Thursday, March 31, 2011

Armistead Maupin

During the 70s and 80s, Armistead Maupin introduced the world to the diverse inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane in his pioneering serial, Tales of the City. The serial went on to spawn a successful succession of books and television miniseries.

From his Q & A with David Ulin about the latest installment of the Tales of the City series, Mary Ann in Autumn:

Jacket Copy: Now that you’ve returned to "Tales of the City," is it safe to assume that you'll continue to write additional installments?

Armistead Maupin: I don't know. Having written it as a daily serial in a newspaper, which I felt tremendously strapped by, I never wanted to put myself in that position again. But I can't seem to stop.

JC: You've said all the characters in "Tales of the City" are you, to some extent.

AM: They are.

JC: But Mary Ann especially so?

AM: Well, Laura Linney took a huge burden off me by inhabiting her so well in the miniseries that I now think of Laura when I write Mary Ann. I don't hear my own voice, and I like having that distance.

JC: What do you and Mary Ann have in common?

AM: We're pleasant on the outside, but inside, the wheels are turning and judgments are being made. I suppose I'm as picky as she is about the people she hangs out with. I don't know how to put it exactly, but her internal monologue is often mine.

JC: How did the serial come about?

AM: A woman named Virginia Westover, who was the society columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had been at a party where [Chronicle columnist] Charles McCabe was present. And Charles was kind of drunk and...[read on]
Learn about Armistead Maupin's favorite poem and his hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cara Hoffman

Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of the Alex Cooper crime novels—whose 2011 entry in the series is Silent Mercy—was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Here is an excerpt from her interview of Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty, a novel that centers on the disappearance of a young woman from a rural New York community:

Fairstein: As I read So Much Pretty, which is a stunning debut novel, I was reminded of The Lovely Bones. What do you think it is about our society that is so fascinated by the victimization of young women?

Hoffman: I think we are fascinated by the victimization of women, especially young women, because that kind of violence is revelatory of who we are; it’s common and all-pervasive but treated as though it is very rare and shocking. The fascination lies in the sense that a known secret is being revealed and that denial is being shattered by physical evidence, which is always frightening and exhilarating and titillating to people. I also think that there is a fascination with the victimization of women because some people obviously take pleasure in it. There’s an undeniably misogynistic core to our society—its days are numbered for sure—but it’s still there, and one of the ways it flexes, especially as it gets weaker, is to focus on images of women as naked, vulnerable, afraid and dead.

Fairstein: In So Much Pretty, you make the point that we should "pay attention to the obvious." As a prosecutor, I saw hundreds of cases where women were assaulted or killed by men they knew. How did you go about writing a novel in which the whodunit aspect is actually less integral than the why?

Hoffman: As a journalist I’ve always felt "why" was the question that mattered the most, that made clear all the extenuating circumstances and unearthed the subtext of the story. Knowing that a crime has been committed doesn’t get you anywhere. Knowing WHY might. And for that we have to focus on many details about the perpetrators and where they came from, what made them who they are. Those details were very much on my mind when I was writing So Much Pretty.

Fairstein: You have also said that we are "inundated by violence and it becomes something that drives our aesthetics." Can you give readers some insight as to how you balance the task of writing about this subject with the feeling that it is perhaps too widely accepted as an "entertainment" trope in books, movies and television?

Cara Hoffman: This is a...[read on]
Read more about So Much Pretty at Cara Hoffman's website and blog.

Writers Read: Cara Hoffman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Garry Wills

From Steven Kurutz's October 2010 Q & A with Garry Wills, author of Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer:

The Hillary Clinton you describe in the book is warm, funny, irreverent. Why didn’t that Hillary come through during her presidential campaign?

There’s still a lot of misogyny out there. Look at what they’re doing to Nancy Pelosi. She’s also a very warm and funny person. They’ve turned her into this Nazi. It’s very tough being a woman in politics — or in business, for that matter. Some of those that survive are tough, like Carly Fiorina. But Hillary was very winning and, as I say, humble. She’s not a proud person at all. She tells a story really well.

You also write of your long association with Bill Buckley. You say your wife warned you about him because he “absorbs people.”

Bill had a voracious sense of life himself and he swept you up in it. She sensed that right from the beginning and, of course, I found it confirmed over and over with other people. He was dangerously charming. I’m glad she warned me early on.

What’s your take on Obama’s presidency so far?

Terrible disappointment.

In what ways?

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sam Lipsyte

Sam Lipsyte is the author of the story collection Venus Drive (named one of the top twenty-five books of its year by the Voice Literary Supplement), and the novels The Subject Steve and Home Land, which was a New York Times Notable Book and received the first annual Believer Book Award.

From his Q & A with Steven Kurutz at the Wall Street Journal about Lipsyte's latest novel The Ask:

The Wall Street Journal: Do you think “The Ask” has been your best novel?

I have to believe that.

True. You’re promoting the paperback edition.

It’s not only that. You have to feel that the last thing you did was the best thing or you worry that you’re not making any progress. I’m not trying to put down the other two novels. I’m proud of everything. But I felt by dint of having written those books one hopes you become better. A little bit better.

The novel also earned you your widest readership and sales so far.

I think I sold enough copies to convince my publisher to let me publish another book. That’s really the only thing you’re going for. I loved the idea that lots of people were reading the book. It had that one freakish moment at #32 on the Times bestseller list, so they can slap bestselling book on the cover. It hasn’t changed my financial situation, but I wasn’t expecting it to. I was hoping to write a book that was slightly better than my earlier books and brought people pleasure.

You seem to write about loser-ish characters. How do you make them engaging to readers?

I guess by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mike Ripley

Michael Gregorio (the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio), who live in Spoleto, Italy, recently put some questions to novelist Mike Ripley on behalf of The Rap Sheet, including:

MG: Regarding your novels ... Angel Touch (1989), the second installment in your Angel series, won The Last Laugh Award for “best humorous crime novel first published in the British Isles.” Angels in Arms (1991), your fourth entry, picked up that very same commendation. That’s an amazing run of successes.

MR: Angel Hunt also won something called the Angel Award for Fiction--though no one believes that--and one of [the books] was voted “Shot of the Year” (at least I think that’s what they said) by readers of Shots magazine. I was very lucky in the early days. Readers and reviewers were very kind.

MG: The series features Fitzroy Maclean Angel, who has been described as “one of the best creations in modern crime fiction.” Would you care to tell us something about the character and that series?

MR: Angel was always meant to be an outsider, so that he could better observe the lunacies of life, particularly life in London in the late 1980s, when Thatcherism ruled, greed was good, and all people worried about was where the next BMW was coming from. He didn’t get a back-story and a family history until book number seven, and he is never physically described. The early books...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Siddhartha Deb

From a Q & A with Siddhartha Deb about his novel, The Point of Return:

In what ways did your work in journalism prepare you for the experience of writing your first book of literary fiction?

Journalism taught me to write against a deadline and showed me that there were extraordinary stories in seemingly ordinary lives. Fiction allowed me to build on those experiences, taking up the stories and the inner lives that journalism couldn't hope to capture because of its limitations of time and space.

What is the historical context of the fractured relationship between tribals and nontribals in northeastern India that you explore in The Point of Return?

The British colonial rule was superb at fostering divisions upon people on the basis of religion, ethnicity, class, and caste, and this is the point from which the fractured relationship originates. Add to that mass migration to the hills by Bengali Hindus fleeing their original homeland because of the partition of India in 1947 and the insecurity of the hill people because they are marginal compared to other groups in India, and there you have all the elements of a bitter misunderstanding.

What were some of the special challenges you faced in writing a novel that progresses in reverse chronological order?

It was a remarkably...[read on]
The scholar Neeti Nair called The Point of Return a "lyrical novel."

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rae Meadows

From a Q & A with Rae Meadows about her new novel, Mothers and Daughters:

What was your inspiration for Mothers and Daughters?

I wanted to write a novel from three perspectives, and when I learned of the orphan trains, which ran from 1854 to 1929, I knew immediately that one of the characters would be eleven-year-old Violet at the turn of the century. At the time I thought I would write the whole novel as historical fiction, and I set out researching the Wisconsin Insane Asylum and the Civil War. But then I became a mother and everything changed. Motherhood became the lens, and the multi-generational story fell into place.

Tell us about the orphan trains and how you first learned about this little known slice of American history.

My mom first told me about the orphan trains, and I was amazed I hadn't heard about them before. In the mid-nineteenth century, tens of thousand of children roamed the streets of New York City. Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children's Aid Society, decided to put them on trains and send them to new Christian homes in rural America. People could just show up at a destination and take a child, no questions asked. What a fascinating, yet seemingly little known part of our history. I think of the orphan train riders (an estimated 150,000-200,000 of them) as part of a quiet diaspora, deposited in new places without any prior arrangements or oversight. The belief that a child could be...[read on]
Visit Rae Meadows's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2011

David Duffy

From a Q & A with David Duffy, author of Last to Fold:

A complex protagonist with quite a back-story—where did the idea come from?

It started with the name—Electrifikady Turbanevich Vlost, which he quite sensibly shortens to Turbo. My first working title was Call Me Turbo. There was a time in the Soviet Union when parents in their zeal gave their children patriotic names—Len (short for Lenin), Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), Melor (Marx, Engels, October Revolution) are some better known examples. I first encountered them in David Remnick’s book on the fall of the USSR, Lenin’s Tomb when I was getting ready to visit Russia. We all know how cruel children can be, picking on what singles out some poor kid as different, so I started thinking about one who gets saddled with a real mouthful. About the same time, I got interested in the Gulag, and I read Anne Applebaum’s heart-wrenching history, Gulag, about all the senseless betrayal, cruelty, fear, pain and death that that uniquely Russian institution represents. I was struck by the fact that many crossed the line from prisoner to guard or officer and back again, something else uniquely Russian. So I imagined how a kid saddled with the crazy name would turn out if he got the chance to move up through the nomenklatura, or privileged class, as an officer in one of its leading institutions, the KGB, having spent a good part of his childhood in the camps, especially given the shame factor of ex-inmates and that no one in Russia wants to acknowledge or face up to this aspect of their past—which makes everyone complicit. Let’s just say there’s a wealth of material for anyone who’s interested in people and their characters and motivations, which any novelist must be.

But you set the story in New York.

I thought about trying...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reed Farrel Coleman

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR's Maureen Corrigan, Reed Farrel Coleman is the former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America. He has published twelve novels—two under his pen name Tony Spinosa—in three series, and one stand-alone with award-winning Irish author Ken Bruen. His books have been translated into seven languages.

Coleman is a three-time winner of the Shamus Award for Best Detective Novel of the Year. He has also received the Barry and Anthony Awards, and has been twice nominated for the Edgar® Award. Innocent Monster is his latest Moe Prager novel.

From a 2010 Q & A with Coleman at Jen's Book Thoughts:

Q. Reed, you started out writing poetry, having studied it in college. What drew you to poetry to begin with?

Reed: Actually, I started writing poetry when I was 12 or 13. I had a great seventh grade English teacher named Mr. Isaacs who focused on poetry. He used song lyrics and other stuff we could relate to and I got the bug. Also, I grew up in a family that communicated by shouting. We even expressed love that way. Eventually all the shouting made it impossible to be heard. Poetry gave me a voice that could be heard above the noise. When I saw how powerful and economic the vocabulary of poetry could be, I got really into how poets used the instrument of language and poetics to express themselves. Then in college I had some formal training with David Lehman. He was a great teacher and really freed me to think of myself as a writer. He also emphasized that writing and playing with words should be fun. I’ve published poetry on and off for years and was recently asked to join the editorial staff of The Lineup, a poetry journal that features poems on crime. It’s great to be writing and editing poetry again. One of the coolest things ever was getting to go to one of David Lehman’s readings and giving him a set of my novels. Oddly enough, he too has been nominated for an Edgar.

Q. Unlike some other writers, you didn’t grow up reading and loving crime fiction. You kind of discovered it by chance. Can you talk about that a little?

Reed: Sure. To me, crime fiction was the cheesy paperback on my dad’s nightstand. I was pretty snobby about what I read—a poet, don’t ya know—and never paid the genre much mind. I did like film noir, but the movies didn’t much impact my reading. Then when I was working in the cargo area at Kennedy Airport—think the real Goodfellas—I had to commute to Manhattan once a week and to kill time I decided to take a night class back at Brooklyn College. The only class that fit my schedule was a class on American Detective Fiction. From the first day in class I was totally and utterly smitten. We read The Continental Op; Farewell, My Lovely; Red Harvest; The Maltese Falcon; The Glass Key; The Long Goodbye. It completely changed my world. For the first time I saw how I might apply the lessons I learned in poetry to prose writing. After about a month in that class I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I guess it’s a good thing it wasn’t a class on Poetry of the French Renaissance.

Q. And how did you transition from writing poetry to writing prose? Were there elements that you found especially challenging because of your training in poetry? Or was it just more of a natural flow from one to the other?

Reed: It took me...[read on]
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Street.

The Page 69 Test: Empty Ever After.

My Book, the Movie: The Moe Prager Mystery Series.

The Page 69 Test: Innocent Monster.

Writers Read: Reed Farrel Coleman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Toby Wilkinson

Toby Wilkinson first became interested in Egyptology at the age of five. He studied Egyptology at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a First Class Honours degree and winning the University’s Thomas Mulvey Prize. After completing his doctoral research at Christ’s College, Cambridge, he was elected to the college’s prestigious Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellowship in Egyptology (previous holders of which include the eminent Egyptologists Harry Smith and Geoffrey Martin), which he held from 1993 to 1997.

Following two years as a Leverhulme Special Research Fellow at the University of Durham, Toby Wilkinson returned to Cambridge in 1999, and has been a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge since January 2004. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham.

From his Q & A with Alexandra Cheney at the Wall Street Journal about his latest book, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt:

How did you come up with the idea to write a 482-page book about ancient Egypt?

Actually it was in a conversation with my literary agent. We were batting around ideas for books and he said, “you know what, I think you ought to do the complete history.” And the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. Nobody had done it for 50 years and I thought, “well, let’s give it a crack.”

You’re referring to Alan Gardiner’s “Egypt of the Pharaohs,” correct? How much of the information in that book overlaps in yours?

At the time Alan Gardiner was writing, some of his ideas were a little out of date. That book has sat on library shelves ever since is really no longer a reliable guide to what we know about ancient Egypt. My task that I set for myself was to take the last 50 years of archeology and ancient history and studies that have been done by academics around the world and to bring the story right up to date with the latest knowledge in a way that was not only well researched but also compelling and accessible for the average reader.

Where did this original interest in Egypt stem?

It’s an extraordinary...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O'Nan's award-winning fiction includes Snow Angels, The Speed Queen, A Prayer for the Dying, Last Night at the Lobster, and Songs for the Missing.

From a Q & A at the Viking website about his new novel, Emily, Alone:

At first glance, you wouldn't seem to have all that much in common with Emily Maxwell, the widow in her late seventies who is the main character of Emily, Alone. How does a novelist go about thinking his way into the experiences and consciousness of someone so different from himself?

I share a great deal with Emily, in that, having previously written a six hundred-page novel about her and her family, I know the people closest to her extremely well. I also know her neighbors intimately, and her social circle, the little town she comes from, her parents, her sorority sisters, her old roommate Jocelyn. Much of it comes from my own family life, and much from just keeping my eyes open and taking notes, but some also comes from active research, location scouting, extensive interviews with people Emily's age and in Emily's situation. It all goes in, but finally it has to be strained through Emily's sensibility, Emily's feel for life, and that can only be felt or sensed. What, naturally, would Emily see, and what language would she use to describe it?

Did you have a particular model or models for Emily?

When I did research for The Circus Fire, I did hundreds of interviews with survivors, most of whom were in their seventies and eighties. And when they invited me into their homes, they told me their stories not just about the fire but about their whole lives. That experience of looking back on life and appreciating where you are and how you got there comes from those survivors. In terms of personality, Emily shares much with my mother, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers, and my wife's grandmother.

You have been compared with the late John Updike. How do you respond to critical efforts to situate your work in relation to that of other well-known novelists?

Really—Updike? That's...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Stewart O'Nan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Songs for the Missing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi is the author of novels (including The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album and Intimacy), story collections (Love in a Blue Time, Midnight All Day, The Body), plays (including Outskirts, Borderline and Sleep With Me), and screenplays (including My Beautiful Laundrette, My Son the Fanatic and Venus). Among his other publications are the collection of essays Dreaming and Scheming, The Word and the Bomb and the memoir My Ear at his Heart.

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

Who are your literary influences?

PG Wodehouse, Proust, Freud. When I was a kid it was Kerouac, Roth, Mailer and Henry Miller. But in the end you find your own voice.

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

Naveen Andrews has already played me in The Buddha of Suburbia but now I’d choose George Clooney.

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

Remembrance of Things Past by Proust. But I wouldn’t have liked to have spent all that time in bed.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gary Shteyngart

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

From his Q & A with the Independent:

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

Nabokov. Because he write real good even though English no his native tongue... I like 'Pnin' a lot because it's about a befuddled Russian immigrant, which is what I am. You could say he influenced me. I've basically ripped off everything he has done, added on [David] Sedaris humour and called it my own.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

That dude in [Martin Amis's novel] 'Money'. The fat one. It's aspirational. I want to be much bigger than I am.

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

Queen Elizabeth of course. And Goofy. The queen because she looks like a very strong monarch in times of national crisis who could carry you across a river or out of a burning building. [I am a monarchist] if the monarch has a strong upper body. ...[read on]
Avi Steinberg, a former prison librarian, thought Lindsay Lohan should read Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2011

David Halperin

Back in the 1960s, David Halperin was a teen-age UFO investigator. He later became a professor of religious studies—his specialty, religious traditions of heavenly ascent.

Journal of a UFO Investigator, released last month by Viking Press, is his first novel.

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

What sort of research did you do in preparation for writing this book? How much of the story directly reflects actual UFO literature?

The story is deeply rooted in the UFO traditions of the 1950s and early 1960s, which present-day UFOlogists look back to as a golden age. Morris K. Jessup, for example, was a real person, author of several UFO books. The legends surrounding his death in 1959 would have passed back and forth in long letters between Danny and other teen UFOlogists, with wide-eyed speculation about whether Jessup really committed suicide or whether this was a "cover" for something more sinister. The Three Men in Black—long before Hollywood got hold of them—were part of the 1950s UFO lore, much of it shaped by the great West Virginia mythmaker Gray Barker and his bestselling They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. Readers can check out the historical note, posted to the Penguin web site for more details.

I knew this UFO world so intimately from my own adolescence that there wasn't much research required beyond poking through my voluminous files of correspondence from almost fifty years ago, plus rereading the UFO books that so influenced me back then. The UFO Encyclopedia, published in the 1990s by my old friend and fellow-UFOlogist Jerome Clark, was an inexhaustibly rich resource for me, as it will be for anyone with the smallest interest in UFO belief. And I...[read on]

Learn more about Journal of a UFO Investigator at Halperin's website and blog (“my thoughts on UFOs, religion, the writer’s life, and other subjects dear to my heart”).

Watch a video trailer for Journal of a UFO Investigator.

The Page 69 Test: Journal of a UFO Investigator.

Writers Read: David Halperin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards's latest novel is The Lake of Dreams.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

William Trevor is an author I admire; his stories are subtle and powerful, and beautifully written. When I teach, I use passages... to illuminate for students how the very structure of the sentences reflects... dramatic and thematic concerns.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'. I loved this book as a child, probably because Jo was one of four children, as I am, and she wanted to be a writer. I loved her strong spirit and her willingness to question convention.

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

From the world, Marie Curie, for her passionate pursuit of science at a time when women weren't welcomed in the academy. In my life, my husband.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Daniel Woodrell

For the Wall Street Journal, Steven Kurutz interviewed Winter's Bone author Daniel Woodrell. Part of the Q & A:

The Wall Street Journal: What’s interesting about your style is that you write about a culture many readers would find foreign, but you do it without any translating.

I had a strange conversation with a professor who was very important to me. I’d long been trying to be a writer. He said, ‘You’re going to have a big problem.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘You write about working class people and you’re writing about them straight. He took me aside and said, ‘I think you can write but you’re going to have to make a choice about how you’re going to deal with this. If you’re going to do straight working-class fiction, hats off to you and good luck. But if you’re going to try to survive outside academia – and I wasn’t suited to a life in academia – you might think about crossing it with your other interests.’

How did that conversation change your approach?

That put the idea in my head that there’s no reason I couldn’t cover an awful lot of things I was interested in, and I’ve always loved crime — Chandler and Cain and Hammett and all the rest. I always loved the verve and vivacity of pulp and I kind of merged it with my own interest in family stories.

Dennis Lehane has said that he writes crime because it allows him to discuss class.

There’s an...[read on]
A few years ago Dennis Lehane called Woodrell the least-known major writer in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the author of more than seventy 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.

From his Q & A with Larry D. Sweazy:

Do you feel like you ever have to defend yourself for writing genre fiction?

Never. It’s what I like to read, and it’s what I like to write. I’ve never even thought about a defense, though maybe I should. I do have a Ph.D. in English, so I’ve read and studied a lot of great literary fiction. On the other hand, I wrote my dissertation on private-eye fiction, and I never felt a need to defend myself for doing that, either.

Why do you write mysteries?

As I said above, mysteries are what I like to read, and when I started to write, it seemed like the natural thing to do. I’ve written a lot of westerns, though, and some horror novels. And a few kids’ books. I like to write all those things, but I keep coming back to the mysteries.

What was the last good western you read?

I liked Redemption, Kansas, by James Reasoner a lot. I read...[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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2011

Giles Tremlett

Giles Tremlett, the Guardian's Madrid correspondent, is the author of Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past.

From a Q & A about his latest book, Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII, with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Why do we still care about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII, his six wives, and his children who became monarchs themselves?

There's a very strong connection with the characters. Henry himself is such a massively larger-than-life figure, someone who did everything in multitudes, including wives.

We have a king who is influenced by women, who then goes on to be the father of the first two female monarchs in England, the first two queens regnant. You have a powerful current of female history: women who were power players.

It was also a hugely important era. This is when the split from Rome happens, which defines Britain on into the 20th century, and great things are happening all over the place. Columbus is heading off to the Americas thanks to Catherine's parents, and they've essentially founded a new country called Spain. In the rest of Europe, we have the humanist Renaissance happening. In that sense, it's a very exciting historical period.

Henry VIII is also one of first historical figures about whom we have such vast amounts of information. The same goes for his wives and fellow princes like the French kings.

Q: Why was this time so well documented?

It has to do with the amount of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 13, 2011

T. C. Boyle

T. C. Boyle's many novels include World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and the newly released When the Killing's Done.

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

The Wall Street Journal: How did you come up with the idea for this novel?

Two things got me going. One, curiosity about [the wild and sparsely inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara], which I’d never visited and could see right there off the coast. And two, all the newspaper articles about the tremendous controversy surrounding the actual events which I’ve dramatized… There was a guy who went out to Anacapa [island] to throw vitamin K and who also protested the pig killings.

Was part of the appeal for you the complexity and nuances of the conflict — that it involved two warring sets of nature lovers, rather than the usual battle between conservationists and developers?

There’s a real irony in that, particularly in the way I portrayed it. The meeting at which Alma is abused by Dave LaJoy happened. I read about it in the paper and wrote my version. The actual woman who was involved, who has become a friend, said that [the novel] gave her chills and nightmares because it was exactly how she had felt at the meeting.

I understand you did a lot of research out on the islands. What were the conditions like?

I travelled with biologists tagging dwarf foxes…It was like joining the Marine Corps. Up at five. Up and down these cliffs…It was wild.

Did you camp out there?

It’s a great story no one has heard yet. We were...[read on]
See--T.C. Boyle's 4 favorite books to turn to for comfort.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult's new novel is Sing You Home.

From her Q & A with Merry Armentrout:

1. Why did you choose to write on the subject of infertility which affects one in 6 couples?

JP: Infertility has become epidemic. Although I don’t have personal experience with it, many of my friends have. I have seen how it is not just a medical issue but an emotional one. For some couples, the process draws them closer. For others, the process leads to heartbreak and the dissolution of the relationship. I wanted to create characters who were deeply committed to having a baby…and deeply wounded by their inability to do so.

2. What prompted you to write about LGBT family building?

JP: In my opinion gay rights is the last civil right we have yet to grant in the US. I wanted my readers - particularly those opposed to gay rights - to see that a gay couple wants exactly what straight couples do: the opportunity to have a committed relationship; the ability to create a loving family.

3. In your opinion, what does a “traditional family” look like today?

JP: I think the traditional family has become untraditional! My personal definition would be: any group of people united by their deep love for a child.

4. How would this book benefit someone who is struggling to start a family?

JP: For someone struggling with...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 11, 2011

Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela's new novel Lyrics Alley is inspired by the life of her uncle, the late Sudanese poet Hassan Awad Aboulela.

From her Q & A with Donna Walters Kozberg at Publishers Weekly:

When did you discover your uncle's poetry?

I discovered it late in life even though I had always known that he was famous. Hassan was older than my father and my father had looked up to him. But my father's assessment of Hassan as a poet was in line with the family elders' interpretation: Hassan turned to poetry to comfort himself after an accident; he composed jingles that became popular largely due to his family's endorsement of musicians who turned Hassan's lyrics into songs. In addition, this conservative, proud family were upfront about the fact that if it wasn't for their son's disability, they wouldn't have supported his literary career. So I grew up aware of Hassan's fame but I did not know the songs.

Did you consider writing a biography rather than a novel?

No, I never did. Although the identity of Hassan's sweetheart and muse is not a secret among the wider family and their close circle, it would have offended her children to see their mother's name in a published book or in newspaper reviews. Besides, sticking to factual details would have stifled me. Hassan's story is the nucleus of Lyrics Alley. Around him revolve imaginary characters like ...[read on]
Visit Leila Aboulela's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay received a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree from Harvard University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children. Her new novel is Deep Down True.

From a Q & A about Shelter Me, her first novel:

After Janie’s husband, Robby, dies suddenly, she gradually emerges from her grief. For instance, as the days progress, she holds it together until 5:30 or 6 in the evening. Then, as she is really improving, she can hold her grief at bay until going to sleep. What gave you this insight into the way we heal?

Even with a live husband, I’m pretty tired by the end of the day. At about six, just before dinner, I have the least amount of patience and my kids are at their least adorable. Jokingly, I’ve often told my husband, “You keep walking in the door at six o’clock and I’ll never leave you.”

I’ve often imagined how hard that time of day must be for a single mother, with no reinforcements on the horizon. It must be especially tough when you’ve come to rely on the reprieve. You can no longer hand off the whiny baby or tell the irritable 5-year-old to “ask Dad” those 52 questions about why he can’t get a cow for a pet. That starkness of no one showing up when you’re at your worst suggested itself as the focal point of Janie’s aloneness.

But humans have an amazing capacity to acclimate ourselves to deprivations, big and small. Slowly, as Father Jake counsels Janie, we adjust. She has to muddle through until her mental alarm clock stops going off at six, and her body gets used to hanging in there for another couple of hours. And because I love her, I gave her occasional reprieves: Cormac, Aunt Jude and even Shelly show up at six o’clock with food from time to time.

The central question for Janie is “Now what?” After her husband dies, she struggles to remember how people normally live. How did you know that too?

“Now what?” is the...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Deep Down True and view the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Juliette Fay's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Deep Down True.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction, and co-editor of The Other Chekhov. His work appears in The Southern Review, Surreal South, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, and Random House's Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

From Minor's Q & A with Claire Sanderson of Virginia Tech's Collegiate Times:

CT: Does most of your inspiration come from your personal life?

KM: Some of the things I write are based on things that happen that I directly observe, and some of the stories are completely made up. And I think it would be difficult for someone who didn’t know me to know which was which — I hope.

Some of the stories were generated in response to other works of literature. One is “The Navy Man,” and it’s an adaptation of a Chekhov story using my setting and my characters, and shifting the point of view from the point of view of a man involved to the point of view of a woman involved in an affair. So a lot of my writing is inspired by other writers, like Andre Dubus, by Katherine Anne Porter, by Chekhov — the great 19th century Russian writer — those are very much the influences on that book.

Now, for the book that I’m doing now, it’s a bit different and has new influences, I’m not really beholden to those writers forever, but I certainly had them in mind when I was working on that book.

CT: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

KM: I didn’t know when I was younger that I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I tried lots of other things.

I worked at a radio station, I was very briefly a preacher, and I was briefly involved with publishing. I have always been interested in stories, but I began to become engaged with literature, disillusioned with religion, and I began to read.

And my gateway drug was...[read on]
Learn more about Kyle Minor and his work at his website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Kyle Minor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Craig McDonald

Craig McDonald is the Edgar®/Anthony nominated author of Head Games, Toros & Torsos, and Print the Legend.

From his Q & A with Vince Kennan about McDonald's new novel, One True Sentence.

Q. You’ve said this book wraps up a loose trilogy within the Hector Lassiter series about Hec’s friendship with Ernest Hemingway. What effect does the popular conception of Hemingway have on your treatment of him as a character? Does his larger-than-life image make it easier or more difficult to write about him? Conversely, what challenges are posed by writing about real-life figures who are lesser known to contemporary readers, like Ford Madox Ford?

I try to write Hemingway as I think he must have been — warts and all, struggling with what was probably a fatal bi-polar condition and self-medicating as best he could with writing and alcohol. I’m frankly astounded he survived into his sixties. I’m not sure how widely Hem is read these days by those under, say, age 40, and if he is, I suspect his image as a man is probably shaped by comments by partisan professors and a few lines of biography at the back of his books.

In the 1980s, particularly after his last wife died, there were scores of Hemingway biographies published; a mini-series of his life in which Stacy Keach appeared. That all kind of tapered off in the late 1990s. I don’t think a major biography of Hemingway has appeared in the past decade or so. So I think his actual personality and biography are receding in the collective unconscious again. A piece of trivia: this summer will in fact mark the 50th anniversary of Hem’s death.

In terms of writing Ford and Gertrude Stein and the like, I essentially tried to portray them in a manner consistent with Hemingway’s portraits in A Moveable Feast, and, really, as simply other characters. In that sense, One True Sentence was essentially conceived to be a crime novel recasting...[read on]
Read "The Story Behind the Story: One True Sentence, by Craig McDonald" at The Rap Sheet.

The Page 69 Test: Toros & Torsos.

The Page 69 Test: Head Games.

The Page 69 Test: Print the Legend.

My Book, The Movie: Print the Legend.

The Page 69 Test: One True Sentence.

My Book, The Movie: One True Sentence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2011

Neeti Nair

Neeti Nair is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India.

From her Q & A at the Permanent Black blog:

Q: Partition history, like Holocaust history, is a terrain well trodden by some big-name Indian historians, and the archives on it have been considerably mined. What personal reasons and professional ambitions impelled you, a very young historian writing her PhD, to venture David-like among the Goliaths? And which historians/teachers (of Partition or otherwise) did you find most inspiring when setting about becoming a historian yourself?

A: My first seriously inspiring teachers were the Menon brothers—Siddhartha Menon in Rishi Valley School and Shivshankar Menon at St Stephen’s College. Both were able to communicate their love for history, for the unexpected and the complicated. They tended to be tentative in their conclusions, aware that history was open to several interpretations. At Tufts, where I did my MA and PhD, Sugata Bose taught a historiography seminar. I enjoyed his open approach to different schools of historiography and later appreciated his understated approach to publishing: “There is a difference between the thought process and the exposition.”

In my second year of the MA, Ayesha Jalal joined Tufts. She was intellectually rigorous, fiercely combative, provocative, and very different from anyone else I’d studied with. I was working on a seminar paper for her class on ‘Islam in South Asia’ when I became curious about how Punjabi Hindus negotiated their status as minorities in Muslim-majority Punjab. I looked at the secondary literature: there was nothing. I decided to work on it. I had just about decided I wanted to pursue a PhD and this topic began to have a life of its own. Initially I had intended it to be a social history around memories of Lahore, but the kind of material I encountered in the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Library, Delhi State Archives, and Punjab State Archives in Chandigarh and Patiala made it more political than social history. Yes, I saw some very illustrious names ahead of mine and it is an intimidating field. But it was simply old-fashioned curiosity that led me down this path, nothing as grand as ambition!

My most important mentor has been...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht's new novel is The Tiger's Wife.

From her 2009 Q & A  with Cotton Codinha in the Atlantic:

Who are your biggest personal influences?

In terms of writers, I definitely have to say I am greatly influenced by writing that I love. Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), Gabriel García Márquez, and Hemingway. In terms of people that I know, my grandmother and my mother are huge influences on my writing life because they are both massively supportive and always have been of my career.

What do you want to explore with your writing? What themes do you find yourself coming back to?

I am very interested in place, and the influences of place on characters. What inspires me most to write is the act of traveling. I like to explore the idea of common conflict in perhaps a more amplified environment in my writing. Human conflict is human conflict I guess anywhere, but I like to explore the interactions of people with place and how place influences characters’ decisions, and their conflicts with one another, and also with the place itself—that’s something that...[read on]
Visit Téa Obreht's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jon Michaud

Jon Michaud's new novel is When Tito Loved Cara.

From his Q & A with author Caroline Leavitt:

What I loved so much about your book was that it wasn’t just a love story between people, but a love story about culture, family and community—which sometimes is a more star-crossed lover than a person. Could you care to comment on this?

Sometimes I think my whole life has been one long cross-cultural love story. My father was diplomat and we lived in a number of turbulent foreign places when I was a child: Iran, India, and Northern Ireland. I think that the recurring experience of not being a native-born member of the cultures in which I grew up made me especially aware of the conflicts that immigrants and exiles face within themselves and within their families and communities. Those insider/outsider conflicts can be seen in almost every neighborhood in New York City (witness the controversy over the Park51 Islamic community center)—and in plenty of neighborhoods around the country.

Many wonderful books, from Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March” to Jhumpa Lahiri's “The Interpreter of Maladies,” have chronicled those conflicts, too. In my case, I had the good fortune to wind up living in northern Manhattan in the late 1990s and to marry into a vibrant Dominican-American family. The stories my wife and in-laws told me and the stories I heard around the neighborhood resonated with my own childhood experiences of being constantly out of place and fed into the novel that became “When Tito Loved Clara.”

Clara has assimilated into a new life, but when Tito comes back, things disrupt, making everyone question choices made or unmade. Do you think we can ever escape our past or our culture—and should we?

It’s always...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ben Tarnoff

Ben Tarnoff is the author of Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters. He has worked at Lapham's Quarterly and graduated from Harvard in 2007.

From a Q & A at his website:

Q: Can you explain the significance of the title Moneymakers?

A: “Moneymaker” was the colonial word for counterfeiter. When Owen Sullivan, the first counterfeiter profiled in my book, gets into a drunken fight with his wife in Boston in 1749, she calls him a “forty-thousand-pound moneymaker.” The neighbors overhear this remark and tell the police, who discover fake bills and printing materials at Sullivan’s house and arrest him. I liked the word “moneymaker” because it’s so literal: of all the ways to acquire money, only “moneymaking” involved actually manufacturing it. A disgruntled silversmith could disappear for a week and return richer than the city’s wealthiest merchant. Getting rich quick inspired as much awe and envy back then as it does today. For those riches to be fabricated by hand, and not earned the old-fashioned way, made counterfeiting seem like magic. It’s easy to see why counterfeiters became the outlaw celebrities of their day. They embodied the enduring fantasy of instant wealth. Their fortunes were, in every sense, self-made.

Q: What initially drew you to the topic of counterfeiting?

A: When I started reading about the subject, I became fascinated with the stories of the individual counterfeiters. Very few began as professional criminals. Most started out as craftsmen: silversmiths or engravers, usually. Creating a plate for printing counterfeit bills required tremendous dexterity. The success of an entire operation essentially rested on one pair of hands. So counterfeiters tended to be talented artists—but they were also aggressively entrepreneurial. They needed to think on several levels: quality of the craftsmanship wasn’t the only factor determining the success of a counterfeiting enterprise. There was the sale of the notes themselves, whether to regional distributors or to gangs of “passers.” There was the geographical question of which communities to target. Perhaps most importantly, counterfeiters...[read on]
Read an excerpt from Moneymakers, and learn more about the book and author at Ben Tarnoff's website.

The Page 99 Test: Moneymakers.

Writers Read: Ben Tarnoff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Adam Arenson

Adam Arenson is Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso.

From his interview at the St. Louis Beacon about his new book, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War:

Why did you become so interested in St. Louis' Civil War history?

Arenson: There are two answers. The flip answer is that TWA gets credit. I hadn't thought a tremendous amount about St. Louis, but growing up in San Diego and going to college in Boston, all my TWA flights stopped in St. Louis. So I had a chance to think about the city and in my last year of college I actually left the airport and went to places like the Mercantile Library and realized the deep resources for history that there are in St. Louis.

A slightly more serious answer is that I really wanted to think about how the American West interacts with the Civil War story we normally tell. St. Louis -- being on the border of slavery and freedom and also being the gateway to the west -- seemed the perfect place to think about all three regions of the country together.

The historic timeline in your book will be familiar to St. Louisans who have studied the city's history. What fresh perspectives might they find in your work?

Arenson: I came to understand the Civil War history of St. Louis as an outsider and that allowed me to view certain events -- like the Great Fire, the establishment of Washington University, the establishment of Forest Park, the World's Fair -- through a different lens.

It allowed me to see different stories with more authentic 19th-century understanding. I see the Great Fire as something that turns out to be quite good for the city. And I place the establishment of Washington University amid the firestorm of nativism -- and those are stories I haven't seen told much in standard histories of St. Louis.

Why did you conclude the book with the 1876 election that split St. Louis city and county?

Arenson: I end there because...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Great Heart of the Republic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taylor Stevens

Born into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe, and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Taylor Stevens broke free of the cult in order to follow hope and a vague idea of what possibilities lay beyond. She now lives in Texas, and is writing a third Vanessa Michael Munroe novel. Her first Vanessa Michael Munroe thriller, The Informationist, debuts this month.

From Stevens's Q & A with Melissa Mia Hall at Publishers Weekly:

Before you escaped the Children of God cult, you once had your stories confiscated and burned.

Those in charge just took them and told me they burned them. I ended up being locked away for three days in a room with no food because they wanted to exorcise the devils out of me.

How old were you?


When did you decide to become a writer?

I finally had a chance to read back in the United States. I was about 31. I had two little kids, and I was a stay-at-home mom. It was after reading the Jason Bourne trilogy that I made the decision to write. I wanted to be able to create in others the same emotion, the connection, the excitement that I felt when reading these books. I want to take people places where they've never been before. Robert Ludlum is my hero of writers.

Define "informationist."

Munroe earns money by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Anand Giridharadas

From a Q & A with Anand Giridharadas, author of India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking:

Your book focuses not only on Indian-Americans like yourself returning to India, but also on Indians born and raised in India who are choosing to stay in India rather than emigrate. What do you think is the new draw to stay in India?

I think there is an invisible line that a country like India crosses, beyond which people have the feeling that they can fulfill their dreams and control their fate and become the fullest possible expressions of themselves right there on their own soil. When you cross that line, emigration begins to seem to many people like a choice, not a necessity, as it was for my father. The reality is that India, in its fundamentals, is still not an easy place to start a business, to deal with the bureaucracy, to drive a car, to buy a home. It's not that all the old constraints have vanished, though they have loosened considerably. The change, I think, is attitudinal above all. Millions of Indians swagger now with the conviction that destiny is theirs for the making and that there is no more blessed fortune than to be Indian; and once people begin to believe that, you have combustion.

India is obviously a frequent news headline these days. How is India's growth portrayed differently in the Indian and the American media? What role is technology playing in this "revival"?

There are substantial differences. In the American news coverage of India, two somewhat extreme and opposite tendencies seem to be at work. There are lots of intensely New India stories, with the "new" italicized and bolded and underlined. And then there are lots of intensely Old India stories, of malnutrition and puffed-out bellies, of Kashmiri violence, of unwieldy coalition politics, of the degradations of caste. There is a great deal of truth in both of these storylines; but to me what is most engaging in India today is neither the Old India narratives in isolation nor the New India ones. It is where the two meet and clash and dance and melt into each other that the excitement lies. Caste endures, yes, but how is it being unraveled — and perhaps confirmed — by the software industry? Democracy continues to fail many Indians, yes, but what happens when entrepreneurs give voters a way to find out candidates' criminal backgrounds via simple text messaging? The drama is between the extremes.

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