Friday, September 30, 2011

David Grossman

David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty-six languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia—International Award for Journalism, Israel’s Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Günter Grass Foundation.

From Grossman's Q & A with the Christian Science Monitor's Marjorie Kehe about his novel, To the End of the Land:

Q. You chose a female protagonist for your novel – a soldier's mother – even though you are a soldier's father and it might have seemed more natural for you to write from a man's point of view. Why did you create Ora?

A. I intuitively chose a woman because I think the relations between a mother and a child are more primal. And I say this as a very “motherly” kind of father. I’ve been involved very much in the life of my children from the very beginning. From the moment our oldest son Jonathan was born I felt it was a privilege to touch life through him and through my parenthood, my fatherhood.

Nevertheless, I know myself that the compact between my wife and him is more primal.This book deals so much with the everyday act of creating a human being in this life, in this world. It felt more natural to me to tell the story from Ora’s point of view.

And another thing: I thought that the woman will be less collaborative with the big system of the government, the army, the war. These are systems that were created by men and they reward men more. Those systems in a way are more boys’ games. It’s more likely that a woman will escape. A woman will not feel obliged to honor this awful deal that we make with the system when we send our son to the army and then wait for them to tell us what happens to him. I just knew this is how it would be.

Q. One of the most poignant things about "To the End of the Land" is the way that you interweave lovely scenes of family life with terrible moments of conflict. It raises the question: Can normal family life continue in a country torn by this kind of struggle? Or perhaps a better question is, does normal family life really exist under such circumstances – or is it always in some way tainted by them?

A. Both questions are right. The answer to both is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Martin Lindstrom

Advertising veteran Martin Lindstrom is the author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.

From his Q & A with Emma Mustich at Salon:

What's your goal with this book? Is it to change people's habits? Or simply to inform them about marketing tactics they might not otherwise have noticed? Because, while I was certainly surprised by some of the things I read, I have to say that I'll probably continue to buy all the products I bought before.

Well, let me put it this way. Of course I can't change people's entire behavior with one book. But if I can just change you 1 percent -- and if I can make companies change 1 percent -- I think it's worth it. Just 1 percent is fine with me. Perhaps when you buy a product [from the supermarket] next time, rather than being fooled by the fact that it looks fresh, you'll be very skeptical about its presentation -- the ice, the dripping water -- and actually, you'll make a more clever decision. Then I'm happy. I'm happy if, next time you surf on the Net, you actually know how your information will be used, and you're just a little bit more careful. If I change your behavior 1 percent, and I do that with many people in the population, haven't I succeeded? I think I have.

Now that you mention it, I'm sure there's at least one detail I won't forget: You say that the average supermarket apple is more than a year old. Please tell me that's not possible!

It is possible. A lot of apples are stored in huge warehouse where there's a special type of air that can make them last for a very, very long period of time. Remember also that lots of apples have preservatives on them -- they have preservatives in the whole way they've been maintained and grown, so at the end of the day you have apples that are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anna Funder

Born in 1966, Anna Funder is an Australian writer who grew up in Melbourne. She worked as an international lawyer and in public relations for a German overseas television service in Berlin. Her first book, Stasiland, won the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction in the United Kingdom.

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

What book changed your life?

The Emigrants by WG Sebald. The things he does with language and memory are fascinating.
* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I think it’s magnificent, kaleidoscopic.
* * *

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Barack Obama. I think he’s charismatic and inspiring, and we would have a lot to talk about.
* * *

What novel would you give to a child to introduce them to literature?

King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard.
Read the complete Q & A.

Anna Funder's Stasiland appears on Steve Kettmann's list of ten of the best books on Germans and Germany.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Priya Parmar

Priya Parmar, a former freelance editor and dramaturg holds degrees in English Literature and theatre. She attended Mount Holyoke College, Oxford University and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She divides her time between Hawaii and London.

Exit the Actress is her debut novel.

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

Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?

A. Mr. George Emerson, Room with a View

Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?

A. Daisy Buchanan

Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?

A. Mrs. de Winter from Rebecca. I would ask her first name.

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

A. Evelyn Waugh, Jean Rhys, E.M. Forster, W.H. Auden, Tom Stoppard, Constantine Cavafy, Vikram Seth, Jane Austen

Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?

A. Brideshead Revisited, Room with a View, The Runaway Bunny, Wings of the Dove, Madeline and the Bad Hat

Q. Is there a book you love to reread?

A. Wuthering Heights
Read the complete Q & A.

Writers Read: Priya Parmar.

My Book, The Movie: Exit the Actress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2011

William Boyd

William Boyd's books include A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year; and Ordinary Thunderstorms.

From the author's 2007 Q & A with Rosanna Greenstreet in the Guardian:

What is your favourite book?

The collected stories of Anton Chekhov.
* * *

What is your favourite word?

It changes all the time. At the moment 'luminosity'. Last week 'riverine'.
* * *

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

William Shakespeare, Percy Shelley, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Brooks, Barbara Skelton.
* * *

What keeps you awake at night?

The human condition.
Read the complete Q & A.

Learn about the importance of his characters' names to Boyd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ellen Hart

Ellen Hart's latest Jane Lawless mystery (Volume 19) is The Lost Women of Lost Lake.

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

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your newfound wealth?

Well, let’s say it’s a lot. Say, twenty million. That’s a nice round number. I suppose, first, I’d make sure my kids were comfortable. I’d also invest a significant portion for each of them. With the rest, I’d set up trusts for my five grandkids, buy a summer home up on the north shore of Lake Superior that we could all enjoy -- including my friends. My partner could quit her job, if she wanted to, and continue with her fine art career. I’d invest some of the money for a rainy day, but I’d also try to do some good in the world. I’d give money to humane societies, and maybe establish some kind of grant for young writers. But I’d continue writing. That’s the one thing I know for sure.

Who's your favorite fictional character?

Oh, wow. I don’t think I can pick just one. Here are two, but from the same book. First, Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. The novel is perhaps one of the most beautifully written in the English language. I was drawn in by Sebastian’s struggle with religion -- in his case, Catholicism. The character resonated so deeply with me. I was also taken by one of the other characters, Charles Ryder. We see the book through his eyes. He doesn’t entirely understand the hold the church has over the entire Flyte family because he grew up within a secular family, but he is compassionate, even as Sebastian’s guilt ultimately leads to...[read on]
Learn more about The Lost Women of Lost Lake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 24, 2011

E. Paul Zehr

E. Paul Zehr is a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and the author of Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero and the newly released Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine.

From a Q & A at io9:

What is the most scientifically plausible superpower?

My own penchant is for the human basis for superpowers — hence Becoming Batman and Inventing Iron Man. If we consider Iron Man, we are getting close to being able to "fly" without being "inside" an aircraft, as in Yves Rossy. With some major advances in power source, that kind of technologically enhanced powered flight is close. Maybe also a bit like Angel in the X-Men?

What I can also see is a kind of technological telekinesis. That is, manipulating objects at a distance. Or, rather, manipulating humans (and other mammals) from a distance by controlling their nervous systems. I can see the outcomes of advances in brain machine interface (and which is central to my Iron Man book) as a way to lead to increased knowledge of how to "hack" the human nervous system.

What I am thinking of is some kind of projectile neural interface that would connect to the head of someone (let's say a bad guy) when shot out from someone (let's say the good guy). Now the interface activates and controls the body of the "hacked" bad guy. He becomes compliant and is basically "remote controlled" by the hero.

This is essentially the reverse of brain machine interface where the brain of the user is supposed to control the machine (like the Iron Man suit). Now, that interface is used in reverse-to control the user from an external person. Please note that this isn't...[read on]
Writer's Read: E. Paul Zehr.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rita Dove

Rita Dove is the editor of The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry.

From her Q & A with Craig Morgan Teicher at Publishers Weekly:

You were tasked with offering your own version of the 20th Century canon—how did you go about it?

By the time I began working on the anthology, the 20th century was done. It was a closed chapter, and that meant I could go back and see how things really begin to shake out. I was going back to look at all the ways people viewed the 20th century at various points—in 1960 the view was completely different from how we view it now. So, of course, emphasis began to shift. I kept asking myself, How much space do I give to this person, who used to get 25 pages?

Those must have been hard choices...

I loved it! But there were moments when I banged my head against the wall. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of relying on the first half of the century, to have the book be early-heavy. And I wanted to give a sense of what was going to happen, but I had this very firm rule that nothing in it could be published after the year 2000, and that meant cutting out a lot of really interesting stuff that’s been going on in the last decade.

Was it hard to pick poems and poets of your own and younger generations?

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kelli Stanley

The first book in Kelli Stanley's Miranda Corbie series, City of Dragons, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was also named one of the 2010 Top Ten Mystery Thrillers by Oline Cogdill and one of the Top Ten Best Fiction by Bay Area Authors by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Her new novel City of Secrets.

J. Kingston Pierce interviewed Stanley at Kirkus, and included some bonus material from their Q & A at The Rap Sheet:

J. Kingston Pierce: From reading your novels, as well as the Web-posted yarn, “Memory Book,” we know that Miranda Corbie was born in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire and that she’s now a chain-smoking private eye, with an office in the Monadnock Building, on Market Street. But give us some more details of her past, including things you haven’t yet incorporated into the novels.

Kelli Stanley: After college (at Mills College in Oakland) she undertook a number of jobs. One of them was teaching farm workers displaced by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Later, in the mid-’30s, she traveled to New York and met Johnny, a reporter for The New York Times.

He became the love of her life, someone that she could finally trust and give herself to. They traveled to Spain during the Civil War--Miranda trained as a nurse briefly and talked her way in as a volunteer so she could be with John. He was killed in ’37, and she returned to the city of her birth, and drifted into working for Dianne’s Escort Service and Tea Room (an actual business, as most of the businesses are in the series).

Eventually she met Charlie Burnett, a P.I. on the shady side of the street, and worked for him as divorce-case bait. After solving his murder, she was hired by the [San Francisco] world’s fair administration, and secured her own P.I. license. Her second big case (at the world’s fair) involved the Incubator Babies. When she’s not working for herself, she acts as a security guard for Sally Rand’s girls at the infamous Nude Ranch on Treasure Island’s Gayway.

That’s the skeleton of Miranda’s story ... and you’ll notice a lot of gaps. I delve into her history little by little, mostly as it’s revealed to me. The reason for this is simple: when...[read on]
Visit Kelli Stanley's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Nox Dormienda.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

My Book, The Movie: City of Dragons.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: The Curse-Maker.

My Book, The Movie: The Curse-Maker.

My Book, the Movie: City of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: City of Secrets.

Writers Read: Kelli Stanley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gary Scott Smith

Gary Scott Smith chairs the History Department at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

His latest book is Heaven in the American Imagination.

From his Q & A with Paul Kengor at Catholic Lane:

Kengor: Do most Americans today retain a traditional Christian understanding of heaven?

Smith: As I have explained, my book details how images of heaven have changed over time in response to different social, political, intellectual, and economic conditions and challenges. Not surprisingly, the conceptions that many contemporary Christians (and others) have of the afterlife have been significantly shaped by recent cultural trends, most notably: increased anxiety (caused by devastating terrorist attacks, severe economic recession, and global social problems), the impact of the therapeutic worldview (which exalts self-fulfillment and personal happiness), the emergence of an entertainment culture (which stresses pleasure and amusement), concerns about the breakdown of the family and the impoverishment of personal relationships, and the growing acceptance of a postmodern, relativistic perspective on life.

Influenced by these trends, many Americans have portrayed paradise as a place of comfort, self-actualization, bliss, enriching entertainment, and robust fellowship. These views are portrayed in a variety of best-selling books and in numerous pop, rock, country, and religious songs. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is the tale of a murdered 14-year-old girl who watches events on earth while exploring heaven, while Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a story about an octogenarian amusement park worker’s life review while in heaven. Both have been made into movies. Anthony DeStefano’s A Travel Guide to Heaven is a highly speculative tour of the wonders and joys of paradise, which topped’s best-seller list several times. These portraits clash with earlier ones that view heaven primarily as place of worshipping God and serving Him and others.

Kengor: How has the New Age movement affected our views of Heaven?

Smith: Since 1980, Americans have...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Heaven in the American Imagination.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stef Penney

Stef Penney was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her debut novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, was an international bestseller and received the prestigious Costa Award. Her new novel is The Invisible Ones.

From Penney's Q & A with Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

There are many. Rites of Passage by William Golding; Troubles by J.G. Farrell; Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin; Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson; Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu.
* * *

Who are your literary influences?

My favourite authors are J.G. Farrell, Graham Greene, Haruki Murakami, F. Scott Fitzgerald and E.M. Forster.
* * *

What book do you wish you had written?

I think the most perfect book is The Great Gatsby but then if I’d written it I’d probably never pick up a pen again.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell has won numerous awards, including three Edgars, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England's prestigious Crime Writer's Association. A member of the House of Lords, she lives in London.

Her 23d Inspector Wexford novel is The Vault.

From Rendell's Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Are you surprised that Wexford has remained popular for so long?

When I first created him almost 50 years ago, I had no idea that he would become a popular character or that his name would become a household word. If I had known, I would have made him much younger to start with. As he got older, I had to eventually retire him…I don’t think I ever will ever kill him off. I can’t.

How has your relationship to the character evolved?

He changed with time. He became more like the sort of person I’d wanted him to be. Men identify with him and women are attracted to him.

Are the Wexford novels easier to write than stand-alones because you are so familiar with him and his back story?

I don’t find any writing to be easy. It doesn’t flow out of me. I do have to think quite deeply about things, but I know what he would say, I know what he would think. So much of him is me, these are my sentiments, these are my feelings. If he’s in a situation that he has to make a moral judgment or form a philosophy, I don’t have to ask what he would think. It’s what I think…He’s tolerant, but...[read on]
Read about Rendell's hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maile Meloy

Maile Meloy is the award-winning author of the short story collections Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It and Half in Love, and the novels Liars and Saints and A Family Daughter. The Apothecary, her first novel for young readers, is due out in October.

From Meloy's Q & A with Shannon Maughan at Publishers Weekly:

You’ve had a critically acclaimed career trajectory as an author for adults. What was behind your decision to write for a younger audience?

I had just finished the manuscript of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, my last story collection, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I’ve heard that Iris Murdoch used to finish one novel, write “THE END,” and put a fresh piece of paper in the typewriter to start a new one. I’m not like that. While I was kicking around ideas, my friends Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett told me they had a movie idea about a mysterious apothecary. Mark and Jen are filmmakers [directors of Nim’s Island; screenwriters of the 1998 film version of Madeline] and whirling dervishes of creativity, with six projects always going at once (and two precocious kids). They thought the apothecary idea should be a novel first, and that I should write it. I said I’d try, not knowing that it would take over the next three years of my life.

Was your approach to the book any different when writing for younger readers?

The first couple of chapters were heaven, because I had a kind of game plan from Mark and Jen. I thought, “this is fantastic! This is the only way to write novels!” Then I called them and said, “What happens next?” And they said, “We don’t know! Keep going!” So I did, feeling like I was building the bridge as I was walking on it, and I wrote the first draft in six weeks. It was an absolute pleasure. I think it went so quickly because there was no pressure, and no expectation. I didn’t write kids’ books, so I wasn’t worried about whether it was bad or good. And if there were rules, I didn’t know what they were. I got Janie and Benjamin into situations where I didn’t know how they’d get out, and I felt like...[read on]
Visit Maile Meloy's website.

What is Maile Meloy reading?

The Page 69 Test: Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

The Page 99 Test: Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Paul Malmont

Paul Malmont is the author of three novels re-imaging the lives of early 20th century pulp writers, including The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown.

From his Q & A with Thomas Mullen, author of The Revisionists, at the Mulholland Books blog:

TM: I’ve written two historical novels, but I’ve chosen to create my own characters whole cloth. You, however, have written about actual historical figures. I’m curious about some of the struggles and tough decisions you might have to make, as far as determining what real-life events or personality traits to use vs. not constraining your imagination with too many facts.

PM: I didn’t actually start out to write three books about writers–it’s kind of a rabbit hole I fell into. In doing the research for the first one, I learned how much Jack London had contributed to the birth of the American pulp magazine scene, so I began learning more and more about him, and suddenly found gray spots in the biographical record which seemed ripe for fictionalization. The same research led me to the facts about Heinlein, Asimov, and L. Sprague de Camp at the Philadelphia Naval Research Center in WW2. Knowing that there are legends about the Philadelphia Experiment from the same time and place, the pieces just kind of fell together.

The challenge each time is to help the reader realize that I’m not writing a biography about someone they may or may not know. I’m writing a fictional story with a character who shares the same name and some historical traits with a person who once lived. What I really dig is looking at my characters and trying to find those puzzle edges that will fit in nicely with what we know about them through history, but more importantly, their work. I like trying to show how the fictional person I’ve created is poised to create Stranger in a Strange Land, or Foundation, or, for that matter, Dianetics. That’s what has to be believable.

Then there are the details we know, such as who was where at what time, and who wrote what, and I’ve given myself the leeway to be a little less strict about those. But sometimes, those are inviolable. For instance, the date of the Philadelphia Experiment. I had to have everyone present and accounted for. Also, I can’t really have Heinlein writing at that point, because he’d pulled a Michael Jordan and...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Paul Malmont's Jack London in Paradise.

My Book, The Movie: The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach's new novel is The Art of Fielding.

From his Q & A with Michael Hickins at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

‘The Art of Fielding’ is ostensibly a baseball book, although it’s really about a lot more than that. Were you afraid of being pigeonholed as just a baseball writer?

I didn’t have a fear of being pigeonholed, but from the very beginning I knew I did not want to write a book that was really about baseball. Or not entirely about baseball. That just didn’t interest me, to write a book that was strictly about baseball.

But you love baseball?

I love baseball quite a bit, and I grew up playing the game. Part of my very early memories are of my father in the living room, pitching Nerf balls to me when I was two or three years old. I played through high school. Also, I grew up in Wisconsin, in a not terribly intellectual community, so all through my adolescence, I pretty much spent all my time playing and thinking about sports. That’s what young men do in that part of the world. So sports became kind of fundamental to my way of thinking about all sorts of things. When I’m thinking about writing or editing, anything I do, I find myself...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thomas Pletzinger

From a Q & A with Thomas Pletzinger, author of Funeral for a Dog:

Q: For a time you were a semi-pro basketball player in Europe. Did this experience influence your writing?

This experience is something I think about a lot. I had always wanted to become a professional basketball player, and almost did make it. I do not know if a certain ambition or competitiveness or the desire to achieve or complete something is related to having been a basketball player or a sports person in general. Maybe it is, but maybe these things were there before I even started playing basketball. Certainly elements like discipline, ritual and monotony as well as play and creativity - aspects that shape the basketball player's life day in and day out - made a reappearance in my writerly life. Especially training and ritual and the abilities that come from them. And the physical and sensual aspects of sports are important to me as a writer as well. I still love to run and lift weights. I ran a couple marathons. And I still love basketball, even though I failed at it as a player. Right now, I am even working on a non-fiction book about basketball that picks up where I left the game fifteen years ago.

Q: Funeral for a Dog takes readers to several different locations around the world. You yourself have lived many places. How much of yourself, and your love of travel, made its way into the book?

I have discovered that the places are the most autobiographical part of the book. The story is invented, but the places aren't. I grew up in Germany, but I have been to Finland and Brazil for longer stretches of time. I go to Lago di Lugano on the border between Italy and Switzerland every year. And I have lived in New York. I have been to Coney Island many times. I have seen cockfights in Brazil. I love to travel and spend time away from home. In fact, I did not really know what home meant until fairly recently. For me, home was always where the good people are. And my good people are spread all over Germany, all over the world even, so I have to travel to see them, so I came to like traveling a lot. My favorite thing for a while was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's new book is The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man, an illustrated children’s book. From his Q & A with Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

You have four kids, so I assume you’ve spent hours and hours reading to them. How did that shape your approach to writing a children’s book?

I definitely felt like as a parent reader, I had some very clear… I don’t know if preferences is the right word. When my kids were younger, when I went through all four of their toddler-hoods and it was bedtime and time to pick out a story to read, when I went over to the shelf to grab something, I wasn’t going to pick the one that was dense with text. Too long and too many words, those were things I didn’t like, and really bland, saw dusty kind of prose.

Which books did you like?

The Frances books, “Bedtime for Frances”. The writing is so wonderful in those books that you don’t mind going through them for the 70th time. “Dinosaur Bob.” “The Leaf Men.” Maurice Sendak of course. The Olivia books.

So how did your experiences as a parent inform your choices as a writer?

I wanted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mitchell Zuckoff

From the Christian Science Monitor Q & A with Mitchell Zuckoff about his 2005 book, Ponzi's Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend:

Q: Who was this guy Ponzi?

A: He was an Italian immigrant who came here in 1903 and, like so many immigrants, was looking to make a fortune. He had no success, and ends up in Boston in 1917.

He comes up with this idea about opening an import/export company and [hears about] something called an international reply coupon, a way to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope from one country to another. It's almost like a form of global currency, used only to buy stamps.

He thought he could buy these things cheaply in countries whose currencies were depressed, bring them to the United States, transfer them to stamps, and make money.

On paper, it was actually feasible. This is the idea of arbitrage: buy something in one place at a lower price and sell in another place at a higher price. The problem was that there weren't enough international reply coupons printed on the planet to pay back even the first group of investors. There wasn't a market for this.

Q: How come people didn't figure this out?

A: He was a razzle-dazzle kind of guy, and he had tremendous charisma. He just said he'd figured out a way to do this, and he had a secret method. Most of all, his promises were so amazing. He'd double your money in 90 days.

The two sides of the human brain were working against each other. It was too good to be true, but people also thought it was too good to miss. And at first, he...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel's books include A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos (2011), The Planets (2005), Galileo's Daughter (1999) and Longitude (1995).

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

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

Carl Sagan. I found him inspirational, as many people did. I really feel that he created an entire generation of astronomers – but he also wrote very well. I'm thinking in particular of 'The Cosmic Connection'.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I did identify with the narrator of 'The Tiger's Wife' [by Téa Obreht]. The young woman who tells the story comes from a medical family and becomes a doctor herself. And she is taken to the zoo regularly – when I was young we lived a few blocks from the Bronx Zoo.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Vera Rubin. She's an astronomer who went into [the field] when it wasn't at all hospitable to women. She was once denied time on a telescope because, she was told, the observatory did not have a ladies' room!
Read the complete interview.

See Dava Sobel's five best list of books which record extraordinary journeys of discovery.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scott Sparling

From Laura Stanfill's Q & A with Scott Sparling about his debut novel, Wire to Wire:

Many of your scenes are bursting with physicality, especially your characters’ in-the-moment experiences with drugs and sex. Do you have any advice on putting such intense physicality on the page?

I’m not sure I have any advice, other than reading a lot. It’s hard to get that stuff right. I remember Robert Stone saying that the description of a fight is always more of a poem than prose, and that was useful to me. I think the same applies to sex. I also learned some things by watching how fight scenes are cut in movies–there’s some purposeful confusion to a lot of fight scenes on the screen.

The early drafts focused mostly on trains. I wrote about freights in what I hoped was a powerful way. That was Harp’s world. I wanted Harp and Lane to be equal forces, so for that to work, Lane’s world had to be equally vivid. That meant writing about glue and sex with equal intensity. I’m not sure exactly how it’s done, which kind of scares me. A lot of it fell on the page when I was writing in my treehouse after...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Scott Sparling's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Wire to Wire.

My Book, The Movie: Wire to Wire.

Writers Read: Scott Sparling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta’s new novel, follows the stories of those left behind when 87 people disappear from a small New England town during what may be the Rapture.

From Perrotta's Q & A with Christopher Hartman at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q. What inspired you to write about the Rapture in "The Leftovers?"

The original impulse came out of the research I did for "The Abstinence Teacher." I got to thinking about the Rapture, and what it might be like for contemporary secular Americans if something like that really did happen. The more I thought about it, the more interested I became – the Rapture is both a lovely and troubling image, and a surprisingly rich metaphor for growing older and living with loss. We’re all aware of the empty spaces around us, the absences that remind us of the people who are no longer there.

Q. Like the mystical Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana, you hold mirrors up to characters in your novels that often reveal sympathetic or brutally honest portraits. Which of these types of characters do you enjoy writing about the most and who would you say are among your favorite characters in your books?

Wow – that’s the first time I’ve ever been compared to a mystical anything, not to mention a Greek philosopher. I don’t really distinguish between sympathy and honesty when I’m writing. The two go together – I’m interested in inhabiting my characters, seeing the world through their eyes. That said I do enjoy writing the more extreme characters, the ones who are so caught up in their personal dramas they can’t get any perspective on...[read on]
See: Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 9, 2011

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman's new stand-alone, The Most Dangerous Thing, is set in Dickeyville, the Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up.

From her Q & A with Jordan Foster at Publishers Weekly:

You say this is your most autobiographical novel in terms of geography. Why now?

I've wanted to write a novel about where I grew up since the day I started writing novels. I made a decision early on not to make Tess Monaghan be from Dickeyville because I wanted to create a character who wouldn't be confused with me. This story came from a very simple idea about friends with a secret. But as the idea was fleshed out, I thought, "This is it, this is when I'm going to write about Dickeyville."

What about the wild versus the tame theme running through the book?

I was part of a generation where kids had a lot of freedom and aimless downtime. I had no scheduled after-school activities. As long as you came home for dinner, everything was fine. I had a great childhood, and I liked all the freedom I had, but, as I hope the book makes clear, there's a dark side to that, too.

You kill Go-Go, a major character, in the opening pages. Was this your intent from the beginning?

This was always...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Laura Lippman's website.

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thomas Mullen

From a Q & A with Thomas Mullen, author of The Revisionists, which is out later this month:

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Honestly, for as long as I can remember.

Which authors are your biggest inspirations?

I admire the way David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Lethem have combined the best elements of literary fiction with all the amazing possibilities that genre fiction presents to the writer. And I love and am deeply impressed by the way people like Steinbeck, Dos Passos, and Hemingway distilled the essence of their times, and found the great stories of their times, in prose.

Which book would you take to a desert island?

“How To Escape Desert Islands.” Surely someone’s written it. Unless I knew I was going to be picked up in a week, in which case I’d probably take the book that I just put atop my To Reread list: Louis de Berniere’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” I read it 15 years ago and loved it to death. Now that I’ve written a few multi-perspective historical epics myself, I want to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Barry Unsworth

Barry Unsworth won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger; his next novel, Morality Play, was a Booker nominee and a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. His other novels include The Ruby in Her Navel, The Songs of the Kings, Losing Nelson, After Hannibal, The Hide, and Pascali's Island, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize and was made into a feature film. His new novel is The Quality of Mercy.

From his Q & A at the Independent:

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

Joseph Conrad, because of his wonderful capacity for visual effects. To make the reader see was his declared aim... I admire that a lot, and try to do it myself.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Pierre in [Tolstoy's] 'War and Peace'. I recognise that quality of well-intentioned clumsiness and ineptness – endearing in his case.
* * *

Who is your hero/ heroine from outside literature?

The two Sicilian investigative magistrates, [Giovanni] Falcone and [Paolo] Borsellino, who were murdered by the Mafia in 1992. They showed extraordinary courage in pursuing their anti-Mafia investigations under constant threat of death....[read on]
Learn about the book that changed Unsworth's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's new novel The Cat’s Table tells the story of another Michael, who at age 11 makes a three-week sea voyage from Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) to England.

From the author's Q & A with John Geiger in the Globe & Mail:

How did you get the idea of setting the novel on the ship?

I finished Divisadero; I didn’t know what I was going to be doing.

At some point, I mentioned to my kids that I’d gone as an 11-year-old unchaperoned from Sri Lanka to England. They said, “What?” They couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it either. There was supposed to be a guardian I was meant to be with, whom I never met. I had completely forgotten this journey. All I remember is playing Ping-Pong. So I thought, let me see if I can turn this into a fiction.

I began at the beginning, getting on the boat. And from there, it became an adventure. There’s a great line by Ornette Coleman about music: He says you begin with the territory and what follows is the adventure. I think I had the territory. That was the gift I was given. And it was a forgotten gift. I had 50 years to dream it up and improvise off it.

Are the characters in the novel based on your memories?

No, they are simply too vague. I must have had some friends on the boat but I can’t remember what they were like. So Ramadhin and Cassius and Emily and all the other passengers are really inventions. In some ways, Ramadhin and Cassius are ur-types of friends I made over the years at school or wherever it was, the good friend/bad friend thing. That was how...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 5, 2011

Val McDermid

Val McDermid won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for The Mermaids Singing (1995).

From her Q & A at Declan Burke's blog, Crime Always Pays:

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

If I was a mercenary bitch, I’d say THE DA VINCI CODE. But I’m not, so I’ll go with Reginald Hill’s ON BEULAH HEIGHT. Tender, savage, clever, funny and moving. Beautifully written and immaculately plotted. What’s not to envy?
* * *

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?

I go back to childhood and read the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent Dyer, and Agatha Christie.
* * *

Who are you reading right now?

It’s the time of year when I read mostly debut novels so I can put together my wish-list for next year’s Harrogate Festival new blood panel. So I’ve just started the proof of a first novel called TIDELINE by Penny Hancock which is not out till January. I’ve just finished a proof of Stuart Neville’s third novel, STOLEN SOULS, which somehow sneaked into the pile. And I can exclusively reveal that it’s nail-biting, gut-wrenching and nearly made me miss my stop on the train. Next up will be something called ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL by some Irish guy who claims he’s holding my wife, my kid and my dog hostage. ...[read on]
Learn about McDermid's literary influences and her hero from outside literature.

See Val McDermid's top ten Oxford novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Justin Torres

Justin Torres was raised in upstate New York. His work has appeared in Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he was the recipient of a Rolón Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists and is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Among many other things, he has worked as a farmhand, a dog walker, a creative writing teacher, and a bookseller. His debut novel is We the Animals.

From his Q & A with Sara Ortz at The Outlet:

SO: What do you think might make people resistant to your work (your novel, in this case)?

JT: I remember, at Iowa, hearing third-hand someone’s negative appraisal of my work—this from a very confident, straight, white guy. He hadn’t read the entire novel, but a few chapters. He said it was provincial, and that I was afraid of writing about the larger world, the big ideas. He also talked a lot about my being a “minority” and “minority literature”… or so I heard.

SO: What was your response?

JT: If he had actually raised these issues to my face, I would have said something along the lines of…I don’t think we need to travel very far outside our own experience to find “big ideas” at play in the world. I mean, I love a lot of broad, inventive books. But I love small books as well. I’m not threatened by “majority” literature; I’m not threatened by literature that purports to address the big questions, or take a broad view of the world, and I’d be curious as to whether, and why, he felt threatened by what I was doing.

But he didn’t like me, and we had never had a class together, and we never got to have that conversation.

SO: Right. Would you call your book esoteric?

JT: ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ralph Richard Banks

Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks is the author of Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.

From his Q & A with David Kaufman at Time magazine:

How is marriage faring among the black middle class?

Not well — particularly for black women. Typically, the more educated the woman, the more likely she is to marry. But a college-educated black woman is no more likely to have a husband than a poor Caucasian woman with barely a high school diploma. When it comes to forming a family, black women are not reaping the benefits of advanced education — nor are they passing those benefits onto the next generation.

There are plenty of black men out there, so what's keeping these women single?

Part of the answer lies in the gender imbalance within the black community — where two African American women graduate from college for every one African American male. Despite this imbalance, there is still enormous social pressure on black women to only marry black men — to "sustain" the race and build strong black families. And this means marrying black men even if they are less educated or earn less money. In short, no matter the personal cost, black woman are encourage to marry "down" before they marry "out."

"Down before out" — ouch! That sounds like a pretty harsh indictment.

Well, this has become...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels—Freedom, The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, and Strong Motion—and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

From his 2010 interview by Stephen J. Burn at The Paris Review:


The Corrections is full of references to the brain, but in Freedom the whole language of brain chemistry and brain architecture barely registers.


Well, you know, new times, new enemies. Freedom was conceived and eventually written in a decade where language was under as concerted an assault as we’ve seen in my lifetime. The propaganda of the Bush administration, its appropriation of words like freedom for cynical short-term political gain, was a clear and present danger. This was also the decade that brought us YouTube and universal cell-phone ownership and Facebook and Twitter. Which is to say: brought us a whole new world of busyness and distraction. So the defense of the novel moved to different fronts. Let’s take one of those buzzwords, freedom, and try to restore it to its problematic glory. Let’s redouble our ­efforts to write a book with a narrative strong enough to pull you into a place where you can feel and think in ways that are difficult when you’re distracted and busy and electronically bombarded. The impulse to defend the novel, to defend the turf, is stronger than ever. But the foes change with the times.


Did you conceive Freedom initially as a political novel?


Yes, I spent several years looking for some interesting way into our national political narrative, some Washingtonian wrinkle that hadn’t been explored to death in other media. But I couldn’t find that wrinkle, and, frankly, I was also never able to get past my immediate partisan anger to the more open-minded place where truthful novels are written. I was making the same mistake I always seem to make initially, trying to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 1, 2011

David Card

David Card is the Class of 1950 Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley and Director of the Labor Studies Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Princeton professor Alan B. Krueger has just been was nominated by President Obama to be chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

In their well-known and highly respected book, Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage, Card and Krueger assembled empirical evidence from various labor markets, different periods, and different states showing no indication that higher minimum wages – contrary to the predictions of the traditional labor market model – reduce employment in the US.

From Card's 2006 interview with Douglas Clement:

Card: [I]f you raise the minimum wage a little—not a huge amount, but a little—you won't necessarily cause a big employment reduction. In some cases you could get an employment increase....

...It doesn't mean that if we raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour we wouldn't have massive problems, if we enforced it. Realistically, of course, the U.S. is never going to enforce a draconian minimum wage, nor is one ever going to be passed. However, our results don't mean that minimum wages in other economies couldn't have some effect.

I think economists who objected to our work were upset by the thought that we were giving free rein to people who wanted to set wages everywhere at any possible level. And that wasn't at all the spirit of what we actually said. In fact, nowhere in the book or in other writing did I ever propose raising the minimum wage. I try to stay out of political arguments....

I've subsequently stayed away from the minimum wage literature for a number of reasons. First, it cost me a lot of friends. People that I had known for many years, for instance, some of the ones I met at my first job at the University of Chicago, became very angry or disappointed. They thought that in publishing our work we were being traitors to the cause of economics as a whole.
Read more of this interview for some very lucid insights into the study of labor economics.

--Marshal Zeringue