Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tim Harford

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

His latest book is Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

From his Boing Boing Q & A with Cory Doctorow:

Cory Doctorow: First of all, some context -- what's the thesis of Adapt, and how does it refine, extend or improve upon The Undercover Economist?

Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist was a book about the economic principles behind everyday life, from the way Starbucks prices drinks to the rise of China. Adapt isn't primarily an economics book at all — it's a book about how complex problems are solved. (If ideas from economics help, great. But sometimes they don't.)

That said, the two books start from a very similar place: describing the amazing complexity of the economy that produces the everyday objects which surround us. In Undercover it was a cappuccino, and in Adapt I describe a memorable project in which a student called Thomas Thwaites attempts to build a simple toaster from scratch. But in Adapt this complexity isn't just a cause for a "wow, cool" moment — it's a headache, because it's a measure of the obstacles facing anyone who wants to solve problems in this very intricate, interconnected world.

Ultimately Adapt argues that the only way forward is experimentation, which can either be formal or ad hoc. Whether we're talking about poverty in Nigeria or innovation in Boston, solutions tend to evolve rather than be designed in some burst of awesome genius. And then the question is — what do we need to encourage those experiments?

Cory: Is adaptability a function of scale? Are smaller firms really nimbler? Or is a one-person shop prone to becoming a folie-a-un?

Tim: There are pros and cons to scale. Smaller firms probably do spot problems faster, because big companies have all sorts of communication problems between the boardroom and the shop floor; but at the same time, it's hard to a lot of experimenting if you're small. You have to try one or two things at a time and hope the failures don't wipe you out.

The most poignant example for me is probably Johannes Gutenburg, who invented the moveable type printing press but then went bankrupt, partly because he was vulnerable after running up debt to pay for the famous 42-line Bible. His immediate imitators eventually figured out that the real money was in...[read on]
Visit Tim Harford's website.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

The Page 99 Test: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin's latest book is Charles Dickens: A Life.

From her Q & A with Bill Tipper at The Barnes & Noble Review:

The Barnes & Noble Review: You open the book with a scene reconstructed from an experience Dickens had as part of a coroner's jury, when he was a still-young novelist. Although you give us the scene in a style of your own rather than as Dickens himself, there is something instantly recognizable in the vision of the world -- a crowded scene of everyday tragedy, but with an almost comic sensibility emerging at points in the details. The juxtaposition of light and dark –both in his writing and in his emotional life – is a theme you return to several times in this book.

Claire Tomalin: What I intended in starting the book as I did was to present Dickens, adult, in 1840, in the flush of his success, as he appeared to his friends. I've always been fascinated by this small episode, which is documented in The Times as well as in Dickens's own writings. It so perfectly encapsulates his particular concern with the lowest people in English society - working girls, often workhouse born, nameless, without family or support of any kind. Just such as one is 'the Marchioness' in The Old Curiosity Shop, which he was about to write - a little slavey literally enslaved, half starved and doing all the work of the household, and held prisoner in her employers' basement in her case. In his last finished novel he drew another bottom-of-the-heap child worker in 'Jenny Wren' [or Fanny Cleaver], severely physically handicapped, motherless, with an alcoholic father, but who nevertheless thinks up a way of earning her living by making dolls' clothes.

Only when I started to look into this did I realize that the workhouse where Dickens went as juror was just a few streets west of the grand house he had just moved into in Devonshire Terrace, south of Regent's Park. A map of London in the 19th century is a very useful adjunct to Dickens studies: the workhouse dated back to the previous century, when that was open ground, and had simply grown and grown over the years.

You are right in seeing how, in describing the preliminaries to the inquest, Dickens could not resist making a gruesome joke about the dead baby. Dead babies were...[read on]
Learn about Claire Tomalin's "five most important books."

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 27, 2012

Susan Casey

Susan Casey is the author of The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks and The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean.

From her 2010 Q & A with Lauren Mechling at the Wall Street Journal:

What led to your decision to write a book on waves?

Things added up. I had been injured by a wave about at tall as I am. I was surfing in San Diego and I got pulled under and got cut pretty bad. The fall injured my lower back and it caused a rupture of my kidney. I was a swimmer—I’d been on the Canadian national team. The fact that the water could hurt me like that was hard to wrap my head around. That’s why I understood later when [surfer] Brett Lickle would say, “There’s always the wave that will get you down. They have their own personalities.”

Then I was vacationing in Hawaii and I was there standing on Sunset Beach, which is known for being pretty gnarly, and I saw the surfers paddle surfing in waves that were between 25 and 30 feet. I was terrified. Then I was [working as Creative Director] at Outside Magazine and I started seeing pictures of Laird on 60 foot waves and I was mesmerized. . . . I only want to write about the ocean. I can’t think of anything more interesting. There’s all these mysteries here and we don’t know much about it.

What was the scariest statistic you uncovered while working on the book?

The notion that climate change could increase earthquake and volcanic activity was really surprising to me, and every scientist agreed. I asked every scientist if the storms are going to get more intense and there wasn’t anybody who dissented at all. That was another surprise, how despite all the arguing, they all agree that climate change is happening and the ocean will be deeply affected. We all think it’s going to be hotter on land but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 26, 2012

David Lodge

David Lodge is a literary critic and novelist who has won numerous awards for his books and was twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize (for Small World and Nice Work).

From a Q & A with the Guardian about his latest novel, A Man of Parts:

How did you come to write A Man of Parts?

Preparing an introduction for a new edition of HG Wells's novel Kipps (1905), I looked into his life at the time he wrote it, when he was active in the socialist Fabian Society and involved with the children's writer Edith Nesbit, her husband Hubert Bland, and their daughter Rosamund. This story, in which radical politics, literary life and sexual intrigue were sensationally intertwined, prompted me to write a biographical novel about Wells of the same kind as the one I had written about Henry James, Author, Author.

What was most difficult about it?

First, finding a novel-shaped story in Wells's long life, which encompassed so many varied interests, changes of fortune, literary productions, political interventions, and sexual relationships. Second, how to handle the many flaws and contradictions in his character and behaviour.

What did you most enjoy?

Solving...[read on]
Learn about who Lodge would like to sit next to at a dinner party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Keith McCafferty

From a Q & A with Keith McCafferty about his new novel, The Royal Wulff Murders:

This is your first novel. In what ways did your editorial work for Field & Stream help prepare you to write it?

As a reporter, columnist and essayist, I learned long ago to be professional — meet deadlines, write to point and write to length. As a novelist these traits are double-edged. If my editor suggests that the book will benefit from minor restructuring, a change in tone regarding a character, and cutting 9,000 words to bring the manuscript in at a reasonable length, my background gives me the discipline to do the revisions and bring them in on time. On the other hand, I’m an instinctual writer who tends to explore. I have a general outline in mind, write the first sentence, the first sentence leads to the second and so on; I never had the patience to outline in minute detail, nor the discipline to follow the outline if I did. In magazine work, that’s okay. Whenever I wrote myself into a corner, I just backed up and wrote myself out of it. But it’s one thing to find yourself in a blind alley in a 2,500 word essay; it’s quite another to get lost in a book of 100,000 words. E.L. Doctorow famously said that writing a novel is like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. I agree, but the danger, at least for me, is that I’ll exhaust the reader’s patience enroute. So one thing I’ve had to learn is that it’s not enough to begin with a vague idea. I need to have a sense of the novel and a little more structure than I’m used to before proceeding. I still allow myself the license to follow where the characters take me, but they are telling their story within a framework. If I do my job the reader can’t see the reins on the horse, but having them in hand is the difference between storytelling and just a lot of talking.

2. How much of the plot of The Royal Wulff Murders is based in fact. What’s happening with whirling disease in Montana right now?

When I moved to Montana, the upper Madison River was one of the world’s greatest trout streams, so good that my friend built his house there just for the fishing. No sooner had the walls gone up than...[read on]
Visit Keith McCafferty's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 24, 2012

Nevada Barr

Nevada Barr is an award-winning novelist and New York Times best-selling author. She has a growing number of Anna Pigeon mysteries to her credit--the latest, The Rope, is set in the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area--as well as numerous other books, short stories, and articles.

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

Q: What made you think of sticking Anna into a hole in the middle of nowhere?

A: I was inspired by the actual "solution holes" that I saw for the first time at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. They are so cool, and I wanted to make Anna really helpless. I wanted to crash her into the wilderness before she was Anna Pigeon.

Q: Why are they called solution holes?

A. There was some stuff in the ground that was softer than the sandstone. As water seeped in, it melted into a solution, like pouring a drop of water into a bowl of sugar. It just liquified and leeched away, leaving a hole.

Q: Lake Powell, the humongous reservoir where the action takes place, turns out to be quite an amazing place. And it was 600 feet deep in 1995! What drew you to it?

A: It just had all these ingredients of absolute gorgeousness and human disaster.

They build the Glen Canyon Dam, a huge gigantic dam, and basically filled up the Colorado River basin. You've got this weird teal-green lake in...[read on]
See Nevada Barr's 6 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amber Dermont

Amber Dermont is the author of the novel, The Starboard Sea, and the short story collection, Damage Control. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Dermont received her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston.

From her dialogue with writer Julianna Baggott:

[Baggott:] What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

[Dermont:] What a beautiful question! I was a silent, sharp-eyed child. To this day, my mother still asks, “What were you thinking?” My parents are rare book dealers and, throughout my childhood, books served as my constant and loyal companions. Mom and Dad were always happy to place books in my hands and neither believed in dumbing down their recommendations. As a kid, I read stories that were well beyond my immediate comprehension. When I was nine years old, my dad suggested I read James Kirkwood’s P.S. Your Cat’s Dead, a sexually charged romance between an out of work actor and the man who keeps robbing his apartment. The book is wild, exuberant and Kirkwood became the first author I can remember calling my favorite. I went on to read his novels, Some Kind of Hero and There Must Be A Pony, then lucked out and saw the musical, A Chorus Line, for which Kirkwood won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Kirkwood’s fascination with the mutability of human desire and the trappings of glamour and wealth made a lasting impression on me as a writer. I’m forever grateful that my parents weren’t afraid to expose me to stories that challenged my imagination.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I totally agree with you about the myth of a singular inspiration. Books arrive from so many different impulses. Lucky for me, I grew up on Cape Cod, and so if I’ve been inspired by anything, it’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Richard White

Richard White, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Parkman Prize, is the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University.

From White's Q & A about his latest book, Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: You write that the transcontinental railroads weren't needed but got built anyway on the public dime. What happened?

A: The basic thing is that no one would invest in them to begin with. You’re building a railroad into the middle of nowhere – railroads starting nowhere and ending nowhere. There's no traffic on these things, so that's why they have to be subsidized. You need all this public money and then borrowed money to get these things up and running.

They went bankrupt once, twice, three times, but the men running them got tremendously rich. Railroads become these containers for speculation, collecting subsidies and selling bonds, and financial manipulation.

They’re much like the companies we're familiar with now that have gone into bankruptcy but have made people rich.

Q: What was the legacy of the railroad boom?

A: We're still dealing with the consequences of what the railroads set in motion. They’re a disaster politically and...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Railroaded.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Catherine Chung

Catherine Chung's debut novel Forgotten Country is out from Riverhead in March.

From the author's Q & A with Lauren Bufferd at BookPage:

The title of your book is intriguing. Which is the country that is forgotten, Korea or the United States? Or is it a metaphor for what an immigrant has to leave behind?

The title worked in a few different ways that I liked. It refers to Korea—not only the Korea that the family in the book leaves behind, but the Korea that was lost when it was divided. In my book, I wanted the break between the sisters to be a kind of echo of that split—and for the family’s exile from their homeland (where they belonged, where they felt whole) to be an echo of the loss of that older Korea. On a metaphorical level, the title also refers to the sisters’ estrangement—so the forgotten country is their childhood closeness, their innocence and the past.

You have a degree in mathematics as well as creative writing. What effect, if any, does math have on your writing?

It’s funny: When I was a math major in college I wrote stories all the time, and now whenever I write, I’m always sneaking in some math. I love both disciplines because it seems to me that they’re both ultimately about learning how to make sense of the world, trying to organize the chaos and describe and communicate it in a meaningful and beautiful way.

Siblings play such an important role in your book. Do you have siblings, and what makes that relationship so special?

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Neill Lochery

Historian Neill Lochery chronicles the struggles and success of Portugal in his new book Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-1945.

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

Q: Lisbon sounds like a combination of both Casablanca (the movie version, at least) and Switzerland. Is that a valid comparison?

A: To me, Lisbon was the real Casablanca, the only city where the allies and axis powers openly operated in Europe. It had all the diamond traders, the refugees, people with letters of transit, people trying to get letters of transit to get to America.

The British operations manager said it really resembled Casablanca twenty-fold. That was the atmosphere of Lisbon. But your point about Switzerland is well taken. One of the key questions was neutrality, and the success of maintaining neutrality was a great challenge for the Portuguese.

Q: What made Lisbon useful to people trying to get out of Europe?

A: Once France fell in summer of 1940, and specifically Paris fell, refugees started streaming to the south of France. As Germany consolidated its control, they moved into Spain and Portugal to try to get out of Europe to get to America or somewhere else in the free world.

Many of these refugees were Jewish, and they were desperate to escape the horrors of the Nazis. As Arthur Koestler said [in a 1941 book], "Lisbon was the bottleneck of Europe." It was the last chance to get out.

[Koestler, a journalist, added that Lisbon was "the last open gate of a concentration camp extending over the greater part of the Continent's surface."]

Q: How easy was it to get out of Lisbon to a place like America?

A: It was ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anthony Shadid

Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, died last week, apparently of an asthma attack, while he was reporting in Syria. Until December 2009, he served as the Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post.

Shadid won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2004 for his coverage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed. He won the Pulitzer Prize again in 2010 for his coverage of Iraq as the United States began its withdrawal. In 2007, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Lebanon. He has also received the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ award for deadline writing (2004), the Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award for best newspaper or wire service reporting from abroad (2004) and the George Polk Award for foreign reporting (2003).

Shadid is the author of three books, Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War, and House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East, which will be published this month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

From Shadid's Q&A with Houghton Mifflin about House of Stone, posted at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

How did the idea for this book come about?

I guess there was always an idea in the back of my mind to do something about the family’s house in our ancestral town of Marjayoun. Even after wars and abandonment, it was still a grand place, and the idea of somehow reclaiming something that was lost captivated me. But it wasn’t until the war in 2006 in Lebanon that the idea became more than a fleeting thought. The conflict, which pitted Hezbollah against Israel, is just one of the many that litter the modern Middle East, but in the death and destruction, I found it one of the most wrenching to cover as a reporter, even worse than Iraq. After it ended with a cease-fire, I made my way to my grandmother’s house in the town, not too far from the frontlines. In the distance, I could hear the rotors of a helicopter beating against the air and the insect-like drone of surveillance planes. I walked over to an ancient tree there, and as I sat next to it, an olive dropped beside me. I don’t know why I found the moment so memorable, even all these years later. I guess it was after so much bloodshed, so much loss, I was finally witness to something so tranquil. It fell naturally, its movement dictated by time, not will, malice, or the menace of war. Right then, I had a feeling that this was where I wanted to be. The next year, I was, rebuilding the house and trying to figure out whether it could become a home.

Did your grandmother’s house eventually become a home?

I suppose it became something more than a home in the end. I’ve always felt that home is simply where we want to be. But I think in my time in Marjayoun, I realized that we can understand home in a much broader sense. We can imagine it as memory, community, history, and even identity. At some point, home is the way we make sense of ourselves.

On a personal level, what is it like to build a house?

Endlessly frustrating. I knew building a house in a country that is often dysfunctional would be a tough task, but I had no idea that I might stumble on a painter who was color blind, a foreman so stingy he argued over a few cents, and a carpenter who...[read on]
Also see: Anthony Shadid's favorite book about theocracy.

Writers Read: Anthony Shadid (August 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb has written ten bestselling novels including Always the Bridesmaid, Anything for Love, The Loving Kind, and The Shoestring Club (UK, Sept 2012).

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

What crime novel would you most like to have written?

HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh. OK, it’s not your average crime novel, the spy is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in New York and spies on her neighbours, but it’s one of my favourite books of all time. There’s revenge, punishment, heartbreak and retribution. I’d highly recommend it to any reader, young or not so young.
* * *

What fictional character would you most like to have been?

That’s a great question, Declan. In a lot of the books I adore, terrible things happen to the heroine - Alice, Rachel (in RACHEL’S HOLIDAY by Marian Keyes), Benny (CIRCLE OF FRIENDS by Maeve Binchy), Katniss (HUNGER GAMES), so I’ll say Posy in BALLET SHOES as I wanted to be a ballerina as a child. (Sorry, not very crime-y or kickass I know!)
* * *

The best Irish crime novel is …?

SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT by Derek Landy. Yes, it’s fantasy-thriller-crime, yes, it has a skeleton detective, but it’s hilarious, clever and very entertaining. (If I had to pick a book for adults, it would be...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 17, 2012

Anne Rice

Anne Rice became famous for her bestselling “Vampire Chronicles,” which began with the 1976 bestseller Interview with the Vampire.

Her new novel is The Wolf Gift, her first book featuring a werewolf.

From the author's Q & A with Alexandra Alter for the Speakeasy blog:

What appealed to you about the werewolf myth?

What I always do is write from the point of view of the monster or the supernatural character, whether it’s Jesus or a vampire or whatever. Of course, what I’ve found disappointing in werewolf literature is that werewolves often don’t remember becoming werewolves. The classic Lon Chaney movie [the 1941 film “The Wolf Man”] shows him waking up with no memory of turning into a ferocious man wolf and no memory of participation of it. That story almost always ends with the silver bullet. There’s nothing for him to do but die. As a werewolf, he’s just a rabid monster. I thought, “What if I have a hero who’s completely conscious during the transformation?”

Werewolves have been pretty popular lately—were you worried that werewolf bubble might be about to burst?

I was warned. People said, “How can you write about this? Look at the field. It’s too crowded.” Well, what does that mean to me? When I wrote “Interview with the Vampire” in 1973, vampires were a late-night horror movie, comic-book subject. People said, that’s crazy to write a book in which everybody’s a vampire. Nobody’s going to read that. Yes, there are a lot of werewolves out there running around in “True Blood” and “Twilight,” and there always have been. But...[read on]
Learn what Anne Rice thinks about Twilight and True Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rosamund Bartlett

From Rosamund Bartlett's Q & A at the Guardian about her latest book, Tolstoy: A Russian Life:

How did you come to write Tolstoy?

When my agent asked what the next book might be after I finished a biography of Chekhov, the word "Tolstoy" somehow came out of my mouth, making a completely mad idea a reality. On a simple level I wanted to understand why Chekhov so revered Tolstoy as a human being, and I also felt that with the approaching centenary of Tolstoy's death, this was the right time to try and reanimate that part of his life which had been petrified by the Soviet literary establishment. Glasnost heralded the return of Tolstoy the religious thinker, as well as the publication of many fascinating materials which shed new light on the pivotal role he played in Russian society on the eve of the 1917 revolution.

What was most difficult about it?

Making sense of such a gargantuan life. Tolstoy not only bequeathed to the world some of the greatest novels ever written, but also a huge and much less well-known spiritual and philosophical legacy to which he attached far greater importance than all his fictional work. The standard edition of Tolstoy's writings runs to 90 volumes, while the new post-Soviet edition will add a further 10 if it is ever completed (not a foregone conclusion in today's Russia). I wanted there to be a narrative thread to my biography, and in the end I took a leaf out of Tolstoy's book and had each chapter tell the story of...[read on]
Visit Rosamund Bartlett's website and learn more about Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

Writers Read: Rosamund Bartlett.

My Book, The Movie: Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

The Page 99 Test: Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

William Landay

From a Q & A with William Landay about his new novel, Defending Jacob:

What was your motivation in writing a thriller about a family in crisis?

I’d written a couple of novels before Defending Jacob that were more traditional crime novels, which is to say they were set entirely in the world of cops and criminals. (At least that is how they were pigeonholed.) I was an assistant district attorney for several years, and at the time I wrote those books the crime world was something I thought about quite a lot. By the time I started Defending Jacob, though, I had left the DA’s office and become a full-time writer — and, most importantly, a father. I remember sitting down with my editor, Kate Miciak, to discuss what to write next, for book three. We talked about writing something that was closer to my heart, a book that reflected my own life a little more, given how my life had changed. So Defending Jacob began as a way to bring together these two worlds, these two parts of my life, the world of criminal law and especially of prosecutors, and the world of raising kids in the suburbs. (I suppose this would be the time to point out that my own two boys have nothing at all to do with Jacob Barber. The only crime my kids have ever committed is not listening to their father, though they are shameless repeat offenders.)

Has your experience working as an Assistant District Attorney shaped DEFENDING JACOB?

Absolutely. I was an Assistant DA for several years in the 1990s, and many of the details in the book grew directly out of that experience. The prosecutor’s office portrayed in Defending Jacob, the Middlesex County (Massachusetts) DA’s Office, is the same one where I worked — though the characters themselves are entirely fictional. (Yes, really.) And Jacob’s murder trial, which is the main set piece of the book, is described in as much authentic detail as good storytelling allows.

But the book shows the influence of my years as a prosecutor in less obvious ways, too, I think. Those years as an ADA simply made me more aware of crime, of its danger and pervasiveness and, I admit, its drama. To put it simply, I just spent a lot of years...[read on]
Visit William Landay's website and blog.

Writers Read: William Landay (May 2007).

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

The Page 69 Test: Defending Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wislawa Syzmborska

Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Syzmborska died on 1 February 2012.

From her 1996 Q & A with Los Angeles Times' Warsaw bureau chief, Dean E. Murphy:

Q: Is your poetry an expression of vanity?

A: If you mean, is it a form of exhibitionism, probably it is. I have never really thought about it seriously, but telling one's feelings to unknown people is a little bit like selling one's soul. On the other hand, it brings great happiness. All of us have sad things happen to us in our lifetimes. In spite of everything, when those terribly horrible things happen to a poet, he or she can at least describe them. There are other people who, in a way, are sentenced to live through such experiences in silence.

Q: Your friends say you have a great sense of humor, which is often reflected in your poetry. How important is humor in your work?

A: I don't want to brag here, but it seems to me, I have a bit of talent when it comes to friendship. Of course, I am talking about being friends with individual people. I cannot really imagine a friendship that is totally cerebral -- I think that friendship, from the beginning, means you are not only going to worry together, but you are also going to laugh together.

Q: Do you strive to inject this laughter in your poetry?

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

Monday, February 13, 2012

William Gibson

From William Gibson's Q & A with Barbara Chai for the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

So much of science fiction observes humanity through a pessimistic prism or depicts the decay of civilization. Would you put yourself in this category?

No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think of myself as being a Dystopian writer. I certainly don’t think of myself as being a utopian writer, but I’ve been surprised over the course of my career at the number of people who automatically assume I’m some kind of Dystopian. I think the reason for that is I write in English, and I’m a North American person, and I’m a First Worlder. My audience consists fairly – at least the part of my audience I most often hear from — consists of First Worlders who read English. We’re a very privileged lot in terms of what we think is Dystopian. So, some of us read Neuromancer, my first novel, and look at the state of North America in that and go, that’s Dystopian, that’s a terrible situation. There’s no middle class, there’s just a lot of incredibly rich people and even more utterly poor people willing to do all to survive. That’s Mexico. Mexico’s a very, very wealthy country but it has no middle class. It has virtually no distribution of wealth. That was my model for North America in Neuromancer. But there are millions of people all over the world living in situations, and they’ll probably been in those situations for the rest of their lives, that are...[read on]
Learn what Gibson is scared of.

Gibson's Neuromancer made PopCrunch's list of the sixteen best dystopian books of all time and Annalee Newitz lists of ten great American dystopias and Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley is the author of more than 34 critically acclaimed books, including the major bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins.

While he had indicated the end of the Easy Rawlins series, Mosley recently announced he’ll write two more Easy novels. The first for Doubleday is due in 2013 and picks up where the once terminal Blonde Faith left off.

From Mosley's Q & A with Chris Talbott:

Q. Last we heard, you were predicting the end for Easy. What changed?

A. I thought it could have been. I mean it didn’t have to be, but it might’ve been. I just didn’t know. Then I decided not that long ago, “Yeah, I’ll write a couple of more and see what it’s like.”

Q. Does a popular character like Easy weigh on a writer?

A. No, not at all. I think it would if I didn’t have any success with other books or if I felt that Easy was keeping me from writing other books. Now, it is true that publishers try to stop me from writing anything but mysteries, but whenever they do, I go to another publisher. And they know I’m going to do that, so they have to make some kind of room for me.

Q. Really?

A. We live in capitalism, and capitalism is defined by the production line, and the production line is defined by specificity. If you see yourself as an artist, which I do, then you can’t be limited by that. You can’t let somebody tell you, “Well, you can only draw this kind of picture or write that kind of book.”

Q. What do you get from these books that you don’t get from mysteries?

A. Different kinds of books do...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lisa Appignanesi

Lisa Appignanesi is a novelist and writer who has been made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of her contribution to literature. Her books include Mad, Bad, and Sad and All About Love.

From her Q & A at the Independent:

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

It will have to be Philip Roth. He manages to mingle ideas, character, questions about what it is to be human – all with huge narrative zest and often humour.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

If I have to choose one who isn't Henry James's Isabel Archer, or George Eliot's Dorothea, or Balzac's young man from the provinces, then it would have to be Christopher Robin or, maybe, Pollyanna.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

All the young people who took part in the Arab Spring! And the great and greatly patient Aung San Suu Kyi.
Read the complete Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Mad, Bad, and Sad.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 10, 2012

Paul Grossman

Paul Grossman is the critically acclaimed author of The Sleepwalkers, which was published in 2010, and Children of Wrath, released in February, 2012. He is also a long-time teacher of writing and literature at the City University of New York.

From his Q & A with Lenny Picker at Publishers Weekly:

Where did Kraus come from?

I wanted to write a novel set during the final days of the Weimar Republic, using the political drama of the Nazi rise to power as a backdrop. In researching the subject, I came across the remarkable figure of Bernhard Weiss, who was one of Berlin’s top cops at the time. He was the first Jew ever to have risen to the top echelons of German law enforcement. It sparked the idea of creating a Jewish detective working during those tumultuous last months of democracy.

And then your editor suggested that you write a prequel?

I was shocked when they chose a prequel for me to write as my second novel. In the first book, The Sleepwalkers, I casually mentioned an earlier case of Willi’s about an infamous “Child Eater.” Suddenly, I had to write an entire novel based on the case. It wasn’t my first preference, and once I committed to the project, I really had to pick my brain intensely to come up with a feasible plot. But gradually, the elements began falling into place. One major influence in my decision making was the works of German psychologist Alice Miller and her ideas on how German child-rearing practices of the 19th century became a key component in the rise of Nazism. A few...[read on]
Visit Paul Grossman's website.

Writers Read: Paul Grossman October 2010).

The Page 69 Test: The Sleepwalkers.

My Book, The Movie: The Sleepwalkers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He studied philosophy, sociology and politics at Clare College, Cambridge, and then worked in the film industry. His fiction debut was The Gone-Away World.

His new book, Angelmaker, is out in the US in March.

From Harkaway's Q & A with Boyd Tonkin at the Independent:

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

Alexandre Dumas. I return to him over and over again: 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and 'The Three Musketeers'. Splendid adventures – Byzantine, strange and eminently readable.
* * *

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I used desperately to want to be a brooding hero from literature, but I'm optimistic, healthy and fair-haired. In terms of personality, I'm more Porthos [from 'The Three Muskteers'] than Aramis.
* * *

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

The women of Bletchley Park [the code-breaking centre], who did all that amazing work, did it in total silence, and never told. It's a story to break your heart.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jane Maas

Jane Maas began her career at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter in 1964 and rose to become a creative director and agency officer. Ultimately, she became president of a New York agency. A Matrix Award winner and an Advertising Woman of the Year, she is best known for her direction of the “I Love New York” campaign. She is the author of Adventures of an Advertising Woman and co-author of the classic How to Advertise, which has been translated into 17 languages.

Her new book is Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond.

From Maas's Q & A with Rupal Parekh at Advertising Age:

Ad Age: What can we expect from "Mad Women"?

Ms. Maas: This book has two aspects. First, it's funny. Chapter Two is called "Sex in the Office," and Chapter Three is "Get the Money Before They Screw You." [The late] Shirley Polykoff [former Foote Cone Belding exec and creator of the Clairol tagline Does She ... Or Doesn't She?] gave me some advice one day and she said 'Get the money before they screw you like they screwed me,' she said [referring to] the men who run the agencies. Other chapters are about drinking, smoking and drugs. Second, in the midst of all the fun and games, there's a very serious message about women's roles in advertising and in women's business in general.

Ad Age: What are some of the ways in which working in the ad business 50 years ago is different than it is today?

Ms. Maas: I'll tell you first what is most similar. When I talk to women who were working mothers in the '60s and when I talk to the working mothers today in 2011, they sound the same. They use exactly the same words. They say, 'I'm torn, I'm not being a really good mother, I'm not being a really good wife, and I'm not being a really good professional.' Women who have kids are just as torn as we were back then. The biggest thing that's changed is that women are not accepting of being second-class citizens anymore. When I was a junior copywriter at Ogilvy, a man who sat next to me went into the boss and announced he was getting married; it was a great thing and he got a raise. When women announced they were getting married they were warned they had to leave if they got pregnant. Well not if, it was when -- back then everybody expected they were going to get pregnant. And, there was no maternity leave. No one was expected to come back after having a baby because women who had children under the age of 16 did not work in those days; it was socially unacceptable to have young children and work. And if you did, everybody...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

George Daughan

George C. Daughan holds a Ph.D. in American History and Government from Harvard University. He spent three years in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. He taught at the Air Force Academy and was also director of the MA program of international affairs there. Subsequently, he held a professorship at Connecticut College, and also taught at the University of Colorado, the University of New Hampshire, and Wesleyan University.

His books include 1812: The Navy's War.

From Daughan's Q & A with Ray Routhier:

Q: What was the cause of the War of 1812?

A: One of the direct causes was that the British were impressing our sailors. Their fleet needed 145,000 men, and the desertions from the British navy were in the thousands. So they were taking sailors off ships of other nations. The country was outraged for years, but the British refused to stop.

No. 2 was that the British were interfering with our trade, forcing all our trade to go through British ports and pay a license fee.

And the third thing was that the British were using the Indian nations to terrorize settlers in the West. The Indians' cause in the greater scheme of things was justified, but the British aid was further proof that the British did not accept the U.S. as a sovereign nation.

When the U.S. declared war, Great Britain was in the midst of a war with Napoleon, and things didn't look good for them. President Madison figured the English would be under pressure to come to terms with us. But Napoleon was defeated in Russia, and things did not go well for the U.S.

Q: So where does the navy come in?

A: The British mounted a large-scale invasion from two places, Canada and New Orleans, along with large-scale raids up and down the coast. They raided Washington and burned the capitol. They invaded from Canada with 10,000 men, but felt they needed to control Lake Champlain to do it. The U.S. Navy won a great victory on Lake Champlain and stopped the invasion.

Later, the British turned to Baltimore, and the American navy stood against them. (At another battle) when the U.S.S. Constitution defeated a British frigate, this...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gordon Grice

From a Q & A with Gordon Grice, author of The Book of Deadly Animals:

About this new Liam Neeson movie: Do wolves really hunt you down with Terminator-like resolve if you invade their territory?

Not so much.

When do they attack people?

In rural areas of Europe and Asia, they sometimes eat the guy left behind to tend the sheep. Also, when a lot of people are lying around dead or helpless, from war or plague, wolves clean the place up. If a wolf gets rabies, it will attack everything in its path. One rabid wolf killed fifteen people and bit dozens of others in a single rampage.

Do they ever make a habit of eating people?

Yes. In central France in the 1760s, something called The Beast of Gevaudan killed at least five dozen people, mostly farm workers and travelers. The case was so famous (and so preposterously exaggerated) that it drew the attention of King Louis XV. “No one dared go out any more after nightfall,” wrote Guy de Maupassant in his thinly fictionalized account. “The darkness seemed haunted by the image of the beast.” Similar cases have happened in India.

Why don’t they usually eat people in North America?

Because...[read on]
Gordon Grice has written for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Discover, and Granta. His first book, The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators, won a Whiting Writers' Award and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Los Angeles Times.

Also see: The Page 99 Test: Jay M. Smith's Monsters of the GĂ©vaudan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 5, 2012

John Corey Whaley

John Corey Whaley has a BA from Louisiana Tech University and an MA in secondary English education. He won the Printz Award for Where Things Come Back, his first novel.

From his Q & A with Susan Carpenter at Jacket Copy:

You really can’t get any better than what you've just achieved -- winning a top literary prize with your very first book.

You’re telling me. I’m sort of still in a state of shock. It’s completely life changing and unbelievable and it’s crazy. It’s so great.

You were an English teacher for five years before you left the profession to become an author, correct?

In the middle of my fourth year teaching is when I got my book contract -- in 2010. I knew the book would come out in May 2011. My dream had always been that I would teach until I published a book, so my goal was to give myself one year to be an author, and I guess that changed today.

What gave birth to your story?

I grew up in a little town with about 6,000 or 7,000 people. I always knew from 11 or 12 years old that I wanted to be a writer, and I always wanted to write about growing up in a place like that that’s small and you don’t fit into. When I was a senior in college at Louisiana Tech, I was driving home and heard a story on NPR about this extinct woodpecker that someone saw in this small Arkansas town. The townspeople were all talking about how it gave their town this sense of hope because tourists from all over the world were coming to find this bird.

I’d been trying to find a good place to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lauren Fox

Lauren Fox is the author of Friends Like Us (Knopf, 2012) and Still Life with Husband (Knopf, 2007).

From her Q & A at the blog of the MFA program at the University of Minnesota:

I like something Lorrie Moore said about humor, that it comes “from the surprise release of some buried tension.” I feel like humor runs very close to sadness. I take my pathetic moods so seriously that I can’t take them seriously at all. Can you just talk about the role of humor in your work? What purpose does it serve your characters? How does it help us understand/deal with our painful spots?

Novels are about crises, and a crisis without humor is… a therapy session? My characters are flawed people who make some really bad decisions. They tend to make awful messes out of their lives. I think humor pulls them briefly out of their own confusion and regret, at the same time that it underscores it. I definitely come from a great tradition of dark humor, both culturally and within my family. You can’t come from a 2,000-year history of people trying to kill you and not find a little giggle here and there. Both of my parents are very funny people, and my brother’s sense of humor is so dry that it sometimes takes me months to figure out whether he was joking about something. So I grew up really valuing that, and sort of intuitively looking for the humor in any given situation - almost as a way of describing it. I do tend to think that most things are either horrible or hilarious or both. The things that are both are the most interesting to me.

What inspired your book, Friends Like Us, that’s about to be released? What is it like to move from writing one novel to another?

Moving from writing one novel to another was complicated by the fact that I was pregnant when I started writing my second novel. My main character was always bloated, tired and irritable. Not my best work. So Friends Like Us is actually my third novel (after I discarded the second one). And writing it was hard. I kept hearing phrases from the reviews of my first book in my head and feeling paralyzed, by both the praise and the criticism. I felt like I couldn’t live up to the praise, and I took the criticisms as confirmation of my worst fears. Friends Like Us didn’t really....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 3, 2012

William Ryan

Crime fiction maven J. Kingston Pierce interviewed William Ryan, the Irish former corporate lawyer, now residing in London, who’s written two historical crime novels set in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. The first of those, The Holy Thief (2010), was nominated for the British Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey Award and was shortlisted for both a Barry Award and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. Its new sequel, The Darkening Field (Minotaur), continues the investigative exploits of Captain Alexei Dmitriyevich Korolev of the Moscow Militia’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Read the interview at Kirkus Reviews.

From some bonus exchanges from the interview that Pierce posted at The Rap Sheet:

JKP: Are you a big reader of historical thrillers? Which books from that subgenre would you most recommend?

WR: Two books that have stood out for me recently are R.N. Morris’ The Cleansing Flames and Jason Goodwin’s An Evil Eye. Both are part of a series--Morris’ being set in 19th-century St. Petersburg and Goodwin’s at the same time but in Istanbul. Morris and Goodwin have a lot of qualities in common--they know their stuff, they write elegantly, and they tell great stories. I highly recommend them.

JKP: Was your choice of a Russia-based detective series influenced by, say, Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels? Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov novels? Or other such works?

WR: I’d say the biggest influences were probably Dashiell Hammett, Georges Simenon, and Raymond Chandler. I've always been fascinated by the 1930s in general, and those three were certainly very useful in trying to create the atmosphere in the Korolev novels. I didn’t read Martin Cruz Smith until I was pretty much finished with The Holy Thief, but I think he’s a great writer and I wish in some ways I’d read him earlier. Alan Furst would probably be another author who is in the back of my mind when I write, and maybe Boris Akunin as well.

JKP: Why have you “always been fascinated by the 1930s”?

WR: I suppose it’s partially because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver's books include Orange prize-winning novel We Need To Talk About Kevin — now adapted as a film starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller.

From Shriver's Q & A with Jessica Wakeman:

What was the reaction after the book was published — which we’ll probably see after the movie comes out — about an ambitious, careerwoman who is a parent but dispassionate about motherhood?

This portrait of motherhood is what made the book sell so many copies — certainly not because it’s about a school mass murder! It’s more that its grabbed people’s imagination with a fuller and more ambivalent portrayal of motherhood than you usually get in books and films. It’s a book that expresses the downside of motherhood and the way it can challenge who you are to yourself. It challenges the more tedious aspects of being a parent. It’s anti-romantic, in relation to parenthood.

Have you gotten criticism for writing about a parent/child relationship because you are not a mother — despite the fact lots of people write fiction about experiences they themselves have not had?

Like a lot of things, I’ve only gotten sticked for writing this book and not being a mother by people who haven’t read it. That kind of expert. (laughs) I actually have been rather amazed by people who were astonished to discover I didn’t have children, who perhaps had children themselves and were surprised that I was able to encapsulate so much of the experience without having it firsthand. Fiction is fakery and I got away with it.

I read another one of your other novels, The Female Of The Species, about an academic who carries has a relationship with a much-older anthropological subject early in her career. Then, later in her career, she has an affair with a much younger research assistant. Both that book and We Need To Talk About Kevin feature a strong, female character who makes really unconventional choices for her life. Is writing these iconoclastic female characters intentional?

It’s what...[read on]
Read about two of Lionel Shriver's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Michael Esslinger

From Randy Dotinga's Q & A with Michael Esslinger, author of Alcatraz: A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years:

Q: Why does Alcatraz have such a unique place in American culture and history?

A: When Alcatraz opened in August of 1934, it was considered America’s Devil Island, and it was touted that no one could escape alive. It was intended to turn the spectacular criminal dispositions of America's most notorious criminals into a world of decorum. The Alcatraz regimen demanded more than simple conformity. Silence and cramped cells were the foundation, along with stern discipline, an unrelenting routine, and a set of rules and regulations that shaped most every aspect of daily life on the Rock.

The Rule of Silence was heavily enforced during Alcatraz’s infant years as a federal penitentiary. This was the Alcatraz trademark, and proved to silence the voices of some of America’s most notorious outlaws.

Q: Was Alcatraz prison famous from the beginning, or did events and its prisoners help it become more well-known in its early history?

A: The foundation of Alcatraz’s notorious reputation was set in stone from the very onset.

The inmates sent to Alcatraz were considered the cream of the criminal crop, and many were a new breed of outlaw that the government had failed to contain. They were comprised of the famous, infamous, unknowns, and were not only bank robbers and murderers, but organized crime figures that orchestrated complex crime syndicates where corruption was boundless and infiltrated even the most sacred levels of law enforcement.

A ticket to Alcatraz was not necessarily based on one's crimes against free society. Recruitment to Alcatraz was a model with no specific prototype or criteria as to what would initiate a transfer. Generally space was reserved for inmates who were prone to escape, high profile, difficult, unruly, badly behaved, or simply created delinquency challenges for the prison staff in the federal prison of their confinement.

Q: What are some of the biggest myths about Alcatraz? What do people misunderstand about it?

A: The biggest myth is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue