Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gerald Seymour

Gerald Seymour's many novels include The Unknown Soldier. From his Q & A with The Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you like her/him

It has to be, because he has been with me for three or four decades, John Le Carré, through his wonderful ones, and his not so wonderful ones. I'm utterly loyal to him.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Maybe the rather more boring administrators from Le Carré's novels; not the one who does things but someone who observes from the shadows.

* * *
Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

There was an ex-policeman who was in Zeebrugge during the ferry disaster who made his body into a bridge to help people get out. He was in the eye of the media storm for about 24 hours, and then quietly disappeared. There was nothing planned in his heroism. It was real. Came the moment and the challenge, he performed.
Read the complete Q & A.

See Gerald Seymour's list of five riveting novels about terrorism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jane Brox

Jane Brox is the author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light.

From her interview with

So many of us work under fluorescent lights on a daily basis and hate it; I'm currently sitting under fluorescent lamps that I despise. Why are we so bothered by fluorescent light?

It flickers; it buzzes; it's not constant. Some people have medical problems attached to fluorescent light. I don't think it's ever going to be accepted in the way incandescent light has been accepted. But a lot of our resistance to compact fluorescents comes from the history of light itself. Incandescent light is the light of the 20th century. It's the light that brought us into the modern world and is inextricably linked to all of our modern appliances and the modern home. It's also the light of the cities, in America especially. In 1920, when incandescent lights began spreading, for the first time the number of people in America living on farms was less than the number of people living in cities and suburbs. Incandescent light is the warm light of life, and fluorescent light is entirely something else. Fluorescent light was developed first in 1939, and I think General Electric imagined it would be the light of factories and working places and public spaces, and it continues to be that way until now.

And yet in 2012, when we'll start phasing out incandescent bulbs, we'll pretty much be stuck with compact fluorescents.

We're at a moment when it's hard to know where the predominant light of the future is going to be. I think compact fluorescents are an interim solution because of the problem of disposal -- every compact fluorescent light has mercury in it and it's not a great idea to be throwing them in the trash. There is all kinds of research and development going on around halogen lights and LEDs, but those aren't going to be in place in time for 2012 or 2014.

All of these lights have a much colder tinge to them than incandescent lights. Are we just going to have to get used to living under less warm-looking light?
I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stefanie Pintoff

Stefanie Pintoff is the author of a historical mystery series where early criminal science meets the dark side of old New York. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, won the Edgar® Award for Best First Novel and the St. Martin’s Press / Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Award, while also earning nominations for the Agatha and RT Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Her second in the series, A Curtain Falls, released in May 2010.

From her Q & A with J. Sydney Jones:

What things about New York make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

Like many of Europe’s great cities, it’s impossible to walk through New York’s many neighborhoods without being aware of its unique architecture. From brownstones to cobblestone streets to the grand theaters of Broadway – not to mention the occasional colonial house tucked between modern apartment buildings – physical relics of early New York remain. They gesture toward a history and time period that’s no longer readily accessible.

Did you consciously set out to use your New York at the turn of the twentieth century as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?

There was never a question but that New York City would be a central character in my books. I’m one of those people who became a New Yorker the moment I set foot here – and I find the city and its history endlessly fascinating.

How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?

Because I’m writing about early 1900s New York, I’m always conscious that my setting is both like – and unlike – present-day NYC. I try to incorporate scenes that capture that sensation for readers. For example, in...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: In the Shadow of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: A Curtain Falls.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Stefanie Pintoff & Ginger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen's novels include the best-selling Skinny Dip, Sick Puppy, Lucky You, and the newly released Star Island.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Wall Street Journal:

A couple of iconic characters from your previous novels show up in "Star Island" —Skink, the former governor of Florida who went nuts and lives naked in the mangroves, and Chemo, a former hit man who is hired as Cherry Pye's bodyguard and has a weed cutter as an artificial hand. Why did you revive these characters?

I hadn't used Chemo for, god, I don't know how many years. He went to prison at the end of the [1989] novel "Skin Tight."…I had gotten a note from [novelist] Elmore Leonard that said, "I'm so glad you didn't kill Chemo off. I really liked him." I sort of had that in the back of my head, and I did the math and I thought, "He ought to be out by now. Even in Florida, he's probably out of the slammer by now, and he probably would be selling mortgages." I was fond of him, as depraved as he was. And Skink is just this old familiar deranged crusader that I keep bringing back because I like him and I get more mail about that character than any other I've created.

A lot of the villains in your novels get punished in creative ways—a sea urchin to the groin for a developer who is destroying mangrove forests, for example. Is writing such scenes cathartic for you?

