Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Justin Peacock

Justin Peacock received an MFA from Columbia University and a law degree from Yale. Prior to attending law school, he worked as an online producer at the New York Times. His legal experience ranges from death-penalty defense to First Amendment cases.

His novels include A Cure for Night and the recently released Blind Man's Alley.

From his 2009 Q & A with Kashmir Hill at Above the Law:

Kash: You’ve been in Biglaw. You’ve worked in the Brooklyn courts. Were you taking notes along the way knowing you might write about it?

Peacock: It can be a tricky thing how much you draw from your own life and your own direct experiences. I don’t think I could have written a Biglaw law firm book while working and practicing in that area. If I’m writing something too close to my lived experience, it becomes more of a journal exercise than a work for future. I tried to find something where I knew enough about it to not make a complete fool of myself in terms of getting things wrong. But the book isn’t really reflective of my actual legal career.

Kash: Given that, how did you do your research for the book?
Peacock: I had a public defender friend who did a thorough vetting of the book. I got on Lexis and did some actual legal research, and hung out in New York courtrooms. Clerking was a helpful experience in terms of the ambiance of the courtroom. The Brooklyn federal trial courts are a lively and eccentric place.

Kash: Beyond telling a great story, what kind of themes did you hope to tackle in the book?

Peacock: I wanted to tell a more realistic story about criminal law. A lot of legal thrillers are about high-level government conspiracies and some hidden Thomas Jefferson scroll from the 18th century or what have you…

Kash: Any particular authors in mind there?

Peacock: (laughs) Absolutely....[read on]
Visit Justin Peacock's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Cure for Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 30, 2010

Joan Waugh

Joan Waugh is professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles.

From her Q & A about her book, U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth:

Q: Why is reviving the image of Ulysses S. Grant as a great American hero so important?

A: I see my book as not "reviving" but "recovering" or even "rediscovering" his image and reputation. I think it's important because people cannot really appreciate the enormous impact of the Civil War if they forget about or dismiss the meaning behind its symbols and heroes, such as U. S. Grant. He embodied the Union cause for Americans of his day -- why the United States fought to preserve the country -- more than any living person of the time.

Q: Tell us about why you divide the book into two parts, first considering Grant's life and his status as an "American Hero" and then examining him as an "American Myth."

A: That's such a good question, and to tell you the truth, I struggled with the organization of the book in terms of how much to write about his life. In the beginning of my project, I assumed that everyone knew about Grant's role in the Civil War and as president (whether they liked him or not), but after researching the topic for a few years, I realized that many of my potential readers might need to be educated about the scale of his accomplishments and achievements. That is why the first chapters of the book highlight his ascent into heroic status while the remaining chapters chronicle the mythic general.

Q: In his day, Grant was considered a hero comparable to the likes of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. Why was Grant so popular in the nineteenth century? What did he represent to the American people?

A: Most Americans held a high regard for the man who, with Lincoln, preserved and sustained the United States. In my book I make clear that white southerners...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 29, 2010

J. Sydney Jones

J. Sydney Jones' books include The Empty Mirror and Requiem in Vienna (the first two books in the Viennese Mystery series), the nonfiction Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913, the guides Viennawalks and Vienna Inside-Out, and the Vienna-based suspense novel Time of the Wolf.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Can we stretch it to thrillers? HARRY’S GAME, by Gerald Seymour. He can do dialogue and pacing like no other. Or perhaps Le Carré’s A MURDER OF QUALITY. Ditto the dialogue. You can almost taste it.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Prince Myshkin. He runs under the radar.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Guilty as accused: mysteries and thrillers.

Most satisfying writing moment?

I’ve...[read on]
Visit J. Sydney Jones' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Empty Mirror.

The Page 69 Test: Requiem in Vienna.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel lives in Seattle and teaches in the English Department at the University of Puget Sound.

From a Q & A at Number One Novels about The Atlas of Love, her first novel:

NON: How did you get the idea for your novel?

LF: It’s sort of an alternate universe. I did go to graduate school for literature; I did have close friends there; one did get pregnant. Then not one single thing that happens in the book happened in real life. But real life planted the seed, the "what if instead" scenario. I also sat down at some point and thought about what I wanted to write about, what ideas and themes and big picture points were important to me, and I realized I wanted to write about alternative families, about the idea that there are lots of wonderful ways to be a family--all complicated, all beautiful.

* * *
NON: I think that names say a lot about a person, especially a fictional person. How did you decide on your protagonist’s full name? Did you have any other names that were in the running?

LF: I was sitting in a very boring meeting one day when I started naming characters in the margin of a handout. I figured I needed working names before I could get started, and I could always change them later. But then you get attached and start thinking of them as those people, and the names stick. The best name in the book really is Atlas, who didn’t get named until he was born, and I wish I could remember how that came to me--everyone’s going to ask--but I have no idea. Maybe I should make something up. Later, I liked the name so much I wanted to name my own son Atlas, but...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Atlas of Love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jean M. Auel

From a Q & A with Jean Auel about her 2004 novel, The Shelters of Stone:

Q: You've been known to travel to specific archeological sites around the world to conduct research for your books. Where did you do research for THE SHELTERS OF STONE and how many of the caves in the book are based on actual sites?

A: About thirty thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age, the northern lands were buried under tons of ice a couple of miles thick, but France and other countries of the same latitude were south of the glaciers, which meant people could live there, and did. I have been researching THE SHELTERS OF STONE since my first trip to France in 1982, which was part of my first research trip, during which I also visited Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, and the Ukraine. I have returned to Europe several times for research.

SHELTERS takes place in and around the community of Les Eyzies and along the Vezere River in the Dordogne region of southwest France. I have visited most of the sites there to get a feel for the setting of the story. Some of the caves and rock shelters are relatively unchanged, but others have collapsed or have been irrevocably damaged. Even though conditions are different now, I wanted to see the painted caves and living sites, and how they related to each other and to such things as rivers and other natural formations. Then I had to work out the background details, such as the climate and the way the landscape looked back then.

It was important to get the physical details right because not only have most archaeological specialists of this period studied the French material, but many ordinary people from all over the world have visited the region. Every place mentioned in the book and noted on the end-papers map is a real location that still exists and can be visited today.

Q: While your novels focus on a civilization of the past, there is a very modern theme that runs throughout in Ayla struggling to achieve equality with her peers. When you first created this dynamic character, how much thought did you put into giving her modern sensibilities?

A: The reason there is a modern sensibility to my characters is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 26, 2010

James Surowiecki

James Surowiecki is the author of The Wisdom of Crowds.

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

How did you discover the wisdom of crowds?

The idea really came out of my writing on how markets work. Markets are made up of diverse people with different levels of information and intelligence, and yet when you put all those people together and they start buying and selling, they come up with generally intelligent decisions. Sometimes, though, they come up with remarkably stupid decisions—as they did during the stock-market bubble in the late 1990s. I was interested in what explained the successes and the failures of markets, and as I got further into it I realized that it wasn't just markets that were smart. In fact, crowds of all sorts were often remarkably wise.

Could you define "the crowd?"

A "crowd," in the sense that I use the word in the book, is really any group of people who can act collectively to make decisions and solve problems. So, on the one hand, big organizations—like a company or a government agency—count as crowds. And so do small groups, like a team of scientists working on a problem. But just as interested—maybe even more interested—in groups that aren't really aware themselves as groups, like bettors on a horse race or investors in the stock market. They make up crowds, too, because they're collectively producing a solution to a complicated problem: the bets of people betting on a horse race determine what the odds on the race will be, and the choices of investors determine stock prices.

Under what circumstances is the crowd smarter?

There are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd's answer. It needs a way of summarizing people's opinions into one collective verdict. And...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson's latest Inspector Alan Banks novel is Bad Boy.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?


What fictional character would you most like to have been?

James Bond.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I find no guilt in reading anything at all.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

J.C. Hallman

J.C. Hallman's In Utopia is a new book about modern-day utopian projects.

From his Q & A about the book with Thomas Rogers:

Where does the term "utopia" come from?

The term itself comes from Thomas More's book "On Utopia," written in 1516, which describes a perfect society of Godless pagans in the New World. The idea was that it would shame Christian England into governing better than it was: "Look, if these pagans can do better than you, shame on you." It gave birth to an entire genre of literature. Now the term is retroactively applied to everything from constitutions to manifestoes, fiction and nonfiction.

Why the fascination with utopianism?

I grew up on a street called Utopia Road in a master planned community in California. In the same way that utopias tend to slip away from their original visions, so did some of the ideas about suburban planning, and by the time my particular community was born it was much more driven by profit. For me, growing up meant coming to realize that, right or not, the history of utopian thought has something to do with my own personal heritage.

In the book you write about a project called Pleistocene Rewilding, which proposed to reintroduce large animals -- including elephants and lions -- into North America in order to reestablish the ecosystem that existed several thousand years ago. Why didn't that take off?

Science shows that large animals are really...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart's latest novel is Super Sad True Love Story.

From his Q & A with Deborah Solomon:

Your new novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” a superliterate sendup of consumer culture, is set in New York in the near future, when books are extinct, eternal life can be purchased by a rich elite, the subway offers business class and see-through jeans are the latest fashion. How do you feel about the word “dystopia”?

“Dystopia” is my middle name. I was born in the Soviet Union, and then we moved to Reagan’s America. We immigrated in 1979, just in time for the Gipper.

In your novel, Fox News has become Fox Liberty Ultra.

I’ve seen Fox News a couple of times. It’s a nice transition from the Pravda of yesteryear. It’s a party line without a party.

And this newspaper becomes The New York Lifestyle Times. Why would you make an unkind prophecy like that?

It means...[read on]
Avi Steinberg, a former prison librarian, thought Lindsay Lohan should read Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Peter Quinn

Peter Quinn's latest historical novel, The Man Who Never Returned, revisits the case of Joseph Force Crater, the real-life New York State Supreme Court judge who mysteriously disappeared in 1930.

From his Q & A about the book with Steven Kurutz for the Wall Street Journal:

Why did Judge Crater's disappearance resonate with people?

For a lot of older New Yorkers, they associate his disappearance with the Depression. By 1932, there were two million people on the road in the U.S., looking for work. Crater became a symbol of that lost time.

The book does a wonderful job of evoking mid-1950s New York, with references to Wanamaker's department store and the Herald Tribune.

That's the city I grew up in. I'm old enough to have been on the Third Avenue El. That city is gone. Of course, that's part of the magic and pain of living in New York—it's always going away.

So are New Yorkers forced to be less sentimental?

New Yorkers are incredibly sentimental. They're never quite happy in the city that is. They want the city that was. When I was a kid, my parents talked about the city at the end of the war. Now people are saying it was such a great city in the '70s. It was so alive and creative. Yes, but the crime was also so bad that you couldn't ride the subways.

What aspect of modern New York would make a great novel?

The new...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Precious Williams

Precious Williams is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Telegraph, the Times, Elle, Glamour, and the New York Post. Her new memoir is Color Blind.

From her Q & A with Arifa Akbar for the Independent:

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

Charles Dickens, because I was brought up on him. In my foster home, there were only four adult books so I read him at a young age, and fell in love with his writing - the grotesqueness of some of his characters. I found it so captivating.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz; as a child, I even had a little dog like Toto. I have that wide-eyed approach to the world.

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

One of my creative icons is Marvin Gaye, who continued making amazing music even when his personal life was in total disarray, when he was a drug addict, an alcoholic and being chased by debt collectors.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 20, 2010

Karl Marlantes

Karl Marlantes, who served as a marine in Vietnam and was awarded numerous medals including two Purple Hearts, is the author of Matterhorn, a novel about his experience of combat in the jungle.

From his Q & A with Chris Faatz at Powells.com:

Chris Faatz: Matterhorn is an exceedingly complex and visually rendered tale of young men at war. Does the story accurately reflect your own experience in Vietnam? Is it more or less autobiographical?

Karl Marlantes: Well, I'm not like any of the characters, really. If I had to chose the one most like me, I'd pick Cortell, who's more of a minor character. Like him, I'm more of the introverted, quiet type. I'm not a politician, like Mellas. If I were as good as he was, I'd be a lot richer and a lot more powerful. [Laughter] But what the characters see — almost all of it — I myself experienced. I was in firefights. I assaulted hills. I saw a guy, not in my company but in the same battalion, get eaten by a tiger. So, all of those things are pretty much true.

Of course, the dialogue is pure fiction. But a lot of what the characters see are things that I experienced or that were similar to my experiences as a second lieutenant — and those were similar to the experiences of thousands of soldiers that went over there. In that sense, we're all the same. So is that autobiographical? I don't know.

Faatz: Well, I'd say it's somewhat autobiographical, because it reflects your experiences, even if it's in a more general sense.

Marlantes: Oh, no doubt about it. I don't have that good of an imagination. [Laughter]

Faatz: How long did it take you to write the book?

Marlantes: I first started writing it about 1975.

Faatz: Wow.

Marlantes: And I started...[read on]
See Karl Marlantes' top ten war stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gail Bowen

Gail Bowen's new book is The Nesting Dolls.

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

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

The Nesting Dolls is about the potency of secrets and the redemptive power of love.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?

Two years, but during that time I also wrote a children’s play about the last of the Galapagos tortoises and a short novel for adult readers with literacy challenges. I also attended 186 recitals/badminton games/track meets and Christmas concerts in which our grandchildren played roles of varying significance and success.

3. Where is your favorite place to write?

Truthfully, Anglin Lake in Northern Saskatchewan. The lake is pristine with a large population of loons that still feel at home around non-invasive humans, and every day birds drop by the feeder outside the window where I write.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names?

For close to twenty years I’ve had people bid at charity events for cameo roles in my books. I think by now I might have raised about $50,000 for organizations like Oxfam, many cancer societies; literacy groups — in general just groups that I believe in. This year’s crop will include characters whose names were purchased by donors from Grandmothers 4 Grandmothers and Camp fYrefly a place where gay/lesbian/trans/ and other teens can feel comfortable being themselves.

5. How many drafts do you go through?

I’m a Virgo. Don’t ask, because even though the books in question, are already published, I’ll feel compelled to do a final polish.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?.
..[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Simon Lelic

Simon Lelic has worked as a journalist in the UK and currently runs his own business in Brighton, England, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

His debut novel is A Thousand Cuts [Rupture, in the UK].

From a Q & A at his website:

Your novel is an unconventional approach to analyzing a brutal crime; anyone committing an act of violence against children would seem to generate no sympathy at all. Why did you decide to write this story?

Some time before I started work on Rupture (A Thousand Cuts), I came across a short news piece in the British press about a college professor in the US who shot and killed one of his colleagues. The story was barely a paragraph long and contained few details but it started me thinking about what could possibly have driven an obviously intelligent and emotionally mature man to commit such a desperate act. The default response to such crimes seems to be to dismiss those who perpetrate them as psychopaths – as crazed individuals who, as you say, deserve no sympathy whatsoever. There is invariably a reluctance, too, to explore the issue of broader culpability. The great thing about fiction, for both writer and reader, is that you can venture into emotionally charged terrain and consider its scars from every angle. You can raise questions that might otherwise remain unasked, and consider answers that might in normal circumstances be too painful to acknowledge.

Were there any real-life situations that inspired you? Has your reaction to news reports of this type of crime changed since writing this novel?

There was the incident I mention above, as I say, but episodes too from my own time at school: teachers, for instance, being subject to victimisation that was often more vicious than anything I witnessed in the playground. I recall teachers, on more than one occasion, fleeing the classroom in tears, and classes frequently became unteachable. Pupils were usually to blame but there was a sense as well that the staffroom had its own hierarchy and cliques – that the experience of teaching in a school could never be entirely distanced from that of being a pupil there. I went to a decent state-run comprehensive, I hasten to add. That it was a good school, though, in a way makes the events I witnessed even more worrying – even more suggestive that they were in no sense out of the ordinary.

With regards to my reaction to reports of the type of crime covered in the novel, there is...[read on]
Read an excerpt from A Thousand Cuts, and learn more about the book and author at Simon Lelic's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Thousand Cuts.

Writers Read: Simon Lelic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson's latest Inspector Alan Banks novel is Bad Boy.

From his Q & A with Arifa Akbar for the Independent:

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

Thomas Hardy, although I didn't like him when I was studying him as an English Literature student. I came to like him afterwards, when I started reading him for pleasure. The world he creates is so vivid and sensuous, yet there is so much doom and gloom.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Probably Jude, from Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. I have a lot of sympathy for Jude and his difficult journey to Oxford, maybe through having a Northern, working-class background.

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

I have a real soft spot for Nelson Mandela, having been to South Africa and knowing quite a lot about his story.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 16, 2010

Walker Percy

Walker Percy was interviewed during a visit to Washington D.C. in May 1989 to deliver the Jefferson lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Part of the interview:

In your novels, you seem to render a diagnosis for the age and the people in it. Has your medical background had a lot to do with that?

That's a good question. Some people think that the two vocations, the two professions, couldn't be more different--being first, a physician, then ending up as a novelist. I find it very useful to use the same stance--the stance of the physician is that of a diagnostician. His premise, his presumption is when he sees a patient something's wrong. Something's wrong : the question is what's gone wrong, and how do you find out to make a diagnosis. I find that extremely useful in dealing with the present age. Something's clearly wrong, maybe even worse than usual in civilizations. I find it a natural stance from which to write both novels and nonfiction.

In your novels and essays there is a lot of comic satire of science, but a great love and respect for science comes through as well. Would it possible to separate you as a novelist from Walker Percy the scientist?

Well, I hope not. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I don't have any quarrel with science. In what they do, they do very well. The trouble is the sciences for the last two hundred years have been spectacularly successful in dealing with subhuman reality, subhuman creatures, chemistry and physics of matter, and with extraordinary progress in learning about the cosmos; but also an extraordinary lack of success in dealing with man as man, man qua man. I think it's very ...[read on]
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy is one of Elizabeth Spencer’s five best books of Southern fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Paul Doiron

Paul Doiron is the editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, Down East Books, and DownEast.com. He is also a Registered Maine Guide, licensed by the state to lead trips into the wilderness.

His new novel is The Poacher’s Son.

From his Q & A with Bob Hughes of Criminal Element:

Criminal Element - Your novel has a vivid sense of the outdoors, and the life of a game warden. Have you ever worked as a game warden yourself?

Paul Doiron - I have worked as a Registered Maine Guide. I do have my license to lead trips, but I'm not a game warden. With guides and game wardens, there are different areas of specialization � general recreation, camping, fishing. My specialty is fly fishing.

CE - There've been other mystery novelists who've used the outdoors, and the life of a game warden, as the settings for their works. One of the best known is C.J. Box, whose novels feature a Wyoming game warden. Are there similarities between what you're doing?

Doiron - Definitely. But being a game warden in Wyoming is very different from being a game warden in the state of Maine. It's been interesting to read his books and see the differences. There are some things that are the same - catching poachers, and checking people's fishing licenses and all those mundane sort of tasks. But in Maine, game wardens really are policeman. The way I describe it, their beat is the forest. In fact, one of the great controversies in Maine is that the warden service, always underfunded, has been asked to take on more responsibility for investigating more and more crimes that have nothing to do with fish and wildlife. Part of the issue that wardens face now is that people do live closer to nature. In Maine we have these exurban communities where people are living farther and farther away from urban centers, and so you begin to have issues with wildlife. People aren't prepared for those sorts of things.

CE - "The Poacher's Son" has a bear that's wandered too close to some people's homes.

Doiron - Yes. The bear incident was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Paul Doiron's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Poacher's Son.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Amy Bourret

From a conversation with Amy Bourret about her new novel, Mothers and Other Liars:

A question authors seem to be asked the most is what parts of their work are autobiographical. And your answer is?

That is easy. No, I have never found an abandoned baby, never given up a child for adoption. Probably the strongest link is Ruby’s Midwestern sensibility and sentimentality. My grandparents, to whom this novel is dedicated, were proud Iowans. And I have very fond memories of time spent with them, working in the garden, “helping” my grandfather refinish furniture, and partaking in family races to see who could eat the most corn on the cob. The tool chest made from wooden Velveeta boxes is real; it sits on my own workbench now. My grandfather died while I was in law school. A decade later, I received the honor and profound gift to be able to move into their home to be with my grandmother during her last months.

What was your inspiration for this book?

This sounds kind of wacky, but I was on a walk when a “what if” popped into my head: What if you built your whole life on a certain assumption and then years later discover that the assumption was wrong? I am intrigued with exploring the personal past and discovering how it informs the present—the road not taken and all.

You have a background in child advocacy. Is the novel based on an experience you had in the field or a case you may have worked on?

Not any specific case, really. It’s more just the general experience. A child builds her own life from the foundation of her family environment life. If that environment is abuse or neglect or incest, when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 13, 2010

Matt Beynon Rees

Matt Beynon Rees is the author of the acclaimed series of novels featuring Palestinian detective Omar Yussef: The Collaborator of Bethlehem, which won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, A Grave in Gaza, The Samaritan's Secret, and The Fourth Assassin.

From his Q & A with Paul M. Foer in Moment Magazine:

After covering the Middle East for 13 years as a journalist, why did you leave the news business to become a novelist?

Journalism is focused on the worst elements of life. It turns everything into a stereotype, which you can then write in shorthand: “Here is the Palestinian terrorist” or “here is the Palestinian victim” instead of “here is a real person.”

So fiction frees you?

When people read the news they think it must be so depressing to be a Palestinian—they are so oppressed, there is so much violence, their society is so messed up. In my novels, there are actual Palestinians who are living the way Palestinians live. Some of them are irritable and some of them are likable, but they all have some reason for going on with their lives. Yussef knows that the politics of the Palestinians is bloody, ridiculous, flawed and corrupt. He doesn’t need to read an article every day about what a mess it is. He needs to make some sense of his own life. Journalism, at least as foreign correspondents do it, is political science. This is something that happened. Is it good or is it bad for the peace process? What do the Americans think about it, what do the Israelis or the Palestinians think about it? Who cares? No one does. Editors are now saying, “Readers are tired of the Middle East.” They are not. They are just tired of the way it appears in journalism. Fiction is a kind of anthropology where you have the time to review the society and try to understand the people in it. Fiction answers the questions that journalism is supposed to be answering because it answers them on a human level.

Who was the inspiration for Yussef?

The basis for Yussef is...[read on]
Visit Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

Read--Matt Rees's top 10 novels set in the Arab world.

Writers Read: Matt Beynon Rees.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

The Page 69 Test: A Grave in Gaza.

The Page 69 Test: The Samaritan's Secret.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Assassin.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Assassin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rebecca E. Karl

Rebecca E. Karl's latest book is Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History.

From her Q & A with Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom at The China Beat:

JW: What inspired you to write this book–and to write it in a way that would engage non-specialists as well as be of interest to scholars in Chinese studies?

RK: First, thanks for giving me this opportunity to introduce my new book. Over the years, in my teaching and non-academic life, I have encountered many people – students, family, concerned citizens of various political persuasions – who are baffled and confused about China’s past and its current trajectory. I decided I wanted to write a book for all of those people: the ones who are genuinely interested but perhaps not very knowledgeable about China.

In writing the book, then, it became clear that I needed to explore and explain certain ideological, historical, and political aspects of what made Mao possible in China in the twentieth century, and what Mao himself made possible (or impossible) in the course of his rise to power and rule in China through the tumultuous years of the pre- and post-war periods. To do that properly, I needed to explore the relationship of socialist theory to capitalist global realities; the relationship of Maoism as it emerged to the situation of China; and the relationship between China and the world that was a condition for China’s existence in the world in the twentieth century. No book that I knew of did all of these things to my satisfaction; so I decided to do them by writing this new book.

JW: What was the hardest period to cover in a concise and accessible fashion–and what, if there was one, turned out to be a surprisingly easy period to deal with in this kind of summary manner?

RK: Personally, the worst chapter for me to write was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Paul Solotaroff

Paul Solotaroff is a contributing editor at Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone and author of the new memoir, The Body Shop.

From his Q & A with Alex Jung:

How has the male ideal changed? What does it look like now?

Muscle is no longer the kind of freakish totem that it used to be. You don’t have to be an iron head to get noticed anymore—I think there are lots of muscular guys who don’t lift weights. Yoga muscle is the real elixir these days. If anybody’s a pimp these days, it’s the guys who are at the front of classes at Crunch who have that long, really dense, righteously earned muscle from doing four and five hours of postures every day. I think that’s really healthy, because that’s really useful. My muscle is useless. It’s much more grown-up muscle, more about inhabiting your body intelligently as a man rather than still doing what I do, which is carry around this adolescent fantasy of masculinity.

What do you think has prompted that change?

Well, muscle got so commodified in the '90s—action-flick stars, massively built ballplayers and the gorgons of professional wrestling—that it stopped being a freak show and became a lifestyle, or the adjunct, at least, to one. Where once it was the banner of blue-collar macho men, suddenly wealthy men were flocking to gyms and putting on size like a pair of British wingtips. They got what Schwarzenegger was selling all those years—that muscle, properly packaged, radiates power. And when women of style stopped being repulsed by brawn and found that they actually liked it, the stampede was on at high-end health clubs and the mass-market chains. The owners of Crunch and Equinox should send Ah-nuld a monthly check—not that the bastard needs it.

Some of it is probably cyclical. You go from the kind of wispy Williamsburg paradigm to its polar opposite and then back again. In this country we go from electing a Bush to an Obama. These cycles used to have 20-year arcs. Now the oscillation is much faster. I also think they’re much more fractional. I think there’s one body style that rules the day in Brooklyn, and then another in Bayonne, and a third in Short Hills. I just feel that everything now is so segmented so we’re really living three generations at once.

Where do you see muscle in popular culture?

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell's latest novel is Tigerlily's Orchids.

From her Q & A with Arifa Akbar for The Independent:

Choose a writer and say why you like him/her

My favourite book - The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, which I have read about 20 times - is different from my favourite author, who is Iris Murdoch. I find her books exciting and unputdownable. Her characters are so carefully studied and indepth; I love that.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I would find it impossible to say as I don't know how people see me, I only know how I feel.

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

Desmond Tutu because he appears strong and funny and for me, it's essential to be witty and amusing. I feel like that about him when I see photos of his lovely smiling face.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn Ruth Rendell's answer to the question: What book do you wish you had written?

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 9, 2010

P.D. James

P.D. James' many books include the Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. Her latest book, Talking About Detective Fiction, was published in 2009.

From her interview with Craig Sisterson:

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?

Well, I do like Morse, Colin Dexter’s Morse. And I don’t know whether that’s popular in New Zealand, but it’s extremely popular here… They’re Oxford stories, and I was born in Oxford and know the city, and I suppose that’s one of the big attractions of the Morse series. [The TV adaptations] are very, very well done, and they’re also very true to the books, and also some of them are special to the - you know, they didn’t have their origin in a book by Colin, the company has carried on with the character. Very, very successfully I think.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?

Well, I suppose The Wind in the Willows, I liked very much. I loved The Wind in the Willows, which I guess was quite a reassuring book, as I could cuddle up with the little animals in bed, and feel safe. But the actual reading, the first thing I ever read were comics. I think that’s often true with children. My mother used to buy them for me, there was one called Tiger Tim, and one called The Rainbow, and I was desperate to be able to read, because as soon as they came into the house I’d say “Mummy, read me another story”, and she was usually busy. And then one day, I just found, and I remember in huge excitement, that I could read - [comics] were of course very easy, because you had the picture and then the words underneath, you know, and you just recognise the words in relation to the picture. But I can remember the huge excitement of...[read on]
A Certain Justice by P.D. James appears among John Mortimer's five best books about law and literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis’s debut, Less Than Zero, is one of the signal novels of the last thirty years; his new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, follows those infamous teenagers into an even more desperate middle age.

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

Who are your literary influences?

Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Stephen King.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

Sentimental Education by Flaubert. I think it’s a book I could have written whereas I could never have done something like The Great Gatsby.

* * *
What are you most proud of writing?

“In the Islands” and “On the Beach”, two stories from The Informers [Ellis’s 1994 short-story collection]. I’m proud of them for some reason I can’t explain.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lee Vance

Lee Vance is a graduate of Harvard Business School and a retired general partner of Goldman Sachs Group. His new novel is The Garden of Betrayal.

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

Q: In THE GARDEN OF BETRAYAL, protagonist Mark Wallace works for a hedge fund, advising a select group of investors on global energy pricing. At one point, he is given data on Saudi oil production. Why would this be valuable information for someone in Mark’s field?

A: No one knows how much oil there is in the world, or what percentage of that oil is recoverable. The only certainties are that the amount is finite, and that we’ll recover less than all of it. Hence long term – in twenty years, or fifty years, or a hundred years – we’re going to run out. The key questions are whether we’ll have time to make a smooth transition to an alternative source of energy, and what that source will be.

The Saudis are particularly important at this moment in history because they’re the one major oil producer thought to have proven, developed, excess capacity i.e. established wells that they aren’t currently pumping. But no one outside the Kingdom knows what that excess capacity is, nor do we know much about the rate at which their active fields are running down. There’s a school of thought that holds that the Saudis don’t actually have any excess capacity, and that their production is set to plunge in the near future. If so, the unexpected shortages would wreak massive global economic damage, spark famine, and almost certainly lead to further military conflict in the Middle East. Hence any information about Saudi capacity would be enormously valuable to a wide variety of business, political, and social institutions.

Q: What sort of research did you do into energy markets?

A: I co-managed Energy Trading at Goldman Sachs for a number of years, so...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 6, 2010

Zoë Ferraris

From a Q & A with Zoë Ferraris about her new novel, City of Veils:

How has your presentation of life in Saudi Arabia developed since your first novel, Finding Nouf?

I wrote City of Veils to give a broader view of the country, because there’s so much going on there. The people are trying to adapt Western ideas and trends while cherishing their Islamic traditions. For example, in a beauty pageant in Riyadh, women are judged on their moral beauty—how they treat their parents, and so forth. Yet young people’s musical groups like the Spice Babes! perform to huge outdoor crowds, and the religious police can’t do anything about it.

What seems to be responsible for more relaxed attitudes in Saudi Arabia vis-à-vis Western culture?

Young people are becoming more open, because technological advances like cell phones, FaceBook, and Bluetooth have made communication easier and virtually unstoppable.

How then do today’s devout Muslim men and women deal with the strictures of shariya law, especially concerning relations between the sexes?

Many ...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Zoë Ferraris' website.

The Page 69 Test: Finding Nouf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gail Caldwell

From a Q & A with Gail Caldwell, author of Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship:

Your best friend Caroline Knapp died in 2002 at the age of 42. At what point did you achieve the distance to be able to write about her?

There's a trick to the narrative. You say that the narrative is yours: I wrote this and can keep this forever. But it's also transformative. Putting it into prose crystallizes it, but it also does something to muck the intensity of your own private loss. For years I thought I could not write about losing Caroline. Then came the five-year anniversary; we had a family gathering for her. A lot of people seemed okay, and I was sitting on my back porch and I thought, I am really not okay. And I went inside and wrote my editor—my wonderful editor, Kate Medina. I wrote her a long where-are-we-going letter, and when I talked to her on the phone that night, I remember one word she used: "prism." That is, this book is the prism through which all other light shines—and she understood this.

Your memoir also speaks about your alcoholism for the first time—your "ménage à trois" with whiskey. Was this also the original intention of the book?

I swore I would never write about that either. Caroline was my compass—--I heard her saying as I was writing, you have to do this! It's totally dishonest not to write about my drinking, and when you get to a certain age, you say, oh, come on. Plus, this is a great story. The story always trumps the ego. Writing about my alcoholism was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Simon Schama

Simon Schama's books include Patriots and Liberators: Revolution and Government in the Netherlands 1780-1813 (1977); Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1979), The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; (1987) Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989), Landscape and Memory (1995); Rembrandt’s Eyes (1999); the History of Britain trilogy (2000-2002); Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (2006), and The Power of Art (2007).

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

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

Italo Svevo. I return to 'Confessions of Zeno' every few years. It's poignant, clumsy, elegant, funny - and the greatest novel ever written about failing to give up smoking.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

It has to be [AA Milne's] Tigger.

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

[Philosopher and theologian] Martin Buber. Because for him the core of being Jewish is an understanding of other people. "I-Thou": to put yourself in someone else's shoes.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A. E. Roman

A. E. Roman is the author of the Chico Santana mystery series: Chinatown Angel and The Superman Project.

From his 2009 interview about Chinatown Angel with La Bloga:

You've chosen to make your main character, Chico Santana, a private investigator operating out of the Bronx. Why a P.I. and why the Bronx? Why (to get to it) a mystery?

Maybe this goes back to the idea of writing what you know. I was born and raised in the Bronx. I don't know much, but I know the Bronx. And why mysteries? I love reading. I read mysteries. I love writing. I write mysteries.

I appreciated the feel for the city (and the love/hate relationship with the city) that comes across in Chinatown Angel. You infuse the story with cultural and street life details that put me, as a reader, right on the scene with your characters. You reference the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Central Park, various streets and neighborhoods of the Bronx, music (oldies and the new stuff), movies (many movie references that I thought were cool), so on and so on. Was this a conscious effort as you wrote, or did the verisimilitude just happen? And Mimi's Cuchifrito - can I stop by and pick up a papa rellena?

Yeah, I'm all about the verisimilitude. No, there was no conscious effort in terms of what I referenced. I'm a New Yorker. I've read poetry at the Nuyorican. I'm all over Central Park. I love movies, the old and the new. I love music, the old and the new. Mimi is a make-believe character in Chinatown but I can give you directions to my favorite cuchifrito in the Bronx for six papa rellena, and directions to Lincoln Hospital for an angioplasty.

Also, I used to be a teen rapper. I won't tell you what my M.C. name was, but it rhymes with "blue," because during an M.C. battle, the word "blue" goes a long way: "Your rhymes are wack! My rhymes..[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 2, 2010

Salley Vickers

Salley Vickers is the author of Dancing Backwards. She has worked as a dancer, an artist’s model, a university professor of literature, and a psychoanalyst.

From her interview with Jonathan Ruppin:

Q. The story interweaves Violet’s past and present. Do you write the two strands separately or concurrently?

A. No, I wrote the strands concurrently, always waiting in the present strand to see what would be thrown up from the past. I had no idea myself what had happened to Violet, or what the nature of the rift with Edwin was. So it was intriguing to find this out as I wrote. I never do know what is going to happen or what has happened in my books.

Q. Dino, the dance host with whom she strikes up a friendship, has a reason to feel guilty about something, but Violet forgives him; is this because her trip is motivated by her own guilt at betraying Edwin the old friend she is going to see?

A. I think it is a bit more complex that that. She has a fellow feeling with Dino – an affinity of damage, perhaps because both have lost, in a sense, mothers. As she thinks later, when considering her relationship with Dino, In sparing others we our selves may be spared. So it is in the sparing of him that she feels herself forgiven. For me that is the key line in the novel.

Q. The cruise ship setting for the book came to you after you gave a talk on the Queen Mary II and took ballroom dancing lessons while on board. Are any of the characters in the book based on anyone you encountered at sea?

A. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chandra Hoffman

From a Q &A with Chandra Hoffman, author of the forthcoming debut novel Chosen:

Question: Tell us the story behind the story. How did Chosen come to be?

Answer: This story grew out of three defining experiences: the first was my time in Romania post-Revolution as an aide worker in the infamous Orphanage Number One. It was overwhelming—I was given fifty infants my first day—but inspiring to see the human spirit surviving in spite of the bleakness. Romania led me to the second experience, a job in the United States as the director of the domestic adoption program for a private agency, the sole caseworker managing birth and adoptive parents. My goal was to create happy endings, everything I hadn’t been able to do in Bucharest. But I quickly learned that there was another side to this, the business side, and that it was very difficult to meet the needs of everyone in the adoption triangle and keep a boss happy. I left the adoption world when I became a mother myself—my skin had become predictably thin.

This was the final defining point that shaped this novel: our first son's birth and diagnosis with Pierre Robin Syndrome, nearly losing him as an infant. As a new mother to a child with huge medical hurdles, I pondered some of the deeper issues that form the backbone of Chosen: How does parenthood change you? How will the challenges you face shape you as a couple? What happens when your expectations of parenthood are so far from the reality? What makes a good parent? A good person? What happens when you get what you thought you wanted?

The story is fiction-characters and settings and scenarios are as though I took a handful of experiences, threw in a well-marinated childhood paranoia about abduction, seasoned them with the salt of my vivid imagination, put them all in a bag and shook it up. But the themes are real, straight from....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue