Monday, January 31, 2011

Deb Olin Unferth

From a Q & A with Deb Olin Unferth about her new book, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War:

How does an 18-year old college freshman even decide to join a revolution?

Love, of course! I fell for a philosophy major, a Christian, and I immediately converted. When he said we should drop out of school and go help foment the socialist revolution in Nicaragua, I said, Good idea.

How did your parents react?

At first I didn't tell them. I wrote them a letter from Mexico and said I'd quit school and had found God and was going to join the revolution. I don't which was worse for them—my running away to a war zone or my becoming a Christian, since we were Jewish.

What kind of jobs are there at the revolution?

Well, unfortunately we were fired from the "revolution jobs" we found (at an orphanage, at Bikes Not Bombs...) because we didn't know how to do anything. But we also conducted interviews. We went from country to country with a handheld cassette tape recorder, recording over our rock music tapes, one by one. We interviewed politicians, priests, artists—anyone we could talk into talking to us.

Were you ever scared?

Sure. It was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rachel Polonsky

When the British journalist Rachel Polonsky moved to Moscow, she discovered an apartment building on Romanov Street that was once home to the Soviet elite. One of the most infamous residents was the ruthless apparatchik Vyacheslav Molotov, a henchman for Stalin who was a participant in the collectivizations and the Great Purge—and also an ardent bibliophile.

In Molotov’s Magic Lantern, Polonsky visits the haunted cities and vivid landscapes of the books from Molotov’s library: works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova, and others, some of whom were sent to the Gulag by the very man who collected their books.

From Polonsky's Q & A with Marjorie Kehe at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q. The hypocrisy of Communist elites living in a luxurious old-world building as a reward for helping to create a new classless society seems overwhelming. How do you think that Molotov and his colleagues justified this to themselves?

When No.3 [Romanov Lane, Molotov's home] was first expropriated by the Party, the apartments were communalized. It was during the Civil War between the Reds and the Whites. There were terrible food shortages; living conditions were rough and precarious for most people in Moscow. At that time, the lifestyles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries would not have been luxurious at all. That changed quickly as the new regime established itself after victory in the Civil War, when the Party's pragmatic New Economic Policy was introduced to try to end the shortages, and a free market in consumer goods was reintroduced, though living conditions were still turbulent, and not at all "bourgeois" for anyone. Later in the 1920s, the Bolshevik elite became more openly comfort-loving. Stalin's great enemy, the revolutionary Trotsky, who was dragged out of the building by the secret police to be sent into exile at the end of the 1920s, railed against the Stalinist elite, ridiculing them as a new bourgeoisie. He despised the way in which they had quickly been seduced by what he called the "automobile and harem" culture of privilege, at how they drank wine and attended the ballet and gossiped when they should have been working night and day for world revolution.

Molotov himself expressed discomfort about the comfort-loving habits of the Party elite; he could not justify it according to the Marxist theory that he believed should guide his life. He was rather ascetic in his own personal habits, we are told, but his wife, Polina Zhemchuzhina (who was sent to the Gulag in 1949) famously loved the high life. She visited spas, wore furs and fine scent, loved cut flowers and dinner parties and hosting private music recitals. Soviet
society was rigidly hierarchical, and the people at the top soon developed a sense of entitlement.

Q. Did you feel that you came to know Molotov the man as you lived in his building and browsed in his library? What did you feel about him as a person?

I felt that through my contact with the remains of his library (and what I saw was just fragments of a formerly huge collection of books), I was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hannah Pittard

From a Publishers Weekly Q & A with Hannah Pittard about her new novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way:

What inspired this book?

I was telling someone about a person I knew in middle school whose sister was kidnapped. And I remembered what terrible children we'd all been—we gossiped about her behind her back as "the sister of the kidnapped." It was real to her, but not to us. I wrote the first 10 pages two years ago and the following summer I wrote the book. Nora is the kidnapped girl, and Sissy is her sister.

Was the real-life kidnap victim ever found?

No. I still look up the case occasionally, but she has never been found.

The reader is never entirely sure which of Nora's possible fates is the true one. What is the final impression you intend to leave with the reader?

I loved Nora so much that I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 28, 2011

Brad Parks

Brad Parks’s debut, Faces of the Gone, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His second book, Eyes of the Innocent, just released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.”

At Murderati, novelist Brett Battles asked Parks a few questions, including:

So I’m told you’re the first person to win a Shamus and a Nero Award for the same book…. Has that helped you get any respect from your friends and family? Or is it business as usual?

Yeah, every once in a while my wife wanders by the Nero Award -- a very handsome brass bust of detective Nero Wolfe -- and mutters, "Couldn't they have given you a check instead?" No, seriously, it was very gratifying to win those awards. And I think it has given me a little extra credibility, not so much with friends (who pretty much know how full of crap I am), or with family (who taught me how to be full of crap in the first place), but with booksellers and librarians and folks of that ilk. It's a very crowded marketplace, as you know, and awards help you stand out a little bit. Besides, I like how the Nero Award looks on the mantel.

Give us a little lowdown on EYES OF THE INNOCENT. Was there anything specific that inspired the story?

Yes and no. As a journalist, I did a lot of reporting on the subprime mortgage crisis, and the story starts with a character who gets in trouble in part because of a subprime mortgage. I also did reporting about house-flipping and political corruption, and those are in there, too. But it's not so much anything specific -- like one particular story I covered, as was the case in my first book -- and more an amalgam of real-life things, which I then...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bradford Morrow

From a Q & A with Bradford Morrow about his new novel, The Diviner’s Tale:

Describe your book in one sentence.

Cassandra Brooks, the first woman diviner in a long lineage of patriarchs who practiced the craft, comes upon a hanged girl in a lonely forest in upstate New York while dowsing water for a developer, and in doing so inadvertently opens up a Pandora’s box of past secrets that threaten her very existence.

Name one book you think everyone should read.

The Diviner’s Tale? No, well, William Gaddis’ The Recognitions meant everything to me when I first read it. There are hundreds, though, really, as you know.

What book are you embarrassed NOT to have read?

Still haven’t finished, to my abject shame...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Julie Hyzy

Julie Hyzy's latest novel is Buffalo West Wing.

From her Q & A with Julia Buckley:

You blog at Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. Have you always been a foodie, or were you sort of forced to become one when you began the White House series?

If you count eating, I’m a foodie and always have been. Love, love, love going out to dinner. People want to know what I do when I’m not writing. You know, like a hobby?

I eat.

That doesn’t mean I like to cook. I usually try to avoid cooking if I can get away with it. I’m actually pretty good in the kitchen and I’m not afraid to experiment, but if it’s a choice of writing, reading, or cooking… kitchen duty always loses.

I make no secret of the fact that all the great recipes in the back of my White House Chef Mysteries are created by a professional chef. She is amazing. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of the items she’s come up with. Delicious!

That said, I’ve been coming up with new and mostly original recipes for Mystery Lovers Kitchen once a week for over a year now. You know what? It’s been fun. To my great amazement, I’ve really enjoyed creating new dishes. My husband loves it and so do the kids (when they’re home). I’ve even started to amass kitchen gadgets. I now have a food processor, a potato ricer, and--my newest addition--a...[read on]
Visit Julie Hyzy's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: the White House Chef mysteries.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney's Darby McCormick novels include The Missing, The Secret Friend, The Dead Room and, most recently, The Soul Collectors.

From his Q & A with Ali Karim for The Rap Sheet:

Ali Karim: The Soul Collectors is the fourth novel featuring CSI specialist Darby McCormick, and she has become a very popular character in the genre. I would suggest that her appeal comes from her conflicting mix of vulnerability and strength. Would you agree?

Chris Mooney: I think that’s accurate. I didn’t want her to be as emotionally remote as another popular character I wrote about in Deviant Ways (2000) and The Secret Friend (2008), the former profiler wanted by the FBI, Malcolm Fletcher. What I find interesting about her is how she tries to rein in her emotions--and hide them--in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. I also wanted her to be as physically tough and aggressive as her male counterparts, which can make for an interesting paradox. What I think readers respond to, though, is the passion and, you might say, obsessive thinking and focus she brings to her job. Who wouldn’t want to have someone like Darby fighting for you?

AK: In The Soul Collectors we are introduced into a very dark world, and like many of your books it features physically (as well as mentally) scarred people. What is the attraction of the “dark side” to you as a novelist?

CM: I have this quote I always say to my wife: “You can really never know another person.” I firmly believe that. People have the face they wear around others, and the inner lives they keep hidden from everyone. I’ve always been fascinated with people’s inner lives. Villains have very interesting inner lives, because they don’t think the way we do. What makes serial killers, mass murders--any sort of villain, really--so interesting is...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Missing.

My Book, The Movie: The Secret Friend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 24, 2011

Robb Forman Dew

Robb Forman Dew's latest novel is Being Polite to Hitler.

From her Q & A with writer Caroline Leavitt:

[Leavitt:]I love all the history threaded through the narrative. What was the research like for you, and given the historically rich periods the novel covers, how did you decide what to use and what to discard, particularly as the events impact the characters?

Don't you think that we are entitled to the memories of, say, our grandparents? If we live in a household that is saturated with the stories told by the people we live with, then those stories, filtered through their telling, and also filtered by our affection or dislike of the story-teller...Well, it's absurd to imagine that those stories aren't possessed by us as memories, too. I was about six years old when my parents and Red Warren and Cal Lowell--probably Peter and Eleanor Taylor, Alan Tate--I can't remember exactly who was there--but they and my parents and my uncle got into what turned into a spirited discussion in which eventually they settled on the fact that if a person preferred Benny Goodman to Artie Shaw, then it was inevitably the fact that that person would prefer Tolstoi over Dostoevsky. And vice versa: If you liked Artie Shaw then by rights you must prefer Dostoevsky over Tolstoi. I wasn't old enough to understand what was being debated, except that it was being debated with deeply earnest intensity. I was an argument that was never resolved in my extended family, and it was a moment that I claim as a memory of my own.

I loved doing the research for the first book, because the book was dependent on my perceptions of that era. I became fascinated--oddly enough--with the huge Corliss engines eventually built by Scofields and Sons, a company, of course, which was invented. In fact, I spoke to a wonderful woman in Dayton, Ohio, at The National Cash Register Company which houses the last extant Corliss engine, and she went down to the works and held her phone out so that I could record what it sounded like. I was astounded at the sound--a sort of smooth, muscular, loud--but purposeful--noise. I drove my friends crazy insisting that they listen to it over and over.

As it turned out, though, I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Neil Jordan

Neil Jordan is a director, screenwriter, and novelist.

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

What book changed your life?

The Collected Poems of WB Yeats.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Don Quixote.

* * *
Who are your literary influences?

Flann O’Brien, James Joyce, Graham Greene, Jean Genet.

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

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Erica James

Erica James' novels include It's The Little Things (2009) and The Queen of New beginnings (2010).

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

It's almost an impossible task, but if forced I'd say Agatha Christie. Having written a mere 15 novels – compared to her 75 – I'm in awe of such output and the enduring quality of her work.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Mary Poppins. Because, as anyone will tell you, I am practically perfect! Joking, of course.

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

Olga Korbut. I was 12 years old when I watched her compete in the 1972 Olympics and was spellbound. She astounded everyone by doing a back somersault on the beam – it had never been done before – and it made me want to be a gymnast.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 21, 2011

Geoffrey Wolff

Geoffrey Wolff's nonfiction books include Black Sun (Random House, 1976), on the short-lived avant-garde poet Harry Crosby; The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O’Hara (Knopf, 2003), a literary biography of the American fiction writer; The Duke of Deception (Random House, 1979), a memoir that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize; The Edge of Maine (National Geographic, 2005), a rich portrayal of the salty, sea-pounded, and seasonally gentrified Maine coast; and The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum (Knopf 2010), a biography of the legendary icon of adventure.

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

Q: What drew you to Joshua Slocum as a subject?

A: The personal history that led Capt. Slocum to be the first to sail alone around the world was fascinating on its face. Why around and why alone were not questions that he directly answered in Sailing Alone Around the World, his extraordinary book about the adventure. To explore his life I hoped to understand what prepared him to succeed and what might have drawn him to endure more than three years of solitude. (In fact, while I say “endure”—thinking of solitary confinement—he might well have said “enjoy.”) And while Slocum had written about two other adventures—the self-rescue of his family after a shipwreck in Brazil by building and sailing 5,500 miles in a canoe (the Liberdade) and bringing a warship (the Destroyer) from New York to Brazil during one of its comic-opera civil wars—he never had the leisure to write about the many other extraordinary feats and perils he experienced afloat and ashore during the second half of the 19th century. He ran away to sea from Nova Scotia to Liverpool at sixteen, and rocketed through the ranks to become a very young master of a majestic bark in the San Francisco-Sydney trade. He sailed everywhere, and experienced astonishing trials: mutinous murders, shipwrecks, piracy, the eruption of Krakatoa, deadly shipboard epidemics, the capricious booms and busts of the shipping trade, the deaths of his beloved wife and three of their children.

Q: Did his wife join him at sea?

A: Virginia Walker was a young American beauty when she and Slocum met in Sydney, where her father had brought her during the Australian gold rush. After a whirlwind courtship they married, Joshua twenty-six and Virginia young enough to require the consent of her parents. A crack shot, an adventurer always eager for a new escapade, she was Slocum’s full partner at sea, from San Francisco to Alaska to Manila to Hong Kong to the Okhotsk Sea to Portland to Honolulu to Liverpool to New York, around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. That is, until...[read on]
See Geoffrey Wolff's list of the five best books on fury and terror on the high seas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jessie Sholl

Jessie Sholl's essays and stories have appeared in national newspapers and journals. She is coeditor of the nonfiction anthology Travelers' Tales Prague and the Czech Republic and a contributor to She holds an MFA from The New School University, where she currently teaches creative writing.

Her new book is Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

What made you want to write this book?

Dirty Secret began—in my head, anyway—about seven years ago, when I happened to tell my husband about how I used to stare out the windows of my elementary school when I was ten; I’d gaze back and forth between my mother’s house and my dad and my stepmom’s, and have very different visceral reactions when I looked at each house. It was just a short anecdote, but as soon as I was done he said, “You know you need to write about this, right?” which of course I laughed off. I couldn’t imagine ever telling anyone besides him about my mother being a compulsive hoarder.

Then, a few years later, I joined the Children of Hoarders support group; the shame and embarrassment we were all carrying around began to seem ridiculous. And unnecessary. I hoped that by “coming clean,” about my mother’s hoarding, the secret would lose its power. And that scene about looking back and forth between the two houses ended up being the first one I wrote for the book.

In recent years, the concept of hoarding has gone mainstream, thanks mostly to television shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive. What do you think about the presence of compulsive hoarding in national media and pop culture?

Overall, I think the television shows about hoarding are a...[read on]
Visit Jessie Sholl's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ida Hattemer-Higgins

From a Q & A with Ida Hattemer-Higgins about her debut novel, The History of History:

In many ways, The History of History defies description. How would you characterize its genre? What do you tell people looking for a quick recap?

I’ve always have a hard time figuring out what to tell people when they ask about The History of History on airplanes and at parties. When I was searching for an agent, I didn’t know how to present it, and I fell on my face a few times. Nowadays I’d like to call it an expressionist saga. Reality is physically distorted, but the arc of the plot is structured to be suspenseful, dramatic, and taut. It tells the story of a young American woman in contemporary Berlin who wakes up in a forest without her memory. She returns to the city only to become increasingly bewitched by the Nazi past. The buildings of the city turn to flesh; she’s visited by the ghost of Nazi Magda Goebbels, who killed her six children as military defeat neared. Ultimately this young woman becomes convinced that she herself is guilty of a crime, though she’s unsure what crime it could be. She knows she’s been in love, though she’s unsure with whom--and these suspicions balloon into a true hell. Above all, The History of History is about insoluble guilt, memory, and the wonderful, terrible return of things that are buried.

Part of the book's richness is the language, which draws from both German and English. How does being multilingual affect your writing?

There are shreds of German in The History of History, but not on the assumption that the reader knows German. The German language is essential to the fierce, Teutonic, high-spirited mood of Berlin. This mood travels in the language even if it can’t be literally deciphered, and it looms over any visitor to the city. That said, in the novel it’s only used at points when the protagonist feels foreign and estranged, when the reader should be dragged through these feelings with her.

I left the U.S. for good in 2001, and...[read on]
Visit Ida Hattemer-Higgins' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Caroline Adderson

Caroline Adderson is the author of three internationally published novels (A History of Forgetting, Sitting Practice, The Sky Is Falling), two collections of short stories (Bad Imaginings, Pleased To Meet You), as well as several books for young people. Her work has also received numerous prize nominations including the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. A two time Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and three-time CBC Literary Award winner, Caroline lives in Vancouver.

From her Q & A with Eva Stachniak:

E. S: Jane Zwierzchowski, or Jane Z, the heroine of The Sky is Falling, is a peace activist in 1980s Vancouver. Her involvement with the peace movement is the focus of many interviews and reviews your novel has generated, but I want to ask you about the Zwierzchowski connection. Why did you chose a daughter of a Polish immigrant as a heroine of your novel? And why is she studying Russian?

C. A.: At the start of The Sky Is Falling, Jane is an outsider in a house full of committed peace activists. She is utterly apolitical during what was a very political time. I felt there had to be something in her background that made her so disinterested, or at least reluctant to get involved. Immediately I understood that it was because of her family background. As an immigrant from Poland, her father would be naturally distrustful of the peace movement which was often accused (not altogether without reason) for being soft on communism, or even pro-communist. He also has a temper (not necessarily a Polish trait!), which makes both Jane and her mother reluctant to rile him up. However, it is the very fact of her having an “unpronounceable” Polish last name that eventually gets her accepted into the group of activists; because she is studying Russian and Russian literature, they think she is Russian and find her much more interesting for the mistake.

There is also a level of irony added to the novel because of her half-Polishness. Jane in the present time sections of the novel (2004), looks back on her youth with some dismay. At 19, she thought she could stop World War 3 from happening, yet she...[read on]
Visit Caroline Adderson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Sky Is Falling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 17, 2011

Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell's latest novel is Port Mortuary (Kay Scarpetta Series #18).

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

What book changed your life?

Probably Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a magnificent example of the abuse of power and it has fed into all my books.

* * *
Can you remember the first novel you read?

Lord of the Flies stands out mightily in my memory of my early years. It is such a strong statement about the human heart.

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

The Silence of the Lambs. It’s a remarkable thriller.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frank Tallis

Frank Tallis is a writer and clinical psychologist.

His novels include the Max Liebermann mysteries.

From his Q & A with Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

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

I'm very sentimentally attached to John Meade Falkner, best known for 'Moonfleet'. My own favourite is his ghost story 'The Lost Stradivarius', about a young English aristocrat who gets involved with the occult and pursues a vision of absolute evil. It's often described as the novel MR James never wrote.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Given the amount that I've been eating over the festive period: Moby-Dick.

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

The composer Gustav Mahler. I think he's as close as you can get to a true musical visionary. Leonard Bernstein said that he saw the horrors of the 20th century coming and expressed them in music.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jo Walton

Jo Walton's new novel is Among Others.

From her Publishers Weekly Q & A:

Protagonist Mori's background sounds very similar to your own: growing up in Wales, raised by your grandparents, etc. How autobiographical is Mori's story?

I've always been very interested in how stories become mythologized—how things start off as events and become anecdotes and stories and legends and myth. What I did in this book was to mythologize some of my own life experiences.

Was it a difficult story to tell?

Very difficult. It's much easier to research the 1940s than history you have lived through!

You've described yourself as a "feral" writer. How's that different from a "tame" writer?

I don't do a lot of things schools teach people to do and tell them they have to do. For example, I don't write outlines or drafts. And I write things on odd edges of genres.

Although published as adult fantasy, do you think Among Others could also be seen as YA?

I don't think of it as a YA book, even though...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the author of more than fifty novels, including the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. He is the winner of the Anthony Award and has been nominated for both the Shamus and Edgar Awards.

The latest Dan Rhodes novel is Murder in the Air.

From Crider's Q & A with Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

I could make you a very long list, but the two at the top every time would be THE BIG SLEEP and THE MALTESE FALCON. They’d just switch places every now and then.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

Again, a very long list. Odysseus for the adventures and the cleverness, Spenser for the self-assurance, Superman for the ... what the heck, let’s go with Superman.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I never feel guilty about anything I read. I have enough other problems with guilt as it is, though sometimes I do feel a little guilty about...[read on]
Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, and Murder in the Air, as well as an excellent write-up about Dan Rhodes on the big screen at "My Book, The Movie."

Also see Steve Hockensmith's Q & A with Bill Crider.

Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

Writers Read: Bill Crider.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle is the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

From a Q & A at Time magazine about her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other:

Alone Together concludes a trilogy of books that started with your exploration of the very first computer programs. Now, 26 years later, we have this giant soup of communication methods. How has that changed our relationship to technology?

It took a while for things to evolve to show [just] where we were vulnerable. This changed dramatically with mobile communication. Who would have known that a little red light on the BlackBerry — that doesn't even say who a message is from, but simply that you have a message — would drive people crazy? So [crazy] that if their baby is in the car next to them, and they know they can't text and drive, they will [still fiddle] with the steering wheel at 65 miles an hour in order to know who sent that message.

You start the book off with observations from watching people interact with some artificial intelligence that isn't quite mainstream yet: caretaking robots, robot pets and even robots meant for sex. How do robots relate to digital communication, to that flashing BlackBerry light?

The reason that I put the robot part first, even though it hasn't really arrived yet, is that with robots, there's this new diction of "alive enough." This generation of kids has something very specific in mind when they say that things are alive enough: "[The robot] is alive enough to be a friend — it's alive enough to do X with me." They're willing to move the whole discussion of what it means to be alive off of the philosophical terrain and onto the pragmatic terrain, where things become alive only for various purposes.

I've been watching children [interact with robots] for 30 years, and this is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Todd Ritter

Todd Ritter is the author of Death Notice, his debut mystery featuring small-town police chief Kat Campbell. Although he now lives in suburban New Jersey, he was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, where he encountered way too many snakes.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane. Damn, that guy can write, and the book deserved a Pulitzer.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

The Man in the Yellow Hat from CURIOUS GEORGE, because it would be pretty cool to have a monkey.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

Sandra...[read on]
Learn more about Death Notice and its author at Todd Ritters' website.

Writers Read: Todd Ritter.

The Page 69 Test: Death Notice.

My Book, The Movie: Death Notice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Barbie Zelizer

Barbie Zelizer is the Raymond Williams Chair of Communication and the Director of the Scholars Program in Culture and Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her new book is About to Die: How News Images Move the Public.

From her Q & A with Slate's Jack Shafer:

Where did the modern taboos against depictions of the dead, the dying, and the potentially doomed come from? Fine art is filled with such images, some of them documentary in nature. Yet controversy greets every publication or broadcast of these pictures and videos. Why?

U.S. journalism has long been responsible for showing pictures of the dead and dying, but it's less comfortable doing so today than perhaps at any other time in its history. The taboo around death images, by which journalists could talk death in the news but not show it, was spawned by multiple developments: Changes in the larger political climate, an improved technology that made graphic images more attainable, heightened public sensitivity to the coverage of certain news topics, and changing conventions about how much human gore journalists could show and people would be willing to see all made journalism's discomfort with pictures of the dead and dying an integral part of contemporary journalism.

Reticence over pictures of the dead and dying wasn't always the case in journalism. During the early 20th century, when photography was a new technology inching its way into journalism, there was a collective eagerness to show the graphic images of death that validated the professionalization of news photographers and the immediacy of the news they provided.

But from the middle of the 20th century onward, that uniform excitement was progressively offset by other priorities and expectations. Still photos were no longer thought to offer the same kind of cutting-edge documentation, faster film and lenses intensified the graphic character of death images, wartime and political censorship became more of a prominent means of controlling images of death, and conventions about showing and viewing death were increasingly driven by a public sentiment that death in the news should remain unseen and non-graphic. Not only did this diminish much of the earlier celebration of journalism's death images, but it gave way to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 10, 2011

Belinda Bauer

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and her script The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters, an award that was presented to her by Sidney Poitier. She was a runner-up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for "Mysterious Ways," about a girl stranded on a desert island with 30,000 Bibles. Her novels include Blacklands and Darkside.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

Choose a favourite authors, and say why you like her/him

Neal Stephenson, because I like writers who do what I don't think I could do. His research is astronomical but it does not sacrifice characters or plot. I read 'Cryptonomicon', set in dual time, and it's the best book I've ever read.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Eeyore. I love my own company. I don't need anyone else to entertain me.

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

Monty Roberts. He is a horse trainer who has spent his whole life revolutionising the way people train horses - out in the wild rather than being broken by forceful means.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jennie Erin Smith

Jennie Erin Smith is the author of Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery.

From her Q & A at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Why were reptiles a hotter commodity for smugglers than other animals from around the world?

You have this huge variety of species, and there's a collector's market. And they can survive several days or even weeks without water. A lot of them just shut down a bit when they're kept cool.

It's not good for them, but it's not usually fatal.

And they can be moved, and they don't make any noise. If you think about it, they're more smuggleable than, say, primates because you can conceal them. And you can move them on your person in a pinch. There was a California case where a man tried to smuggle Fiji iguanas in a prosthetic leg.

Q: Zoos began going gaga over reptiles in the 1960s. Why did that happen?

They became obsessed. You had this competition from the South where there were these roadside zoos. There were as many as 900 traveling carnivals, and as the country became richer in the postwar years, many started stationary exhibits. You could go watch a rattlesnake pop a...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Colm Tóibín

From Colm Tóibín's Q & A with Steven Kurutz at the Wall Street Journal:

Many of your characters are people leaving or returning to Ireland. What's your relationship with your homeland?

I'd been traveling in the United States, in Texas and California. The idea of coming back in and what that's like—arriving at JFK airport and suddenly seeing the Irish waiting for the flight—that's something I know really well. Feeling for a while that you're home. And then you land and you see the buildings —oh, God. And the weather—oh, God. I'm looking out the window in Dublin now, and it's certainly not home. The place drives me crazy, but I'm stuck with it now.

Do you find Ireland more religious than America?

It's a funny society—you can go for quite a long time without meeting a Catholic. And then they suddenly come at you in hordes. I'm usually in New York for Easter and I go to midnight mass on Easter Saturday, at Saint Bonaface Oratory in Brooklyn. It does a very long and good ritual. They do baptisms at the end for adults who have been converted. It's so cheerful. They seem...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 7, 2011

Scott Phillips

Scott Phillips is the author of The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway, and Cottonwood.

From his Q & A with novelist Sophie Littlefield at Mulholland Books:

SL: A while back we were talking about whether every writer secretly wants to be a musician. You, and a few other writers I admire, keep wandering over into other media like untethered goats. Why do you think we’re so distractible? I mean, symptom or cause?

SP: It’s that urge to use a different part of the brain, I think. And there’s also the urge to make money, and sometimes other media just beckon. I’m doing a novel in France called Nocturne le Vendredi, which is going to be a TV movie sometime in the next couple of years, so there’s an example of a project existing in two media at once. And then I’ve been playing music as long as I’ve been writing, but in my case it’s mostly been closer to performance art than real music, because I’m not very talented. I’m very envious of my friends who are real musicians, though.

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

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sarah Bakewell

Sarah Bakewell was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogues rare book collections for the National Trust.

From a Q & A about her new book, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:

What would Montaigne think of the custom of making new year resolutions? Would he believe in the idea that we will live better next year than we did this year?

Montaigne was aware that he was always changing – he hardly recognized or understood the things he had done last year, or even five minutes ago, let alone the things he was likely to do in the future. So he was inclined to a sort of puzzled self-acceptance. Even if some past actions no longer made sense, he was prepared to believe that they had seemed right when he did them. He would have accepted any future variations or failings in the same way. So no, I can’t imagine him making resolutions. And if he did, I suspect he wouldn’t keep them.

– If Montaigne were to make any resolutions of his own, what might they be?

Despite his dislike of forcing himself into pre-decided patterns, he was always struggling to improve his “judgment”, that is, to respond to pragmatic situations in subtler, better-informed ways. So I think he would want to continue to do that – perhaps to keep learning from experience.

– Montaigne lived and wrote in the 1500s but his voice is so surprisingly modern. Do you think he would have fit into contemporary society? What would he have liked best today? What would he have liked least?

He would have been...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Bakewell's website.

The Page 99 Test: How to Live.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Seth Mnookin

Seth Mnookin's forthcoming book is The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear.

From his Q & A at Publishers Weekly:

Can we just dismiss all the reports of mercury-containing vaccines causing autism?

News reports present an "on the one hand-–on the other hand" debate. In actuality, you have thousands of pieces of data on one side and, literally, no verifiable data on the other. Scientists have not identified any risk of developmental disorders; accounts of vaccines leading to autism are entirely anecdotal. Scientists don't rely on anecdotes because memory is fallible, and in retrospect things often seem to fit together more neatly than they did in the moment. Children have been diagnosed with autism after being vaccinated, but that's because almost all children get vaccinations before age two, and autism is usually diagnosed after age two.

What about the research published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet linking the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine with autism?

That paper was proven false. The Lancet retracted it and 10 coauthors disavowed it. Wakefield's lab received payments through a law firm that was suing vaccine makers; some of the families of children studied in the paper were involved in those lawsuits. Wakefield's data were never independently verified, but even if they had been accurate, the small sample size—12 children—means any correlation found between vaccines and autism is likely to have happened by chance.

So why doesn't the controversy die down?

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nicole Krauss

From Bret Anthony Johnston's interview with Nicole Krauss, whose latest novel Great House was named a Finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2010.

BAJ: In the fiction category this year, each of the novels seems heavily researched. What role does research play in your writing process?

NK: Almost none. The main places where I set Great House are cities I’ve lived in and known all my life, and my memories of these places are more or less precise. After I finished the novel, I wrote to various friends to ask if you do indeed, pass the trenches Ypres on the way to Brussels if you’re coming from Calais (yes), or whether there were commercials for whores on German television in the Seventies (no), or whether the ticket hall at the West Finchley Tube station was above ground, as I remembered, or below, and so on— but these questions mostly involved details that had no real bearing on the stories themselves.

There was historical information that mattered to me as I wrote. For example, the fate of those kidnapped and disappeared under Pinochet’s regime in Chile, or the fact that Pinochet’s coup in 1973 and Israel’s Yom Kippur War took place three weeks apart, or that Freud fled Vienna in 1938 and his wife and daughter reassembled his study almost exactly, down to the last detail, in the house he moved into in North London, etc. But I was very familiar with these histories before I began writing. Somehow they found their way into the novel, but in most cases they eventually sunk to the bottom of the stories, became submerged, and appear on the surface only fleetingly.

Almost the whole novel is completely invented, imagined through and through. I can’t stress enough the importance to me of not being bound to reality, of feeling that I am completely free artistically. As for the true stories and historical facts that occasionally guided me, the question, for me, was why I was drawn to these particular things. Why had they gotten under my skin? Writing novels has always been a way for me to...[read on]
See--Nicole Krauss' four favorite new books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson grew up in Larchmont, NY and graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Colorado at Denver. A former web editor and producer, she worked for companies such as iVillage, and

Georgia’s Kitchen is her first novel.

From a Q & A at her website:

You really bring your settings to life, be it the beauty of San Casciano, the rush of New York City, or the heat inside a top restaurant’s kitchen. You currently live in New York, but have you spent a significant amount of time in Italy? Did you need to do much research for the settings of your book—other than eat great Italian food?

I’m lucky to have spent a good bit of time in Italy, all over, really, but mainly in Tuscany. My husband and I were married in Fiesole, at a villa that once belonged to Dante Alighieri (if this feels familiar it’s because Georgia reflects on a wedding she and Glenn attended that sounds suspiciously like ours). In addition to relying on my own experiences, I did a lot of research on Tuscany and Sicily—on the architecture, the landscape and, obviously, the food and wine. As for food, New York is filled with incredible Italian restaurants, and I make it a point to eat at as many as possible, which is no great hardship! My mother-in-law, who grew up in Milan and still spends a lot of time there, was able to help with all the Italian translations.

There are great descriptions of meal preparations in the book. Do you cook? What was the inspiration for the signature dish Georgia creates for Trattoria Dia?

I love to cook, but with twin six-year-old daughters, sometimes it’s more about getting dinner on the table than preparing a fabulous new recipe I’ve discovered. Luckily, they’re both good eaters and will try just about anything, so I do get to be a little more experimental at times. Italian food is my absolute favorite to make—I love how forgiving it is, and how it all begins with good, basic ingredients. As for the signature dish, I wanted it to be vegetarian, and because I would happily eat risotto for the rest of my life, I thought it’d be...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Georgia’s Kitchen, and learn more about the book and author at Jenny Nelson's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jenny Nelson and Clarabelle.

The Page 69 Test: Georgia’s Kitchen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mira Bartók

From a Q & A with Mira Bartók, author of the new memoir, The Memory Palace:

How difficult was it to write your memoir? When it ends, your memory is still a problem for you.

It was really hard. It was hard in a lot of ways. I think it was probably the hardest project I'll ever do, or will have done, but you never know. It was hard emotionally sometimes, but also in terms of memory. In some ways it was not as difficult as people might think, because I kept years of journals and so a lot events from the past or interactions with people I might have forgotten about, I had written down, and I also kept sketchbooks, so I kept track of things I saw. In that sense there were a lot of things that I could go to my little archives for, but as far as remembering what I wrote each day--that was a challenge because I'd write something, and if I let more than a day slip by without going back to it, I'd no memory of writing that thing. It's like every day was Groundhog Day. Until I got a system down I would basically start rewriting a chapter and not know I was doing it, even if it was only the next day. It was very frustrating and upsetting. I would misplace things, and for someone who likes (and needs) some semblance of order, it was not fun. So I ended up constructing a cabinet with slots for chapters and labeled every drawer, sort of like a cabinet of curiosities. I thought, what can I use from my past life in museums in ordering this book, so that's what I did, and every single time I wrote something I printed it out, or if I wrote notes by hand or came across an image I wanted to use, before the day was over I placed it all in the slot for that chapter. And the other thing I did--before I went to bed every single night, and I'm talking about every single night and I'm not kidding--I went over every chapter in my head, every quote that I started the chapter with, and tried to remember who wrote the quote, tried to remember how I began the chapter and how I ended the chapter and tried to remember what little snippet from my mother's diary that I used. That was after I had finished my first draft; I very rarely remembered all these things before I went to sleep, but I tried. I had to create systems in order to remember. And I was more interested in the mis-remembrance of things, so I checked a lot of things with my own past experiences in journals, but I didn't want to go around and interview everyone I knew. I already doubted myself enough, so I thought, why not ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Conor Fitzgerald

Conor Fitzgerald is the author of The Dogs of Rome.

From his Q & A with Declan Burke at the Crime Always Pays blog:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

DAS FRÄULEIN VON SCUDERI, or MADEMOISELLE DE SCUDERY by E.T.A. Hoffmann. It is not the best detective work ever written, but it is the first. It would be nice to be the inventor of the genre.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

As a child, I adored the Just William books, all of which I read in Cabinteely library. William lived in a closed, safe and comfortable English country garden world that I wanted to step into. Of course, I now feel that would be a twee and hellish place to spend my adult life. So, if I am really allowed to be any fictional persona from any book, and be accorded his or her concomitant strengths and defects, I suppose I’d go for the character known as ‘God’ in the Old Testament.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

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