Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wade Davis

Wade Davis's latest book is Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.

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

Q: How is INTO THE SILENCE different from other books that have tackled Everest and what new information will readers come away with?

A: I think it is fair to say that most books on the subject focus on the figure of George Mallory, and none of them really place these expeditions in their historical context. Altogether 26 men set off for Everest in 1921-24 and each was without doubt as compelling a personality, with as complex a past, as Mallory. Into the Silence is the first book to celebrate and bring into profile the extraordinary biographies of each of the men.

If Everest began as grand imperial gesture, it really did end up as a mission of regeneration and redemption for a nation and an empire bled white by war. What’s more these expeditions did not take place in isolation, but rather in the context of the era- the Great Game and the final years of the Raj, the complex diplomatic maneuverings between the British, the Russians and the Chinese. Permission to climb the mountain grew out of an arms deal that was itself part of a grand diplomatic scheme brought into being by Charles Bell.

Into the Silence is also the first book to examine these expeditions from the point of view of the Tibetans. To do so I spent weeks in monasteries, trekked throughout the region with Dorjee Lhatoo, and secured the first complete translation of the spiritual autobiography of Dzatrul Rinpoche, the abbot of Rongbuk who greeted the British in 1921-24. Puzzles that have perplexed scholars for decades are solved. Why and how was Finch excluded from the 1921 effort? Who actually discovered the route to the North Col, the doorway to the mountain? Why was Howard-Bury selected to lead 1921, yet excluded from subsequent expeditions? Why Mallory chose to climb with Irvine? How Finch was betrayed in 1922 and yet, had he not chosen to save the life of Geoffrey Bruce, might well have reached the top. Wheeler has been overlooked in every other book, yet he was the key figure in 1921. John Noel went to his grave speaking of his service in the war. His own family does not know he sat out the war shell-shocked. Finch’s own daughter is unaware that her father had...[read on]
See Wade Davis's list of six notable books about World War I.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 30, 2011

Peter Carey

Peter Carey's novels include Parrot and Olivier in America.

From his Q & A at the Man Booker Prize website:

MBP: You were researching [Parrot and Olivier in America] in America during the presidential elections. Was Democracy in America often cited during the campaigning? How important is it to contemporary American politics?

PC: I don't recall Tocqueville being quoted during the campaign, although he is always being quoted, so I must be wrong. When I first learned that my American friends had all studied Democracy in America at school, I foolishly believed that this must have involved them reading the entire book. Of course I have met many people who have read every single word, but the majority seem to have read only those pages where Tocqueville speaks in support of the American idea. His doubts and fears have completely passed them by.

MBP: Many of your novels play out across two countries. Is this something to do with being an Australian living in New York?

PC: I think it has a great deal to do with being born in a Commonwealth country in 1943, inheriting the notion that there was a real country somewhere else, not where I was born. That home was a green place we had never visited, where our own success and failure would ultimately be judged. Thinking of two countries is a colonial habit. To understand how Australian politicians live in two countries, look at our enthusiasm for British and (later) American military causes.

In any case, I have always inhabited two worlds simultaneously. One in my head and the other...[read on]
Read a 2006 blog post on "Cultural cringe" and Peter Carey's Theft.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 29, 2011

James Ellroy

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001.

From a conversation between Ellroy and novelist David Peace, in the Guardian back in 2010:

DP Did you write American Tabloid knowing it would be the first book of a trilogy?

JE As I began the finishing of Tabloid, I saw that it was a trilogy, and I saw that the second book would be the big book about the 60s.

DP Had you also envisaged the third book?

JE Not in any kind of detail, no. Because the politics and the social upheaval of America during the 60s are so obvious – you got the anti-war protests, the civil rights movement, the racism of the South, Howard Hughes buying up Las Vegas – I had a lot of it right at the gate. But when you go into 1972, as this book [Blood's a Rover] does, it's less charted territory.

DP At what point did you decide on the various timeframes for each novel?

JE I had decided to end the first two books with the assassinations (of JFK in 1963, and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968), and then the death of Hoover in '72 unfolded as the logical conclusion to the trilogy.

DP These are huge stories, huge histories. What are your research methods?

JE They are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley's books include God’s War and Infidel.

From her Q & A at The Ranting Dragon:

So for those unfamiliar with the novel, what is God’s War about?

God’s War is a screaming, bloody adventure story set on a ravaged, contaminated world where a centuries-old holy war rages. It follows an inglorious former government assassin named Nyx and her ragtag band of felons, mercenaries, and magicians in their hunt to take down an alien gene pirate who may hold the key to ending the war.

How did the idea of Nyx come up for you? Did anyone inspire you for that character?

Nyx is a natural evolution of some complex bloody heroines I developed in early short stories. They were from post-apocalyptic/desert/resource-poor worlds, and I knew that I wanted to have the same kind of hard-bitten, experienced, take-no-prisoners personality type for Nyx.

When I started patching together what I thought was going to be my “bounty hunter novel” those characters were certainly at the top of my mind. Thing is, the more depth you give your world, the more unique the character becomes to that world. I don’t know that Nyx could exist without Umayma. That’s something I think is key to building memorable characters. They have to be people who simply couldn’t exist if you picked them up and put them somewhere else.

Was there a character that you related to more than any others? Was there a story that you enjoyed telling more than any other?

Nyx is by far easiest to write, so...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: God’s War and Infidel.

Writers Read: Kameron Hurley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

William Gibson

From William Gibson's 2011 interview by David Wallace-Wells for The Paris Review:


How do you begin a novel?


I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.


You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?


No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.

E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.


Do you take notes?


I take the position that if I can...[read on]
Learn what Gibson is scared of.

Gibson's Neuromancer made PopCrunch's list of the sixteen best dystopian books of all time and Annalee Newitz lists of ten great American dystopias and "Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 26, 2011

Michael Sims

Michael Sims is the editor of The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.

From his Q & A with the Jacket Copy blog:

Jacket Copy: The book’s subtitle refers to this as “a connoisseur’s collection.” How is this book different from other collections of Victorian-era stories of detection?

Michael Sims: For decades I dreamed about editing the ideal anthology: a carefully chosen mix of representative stories that includes forgotten works by big-name authors and lost gems by forgotten authors, an introduction that places the genre and authors in literary and historical context, an introduction to each story that goes beyond a brief note cobbled from Wikipedia entries and includes some of the literary anecdotes my disheveled magpie brain has hoarded over the years, everything in chronological order to show the genre's growth, and a hefty number of handsome pages but not too heavy to read in bed.

So I designed my Connoisseur's Collection series for Walker and Bloomsbury (the first volume was "Dracula's Guest," about vampires, and the third volume will be "The Phantom Coach," about ghosts) to expressly avoid the slips in these categories that I have found disappointing in some other anthologies.

JC: Crimes are puzzles, and the popularity of crime stories and thrillers has to do with the fact that just about everyone loves a good puzzle. Are there certain principles or elements that the mysteries in your book have in common?

MS: I hope readers won't be able to find much in common between these stories except...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin's many books include the Earthsea series.

From her Q & A with readers at the Guardian in 2004:

Q: One of the most memorable images of the Earthsea books is that of the "wall of stones" and the grey world of the dead beyond. The idea of a shadowy world of despair seems to crop up a lot in SF - in the last century I'm reminded of Philip K Dick's "tomb world", or the grey town in CS Lewis's The Great Divorce, or most recently the world of the dead in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I guess there are more ancient parallels in the Old Testament references to "Sheol" or the Greek conception of the Fields of Asphodel. Why do you think so many writers have talked about death in these terms and is there a reason why it is such a recurring theme in the Earthsea books?

UKL: The dark, dry, changeless world after death of Earthsea comes (in so far as I am conscious of its sources) from the Greco-Roman idea of Hades' realm, from certain images in Dante, and from one of Rilke's Elegies. A realm of shadow, dust, where nothing changes and "lovers pass each other in silence" - it seems a fairly common way of thinking about what personal existence after death would be, not a specifically modern one? I do hope you noticed that the wall of stones was broken down in the sixth book of Earthsea, and that all that world of dust and silence was...[read on]
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of Lev Grossman's five top fantasy novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's latest novel is Room.

From her Q & A at the Man Booker Prize site:

MBP: Room begins with a mother and son captured and living in one room - it's an incredibly chilling and powerful novel. Reviewers have written said that you were influenced by the Elizabeth Fritzl and Jaycee Lee Dugard cases - is this the case and how difficult was it to read this unsettling factual material?

ED: It was the Fritzl case that triggered the idea of the book, as it happens; the Dugard case did not hit the headlines until after the book was written. I was careful to distance the scenario in my book from any of the real-life ones I was reading about, but the research I did was certainly very helpful on, in particular, the issue of how captives cope. The stories I found most distressing were not those of kidnaps, in fact, but those of children raised in appallingly confined, neglected or maltreated situations, usually by their own parents. I deliberately made the circumstances in Room much less horrific than any of the real cases; I did not want to pile up horrors for my readers, but to focus their minds on the more existential issue of confinement.

MBP: In Room, the reader is led to believe that an escape will be the end of their ordeal - yet the ‘outside' world presents new challenges. Did you do any research into how victims coped with life after this kind of imprisonment? Are there themes in victims' responses?

ED: The most interesting material was in studies of solitary confinement, which is widely used in American jails, for instance. The long-term psychic damage of this kind of punitive isolation is clear, so it seemed to me that Ma would have many problems coping with the social world for which she has been longing. And for Jack, of course, much about our world is utterly alien - and not just because...[read on]
Learn about the book at changed Emma Donoghue's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 23, 2011

Qiu Xiaolong

Qiu Xiaolong, author of the Inspector Chen mysteries, came to the United States as a Ford Foundation Fellow in 1988, earning a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis. Following the bloody 1989 anti-democracy crackdown at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, he resolved to stay on in the US and began writing in English.

From his Q & A with PBS:

How difficult was it to begin writing in English? When you’re writing, are you thinking in English or Chinese?

I started writing in English in 1989, after what had happened in Tiananmen Square that summer. I was banned from publishing in Chinese. And because of it, I had no choice but to struggle with English, though it was really difficult. Nowadays, while working on the novels, I think in English, but it can still be difficult, often with problems unimaginable to a native speaker. For instance, in Red Mandarin Dress, I had a hard time describing some clothing style in detail. My wife talks to me about her shopping only in Chinese. So I had to consult my daughter Julia, who was born here.

Having said that, I want to add that it is not always a disadvantage for a non-native speaker to write in English. For me, the Chinese, still in the subconscious, appears to provide an alternative sensibility to the English writing. For one thing, phrases and expressions overused in one language may become vivid and refreshing in another, not to mention the other experimental other possibilities in syntax and structure.

How do you think the current global economic crisis will affect what you’ve said is a “rampant materialism” that has taken hold in China?

The current global economic crisis has certainly affected China, but regarding the “rampant materialism,” the situation may be complicated. To a considerable extent, it has developed out of the ideological disillusion after the Cultural Revolution. With the demise of Confucianism and Maoism, it’s largely “a spiritual vacuum,” as sometimes described in Chinese media. Walking about in Shanghai, you may see more luxurious brand stores with people busy in conspicuous consumption than anywhere else. Prior to the global economic crisis, ironically, a small number of Chinese intellectuals looked to the capitalist culture for support of their values, and now people are reading a newly-released bestseller entitled China Pissed Off, denouncing and decrying the evils revealed in the crisis of the West. So it’s possible that materialism may grow more rampant, even self-justified, that is, provided the economy does not crash in China in the short term.

How did you decide to take up mystery writing, and who was the inspiration for Inspector Chen?

In...[read on]
The Inspector Chen mysteries appear among Jonathan Fenby's top books on modern China and on Catherine Sampson's top ten list of Asian crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jon Steele

Jon Steele's new novel is The Watchers.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

THE LONG GOODBYE by Raymond Chandler.
* * *

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

MULLINER’S TALES by P.G Wodehouse. One story before bedtime. Add a cup of hot chocolate and life is about as good as if gets.
* * *

The best Irish crime novel is …?

THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes. (no kidding) Everything about it appeals to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Alexander J. Field

Alexander J. Field's latest book is A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, a "bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth is built around a novel claim, that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed."

From Field's Q & A with David Leonhardt at the New York Times:

Q. You make the novel claim that the Great Depression years were good — or at least important — for the American economy. How so?

Mr. Field: In 1941, the U.S. economy produced almost 40 percent more output than it had in 1929, with virtually no increase in labor hours or private-sector capital input. Almost all of the increase in output per hour is attributable to technological and organizational advance. As I said in the title of my 2003 American Economic Review article, the 1930s were indeed the most technologically progressive decade of the century.

The conventional wisdom is that the war somehow magically transformed the doom and gloom of the Depression into the U.S. standing like a colossus astride the world in 1948. My counterargument is that potential output expanded by leaps and bounds between 1929 and 1941, and it was this expansion in capacity that both helped us win the war and established the foundations for postwar prosperity.

Q. I would not have guessed that the economy was 40 percent larger in 1941 than in 1929, given how much it shrunk in the early 1930s. When did all the growth happen?

Mr. Field: There was a very strong recovery following Roosevelt’s election, interrupted only temporarily by...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: A Great Leap Forward.

Read more about A Great Leap Forward.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mary Gabriel

Mary Gabriel's Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution is a 2011 National Book Award Finalist.

From her interview with Paul Casciato for Reuters:

Q: Wasn't Marx a crowded field for a writer?

A: There are libraries of books on Marx and books on his theory in every conceivable language, but I was shocked to find that among all those volumes there was not a single book that focused on Marx and his family. Marx's personal life has been a controversial subject from the time of his death in 1883. Immediately after his burial efforts began by his followers to sanitize his story so that this 'socialist god' would not seem human.

I believed there was room for another biography that told the story of Marx and his family, that readers ought to be introduced to Marx as husband, father and friend - for better or worse. Readers will see that this man was not at all the stern patrician he appeared to be in socialist and communist propaganda. I also found that uncovering the private Marx helped me understand his theory. Having done so, I can't imagine reading Marx's works without understanding the circumstances in which they were written and the historical events that were unfolding around him as he did so.

Q: What surprised you most about Marx?

A: I was shocked by how...[read on]
Megan Gilbert asked Gabriel: How do you think the professional lives of great thinkers are influenced by their private lives? Read Gabriel's answer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker's novels are The Mezzanine, Room Temperature, Vox, The Fermata, The Everlasting Story of Nory, A Box of Matches, Checkpoint, The Anthologist, and House of Holes, A Book of Raunch.

From his Q & A with Sam Anderson at The Paris Review:


Can we talk a little about the perils of sex writing?


Yes. There aren’t any.




It’s just too darn fun. I recommend it to everyone. I guess the perils are that sometimes you get perplexed or worried reviews. Poor Baker, has he gone off? Have we lost him to wankery and shame? But my basic feeling is that if a novel can offer some entertainment, and maybe a few observations and also, as a kind of bonus, a little arousal here and there, that’s probably not a bad thing.


So it’s fun to write about sex?


Of course it is. First of all, there’s the challenge. People have done it over many centuries in many different ways. There’s A Thousand and One Nights and Fanny Hill. It’s a grand theme. I thought I’d done everything I wanted to do on the subject with Vox and The Fermata, but many years have gone by since those books, and it turns out that if you assume that things like interplasmic-crotchal transfers are possible, there’s more to be said.


Is writing about sex arousing for you as you’re writing it?


There’s no point in doing it if it...[read on]
--Marshl Zeringue

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Frank Cottrell Boyce's books include Cosmic, Millions, and The Unforgotten Coat, which is shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Children's Book Award.

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

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

Chekhov because he kept getting better. He noticed the tiny little things in life in his stories, and he didn't cut himself off or take himself off somewhere [to write] in the middle of his life. He was very involved with his family, where he lived, and humanitarian projects.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I always wanted to be [the anti-authority character] Snufkins from the Moomin books [by Tove Jansson] but I think somehow I turned into Moominpappa.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

I know a priest called Father Peter Morgan who works with refugees and he is always smiling, joking, and laughing in spite of the massive set of problems on his hands.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Carolyn Cooke

Carolyn Cooke's first novel, Daughters of the Revolution, was published by Knopf in June 2011.

From her Q & A at The Rumpus:

Rumpus: Daughters of the Revolution focuses on a specific period of time in a specific place, when New England prep schools were taking cautious steps toward integration and co-education. Around the same time, Boston was in the throes of a violent controversy over school busing. The violence in South Boston was after your moved to Maine, wasn’t it?

Cooke: Yes, but I was aware of it. Initially I wanted to write a book about busing.

Rumpus: I can see how that idea morphed into Carole, the African-American girl who is admitted to the boys’ prep school by mistake. It’s remarkable how much the discussion of school integration has changed, isn’t it? We seem to have given up on integration in the schools. Now we talk about identity, which is fine, but I wonder if the price we pay is further fragmentation of the polity. Do you think an obsession with race can blind us to issues of class? Is there a vacuum in the arts and the national debate when it comes to class?

Cooke: I’m really disturbed by the increasing emphasis at elite schools and elsewhere on meritocracy. You look at the Ivy League colleges, which are so racially and ethnically diverse, and yet so filled with wealthy, privileged kids from all over the world. It’s also true at the California state schools, increasingly, as the tuition goes up. It’s called “merit” and it means...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 16, 2011

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen's novels have been published in 34 languages, which is 33 more than he is able to read or write. The London Observer has called him "America's finest satirical novelist," while Janet Maslin of the New York Times has compared him to Preston Sturges, Woody Allen and S.J. Perelman. His latest novel is Star Island (2010).

From Hiaasen's Q & A with Euan Ferguson at the Observer:

Why just one film so far (Striptease, 1996)? So much dialogue in the books cries out for celluloid…

I've sympathy for all the screenwriters who have taken a crack. I'd love to see a good script of one of my books, in these years of animations and comic book sequels, and had so many written over the years, but none quite clicked. Perhaps the internal voice is hard to get across. Plus the plots… having a pit bull stuck rotting on someone's arm for 180 pages is perhaps slightly challenging cinematically.

Who doesn't like you?

Some people get upset by the column [in the Miami Herald]. The extreme right, the nuts, the ones that think Obama is somehow a socialist, a fascist and Muslim at the same time … but there's no dealing with those letters, with the crayons.

Do you worry, with your sense of right and wrong in these fast-changing times, that your thinking will ever be seen as old-fashioned?

Everybody my age worries about that. But the hardest thing for me, for anybody who writes satire or any kind of contemporary fiction, is to...[read on]
Novelist Meg Gardiner says "...nobody satirizes American excess like Hiaasen. Last week I was reading [Star Island] on a flight, and laughed so hard that I thought the flight attendant was going to taser me."

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell's latest novel is Red Mist.

From her Q & A with Janice Kaplan at The Daily Beast:

You’re practically the godmother of forensics in fiction. Do you watch shows like CSI and think, "Wait, I did that first"?

I don’t watch CSI. I’m more interested in seeing the real procedures than a dramatic interpretation. No disrespect towards CSI or any others, but I enjoy crime shows that are richer in character and story, like Criminal Minds. I’m making a guest appearance on that next month. It’s not a huge role—I don’t catch the bad guys or anything, since they don’t need my help for that. But I’m fascinated by profiling and forensic psychology.

Why do you think people are suddenly so intrigued by forensics?

The human capacity to be curious has always existed. Think of what happens when you walk into someone’s bedroom and see a strange array of things—the phone is in a certain place, a notebook is on a chair, a hat is hung up. It’s in our nature to re-create what the person was doing. We’re taking in data constantly—getting information about people that will help us navigate through the world. We apply the same curiosity to a crime scene. The greatest gift is our own eyes, sense of smell, and abilities to deduce. Add to that the...[read on]
Learn about the novel Cornwell wishes she'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Randy Roberts

Randy Roberts is distinguished professor of history at Purdue University.

His books include Joe Louis: Hard Times Man.

From Jeff Glor's Q & A with Roberts about his new book, A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation:

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Randy Roberts: I look for stories from the worlds of sports and films that somehow connect with main themes in American history. Well, some years ago I noticed that in 1944 the West Point football team went undefeated and won the national title. I thought, there must be a story there. The season was played between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge at a time when the U.S. Army and West Point were front and center in the minds of Americans. What must it have been like to play a game while you prepared to lead troops in war? What were the relationships between the players on 1944 and their teammates who had graduated in 1942 and 1943 and were fighting in the "big show," as they called it? What did football--the most militaristic of all sports--mean to Americans during World War II? There were the sort of questions that inspired me to write the book, and since I teach large courses (300-500 students) on World War II, the questions just got the best of me.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

RR: Short answer, how obsessed I became with the topic. When I was writing the first draft I wrote every day, including Christmas, New Year's, and my birthday. I couldn't get the topic out of my mind. I listened to music from...[read on]
Visit the A Team for America Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Randy Roberts's Joe Louis: Hard Times Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Theresa Weir

Theresa Weir is a USA Today bestselling author of nineteen novels that have spanned the genres of suspense, mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, and paranormal; her work has been translated into twenty languages.

Her new memoir is The Orchard.

From her Q & A at Powell's:

Describe your latest book.

In 1975 I was a naïve hippie. While working at my uncle's bar in Illinois, I met an apple farmer and three months later we were married. I fully expected to live this kind of back-to-nature, granola existence. Having babies. Growing and canning all of our food. Instead, I found myself swimming in pesticides and shunned by my new husband's family, living an isolated existence in a 400-square-foot house. The Orchard is told mainly through the eyes of my 20-something self. It's a fish-out-of water, up-close-and-personal examination of '70s and '80s farm culture from a raw perspective.

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

Scooby-Doo. Because I have the feeling he wouldn't be judgmental. Of course I'm talking about a purely platonic relationship.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?

I worked at...[read on]
My Book, The Movie: The Orchard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 12, 2011

Noah Feldman

Harvard University law professor Noah Feldman is the author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices. From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: The Supreme Court blocked many of FDR's New Deal reforms, prompting him to try – and fail – to expand and pack the court. Then its resistance began to wilt, and judges started retiring. What happened then?

A: Roosevelt got a chance to name an amazing nine justices of the Supreme Court.

He was not namby-pamby on this question. He wanted people who shared his views, he wanted liberals, and he wanted lots of them.

FDR's justices were allies while he was alive, but after he died, they developed four totally different theories of what the Constitution is, two of which are considered conservative and two of which are considered liberal.

Q: What does that tell us about how the court works?

A: Even if you put people on the court who have similar political perspectives, that doesn't mean they have the...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stuart Woods

Novelist Syd Jones interviewed Stuart Woods. Part of their exchange:

Stuart, it’s great to have you with us at Scene of the Crime. We like to focus on setting here, and Stone Barrington seems to get around quite a lot. Could you describe your connection to some of these locales?

I live in three places: Key West (my domicile and legal residence) in the Winter and early spring; Mt. Desert Island, Maine, in the summer and New York City in the spring and autumn, when I’m not touring. Because I’m always looking for 70 degrees farenheit.

What things about these places make them unique and good physical settings in your books?

Key West is artsy and full of people who are there because they have nowhere else to go. (At least, they won’t freeze in winter.) Maine is there when I have to get my characters out of the stifling city and into a pleasant summer. And there’s only one New York.

Did you consciously set out to use your location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?

The former, I think. Stories work better in some locales than in others.

How do you incorporate location in your fiction?

That grows...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 10, 2011

David McCullough

From historian David McCullough's June 2011 Q & A with Belinda Luscombe at Time magazine:

Your new book, The Greater Journey, is about a bunch of mostly artistic Americans who moved to Paris from 1830 to 1900. Why them?

We know a good deal about the time when Franklin, Adams and Jefferson were in Paris and more than a great deal about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein. My feeling was that this period brought to France a group who are among the most interesting and important figures in American life. I also feel very strongly that history ought to be seen as a great deal more than just politics and the military.

Who was your favorite character from the book?

[Sculptor] Augustus Saint-Gaudens is one of my favorite characters in my writing life. Infinitely interesting man, complicated, immensely talented and important and a great American story. An immigrant shoemaker's son, was put to work at age 13, street kid in New York who was determined to excel. Remember, there were no schools of art here, no museums. If you wanted to become an architect, you went to Paris.

How did Samuel Morse go from portrait painter, before he went to Paris, to inventor?

The fact that Morse was a brilliant painter did not mean...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 9, 2011

Denise Mina

Scottish mystery author Denise Mina's latest novel is The End of the Wasp Season.

From her Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Glasgow comes across as tremendously dark and sad place in your novels set in the 1980s. The Alex Morrow novels show a more upscale Glasgow with havens for the rich, although there's still plenty of grit to go around. What's different about the city now?

A: Glasgow has changed hugely since I started writing, when it was like Detroit. It was the first city in Europe to regenerate itself through the arts, and there's been huge amount of regeneration.

Q: How have female detectives evolved in fiction over the past couple of decades?

A: At first, they had to act like men, carry guns and punch people – be able to beat people up and engage in fisticuffs. In the mid-1990s, their gender is talked about a lot, and they experienced prejudice.

Now you've reached the point where a woman is just a different type of detective. You're not getting information just because you're a woman; it's not your superpower anymore. It's just a fact about who you are.

Q: Alex Morrow isn't the friendliest of people. Are you attracted to people who have a bit of an attitude?

A: Alex just wants to do her job, and she's very angry.

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Craig McDonald

Edgar®-nominee Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His novels include four entries in the Hector Lassiter series.

His new standalone novel is El Gavilan.

From McDonald's Q & A with crime fiction expert J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus Reviews:

El Gavilan is very much a social novel. It deals not only with a criminal investigation, but also with the dilemma of illegal immigration. I’m impressed that you accomplished all of this without shortchanging thriller readers or beating them over the head with political commentary. Did you start with the murder story or with the wish to write something of greater social relevance?

The two elements were entwined from conception. I had recently reread [John] Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and that novel, with its themes of immigration, destitution, and its format of interleaving chapters, were something I was thinking of in the shaping of El Gavilan. It’s the one novel of mine where I let my journalism background really have its head. At the same time, I was very cautious about trying not to preach.

Have you had opportunities over the years to report on the movement of illegal immigrants into the Upper Midwest?

It’s very much drawn from what I was seeing around me in central Ohio, particularly starting in the middle- to late-1990s and reaching a peak right around 2002 or ’03. It was a drawn-from-the-headlines work and some of those headlines I’d written in a journalistic context. There was an apartment-complex fire—later determined to be a racially motivated arson—very similar to the one I describe near the beginning of the novel. A cockfighting ring run by undocumented workers was broken up about a mile from my hometown. And an Ohio sheriff or two really was using Homeland Security funds to post billboards similar to those county sheriff Able Hawk posts in El Gavilan. Like Hawk, those same sheriffs were also...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Craig McDonald's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: El Gavilan.

The Page 69 Test: El Gavilan.

Writers Read: Craig McDonald.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby Fischer Hellmann's novels include the series featuring video documentarian Ellie Foreman (An Eye for Murder, A Picture of Guilt, An Image of Death, A Shot to Die For), and another with protagonist Georgia Davis, a police officer turned PI (Easy Innocence, Doubleback, Toxicity).

From her Q & A at Read Me Deadly:

Please engage in a "what if" for a moment. You're not a writer, and your dream job has you doing what?

Um… producing major motion pictures or beautiful independent films with Viggo Mortensen as the star. I love being in the editing room, btw. Even more than shooting on location.

When did you first start reading mysteries and which ones most grabbed you as a new crime-fiction reader?

I came relatively late to mysteries. I gravitated toward thrillers in my twenties, but after a steady diet of them, they all started to sound the same. World in jeopardy of blowing up, hero saves the world, walks off into sunset with woman. My mother, though, was and still is a prolific mystery reader, and one day, when I was complaining gave me a copy of Jeremiah Healy’s The Staked Goat. In a word, I loved it. (You can find out why here: That started me down the road of reading mysteries. The rest, as they say, is history. Although I will admit to liking modern mysteries and suspense better than historical. Curious, since I'm writing historicals these days. But I am a World War II espionage junkie.

Has any book you read as a child or teenager had a lasting effect on you?

Blueberries for Sal when I was a little girl. Plink, plink.

Gone with the Wind when...[read on]
Visit Libby Fischer Hellmann's website and group blog, The Outfit.

Writers Read: Libby Fischer Hellmann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Matt Rees

Matt Rees is an award-winning crime novelist and foreign correspondent. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Omar Yussef crime series, including The Collaborator of Bethlehem. He is also the author of Cain’s Field, a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society. Rees lives in Jerusalem.

From Rees's Q &A with Jessica Duchen about his new novel, Mozart's Last Aria:

JD: Matt, what made you want to write a detective story about Mozart's death? Especially after 'Amadeus' has had the market cornered for so many years?

MR: Peter Schaffer’s great play was written in the late Seventies. Milos Forman filmed it in the early Eighties. Which is getting to be rather a long time ago (though as I prepare to turn 44, I’d rather not admit that…) In turn, Schaffer’s play was a reworking of an old piece by Pushkin, which Mussorgsky later used as the basis for an opera. Yet there’s a great deal of new historical research on Mozart which gives tantalizing hints about his possible death and the reasons behind it – including the secret police infiltration of the Masons, of which Wolfgang was a leading member, and even his involvement in espionage. The Pushkin-Schaffer idea is based on a single confession of murder Salieri made – and later recanted – in a madhouse. I wanted to use this new historical research to come up with a new story about Mozart’s death. I certainly think readers have a deep fascination with Mozart which will make them open to a reexamination of the story of his demise. Most of all, I wanted to put his relationship with his sister Nannerl – the narrator of my novel – at the heart of the story. It was she who gave me the idea for the book, when I visited St. Gilgen, her little village in the Salzkammergut, the mountains near Salzburg. I saw an image of her in which she looked exactly like her brother. Naturally, that got my crime fiction juices bubbling…

JD: Do you think this really is what happened to Mozart?

MR: I...[read on]
Learn more about about the book and author at Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Mozart's Last Aria.

The Page 69 Test: Mozart's Last Aria.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 5, 2011

Colin Cotterill

At Publishers Weekly Lenny Picker interviewed Colin Cotterill about Slash and Burn, possibly the last mystery starring the acerbic Laotian national coroner. Part of the Q & A:

How did you come to create Dr. Siri?

I’d worked with Lao refugees in Australia and alongside good old socialists in Laos, and I had a wicker basketful of stories and experiences. I began my search for a lead character in Thailand. One of the country’s major celebrities is a forensic pathologist called Dr. Pornthip. She has punk hair and piercings and has written some 30 gory books on her subject. I wondered what type of personality a Lao coroner would need to achieve the same reputation. And I came up with Siri.

What about Siri is uniquely Laotian?

I needed a character who was Lao, yet tainted by the West. As many Lao have done, Siri spent a great chunk of his life studying in Paris. He returned to his country with a pretty Lao nurse, a lot of Western ideas, and membership in the Communist Party. From then on, most of his life was spent fighting the French, the Americans, and the Lao royalists. By the time the wars were over, he was in his 70s and expecting to retire. But...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Peter James

Peter James is the #1 international bestselling author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series with more than 6 million copies sold all over the world. His novels have been translated into thirty-four languages and three have been filmed. All his novels reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research.

His latest novels are Perfect People and Dead Man's Grip.

From James's Q & A at the Independent:

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

Graham Greene. He wrote the novel, Brighton Rock, that made me want to be a writer. I first read it at 14 and it was the first time I'd read a crime novel where the villains were the central characters – I found that exhilarating.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

The favourite character I've ever created, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. He feels the way I do about so many things and gets irritated by the same things – and has the same taste in women!
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Sir Richard Branson. There are people who can achieve huge success in life, while adding a bit of fun and a splash of colour to this increasingly grey world.I admire his daredevil, adventurer spirit and how he was one of the very first to bring a totally different face to the usual stern ... image of the corporate boardroom.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn more about the author and his work at the official Peter James website.

The Page 69 Test: Looking Good Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Miranda July

Miranda July is a filmmaker, artist, and writer. Her videos, performances, and web-based projects have been presented at sites such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and in two Whitney Biennials. July wrote, directed and starred in her first feature-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know(2005), which won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Camera d’Or. Miranda July’s most recent film is The Future (2011), which she wrote and directed and stars in.

Her fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, Harper’s, and The New Yorker; her collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (Scribner, 2007), won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and has been published in twenty countries. Her latest book is It Chooses You (McSweeney’s, 2011).

From her Q & A with Carolyn Sun at The Daily Beast:

In your latest book, It Chooses You, you go out and interview people you’d met through the Penny Saver as a way to distract yourself while finishing your script to The Future. At what point did you realize you had a book or material for a project?

A lot of projects I start feel very open-ended at the beginning, so I’m used to it. But usually I don’t write about it like I did in this book. Every project feels unreal at the beginning. So I didn’t worry about it too much. But definitely it was very unclear where I was going with this. My photographer and assistant [whom I brought on the interviews], we would have these long conversations on these long drives—what are we doing? What is this?

Some of these people’s stories were quite touching. I’m wondering if there are stories that are hard to shake?

Andrew, the tadpole guy, he got to me. Something about the fact that he was so young. And I remember talking to him on the phone and trying to convince him it was a good idea to have me come over. I was trying to be cool at first, because I thought because he was a 17- year-old boy he would be cool, and that would be what mattered to him. But the second I met him and saw his tadpole garden, I was like, “Oh, this kid is not any cooler than me.” And also, out of a slight paranoia because of the book being out, I keep thinking about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 2, 2011

D. E. Meredith

D.E. Meredith read English at Cambridge, then ran the press office and the land mines campaign for the Red Cross, travelling extensively to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Rwanda during the conflicts. She worked as a consultant on media relations for Greenpeace and other worthy causes before embarking on "The Hatton and Roumande Mysteries" series for St Martin's Press (Devoured, October 2010, The Devil's Ribbon, October 2011).

From a Q & A about the Hatton and Roumande mysteries:

Tell us about your book.

“Devoured” is a classic murder mystery combining an eclectic mix of early forensic science and the nineteenth-century craze for specimen collecting, set against a backdrop of a river adventure into the heart of Borneo’s steaming jungle and an evil heart of darkness.

What inspired you to write this book?

Quite simply reading the wonderful “The Malay Archipelago” by Alfred Russel Wallace. It’s an amazing window into the mind of one of the world’s greatest naturalists, who has been overshadowed by his more famous contemporary, Charles Darwin. This famous travelogue describes Russel Wallace’s work, ambitions and thinking as he travelled into the remotest corners of the earth looking for birds, butterflies and beasts.

Is Professor Hatton based on anyone real?

No, but I did get his name from a Victorian graveyard near where I live. He is completely imagined. There were no famous forensic scientists working with Scotland Yard in the mid Victorian period, as far as I know. However, I did base him loosely on the character Ed Norton plays in the film version of, “The Painted Veil.” Like Somerset Maugham’s character, Walter Vane, Professor Hatton is thin, milk pale, repressed and uptight, in the way only an Englishman can be. He is intent only on his work - work which was deemed to be Godless, highly controversial and to many ordinary people at the time, next to devil worshipping. Hatton feels...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Denise Meredith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Ribbon.

My Book, The Movie: The Devil's Ribbon.

Writers Read: D.E. Meredith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 1, 2011

George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin's best-selling fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire" is the basis for the HBO series Game of Thrones.

From his Q & A with Adam Pasick at New York magazine:

What's your biggest worry about the TV show as it gets deeper into the story?

There are certainly challenges that lie ahead, and as the show goes on, the challenges will get greater. I wanted to write a book as big as my imagination. Now David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] are faced with the very real challenge of how do you translate this complex thing with a cast of thousands and giant castles and dragons and walls of ice — serious production challenges that get bigger with every book. I think one of biggest challenges is budgets and shooting time. We had ten hours for the first season, and the same for the second. Boardwalk Empire has twelve, Treme has twelve — if we'd had two more hours we could have told a lot more of the story. Storm of Swords [the third book] is enormous and it will have to be broken up into two seasons, I think. But David and Dan are great people and they've assembled a great team, so if anyone can do it, they will.

The other thing that concerns me is what I call the butterfly effect. If you're familiar with the Ray Bradbury short story, you'll know what I mean. On TV, we saw the death of Mago, but we will see him in the books — he's still alive. It will have to be different in the book than in the show, because they killed him on TV. These are the kind of ripple effects that can happen.

How do you keep all of these details straight? Is there a huge encyclopedia or computer file that you use when you write?

It's mostly...[read on]
See George R.R. Martin's list of 5 novels that should have won the Hugo Award.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alice Fahs

From a Q & A with Alice Fahs about her new book, Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space:

Q: You state that we know more about a few mid-nineteenth century women journalists than we do about the hundreds of female journalists writing at the turn of the century, despite the amount of published writing they left behind. Why is this the case?

A: Many of the newspaper women I write about were well known in their day--some were even syndicated nationally--so I imagine they would have been pretty surprised that they have been so thoroughly forgotten. But there is a perfect storm of reasons why they have been neglected. Not only do we tend to undervalue the types of newspapers they often worked for (so-called "yellow" or sensational newspapers), but we undervalue the kinds of work newspaper women did--especially if their stories appeared on the much-maligned woman's page. So we simply haven't looked for these women's writings.

By the way, even newspaper women themselves often undervalued their work (one of the reasons there are so few collections of their papers or letters in archives). Women journalists who aspired to political reporting or police reporting were understandably resentful that they were often forced to work for the woman's page instead. They talked scornfully of being stuck in the "hen coop." But a big surprise for me was how lively their writings were for the woman's page--how much fun they were to read.

Q: Out on Assignment mentions many "stunts" or "adventures" performed by female journalists. What are some examples, and what caused these stunts to be simultaneously popular and controversial?

A: Lots of people remember that Nellie Bly made a newspaper sensation by going...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Ashbery

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet John Ashbery was awarded the National Book Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

From his Q & A with Belinda Luscombe in Time magazine:

You were banned from Poetry magazine for a while. Why?

My school roommate was a frustrated poet, and he took some of my poems and some of his own, which were terrible, and sent them to Poetry, and then I sent my poems some time after that. And they sent back a one-word note--"Sorry." It wasn't until six months later, when I saw my poems in Poetry, I realized what had happened. I was now down in their books as a plagiarist. That was really depressing.

You grew up in an era when it was considered shameful to be gay. How would your work change if you grew up now?

There is a school of criticism that says that my poetry is so torturous and obscure because I've been trying to cover up the fact of my sexuality all these years, and I think that's an interesting possibility. But I'm not sure whether that's the generating force in my poetry. I think I would have been attracted to the surrealists anyway.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2011

Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg and now lives in Cape Town. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood (2009), was published in six countries and won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Prize). His second book, Wake Up Dead (2010), was a 10 best pick of the Philadelphia Enquirer, Times (South Africa) and Krimiwelt (Germany) and was nominated for the German Krimi-Blitz Reader’s Award. Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead were nominated for Spinetingler Magazine New Voice Awards in the U.S. and both books are in development as feature films.

His third novel is Dust Devils.

From Smith's Q &A with Kim Saulse at The Big Issue:

[TBI] Your debut Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead are being adapted for the screen, with Samuel L Jackson starring in the film version of Mixed Blood. How do you feel about that?

[RS] It all happened in a couple of weeks. It was so disorientating for me, there’s no way of describing it. From me reading the book, to the person closest to me reading it and then Samuel L Jackson reading it — it was way crazy! It looks quite possible that they’ll be shooting in Cape Town. I’ve read the script of the second book and it is a very interesting interpretation.

[TBI] Do you have any anxiety about handing your work over to screenwriters?

[RS] As a screenwriter I’ve adapted other people’s books and I know that the demands of a book and script are different. Clearly the density of a book can never completely be transposed to a script for film. I think you are an idiot if...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

Writers Read: Roger Smith.

My Book, The Movie: Dust Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anne Rice

Anne Rice's novels include Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, and the forthcoming werewolf novel The Wolf Gift.

From her Q & A with Marlow Stern at The Daily Beast:

How did you develop your set of vampire “rules,” so to speak?

I went along with what I inherited from Hollywood—that vampires burn up in the sun. I didn’t know that wasn’t part of the original Dracula. And the rest I sort of made up. I thought if they responded hysterically to garlic or crucifixes, that was not as interesting as their being nihilistic and atheistic, and not having a “magical” response to something but having definite limitations and rules.

So what’s your take on the Twilight series? It really does seem to go against the grain in its depiction of vampires.

I think the concept is so rich in itself. It’s like the concept of the cowboy or the detective. Vampires have become almost like a genre, like the Western. What I see happening, with writers like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, is the domestication of the vampire. I was more interested in a powerful, Old World figure that had a lot of knowledge, experience, and was surrounded by a lot of glamour and mystery. I wanted to keep the romance. I loved the idea of these people gaining wisdom as they aged, and how that might cause them to be ever more tormented by the fact that they don’t really belong in the world and they prey on human beings, who they’ve really come to appreciate. Charlaine Harris is doing something different by imagining what it’s like if vampires are legal and you have them living in your Southern town, and I think she gets a tremendous amount of energy out of that. She’s very witty—there’s a lot of satire there—and on the HBO show True Blood, there’s even a romance with Vampire Bill.

True Blood is set in your native Louisiana, and it really uses vampirism as a metaphor for outsiders, including the gay community. What are your thoughts on using vampirism as a metaphor for the disenfranchised?

It’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz’s new Sherlock Holmes novel is The House of Silk.

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

What music helps you to write?

Music by Philip Glass.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Gordon Comstock in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It’s his constant striving for contentment. I drink less though.

Who are your literary influences?

Charles Dickens, George Gissing, Ian Fleming, Hergé.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Tony Blair. I would love to know how he lives with himself.
Read the complete Q &A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2011

David Baldacci

David Baldacci's latest novel is New Day.

From his Q & A with Janice Kaplan at The Daily Beast:

Janice Kaplan: I once heard Joyce Carol Oates say that she’s not prolific—everybody else is just lazy. Given how many books you’ve written, I assume the same holds?

David Baldacci: Very funny, but I might get in trouble with that. Some people take 10 years to write a book and some can do one in under a year. About four years ago, I did two books in a year, and that became what the publishers expected—one in the spring and one in the fall. But if I worried too much about publishers’ expectations, I’d probably paralyze myself and not be able to write anything.

Thriller and mystery writers often get famous for a single character. Given that you have several popular characters—and series—already, why start a new series now?

It keeps me fresh. I like John Puller because I’ve never really written about the military before. A lot of Virginians will recognize his last name from Chesty Puller, who was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He had some bumps along the way, and he was in some ways the model for my character’s father, John Puller Sr. I was also intrigued by the idea of a loner character being sent...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is also Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, and a fellow of the Center for Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics.

From his Q & A with Belinda Luscombe at Time magazine:

In your book Thinking, Fast and Slow, you frame the way we think as two different systems. What are they?

Slow thinking has the feeling of something you do. It's deliberate. It gives you a sense of agency. That's not at all the way it happens when fast thinking operates, like when you brake a car suddenly.

You say we often believe we're thinking slow when we're not. What are the biggest mistakes we make as a result?

We are normally blind about our own blindness. We're generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments. We exaggerate how knowable the world is.

What's your favorite experiment that demonstrates our blindness to our own blindness?

It's one someone else did. During [the '90s] when there was terrorist activity in Thailand, people were asked how much they'd pay for a travel-insurance policy that pays $100,000 in case of death for any reason. Others were asked how much they'd pay for a policy that pays $100,000 for death in a terrorist act. And people will pay more for the second, even though it's less likely.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mary Gabriel

Mary Gabriel's Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution is a 2011 National Book Award Finalist.

From her interview by Megan Gilbert:

Megan Gilbert: Love and Capital illuminates the private family life of Karl Marx. How do you think the professional lives of great thinkers are influenced by their private lives?

Mary Gabriel: The majority of men and women live at least two lives, which they strive to keep separate in order to do justice to both. We are one person with our family and assume another face—sometimes another personality—in our professional life. But that separation is an illusion. The joys and sorrows and preoccupations of one life inevitably spill over into the other.

This intrusion through the barrier we have so carefully constructed results in a simple distraction for most of us; an inexplicable smile or a furrowed brow. What it means, however, is that for the space of that smile or frown we are giving less to the task at hand. Again, most of us can afford that lost moment. But for the great thinker, who above all else seeks clarity of mind in order to create, any distraction of whatever magnitude can cost something much bigger than a moment: It can cost an idea. At best, that idea is altered. At worst, it is lost. There are few things more fragile than thought.

I would venture to guess that less than a handful (if that many) of the men and women we would call great thinkers have lived such a cloistered existence that their private lives did not impinge upon their professional ones. It seems clear then that the ideas we have come to celebrate from men such as Marx are the result of long study and careful deliberation, but that such ideas are also inevitably affected by the personal tumult, the daily circumstances around them.

When, as in the case of Marx, a great thinker's personal life is one of poverty, ill-health, and family tragedy, his or her ideas must be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Philip Roth

Philip Roth, winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2011, was interviewed by Benjamin Taylor in May 2011. Part of their dialogue:

BT: For more than half a century now, you have been the most protean of American fiction writers. The talented comic performer of Goodbye Columbus, your first book, gives way to the Jamesian craftsman of Letting Go and When She Was Good - the second and third books. That gives way in turn to the outlandish farceur of Portnoy's Complaint and it only gets more interesting from there; in the 70s we meet David Kepesh and Peter Tarnopol and then in the 80's the great sequence of the Zuckerman novels begins.

I wonder, looking back on this metamorphic career, this series of transformations, what it's like for you to re-read your books. Was it a feeling of dissatisfaction with what you'd accomplished that was driving you forward?

PR: No, what was driving me forward, certainly in the beginning, was trying to figure out two things, one, how to write a novel; after all, nobody had taught me that in school, and two, where my talent was, I didn't know that either. And so I wrote three or four books at the beginning, each very different from the other, not so as to show off my expertise, but rather trying to find out where I could be strongest. What kind of subject would stir my verbal energy and what I sounded like on the page, I didn't know that. After that, things did change from time to time and I found myself, I guess, writing one book in response to another. To give you one example, I would say, two books that appeared successively in the 1990's were Sabbath's Theater and American Pastoral. Sabbath's Theater is a hellzapoppin book; has a very comical and mean main character and when I finished that book I'd had it with that, and I wanted to write about a good man, the opposite of my hero in Sabbath's Theater. So I came up with Levov, the hero of American Pastoral. Now, many more things went into it of course, having to do with primarily the subject - but I did bounce from one on to the other. I think what may happen is that when you finish a long book, that you stage a rebellion against that book and write a different kind of book.

BT: You once said that you feel The Counter Life was, in particular, an important moment of renewal for you. I wonder if you can think back to that moment.

PR: Yes I think...[read on]
Learn about who Roth considers to be his peers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eliot Pattison

Eliot Pattison has been described as a "writer of faraway mysteries." In the late 1990's he decided to combine his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in venturing into fiction by writing The Skull Mantra. Winning the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery--and listed as a finalist for best novel for the year in Dublin's prestigious IMPAC awards--The Skull Mantra launched the Inspector Shan series, which now includes Water Touching Stone, Bone Mountain, Beautiful Ghosts, and The Prayer of the Dragon.

From Pattison's Q & A with PBS:

What first moved you about Tibet?

Here’s a snapshot of my first encounter with Tibet and China: as a longtime student of Buddhism I visited the centuries old Lama Temple in Beijing (long time Tibetan temple used by the emperors) not long after it opened to foreign tourists in the 1980’s. I looked forward to a serene hour or two experiencing the temple, and found a quiet corner to sit in as a ritual was about to begin. A monk entered, then three policemen, then another monk, then three more policemen. When the monks tried to make eye contact with me the police would tap them, none too gently, with their batons. It was wrenching to see this, and a later episode that day when a monk was hit more brutally with a baton because he was apparently not following the official script. I vowed to myself to learn more about the Tibetan experience in China. I have seen more, and worse, examples in traditional Tibet, but it was the experience of that afternoon that launched me on the path to write six novels highlighting the plight of the Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese government.

Who inspired the Inspector Shan character?

Shan, who is like an old friend to me now, is an amalgam of several Chinese of his generation I have known, all intelligent, sensitive, deeply moral people who in the past decades have had to hide, even deny, those qualities just to survive. As I try to demonstrate in my books, the persecution of the Tibetans has...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue