion, tradition, and ritual by forcing their citizens to conform to socialist culture. Yet hundreds of thousands of people defied them. During the Soviet regime, East Europeans risked being banished to the Gulag by illegally distributing newspapers printed in their native language. Even today in China, Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans gamble with imprisonment by worshipping in the officially atheist nation.

All of this made me reflect on how, in the United States, those of us who haven't needed to fight for our culture have often deserted it. I, for instance, had invested little time or energy in learning about my Mexican heritage. I couldn't even speak Spanish! So after traveling all over the world, I realized the need to turn inward.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

The Page 99 Test: Around the Bloc.

Writers Read: Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Charles C. Mann

From a Q & A with Charles C. Mann about his book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus:

Q: Although this book had its origins in an Atlantic Monthly cover story, what was it that first drew you to the subject?

A: Two things, I think. More than twenty years ago, I wrote an article for Science (I’m a correspondent for the journal's news division) that involved going to the Yucatan peninsula. I visited some of the Maya ruins there and like so many other people was absolutely fascinated. I’d just spent two years living in Rome, and I was struck by how much more extensive—but equally finely built—the Maya ruins were. I also was astonished by how different the aesthetic system was—the vertiginous staircases, the corbel arches, the huge reliefs, etc.

This dovetailed with something else. The summer before seventh grade, my parents moved from the suburbs of Detroit to the Pacific Northwest, an area where the presence of Native Americans seemed much more evident. I was fascinated by the idea that very different peoples had lived in the area in the not too distant past, and that their descendants were still living nearby. But it wasn’t until I got to Yucatan that the penny dropped and I grasped, really and truly, that when Columbus landed he had stumbled across an entire **hemisphere** full of people whose cultures had nothing to do with Europe or Asia. Half the world!

It was kind of a Homer Simpson-ish “d’oh!” moment for me. So was realizing that I knew practically nothing about this entire half of the world, and my teachers in school had known practically nothing about it. I decided I would try to find out more when I could.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joan Sewell

Joan Sewell is the author of I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido.

From a Q & A at her website:

The title of your book implies that you'd rather eat chocolate than have sex. Don't you like sex?

Of course I like sex. There's a misconception floating around on the Web that because I prefer eating chocolate to having sex, then I must loathe sex. But the truth is I don't loathe or hate sex at all. Actually, I say in the book on page 83 that I have sexual fantasies, on page 61 that I sometimes masturbate, on page 188 that I enjoy intercourse on occasion, and on page 20 that I can orgasm.. And another thing I don't mind is giving oral sex—well as long as it doesn't take forever. So, just because I'd rather eat chocolate, that doesn't mean at all that I don't like sex.

You seem to imply that preferring to eat chocolate over having sex is like preferring to eat ice cream over going for a swim or preferring to watch TV over playing a game. But don't you ever get aroused to the point that you want sex over anything else?

I don't mean to make a misleading comparison, but yes, my sexual desire does spike a few times a month, and at those times I do want sex for its own sake. On some of those occasions I want sex with my husband. But on most of those occasions I'd still rather just have a sexual fantasy and release the tension by bowing my own violin rather than take the time and effort to involve an actual partner. Unlike men, the mere thought of anticipating sex doesn't fill me with desire. In contrast, if I walk by a display case of earrings in the mall, I'm attracted to it like a magnet. The mere suggestion of sex doesn't work on me like that. For me, sex is just a lot lower preference or priority, even when I've had really good sex with Kip.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 1, 2008

Craig McDonald

Novelist Tony Black interviewed Craig McDonald for Shots Magazine about the Edgar nomination for McDonald's debut Head Games, the current state of U.S. crime fiction, the craft of interviewing, and the sequel to Head Games, Toros & Torsos.

One exchange from the Q & A:

What writers have had the greatest influence on your own work?

Hemingway. Probably Lester Dent because my grandfather used to get me Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage pulps as they appeared. I read the entire run of the series in reprint. His basement was full of old Gold Medals and crime novels…Richard S. Prather, Marlowe, and Nick Carters. Hemingway is probably my most profound influence. After that I’d have to say Ellroy, Crumley and Sallis. I remember being very captivated by William Lindsay Gresham at one point. I’d probably have to cite Cornell Woolrich above Chandler and Hammett as an influence. I read Chandler and Hammett in college and drifted away from them pretty quickly, but stayed with Woolrich.
Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Craig McDonald's Head Games.

--Marshal Zeringue