Very cathartic. When I was in college and I was young, you read these great novels that have these ambiguous, artsy endings—what happened to who, where did the bad guy end up, is the couple staying together? And I think if you have invested a lot in a really rotten character like...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

David Levien

David Levien is the author of City of the Sun. He also cowrote the screenplays for Ocean’s Thirteen, Runaway Jury, Rounders, and several other films.

From his interview with Ali Karim at The Rap Sheet:

AK: One of the pivotal scenes in City of the Sun involves a personal tragedy that defines Frank Behr. But you wait to introduce that scene and talk of the tragedy until halfway through the book. I’m talking here about the scene in which Frank loses control, and it is cathartic for the reader to see him trash a street sign in a rage. How difficult was it for you to keep Frank’s tragedy out of view for so long?

DL: Well, I wanted Frank to be marked by that tragedy [as a way] to give him darkness and depth of character. Like in life, most people don’t introduce themselves with the worst tragedy that happened to them. Nor did I want to save it for a key moment, but rather keep the pressure on in the current case he’s working on in concert with all the things in his past that it was evoking. That scene you’re talking about is when he goes to the street where he used to live, before the “thing” happened, and he flashes back to that night.

AK: I found it remarkable, in City of the Sun, that you managed to not go overboard with the pathos and tragedy that was unfolding, especially as the opening details a child’s abduction, told from the parents’ point of view. Had you read much crime fiction before working on City of the Sun? “The missing child” is, after all, a rather well-worn convention of private-eye novels, yet you reworked it completely by having the parents active in the investigation.

DL: I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver's latest novel is The Burning Wire.

From his Q & A with the Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you like him/her

Thomas Harris: one of the great stylists in the crime/thriller genre... He also concocts among the most compelling characters of anyone.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

[Augie] from Saul Bellow's novel, 'The Adventures of Augie March'. A Chicagoan like me, Augie forged ahead in life, sometimes making mistakes... sometimes succeeding, but always following his own path.

* * *
Who is you hero/heroine from outside literature?

My grandfather. He was a flyer in World War One, and an attorney in Chicago... He was always calm, thoughtful... and a vocal, uncompromising opponent of bigotry in all its forms.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jennie Rooney

Jennie Rooney is the author of Inside the Whale and The Opposite of Falling.

From her Q & A with Boyd Tonkin for The Independent:

Choose a favourite author and say why you like her/him

I would probably say Julian Barnes or Muriel Spark. I read both authors' works when I was younger and I've never got over that affection you have for the first books you read that really blow you away.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

My brother and I have a joke about me being Miss Jean Brodie. I work as a teacher part-time, which inspired the comparison, I think.

* * *
Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Mary Kingsley. She was a Victorian lady adventurer who looked after her elderly parents, then her brother, and when they died, she went off to West Africa – an ordinary Victorian women with her umbrella.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pauline Melville

Author and actress Pauline Melville was born in Guyana in 1948 to an English mother and a Guyanese father. She began acting in the 1960s, starring in Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), and TV shows The Young Ones and Blackadder. Melville won the Commonwealth Writers Prize with her first book, Shape-shifter (1990), a collection of short stories exploring post-colonial existence in the Caribbean. Her first novel, The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997), won the Whitbread First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. More short stories followed with The Migration of Ghosts (1998), and another novel, Eating Air, in 2009. From her Q &A with Anna Metcalfe for the Financial Times:

What book do you wish you’d written?

Difficult one that. Probably The Possessed by Dostoyevsky.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Gabriel García Márquez, Flannery O’Connor, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Graham Greene, Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare. I fear that the influence doesn’t always show.

* * *
Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

Anna Karina – in her youth when she was in the Godard movies.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ books include, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), and Zeitoun (2009).

From his Q & A with Anna Metcalfe for the Financial Times:

What books are currently on your bedside table?

I don’t have a bedside table. The book I’m dropping on the floor at night is The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham.

* * *
What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

For Zeitoun, I needed to see the inside of the prison where Abdulrahman Zeitoun was held, so I posed as a prison educator to get a tour. I felt bad about fibbing, but it was the only way to get in.

* * *
What book do you wish you’d written?

Herzog by Saul Bellow.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inger Ash Wolfe

From Julia Buckley's interview with Inger Ash Wolfe, author of The Calling and The Taken:

[Buckley]: I’m curious about the name Hazel Micallef; even in the book people mispronounce it, and Hazel corrects them (and, in the process, the reader who might have gotten it wrong). How did you choose this distinctive name?

Names are hard! I chose Hazel’s first name easily—she just struck me as a Hazel from the get-go. The name suggests hardness and intelligence to me (a hard-won kind of wisdom, too), but there’s also something lonesome and soft about the name too. The last name was more calculated: it’s originally a Maltese name that spread across the globe and is found especially in British Isles. You find it in Wales and Scotland now, tough places to prosper. So the last name also suggests a hardness I like. I like, also, that it means “judge” in Maltese.

Hazel pleases me because she’s a female cop who possesses qualities that mystery fiction usually only bestows on male cops: she’s older, divorced, lonely, battling a physical ailment, tied to her job despite its miseries. This seems realistic, yet few of mystery’s female heroes are allowed to be old. Were you consciously trying to address this double standard when you created Hazel?

Well, there is Miss Marple, and Jane Tennison is in her forties, but yes, there are few female detectives in their sixties in continuing series like this one. I wasn’t trying to right a wrong when I created Hazel, but I did hope she would feel new to readers. Also, breaking away from the template of who detectives tend to be in modern crime fiction, I thought I’d feel more freedom to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Catherine O'Flynn

Catherine O'Flynn is the author of The News Where You Are.

From her Q & A with the Independent:

What are you currently reading?

Fordlandia by Greg Grandin about Henry Ford's attempt to create mythical small-town America in the heart of the Amazon jungle. I think Werner Herzog could have told him how that would end.

Choose a favourite author and say why you like him/her

David Foster Wallace. My husband took Infinite Jest with us when we moved to Spain. It looked insanely intimidating and I avoided it until I'd exhausted every other book I could lay my hands on. I finally picked it up and the next few weeks passed in a blur. He demanded so much from himself as a writer.

Describe the room where you usually write

Books, vinyl records, old magazines, too many chairs, all of which are broken, a card index that will never be used, some posters in Spanish for a Smiths karaoke night.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 19, 2010

David Mitchell

David Mitchell's new novel is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

From his Q & A with Mark Martin at the Barnes & Noble Review:

Mark Martin: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set primarily on the tiny man-made island of Dejima in the bay of Nagasaki in the era of the Napoleonic Wars. What drew you to this particular time and place?

David Mitchell: It was a keyhole in the door in the wall that encircled Japan for 250 years. It was the only meeting point for Japan and Europe. And it reversed the usual colonial situation where the Europeans arrive and make the rules. The ten to fifteen Europeans who lived there were effectively prisoners or hostages. They weren't allowed to leave. The only people they could meet were merchants and translators and very, very expensive prostitutes. If I couldn't find a halfway decent novel swimming around in all of that, then I wouldn't be much of a writer.

MM: You do have an interest in isolated societies. Whether it's a Japanese doomsday cult or a seniors' home run like Colditz, examples appear throughout your books, and Dejima adds one more to the list. Could you explain what fascinates you about these claustrophobic little worlds?

DM: I think, dramatically, enclosure is quite good news. If there's no exit door, then when the going gets tough, people can't conveniently leave. If characters are stuck in a place, whatever human neuroses they are host to can fructify. Those neuroses are free to bear fruit and follow their arcs to a conclusion.

MM: Were there any particular literary models or inspirations you had in mind when writing this book?

DM: Models...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adrienne McDonnell

From a Q & A with Adrienne McDonnell about her new novel, The Doctor and the Diva:

The Doctor and the Diva is based on actual events in your family. Did the connection to actual relatives make the story easier or more difficult to write? Which characters came easier for you, the ones based on actual people or the ones who were purely fictional?

The ancestors who gave rise to my characters lived a century ago. By the time I married into my first husband's family, they'd taken on a kind of legendary air. "Erika" and "Peter" had lived in such bold and colorful ways that people in the family—especially the older women—liked to talk and speculate about them.

In my early twenties, as I walked past Erika's childhood home in Boston's Back Bay on my way to work, I'd pause and stare up at the windows and wonder about her. Before I ever had a child, I felt kinship to her in a primal way, knowing that my descendants would be her descendants. The family connection was deeply inspirational, and having hundreds of pages of family letters was a blessing and a gift.

But despite all the research I'd done, no record existed about certain key moments in Erika's life. For example, there's the scene in which Erika tells her little boy that she'll be leaving him behind and moving to Italy to develop her singing career. From his childhood letters, it's obvious that he was left with the impression that she'd eventually return. The letters show that as the months went by, he felt forlorn and frustrated by his father's evasive answers about when "Mama" would be coming back. But the private conversation between the departing mother and her little boy? That was something I had to "overhear" in my imagination.

I never felt a big difference between the "real" versus the "invented" characters, or felt that creating one was more difficult or easier than the other, because even the "actual" characters also had to be imagined to an extent. Writing this novel was a process of reaching beyond what was known, into the realm of what could have occurred.

Let me also say that there's something liberating in writing a novel about people who lived a century ago. By the time I began the novel, they'd long been dead. So that allowed me to write with a certain abandon and emotional honesty. I didn't have to worry about the possibility of offending them, or their own children and even grandchildren.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Adrienne McDonnell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heather Graham

Heather Graham's new novel is Ghost Shadow.

From her Q & A with Andrew Peterson at ITW:

Is there something in your life--a hobby or pastime--that you feel has influenced your writing?

Basically, I think that the fact that life is ever-changing has influenced my writing. Obviously, we are often able to use what we know when we write--and come up with brilliant characters and plots such as those created by Kathy Reichs, a number of our physician writers, attorney writers, police writers, and so on. Before I started writing, I had modeled, bartended, been a singing, tap-dancing rib sales girl, more restaurant and bar service, a few commercials, a few bits in movies, back-up singing, and dinner theater. None of these really help solve crime, or give a clue to crime, or allow for real knowledge for a crime-fighting protagonist.

Hmm. I have known many people who believe they are vampires, so maybe that helps! I have used a lot of actresses, dancers, singers, musicians--and I have to throw a bartender in here and there. In Ghost Shadow, the heroine is a karaoke hostess, but she's caught up in the act and forced to learn quickly about defense. But, as I said--life itself. I've used little-league, dancing, scuba-diving, comedy clubs, and all kinds of places, events, and people I've gotten into myself, or through my children. My husband is Italian-American and goes to Carnival every year, so I've made use of Venice several times. Everything in life is always a new "what if," so when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 16, 2010

Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr's new book, his fourth, is Memory Wall. His other books are The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome.

From his Q & A with Writers on Process:

Talk about your invention process. What do you do to come up with ideas? What about your revision process?

Practically, writing doesn’t really break out for me in terms of invention, composition, and revision. I often sit down with only the ghost of an idea, a few things I’m interested in, and from that point I am always revising, eternally revising. I suppose once I’ve finished something there must be a first draft in there, engraved invisibly beneath all the revisions, but really the first draft is just a single sentence I’ve written down and immediately begun altering. Before adding a second sentence, I’m already revising the first one.

Do you have a regular routine? As a professional writer, do you set goals each day for how much you are going to write?

Yep: when I’m working on fiction, I try to write in the mornings, when my brain is fairly clean and untrammeled by all the email and news of the day. Get up with the kids, set them up with a waffle or something, then tag out with my wife and start working. My brain is too tired in the evenings.

And I only drink caffeine when I’m working; I try to save its power, because it is an incredibly useful drug. I try to get into some caffeine, read through everything I’ve written so far on a project, if that’s possible, and then start trying to make it fuller, better, richer, etc...

Are there any quirky parts of your writing process that help you write?

I wear a pair of chainsaw ear protection muffs when I write. Is...[read on]
Visit the author's website.

The Page 69 Test: Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sophie Littlefield

Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri. Her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, was an Edgar Award Finalist and is shortlisted for an Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award. It won an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery and has been named to lists of the year's best mystery debuts by the Chicago Sun-Times and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Her new novel is A Bad Day for Pretty.

From a Q & A with the author about her YA novel Banished, due out in October:

What were you like in high school?


I was what is euphemistically called a "late bloomer." I felt ungainly and unattractive and clumsy. I was in the orchestra, did not play sports, excelled at things like math and spelling and found it nearly impossible to understand, much less navigate, the complex social hierarchy at school. I didn't date, and I started working at part-time jobs when I was fourteen so I didn't participate in any after-school activities.

I now understand that I had some serious attention issues, and it was very difficult for me to focus in class. I remember school as excruciating, alternating between deathly boredom and an overwhelming sense that I would never fit in. My parents went through a difficult divorce, which added to my sense of isolation.

One of the gifts of my adult friendships has been to find out that everyone struggled in high school. I frequently felt like I was the only person who hated the way I was, who wished for a fairy godmother who would change not only my circumstances but who I was at the very core. I thought that the cheerleaders and class presidents and football players were all confident and happy, but my adult friends who were in that group in high school tell me they had plenty of their own problems. Growing up is a momentous and difficult job for everyone.

Did you model the main character in BANISHED after yourself?

Sort of...

In some ways, Hailey is very much like I was at sixteen. She also feels socially isolated and is unable to form friendships with the kids at school, although in her case there are other forces at work related to her dark legacy and the powers she doesn't realize she has.

Hailey has a lot of responsibilities since her grandmother expects her to care for the four-year-old boy they foster in order to get money from the state. To some extent this is a reflection of the challenges I faced as a teenager as my parents divorced and dealt with the challenges of starting over. My siblings and I were expected to get ourselves where we needed to go, and to pitch in with household chores. We cooked meals, cleaned (not very well, as my dad can attest) and learned to stretch our allowance as far as possible.

Like me at that age, Hailey...[read on]
Learn more about the books and author at Sophie Littlefield's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Sorry.

Writers Read: Sophie Littlefield.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Pretty.

My Book, The Movie: A Bad Day for Pretty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Michael Connelly

From a Q & A with Michael Connelly about his forthcoming novel, The Reversal:

Question: The Reversal seems to feature Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch pretty equally. So is this a legal thriller or a detective story?

Michael Connelly: I would like to think it's both, but it is about a trial — actually a retrial — so I guess that probably tips it toward being a legal thriller. My goal was to show what goes on both inside and outside of a trial. So, inside the courtroom you have Mickey Haller primarily carrying the narrative and then Harry Bosch carries it forward outside. Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.

Question: Just curious, is it more fun or more difficult to balance two of your signature characters in a single book?

Michael Connelly: It's a fun challenge. This book alternates chapters, so the big challenge was evenly distributing the plot so that they could alternately carry it forward without having any chapters that were static. I think each chapter advances the story significantly.

Q: Can you explain the title without giving away too much about the novel?

MC: The title is pretty straightforward but at the same time it has a few different meanings. The main plot surrounds the reversal of a murder conviction that puts a man named Jason Jessup back on trial in a 24-year-old murder. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Peter D. Ward

Peter D. Ward is a professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and the author of The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps.

From his Q & A with the Barnes & Noble Review:

Why is the rise in sea level really such a huge deal?

There are three big reasons. There are the economics, because sea level rise is going to cost us a whole lot of money. And then there's food, because sea level rise is going to wipe out an unbelievably high percentage of the agricultural areas that we're extremely dependent upon, deltas in particular -- they are, by definition, at sea level and they produce the majority of the rice on the planet.

And then the third thing is people. A 3-foot sea level rise will cause a large part of Bangladesh, for example, to either disappear or be unfarmable, so you're displacing millions of people physically. This becomes way worse when you couple it with the food part of the equation. The number of people on the planet is expected to be 9 billion by 2050 and steadying out at 9.5 or 10 billion by 2100, so you've got one-third more people and maybe 20 percent less food. You do the numbers.

What are the high and low estimates for sea rise by the end of the century?

The most extreme (that you can put real scientific confidence in) is 5 feet by 2100. The most conservative at this stage is slightly less than 1 meter, or about 2.8, 2.9 feet. The best, most levelheaded predictions and models comes from Stefan Ramsdorf, just outside of Berlin in Potsdam. He's now saying at least 3 feet by 2100, with 5 feet not out of the realm of possibility.

But we have these 2100 scenarios and all the [city planners] stop then. Nobody goes to 2150 or 2200 because the secret is that once you hit the 2100 value, it continues to accelerate. So if we have a 3-foot rise by 2100, we're not just going to have 6 feet by 2200, we're going to have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gayle Brandeis

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Dictionary Poems, the novels The Book of Dead Birds, which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, Self Storage, and Delta Girls, and her first novel for young readers, My Life with the Lincolns.

From her Q & A at Fictionaut:

Q (Meg Pokrass): What stories or books or films do you feel closest to?

I often return to Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus for a good dose of bliss. American Primitive by the poet Mary Oliver, too. The compassion of Grapes of Wrath devastates me in the best possible way. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver will forever be my favorite of her books, and one of my favorite books, period, for its exploration of sisters and community and justice. And I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Harriet the Spy.

As for films, Wings of Desire offers such a gorgeous taste of the sublime, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure offers such a glorious taste of the ridiculous. I could watch both of them again and again. All of these books and movies give me a sense of coming home.

Whose work (or works) have influenced you the most as a writer?

The poet Sharon Olds gave me permission to write in a more honest way, to not shy away from gritty physicality on the page. Diane Ackerman has reminded me to pay deep attention to the natural world and the senses in my work. Barbara Kingsolver showed me how to blend art and social responsibility. I also love and have been influenced by writers who weave together...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Self Storage.

My Book, The Movie: Self Storage.

The Page 69 Test: Delta Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beth Greenfield

Beth Greenfield received her M.A. in journalism from New York University and has since written about travel, entertainment, gay culture, and parenting for publications including the New York Times, Lonely Planet guidebooks, Out, Time Out New York Kids, and Time Out New York, where she is currently a staff editor. She lives in New York City and Provincetown with her partner and their daughter.

From a Q & A about newly published memoir, Ten Minutes from Home:

Jill Dearman: When did you first start writing about the accident?

Beth Greenfield: I actually started writing about it shortly after it occurred, when I was 12 years old. I got it in my head that I was going to write a book about it, and did so, longhand, on a packet of loose-leaf notebook paper. It was 200 handwritten pages and took me almost a year. The adolescent writing makes me cringe a bit now, but it came in handy, with all of the details that I would've probably forgotten, when I began writing about the accident as an adult, maybe 15 years ago. It would be the topic I'd return to again and again in the many writing workshops I've been enrolled in over the years. But I'd say I became serious about finally turning all of those dribs and drabs into a cohesive book maybe six or so years ago.

JD: Your career as a journalist has thrived over the years. You're an editor at Time Out New York and have written for The New York Times. How has your "day job" helped and/ or hindered you as a creative writer?

BG: It's hindered me time-wise; having deadlines for work that I was getting paid for would always make it easy to justify putting my creative writing on the back burner. So it was crucial for me to actually nab that book deal in order to get it finished! Being a journalist has...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Ten Minutes from Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vladimir Nabokov

From Nabokov's 1964 interview with Playboy:

With the American publication of Lolita in 1958, your fame and fortune mushroomed almost overnight from high repute among the literary cognoscenti-- which you bad enjoyed for more than 30 years-- to both acclaim and abuse as the world-renowned author of a sensational bestseller. In the aftermath of this cause celebre, do you ever regret having written Lolita?

On the contrary, I shudder retrospectively when I recall that there was a moment, in 1950, and again in 1951, when I was on the point of burning Humbert Humbert's little black diary. No, I shall never regret Lolita. She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle-- its composition and its solution at the same time, since one is a mirror view of the other, depending on the way you look. Of course she completely eclipsed my other works-- at least those I wrote in English: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, my short stories, my book of recollections; but I cannot grudge her this. There is a queer, tender charm about that mythical nymphet.

Though many readers and reviewers would disagree that her charm is tender, few would deny that it is queer-- so much so that when director Stanley Kubrick proposed his plan to make a movie of Lolita, you were quoted as saying, "Of course they'll have to change the plot. Perhaps they will make Lolita a dwarfess. Or they will make her 16 and Humbert 26. " Though you finally wrote the screenplay yourself, several reviewers took the film to task for watering down the central relationship. Were you satisfied with the final product?
I thought the movie was absolutely...[read on]
Lolita appears among Henry Sutton's top ten unreliable narrators, Adam Leith Gollner's top ten fruit scenes in literature, Laura Hird's literary top 10 list, Monica Ali's ten favorite books, Laura Lippman's 5 most important books, Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books, and Dani Shapiro's 10 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 9, 2010

Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman's novels include Intuition and Kaaterskill Falls. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories. She is a winner of the Whiting Writer's Award and a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Her new novel is The Cookbook Collector.

From her Powell's Q & A:

Describe your latest book.

The Cookbook Collector is a novel about two sisters: pragmatic Emily, the CEO of a successful Silicon Valley start-up, and romantic Jess, who works for an antiquarian bookseller named George. Set during the dot-com boom and bust, the book is about hunger: for money, for material things, for food, for fame, for knowledge, for companionship, for love.

Which fictional character would you like to date, and why?

I have a few ideas, with some requirements for each character. I'd like to date Mr. Darcy, if he'd take yoga. Mr. Rochester, if he'd get a divorce, install smoke alarms, and read Cold Comfort Farm. Lydgate, if he'd leave Rosalind and apply for a tenure track job.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.

Croissants with butter and jam in a small hotel in Paris on a trip there with...[read on]
Visit Allegra Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mike Lawson

Mike Lawson writes the popular and much-lauded Joe DeMarco series of thrillers. The latest installment, House Justice, involves DeMarco in the fallout of the death of a CIA spy in Iran.

From Lawson's Q & A with Julia Buckley:

Your book, HOUSE JUSTICE, was hard to put down. It did not, however, do anything to reduce my already jaded attitude toward American politics. Are there really this many backroom deals and moral compromises in the halls of Congress and the CIA?

I’m not so sure about the CIA – they tend to get a bad rap because we only hear about the mistakes they make and not all the good things they do. And basically the CIA is implementing policy set by the Executive Branch. Congress is a different story. I’m not making up how corrupt Congress is and can be. It seems about once a week we hear about some congressman taking a bribe, diddling somebody of the same or opposite sex, sending pork to aid rich folk more than ordinary folk, etc. Like I said in House Justice, there’s a reason companies pay lobbyists so much money and hire so many of them and, cynical as it sounds, I sometimes think we have the best government money can buy. And I’m not sparing either party.

Good. Your hero, Joe DeMarco, is refreshingly different, because he is NOT the guy with a gun. He is a lawyer, and while he can defend himself, his job is not always to storm in and get the bad guys. How did you happen to create DeMarco?

I wanted a protagonist that somebody else didn’t have. There are already too many good detectives, lawyers, ex-special forces operatives, etc. in fiction. I wanted a) someone different and b) someone connected to D.C.– and thus DeMarco, a guy who works for a shady Speaker of the House. And most of the time in the books, DeMarco...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Mike Lawson's website.

Lawson's previous Joe DeMarco thrillers include The Inside Ring, The Second Perimeter, and House Rules.

The Page 69 Test: House Rules.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Neil Gaiman

Christian Halsted interviewed the award-winning author Neil Gaiman for the Financial Times.

Part of their Q & A:

What book changed your life?

Reading the Narnia books, aged about seven, was the first time that I was aware that a book was written by an author. Realising that a real person was standing there telling you stuff was the point when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

I believe anybody you read before the age of 16 will end up being your literary influences, good or bad. I loved Edwardian novelists; Kipling was a huge influence. Lou Reed and David Bowie were huge influences too, but I never realised until I’d grown up.

* * *
What book do you wish you’d written?

I’m extremely envious of Gene Wolfe’s four-volume The Book of the New Sun.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rebecca Cantrell

Kelli Stanley interviewed Rebecca Cantrell about her new novel, A Night of Long Knives.

Part of their Q & A:

A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES takes place a few years after your award-winning debut novel (and first of the Hannah Vogel series), A TRACE OF SMOKE, and, like all the Hannah Vogel series, deals with the tragic and very real history of Nazi Germany. Tell us a little about this background - what was the "Night of Long Knives"?

The Night of the Long Knives was a Nazi purge that took place in 1934. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they immediately destroyed all other political parties, removed all state governments, wiped out labor unions, drove Jews out of public and professional life, stifled the courts, and put political, economic, cultural, and social life under their control. But Hitler still did not have the full backing of the Army. The German army, because of the Treaty of Versailles, was limited to one hundred thousand men. The Storm Troopers, under Hitler's close friend Ernst Röhm, had four million. When Röhm suggested moving the army under his control, the generals were worried. They made a deal with Hitler: if he would kill his best friend and the top ranks of the Storm Troopers, they would back him. At the same time, Himmler created a fake dossier accusing Röhm of plotting to take over the government. In response, Hitler started the purge known as "The Night of the Long Knives" killing Ernst Röhm, the upper echelon of the Storm Troopers, and a long list of other personal and political enemies. The true body count has never been determined, but at the Nuremberg trials after the war estimates ranged up to one thousand.

So how far into the future do you see Hannah venturing? How many more books? And since you're skipping years between novels, will there be prequels?

I can see Hannah books at least into the 1950s. I currently envision nine books: a trilogy before the war, during the war, and after. I've written the pre-war books: 1931's A TRACE OF SMOKE; 1934's A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES coming out in late June 2010; and 1936's A GAME OF LIES due out in June 2011.
Read the complete interview.

Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Cantrell's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Trace of Smoke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 5, 2010

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens's new book is the memoir, Hitch 22.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: Why did you decide to write a memoir now?

Christopher Hitchens: It was reading about my own death and thinking, that dissolves the old question for me, "Isn't it a bit soon?" People my age and even younger have written books of reminiscences…I thought, of course it had to be done too soon, because it can't be done too late.

The memoir mainly focuses on other people who have had prominent roles in your life, or ideas that have shaped you. Why did you structure it this way?

I didn't want it to be an autobiography. I haven't overcome all my reticence. That's why I put in the "Something of Myself" chapter. I didn't think they'd want to read about my internal life and all my brave thoughts.

What is the most revealing thing you've included about yourself that people didn't know before?

Probably insecurity. I think I write in a fairly self-confident manner. I usually am pretty sure of what I want to say and what...[read on]
See--Christopher Hitchens' six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan is co-author (with Cacilda Jetha) of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.

From his Q & A with Thomas Rogers at the Barnes & Noble Review:

You paint a bleak picture of the state of marriage in the West, particularly in the United States. What makes it so bad?

Marriage in the West isn’t doing very well because it’s in direct confrontation with the evolved reality of our species. What we argue in the book is that the best way to increase marital stability, which in the modern world is an important part of social stability, is to develop a more tolerant and realistic understanding of human sexuality and how human sexuality is being distorted by our modern conception of marriage. Certainly growing up in the '70s and '80s there were very few kids I knew whose parents weren’t divorced at least once. The economic, emotional, psychological cost of fractured relationships is a major problem in American society — with single mothers and single-parent families.

You argue that much of this misery stems from changes that occurred when humans developed agriculture, around 8000 B.C. What happened?

The advent of agriculture changed everything about human society, from sexuality to politics to economics to health to diet to exercise patterns to work-versus-rest patterns. It introduced the notion of property into sexuality. Property wasn’t a very important consideration when people were living in small, foraging groups where most things were shared, including food, childcare, shelter and defense. It makes perfect sense that sexuality would also be shared — why wouldn’t it be when paternity wasn’t an issue?

When you have agriculture, men started to worry about whether or not certain children were theirs biologically, because...[read on]
Visit the official Sex at Dawn website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Jostein Gaarder

Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder is best known for his third novel, Sophie’s World (1991), a philosophical tale told through the eyes of a teenage girl.

From his Q & A with Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

Which literary character most resembles you?

Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. He’s naive and wants to understand things. He’s not afraid of asking silly questions.

Who are your literary influences?

Jorge Luis Borges, Dostoevsky, Herman Hesse and the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun – not that I think I can write like these authors. I’m also inspired by books written for adults and children: AA Milne, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Dickens, and 19th-century Norwegian folk tales.

* * *
What book changed your life?

There are two: Lillelord [1955] by a Norwegian writer called Johan Borgen and Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, when I was 18. That book can make a boy a man.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens is the debut author of Still Missing (St. Martin’s Press, July 2010).

From her Q & A at The Thrill Begins:

Carla: Chevy, your story is about a realtor, Annie O’Sullivan, who is abducted and held for a year, as told in narration to her therapist once she’s freed. It’s a fascinating concept. How did you dream it up?

Chevy: When I was a Realtor, I spent hours at open houses reading books or scaring myself with horrible thoughts of what could happen to me. One of the most terrifying scenarios began with being abducted. That led to other thoughts like who would abduct me and what it would be like to try to fit back in your life after such a brutal experience. Was it even possible? The idea hovered in the back of my mind for a while, then one day I heard my main character’s voice telling her story to a “shrink.” I walked up to my office and just started writing. The basic structure and story line has never changed from that very first draft.

Carla: How long was it from that point until you felt it was ready for submission?

Chevy: Almost four years.

Carla: What made you stick with this particular story? Did you always want to be a writer?

Chevy: When I was a child growing up on a ranch I dreamed of being a writer and carried books around with me everywhere, usually with a cat under the other arm and a dog following behind. There were a few attempts at early novels, one featuring a detective mouse and another where a wife poisons her abusive husband—obviously I had an early tendency toward thrillers! I took writing in school, but I planned to be an artist. Then I started working in business and got sidetracked.

Shortly before the idea of Still Missing came to me, I’d stayed on a remote gulf island and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sharyn McCrumb

From a Q & A with Sharyn McCrumb about her new novel, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers:

You did a ton of research for the book. How did you carry out that research? Did you have a particular event that happened during your research that struck you?

The first step in researching anything is to read background material. That way when you do have to question real people, you will have a basic understanding of the subject. I read accounts of the historical events mentioned in the novel. I visited the places where the book is set. I listened to the music and watched the films of that era to capture the mood, and I stayed in the Martha Washington Inn. I talked with people who had known the actual defendant in the trial on which "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers" is based, and with newspaper reporters who had covered southwest Virginia trials in that era.

The best adventure I had in researching the novel was the day that I spent in Wise County, with Wise County Tourism director H. William (Bill) Smith as my guide. We explored the Wise County courthouse, visited the old jail, explored every floor of the now-derelict Inn at Wise, and drove up Highway 23 to "The Pound" to see the place where the Maxwell house once stood. The current mayor of Pound is a cousin of Edith Maxwell, who was the model for Erma Morton, the young woman on trial in the novel. I took photographs of everything, so that I could describe it correctly. The room I gave to Henry Jernigan in the novel is on the top floor of the Inn, between the columns, and it has a fireplace and a large triangular window, just as described.

Part of the book is set in Japan. Have you been to Japan? What was the inspiration?

I have never been to Japan, although I wish someone would invite me. I reasoned that since I could not go to Japan in 1923, going there now wouldn't tell me much that I could not learn from reading travelers' accounts of Japan in that era. I read a number of books on early 20th century Japan, and I based Henry's roseate view of the country on the attitudes expressed by the Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn. Questions about language, customs, and folklore were answered for me by Ichiro and Yuka Wada of Osaka, and by Yoshihiro Iwai, who was a graduate student at Virginia Tech while I was researching the novel. I tried to learn some Japanese, but since I was a Spanish major, my accent is terrible. Listening to me trying to speak Japanese to a native speaker is a good game of Charades.

Are any characters in The Devil Amongst the Lawyers based on people you know?

Carl Jennings' background and education is based on...[read on]
Become a fan of Sharyn McCrumb on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue