Monday, April 30, 2012

Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is the author of many novels, including A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Horse Heaven.

From her questionnaire at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Lunch with any three people who ever lived; who do you invite?

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Marguerite of Navarre, Emile Zola
* * *

Which classic author would you like to see kicked out of the pantheon?

Vladimir Nabokov
* * *

What country would you want to be exiled in?

Do I have money? If so, France, with regular trips to Australia.
* * *

What character or story haunts you?

Numerous, but right now, Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right.
Read the complete Q & A.

Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres is one of John Mullan's ten best twice-told tales; Horse Heaven is on Megan Wasson's list of eight great books about horses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin earned her Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois, went on to become an associate professor at Colorado State University, and wrote two books on autism, including the seminal Thinking in Pictures. One of the most celebrated — and effective — animal advocates on the planet, Grandin revolutionized animal movement systems and spearheaded reform of the quality of life for the world's agricultural animals. Her latest book is Different ... Not Less: Inspiring Stories of Achievement and Successful Employment from Adults with Autism, Asperger's, and ADHD.

From Grandin's Q & A with Thomas Rogers at Salon:

The CDC recently released a shocking report that showed a huge uptick in autism numbers. What do you make of it?

I’m very familiar with those figures. One big question that’s come up is: Has autism increased on the mild side of things? I don’t think so — they’ve always been here. Some of this is increased detection. I’ve worked with tons of people that I know who are on the spectrum — but now I think severe autism has really increased. There may be environmental contaminants. I read an article the other day that a supposedly very harmless pesticide on cattle was making bulls infertile, so this brings up the issue of genetics.

There is some concern that by expanding the numbers of people with autism, the CDC is diluting the autism diagnosis.

The problem with these diagnoses is they’re not precise. They’re talking about changing the DSM and replacing it with Social Communication Disorder and they’re sitting around in rooms discussing it. It’s not a precise diagnosis like tuberculosis. You show certain behaviors, like social awkwardness, or fixated interest or repetitive behavior, and that’s labeled autism. But it’s a very big spectrum. On one hand you’ve got people working in technology jobs and on the other hand you’ve got someone who’s nonverbal with epilepsy, and that’s one of the big problems. Steve Jobs would probably be on the spectrum, and so would Einstein.

On the other hand, this newly expanded number may also make a lot of parents of kids with autism feel much less alone.

I think that’s really important. When I was young my mother was totally alone. It would have definitely made a lot of difference. She would have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches English at Bethany College.

His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review and The Carolina Quarterly.

Cash's first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, is now out from William Morrow.

From his Fiction Writers Review Q & A with Brad Wetherell:

Brad Wetherell: What was the initial germ of this novel for you?

Wiley Cash: I got the idea for the story of the novel when I was in graduate school at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the fall of 2003. I was taking a course in African American literature, and one day my professor, Reggie Scott Young, brought in a news story about a young African American boy with autism who was smothered during a church healing service in a storefront church on Chicago’s South Side. Although I was raised in an evangelical Southern Baptist church, I was familiar enough with charismatic belief to understand its power, and I was particularly drawn to the Pentecostal tradition, especially the Holiness movement that takes the Bible as the literal word of God, particularly Mark 16: 17-18:
And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will place their hands on the sick, and they will get well.
The story of the young boy’s smothering was clearly tragic, but given my interest in the Holiness movement, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it, and given my own memories of growing up in the evangelical church, I couldn’t help but be compelled to write about it.

But when I thought about sitting down at my desk to begin the story, I knew I’d immediately face...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Wiley Cash's website.

Writers Read: Wiley Cash.

My Book, The Movie: A Land More Kind Than Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mario Beauregard

Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., is associate research professor at the Departments of Psychology and Radiology and the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal. He is the coauthor of The Spiritual Brain and more than one hundred publications in neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry. His new book is Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives.

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

Q: Is the mind an illusion created by the brain?

A: Materialists generally say yes. However, they have not proved that. Quite the opposite. They start with that assumption, and then they fit anything they see into it.

Non-materialist neuroscience demonstrates that the mind is real and can change the brain. For example, Jeffrey Schwartz, a nonmaterialist UCLA neuropsychiatrist, treats obsessive-compulsive disorder by getting patients to reprogram their brains. Similarly, some of my neuroscientist colleagues at the Université de Montréal and I have demonstrated, via brain imaging techniques, that women and girls can control sad thoughts, men can control responses to erotic films, and people who suffer from phobias such as spider phobia can reorganize their brains so that they lose the fear.

Evidence of the mind's control over the brain is actually captured in these studies. There is such a thing as "mind over matter." We do have will power, consciousness, and emotions, and combined with a sense of purpose and meaning, we can effect change.

Q: Are mind and brain identical?

A: Some materialists say that, but again, they have not demonstrated it. They assume it. Your mind is just the workings of your brain.

Non-materialists neuroscientists think differently. They think that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein is Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where his highly popular course on ignorance invites working scientists to come talk to students each week about what they don't know. Dedicated to promoting science to a public audience, he serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's program for the Public Understanding of Science and was awarded the 2011 Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. Also, he was recently named an AAAS Fellow.

His new book is Ignorance: How It Drives Science.

From Firestein's Q & A with Casey Schwartz at The Daily Beast:

The Daily Beast: So, the most obvious question first—ignorance: how did you get into this and decide it was worth writing a whole book about?

Stuart Firestein: I came to the book because I seemed to be being paid for just the opposite: for vomiting out facts all over the place, for just letting out as many facts as possible. Which I guess is what the university’s business model has been for the last thousand years or so. Somehow or other, we know the facts and then we dole them out for some cash in return. That’s how we make it work.

But it occurs to me that in science, that’s not what we really care about. I worked in the lab on neuroscience questions, and I taught a course on neuroscience. And both of them were interesting things to do, but working in the lab was a lot more exciting. So I tried to imagine what it was that was exciting in the lab that wasn’t exciting in the course.

And in my course, I would use one of these neuroscience textbooks—this one that weighs seven and a half pounds, which is twice the weight of the human brain, by the way—to go along with 25 lectures, also chock full of facts, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. And I came to the realization at some point several years ago that these kids must actually think we know all there is to know about neuroscience. And that’s the difference. That’s not what we think in the lab. What we think in the lab is, we don’t know bupkis. So I thought well, we should be talking about what we don’t know, not what we know.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Marion Nestle & Malden Nesheim

Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim are the authors of Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.

From their Q & A with Nanci Hellmich at USA Today:

Q: Are all calories created equal when it comes to weight loss?

A: If you lock people in a metabolic ward and feed them the same number of calories in reduced-calorie diets that vary in fat and carbohydrates (all measured), you can show that they lose weight at the same rate regardless of diet composition. The number of calories determines how fast they lose, nothing else.

In the real world, some people lose weight faster on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets, such as the Atkins diet, especially at the beginning when they excrete so much water. Some people find that low-carbohydrate diets make it easier to reduce calories and stay satiated. And it's always a good idea to cut back on desserts and sodas.

Q: Do excess calories make some people gain weight faster than others?

A: Here's where genetics comes in. In controlled studies of overfeeding, everyone gains weight when they eat more calories than they expend, but at different rates. Some people can overeat and gain only a little weight — growing teenage boys are a good example. They may spontaneously increase their physical activity to burn off excess calories. Other people easily store more of the extra calories as fat.

Q: What is your best advice to people who want to lose weight?

A. Our mantra is: Get...[read on]
Learn more about the book at Marion Nestle's website.

The Page 99 Test: Marion Nestle's Pet Food Politics.

The Page 99 Test: Why Calories Count.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune restaurant in New York’s East Village and the author of Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. She received an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, GQ, Bon Appétit, Saveur, and Food & Wine.

From her Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Blood, Bones and Butter?

I spent the first three and a half years resisting, denying that I was writing a memoir and erasing two thirds of what I was writing because in every lit class I've ever taken the category of memoir is dismissed, demeaned, and considered weak, confessional, and "girly". Then I spent another six months savaging what little work I had managed to produce. Then I had a frank conversation with myself in which I admitted that I was not as talented as I wish I was. This gave me the permission to just do my absolute best within my limited skill set. I also made a commitment to write "hospitably", as I have been trained to be in the kitchen – to do everything I could to take care of and to serve the reader as I would take care of and serve a guest in my restaurant. In essence, I did everything I could to remove my own ego and apprehensions and just be the person who – metaphorically speaking – cooks the food and cleans up afterwards.

What was most difficult about it?

How to evoke both the romance and nostalgia of something that I was simultaneously mourning the loss of and regarding with a jaundiced eye, and then to maintain a voice that I could bear to listen to for 85,000 words. I listened to this advice from my friend David Young: "The voice? The voice is you talking to the smartest person you know about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2012

Roger Smith

Roger Smith's thrillers Dust Devils, Wake Up Dead and Mixed Blood are published in seven languages and two are in development as movies in the U.S. His books have won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Fiction Award) and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. His novella, Ishmael Toffee, is available and a fourth novel, Capture, will be out in mid-2012.

From his Q & A with Joey Francisco:

Q: What inspires you to write? What events have inspired some of your latest novels?

As a teenager in Johannesburg, I watched white cops mow down black school kids my age during the 1976 youth uprising. A few years later I was drafted into a white army fighting a meaningless bush war against older versions of those black kids. Disaster Zondi, Mixed Blood and Dust Devil’s Zulu investigator, is one of those kids 35 years on. And Mixed Blood’s rogue cop, Rudi Barnard, is a relic from the apartheid era, roaming the badlands of Cape Town, still slaughtering people darker than himself.

When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela came to power, there was a period in South Africa where we went from being the pariah of the world, to a role-model for transformation. A giddy time. Then Mandela moved on, and the rulers of the country became ever more self-serving and corrupt, as politicians tend to do.

Apartheid is over, but a violent crime epidemic, poverty and the highest incidence of HIV/ AIDS in the world present new challenges that are left largely unaddressed. Our constitution is glowing testament to enlightenment and individual freedom, but teenage girls are sold into slave marriages in the name of tradition and some men believe that raping virgins (often children) will cure them of AIDS. The ex-commissioner of police has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for corruption.

This is...[read on]
Learn more about the author at author at Roger Smith's website.

Read about Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Wake Up Dead.

Writers Read: Roger Smith.

My Book, The Movie: Dust Devils.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hugh Brewster

Hugh Brewster's latest book is Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First-Class Passengers and Their World.

From his Q & A with J. Kingston Pierce at January Magazine:

J. Kingston Pierce: When did you first become interested in the Titanic, and why?

Hugh Brewster: When I was 6 my family emigrated to Canada from Scotland and crossing the Atlantic aboard the Canadian Pacific liner, Empress of Britain, was a big event in my young life. Then, when I was about 12 I was gripped by the movie A Night to Remember and can recall debating with my two brothers what we would have done to escape from the sinking Titanic. In 1984, as the editorial director for Madison Press Books, a Toronto book producer, I met [oceanographer] Robert Ballard, who said that he was going to find the Titanic, which he did the next year. I then edited and compiled his book The Discovery of the Titanic, which came out in 1987. It was an international bestseller and Walter Lord, who had begun my Titanic fascination with A Night to Remember years before, provided the introduction.

Twenty more books followed, and in compiling them I did a great deal of research and met a number of survivors and also many relatives of survivors. And I was always struck by what a remarkable convergence of lives came together on that fateful maiden voyage, which led me to write Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage.

JKP: There are so many new books about that 1912 tragedy and its aftermath. What makes Gilded Lives stand out from the pack?

HB: In most other Titanic books, the liner is the protagonist, and the people aboard simply supporting players identified by labels such as “millionaire John Jacob Astor” or “fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon.” I wanted to move the characters into the foreground, but I also knew from my years in publishing that you have to use the haunting narrative of the sinking to make a book compelling. I decided to...[read on]
Learn more about Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Liza Mundy

Liza Mundy is the bestselling author of Michelle: A Biography and Everything Conceivable and is a staff writer at the Washington Post.

Her new book is The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.

From her Q & A with Marc Schultz at Publishers Weekly:

How did you hit upon this trend?

I’ve covered gender issues for a long time, 20 years probably, and for the past six or seven I’ve been noticing, peripherally, the growing percentage of women on college and university campuses, which always struck me. I was talking with my editor and she was noticing the earning trend among women was rising. When I started looking into the data, I was struck by the number of women out-earning their partners. There had been a sea change in the past five or six years, which I found intriguing and worth exploring.

What makes it inevitable that the majority of American households will be supported by women, rather than men?

Obviously, this is a point that can be argued, and I’m sure it will be, but if you look at the data—say you look at the percentage of wives out-earning their husbands, that’s been going up steadily since they started tracking in 1997. If women are out-achieving men in colleges and universities, if most American city-dwelling, single, childless women under 30 already out-earn their male peers, what would stop it? I guess it could stop if women said no, this isn’t what we want, but it’s hard for me to see why this would happen.

Another way to look at is specifically at mothers: we know 25 percent of children are in single-mother homes, let’s say another 18 percent are in families where the wife out-earns the husband, we’ve already got 43 percent of homes where the mother is the dominant breadwinner. And for women under 30, a full 50 percent of births are to unwed mothers. So it seems quite easy to argue that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle is a New York Times bestselling author of a series of her young-adult novels that has topped this year’s annual list of “Most Challenged Books,” released by the American Library Association.

From her Q & A with Abigail Pesta at The Daily Beast:

The Internet Girls series is about three high-school girls who like to text each other about their troubles. What’s so controversial?

The books are about three dear friends, good girls who make bad decisions. The series is a testimony to the power of friendship—finding your tribe, having your friends’ backs. I think part of what makes people nervous is that the books are written in instant messaging. The knee-jerk reaction is that it’s different than adult language. Grown-ups see it as a kid version of “don’t look over my shoulder.” But the language is easy to figure out—my mom said the learning curve is about 10 pages.

Also, a lot of people of book-banning mentality think we should be very proper about grammar. There’s an initial barrier of “this does not look like literature to me.” And most people who challenge a book haven’t actually read it. If you’re skimming it, words jump out at you: “fuck,” “penis,” “condom.” It triggers a set of reflexes.

I understand why parents worry about books—they’re worried about their kids. They want to keep their kids safe. But parents aren’t always realistic. One said to me, “I can’t believe you introduced my 13-year-old daughter to thong underwear.” I’m pretty sure she knows about them already. She probably owns a pair.

What are the “bad decisions” the girls make in the books?

One girl goes to a college party when she’s still in high school. She gets drunk. She gets egged on to take her shirt off. Pictures get taken. I don’t write books to teach lessons, but if a girl can read a story like that and think, “Maybe I won’t take off my shirt at a frat party when people have phones there,” my work is done.

Another girl...[read on]
Read about Myracle's experience as the first author to be nominated for the prestigious National Book Award before having that nomination revoked.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."

From her 1958 Q & A with Mike Wallace on ABC's The Mike Wallace Interview:

WALLACE: If you're curious to know what Pearl Buck thinks of American women and their husbands, why she says "Most women make their homes their graves" and why she attacks our devotion to "sex appeal" and "romance", we'll go after those stories in just a moment. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Parliament, another fine product of the Philip Morris Company.


WALLACE: And now to our story.....Ever since she began writing as a young woman in China where she was raised by her missionary parents, Pearl Buck has been intrigued by the "battle between the sexes". This contest has become a major social problem in the United States as women find themselves torn between career and marriage, between independence and security, between emancipation and conventional morality. As a wife and mother and author of "Good Earth" and about forty other works, Pearl Buck has apparently had the best of both possible worlds. Miss Buck, in view of your remarkable career, first of all, let me ask you this. Earlier this week you told our reporter this. You said: "Most women are making their homes their graves". What did you mean by that?

BUCK: Well I suppose I meant that they bury themselves there when they don't need to. Of course I believe in home you know.

WALLACE: Well of course you believe in home, but when you say they bury themselves there, would you be more specific with so that we could understand it a little.....

BUCK: Well I think I -- what I meant by that was that they can fulfill all the obligations and the joys of home and at the same time be citizens of their nation and of the world.

WALLACE: And you feel that women insufficiently do that, is that the point?

BUCK: Well, to an extent I think so.

WALLACE: You said, if I may, you said that you had said, you have women who can think only how to flatter their men and who cater to their stomachs and their every whim, that's an insult for any woman.

BUCK: Well, I think that's an insult for a man...[read on]
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck is one of the Tiger Mother's 5 best books on being a Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds is a music critic whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Village Voice, Spin, Rolling Stone, and Artforum.

His latest book is Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past.From the author's Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Retromania?

One day I realised that there was something strange going on in terms of rock and its relationship to its own past. There were specific things I noticed from the mid-2000s: the popularity of the "don't look back" template, where bands play their iconic album all the way through in sequence, or the multiple simultaneous revivals (80s synth pop, late 70s post-punk, late 60s folk-rock, etc). But it also came from everyday use of the internet: downloading out-of-print albums from file-sharing blogs or trawling through YouTube, and entering a state of atemporality where the past and the present are intermingled and indistinguishable, in an eerie way. But retromania could be good-eerie, as with so much of my favourite music of the 2000s: operators such as Ariel Pink or the Ghost Box label, where the music was all about memory, nostalgia, the past as a haunting.

What was most difficult about it?

The sheer mass of material to deal with. Retro is a culture-wide paradigm and it crops up in fashion, film, design, all over. The book was pulling me in all kinds of directions, towards things I'd never written about before. In the end I focused mostly on music, because that's where retro most alarms and perplexes me. But even there, the potential scope was vast, because many of the syndromes I was investigating could be tracked back a long way into rock history. One of the challenges – and I expect this applies to any kind of broad-range non-fiction – was deciding what...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard's latest novel is Raylan.

From the author's Q & A with Allen Barra at The Daily Beast:

Most critics call you things like “the dean of American crime writers.” But I’m wondering if you consider that pigeonholing. Do you mind being called a crime writer?

“Crime writer” is fine. There’s always a crime in my books.

It’s been written that you are a descendant of—I’ll just pick two names that have been tossed around—Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Would you agree?

No, not at all. I never thought my books were like theirs, or that I wrote anything like them except to the degree that we all did interesting things with dialogue. If I had to pick anyone from that period who I resembled, it’s probably James M. Cain, whose style was leaner—more terse—than other writers of that period.

The truth is that the writers who most influenced me weren’t people categorized as crime writers. I’d say I learned more from John O’Hara, who isn’t much read today but whose short stories I really admired, and Hemingway, who I think has lasted pretty good.

Speaking of Hemingway, I remember years ago I compared your rules of writing with Hemingway’s. He said, “Always get the weather right.” You told me that your first rule was “Don’t open a book with the weather.”

And...[read on]
See--Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2012

James Sallis

James Sallis is the author of, among others, Drive and its sequel, Driven.

From his Q & A with Alex Dueben at The Daily Beast:

How did you end up writing a sequel to Drive?

One day my agent Vicky Bijur called. The producers were asking if there’d be a sequel to Drive. Of course not, I harrumphed—being an artiste and all. I hung up the phone and sat there with the image of a woman leaning against a wall, bleeding out. I wrote the first page and was hooked.

Driven feels very similar to Drive in that it’s a very taut, brutal book which at the end opens up to something bigger, almost mythic. Was that always your intent?

This time out, yes. Driven needed to echo, to ring against the original. But with Drive, that ending came as a surprise even as I wrote my way into it. I had worried over how I could end the book. Then when I got there, that ending—that opening onto the mythic—was waiting for me, just kind of hanging around on the street corner. “Hey, good to see you, man.”

Why did you end up setting the book in Phoenix? Coming out right after The Killer is Dying, which was released last year and also set in the city, they make the case for the city as a great noir setting.

If you remember...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collins is the author of the dystopian Hunger Games trilogy.

From her Q & A with Hannah Trierweiler Hudson at the Scholastic website:

The Hunger Games is hugely popular with both boys and girls. Why do you think that is?

Whenever I write a story, I hope it appeals to both boys and girls. But maybe in its simplest form, it's having a female protagonist in a gladiator story, which traditionally features a male. It's an unexpected choice. Or I don't know, maybe the futuristic, grim nature of the story is larger than that. I wouldn't care who was the lead in a good dystopian story. You know what I mean?

What's been the most memorable feedback you've gotten from teachers and kids?

One of the most memorable things I hear is when someone tells me that my books got a reluctant reader to read. They'll say, "You know, there's this kid and he wouldn't touch a book and his parents found him under a blanket with a flashlight after bedtime because he couldn't wait to find out what happened in the next chapter." That's just the best feeling. The idea that you might have contributed to a child's enjoyment of reading.

Who contributed to your love of reading and writing?

In fifth and sixth grade, I went to school in an open classroom. And the English teacher, Miss Vance, was wonderful. On rainy days, she would take whoever was interested over to the side and read us...[read on]
The Hunger Games appears on Annalee Newitz's list of 10 great American dystopias, Philip Webb's top ten list of pulse-racing adventure books, Charlie Higson's top ten list of fantasy books for children, and Megan Wasson's list of five fantasy series geared towards teens that adults will love too.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2012

James Patterson

James Patterson has published over 90 books— including Guilty Wives. From his Q & A with Lauren A.E. Schuker at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Do you think that the literary community dislikes you?

There’s kind of a misunderstanding. I get a lot of questions like, ‘how do you feel about keeping up-and-coming writers off the bestseller list?’ But I don’t think I’m really doing that. I might knock Tom Clancy off a week earlier. But the reality is, unless your publisher commits to a lot of copies, you’re not going to get on the bestseller list. The chances against you are 500,000 to 1.

What do you like to read when you’re not writing?

I read a lot of weird stuff…like Thomas Merton’s letters. I got hooked on Merton a long time ago. Somebody just sent me his letters. I read a lot of kids’ stuff. I have very catholic taste. It’s really all over the map. Oh, and Stephen King. I read his stuff. I like breaking his balls by saying positive things about him.

Do you ever talk to him?

No, he’s taken shots at me for years. It’s fine, but my approach is to do the opposite with him—to heap praise.

Do you read his books pretty regularly?

Yeah. I like a lot of his earlier stuff better. Although I think his latest book [‘11/22/63’] is pretty good. It’s done well and it’s also closer to what he was writing fifteen years ago. But if he had written it fifteen years ago, the critics would have torn it up, said ‘schlockmeister writes more schlock.’ Instead, they ate it up.

Is that because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2012

Howard Shrier

Howard Shrier's first crime novel, Buffalo Jump, won him the Arthur Ellis Debut Fiction award. The following year, his second book in the Jonah Geller series, High Chicago won the Arthur Ellis best book award. Boston Cream, his third book in the series, finds detective Jonah Geller back in Boston to find a missing transplant surgeon.

From Shrier's Q & A with Jonathan Mendelsohn at the Indigo Blog:

IB: Jonah’s Jewish, the surgeon he’s gone to look for in Boston is Jewish, there’s even a rather fascinating Rabbi in Boston Cream. How does your religion fit in with your fiction?

HS: It’s in the stories because I think it’s part of me. When I set out to create this character, I knew he’d be like me in the sense of he’s a secular Jew, an atheist, but still feels very tied to his culture and his community. Judaism’s not about God and religion for him. It’s about family, food, cultural events, songs, things like that. I sort of thought it would be interesting if his clients came to him through friends, family; this is how it goes when you start a new business. So in the second book the client book comes through someone his brother and mother know, in the third its similar, he gets a reference from Jonah’s brother. In the fourth, which I’m writing now , it’s the grandfather of a murder victim who hired Jonah and the murder victim was someone he went to camp with 20 years ago, a kid that he knew.

I think sometimes having a Jewish element is important to me. In Boston Cream there’s a big element of it because one of the more perplexing and I hope complex characters is a Rabbi who is hoping to do big things in a way for his community but also for himself, and his own ego. You know I was raised in a Jewish environment. A lot of what I’ve absorbed is part of that so it’s just pat of me and what I write an not writing about it would be like taking someone like Denis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone) and taking the Boston Catholicism...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Shrier's website.

Writers Read: Howard Shrier (May 2009).

Writers Read: Howard Shrier (February 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Esther Freud

Esther Freud trained as an actress before writing her first novel, Hideous Kinky, which was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and made into a feature film starring Kate Winslet. Her other novels include The Sea House, Summer at Gaglow, The Wild, Peerless Flats, Love Falls, and Lucky Break.

From her Q & A with the Guardian:

How did you come to write Lucky Break?

I started writing a series of short stories set in the world of acting and got carried away. Soon I felt a responsibility to create the acting experience with all its highs and lows in as convincing a way as possible.

What was most difficult about it?

The hardest thing was changing it from a series of linked stories to a novel. The rhythm had to be entirely altered.

What did you most enjoy?

Retelling all the anecdotes I've heard along the way.

How long did it take?

I can never tell any more. About a year longer than I wanted it to.

Who's your favourite writer?

I...[read on]
Read about the author Freud would most like to sit next to at a dinner party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

RJ Smith

RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, the New York Times Magazine, and Men's Vogue. His first book, The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award.

Smith's new book is The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.

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

Q: If a Martian landed in front of you and asked about James Brown, how would you describe him?

A: He's the ultimate intersection of singing, dancing and stagecraft. If you had one line for great performers, like a Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, and another line for a great soulful vocalist, and another line for great people who knew how to command your attention, respect and response – at the intersection of all these lines would be James Brown.

He was one of the most important creative forces in the world in the 20th century, the rare artist who was able to be incredibly creative and transform the culture around him – somewhat in the '50s, hugely in the '60s and '70s, and somewhat in the '80s.

He had this amazing influence. Other than maybe Bob Dylan, I can't think of an artist who's done anything like that.

Q: Do you remember the first times you heard James Brown?

A: As a kid, I was the proverbial boy with the transistor radio glued to his ear and under my pillow at night. I remember there was one guy who didn't sound like everyone else on the radio. There I was in Detroit listening to Motown, and here he was with these screams, grunts and groans.

Q: One of the most popular Super Bowl commercials this year featured his great song "Get Up Offa that Thing." It inspired me to look for the song online, and I found a brief and amazing video of him performing it on YouTube. He's in his 40s but dances like he's… well, my friend put it this way after watching it: "he certainly does shake that thing, doesn't he?" Where on earth did he find all that energy, that BAM! factor?

A: It came from...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Donna Leon

Internationally bestselling mystery writer Donna Leon masterfully blends the intrigue and passion of the ancient city of Venice (also her beloved adopted home) with cutting-edge detective work in her popular series featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Donna Leon's love affair with Italy began in the mid-1960s when she visited for the first time. She returned frequently over the course of the next decade, while working as a teacher in such far-flung paces as Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, England, Iran, and China. In the 1980s, the New Jersey native made the decision to move to Venice, where she still lives.

Beastly Things (Guido Brunetti Series #21) is her latest novel.

From Leon's Q & A at the Independent:

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

I admire Dickens beyond words. He is one of the greatest plotters of all times. Didn't have a clue about women, but he sure could plot.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I've had a long day dealing with people in the music business, so I'd guess I most resemble the eponymous hero of a Russian epic: Misery, Luckless, Plight.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the most liberal and illumined of the nine Justices of the US Supreme Court. She and the three other liberal Justices (two of whom are women, I might add) are all that stands between us and Utter Darkness.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2012

Paul French

Paul French's new novel is Midnight in Peking.

From a Q & A with the author at the book's website:

You have written a number of books before this, but Midnight in Peking is your first foray into a more literary style. Why did you choose to write this book in this way, and how does it affect the story?

I’m story led – the story dictates the style as far as I’m concerned. In the past the stories I’ve picked and the characters I’ve written about have dictated to me a (hopefully) fairly casual but definitely traditional non-fiction style. At its heart Midnight in Peking is a murder story and so I thought why not use the conventions and stylistic traits of crime fiction, particularly the noir crime fiction that is now so symbolic of the 1930s and 1940s, the same time period as Midnight in Peking.

Additionally I was thinking of books that had used literary devices to both tell dramatic true stories in ways that really convey the mood and sensibilities of the time and bring real characters to life better than might be possible in straight non-fiction. I’m thinking of creative non-fiction books that I love such as James Fox’s White Mischief about the still unsolved 1941 murder of Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll, in Kenya and the rather unflattering light that crime shed on the ‘fast set’ of Europeans in Kenya’s so-called Happy Valley. I’d also cite James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, about the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles (A horrific killing that has overlaps with the mutilations inflicted upon Pamela Werner) and John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which used a true crime to reveal the fascinating dirty linen of Savannah, Georgia. All these books combined the details of true crimes but also superbly recreated the locations and times the murders occurred in. I hope Midnight in Peking does the same for 1937 Beijing.

Of course ultimately I hope that the more literary style I’ve used makes the book a great read, heightens the suspense in the way a great crime book should and also presents an evocative portrait of a Peking that was swept up and destroyed during the Second World War. A tall order but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

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

You have a reputation for being a very outspoken writer. When you write a novel, do you approach it as a vehicle for making a particular statement, or is this a secondary concern?

I do not approach the genre of the novel to make particular statements. I do not write with a mission and I do not try to teach anyone anything. I believe literature needs to be fluid and free as flowing water. I like the fact that different readers read the same book with different interpretations.

There is a split between the writer in me and me in my daily life. When I write fiction I almost become a different person. It is as if you use a different part of your brain while writing. When I am writing fiction, I am much more daring and inventive. The only thing that matters is the story. The ghosts of dead writers watch me as I write and I feel connected to an old, undying heritage. That keeps me going. I solely follow the footsteps of my imagination. How can imagination be banned?

I believe writers and literature can play an important role because literature and art have an amazing transformative power. Writers and artists can help to heal old wounds and transcend the boundaries that people on all sides take for granted. At the core of literature lies the ability to empathize with others.

While you advocate the freedom of intellectual thought, do you believe there should be any limitations on freedom of expression, and what do you see as the role of a writer in this debate?

I see freedom of expression as a universal value that should be defended in each and every country. The only thing I am cautious about is hate speech. Discourse that triggers racism, violence, xenophobia.

You were born in France, educated in Spain, and have lived and worked in Turkey and now the United States. How do you find living abroad has affected your writing?

All my life I have...[read on]
Read about the book that changed Elif Shafak's life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry is the author of City of Bohane.

From his March 2012 Q & A at the Guardian:

Who's your favourite writer?

There are dozens but I have always felt a special affinity with VS Pritchett. He worked from the ear, primarily, as I do, and he was an all-rounder, writing short stories, novels, memoir, travelogue, critical biography. He lived to be almost 100, and he never stopped, and his work is unified by a great generosity of spirit.

What are your other inspirations?

Early in the morning, Turkish coffee. Late in the evening, whiskey and the pipe. Also, the way people speak. And the hauntedness of certain places. And box-sets of Trojan Records dub reggae from the 1970s. And the TV dramas of David Milch and David Simon. And the comics of Los Bros Hernandez. And … I could go on, endlessly.

Give us a writing tip.

When you wake up, instead of checking emails on your phone, or counting your retweets, pick up a pen and scratch a few sentences into a notebook. Writing is very close to dreaming, it comes from the same sub-conscious murk and flux, and first thing in the morning – when you're still puddled in dream-melt, as Don DeLillo says – is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 6, 2012

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard's latest novel, his 45th, is Raylan.

From the author's Q & A with Megan Abbott at the Los Angeles Times Magazine:

Who did you read when you were starting out?

Hemingway, [but] I never cared for the man. I used to read a lot of him till I learned he had no sense of humor.

Did you read many of the hard-boiled masters?

Never read Chandler. Not much Hammett. James M. Cain was an influence way back. Spillane, I haven’t read in 40, 50 years. I remember his first books, thinking, Man, this guy is good. And I met him—good guy. But he remained the same. His books never changed.

While Spillane is often accused of sexism, you seem to love women.

Years ago, a reviewer for the Detroit News said my female characters were like Spillane’s. After that, I paid more attention. I don’t think of them as women. I think of them as a person and go from there. Sometimes female characters start out as the wife or girlfriend, but then I realize, “No, she’s the book,” and she becomes a main character. I surrender the book to her. A few years ago, my researcher gave me this photo: a female marshal in front of Miami’s courthouse—this Colombian drug trial. It was her and another marshal, and she was just standing there with a shotgun, hip cocked and angled, holding it half up. And I thought, She’s a knockout. And she’s a book.

Is a lot of you in Raylan?

I...[read on]
See--Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Barry Forshaw

Barry Forshaw is the author of, most recently, Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

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

Ali Karim: Tell us how you came to write Death in a Cold Climate.

Barry Forshaw: I was keen to write about the amazing explosion of interest in Scandinavian crime fiction (both on the page and on the screen) and the fact that the British and Americans are becoming aware of the fact that the Scandinavian countries have their own very individual identities--this is reflected in the novels of the best writers. When I was writing Death in a Cold Climate, Norwegian Anne Holt said to me: “If you are visiting a new country it should be a crime novel from that country you read before you leave on your trip--you will learn more than any travel guide can tell you.” I try very hard to capture the individual identities of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland--and if I’ve managed to make even the Scandinavians look at their neighboring countries afresh, I regard that as a little added value for the book.

AK: Death in a Cold Climate is a fascinating overview of the Nordic countries’ new-found fame when it comes to crime fiction. I was particularly delighted to see you explore the pre-Henning Mankell, pre-Stieg Larsson era of Scandinavian/Nordic mystery writing. How important were the roots of this subgenre?

BF: The roots--or the inspiration for the whole genre--could, frankly, be summed up in the names of two writers (although vintage writers such as Maria Lang should not be overlooked): the massively influential Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. [Their] Martin Beck novels [were] name-checked again and again by so many Nordic crime writers I spoke to as a key influence. Interestingly enough, statistically speaking, a certain British writer turned up frequently as another influence--not Agatha Christie, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jessie Klein

Adelphi University professor of sociology and criminal justice Jessie Klein is the author of The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools.

From her Publishers Weekly Q & A with Marc Schultz :

How did your research into bullying and school shootings begin?

I started this research back in 1997 when I heard Luke Woodham in Mississippi explain why he committed his school shooting. He said: “I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day.” He explained that he was upset about being called “gay” and he was enraged that his girlfriend broke up with him. He killed her in the shooting.

I was struck by how similar his complaints were to American children more broadly. Kids get called “gay” in school every day and many are in pain over broken relationships. Other kids may commit suicide, become depressed, anxious, truant, cut themselves, or turn to substance abuse. I show in The Bully Society that the school shootings are only the most horrific response to the same debilitating and painful school conditions that American children face every day. Kids are getting taunted, teased and assaulted—and facing huge emotional challenges—completely on their own. The Bully Society shows that school shootings actually magnify school environments that need to be changed. I’ve written a lot of popular and scholarly articles since 1997 when I first heard about that case. You can see some of them on my website.

The Ohio school shooting on Monday [Reuters story] has brought the issue back to the forefront almost simultaneously with the release of your book—could you have anticipated that timing? Were we "due"?

The Ohio school shooting coincides with the release of The Bully Society because school shootings continue to happen with some regularity. Anyone could...[read on]
Visit Jessie Klein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Edward Humes

From a Q & A with Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash:

Why did you decide to write about garbage?

Everybody knows waste is a problem. But did you know trash is now America’s biggest export? That one of the tallest structures in Los Angeles is a mountain of garbage? That the average American is on track to make 102 tons of trash in a lifetime, twice what we were rolling to the curb in 1960?

Garbology began with a simple question: Is there a way back from our disposable economy, this addiction to waste? The short answer is: yes. I found a growing number of families, communities, and businesses doing just that -- cutting waste and prospering in the process. Garbology is their story.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered during your research?

The most surprising part of the story is just how wasteful we are without really knowing it -- the true numbers are much worse than the official line. Almost as surprising: Being less wasteful is liberating, timesaving, and wealth-creating. Waste is one of the few big societal, economic and environmental problems ordinary people can fix.

Did researching garbage make you more aware of your own trash habits? Do you throw out more or less now?

Absolutely. My family has made a real effort to cut down on waste by refusing the trashiest stuff (plastic shopping bags, excessive packaging, non-recyclable products, disposables) and repurposing or recycling the rest. It's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 2, 2012

Catherine Chung

Catherine Chung's debut novel is Forgotten Country.

From the author's Q & A with Granta’s Patrick Ryan:

PR: What is the ‘forgotten country’ in the book? Is there more than one possible meaning in the title?

CC: I came up with this title around the time when I was doing a lot of research into the Korean War, which is also sometimes called the Forgotten War. The idea of that blew my mind – just how something as large as a war can be forgotten, and how in forgetting it you’re also forgetting the country that fought it and was divided by it – the title came from that and then seemed to resonate with the history of the particular family in Forgotten Country.

They’ve lost their homeland – not just the Korea they leave behind, but also the Korea that existed and was lost before it: before the split from the Korean War and before Japanese Occupation, when it was still a whole country. That initial loss echoes in all the others. In a similar way, I liked how the histories of the family – the national and the personal ones – are encompassed by this title, which is also – I think – about the lost unity of the family itself.

Sibling rivalry plays a large part in the novel. One of the major arcs involves the narrator and her sister and their struggle to come to terms with both their past and present. How important was it to you that this rivalry be resolved? And do you have a sister?

I don’t have a sister – I have an older brother, but I have always been really interested in sisterhood, which is filled with such complexity of emotion. There’s the possibility of so much intimacy, but also competitiveness and dependency and blame. It’s so fraught.

It was important to me that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Graham Swift

Graham Swift was born in 1949 and is the author of nine acclaimed novels including Waterland and Wish You were Here, a collection of short stories, and Making an Elephant, a book of essays, portraits, poetry and reflections on his life in writing. He has won many awards for his work including the 1996 Booker Prize.

From his Q & A at the Guardian:

How did you come to write Wish You Were Here?

I think I began with the concrete situation with which the book begins: a man staring from a bedroom window, a loaded shotgun on the bed behind him. I had to discover how he'd reached this extremity, and its outcome. I didn't know the story would include caravans, cattle disease and the war in Iraq – its almost literal "coming home". I seem to write novels that are domestic and undomestic, rooted and uprooted at the same time. In Wish You Were Here, all this is focused in the paradoxical word "repatriation". I felt that as well as telling the story of a man and wife the novel would strongly involve the relationship of brothers. But novels have secondary stages of ignition, on top of whatever unaccountable thrust that first lifts them off. One of these was when I realised the book would be a ghost story.

What was most difficult about it?

One potential challenge was having to deal with so much that was violent, emotionally if not physically – having to accompany my main character on a harrowing journey (it's a road trip novel, too). But writing is a strange thing. There are some traumatic episodes in Wish You Were Here that I intensely enjoyed writing. They were written in the sort of "heat" that is one reason why writers write. I believe this feeling is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue