Saturday, April 30, 2011

Daphne Uviller

From a Q &A with Daphne Uviller about her new novel, Hotel No Tell:

Q: You used to work for a New York City law enforcement agency. How much of Zephyr’s adventures in Hotel No Tell come from your actual experience?

A: I worked for a watchdog group that investigates crime and corruption in the public school system. None of the cases that the fictional SIC handles is identical to any real one I worked on. But, certainly, I drew on the hubris of our perps and the astounding ability of people to deny to themselves that they’re committing a crime. For instance, I make mention of a school principal taking kickbacks, which was the theme of more than a few of our cases. I also borrowed from the enormous and enormously entertaining personalities of my former colleagues. One thing that is completely true: most of the investigators were named Tommy.

Q: Zephyr’s investigative skills could use a little honing. Is this the right career for her?

A: She’s definitely not the smooth, gun-slinging, clear-thinking cop of so much popular fiction. She fails to catch last names, she can’t describe what people look like, she’s a little rash in a lot of her actions. But she’s nosy, genuinely curious, and innately caring. She gets people to talk to her. I wanted to capture the reality of people having unusual talents, not uniform ones, of showing how people can have skills that can’t be described on a resume. She’s learning on the job and I love that about her. She’s who a lot of us would be if we were thrown into her position.

Q: Zephyr is adamant about her decision not to have children, so much so that, at the beginning of the book, she and Gregory have broken up over it. You have two kids; are you worried what they’ll read into this?

A: First of all, I hope...[read on]
Visit Daphne Uviller's website.

The Page 69 Test: Super in the City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and a blogger for EconLog, one of the Wall Street Journal’s Top 25 Economics Blogs. His first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, was named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and made the Financial Times list of the Best Books of 2007. Caplan's writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

His new book is Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.

From his Q & A about the new book with David Leonhardt of the New York Times:

Q. My sense of the research on nature and nurture is that both matter. On the one hand, genes clearly matter. On the other, young children of college graduates, for instance, know hundreds and hundreds more words on average than young children of high school dropouts. That difference is not mostly genetic.

You seem to have a different sense of the research. You write, “Adoption and twin research provides strong evidence that parents barely affect their children’s prospects.” What’s the brief version of how you try to persuade skeptics like me?

Mr. Caplan: The central idea of twin and adoption research is that disentangling nature from nurture is hard. Our intuition isn’t very helpful. Yes, kids of college-educated parents know more words. But why? Maybe their upbringing is the reason, as you suggest. But babies from college-educated families might excel even if raised by high school dropouts, by learning a higher fraction of the words they hear, or spending more time reading.

So what does the twin and adoption data say? Language fits a standard pattern. Consistent with your skepticism, upbringing has a noticeable effect on the vocabulary of young children. But as children mature, this effect largely fades away. The Colorado Adoption Project found, for example, that 2-year-olds adopted by high-vocabulary parents had noticeably larger vocabularies. But as the kids grew up, their vocabulary scores looked more and more like their biological parents’. By age 12, the effect of enriched upbringing on vocabulary was barely visible.

Admittedly, there’s a sense in which upbringing is all-important: If a baby is raised by wolves, he...[read on]
Writers Read: Bryan Caplan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Michael Barkun

From a Q & A with Michael Barkun, author of Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11:

Q: Chasing Phantoms identifies the gaps between the realities of terrorism and the discourse about it among government officials and the general public. What led you to discover this discrepancy?

A: "Discover" may be too strong a word. But I will give you one example. During the years immediately after the 9/11 attacks, I attended terrorism conferences at which some of the participants were or had been high officials in state and federal government agencies. What struck me at the time was their extraordinary level of fear, bearing in mind that the United States was then and still is the most powerful country in the world and that Al Qaeda even at the height of its capacities, could hardly have numbered more than several hundred people at most. Yet, as I said, here were individuals with years of governmental experience terrified about the safety of the Republic. And that suggested to me the existence of a great gulf between what you term reality and discourse. And, to my mind at least, developments over the last ten years suggest that that gulf did in fact exist.

Q: How did you get interested in government homeland security policy?

A: If we think of homeland security in the broadest sense, it goes back to the mid-1990s, the years of the armed standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, the growth of the militia movement, and the Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI had failed to grasp the importance of religion in the Waco standoff and was now trying to figure out how to factor religion into their decision-making process, an enterprise in which I was involved. In that period, of course, the emphasis was on domestic sources of violence, not foreign terrorism, a focus that didn't change until 9/11.

Q: You emphasize the climate of fear that is evoked by the presence of invisible adversaries and various unseen dangers. Do you believe that these "invisible" fears have driven the U.S. "war on terror?"

A: Well, one of the...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Chasing Phantoms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths's books include the crime novels The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone. From her Q & A about the book with Amy Myers at Shots:

Q. I enjoyed The Crossing Places greatly, so my first question is an obvious one: after reading the novel, I’m very glad you turned to the crime field, but what influenced you into doing so?

I’ve wanted to write a crime novel for some time. I love crime fiction, particularly Victorian novels like The Moonstone or The Murders in the Rue Morgue where the detective was just starting to emerge as a literary figure. In my last ‘non-crime’ novel I had a mystery sub-plot which eventually threatened to engulf the whole book. When I was thinking about what to write next I realised that what I really wanted to do was write a ‘proper’ crime novel – dead bodies, detectives and all.

Q. Ruth Galloway was inspired by your husband decision to give up a city job to train as an archaeologist. However you write very naturally about the tools, methods, aims and the excitement of archaeology, yet without forcing information on to the reader, which is a frequent pitfall of writing in an area that one doesn’t experience at first hand. Do you go on digs with your husband, and have you done so in Norfolk?

He never lets me come on digs because I’m far too lazy! Digging is incredibly hard work and I would want a cappuccino break after about ten minutes. However he has been very helpful with the details and I do think living with an archaeologist has helped me understand a little of what it’s all about. I love the idea that you can read a landscape, make deductions based on the colour of the grass or the shape of the hills. It feels very magical to me though I do know that it involves hard physical work (and a lot of mud).

Q. Another theme of this novel is folklore and prehistoric ritual, and they are central to its mood and plot. Is this is a general interest of yours, or is it specific to the area you are writing about so skilfully? Is there one particular myth or ritual that you always link with the marshes?

Yes, one...[read on]
Visit Elly Griffiths' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crossing Places.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kate Clifford Larson

Historian Kate Clifford Larson is the author of The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln. From her Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q. Why don't more Americans know about the grand conspiracy to kill not only Abraham Lincoln but members of his cabinet too, even the vice president?

My suspicion is that the story of the conspiracy disappeared by the 1880s and certainly by the 1910s, partly because of this tremendous effort toward reunification of the North and South and the obliterating of the memory of why the Civil War happened in the first place. A lot of that just disappeared and that whole mythology of the Lost Cause took over: You can't keep talking about a conspiracy of Southerners who killed the president. It's better to have John Wilkes Booth as the lone gunman. It's easier to blame one crazy actor.

Q. That's in sharp contrast to how so many people refuse to believe that a lone gunman killed President Kennedy and flock to conspiracy theories. In regard to the murder of Lincoln, why should we take time to understand that conspiracy today?

It's really important that Americans know the real story rather than passing it over quickly and blaming it on John Wilkes Booth. There are real people who were involved. They did this for a reason, and it's all wrapped up in the causes of the Civil War.

Americans don't like to talk about why the Civil War happened in the first place. It's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ellen Prager

Ellen J. Prager is former chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base, in the Florida Keys and a freelance writer. Among her publications are Chasing Science at Sea and the new book, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime.

Some highlights from her Fresh Air interview about the new release:

On the volcanic sexual activity of sea sponges

"A lot of the sponges release their sperm into the water. Other sponges will basically suck in that sperm and fertilize their egg. It looks like smoke coming out of the sponges and you look at it and go, 'What the heck is going on?' and they're broadcasting sponge sperm."

On the transgendered parrotfish

"If you have a harem of parrotfish — a group of female parrotfish, let's say — and it has one dominant male. Something happens to the dominant male and it dies. Amazingly, within several weeks, one of those females can change to a male. And, in fact, some of them change to what we call supermales — [and] become big and extremely colorful and aggressive. They then become the dominant male of the other female parrotfish in the harem. I like to say, 'It's not only transgender. It's transgender on-call.'"

On the well-endowed conch

"Turns out that in the conch, they call the penis its verge. The verge has been the thing of limericks and poems. The biologists know all about this. Not only is it exceptionally long, but because the queen conch is this really big snail, the male sidles up to a female on the seafloor and he has to get his verge outside of his shell and around and underneath the female shell. So that's why it's so long. But there's a little problem: When it's outside of his shell, crabs and eels are all too happy to take advantage of his vulnerabilities. Yum, yum, yum. Well, poor conch. But turns out, he loses one [and] he just grows another. He can regenerate his penis."
Listen to the complete interview.

The Page 99 Test: Chasing Science at Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 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 Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

What book changed your life?

The book that got me going as a writer was Robert Coover’s Pricksongs and Descants. It fractures stories and tries to find out what storytelling is.

* * *
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

For The Inner Circle there were 418 pages of pure sex. So I took my wife to Bloomington [home of Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction] and we had sex.

* * *
Which literary character most resembles you?

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a Rudyard Kipling story about a mongoose who saves a family in India from evil cobras.
Read the complete Q & A.

See--T.C. Boyle's 4 favorite books to turn to for comfort.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult's latest novel is Sing You Home.

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

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

Alice Hoffman because she can write about love like no-one else. My favourite book by her is 'Turtle Moon' but even a bad Alice Hoffman book is almost better than anyone else's. Her books didn't make me a writer but as an adult reader they gave me my first fan moment.

* * *
Which fictional character most resembles you?

I'm a nice combination of Elizabeth Bennet and Scarlett O'Hara – someone who is opinionated and knows what she wants.

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

My son, Jake, who had 13 surgeries as a child because of tumours in his ears. He has compromised hearing but in spite of this, he is a beautiful tenor singer. To have so much against him and to see what he has achieved at 17 is amazing for me.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2011

John Burdett

John Burdett is a nonpracticing lawyer who worked in Hong Kong for a British firm until he found his true vocation as a writer. He has also lived in France, Spain, and Thailand. He is the author of A Personal History of Thirst, The Last Six Million Seconds, Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts and  The Godfather of Kathmandu.

From his Q & A with Amy Myers at Shots ezine:

Q. Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, who is the driving force of these novels, is memorable for far more than his powers of detection. He’s half-Asian, half Westerner, he treads the thin line between the law and crime with dexterity and juggles his career path with his spiritual Buddhist journey to the Far Shore. Was his original conception in your mind solely as a detective, from which his character then developed, or did you plan him as such a divided character at his conception?

A. I did not plan him at all. I think his Eurasian genes plus his mastery of the cultures of both East and West make him vulnerable to a kind of schizophrenia. It is not so much that he does not know who he is, but rather he could be almost anyone, depending on what language and culture he happens to be in at any particular moment.

Q. The most striking aspect of this novel for me is the way you have presented Thai life as an overall picture, so that its crime, sex and drugs aspects become an accepted part of everyday life, rather than separated as part of an underworld. You live in Bangkok, so did the novels follow from your life there, or did you move there after your novels and research made it irresistible?

A. I wanted to live in Thailand from the first visit in 1986. This was purely a consequence of Thai charm, however, since I knew almost nothing about the country until I came to live here in 2001. I had not lived full-time in a developing country before. I had no idea the extent to which the economy of the poor blends with the underworld in a land without social security. Also, the importance of the black economy is much more obvious in a developing country. In fact, a huge proportion of the funds sloshing around the world derive from the illegal drug industry, but in the West this reality is hardly referred to. If estimates are correct that one third of the world’s wealth is black money, then in reality there is hardly a large building project on earth that does not make use of funds which are tainted to some extent.

Q. You’ve given Sonchai a Western absentee father, and a Thai upbringing with his prostitute mother. Over the years Sonchai has developed a Western side, both in his likes (he’s an American thriller-buff, for example) and in his career (such as his relationship with Kimberley Jones). Tietsin, his guru, is the ‘Godfather’ of Kathmandu. Did you plan it this way because it opened up opportunities for Sonchai to see Asian life both as an outsider and as a native, or because it enabled Sonchai to bridge the divide between West and East for your readers?

A. From the start Sonchai...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Amanda Hodgkinson

From a Q & A with Amanda Hodgkinson about her new novel, 22 Britannia Road:

Q: What drew you to this particular story of Polish World War II survivors living in England?

A: As a child, I was always fascinated when the adults around me talked about World War II. These were older family members who had lived through it and I would try to stay quiet so I could listen without being discovered. Their voices changed to lower registers, there were weighted silences in the conversations, sad looks, secretive whispering and then somebody would notice me and send me out to play, their voice swinging up a register to convey a gaiety they probably didn’t feel. I would go to bed at night, sick at heart thinking about these stories, and wonder how the world ever managed to get back to the normal after that war.

Looking back, I think I never stopped wondering. Years later, I was standing in my kitchen and heard a Russian woman on the radio, describing her experiences of being a child during the war. “We were so hungry,” she said, “we ate the bark of the silver birch trees.” An image came to me, so clear and strong, it was more like a memory than an act of my imagination. I wrote down what I saw; a young woman in a silver birch forest. I had begun to write my novel.

Q: From Silvana’s exile in the forest to the petrol rations in post-war Ipswich, you paint a vivid picture of the novel’s historical settings and events. What sort of research did you do to get the details right?

A: I balanced my own imaginative input with research. I read social history books on the war and the postwar period, including a lot of oral histories on Polish immigrant experiences. I also read wonderful Polish poets like Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Rózewicz, among others. I studied Polish fairytales and classic Polish literature from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I discovered tango music had been very popular in Poland during the thirties, so I listened to some fabulous clips on YouTube and imagined myself there, in the 1930s, dancing at a club in Warsaw, just like Hanka, one of the characters in the book tells Silvana about. I immersed myself in books, music and literature and then I put aside all research and let my imagination go to work. Whenever I was unsure about a scene, I turned to my own thoughts and feelings, relying on my ability to imagine a moment and on my empathy for the characters, rather than history books, and I think this approach helped me really understand my characters and the time.

Q: What does the title, the address of the home Janusz chooses for his reunited family, represent to you symbolically? Why that particular address?

A: I wanted a very...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sarah Jio

From a Q & A with Sarah Jio about her new novel, The Violets of March:

There are multiple characters in this book across different time periods. How do you go about constructing so many fully fleshed-out characters? What aspects of character are most important to you?

What it boils down to, for me, is immersing myself in the characters as I write—really trying to hear their voices and think about what choices they would make, versus what choices I would make. What helps me, also, is thinking about people in my life who may remind me, a little, of my characters (not that any of the characters in Violets are modeled after real people, because that isn't so). But, the strong and memorable characteristics of people in my life definitely play a role in character-development in my fiction work. For example, the bit about Bee enjoying her usual breakfast of sourdough toast with softened butter and whipped honey—this was borrowed from my late grandmother, herself an artist. I've found that paying attention to the traits, quirks and habits of those around you can help create realistic and loveable characters on the page.

So much of The Violets of March is about true love and fate. Where do you stand personally on these topics? Do you see parts of yourself in Emily?

While my own life and story does not mirror Emily's in the slightest—I'm happily married with three young sons—I've always been curious about others who haven't been so lucky in love, others who may be looking back on their life and wondering about their first love, like...[read on]
Read more about The Violets of March.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sophie Littlefield

Sophie Littlefield's third crime novel, A Bad Day for Scandal, is due out this summer.

From the author's Q & A with Jordan Foster at Publishers Weekly:

Where did you get the idea for a 50-year-old widow who runs a sewing shop and also tracks down abusive spouses?

I tend to work out all my issues through my stories, a common affliction among us writers. When I found myself struggling with everything from annoying little physical ailments to feelings of invisibility, I created a badass female character who could act out all my fantasies of regaining control of my life. On a more serious note, my decision to have Stella battle domestic violence stemmed not from personal experience but from a lifelong relationship with a woman I adored who was verbally abused for many decades. My treatment is lighthearted and not at all realistic, but at the heart of it is a recognition that this problem plagues far too many women and a wish that I could do something about it.

A thread of violence runs through your series, often intersecting with the humor.

I have a goofy taste for vigilantism. It's probably not appropriate for the daughter of a constitutional scholar, but I've always loved tales and movies where the underdog prevails in spectacular bursts of righteous ass kicking. When you make the hero middle-aged and female, however,...[read on]
Visit Sophie Littlefield's website and blog. 

Aftertime is the first installment in a new dystopian series.

Littlefield's crime novels include A Bad Day for Sorry and A Bad Day for Pretty.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Sorry.

Writers Read: Sophie Littlefield.

The Page 69 Test: A Bad Day for Pretty.

My Book, The Movie: A Bad Day for Pretty.

The Page 69 Test: Aftertime.

My Book, The Movie: Aftertime.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2011

Peter Godwin

Part of a Q &A between the Christian Science Monitor's Randy Dotinga and Peter Godwin about the latter's new book, The Fear:

Q. You visit hospitals and talk to many victims of the Mugabe regime's political violence who had no way to fight back against gangs of men. This is in sharp contrast to, say, Libya, where rebels at least have some weapons. Do you think of the Zimbabwe victims as helpless?

Rather than the word "helpless," I might choose the word "vulnerable." They tried to make their voices heard and were very exposed and vulnerable. They couldn't fight back and didn't fight back. They didn't have weapons.

These are such important voices: they sort of shame us in a way, these people across the social, economic, and education spectrum. These are people who are sacrificing, ordinary people putting their heads above the political parapet for the first time. Many of them are not die-hard political activists for years and years. They're just ordinary folks who said it was enough.

Right from the beginning, they've made it clear that they are peaceful. They take pages from Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They've pretty much stayed to that, but when Mugabe turns on them and unleashes this furious violence, they are very vulnerable.

That seems to make them less deserving of international help. The message these Zimbabweans take away is that if you want the rest of the world to come to your aid, you have to start a civil war.

Q. Is there anything uplifting to be found in your book, which describes a devastated country?

When I went to Zimbabwe in 2008 and again in 2009, the people I met and their stories were so compelling that I actually find that I came away inspired. Once I'd spoken to those people, it never occurred to me not to write a book. I have to do everything to amplify their voices.

I felt it was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chris Adrian

Chris Adrian's new novel is The Great Night.

From his 2010 interview at The New Yorker:

What was the first piece of fiction you read that had an impact on you?

Probably Richard Scarry’s “Busy, Busy World.” It was the first time I can remember being so taken by a fictional representation of the world that I wanted to live there instead of in the real world. And I identified very closely with Lowly Worm. I had this idea that Lowly and I and Huckle Cat could all live together in one of those timber-framed houses that Scarry drew so exactingly. I didn’t think of it that way back then, but now I think I wanted us all to be boyfriends.

How long did it take you to write your first book?

About ten years, through almost as many drafts.

Did you ever consider not becoming a writer?

Yes. I still consider it every few months or so.

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

I think that there needs to be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa was born to refugees of the Six Day War of 1967, and moved to the United States as a teenager. She is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO that builds playgrounds for Palestinian children in the occupied territories and refugee camps elsewhere. Abulhawa has contributed essays to the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among other publications.

From a Q & A with novelist Matt Beynon Rees about Mornings in Jenin, her first major publication as a novelist:

How would you describe what “Mornings in Jenin” is about? And of course tell us why’s it so great?

It’s a story of love, and how that love is shaped by violence and persistent oppression – Love between a farmer and his land; between siblings; between a man and a woman; a mother and her children; a father and his children; love between friends. I think it’s up to readers to decide if it’s great or not. I’ll say that I put my heart into it. That ultimately my intentions in writing this story distilled to a single purpose – to be true to the characters by telling their stories with honestly, authenticity, and humanity.

“Mornings in Jenin” was written in English, but the style is much more poetic than a typical American novel. Were you aiming to capture something of the style of Arabic prose?

I wasn’t aiming for that at all, but I do think that it seeped in because Arabic poetry was my first exposure to literature. Arabic was the first language I learned to read and write and my early writings were Arabic poetry. I came to the US at the age of 13 and from then on, my education and social environment was all conducted in English. Now, my command of English is more...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2011

Leslie Daniels

From Ron Hogan's Q & A with Leslie Daniels about her novel, Cleaning Nabokov's House:

Cleaning Nabokov’s House mixes uproarious humor with the poignant heartbreak of a mother fighting for her children. How did you handle this balance between laughter and tears?

I don’t think that laughter and tears are about balance. Life can break your heart and be hilarious at the same time. If you were a psychotherapist, you might say that humor is my defensive strategy. If you were a nice psychotherapist, you might say that it is part of my adaptive coping strength. I was lucky to have an extremely funny father. We had a great time joking and bantering. After he was gone, I found myself writing toward the place from where he used to answer, a kind of calling out. It struck me then that humor is a kind of duty: If you can be funny you should, because life can be so deadly earnest. The opposite of humor is boredom, not sadness. Laughter and tears dance the tango.

Like your character Barb, you also live in Vladimir Nabokov’s house – though without finding a long-lost manuscript! What is it like to live in Nabokov’s house? How did the house inspire you?

Moving into the house, I thought a lot about what it meant to be there. I still do. What intrigued me was the fact of an absolute genius having lived in this same simple space same wide views and unfussy geometry juxtaposed with the fact that no trace of him existed. I looked for Nabokov in that house. I can find evidence of the architect, the original owner, but Nabokov exists only in the copies of his books on my shelves.

Since you’ve worked with writers as well as being a writer, how much of your industry savvy went into creating the character, Margie, who convinces Barb to become a writer? Do you give similar advice to Margie’s when you encourage fellow writers?

When I work with writers...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen.

He is one of only seven writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan). In 2008, Sawyer received his tenth Hugo Award nomination for his novel Rollback.

From Sawyer's Q & A  with Steven R. McEvoy:

What are the key books that everyone interested in science fiction must be familiar with?

Dune by Frank Herbert, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

* * *
One of the greatest strengths in your books are the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?

They're all those things: bits and pieces of real people - certain mannerisms or ways of speaking that have struck me as interesting or revelatory - plus careful, deliberate acts of creation. But no character in any of my books is based on a single person.

* * *
What are some of your favorite books and authors now?

Within science fiction, Robert Charles Wilson, Jack McDevitt, and Paolo Bacigalupi are all terrific - as is Audrey Niffenegger, although she's not published as science fiction. In the mystery/thriller genre, you can't go wrong with...[read on]
Visit Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Watch.

The Page 69 Test:: WWW: Wonder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Philip Kerr

Scottish novelist Philip Kerr is the author of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther crime series and other novels. Kerr's latest novel, Field Gray, finds Gunther being captured off Cuba in the mid-1950s and coerced by French Intelligence to help nab a war criminal.

From Kerr's interview with crime fiction maven J. Kingston Pierce at Kirkus Reviews:

What’s the source of your interest in Berlin and World War II? And how well acquainted have you become with Berlin?

Over the years I’ve become very well-acquainted with Berlin, which is perhaps the most protean and symbolic of all 20th-century cities. This partly accounts for my interest. In the space of just 45 years there are parts of Berlin that went from being militantly Prussian, to being wildly decadent and liberal, to being Nazi, to being hard-line communist.

I first went there in the early 1980s when it was very different. Berlin is like that. Just as you get to know it, the place changes. Prior to that my interest was as a jurist—I did a postgraduate degree in German legal philosophy, which was really just an excuse to read German philosophy proper. Poor fool that I am, I once considered an academic legal career. But novels won out. And let’s face it, if you’re going to pick a subject you can’t do better. The Nazi Revolution is, in my opinion, the most important historical event since the Protestant Reformation, which also started in Germany. By the way, Hitler and Luther have much in common; not just their violent anti-Semitism but a lot of other things too. Discuss.

Your books appear to be extremely well-researched. Why is it so important to get the details right?

I don’t know that it’s so important, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jeffrey Siger

Jeffrey Siger was a New York lawyer -- litigating high-stakes society scandals and other delicate public and private matters of domestic and international consequence -- until giving it all up to write full-time among the people, life, and politics of his beloved Mykonos, and spearfish in its Aegean waters. His books include Prey on Patmos and Murder in Mykonos.

From his Q & A with Cathy at Kittling: Books:

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Hailing as I do from the point where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers forms the mighty Ohio I received dozens of copies of Huckleberry Finn as birthday and other special occasion gifts. It was a local tradition.

And though memory fails me as to what made that book so special back then, as I’m finishing up a ten-week book tour for my latest novel, Prey on Patmos, a trek reminiscent of my grandfather’s horse and wagon huckstering days along those rivers, my mind runs to a passage where the Prince said to the Duke, “If that don’t fetch ‘em, I don’t know Arkansas.”

Let’s hope the comparison ends there, for as I recall the royals’ ended up tarred, feathered, and run out of town.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

What free time? Yes, I do have a farm in the U.S. that keeps me busy when I’m there, but on Mykonos my writing requires me to immerse myself in the island’s fabled 24/7 lifestyle, engaging persons possessing first-hand knowledge of the issues, experiences, and...[read on]
Learn more about the author at Jeffrey Siger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Mykonos.

The Page 69 Test: Prey on Patmos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meghan O’Rourke

From a Q & A with Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye:

Q: You write that nothing prepared you for the loss of your mother—even knowing that she was going to die. Did that surprise you?

A: Yes and no. When she was dying, I often tried to imagine what it would be like when she was dead. I said to myself: You have to prepare. But there really is no way to “prepare.” Imagining the loss is not absolute. It’s painful, but you can always look back at your mother’s face and think, “but she is still here.” The loss is absolute—it’s like entering a new world.

Q: You also write that you weren’t surprised that being a mourner was lonely. But you were surprised by how lost you felt. You didn’t really know what you were supposed to do, and neither did your friends and colleagues. Why do you think that is? Is that why you call grief “the last taboo” in our society?

A: I call grief the “last taboo” because it seems to me that Americans are very uncomfortable around the topic of death. I mean, it’s understandable. Who wants to think about it? And yet if we don’t, we’re cutting ourselves off from a huge part of our human legacy. Because of this discomfort, our ideas about what grief is are very simplistic, and we have few rituals that carve out space for it in everyday society. I am glad I didn’t have to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway is the author of the internationally acclaimed Inspector Devlin series.

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

Inspector Devlin doesn't fit the "cop" stereotype, especially the hard-drinking Irishman.

When I started the first Devlin novel, my wife was expecting our first child. As a result, most of my preoccupation was with trying to be a good husband and father. It made sense that this should be something I'd explore in my protagonist. While I understood the precedent for the hard-drinking divorced maverick in crime novels, I felt that I had nothing new to bring to that type of character. It seemed more interesting to have a detective who is, for the most part, a normal balanced individual struggling to reconcile his various roles as father, husband, policeman.

Who are your literary influences?

In terms of crime fiction, James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, and John Connolly. Burke is simply a superb writer, and Rankin is unmatched in the modern procedural field. Connolly is an inspiration for a whole generation of Irish crime writers, myself included, simply because he showed it was possible for an Irish writer not only to write crime fiction that might appeal beyond Ireland but also to write it so well. I'm not convinced we'd be having the crime fiction wave we're having in Ireland had it not been for John's trailblazing.

How does living near the Ireland/Northern Ireland border affect Devlin's ability to do his job?

The border ...[read on]
Read about Brian McGilloway's top ten modern Irish crime novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Cleopatra: A Life.

From her Q & A with Alexandra Cheney at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: Out of all the people you could write about, why Cleopatra?

Stacy Schiff: Partly because she seemed to me to stand at that intersection between women and power that I was increasing fascinated by. Partly because you have a moment in history where the entire world changes. I mean, the Roman Republic and the Hellenistic Age ends with her death and then 30 years later Christ is born. And you have this all-star cast. You have Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, Herod the Great and Cleopatra — it doesn’t get any better than that in terms of subjects.

How did you sort through all the historical material?

I read and read and reread Plutarch and all the other classical sources in every translation. And after a while you get to see the littlest traces of things that you realize are going to allow you to set a scene. In Plutarch, her voice begins to come out, there are actual 2,000-year-old quotes from Cleopatra and they are sly and saucy. When you begin to hear something like that lifting off the page, you begin to say, “Okay, I can set a scene with this.” And I also realized that the sources were as interesting as the subject. By working the sources into the story makes it as interesting, it enriches the history.

Did you have any adventures in researching the book?

In fact,...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2011

Atul Gawande

From a TIME magazine Q & A with Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right:

How can medical schools encourage doctors to be more willing to talk about failure?

We don't equip people who are about to be doctors for the idea that they're going to fail and that they have a responsibility to build a plan for that understanding. We don't prepare people for the idea that you really work in teams nowadays. [In medical school] you learn the physiology of the body. And then you learn the diagnoses and the treatments. You could get all of those first steps right and your patient will still die. Because you weren't able to get the radiologist and the nurse and the rest of your team working in sync. Who's going to teach that? We don't have the senior medical people who really understand how to do this.

Your focus is on checklists in surgery. Can checklists help a doctor working alone?

I had a patient just the week before Christmas who had a tumor found in his abdomen. It was on multiple spinal X-rays he'd had, but they were just looking at the spine and they forgot to check the other images. It's a kind of basic mistake radiologists can make. But if you have a checklist, you make sure you've looked.

You mention that some doctors object on the grounds that checklists take too long. Do they?

If they're badly designed. One of the fascinating things to me was going to visit Boeing's checklist factory, where they make over 100 checklists a year and design them in ways that pilots can actually use them in a time crush. They helped us design ours. We set a target that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jim Krusoe

Jim Krusoe is the author of the novels Erased, Girl Factory, and Iceland. His stories and poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Bomb, the Chicago Review, the Denver Quarterly, the American Poetry Review, and other publications. He teaches at Santa Monica College and lives in Los Angeles.

From a Q & A at the Tin House blog about Krusoe's new novel, Toward You.

Meg Storey: Unlike the first two books in this trilogy, which have one male narrator, Toward You’s narration alternates between a man and a young girl. Why did you decide to vary the narration in the last book?

Jim Krusoe: I started this book with high hopes for my narrator, Bob, but after a couple of drafts, became impatient with his poor attitude, considering the fact that he’d done a terrible thing and seemed barely sorry. So almost in revenge, I began trying to discover his victim’s side of the story, in part to remind the reader not to forget her, in part not to let Bob off the hook. The more I wrote the more I began to identify with Dee Dee and her situation of wanting to escape a place she didn’t want to be in (death). In the end, it turned out to be her story I was writing.

MS: How did you approach writing from a young girl’s (which you’re obviously not) point of view?

JK: Dee Dee c’est moi. We had the same goal: to figure out a way, while still staying true to the rules of the universe of St. Nils, to spring her out of heaven. And while I tried to keep her sounding eight years old, at times she sounds grown-up because one of the rules of the book’s universe is that all dead people get a “power-up,” so they can communicate on equal terms with each other (dogs get one, as well).

But actually all these...[read on]
Read reviews and excerpts from Toward You, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Factory.

The Page 69 Test: Erased.

The Page 69 Test: Toward You.

Writers Read: Jim Krusoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Edward Dolnick

Edward Dolnick's books include The Forger's Spell, the New York Times bestselling account of the greatest art hoax of the 20th century, and The Rescue Artist, winner of the Edgar Award in 2006 for best non-fiction.

His new book is The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World.

From Dolnick's Q & A with Alexandra Cheney at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: Why are you fascinated with Isaac Newton?

Newton is one of the great breakthroughs in intellectual history. It’s a story I’ve been fascinated with and it’s been told usually in a misleading way. The conventional way of telling this story is to say that the modern world was shaped by a handful of geniuses who are just like us except that they happen to have lived a long time ago and wear funny wigs. They were essentially time-travelers. I wanted to tell it in a different way. I think is that they were geniuses, but they weren’t like us at all. The world they lived in, what they took for granted, what they believed in: the reason that they were doing science is all completely foreign and strange to us. That’s what I was asking.

How was their world so different from ours?

Well, one of the main things the book is about is the world in the 1600s; it was falling apart. This is a time of rampant diseases that no one understands where you wake up healthy and you drop dead that evening. Whole families are wiped out. It’s filthy, it’s dangerous, it’s noisy. The people that my book is about look out at that world of chaos and they say, “I see a world of perfect order.” How they could look at that mayhem and see order is...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Clockwork Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Steve Hockensmith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, were both New York Times best sellers, with a combined 1.3 million copies in print. The PPZ trilogy concludes with Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After.

From a Q & A with Hockensmith about Dawn of the Dreadfuls:

Your book is a prequel to a book that had already been written by another author. How did knowing the plot/theme/style of that book influence your writing style?

Not as much as you might think! When I first started talking to Jason Rekulak, the editor at Quirk Books who dreamed up the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concept, it became clear pretty quick that he didn't want a pastiche -- a slavish attempt to copy someone else's style. Which was fine by me, because I wouldn't have taken on a project like that. What was important, we agreed, was matching the tone, not the style. Meaning I had to be funny in more-or-less the same way as the first book, but I didn't have to sound like the first book. So that liberated me to write a novel with a more contemporary vibe and a new sensibility -- my own.

How did you develop your characters' personalities? Or did you have to work within a prescribed personality?

With the established characters, I had to stay true to the original PPZ while shifting things ever so slightly to accommodate the fact that (A) everyone's four years younger and (B) I had a more plot-driven, action-oriented plot to push along. I had more freedom with the new characters. I like to think I did an O.K. job bringing them to life because so many readers have mentioned them -- Capt. Cannon, in particular -- as something they really enjoyed about the book.

How did you make the decisions as to which original characters would live, and die, in the Bennett's world?

I knew a few would have to die at the hands of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Steve Hockensmith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2011

David Ignatius

From Ken Silverstein's Harper's Magazine Q & A with David Ignatius about the latter's thriller, Body of Lies:

Is the book’s main plot–the effort to bring down the terrorist group headed by Suleiman–modeled on a true-life story?

The idea for this book began with a conversation with a senior CIA official. I asked him about the agency’s post-9/11 strategy for dealing with Al Qaeda. He said he hoped to rely on help from intelligence services in the Arab and Islamic world. I asked if he had encountered any superstars in these friendly services, and he mentioned a top Jordanian official. The next time I was in Amman, I asked the palace if I could speak with this particular gentleman, and it was duly arranged. From those conversations, I began to sketch a portrait of my character Hani Salaam, the imaginary chief of my Jordanian General Intelligence Department.

The novel is about deception, and I drew on some real examples. The Jordanians, working with the British and American, have been especially skillful in using their penetrations of hostile groups to sow deception and distrust. Their deception operations against the Abu Nidal Organization were so successful that they basically caused the group to implode. The Abu Nidal operatives were literally shooting each other. In “Body of Lies,” I imagine how a similar operation against Al Qaeda might be run—and the pitfalls therein.

The other historical root for the book is the famous British World War II deception of the Nazis described in the memoir, “The Man Who Never Was.” The challenge was to convince the Germans that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Billy Collins

The poet Billy Collins served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. His new collection of poems is titled Horoscopes for the Dead.

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

When do you decide you have enough poems for a collection?

That's in the very back of my mind. One swings like Tarzan—from book to book, instead of from vine to vine. But as I'm writing an individual poem, a book is the last thing on my mind. I'm just trying to write a good poem. I send my poems to a friend, a younger poet named George Green, who grades them: A, B, C, D. After a couple of years, if I have 60 or so poems—if I have a lot of As and Bs—then it starts looking like a book.

What's the inspiration for the title poem ["Horoscopes for the Dead"] of your new book?

My poems tend not to be terribly personal in the autobiographical sense. I assume strangers are about as interested in my personal life as I am in theirs—which is to say not very much. But a longtime friend of mine, Michael Shannon [the co-founder, with Mr. Collins, of the Mid-Atlantic Review], passed away a few years ago. Our birthdays were around the same time of the year. I sometimes read horoscopes. So after he died, I'd read my Aries and shift over to his Pisces. I like the title in that it conveys a hopeless optimism.

For someone who grew up in Queens, your poems don't feature much urban imagery.

It's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Téa Obreht

Part of The Tiger's Wife author Téa Obreht's interview with Jennie Yabroff for The Daily Beast:

You spent the first years of your life in Belgrade, but now live in Ithaca, New York. The Tiger's Wife is set in an unnamed Balkan country. Is it easier to write about a place when you're away from it?

It's definitely easier for me. I did no writing while I was visiting the Balkans. I do no writing while I'm in Belgrade visiting my grandma. There's a way you think about your experiences and process them after the fact that makes it much more organic. When you're in a place, the details you focus on are different than details you focus on when you're writing about it. For instance, when I wrote about the tiger's escape from the zoo, I wrote about the zoo I remembered from my childhood, which has since changed. I've seen the new zoo, but I wanted to describe the zoo of my childhood.

Can you talk about your childhood?

I left Belgrade when I was 7. My family moved because of the war. I lived with mother and her parents. My grandfather was an engineer. His job took us from place to place, so my childhood happened on the move. I grew up in Cyprus and Egypt, these fantastic places I remember fondly. In a way I was raised with newness. Going back to Belgrade after 11 years, there was a newness to it, so the experience of it was familiarly exciting. That newness and familiarity combo was unique. Then my mother and I moved to...[read on]
Read more about The Tiger's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 1, 2011

Deborah Grabien

Graceland, the fourth novel in Deborah Grabien's Kinkaid Chronicles, is due out this month.

From author J. Sydney Jones' interview with Grabien about the setting of her series:

What things about San Francisco make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

SF has been either the number one or in the top 3 destinations for visitors worldwide for something like 50 years. It has the most beautiful natural geography of any American city, but our uniqueness is as much in the sociopolitical and artistic sense as it is in the geophysical sense. We’re uber-lefty, uber-progressive, more so than anywhere in the US. We live on unstable ground, the earth constantly moving under our feet. I’m not sure the Summer of Love or the Beats could have come from any other place.

In terms of the books, the City itself, the fog, the way it looks, the way the water moves under the Golden Gate, the geography, become an integer in my standalone thriller, Still Life With Devils. In that one, a serial killer who may not be completely human uses every inch of the city, every twisty street, every quirk, as a tool and an ally. In the Kinkaid Chronicles, the City is much more benign. JP Kinkaid is a London expat superstar guitarist who falls in love with the City (and, as it happens, with a much younger girl named Bree) on his first trip through, and comes back here to live. He’s the narrator, so we see the City through his eyes, which means I have to write it that way.

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

Oh, it’s completely....[read on]
Visit Deborah Grabien's website.

The Page 69 Test: While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

The Page 69 Test: Dark's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue